Septic System Beginner's Guide for New Owners

Wednesday, February 16, 2022
New septic system owners often have a lot of questions, such as “How does a septic system work?,” “How do I maintain my septic system?,” and “Who should I use for septic services?” Fortunately, the answers to those questions are not that complicated. Let’s go through the basics of what beginners need to know for a healthy system.
Honey-Wagon also offers a free comprehensive guide that’s packed with even more information — download yours today!

How a Septic System Works

Septic systems typically consist of a septic tank, drainfield (also called a “leach field”), and plumbing lines. Here’s how your system works to breakdown organic waste and treat wastewater:
  1. The wastewater runs from your home’s main drainage pipe into the septic tank.
  2. “Sludge” (solids) settle to the bottom of the tank and “scum” (floatable matter) rises to the top. Compartments keep the sludge and scum from exiting the tank.
  3. The “effluent” (liquid wastewater) leaves the tank into the drainfield.
  4. The pretreated wastewater is discharged through pipes into porous surfaces, which then filter it through the soil.
  5. The drainfield naturally removes coliform bacteria (found in feces), viruses, and nutrients from the wastewater.
  6. The treated wastewater is then discharged into groundwater.
When the septic tank becomes full, it needs to be pumped out. Septic tank pumping is generally needed every three to four years, but you may need more or less frequent depending on the tank’s size, household occupancy, and other factors.

Essentials of Septic Maintenance

Prevent septic system problems — like foul odors, drain backup, and slow flushing — from interrupting your home and requiring repair through regular maintenance.

1. Septic Tank Pumping

Pumping is crucial for preventing septic tank overload. The industry standard is typically three to four years for a family of four, but there are variables that may require to have more frequent pumping, such as:
  • An old, outdated system (pre-1986)
  • Use of antibacterial soaps and detergents
  • Use of cooking oils
  • Excessive water consumption
  • Occupants taking some types of prescribed medications
  • Heavy use of a garbage disposal

2. Flush Wisely

Remember that the drains in your home lead into your septic tank. Be very mindful of what you flush and put in your garbage disposal and other pipes because septic systems are designed for organic waste. Avoid the following:
  • Wipes (even "flushable"), paper towels
  • Medications, supplements
  • Feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers
  • Dental floss, toothpicks
  • Pet hair, food, waste
  • Cigarette butts, tobacco
  • Heavy-duty chemical cleaners
  • Bones, dried beans, popcorn kernels
  • Fibrous, starchy food (e.g. celery, potato peels)

3. Efficiently Use Water

Avoid overloading your septic tank by being more efficient with water consumption. For example, spread out washing laundry instead of doing multiple loads at one time, shorten your showers, turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, etc. Installing energy-efficient toilets and washing machines is also a good idea.

4. Avoid Foods Scraps and Grease in Drains

Prevent clogs from forming by tossing food leftovers into the trash, particularly fibrous or starchy foods like celery, potato peels, rice, and pasta. And properly dispose of grease, oil, and fat because upon cooling down, they harden and create blockages.

5. Keep the Drainfield Area Clear

Drainsfields absorb and neutralize liquid waste, so make sure to keep it clear of cars, structures, concrete/asphalt, machinery, and livestock to prevent the soil from compacting. Also, plant grass over the area to minimize soil erosion and avoid planting trees too close to it so the roots don’t interfere with your septic system.

6. Skip Heavy-Duty Chemical Cleaners

Your septic tank requires beneficial bacterial to break down waste. Harsh chemical cleaners kill good bacteria, which is why you should avoid using them (or minimize use). Honey-Wagon sells a powerful bacteria product, called Honey-Zyme, to promote the breakdown of paper, waste, hair, and oils.

Maintain Your System with Confidence

By understanding how your septic system works and the maintenance basics, you’re off to a great start for taking proper care of your system! The only thing left to do is choose a septic company to service your system. Ask your neighbors for recommendations, research online, read verified reviews, and check that the company is licensed and insured.
Need septic services in Kansas City? Honey-Wagon is a family-owned and operated septic maintenance company that’s been around since 1986. Contact us today for an estimate!
Staff 2/16/2022