Maintaining a septic system

Continuing a recent introduction about septic systems. Is this question fact or fiction? "It's not necessary to pump a septic system if you are careful with what goes down the drain." FALSE!

To maintain a well-functioning septic system, it must be pumped every two to eight years depending on use and size of the tank. It is also necessary to keep the bacteria that live within the septic tank healthy and decomposing waste efficiently. To do this avoid products with the following warnings on the labels: "Harmful if swallowed"; "Avoid contact with skin"; "Do not get in open cuts or sores"; or, "If product comes in contact with eyes, call a physician immediately." However, do not pump too frequently because it can reduce bacterial populations and is costly and unnecessary.

Under normal circumstances, there is no reason to put additives into the septic system that say they increase bacterial functioning. Also, ignore the myth about dumping yeast into a septic system to maintain it, as yeast is not active in a septic tank. There is no substitute for pumping.

Things that cause a system to fail:

• blocked or broken pipes or lines between the house and tank or tank and leach field

• pump failure on systems with pumps

• tank blocked with solids, collapsed or leaking

• flooded drain field or one with poorly draining soil

• drain field clogged with solids or roots

• extensive use of the garbage disposal

• use of salts and chemicals from water softeners and washing machines

• pouring kitchen grease into drains

Tips to keep a septic system working well:

• Don't water the leach field

• Don't flood the system with excess water

• Keep excess solids out of the system

• Avoid flushing toxic chemicals down the drain

• Avoid using the garbage disposal

• Regularly pump out the septic tank and have the physical components of the system inspected

• Don't drive or park over the leach field.

Never dump kitty litter down the toilet because it clogs lines and systems. Don't put women's sanitary products or Kleenex down the toilet. Never flush cigarette butts or other inorganic materials that won't break down in the tank down the toilet. Only toilet paper and your body wastes should be flushed.

For more information, go to for Fact Sheet-06-49 "What to Do About Septic Systems" by Donaldson and Hefner. Or, call 887-2252 or email

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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