How Often Should You Have Your Septic Tank Cleaned?

One of the most important parts of taking care of your septic tank is making sure it's emptied within a suitable span of time. Unfortunately, many homeowners don't think about cleaning their septic tank until problems happen. The following explains how often septic tanks should be emptied out, along with the factors that can affect pumping frequency.

Why Regular Pumping is Necessary

Every time you flush a toilet, take a shower or use your kitchen sink, you're sending solids and wastewater into the septic tank. Some of the waste settles to the bottom in the form of a solid sludge while some of it floats to the top to create a scum layer. The rest of the wastewater is eventually pushed out of the tank and into the drainfield, where it will eventually percolate into the soil.

If left to its own devices, the sludge will continue to build up until it eventually reaches the wastewater outlet. Once that happens, the sludge can flow into the drainfield, clogging up not just the perforated water pipes, but also the surrounding rock bed. This eventually causes the sludge to back up into the house, causing a mess that could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to fix. Having your septic tank pumped on a regular basis can help you avoid such costly problems.

Factors That Influence Pumping Frequency

There are plenty of factors that can affect how often you'll need to remove accumulated waste from your septic tank. These factors often include the size of the septic tank itself (which can range from 500 to 2,500 gallons or more), the number of people in your household, the age of the septic tank and how often the home is occupied. According to Inspectapedia's septic tank pumping table, a 1,250-gallon septic tank being used by a household of 4 should be emptied at least every 3.4 years.

In addition to the size of the septic tank and the household using it, other factors that could affect septic tank pumping frequency include the level and thickness of the sludge and scum inside the tank, when the tank was last pumped and any septic system issues that have appeared since the last cleaning.

Contractors tend to rely on rule of thumb when advising homeowners on how often they should have their septic tanks pumped out. As a result, most contractors typically recommend a set general schedule for pumping regardless of tank or household size. This set schedule is usually "every 3 to 5 years," although some contractors may suggest biennial or even annual cleanings.

Pumping Won't Solve Septic Tank Problems

Keep in mind that having your septic tank pumped won't magically fix any of the problems that have occurred as a result of neglecting your septic system. For starters, pumping the septic tank won't repair a clogged or failed drainfield. In this case, pumping will only buy you a little time before your problems return with a vengeance. It's best to identify the source of the problem and have it fixed instead of relying on frequent cleanings to forestall repairs.

Pumping also won't solve bad septic tank habits. Flushing non-biodegradable items like dental floss and wet wipes, as well as cooking oils, bleach and certain detergents, can cause clogging and other problems that can prevent the septic tank from working properly. Chemical additives can also upset the balance of beneficial bacteria within the tank, preventing normal waste from breaking down properly.

Pumping the septic tank too often could end up being a waste of money, especially for high-capacity septic tanks. According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners in the U.S. spent between $279 and $516 to have their septic tanks pumped. It's best to have your septic tank pumped according to the size and usage patterns outlined in the previous section. For more information, contact a company like Rob's Septic Tanks Inc.