The Top Reasons to Pump Your Septic Tank and How to Do It

reasons to clean your cesspool and septic tank

The Top Reasons to Pump Your Septic Tank and How to Do It

contact usThe Septic System

One in five U.S. households have or plan to install an individual septic system, whether it is a septic tank or the more antiquated and less-commonly used cesspool. Septic systems generally have a life expectancy of between 25 and 30 years. As with any other major aspect of homeownership, it is a good idea to have a basic idea of how it works and how to adequately maintain it.

At the very least you want to know how to identify if something is going wrong, what to do if something goes wrong, and hopefully how to avoid that occurring in the first place.

Understanding Your Septic System

Overall, personal septic systems perform wastewater treatment as well as most city municipal systems and much better than some. They are frequently used in rural and widely dispersed suburban areas as more cost-efficient alternatives to city sewer lines.

To ensure a well-functioning system, there are certain things that a homeowner can and should do. Unfortunately, many forget to perform these important tasks. For example, pumping your septic tank is an easy task to overlook. “Out of sight, out of mind”, as the adage states. The tanks are usually buried and often difficult to access.

new septic tank installation

It’s also considered a relatively unpleasant task. Hiring a qualified septic contractor, however, should be a non-negotiable aspect of responsible homeownership. The contractors at Diesso & Sons, Inc. Rescue Cesspool & Drain are available night and day.

What Is the Difference Between Septic Systems?

The basic job of any septic system is that of wastewater treatment. Household wastewater generally consists of the following substances:

  • Bathtubs and shower
  • Dishwashers
  • Garbage disposals
  • Sinks
  • Toilet flushing
  • Washing machines

Anything that drains from the house falls under the category of household wastewater and eventually filters into the home’s septic treatment system.

Septic Tank

Septic tanks are the more popular and up-to-date option. They are installed in about one in four U.S. homes. With a septic tank, the wastewater flows to a drain field where it undergoes a filtration process.

The septic tank is a primary aspect of a sewage treatment system. Its principal job is to breakdown a percentage of the solids from the wastewater, remove a portion, and store the rest. This allows the wastewater to flow into the drain field without any solid waste remaining in it.

The storage of any solid matter, however, is why the septic tank needs to periodically be pumped.


Cesspools are only used in some rural areas. They are considered outdated and are even illegal in many regions, as they are seen as a threat to public health.

A cesspool is a pit lined with concrete or rock that occasionally has an outlet pipe attached to another pit. Where septic tanks offer waste filtration, cesspools do not. This eventually results in the contamination of the surrounding land and groundwater.

If you do live in an older, likely rural home that was a cesspool as its septic system, you will most certainly have to follow certain cleaning and pumping frequency regulations.

How a Septic Tank Works

The septic tank serves as space where all wastewater is split into three layers. These consist of the liquid that flows to the drain field, the lighter particles that form the scum layer, and the heavier solids that form a sludge layer that settles at the bottom of the tank.

septic system versus cesspool

Then, anaerobic bacteria that live in the septic tank breaks down all the solids into less-complex organic compounds. In spite of a healthy microbial ecosystem “digesting” the sewage, a well-functioning septic system, and decent drain field, over time, the layers of sludge and scum in your tank will build up. As the distance between the layers of scum and sludge decreases, the tank’s ability to breakdown and store particles also decreases.

Eventually, the layers accumulate to the point that the bacteria are no longer able to keep up, and the floating solids enter the drain field. This not only is an indication that the system is failing, it is disgusting and also a public health hazard.

This is why the scum layer and sludge layer need to occasionally be pumped out.

Why People Avoid Caring for Their Septic Systems

Unfortunately, even though it is such an important chore, there are several reasons people overlook or avoid caring for their septic systems.

Common Reasons People Neglect Their Cesspools and Septic Tanks

One of the main reasons people ignore their septic pumping is due to ignorance. They simply don’t know that they are supposed to or they don’t know how.

Another reason is that they believe it will be either gross or difficult or a combination of the two. Although some tanks have a massive access lid on the inlet end, many have no obvious access whatsoever. Generally, the newer the tank, the easier the task.

Lastly, unless a homeowner chooses to merely follow a specific maintenance schedule, he or she may not know when they should pump. A reputable cesspool pumping contractor in Long Island can advise you regarding the rules in your area, as well as schedule a time to assess your situation.

Common Septic System Myths

There are several commonly-believed myths that often keep people from having their septic tanks pumped by a septic contractor.

  • Drains and toilets working mean that the septic system doesn’t require maintenance
  • In reality, no one ever fell into a septic tank
  • Old septic systems are just as good as new ones
  • Releasing wastewater into anything besides a certified septic system (such as a ditch, etc.) is a reasonable option if the system isn’t working

Actually, proper septic pumping keeps the drains and toilets working. New systems are much more efficient than old ones. Releasing wastewater into the environment is illegal, and people do occasionally fall into the septic tank when they are attempting to pump it themselves.

Since septic tank pumping is a potentially dangerous job to pump the septic system, it is definitely one best left to the professionals.

What Happens if You Don’t Pump Your Septic Tank?

Fanatically cleaning or pumping your septic system too frequently is basically a waste of money. Failure to adhere to basic pumping frequency guidelines, however, can result in premature drain field failure and expensive repairs.

cleaning your septic system

Over time, even in the most well-functioning septic system, the sludge layer and scum layer will accumulate. This can cause a couple of very unpleasant things to occur.

Sewage Backup

When the two layers in the septic tank build up, the ability of the enzymes responsible for breaking down the solids becomes disrupted. They are no longer capable of thoroughly doing their job.

This can allow for the dreaded sewage backup. The odors of the contents of the tank are released from the sink drains and toilets. This is unpleasant and difficult to ignore, which is why it is best to prevent it.

Public Health

The other possibility when enzymes are no longer doing their job is that the solids from the unpumped system flow into the drain field. This can result in particles from food waste grinders (garbage disposals), solid human waste, and even possibly powerful prescription medications that were flushed to enter the ground water.

Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t know the optimum pumping frequency for their specific house septic tank.

How Often Should You Clean the Septic Tank?

Although some clean their septic tank on a set schedule, an assessment by a qualified professional is the best way to determine when it is time to have the sewage pumped. Generally, they will recommend servicing the system when the base of the floating scum layer is within 6-inches of the outlet pipe and the top of the sludge layer is within 12-inches.

While the EPA recommends every three to five years, the frequency by which you should pump your septic tank, however, depends on a few different things.

Septic System Care Based on Use

In order to properly maintain your tank, you should begin by being responsible with your water use. This includes the following:

  • Flushing things besides human waste and toilet paper
  • Leaving taps open
  • Pouring food or grease down drains
  • Running dishwashers or washing machines overly-frequently

Basically, the more water your household uses, the more quickly the septic tank will require pumping.

Garbage Disposal

Using a food waste grinder or garbage disposal causes the septic tank to fill more quickly than if you merely throw those solids in the trash or compost them. In fact, garbage disposals often increase the amount in your tank by up to 50 percent.

This increases the suggested pumping frequency from 3 – 5 years to every 1 – 2 years.

Tank Size

It’s true that all septic systems require periodic maintenance. With the general requirements of space between the sludge and scum layers, a bigger tank will be able to go for longer intervals between pumpings compared to a smaller tank.

The number of people living in the home also contributes to how often it should be pumped, as the more people results in more wastewater.

How to Pump Your Septic Tank

When assessing your septic treatment system, a qualified sewage contractor will often measure the layers of scum and sludge. In a traditional septic system, no more than 40% of the wastewater treatment is handled by enzymes. Generally, once the solids exceed approximately 25-to 35% of the entire volume of the tank, they will recommend pumping.

septic tank pumping

Before pumping your septic tank, the contractor will perform a thorough inspection of the pipelines looking for any leaks or deterioration. This will also provide an approximation of how frequently the septic tank will need to be pumped in the future.

Mistakes to Avoid When Pumping Your Septic Tank

As with any technical task, there are certain things that should be avoided when endeavoring to properly care for your septic system.

  • Pumping too rarely leads to early drain field failure and potentially costly repairs
  • Pumping too frequently is a waste of money
  • Pumping the septic tank in an effort to “fix” a failing drainfield
  • Pumping the septic tank without a septic system inspection

Pumping without an inspection can result in misidentified or unidentified issues that can cause more expensive problems in the future.

So, How Often Should You Pump Your Septic Tank?

The short answer is that it depends. Having a large tank size may buy more time where using a garbage disposal will almost certainly shorten it. A large family will require a more frequent pumping schedule than a single-person household. The only way to accurately assess the situation is by having a qualified, local sewage contractor do a thorough inspection and take it from there.

To schedule service with our expert team, contact us or call: 631-239-6800

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