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How Often Should a Septic Tank be Cleaned?

Septic Tank Pumping

Septic systems are designed to disperse wastewater effectively, and when used properly, can function well for years. However, regular pumping and cleaning of the tank itself is necessary to maintain the septic system. How often should a septic tank be cleaned? The answer is based on a variety of factors.

How Long Should You Go Between Septic Cleanings?

Most septic contractors recommend having the tank pumped every 2 to 5 years, but more should go into the decision than these arbitrary guidelines. A septic tank should always be pumped when needed, regardless of the date it was last cleaned. For some households, 5 years is a reasonable timeframe, but for others, more frequency may be needed.

Your system naturally separates household wastewater into three layers. The first is the sludge layer, made up of solids, that settles at the bottom of the tank. Above that is the effluent layer, which has a watery consistency. This is the layer that should freely flow into the leach field. The top layer consists of grease and scum. When the sludge layer gets within 6 inches of the outlet drain or the scum layer falls within 12 inches, your tank should be pumped, regardless of when the last pumping occurred.

Factors that Affect the Frequency of Septic Cleanings

  • Number of People in the Household: The more people that live in a home, the more waste is produced, from flushing toilets to washing dishes. On average, a retired couple could probably go longer between pumpings than a family of five.
  • Size of the Home: The number of bedrooms a home has determines the size of the septic tank that is installed. A 2-bedroom house, for example, may have a 1,000 gallon tank, while a 5-bedroom house would need a 1,500 gallon tank.
  • Size of the Tank: Septic tanks have a limited capacity by design. As the effluent layer rises, it is forced through the drainpipes into the leach field, where it is dispersed through the yard. It could be assumed that a smaller tank would need to be pumped more frequently, but the factors above still play a big role in determining how often a tank should be pumped.
  • Amount of Wastewater Created: The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that the average person uses about 70 gallons of water per day. In households where most members work or attend school outside the home, the amount of wastewater entering the septic tank could be lower, but families that work from home, wash more laundry, or take more frequent showers could use more water than average.

Important Tips on Septic Maintenance

No one wants to pay for a septic pumping when it isn’t needed, but waiting too long between pumpings could lead to more costly and unpleasant issues. For this reason, consider keeping detailed records of your septic system maintenance, including uses you may have with the system and the dates it was pumped. You may begin to notice patterns, like odors appearing every four years, and use that information to schedule pumpings at the three-year mark instead. You should also record the levels of scum and sludge in the tank, and take action when those layers get too close to the outlet drain.

When less water makes its way into the septic tank, it could likely reduce the frequency of septic tank pumpings. Consider ways to bring down your water usage on a daily basis. While you may not be able to reduce the number of times family members flush the toilet, you can swap the toilet for a high-efficiency model. Doing so could reduce your water waste from 5 gallons per flush to 1.6 gallons. You may also want to consider switching to high-efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators to reduce water waste in your home. While washing clothes, adjust the load size to match the amount of clothing you are washing. Try spreading washing machine usage throughout the week as well, to allow the tank to process waste efficiently.

To reduce the frequency of septic tank pumping and repairs, it is also important to be mindful of what goes down the drains and toilets in your home. As a rule, nothing but wastewater and septic-safe toilet paper should make its way into your septic tank. Things like food scraps and paper towels could clog your pipes, while harsh chemicals could throw off the natural balance of the tank. Instead, consider using a bacteria-based product, which will introduce healthy bacteria into the tank. The bacteria then work to completely digest the waste, including fats, oils, and greases, or FOG. When the sludge and the scum are fully digested, your tank will need to be pumped less frequently.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Septic Tank

If you own a home with a septic system, pumping the tank is a necessary service. On average, it will need to be pumped every 2-5 years, but factors including the size of the tank, number of people in the house, and wastewater usage could shorten that window. Rather than waiting until you begin to smell sewage or see waste backing up into your home, consider getting ahead of the game by recording sludge levels. You can also reduce water usage with high-efficiency toilets and showerheads. Consider using a bacteria-based product, as well, that will help to reduce the sludge in the tank, and the frequency of pumpings.

19 thoughts on “How Often Should a Septic Tank be Cleaned?

  1. My sister wants to have her septic tank cleaned since it’s already clogged with sediments. I also agree with you that it will be wiser to regularly pump the said unit. Thank you for sharing the importance of cleaning the tank every 3-5 years as well.

  2. I appreciate that you stressed the fact that it is important for us to have our septic tank regularly maintained if we are hoping for it to operate efficiently. In doing so, it helps to ensure that there are no issues with our tanks. I will definitely keep this information in mind when I look to have new tanks installed or maintained.

  3. Thanks for helping me understand that the tank has to be pumped every two to five years and would be needed regardless of how much we use the system. I will keep that in mind and hire residential septic tank cleaning in 2024, because I will be in this house for five years by then. I actually live on my own, so I think I can just wait until the fifth year instead.

  4. It stood out to me when you mentioned that waiting too long between pumpings can be costly for your septic system. If you have a septic system, it seems like it would be a good idea to schedule regular pumpings. If you schedule pumpings way in advance, you aren’t going to have to worry about forgetting.

  5. Thanks for helping me understand that waiting for too long to get septic tank pumping services can actually lead to costly issues. With that in mind, I have to ask professionals I can trust in our area regarding the right interval when to get this kind of service. My husband and I had this house for a year, and we still have a lot to learn to maintain its parts. But we definitely want to make sure that we can avoid any inconveniences in the future.

  6. My aunt has been thinking about getting her septic tank serviced because she needs to make sure that it doesn’t get backed up as she fears. She would really like to get some help from a professional in order to be safer. I’ll be sure to tell her about how the tank won’t need to be emptied as often when there is less water going into it.

  7. Thanks for explaining how a septic tank shouldn’t be ignored since it can overflow and cause an unpleasant issue around your home. I heard that my best friend purchased a countryside property that comes with one of these tanks, and he’s not sure what to do with them. Maybe we should find a septic professional that can look after this for him in the future.

  8. It really helped me understand when you said that the pumping of the system has to be done regularly regardless of when it was last cleaned. As you mentioned, the recommended is between two to five years. I will keep that in mind to hire septic tank cleaning services at the right time when I move into the house that I bought. Doing so will definitely give me the assurance that the system will be in good condition for a long time.

  9. I can not thank you sufficiently for the articles on your website

  10. It captivated me the most when you shared that the septic tank is recommended to be pumped every 2 to 5 years. I think our septic has never been pumped since we moved here. I better call a septic system cleaning service to conduct thorough cleaning on our septic system.

  11. My drains have been getting clogged, and I’m not sure why. It makes sense that it might be due to the fact that I haven’t had my septic system pumped in a while! I’ll be sure to work with a septic specialist to handle this for me.

  12. I bought a new house with a septic system 3 years ago, and I was thinking that now would be the best time to get the tank cleaned and pumped out. Thanks for mentioning how the septic tank needs to be pumped every 2-5 years, depending on the size of the tank and the household. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind while I look for septic tank cleaning services to hire.

  13. It was helpful when you mentioned that septic tanks should be pumped every two to five years. Would it be a good idea to have a tank pumped more frequently? It seems like more frequent pumpings would prevent problems from occurring.

  14. Thank you for these great tips on septic maintenance. My grandpa needs to get his septic tank cleaned since it’s been more than 2 years. I see how important it is to keep your septic maintained to avoid unpleasant issues as you stated.

  15. Using less water is a great advise. But honestly speaking I usually don’t look at it until things get bad lols .

  16. I would like to have my septic tank cleaned since it’s already filthy. It’s a good thing that you shared the importance of reducing the usage of water. I also agree with you that it will be wiser to use less harmful chemicals.

  17. I would like to have my septic tank cleaned since it’s already filthy. It’s a good thing that you shared the importance of reducing the usage of water. I also agree with you that it will be wiser to use lass harmful chemicals.

  18. You make a great point about how septic tanks can hold up to 1000 gallons. I need to get a portable restroom connected to my system. I’ll have to hire a contractor for installation.

  19. I liked that you said that septic tanks must be pumped every 2-5 years, but you will still have to consider the factors such as the size of the tank and the number of people in the house. Since last Monday, we have been dealing with clogs both in the kitchen and the toilet. This reminded me that our sepic tank has never been serviced since it was installed last 2018. For sure, I will hire a septic pumping contractor before this day ends.

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