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Residential & Commercial Service
Licensed & Insured

How Do Septic Tanks Work?
10 Things You Need to Know

Things to know about buying a property with a septic system.

Understanding how do septic tanks work save you ridiculous money, protect your family and maintain the environment. Here is how to keep it that way.

Getting to know how do septic tanks work is very important to homeowners and especially prospective buyers. Many people feel worried about the presence of a septic tank. They are scared of the possible failures and the costly repairs and replacements. Well, that worry has no base at all.

In rural areas, septic systems are used more often than public sewer lines. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than one in five households in the United States depend on on-site sewage system.


They efficiently treat all the wastewater that leaves your house. They separate the water from the waste and discharge the clean liquid to the underground water supplies. They can easily last for decades If they are properly designed, installed and maintained.

It is recommended that the septic tank and the leach field are installed at least 50-100 feet away from the well to prevent contaminants from the wastewater ending up in the drinking water.

If you’ve found the perfect home but it has a septic system, don’t worry! This article is for you. We are going to talk about the components of the septic system, how do septic tanks work, the things that can go wrong and how to keep your tank in great shape.

1. How Do Septic Tanks Work: What is a Septic Tank?

How Do Septic Tanks Work

According to the EPA, any conventional septic system composes of a pipe connecting the house with the septic tank, a septic tank, a drain field, a distribution box, and soil and gravel as the last treatment to remove harmful bacteria from the water.

Septic tanks are usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene and have a capacity of around 1000 to 2000 gallons. The job of a septic tank is important to the whole functionality of your septic system.

There are two chambers in the tank, separated by a partial wall. One is larger than the other. All the wastewater and solids that leave your house – bathrooms, kitchen drains, laundry – end up in the large chamber via the inlet baffle on the connecting pipe.

The wastewater inside stays in place until solids have settled in the bottom of the tank to form something known as sludge. Clean water or effluent hangs in the middle. How do septic tanks work rely heavily on the presence of bacteria. They break down the waste from the water.

Oil and grease float to form a top layer known as scum. Once settled, the liquid (effluent) flows through the dividing wall to the second chamber where it receives further treatment. Finally, the water or the effluent leaves the second chamber through the outlet baffle into the drainage field.

Input baffle: You can find it in the first chamber of the septic tank. It allows water to flow into your septic system without disturbing the scum layer. This baffle guides wastewater to flow down, across the septic tank and then up.

Output baffle: It is in the second chamber. It serves as a filter to retain solids from traveling to the leach field.

2. How Do Septic Tanks Work: The Drain Field

How do septic tanks work

A drain field/leach field receives only the water from the septic tank via the effluent filters (outlet baffle). Then bacteria clean the liquid further and it seeps through the holes in the pipes into the surrounding gravel.

3. How Do Septic Tanks Work: The Distribution Box

How do septic tanks work: the Distribution Box

The distribution box container has a fundamental role in how do septic tanks work. It lies between the septic tank and the drain field. It receives the septic tank effluent (only liquid) and distributes it evenly to a network of drain lines. The even distribution of the effluent leads to a longer leach field’s lifetime. An uneven distribution causes damage to the leach field and can lead to saturation. The distribution box is usually made of concrete or plastic with several holes to ensure easy flow of effluent to the drain lines. Distributions boxes have different sizes and shapes depending on the size of your septic tank and the septic system.

4. How Do Septic Tanks Work: Gravel and Soil

Gravel functions as a facilitator. It is scattered around the drain lines. It allows water to flow into soil and oxygen to reach bacteria. Soil offers the last stage of treatment. It removes any remaining harmful bacteria or solids before water reaches underground and is pure enough to drink.

Remember that how do septic tanks work depends on the gravity to move water and solids from the house to the tank.

5. Where Does Septic Waste Go?

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, water exiting your home goes either to a septic tank and it seeps into the underground, or to a wastewater-treatment plant, which is the case in urban areas.

6. The Signs of a Failing Septic System

Water flooding over the drain field

Now we understand how do septic tanks work, next we are going to talk about the signs of a failing septic system:

  • Slow draining or flushing problems
  • Unpleasant odors at home or in the yard
  • Greener and wetter lawn over the septic system
  • Pools of water around your yard
  • Sewage backing up into your home
  • Pipes producing gurgling sounds

7. How to Keep Your Septic System in Great Shape

Recognizing the signs of failure requires a remarkable foresight, but taking preventative measures is your great course of action. This way you can avoid expensive repairs. You can only keep your septic system in great shape if you know how do septic tanks work:

  • Only flush things that are septic-friendly.
  • Never flush down coffee grounds, diapers, cooking oil, cigarettes, feminine products, cat litter, or chemicals. They could clog the septic system.
  • Avoid using additives. They kill the bacteria that breaks down the wastewater.
  • Use low-water consuming toilets and showerheads. That is because too much water flushes out the tank quickly.
  • Don’t overload your septic tank (expanding the house and overwhelming the septic system)
  • Don’t park or drive over the drain line. This can damage the pipes.
  • Grow plants or trees far from the leach field. Their roots can damage the drainage field.
  • Pump the septic tank out every two to three years.

8. When to Pump a Septic Tank

How Do Septic Tanks Work

According to the EPA, average household septic systems should be inspected at least once every three years by a professional septic inspector. However, septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years.

A septic inspector will normally start by emptying the septic tank – removing the solid waste (sludge) that has settled to the bottom.

He/she will collect the waste from the tank into the tank truck with suction gear.

9. Get a Septic Tank Inspection

A septic inspection helps you to know the condition of your septic system. You can also ask the septic inspector to provide you with tips and tricks on how do septic tanks work. It is especially important for homeowners and prospective buyers. It can save them thousands of dollars and protect their families from diseases and infections.

A septic inspection answers all the questions you might have: How do septic tanks work? How old is the septic system? Where are the septic tank and leach field located? How large is the septic tank? How much water and sludge are there in the septic tank?

So, what should you do to give yourself peace of mind? Schedule an appointment with a septic inspector to come to your house and check for any problems or defects in your system that need correction.

At Septic Works LLC, our septic tank inspectors will test each part of your septic system, including the septic tank, leach field, and soil.

After completing our septic tank service, you will get to know all the following details:

  • The type of septic system you have
  • The condition of the septic tank
  • The condition of the drain field
  • The location of the septic tank and leach field if previously unknown

10. Is a Septic Tank Inspection Really Necessary?

A septic system is an important component of your home. Although a real estate septic system inspection is not a legal requirement, it is highly recommended that you arrange for regular checks. An inspection will benefit you for the following reasons:

If you are a home buyer, you want to:

  1. Know the condition of the septic system
  2. Know the location of the septic tank and drain field
  3. Ensure the next home is in excellent condition

If you are a homeowner, you want to:

  1. Ensure the septic system is fully functional and suitable for expansion plans
  2. Avoid any potential issues of liability in the future from a malfunctioning septic system in case you sell your house
  3. Prevent unpleasant odors, flushing problems, or system malfunctions

At Septic Works LLC, we specialize in all things that are septic. We have been serving clients across the United States for 20 years. We are fully licensed and insured. Our prices are competitive and our specialized services are sought by residential, commercial and municipal clients.

Our septic inspectors provide an easy and frictionless experience. Our customer service agents are available anytime you need any help. If you have any questions about septic tank inspection or how do septic tanks work, call us today at 912-666-2210

buying a house with a septic tank

Reliable septic tank pumping Greenville SC

If you want an excellent service and a competitive price, talk to Septic Works LLC. Our septic specialists are experienced and well qualified. We are also licensed and insured to do septic tank pumping Greenville SC, septic tank installation Greenville SC as well as septic inspection Greenville SC. We bring the right tools, equipment and experience to every job.

Schedule your septic service today and have confidence knowing that you’ve got the best professionals on the job.