Do your part, be Septic Smart!
Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their own septic system.
If properly designed, constructed, and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewaters. If your septic system isn’t maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system should be in good working order.
If your septic system fails, or you need to install a septic system, you will likely require a permit from the Mid-Michigan District Health Department. Our staff recommends following these guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
You should have a typical septic system inspected at least every 3 years by a professional and your tank pumped as recommended by the inspector (generally every 3 to 5 years). Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected more often.
Use Water Efficiently
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom items can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system or might contaminate surface waters and groundwater.
The most obvious septic system failures are easy to spot. Check for pooling water or muddy soil around your septic system or in your basement. Notice whether your toilet or sink backs up when you flush or do laundry. You might also notice strips of bright green grass over the drain field. Septic systems also fail when partially treated wastewater comes into contact with groundwater. This type of failure is not easy to detect, but it can result in the pollution of wells, nearby streams, or other bodies of water. Check with a septic system professional and Mid-Michigan District Health Department if you suspect such a failure.
Common causes of septic symptom failures include:
- An overloaded water system: When a household generates more wastewater than its septic system is designed to handle, this can cause sewage to seep up to the surface of the soil or back up into the home through drains.
- Physical damage to the system
- A lack of maintenance
- Poor design or construction
- Driving, paving or building over the septic tank
Does someone in your house use the utility sink to clean out paint rollers or flush toxic cleaners? Oil-based paints, solvents, and large volumes of toxic cleaners should not enter your septic system. Even latex paint cleanup waste should be minimized. Squeeze all excess paint and stain from brushes and rollers on several layers of newspaper before rinsing. Leftover paints and wood stains should be taken to your local household hazardous waste collection center. Remember that your septic system contains a living collection of organisms that digest and treat waste.
For the most part, your septic system’s bacteria should recover quickly after small amounts of household cleaning products have entered the system. Of course, some cleaning products are less toxic to your system than others. Labels can help key you into the potential toxicity of various products. The word “Danger” or “Poison” on a label indicates that the product is highly hazardous. “Warning” tells you the product is moderately hazardous. “Caution” means the product is slightly hazardous. (“Nontoxic” and “Septic Safe” are terms created by advertisers to sell products.) Regardless of the type of product, use it only in the amounts shown on the label instructions and minimize the amount discharged into your septic system.
Hot tubs are a great way to relax. Unfortunately, your septic system was not designed to handle large quantities of water from your hot tub. Emptying hot tub water into your septic system stirs the solids in the tank and pushes them out into the drain field, causing it to clog and fail. Draining your hot tub into a septic system or over the drain field can overload the system. Instead, drain cooled hot tub water onto turf or landscaped areas well away from the septic tank and drain field, and in accordance with local regulations. Use the same caution when draining your swimming pool.
Water Purification Systems
Some freshwater purification systems, including water softeners, unnecessarily pump water into the septic system. This can contribute hundreds of gallons of water to the septic tank, causing agitation of solids and excess flow to the drain field. Check with your licensed plumbing professional about alternative routing for such freshwater treatment systems.
Eliminating the use of a garbage disposal can reduce the amount of grease and solids entering the septic tank and possibly clogging the drain field. A garbage disposal grinds up kitchen scraps, suspends them in water, and sends the mixture to the septic tank. Once in the septic tank, some of the materials are broken down by bacterial action, but most of the grindings have to be pumped out of the tank. Using a garbage disposal frequently can significantly increase the accumulation of sludge and scum in your septic tank, resulting in the need for more frequent pumping.
- Homeowner's Guide
- EPA's Septic Smart Program
- National Association of Wastewater Transporter
- Rural Community Assistance Program