What Is a Septic Tank and How Does It Work?

What is a septic tank, and how does it work? Check out our guide as we look at how septic tanks work and how to maintain yours properly.

Did you know that about 15% of the US population lives in rural areas? That translates to about 46 million people!

Most of those individuals, in turn, rely on septic tanks. Indeed, about 20% of people in the US, including many living in suburban areas, use these systems. If not for these tanks, these consumers won’t have a way to dispose of wastewater.

But what is a septic tank, though? How does it even work, and what benefits does it provide? When should you get one installed on your property?

If your mind is full of those questions, worry not; this guide we created answers them all. So, keep reading to learn more about these structures.

What Is a Septic Tank?

A septic tank is an underground structure used to treat and dispose of wastewater. It usually features a chamber made of plastic, concrete, or fiberglass materials. They’re common in rural and suburban areas without access to public sewer systems.

A septic tank system combines the power of nature and technology to treat wastewater. That waste comes from pipes connected to kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms.

What Makes up a Septic Tank?

A typical septic system consists of two primary components: a tank and a drain field. The tank’s primary role is to hold the wastewater and process it into effluent, sludge, and scum. As for the drain field, it’s a shallow, covered pit made in unsaturated soil.

How a Septic Tank Works

First, all the wastewater you produce flows out of your home’s main drainage line. That plumbing pipe then connects to your septic system.

The water-tight septic tank stores the wastewater for some time. That enables the solids in the wastewater to settle at the bottom of the container. Those particles then form a sludge.

At the same time, fats, oil, and grease (FOG) in the wastewater float to the top of the tank. There, they form a compound known as scum.

The liquid effluent exits the tank once the solids and FOG separate from the wastewater. It then flows into the drain field. A T-shaped outlet and compartments keep the sludge and scum from leaving the system.

Next, pipes in the drain field discharge pre-treated wastewater onto porous surfaces. They enable the wastewater to filter through the surrounding soil.

The soil then treats and disperses the effluent as it percolates through the ground. Over time, the treated wastewater discharges to groundwater.

The soil acts as a natural filter that helps remove harmful pathogens in the wastewater. However, it also absorbs nutrients that act as fertilizers from the waste.

What About Its Benefits?

Septic tanks provide areas not served by sewer systems with a way to treat their wastewater. Wastewater treatment is crucial as it helps cut the risk of disease transmission.

A milliliter of wastewater, after all, may harbor millions of bacteria. Many of those can cause disease, considering how plumbing waste contains fecal matter.

In addition, treating wastewater with septic tanks helps remove surface water pollution. Once treated, the water then recharges groundwater and aids in replenishing aquifers.

Do You Need a Septic Tank?

A recent survey found that nearly half of people in the US prefer to live in a suburban area. In contrast, a third said they want to reside in a rural area.

If you’re one of those folks and decide to push through with your plans, you likely need a septic tank. That’s especially true if you’re building a home from the ground up. A public sewer system may not be available in the area.

Another reason you might need to install a septic tank is if you plan to build or buy a cabin, be it in the woods or by the lake. If it’s outside the reach of a public sewer, a septic system is the only way you can treat wastewater.

What Does Septic Tank Maintenance Involve?

Fortunately, a properly-installed septic tank only requires inspection every three years. That’s one of its key advantages over typical sewers, which need more routine check-ups.

Moreover, cleaning a septic system is a job you can schedule every three to five years. However, septic tank pumping is a task a professional must perform for your and others’ safety. You can check out this page for more info on such services.

What Else Can You Do?

Efficient use of water at home helps keep your septic tank from overflowing. Remember: All the water that flows into your drains winds up in your septic system. So, the more water you use and the more leaks you have, the faster your tank can fill.

For the same reason, it’s imperative to monitor your taps, toilets, and pipes for leaks. So you know, the typical US household has leaks that waste almost 10,000 gallons every year. Moreover, just one leaky tap letting out one drip per second can already waste more than 3,000 gallons a year.

Another tip to keep your tank in top condition is never to intentionally pour FOG down your drains. True, your system can turn it into scum during treatment. However, if it’s present in excessive amounts, it can overload your septic tank.

Besides, FOG can clog your home’s plumbing pipes on the get-go. That can cause your drains and toilets to fail in channeling waste out of your home. Severe blockage can even cause them to spew and flood your house with sewage.

Instead of pouring used fats, oils, and grease down drains, put them in containers with tight lids. You can then place them in your garbage for disposal.

Care For Your Future Septic Tank

There you have it, the ultimate guide that answers your question, “what is a septic tank?” Now you know it’s a technology designed to treat wastewater in rural or suburban areas. You’ve also learned about its benefits and how to care for one.

So, if you ever decide to install one on your property, get it inspected once every three years. That, plus efficient water use and proper waste disposal, can help make it last longer.

Are you ready for more informative guides like this? Check out our recent blog posts, then!

Recommended Articles