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Top 7 Septic Tank Problems

As long you use and maintain it properly, a well-designed septic tank shouldn't give you any trouble. If you find yourself facing septic tank problems, see what solutions you can implement yourself. Then, if necessary, contact Mr. Rooter® for a plumbing repair.

Excess Water in the Tank

  • Problem: Using too much water fills the septic tank faster than it can handle. This allows solid waste to float on the rising tide and block distribution tubes designed only for liquids.
  • DIY solution: Minimize the amount of water you use each day. Take short showers, install low-flow toilets and wash laundry over a few days rather than all at once.
  • Call a plumber if you notice water backing up into your home or collecting around the tank itself, which are signs of blocked distribution tubes.

Non-Biodegradable Items in the Tank

  • Problem: Diapers, paper towels and tampons take up space in the tank, raising liquid levels and allowing solids to block distribution tubes.
  • DIY solution: Flush only bodily waste and toilet paper.
  • Call a plumber if you notice water backing up into your home or collecting around the tank.

Excess Detergent in the Tank

  • Problem: Phosphates in powdered soaps act as a fertilizer for algae, which can block distribution tubes if growth becomes excessive.
  • DIY solution: Use liquid or gel dishwasher and laundry detergents, which don't contain phosphates.
  • Call a plumber if you notice water backing up into your home or collecting around the tank.

Harsh Chemicals in the Tank

  • Problem: Pesticides, gasoline, motor oil and paint thinner are examples of toxic chemicals that kill off bacteria necessary for breaking down waste in a septic tank.
  • DIY solution: Never dump harsh chemicals down the drain.
  • Call a plumber if you notice plants around the septic tank dying, which is a sign toxic chemicals are leaching into the soil and polluting the ground.

Tree Root Intrusion

  • Problem: Roots can crack septic tank pipes, allowing dirt to enter, or they can collapse the pipes completely. These problems prevent the tank from draining properly.
  • DIY solution: If you're careful about the amount of water you use and what you put down the drain, but water is still backing up into your house, call a plumber to take a closer look.
  • When you call a plumber, he'll clean the pipes to make sure they're fully open. If he encounters a problem, he can run a camera down the line and see if root intrusion is to blame.

Problems with the Drain Field

  • Problem: A high water table or excessive rainfall can saturate the drain field and prevent the septic tank from draining properly.
  • DIY solution: If saturated soil is your problem, there's not much you can do except reduce your water use until the soil dries out and your tank starts draining properly again.
  • Call a plumber if you notice water backing up into your home to make sure there isn't an underlying problem other than heavy rain.

Sludge Layers are Building Up

  • Problem: It's natural for a septic tank to have a layer of sludge at the top and solids at the bottom. When these layers accumulate, they can plug up the drain field.
  • DIY solution: Septic tanks need to be pumped every three to four years. Call a plumber to perform this service for you and prevent damage to the drain field.
  • When you call a plumber, he pumps the septic tank and performs other maintenance tasks to keep the tank in good working order for years to come.

If you're facing septic tank problems, please contact Mr. Rooter for help solving the issue.