How Often To Have Your Septic Tank Pumped Out

Received an email which reads, “I had our septic tank pumped and it was nearly full and it made me think this is one area I have over looked in my preps.”

It sounds like a good topic to me…

I have a septic tank and integrated leach field. Do you live rural? Then you have one too. How often do you have your septic tank pumped out? (I’ll add a poll question in a minute.)

Septic Tank Factors Influencing Pump Out Frequency

how often to have septic tank pumped

Did you know that in a perfect world (we live there, right?) that you would never have to pump out your septic tank? That’s right. Human organic waste by itself will decompose in a septic tank. The resultant brew will eventually work its way into the leach field, and will be absorbed into the earth.

So why do we need to pump out it out once in a while? Well, because some things that get in there don’t decompose in a timely manner (or at all). This turns to sludge. That sludge fills the tank. The septic system itself no longer performs as it should. The tank’s output filter may eventually clog too.

The main reason that septic tanks need to be pumped is because of all the other junk that gets into the tank. The stuff other than from toilets (though toilet “stuff” other than human waste can become a problem too).

Household Size – Septic Tank Usage

First, the obvious. The more people at home, the more stress on the septic system. Ideally the system is designed properly for the expected living conditions of the home. Modern building codes should assure that. However older homes and their septic tanks and leach field systems may be undersized. It’s a possibility.

Grey Water

Grey water. The waste from your kitchen sink, other sinks, the washing machine, everything other than the toilets (black water). That’s the problem. Ideally you would have separate grey water plumbing. It would be plumbed to exit the home and drain in a manner which is separate from the septic system.

The problem… Most jurisdictions will not allow that. Therefore everything from the home (black and grey) ends up in your septic tank for (hopeful) decomposing.

The grey water waste product interferes with the septic tank’s natural “chemistry” of breaking down toilet wastes. It slows it down. Or worse, stops it.

Soaps – Oils

Soaps. Oils. These are the likeliest culprits entering your septic tank that slow it down.

Soaps (from showers, washing dishes, the clothes washer) really cannot be avoided. However maybe the types of soaps that are used would make a slight difference with its effects on septic tank chemistry. Actually, that’s a question. What do you think? We do try and use natural type soaps in general (those with the least extra additives). Maybe it’s all marketing BS. But that’s what we do here at the homestead.

Oils (from resultant cooking with pots and pans, washing dishes). We first use a paper towel to wipe the pan. Absorb as much oil/grease residue into the paper towel. Throw in the trash. Then we’ll clean the pan in the sink. I believe this makes a pretty big difference, eventually. What’s your opinion?

Garbage Disposer

Garbage disposer? No. Probably not a good idea. Although I don’t think it’s a particular problem with many foods (which will naturally organically decompose in the septic tank), it’s a temptation to dump “stuff” into the disposer. Again, greasy oily stuffs… Do you have a septic tank and a garbage disposal in your sink? What are your thoughts on that?

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper. Well, a bidet would mostly eliminate the need for TP. Most of us here in the US don’t have one. It just hasn’t been part of our cultural “cleanup”. Anyway, so is one type of toilet paper better than another for a septic tank? I asked our cleanout guy that question during their last visit. He said, basically all toilet paper will decompose eventually. Just some quicker than others.

This may be marketing BS, but I do look for “septic safe” on my toilet paper packaging. Logically though, the thicker it is, the longer it’s going to take to break down.

As a side note, for our camper which has a toilet and black tank, we are more careful about our TP choice. Plus, there are additive chemicals for those tanks for rapid decomposition treatment.

Okay, back to the question. How often do you have your septic tank flushed / pumped?

UPDATE: The poll results are in. After a few hundred votes…

How Often To Have Septic Tank Pumped? Most people pump out their septic tanks every 5 years. Followed by 3 years.

Septic Tank Treatment

Do any of you use septic tank treatment? If so, which one?

Does septic tank treatment really work? Yes, I believe it does to an extent. It’s probably good insurance, good maintenance to help keep the decomposition process going. I use it, just in case. This one:

>> Green Gobbler (I love the name)
(view on amzn)

I have also used Rid-X. Not sure if one is better than the other…

>> Rid-X (3 month supply)

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47 Comments

  1. – Four adults, two preteen boys. Problem here is tree roots in the orangeberg drainpipes, which I will dig and replace this summer when weather improves. Not really a scheduled item, just every three or four years for pumping. And yes, I put Rid-X down the toilet once a month.
    .
    – Papa S.

    1. – Oh, and the washing machine and the water softener both drain into the back lawn.
      – Papa

  2. Very good advice was given to me when I built my house, concerning my septic tank. (Which I never had before, being on a sewer system.)

    ” Keep your washing machine out of your septic tank. ”
    So, I drained it into another pit. Very good results with the surrounding trees.
    40 years later, due to backup, I had my septic tank pumped.
    Note: I never added any treatments.
    So, now I started on the ‘Green Gobbler’ regular treatments.

    1. Deepest South, Thats the same advice I got years ago. Washing machine, dish washer, kitchen sink all going in a 500gal drywell in a gravel field. 1000gal septic leaching 50ft into another 500gal drywell. You also want to keep your well water supply location as far as possible from septic systems. Mine is about 150ft from system. I also enjoy the “sweet water” from that main well.

  3. Funny you brought this up at this time. We built our present home about sixteen years ago. Installed our own septic system. Simple, two 500gal tanks, one 100 foot leach line.

    .At the time we built, this was our retirement home, me and my wife. Since then, we’ve taken in a son, a daughter, and grand daughter. We run a minimum of three loads of clothes a day, at least one load of dishes, plus baths and showers. This has been our septic load for over 5 years now.

    Our tanks over flowed for the first time last week, but since that one day event, has not shown any signs of doing it again.

    We treat our system with a dose of Rid-X every month. Might mention that the cabin my son lives in is connected to the same tanks.

    Sixteen years total, five of which included more folks than we had intended added, and we’ve yet to had to have them pumped. Last week may have been a warning.

    1. Dennis,
      If you have not pumped those spetic tanks, it sounds like now would be a good time before you force any more solids into your leach lines blocking them. just my 2 cents.

  4. Had a large septic tank and many hundred feet of infiltrators installed on the mountain when we built. Built it for tolerances of 5 bathrooms, and 12 full time bodies. Never had an issue. We use appropriate septic friendly products for cleaning, toilets etc….but also add probiotics to the tank quaretly. I find they do a better job of eating sludge than the usual rid-ex type stuff.

  5. We lived in a trailer that had a septic tank for 15 years. We never flushed toilet paper or anything else that wasn’t human waste. We also used rid-x every month.

  6. Last time I pumped was over 12 years ago, and there was little to pump the 8 years before..My tank is to accommodate 6 people living full time using the facilities, but there’s just only me.

    .I don’t put TP down the toilet.

    I never had to put bleach down except once a month, 1/2 cup with hot water rinse to keep the 25 foot long sink drain clean because it isn’t angled to drain well and builds up gunk.

    I don’t use bleach in washer

    Use 1/2 the recommended amount for laundry soap.

    No grease down the drain, dogs are my grease and leftover cleaners or it goes to the mulch pile. I use foil liner for broiling meats and baking, no pans to wash.

    I use little soap for dishes, and use mostly hot water to clean them (salads and steamed veggies)–I don’t produce many dishes to wash.

  7. I have asked Mr. to have the tank emptied. He is has been stubborn about it. sigh… When I bought my house years back it was one of the 1st things I did when I moved in.
    In my kitchen sinks the mesh drain strainers. You would be surprised at the pieces of food and such you can keep from going down the drain. Found the standard drain strainers had holes too big for stopping particles. Also work at keeping oils and grease from going down the drain as well. A little clear Dawn breaks it down well.

  8. For the first 25 years we never had to pump our tank with five people during most of that time then every 5 years for some reason. Installed a new field line and hope that helps. Use ridx and washer and sink water goes to a separate drain system.

    A relatively new thing is before you can get power the health department must approve your septic system. No approval no power. Oh well.

    1. Deep South,
      Have seen that requirement for septic approval before power in some areas also. It is an attempt to have people get their septic systems up to code. Good effort imho. Poorly maintained, over-loaded, or broken septic systems are the cause of a lot of localized groundwater contamination around the USA. Many states have been working to force compliance to minimum standards with their counties. This one of the few examples where govt is working to help improve the environment we live in.(think cleaning up groundwater quality for domestic wells)

  9. It might behoove everyone to check the OWTS (Onsite Waste Treatment System) code requirements for your area for information on when you HAVE to pump. In Colorado many county codes state that septic tanks must be maintained by pumping every five years at a minimum. There is a reason for this. Most people forget their septic systems until they have problems with a back up. If you have a backup, you most likely have forced solids out into your leach field and clogged it up so the “effluent” will not be able to disapate into the ground. Pumping the tank out at this point will give you a few months of use, but if the leach system is clogged with solids, you’ll have another backup when the tank is full again. “Fixing” clogged leach fields is not easily done, nor are attempts usually successful. that is why most septic system installers will tell you to install a new leach field.(most are not trying to make more work and $ for themselves, they are telling you the truth, a clogged leach field is best remedied by a new field). I have been designing septic systems for over 40 years, my best advice is to inspect yearly, pump tanks every 5 years at a minimum.

    1. Fortunately, most modern systems have an output line filter. That intentionally fails first which lets you know, in an unpleasant way, that you have a problem, but protects your drain field from contamination.

      <bb

      1. bb in Ga,
        Output filters only handle the big chunks. It is the fine material that goes though those filters that will plug the leach fields. By the time the “big stuff” hits those filters, you already have problems going on for awhile.

  10. 18 years into our house (bought an 18 month old built house), the undersized septic field failed, saturated, statue of limitations ran out preventing going after the builder. New leach field, after removing woods trees, trucking in soil and sand, $8,000, ouch. Total of 35 years at this location, replaced the 1,000 gallon septic tank two years ago, cracking. Tank and leach field inspection two years ago, good to go, after tank replacement.

    Have a tank outlet pipe filter/screen to catch any “debris” that might eventually clog up the leach field drain pipes. Two and one-half baths, only two of us now so pump out every three years. Removed the garbge disposal when replacing the kitchen sink and countertops.

    Essentially a new septic system, funyy thing is I think about it every time in the throne room, rural living, never nothing to do or think about.

  11. Just for data purposes- cost to pump and haul off from a 1200 gallon septic tank here in Colorado runs $500-600. Far cheaper than having to replace a clogged leach field though. something to think about.

  12. Thanks Ken,
    When we put in the septic tank and filter we had risers installed which makes it easy to check the tanks and pump but was surprised how full it was when I opened it after only 3 years. We have begun using Bio-Active every month which was recommended by our septic service and are reducing the anti-microbial products we are using.

  13. Would it make sense to have a backflow preventer installed on the septic line?
    I had one in CA when on city utilities (and midpoint on a street with a slight grade), but would the same potential issues arise with a septic system?
    My cousin had a lagoon before installing his septic. One winter the outflow pipe froze solid and everything backed up into his basement. Yuck.

    1. Finally Outta CA,
      On municipal sewer lines an inline backflow preventer was sometimes used to prevent sewage from backing up into your house from a street main blockage. Also sometimes used to help prevent sewage gases from doing the same. In 50 years of design, i have not seen any. A ‘Running Trap”, yes, but that is different animal.
      On a septic system, i have never seen them used. i would think they would be more a potential blockage than anything else. Even systems where pumping of the “effluent” (liquid waste portion) is done, code usually requires that discharge lines and pumps be “self-draining” ,which would preclude the use of a backflow preventer.

      1. Minerjim,

        Thanks for an expanded explanation. I brought the subject up when the house was being built and the plumber just blew it off with a “you don’t need one of those”. Didn’t have time to argue/research so it’s been one of those nagging questions. Good to be able to put it to rest!

    2. Reminds me of the house I lived in, back in the 50s, in Connecticut.
      An older house, on an older street lined with older trees.
      Once, our toilet backed up into the kitchen sink, due to tree roots growing into the sewer line going from the house to the main line on the street.
      Had to have it roto-rooted, which was a temporary fix.
      Moved out before it happened again.

  14. A question from someone who has never had a septic system. People keep mentioning that they don’t put TP into the septic. What do you do with it? Garbage?

    1. I don’t worry about it. TP will dissolve. After awhile. The alternative (garbage) is a bit much for me… Instead, I believe I would switch to a bidet.

    2. Lauren,
      Most flush it down. I imagine those that don’t flush it have had clogging issues with their system in the past. Must bag the TP then and dispose of it. Yuk.

  15. One other thing to be mindful of; leach fields can get compacted over the years due to many reasons (lawn tractor mowing, people partying on it, some even plant gardens on top, etc.). This prevents good liquid seepage into the ground. Golf courses and orchards have similar soil compaction problems; poor drainage and lack of soil “breathing”. This has remedied by an approximately 3 foot probe gas engine, portable, driven into the ground with a high pressure air blast to fracture the soil with injection of beads to “uncompact” allowing drainage, the air blast is done about every 3 to 4 feet in a grid pattern on leach fields, in my state it was approve to recover compacted leach fields. FWIW. I had it done about 8 years ago, worked for me.

    1. Grey,
      Good points and data on leach field “remediation”, thank you. You must live close to a larger town to have this service available? Also note that this type of remediation will not work in all soils. Glad it worked for you though. May I ask? Was the cost of this work cheaper than doing the pumping of the tank and avoiding the issue? Thanks again for speaking up, I learn something new every day.

      1. Hey Minerjim, I live in a small town spread out area, rural-woded-small farms. The air blast service was an independent contractor that I found web searching the area after finding this as an option in my state. The leach field compaction was different from any tank issue ( tank is pumped every 3 years). I had a greasy surface on my leach bed on the shady end that is mossy, liquid was not being absorbed since the soil was dense due to compacting. The areation by high pressure air blasting (poor man’s fracking i guess) resulted in immediate fluid drainage and a day or so drying up the slick surface. The air blast is so high pressured that the ground surface experiences pressure waves out a bout 3 or 4 feet. The machine operator steps to the side when the air blast is triggered, since the previous probe hole behind the operator shoots affluent like a 2 foot tall geyser, fun to watch, not so to inhale. For a 20 by 60 foot leach bed mound the air blast costs me $1,500. Who knew rural poop system are a gold mine.

  16. DO NOT USE RID X !! Father used it in our septic system, it (rid x) plugged up the leach field around the tank. The septic guy said leach field failed because the rid x closed up the gravel in the leach field. After had to put in a new septic tank.
    Septic tank was not a pre cast concrete one. He had a hole dug 20′ x 20′ x 10 ft and he used concrete blocks layer sideways in a circle and he went 8′ high ( soil was gravel with some sand). He put in a wooden form near the top, put in rebar, and poured concrete on top w/ a access hole.

  17. New septic, $2500
    Housetrailer.
    10 yrs later I had the septic pumped for the newly stick built house. Same septic 20 yrs later no probs….knock on wood.
    When I was newly wedded the rental had a two 55 gal drums for a septic….had a few problems. But the system was there for decades.

    We go from a basic outhouse, to barrel drums, a simple $2500 septic, now through gov bureaucracy, a simple septic can cost up to $10 grand.

    Is there any county of any state that would allow having a separate black and grey water tank?

    Doubt it

    Why are trailer camper holding tanks separate?
    Same $hit as household $hit??

    Septic safe.
    Campers choice.
    Natures best

    Keep following the money

  18. TP type matters. We had an actual side by side test. Two homes, two adults each, same time on septic tanks between pumping, both pumped on the same day, similar leach conditions because the houses are within 100 feet of each other. One house used Costco brand TP. The other house used thick, premium TP like Charmin or the rippled kind. Costco TP tank was in fantastic condition with no clogging or solids build up. The premium TP tank was a mess with lots of paper solids and a bottom filled with sludge.. Honey Dipper said premium paper takes significantly longer to break down. Premium house switched to Costco brand.

  19. Our septic pump out guy sends us a reminder when it is time and when I check back against my records – he is right. Our washing machine, kitchen sink, and dishwasher, and basement sink go to a drywall rather than the septic. I’m not sure those are legal any longer but it works well for us. We have not had problems with either other than rebuilding the drywall when we first moved in here 35 years ago and adding a second tank to the septic when we added a second story onto the house (requirement of the town).

  20. 1969 house with original septic. 2 water conscious adults in the house. Two bathrooms feed 2-500 gallon tanks. Clothes washing machine pumps out in back yard. Kitchen (no disposal)has a separate smaller tank located away from black. All of the leach fields are old and compromised. But, we do not want to “upgrade” to the newer tech, so we get the grey water tank from the kitchen pumped yearly, it stinks worse than the black water tank!
    The black water we pump every 2 years, it could probably go longer, but we keep it on a schedule.
    I flush some yeast down every time I make pizza dough. So every couple months.
    Our property is situated in the middle of 20 acres, so no prying eyes, and we don’t fall into the group monitored by the county. But we are not pumping raw sewage out!
    Weve lived here 16 years with no problems, so guess we are doing alright.

    Read The Septic System Owners Manual by Lloyd Kahn.

  21. Morning, my experience with 40+ years of Septic Systems.
    First of all the EPA and MOST Health Departments consider Kitchen Sinks and Dish Washers as Black Water.
    When I put my system in 15 years ago, I over-sized the System for possible expansion of the House, Systems are designed as per the number of Bedrooms in the house, oddly enough, not the # of Bathrooms or other stuff.
    Also the new systems are required to have a Ground Level Tank Clean-outs (those big green lids that are 6″ above ground in your yard) so no more digging holes as in the Photo Above, you simply remove the “Sealed” 2′ Dia lid and there you go… Stink City right there.
    I have yet to have my 1000 gallon tank pumped, some people open the Tank and say “It’s Full” yeppers it sure is, with Water, the only thing you need to be really concerned about is the solids in the bottom. Once those Solids are 2/3 to 3/4 full THAT’S when you need to pump that Tank. BTW, if you sell your home, you will need to have the Tank Pumped and system inspected and citified as good.
    One thing on Garbage Disposals, the “normal” ones should not be used, they build a model that grinds the “stuff” a lot more and are made for Septic Systems.

    1. NRP & Blue,
      Reason septic system size is based on # of bedrooms has got to due with occupancy. 2 persons per bedroom is what they figure, that way you can’t have a system designed for 1 bathroom with 5-6 bedrooms of people and be undersized. They have seen that happen all too much in the past. Most of the septic design regs i have seen have all been geared toward making people install a good system, good for the occupant, and good for the environment (groundwater). That said, i still have a lot of clients whine about how big of a leach field i design for them. I havequit trying to explain, and shrug my shoulders and say, “Its code, and what has to be done for approval”.

      1. minerjim:
        I agree, no mater what ya do people will always complain.
        UNTIL you do it their way and it fails……
        Tis one of those things that is always best to oversize, a Good Poop System is one of those. And God know I have a good Poop System LOLOL

        1. NRP (Blue, I’m leaving you out of this), With 800 pounds of beans set back, it appears the good poop system is covered. 🤣🤣

  22. Where I used to live we went over 7 years till the local township found a way to bring in more money.
    $35 filing fee a maximum every three years to “verify” it was done.

    I think they were working with the local septic company’s to bring in more money, they (septic people)had to sign off that the pumping was actually done..

    Holding tanks are obviously very different and need pumped depending on your use, actual septic with drain field? years can go by with zero issues.

  23. This might be a great time to consider getting a Bidet toilet seat. I know you may think this is some new type of waste of time thing, but it really is the next step to comfort. You will use dramatically less toilet paper, (fast dry and quality check only). If you want to do something that dramatically improves the quality of life, consider getting a Bidet toilet seat. The fancy ones have heated seats, internally warmed water, all kinds of patterns and an air blower to dry, if you want to wait that long. As far as prepping, you don’t have to store as much toilet paper, and it really saves the septic system. It draws less than 200 watts peak from my solar inverter, vital load buss. Make the improvement in your life now.

  24. I moved into my septic-equipped house six years ago. I had the tank pumped last year, after 5 years of use, at which time the guy asked “Why’d y’wait so long?” He told me that the tank needs to be pumped every four years; period. We have a 3BR/2B house, with four people residing in it. For the record, the tank was found to be running well, with very little sludge on the bottom. There was a raft of undissolved waste floating on the surface, which is also part of the reason to have the tank pumped every four years. that’s the makeup of the tank’s biosphere; the sludge, the liquid, and the raft.

    I use an enzyme-based commercial grease trap cleaner in my kitchen sink every month or so. This breaks down the oily waste, keeps the kitchen drain line clear, and doesn’t bother the septic tank. It’s also cheaper than Rid-X, which, by the way, the tank pumper said was unnecessary, unless the system is brand new, and needs to be “activated” for the first time. He said that once the enzymes get going in the tank, further treatment is money… down the drain…

    I’m a grease Nazi. I wipe any greasy cookware off before washing it.

  25. Anybody here try NT-Max industrial strength septic tank treatment? I get a damp spot in my leech field system during the snow melt and thus saturated soils but resolves after that. Reading about biofilm that can clog up leech field lines and was researching solutions as Rid-Ex and such seems to be septic TANK specific.

    Thoughts? Thanks

  26. ok, my question is, is it ok to rinse my electric razor in sink or will over time the shavings cause back up? i looked on internet but really could not find answer. most of time i use brush to get hairs out of electric razor but really it needs to be rinsed out.

  27. I do regular septic tank treatments and a separate treatment for the leach lines. One experience I had was that the “baby wipes” do not decay and they clog leach lines. I have rented a 100′ sewer snake to clean in out the lines. Everything works nicely today, and I don’t have to spend $7K for a new system.

    1. Okie what product have you found that works well? A lot of different products out there all with “Good Reviews”, most that bad mouth the “Other Products”.

      BTW Charmin toilet paper is according to my septic pump guy the product that keeps him in business. In the past few years I stopped using it my septic man has commented how healthy my tank was. Septic Safe is NOT a marketing term it means something. Charmin is NOT septic safe.

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