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Does Your Septic Tank Need Pumping? 6 Signs To Look For

by Harvie Simms

Septic tanks are a green option and can last for years with proper maintenance. They work by collecting sewage from your home and, over time, break that down into scum and sludge, with a liquid effluent between the two. Ideally, the effluent percolates into the drain field while the scum and sludge break down into gases via bacterial action. But sometimes things go wrong, and your septic tank can get clogged or become backed up and require professional attention. Here are six signs that your septic tank needs to be pumped.

Drains Are Slow

Most everyone has dealt with a clogged drain here and there. But if all your drains seem slow, or if you've removed what you believed to be a clog and drains remain slow-moving, it could mean it's time to pump that septic tank.

To test that it's not a clog, use a drain cleaner that's safe for septic tanks. This includes products that contain a natural enzyme or a crystallized form of sodium hydroxide. Alternatively, you can use a small amount of equal parts salt and baking soda, then flush the drain with a kettle of boiling water.

Ponding Appears in the Yard

When you've lived in your house long enough, you become familiar with areas that tend to puddle after a heavy rain. But these puddles usually absorb into the ground fairly quickly. If you notice a pool of water over the drain field that doesn't go away, or if it appears on a sunny day, this is a classic sign that your septic tank needs to be pumped.

Leaving this issue untended can also create a security problem, as it often signals to neighbors and passersby that the home is either vacant or that you're away on extended vacation and not taking care of things.

Grass Looks Greener Than Ever

Everyone envies the neighbor with the green, plush lawn. But if yours suddenly appears healthy and green over the drain field—more so than the rest of your lawn—this could be a sign that your septic tank is leaking or that it needs to be pumped.

The bacteria that's found in effluent could be slowly leaching into the soil, and that bacteria acts as "food" for the grass, making it appear healthy. 

Bad Odors Appear

If your septic tank reaches the point where old wastewater can't be replaced by new wastewater, it can cause bad odors to back up through the pipes and into your home. It's usually a rotten egg smell, but others may describe it differently. Either way, most homeowners notice right away when this happens. So, if you notice a bad odor, it could mean that the pump in your septic tank has failed and needs to be repaired.

But bad odors in the winter could also mean that ice has formed on the plumbing vents outside. This is really easy to check, and if you notice ice or frost, simply remove it by chipping it away. Similarly, the plumbing vents can get blocked by other things like chunks of soil or grass, especially if you've done some major landscaping recently.

Drains are Backing Up

When effluent can't move forward into the drain field, where do you think it's going to go? If you guessed your toilets, showers, and sinks, you're 100% correct. Sewage backup is one surefire sign that a professional should be called to pump your tank, especially if it appears in the basement bathrooms first.

Snow Melts Faster

Snow that covers the drain field might melt faster than the rest of the yard due to heat that's generated from the bacteria underground. But it could also mean trouble if other signs are present. If the area is also slushy, and you've noticed odors as well as other classic signs of backup and blockage, this probably means your septic tank needs to be pumped.

If you'd like to learn more, you can find more info here.