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General Description of Septic System Operation

Any material that goes down the drain travels through underground piping into the septic tank. The above is a general representation of a standard septic tank showing the inlet from the home and the outlet to the drain field.

The Scum Layer which floats on top of the center water layer is made of lighter-than-water materials. Toilet paper, human feces, and grease, are the primary normal scum layer ingredients. The natural enzymes and bacteria found in the septic tank break down the Scum Layer. Feminine hygiene products, paper towels, handy wipes, condoms, and hair are also found in the scum layer but they do NOT break down. These items should NOT be flushed down the toilet. When the Scum Layer becomes thick enough it blocks the inlet from the house, often causing smelly messes inside the home.

The Sludge Layer at the bottom consists of anything heavier than water that settles to the bottom. Dirt, car keys, undigested waste, and even cell phones create a thick black oatmeal-like consistency that if left unchecked will become thick enough that it will exit through the outlet to the drain field. When this happens the lines themselves, and eventually the drain field itself, will become clogged, sometimes causing permanent damage.

Septic tanks need periodic removal of the scum layer and the sludge layer to prevent backups into the home and damage to the drain field. Septic tanks should be pumped generally every 2-5 years. See Septic Tank Maintenance .

 

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This site was last updated 06/09/05