Is my septic tank clogged or my drainpipe & how to unclog

Septic Tank Dude Author at Septic Tank Dude
Jack has been working all of his life in the septic tank maintenance, cleaning and pumping business. In 2020 when COVID hit he decided to retire from pumping septic tanks and use his knowledge to help out readers of Septic Tank Dude. Jack has a wealth of knowledge to share on septic tanks, leach fields and much more.
Jack Cacy

clogged drain pipeHaving a clogged drain or septic tank can create big (expensive) problems for a homeowner. If you are experiencing slow draining shower, sink or toilets then you may be close to a fully clogged drain or septic tank.

Taking action is imperative to avoid a large plumbing bill in the near future. In this article, we will give you a natural treatment to unclog your drain and septic tank as well as advice on how to tell if it is your drains or septic tank that is causing the problems.

How to avoid or remove a partial drain clog

It can be hard when you own a septic tank as they are prone to blockages if not maintained properly and when you do get clogged drains, you can’t put any harsh chemicals down your drain or you can potentially kill all the bacteria in your septic tank. The best way to clear a partially clogged drain or clogged septic is to flush a tiny pill down your toilet to dissolve the clog AND prevent any future clogs from happening. This septic treatment is natural and septic tank friendly and is a preventative septic treatment used by over 21,000 homeowners as a monthly septic tank treatment with a range of benefits.


How to unclog a septic tank drain pipe

The septic tank is an underground holding tank. All wastewater from the house drains into the septic tank and slowly fills it up. The inlet into the septic tank is typically near the top. Also near the top of the tank is a pipe that leads into the yard, into an area known as the drain field.

When water in the septic tank reaches a certain level, this drain takes the water out of the tank and into the ground around the tank. The soil filters the water and removes the bacteria. When the water from the septic tank reaches the groundwater, it’s relatively clean.

If the pipe leading into the drain field becomes clogged, the septic tank will fill up without draining water. Eventually, the water will back up into the pipe leading to the house.

As the water creeps up through the mainline, fixtures in the house lose their ability to drain properly. If the septic tank is completely clogged, water will back up into the house quickly. If the septic tank is only partially clogged, the drains will become slow as the water struggles to wind its way down into the septic tank.


don't wait for your septic to fail, prevent it



How to prevent a clogged septic tank

homeowner with septic system treatment tabletClogs in septic tanks are caused by a variety of factors. One of the main reasons is a full septic tank from the build up of sludge or solid wastes. In a septic tank the first chamber will use gravity to separate the scum and grease that will float on the top, the liquid waste in the middle and the solids or sludge that will settle on the bottom. The wastewater in the middle is taken into the second chamber and into the leach field. If the solids build up too much in the septic tank then they can clog the outlet baffle or worse your leach field pipes. See this article on what to add to your septic tank to break down solids.

The solutions to too many solids in your septic tank

There are two main ways to reduce the amount of solid material in a septic tank

  1. Septic tank treatment – by far the cheapest option is to use a monthly septic tank treatment where you flush a tablet down the toilet every month. This natural treatment enhances your septic tank’s natural process and is around $9 per month. This will reduce the amount of solids so you don’t have to have your septic tank pumped as often.
  2. Getting the septic tank pumped – most septic tanks need to be pumped every 2-5 years (unless you are using a septic tank treatment) depending on the number of people in home and the size of the septic tank. You can find out how often your septic tank needs to be pumped by having a conversation with your septic tank maintenance professional. Also see what to do after your septic tank has been pumped here.


Solve your problems

5 septic system problems that can mimic drain clogs

  1. Clogged outlet pipe or baffle – most septic tanks hav an inlet baffle and an outlet baffle. The outlet baffle which often has a filter attached to keep solids from entering the line to the drain field. A clogged leach field is very common when solid waste enters the leach field. The solution as outlined above is to use a monthly septic treatment to reduce sludge and solids or to avoid this septic tank problem, have your septic tank pumped frequently.
  2. Septic tank clogged – blockages are common in a septic tank if the wrong things are put down the shower drains, sink drain or toilet. Chemical drain cleaner is a common problem if you own a septic tank system. Chemical drain cleaner can kill the beneficial bacteria in the septic tank meaning the septic tank backs up. Other items that are not allowed down the drain are excessive food scraps, wet wipes, paper towels or nappies. Anything that will not break down quickly in nature should not be put down the drains. Also, check that the toilet paper you are using is septic friendly.
  3. Septic tank full of water not draining – If the alarm in your septic system is going off and the water is above the normal operating level, you may have a clogged septic tank or a clogged leach field. It is important to see if this returns to normal as high water usage like back to back loads of washing or running a shower and dishwasher etc can mean the drain field can not cope with the amount of grey water going into the septic system. If not then you will need to call a local septic professional to investigate the problem.
  4. Damaged drain pipe – Often when you think of a damaged pipe you think of the small pipes in a new drain field becoming clogged. This is a common cause of a clogged pipe, but there are also other pipes that commonly block or fail. A common pipe to block is the main drain line that transports raw sewage and grey water from the house to the septic tank, often called the main sewer line. In older septic tank systems these drain pipes are clay pipes. If trees are near the main line tree roots are a common cause for blockage. Other problems that can cause damage to the main pipe or inlet pipe are earth movement caused by heavy equipment, earthquakes etc. A septic professional or plumber would need to use a snake or video imaging to determine if there is a problem in the main line.
  5. Leach field failure – Some homeowners are unaware that septic systems have a limited lifespan. A leach field is an integral part of a septic system. They are expected to last for a one to two decades depending on the use and the location of your property. This is a big reason why the regulations in most states require an allocated piece of land for a reserve leach field when you get approval for your septic system. Drainfields often fail due to either too much sludge, grease or solid waste clogging up the effluent filter or worse getting into the drain lines. The other way it can fail is through compacting soil. It is important that heavy vehicles, cars or trucks don’t drive over the leach field. This will cause the soil to compact and will reduce the drainage capacity of the soil. Building structures over the drain field can also do this such as decks, pergolas or vegetable gardens. Any of these problems will mean the drain field will not be able to process as much water from the septic system. This can lead to the septic tank system draining slower and less water can be processed and eventually the septic system overflows, which can look like a clogged septic tank.


What should you do if you suspect a septic tank problem?

If you are noticing slow drains or gurgling in your pipes, shower drain etc you will need to start investigating. Before you call an expensive plumber or septic professional, try the natural treatment route. A septic clog tablet and a monthly maintenance treatment can fix slow drains from as little as $9 per montht and potential drains clog in as little as 2 days saving you hundreds of dollars. If you are concerned that it is worse or you have friends coming over then you might want to call a septic service to investigate and potentially pump out your septic tank.


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