Septic System Failure – What causes a septic tank or field to fail?

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

septic gone wrongThe majority of septic systems fail because of poor design or lack of maintenance. Many older septic tanks may have had the wrong type of septic system installed based on the soil type, proximity to water (table or body of water), steep slopes, or high groundwater tables. These conditions can cause hydraulic failures and contamination of nearby water sources.

If a homeowner fails to undertake periodic maintenance, such as pumping or regular septic system treatment, solids, sludge can build up blocking the effluent filter if installed and potentially the drain field also.

In this article, we look at ways to avoid a septic system failure as well as five signs of failing septic systems. If your septic system does fail or you have high-cost septic system repairs there are ultra low-interest loans and some grants available across the United States. See this article “Septic System Financing – Can you get a loan or grant for septic system replacement or repairs?” for details.


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How to avoid a septic system failure

There are three main ways to avoid septic system fails, these are regular septic treatment, septic tank pumping and routine maintenance. Also what you do after your septic tank has been pumped is important.


Regular septic tank treatment

Many homeowners in the US use a monthly tank treatment so they have peace of mind that their septic system is working to its optimal level. One of the best septic tank treatments available was developed by a top US college and is manufactured in the US. Costing less than $9 per month, this tiny 55 grams tablet with no nasty chemicals or bleach eliminates all smells from your septic in just 3 days.

It also breaks down and eliminates all organic sludge from your septic tanks, including natural oils, grease and organic hydrocarbons and prevents back-ups, clogs, including corrosion.


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Septic tank pumping

Septic tank pumping is when a septic system professional will pump out all of the solids, scum, grease and liquid effluent from your septic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, homeowners should have their tank pumped every three to five years to empty it. If however your septic system is too small for your household or you have heavy such as a garbage disposal in your kitchen you use often, you may require pumping every year.


Routine maintenance

The EPA recommends you get your tank inspected every 2-3 years. Some states in the US or counties have more stringent regulations that require a septic system professional to service your septic system and drain field pipes sooner. A big part of routine septic system maintenance is using a septic tank treatment to avoid system failure due to excess solids or scum.


5 signs of a failing septic system

1 – Septic tank is backing up

Every drain in your home is connected directly to your septic system. When your septic system fails or is filled to capacity, no more sewage or wastewater will enter the tank. Because no more effluent and wastewater can enter your tank, it will back up backing up into the household plumbing including sinks, drains, shower and your toilet. Out of all five signs this is the most extreme septic system failure and you will need to call a plumbing professional immediately.


2 – Gurgling noise in your pipes

While noises are usual when wastewater enters your plumbing system, gurgling sounds are not normal when you flush the toilet or have a shower. Gurgling noises often mean there is a blockage (from e.g. toilet paper or tree roots) or you have a potential health hazard on the way from an overflowing tank where untreated sewage could be entering your household plumbing soon.


3 – Drains are slow

A septic failure can lead to slow drains where the water in your sink, toilet or shower drains slower than usual. This is often because the septic system is not coping with the amount of wastewater and human waste being sent to the tank.

This sign is often hard to notice as it could happen slowly depending on your water usage. Often homeowners believe this is a clog and try to unclog their plumbing, but the problem is not in the pipes, it is in the system. A slow drain is an early sign that you have a problem with your tank and you need to have it pumped and the problem investigated.


4 – Septic systems overflowing

When your septic system is overflowing you will see either pools of water or dampness near the tank or drain field, the grass near your tank is greener than the rest of the yard, or you will have slow drains or sewage backup into the house.


5 – Bad odors around the tank and inside

The presence of terrible smells near the tank or drain field and inside the house is another telltale sign of a septic system failure. If you notice strong and unpleasant odors as outside or inside then either your septic systems not happy, or you have a failing septic system. For more information on how septic gasses can be deadly in your house and what to do read this article – “Septic Sewage Odor Inside & Outside Why The Sewage Smell In House?“.


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Helpful Facts About Septic System Failures

Causes of Septic System Failure Description
1. Lack of maintenance Failing to pump out the septic tank regularly can cause solid waste buildup, leading to system failure.
2. Overloading the system Excessive water use or adding too many solid wastes to the tank can lead to system failure.
3. Poor design or installation Improperly designed or installed systems are more prone to failure due to issues like poor drainage or inadequate tank size.
4. Soil compaction Driving or parking heavy vehicles over the drain field can compact the soil and reduce its ability to absorb water, leading to system failure.
5. Tree root intrusion Tree roots can penetrate and damage septic system components, causing the system to fail.
6. Chemicals and household products Hazardous chemicals and household products can disrupt the bacterial balance in the septic tank, leading to system failure.
7. Groundwater contamination Contaminated groundwater can enter the septic system and cause it to fail.


The consequences of failed systems are not just that they can contaminate groundwater and local drinking water sources with harmful bacteria like coliform bacteria, they can also pose a significant health risk to your family and anyone using your house or yard. If you need your system services, septic pumped or a plumbing issue sorted, get a free quote today.


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