Why Septic Systems Fail: What to Do, and Not Do

No one wants to wake up to the foul smell of septic waste and plumbing backups. That’s why it’s important to keep your septic system working properly.


Here are some tips and tricks for maintaining your septic system and reasons why they might fail:

Why Septic Systems Fail

Septic systems fail for many reasons, most of which can be preventable if you simply know what to do. Common maladies include:

  • Using too much water
  • Poor design or construction
  • Lack of maintenance

Septic systems work by filtering the sewage from your wastewater. The cleaner water eventually seeps back into the soil, but this process takes 24 to 48 hours. You can’t use too much water, otherwise the sewage that seeps into the soil may still be contaminated.

Installers of septic systems must know local codes before digging in the back yard. Septic systems should be low enough in the ground so you never notice a problem. This usually means four feet of soil on top of your tank. Soils should be permeable, otherwise the water backs up and has nowhere to go.

When you fail to maintain your septic system, things can go terribly wrong.

Signs of Failure

Signs of septic system failure range from:

  • Plumbing backups
  • Foul odor
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system
  • Slow-draining plumbing fixtures, such as a bathtub or sink

When you spot any of these warning signs, contact a licensed septic system company as soon as possible. By the time you see any of these problems, it may be too late to fix the difficulty by regular maintenance. A septic system company can diagnose the problem and fix it properly so you can get back to your normal life. However, proper maintenance of a septic system is one key to preventing major hiccups.

Proper Maintenance

Proper maintenance can solve a lot of problems before they start. Add bacteria on a regular basis to keep everything flowing smoothly. Drain the septic tank when needed—this means keeping the drainage spout clear for when the tanker truck arrives at your house. Drain the septic tank when the bottom of the scum reaches within three inches of the outlet device. You can measure this layer by running a stick into your tank and then marking the layers on the side.

It’s also a good idea to drain the tank when the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet pipe. With either method, you should have the tank emptied with plenty of room to spare. The sludge is what settles to the bottom of the tank, while the scum floats on top of the liquid layer. Both of these layers can cause difficulties if your tank isn’t drained on time.

Luckily, you can do several things that help keep your system running in top shape aside from regular maintenance.


These things can help ease the strain on your septic system:

  • Use less water
  • Inspect your system at least once per year
  • Keep accurate records of your observations, such as water consumption, weather and the like.
  • Pump your system when needed

There are several ways to conserve water. Buy efficient fixtures and appliances. Aerators on faucets and shower heads reduce the water that comes out of the spigots. Wash small loads of laundry instead of big ones, turn off your water when brushing teeth and use only what water you need.

Being familiar with your system is key to getting proper maintenance before a major problem occurs. That’s where inspections, records and pumping regularly comes into play. You should also avoid several behaviors to ward off future problems.


Don’t use your septic system as a trash can. Keep out any solid objects as much as possible. This includes food from your garbage disposal, paper towels, medications and other trash. Don’t put egg shells, coffee grinds or instant mashed potatoes into your septic system as they may clog the system and prevent proper draining. Only septic-safe toilet paper should be used.

Don’t pour heavy liquids such grease, paint and oil into the drain. These liquids interfere with the normal action of the bacteria.

Call the Experts

Paradise Septic is the Phoenix area’s top septic system company. Since 1958, Paradise Septic has serviced thousands of homes. Each job has decades of experience behind it, so you can be assured that any septic tank project will be done right the first time, whether you have a new tank installed, an old tank replaced or routine maintenance performed on your septic system. Contact Paradise Septic for a free estimate on the work you need.

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