Maintaining Your Septic System

Caring for Your Septic System

The accumulated solids in the bottom of the septic tank should be pumped out every one to five years to prolong the life of your septic system. Septic systems must be maintained regularly to continue working.

Neglect or abuse of your septic system can cause it to fail. Failing septic systems can:

  • cause a serious health threat to your family and neighbors
  • degrade the environment, especially lakes, streams and groundwater
  • reduce the value of your property
  • be very expensive to repair
  • put thousands of water supply users at risk if you live in a public water supply watershed and fail to maintain your system

Be alert to these warning signs of a failing system:

  • sewage surfacing over the drainfield (especially after storms)
  • sewage backing up in the house
  • lush, green growth over the drainfield
  • slow draining toilets or drains
  • sewage odors

Tips to Avoid Trouble

Do have your tank pumped out and system inspected every 1 to 5 years by a licensed septic contractor (listed in the yellow pages or through your local health office).

Do keep a record of pumping, inspections, and other maintenance.

Do practice water conservation. Repair dripping faucets and leaking toilets, run washing machines and dishwashers only when full, avoid long showers, and use water-saving features in faucets, shower heads and toilets.

Do learn the location of your septic system and drainfield. Keep a sketch of it handy for service visits. If your system has a flow diversion valve, learn its location, and turn it once a year. Flow diverters can add many years to the life of your system.

Do divert roof drains and surface water from driveways and hillsides away from the septic system. Keep sump pumps and house footing drains routed away from the septic system as well. Do take leftover hazardous household chemicals to your approved hazardous waste collection center for disposal. Use bleach, disinfectants, drain and toilet bowl cleaners sparingly and in accordance with product labels. A list of approved waste collection locations may be found on the website for the City of Ames.

Don't allow anyone to drive or park over any part of the system. The area over the drainfield should be left undisturbed with only a mowed grass cover. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs may clog and damage your drain lines.

Don't make or allow repairs to your septic system without obtaining the required Environmental Health Department permit. Use professional licensed septic contractors when needed.

Don't use commercial septic tank additives. These products usually do not help and some may hurt your system in the long run.

Don't use your toilet as a trash can by dumping nondegradables down your toilet or drains. Also, don't poison your septic system and the groundwater by pouring harmful chemicals down the drain. They can kill the beneficial bacteria that treat your wastewater. Keep the following non-degradable materials out of your septic system:

  • Grease
  • Disposable diapers
  • Plastics, etc.

Poisons like:

  • Gasoline
  • Oils (of any kind)
  • Paint and paint thinner
  • Pesticides
  • Antifreeze, etc.

Please contact us at the Story County Environmental Health Department for more information on what type of septic system you have on your property or how to properly maintain your septic system.