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There are two main parts to the basic septic system: the septic 
tank and leachfield. Household wastewater first flows into the 
septic tank, where it should stay for at least a day to allow heavy 
solids to settle to the bottom as sludge and grease and light solids 
float to the top as scum. Sludge and scum remain in the tank so 
that naturally occurring bacteria can break them down. But 
sometimes the bacteria can’t finish the job and septic tanks need 
to be pumped out periodically.

When a septic system works properly, new wastewater from 
the house pushes the separated wastewater in the septic tank 
out into the leachfield, which provides additional treatment by 
allowing the wastewater to trickle through a filtering system 
composed of perforated pipes or chambers, gravel and soil. 
Bacteria in the soil also helps to break down the waste.

One problem can occur if the household uses so much water in a 
short time that wastewater is pushed out into the leachfield before 
solids have had a chance to settle out. Solids damage the 
leachfield pipes or chambers and can strain the system 
unnecessarily. So homeowners should stagger their laundry 
throughout the week and try to do no more than two wash loads 
per day. 

Checklist for your Septic System:
Do learn the location of your septic tank and leachfield. 
Do have your septic system inspected annually. 
Do have your septic tank pumped out by a licensed 
contractor, approximately every 3 to 5 years, or as 
often as is appropriate for your system. 
Do keep your septic tank cover accessible for inspections 
and pumping. Install risers if necessary. 
Do call a professional when you experience problems with your system or if there are any signs of failure. 
Do keep a detailed record of repairs, pumping, inspections, permits issued, and other maintenance activities. 
Do conserve water to avoid overloading the system. 

Don’t go down into a septic tank. Toxic gases are 
produced by the natural treatment processes in septic tanks and can kill in minutes. 
Don’t allow anyone to drive or park over any part of the system. 
Don’t plant anything over or near the leachfield except grass that doesn’t require irrigation. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs may clog and damage the drain lines. 
Don’t dig in your leachfield or build anything over it, and don’t cover the leachfield with a hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. 
Don’t use your toilet as a trash can or poison your septic system and the groundwater by pouring harmful chemicals and cleansers down the drain. 
Don’t allow livestock over the leachfield.