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How Does a Septic Tank Work?

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Not every property has mains drainage. If you’re in a rural location, the chances are your home has a septic tank. A well maintained off-mains drainage system can last for years. So how does a septic tank work?

Get to know your septic tank

A septic tank system takes all the wastewater from your dishwasher, washing machine, sinks, bath, shower and toilets through drainage pipes to your tank. The waste then passes through different chambers and gets broken down into layers and processed.

Your tank is likely to be either brick built or made from glass-reinforced plastic (GRP). Both systems essentially work the same, except GRP tanks have a baffle instead of a T-pipe to stop solids from entering the wastewater tank and the drainage field.

How your septic tank works

Most modern septic tanks have two separate chambers, each with independent access. Wastewater flows into the first chamber, and solids begin to separate from liquids. The solids are then anaerobically digested – think of your tank as a cafeteria for friendly bacteria.

When the wastewater hits the outlet pipe level, it overflows into the second chamber, where the settlement process repeats.

Your tank isn’t a water treatment plant. What it does is break down any solids in the water, which then separates into three distinct layers:

  • The top layer is oils, fats and other less dense matter that rises to the top
  • The middle layer is made up of wastewater that will pass out of your tank and through your soakaway system
  • The bottom layer of sludge is composed of dense and inorganic matter. During septic tank emptying, this layer of sludge gets pumped away

This process keeps repeating depending on how many chambers there are in the tank. The remaining wastewater drains into the leach field – also known as the soakaway system or drainage field.

What happens in the drainage field?

New Environment Agency regulations mean that you should have upgraded your septic tank system by January 2020. All tanks must now be connected to a properly installed drainage field to be fully compliant.

The remaining wastewater flows through a series of perforated pipes that allow it to trickle into the soil. A porosity test will determine whether the soil around your property will allow this to happen.

Once in the soil, any excess wastewater will be used by plants and trees, evaporate naturally or enter the groundwater. This percolation process helps to treat the waste, so the remaining water is safe. Your off-mains drainage system can be harmful to local wildlife if it doesn’t meet Environment Agency specifications.

Looking after your septic tank

Your off-mains system may not last forever, but with a few simple tips you should enjoy trouble-free drainage for years to come:

Be careful what you flush or put down the sink

Antibacterial products will kill the bacteria that help break down waste, while nappies, wipes and other unflushables can cause problems. Dispose of cooking fats separately as they can clog the drainage field.

Look for problems

A visual inspection once a week will help you stay on top of problems. Look out for dirty water staying on the ground above the drainage field, toilets backing up or your tank filling too fast, and get it checked out by the professionals.

Don’t forget to get your septic tank emptied

Regular septic tank emptying is the best way to keep your tank well-maintained. At M. Gaze & Co Ltd., we can advise you on the best time to empty your septic tank, so call us 24/7 on 01508 548 543 or book your septic tank emptying in Norfolk or Suffolk online today.

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