Septic Failure – What You Need to Know

Septic systems are wonderful while they are working, but what happens when they stop doing their job? Smells begins to radiate through the house, toilets are backing up and the family is getting cranky… Here are a couple thing you should know about septic failure.

Signs of Failure

Knowing that your system is or has failed can leave you feeling slightly dismayed. The following things may be signs that your septic system needs some assistance.

  • Drains are backing up. There is water and sewage returning to the toilets and the showers.
  • Drainage is exceedingly slow. Your bathtubs and sinks are taking forever to empty, and your plumbing is gurgling.
  • There is standing water over your drain field or septic tank. It is also beginning to smell like rotten eggs.

Reasons for the Failure

There are multiple reasons for a septic system to develop issues.


It could be that your tank is overfull and unable to handle the amount of waste it is receiving. If there have been additional people using the system, the influx of extra waste may be unable to move through the system in a timely fashion. This will leave only one exit for the waste. Back the way it came. A plumbing leak will have the same effect. If a toilet is constantly draining, the excess water will be entering and filling the system quicker than normal.


A clog can be created by anything that is not meant to be in the system. Things such as wipes (even flushable ones), paper towels, personal hygiene items, and kitchen waste. Any of these could clog a pipe and slow down the entire process. Even if the items make it into the septic tank, they fill up the space much quicker. As with overuse, the waste will eventually have no where to go.

Effluent Filter

These filters are the last defense before the effluent enters the leaching bed. If they are not removed and rinsed out regularly, they will stop the flow of the system.  Things such as salt from the water softeners can often cause issues. It is recommended to rinse these filter 2-3 times a year.

Leaching Bed

The leaching bed is one of the more sensitive areas of the system. Tree roots are attracted to the water coming out of the system and can quickly crush the piping. Vehicles that drive over the septic will also damage the piping and potentially even the tank. Considering this, it is best to keep trees and vehicles away from your septic system.

Rain is often overlooked but can also lead to your septic system’s malfunction. By entering the leaching bed, the rain minimizes the sand’s ability to absorb.  This naturally slows the wastewater leaving the system and forces it to return through the piping.


Like everything in the world, as soon as a septic tank is made, it begins to age. As time goes on, things begin to deteriorate, and material begins to build up. Grease, oils and other products that should not be entering the system will cling to piping and the sides of the tank. Eventually, the system won’t be able to handle as much as it used too. 


The typical lifespan of a septic system is 20-30 years. This depends on many factors, including the environment, the usage, and the type of system. A concrete tank will slowly begin to deteriorate due to the gases within. As the bacteria in the tank digest waste, they naturally release hydrogen sulfide. Once the hydrogen sulfide is combined with the moisture in the tank, it creates sulfuric acid.  This type of deterioration is unavoidable; however, these gases have very little effect on fiberglass and plastic (polyethylene) tanks.

Pump Chamber

If your system has a pump chamber, it could be time to replace it. After a while, the pump will have trouble moving the waste. The strain may cause the pump to fail and stop the flow of the system.

Septic Solutions

The solution is dependant on the issue. If your tank if overfull, it is best to get it pumped out more regularly. Being conservative with your water usage will help too!

If a pump out doesn’t help with the issue, you might need to call in a plumber or have a septic inspection done. This will help diagnose and solve the problem.

There are also all natural products that add microorganisms to your tank. They will help the decomposing process and may add a few years to the life of your septic system and leaching bed.


If your septic system stops doing its job, feel free to give us a call and we can help trouble shoot. We also have a few compagnies, inspectors and products we can refer. Remember, it is always best to do know about septic failure ahead of time and do some preventative maintenance!

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Call of the Wild Sanitation

July 2, 2024

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