Septic Tank Backup

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If you have a septic tank, then chances are you may have encountered backup problems in the past. It is not only an inconvenience, but it can be embarrassing and expensive. Septic problems are also dangerous, since major backups can spread bacteria throughout your yard and home. But you can be on the lookout for potential leaks and backups by noticing the following signs.

When it comes to the mechanics of septic tanks, the heavy solids are concentrated at the bottom of the tank, while the top layer is for light matter. The middle layer contains your liquids, along with bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus. The bacteria is responsible for breaking down any matter.

Here is a cute, little video breaking it down.

The process of breaking down solid matter creates gaseous fumes, which are normally dissapted once entering the absorption field. When water gets trapped in the inlet and outlet pipes, the gases will have nowhere to go.

The odor is the main problem people notice when it comes to backups, but one thing that doesn't receive as much attention is slow draining. People often attribute this to a simple clogged pipe, but it could be an early septic tank issue. If you're having this problem, drain cleaner will be the most viable option, but it is something to be on the lookout for.

The most obvious sign will be a wet or soggy yard. The septic filter is responsible for slowly seeping out fluids so it is absorbed into the ground. When this process is disrupted, too much water can leak from the tank, resulting in a wet surface. If it hasn't rained, and you notice your yard is unusually wet, then you might have a septic issue. Take a shovel and plunge it into the ground. If water gushes from the ground, then the issues lies with the septic tank.

It sounds like a nightmare scenario, but there are things you can do to prevent messy cleanups and expensive bills.


The best way to prevent backups is to have your system pumped regularly, usually anywhere from two to four years. To keep excess water out of your system, you can use a low-flow shower head or toilet. Spreading out laundry days is also a way of averting too much water from flowing into the system in one day. You can also use a monthly septic cleaner to flush down your toilet. These maintenance cleaners introduce healthy bacteria and enzymes to your tank, and it will help in maintaining a proper PH balance. And when it comes to the kitchen, avoid using powdered detergents, since they contain powdered detergents like clay and plastic additives that can slowly clog your pipes over time. Instead, use liquid or gel soaps of any kind. Kitchen matter will not break down in the same way as human waste. And any type of grease or oil will not break down in the tank.

Paint thinners and other solvents should not be tossed into the septic system, since it will interfere with the anaerobic process, and will only end up in the ground. Septic tanks may also freeze during extremely frigid temperatures, and one way to remedy this is to cover the ground surface with hay, or anything that will insulate the tank. And lastly, avoid throwing diapers, tampons, cigarette butts and paper towels into the toilet.

If prevention is too late, there are small things you can do to manage the crisis.

Contenting with Spills
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You should treat septic-related spills as toxic in nature. Air-borne pathogens will infect your body, so it is essential to wear long-sleeved clothing, disposable shoes, a waterproof bodysuit, goggles and a mask. This is a job you should leave entirely to professionals while you and your family head to a hotel.

But here are some tidbits on how you can manage the problem until professional help arrives.

Spills are dangerous because of all the toxic sewage containing bacteria, viruses and parasites. Keep family members, including pets, away from any spilled areas to prevent contracting any disease. Contact your local water/electric companies to have them turn off the utilities for safety purposes. You can use a wet or dry vac to suck out any water, but you'll have to throw away the vac when finished. Throw away anything in contact with septic sewage, and use disinfectant of any kind in wiping down areas. Use a gallon of water and 3/4 cup of bleach to detoxify, according to the Alaskan Department of Environmental Conservation. Open up any windows to get rid of odors, and to allow the area to dry quickly. Using a dehumidifier will also dry the inside quickly. For any solid matter, use broom or dust pan and throw away afterwards. Always use gloves, even when not handling any water or matter directly.

When finished, have your utility provider turn on appliances and take a thorough shower. Use a toothbrush to scrub away any bacteria that may have gotten underneath your fingernails and trim them if they are long. Never eat anything until you are sure the place is adequately detoxified.

I want to reiterate that the best way in dealing with spills is to hire a plumber or septic tank specialist. They will have the tools and chemicals for detoxifying an infected area. There are also specialized cleaning companies that clean crime scenes and other toxic-laden areas. And since you would have to buy equipment and throw away cleaning tools when doing it yourself, you're better off saving that money for a professional clean-up job.

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