Septic Tank Pumping: Ultimate Homeowner’s Guide

Septic systems are installed in about 1 in 4 homes in the U.S., and they are especially prevalent in rural areas that are not served by municipal sewer service. Rather than pumping waste through sewer mains to a central sewage treatment facility, a septic system pumps solid and liquid waste from the house out into a drain field and underground septic tank.

What is a Septic Pump?

A septic tank pump is generally a submersible water pump that is installed with the last chamber of a septic tank or in another pump tank after the septic tank.

A septic tank is used to remove sewage from buildings where the water level in the sewage system is lower than the water level in the sewer line or the building’s septic tank.

These pumps are small electric water pumps that can be submerged in wastewater. When the water chamber fills with water, the float switch turns the pump on or off. Since the pump is at the top, the small pump impeller rotates and pushes the water upwards through a pipe connected to the pump.

How Septic System Works

In a traditional septic system, all of the water and waste carried by that water flows through the house’s drainage system and through the main sewer pipe to the septic tank. The sewage flow can be done by simple gravity or enhanced by an electric pump.

The septic tank holds the waste material long enough for the solids to settle to the bottom, while oil, grease, and liquids later float the foam to the top. When the tank has reached its capacity, the liquids lying on the foam will later continue to flow into a series of porous pipes to a drainage field prepared with gravel and other aggregates, which helps distribute the liquid waste.

The fluids slowly filter through the soil while the bacteria break down the pathogens. If the liquid waste filters to the groundwater supply, it is practically sterile.

Meanwhile, the solids in the tank decompose under the action of anaerobic bacteria, creating a sludgy material that collects at the bottom of the tank. When the bacterial action is effective, the volume of this solid waste is greatly reduced as it is broken down.

Anatomy of a Septic Tank

The septic tank water-tight container is made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene, buried in the ground in an area near the house. It includes an inlet pipe through which all waste from the house’s sewer pipe goes to the tank and an outlet pipe through which liquids can flow to the drain field.

The top of the tank is slightly below the surface of the soil, invisible except for an inspection pipe or two and a manhole cover that is used to pump the sludge out of the tank when necessary.

When to Have Your Septic Tank Pumped?

The EPA recommends that a septic tank should be inspected every two to three years, with mechanical pumping typically required every three to five years to empty the tank.

Systems that are too small or subject to heavy use may need to be pumped annually. Some systems have electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components that need to be checked more frequently, usually once a year.

Pumping is the process of removing sludge from the bottom of the septic tank and this must be done before the sludge builds up to a level that blocks the outlet pipe through which liquids flow into the drainage field. The frequency with which this needs to be done depends on several factors:

  • Size of household: larger households, predictably, generate more waste, and thus fill up the septic tank faster.
  • How much wastewater is generated: The sheer volume of wastewater flowing into the septic tank can affect how fast the septic tank fills up.
  • The volume of solids in the wastewater: Households with many toilets, or who make frequent use of garbage disposals, tend to fill up the septic tank quicker.
  • Septic tank size: larger tanks can hold more solid sludge, and thus will need less frequent pumping.

There are ways to help estimate when you should have your tank pumped. As an example, the average four-bedroom home may have a 1,200-to-1,500-gallon tank, and for a family of four, expect the tank to pump every 3 to 5 years with typical usage.

How to Install a Septic Tank Pump in a Septic Tank?

Septic tanks can be installed in existing septic tanks or pumping stations after septic tanks. If the septic tank has a single chamber, we recommend not installing the pump directly on the tank.

When installing the pump in a single-chamber septic tank, settled solids are pumped out of the tank. These solids can clog the immersion zone or the penetration zone.

If you have two or three septic tanks, you can build a submersible pump into the end chamber of the tank. We recommend installing a dirty water pump that can regulate small solids up to 30mm. Otherwise, the small solids can clog the pump.

How a Septic Tank Is Pumped?

If you have a septic service professional that will inspect your septic tank on a regular basis, they will tell you when it is time to pump out the sludge from the tank. Generally, this is the case when the floating layer of flotation, lying between the mud and floating water, is within about 6 inches of the outlet pipe leading to the drainage field.

The septic service arrives with a large tank truck with vacuum equipment, and technicians insert a large hose through the manhole into the septic tank after the cover is removed.

While the truck’s equipment is vacuuming the contents of the septic tank, a technician will typically stir the contents of the tank with a dung rake to break up the solids and mix them with the liquid material to make pumping more efficient.

Costs for pumping a septic tank range from $200 to $500 depending on the region in which you live and the size of the septic tank.

Septic Tank Pumping

Why is Septic Tank pumping?

Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their septic tanks and drain fields. So, you may be wondering just how much septic tank pumping costs.

The septic tank pumping cost is dependent on a number of factors. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a septic tank to be pumped when the scum (top) layer reaches within 6 inches of the outlet pipe.

Unfortunately, you may not discover your septic tank is full until there is a problem, like foul odors coming out of your drains, or even worse, a septic system backup.

To understand the costs, it’s important to know what may be involved in septic tank pumping. All the wastewater from the home travels through a pipe to the septic tank. The septic tank is designed to hold the wastewater long enough for the solid materials (sludge) to settle to the bottom and for grease and oil (scum) to float to the water’s surface.

The tank construction keeps the sludge and scum from exiting the septic tank, and only wastewater is dispersed into the drain field. Newer tanks make accessing the septic tank easy because they have risers that reach ground level and are capped with lids. The openings for older tanks are on the septic tank and underground.

Typical problems leading to Septic Tank pumping

Between each septic tank pumping, a septic tank usually works efficiently. However, problems can develop for a variety of reasons.

Some of the typical septic tank problems include:

  • The floating scum and sludge fill the septic tank.
  • The pipes between the inside fixtures leading to the septic tank are clogged or blocked.
  • The scum and sludge levels are so high that they leave the septic tank and enter the drain field, plugging up the drain field because water cannot leech into the ground.
  • The ground is saturated with heavy rainfall or a high water table.
  • The drainpipe cracks due to roots or something else, so too much water is released into the field area.
  • The drainpipe is crushed, so the water rises too high in the septic tank and pushes sewage into the drains in the home.

Clearly, there may be more of a problem than just a full septic tank when you smell that foul odor in your home. When a technician does a septic system pumping, he or she is also an expert at spotting drain field problems or even sewage in a reverse flow from where it should be entering the tank.

How Much Does Septic Tank Pumping Cost?

Septic tank pumping may not be the most glamorous of tasks, but it’s important to stay on top of. Septic tanks need to be pumped every two to three years to work properly. Done one time, the service costs an average of $400. But left for decades, septic cleaning can turn into septic replacement and cost you $5,000 to $10,000.

How Much Does It Cost to Pump a Septic Tank Per Gallon?

How big your septic tank is will affect the cost of cleaning. It costs an average of about $0.30 per gallon to pump a septic tank, and most septic tanks range somewhere between 600 and 2,000 gallons in size.

The size of your septic tank will also affect how long you can go between cleanings because larger septic tanks don’t need to be pumped as often as smaller models.

Most tanks rely on gravity to work. Wastewater flows into the tank, which is buried in the ground outside your home, and water in turn is carried from the tank to a drainage field using sloped pipes.

How Much Does It Cost to Pump a Septic Tank Yourself?

Septic tank pumping is a job that’s best left to professionals. Not only is pumping sludge from your septic pretty unpleasant, but it also requires specialized equipment you probably don’t have lying around the house. After you remove waste from the septic tank, it needs to be properly transported and disposed of, too.

For most homeowners, it’s safer and more cost-effective to leave this task to a pro. You can reach out to a local septic tank cleaner to discuss your options and receive a personalized quote.

What Factors Influence the Cost to Pump a Septic Tank?

The factors influencing the cost of the septic tank pump out include the following:

  • Size of the septic tank
  • How full the tank is at the time of septic pumping
  • Prep works the homeowner does before the septic pumping service arrives
  • Condition of the pipes in the drain field
  • Age of the septic tank (older ones don’t have risers)
  • Geographic location (contractor prices vary by geography)
  • Contractor selected

The septic tank pumping cost can be minimal compared to what it could cost if there is a drain field problem or a septic tank needs repair. The typical costs for septic pumping are as follows:

  • National average cost for a septic tank pump out: $295-$610
  • Up to 750-gallon tank: $175-$300
  • Up to 1,000-gallon tank: $225-$400
  • 1,250- to 1,500-gallon tank: $275-$500
  • Large tanks over 1,500 gallons: $600

Typically, a homeowner will pay between $250 to $500 for a septic system pumping. Sometimes, a homeowner can save money by preparing the area for the septic tank technician. For example, the homeowner can ensure the tank access port is cleared for the technician.

5 Tips for Maintaining Septic System

There are several proactive measures you can take to ensure that your septic system operates efficiently and to reduce the frequency with which pumping is necessary:

  1. Reduce water usage. Using high-efficiency, water-saving plumbing toilets and faucets can greatly decrease the amount of water that goes into the septic system. Repairing leaks and drips is another way to reduce the overuse of water that can cause the septic tank to fill faster.
  2. Reduce solid wastes: Monitoring the solid waste that enters the septic system is another way to keep it working properly. Trash that is either washed or flushed down the drain can overburden the septic system. Don’t flush anything other than toilet paper down the toilet, and avoid using a garbage disposer that puts organic food wastes into the septic system. Throwing things in the trash takes only a little effort, but it will make a big difference in the management of the septic system.
  3. Direct rainwater away from the drain field. Downspouts and landscape grading that funnel water onto the septic system’s drain field can interfere with its ability to disperse water from the septic system.
  4. Don’t drain hot tubs into the drain system. This can put undue stress on the septic system; instead, drain water from hot tubs or swimming pools into the yard, away from the drain field.
  5. Avoid putting chemicals down the drain. Chemicals can interfere with the bacterial action that breaks down solid wastes, so avoid flushing them down the drain. This also includes various commercial septic tank additives, which generally do more harm than good. Unless a trusted professional has prescribed such an additive, don’t use any septic tank chemicals.