Septic Cleaning Services: How Often and Average Cost

Homeowners with a septic tank will have rely on septic cleaning services when it comes time to have it pumped. Most health agencies recommend cleanings every two or three years, but most home owners, depending on the size of the tank and the number of people living in the home, might wait as long as five years between cleanings.

In most instances the cleaning service will arrive after they are called by the homeowner and pump out the sludge layer at the bottom of the tank as well as the scum lay that accumulates at the top. Typically, the tank needs pumped out when the bottom of the scum layer as within six inches of the outlet pipe or the sludge layer is less than 12 inches from that pipe. The difficulty is in knowing when they have reached that level.

Homeowners often contract with service providers to perform inspections at the same time as pumping to ensure that the recommended levels are not exceeded. If the oil and fats in the scum layer manage to reach the outlet pipe, it will find its way into the drain field possibly leaching into the field and could clog the drain pipe. If the bottom sludge layer manages to reach the outlet, it will most likely result in the need to flush the drain field pipes, shutting down your system for a few days.

On average these, service providers charge between $200 and $300 to come out and pump. Typically, their trucks can handle up to 1,000 gallons, but if your tank is larger and they have to make a second trip, the cost of pumping will be higher. Additionally, if they have to physically locate and dig down to find the access door, the charge will also be higher. The homeowners can help reduce the charge by ensuring they have ready access to the opening when they arrive.

Homeowners may also use certain additives to prolong the time needed between pumping; however, if the system is functioning properly, the money spent on the additives may not be worth the effort. While there is certainly nothing wrong with using biological cleaners, some experts recommend against using harsh chemical additives. Some of the chemicals in the cleaners could kill off the good bacteria in both the tank and/or field causing further problems.

Septic Cleaning Frequency

This table gives the frequency for cleanings. Here are other influences that determine if pumping should be more frequent:

  • Very heavy rain can saturate the drainfield causing effluent to flow back into the tank; typically this situation should remedy itself but might be a good time to pump.
  • Extra people living in the home or a small tank for the number of people is reason to pump more often.
  • Using a garbage disposer on your kitchen sink adds a lot of material to the bottom of the tank. It’s best to avoid the garbage disposer, but if you decide to use it, then the tank should be pumped every year.

Most cleaning services will offer to set up a reminder for you to call you for pumping in a 3 to 5 years. It’s not a bad idea to take them up on it. With our hectic lives, it’s nearly impossible to remember to do something in 3 weeks, not to mention 3 years.

Amount of Material Added by Garbage Disposer
Garbage Disposal

Other Materials to Avoid Putting Down Drains
Avoiding Septic Problems


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