Septic Tank Pumping & Septic Tank Cleaning
Pumping and cleaning the septic tank is the single most important thing you can do to maintain a healthy and extensive life of your septic system
For Estimates & Service, Call 480-304-5611
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” – Benjamin Franklin
Green Arrow Environmental Septic Services assists residents & commercial establishments in the Phoenix metro area with onsite waste water treatment facilities (OSWTF), commonly known as septic systems. Septic systems are an inexpensive solution for treatment of waste water in an area where it can be very costly for the homeowner or the municipality to connect waste water (sewer) services to a centralized water treatment facility.
When installed and maintained correctly, septic systems provide proper treatment of septage waste from a residential or commercial establishment. Once installed, it is the owner’s responsibility to properly maintain the septic system and have it pumped out every 3 to 5 years and inspected by a certified inspector if selling or transferring the property with a septic system (in accordance with Arizona Law – please refer to Arizona Administrative Code, A.C.C. R18-9-A316).
Hello, my name is Peter Marquardt, co-owner and operator of Green Arrow Environmental Services, Inc. I am going to discuss the process that we as professional septic tank cleaners or septic pumpers often go through to help you maintain your septic system. I hope you gain a better understanding of your septic system as you read everything below. I apologize in advance for any typos and misprints. Happy reading…
Before I begin, please note…DO NOT wait until you encounter a problem or issue with your septic system. When we drive our vehicles around town, we don’t wait for them to run out of gas before we decide to put gas in them so they will run again, the same is true with septic systems. If you wait for a problem to happen, budget or plan on spending your hard earned money on a costly repair or clean up…sometimes making your toilets and showers unusable until the problem is fixed properly.
What is a septic system? A septic system is an underground, self contained, onsite waste water treatment system. There are two (2) components to a septic system; 1) the septic tank, which is water tight and the 2) disposal area or leaching area (also referred to as leach lines, leach pit, drain field, soil absorption area, etc.). The septic tank is connected to the house or building through a main sewer line that is generally 4 inches in diameter. Outside of the home, usually within a few feet of the foundation are sewer clean outs that allow a plumber to rooter or “snake out” the main sewer line if it becomes clogged. Many older homes unfortunately do not have these clean outs or access to the main sewer line. Irregardless, it is not possible to clean the septic tank through these sewer clean outs. All waste water (grey water from sinks, showers, laundry and dishwasher, etc. - black water from toilets) flow through the main sewer line underneath the house and then outside into the septic tank.
The septic tank, if up to code will be located atleast 10 feet away from the house or building. Once the waste water enters the septic tank, the natural enzymes & bacteria inside our bodies are released when we use the bathroom and will help break down the septage matter inside the tank. There are three (3) layers inside a septic tank; 1) sludge, which is heavier than water (food – garbage disposal matter and other heavy material) which sits on the bottom as decayed, odor causing matter, 2) clear water or clarified waste water – well, it’s not always clear, but you do not want the floating matter in the water to go further downstream to the disposal area where it will causing clogging and back ups, 3) scum layer, which is anything lighter than water and floats to the top. This could be grease, plastics, toilet paper, wipes and other matter. Pumping the septic tank is the only proper and efficient way to completely remove the sludge and scum layers from a septic tank. I have seen more cases where the sludge layer has been so deep that it has taken hours to properly clean the inside of the tank only to find out that the sludge had caused accelerated deterioration of the septic tank. The bad news in a case like this is the tank would need to be replaced immediately to prevent exfiltration or leakage out of the tank into the ground outside the tank. Clean up of this level could result in bioremediating the soil and possibly hefty fines from the County. This is why it is so important to pump out your septic tank every 3 to 5 years.
As the septic tank begins to fill up with all of this “stuff – well, doo doo” and undergo its natural separation process, the tank becomes “full.” That is, it has a static liquid level or water line which it maintains in order to function properly. A normal water line or liquid level is just below the the sewer line (inlet pipe) coming into the tank and the sewer line (outlet pipe) going out of the tank to the drainage or disposal area (see picture below). As waste water enters the tank, the liquid level rises slightly and pushes the effluent out to the disposal area. If the level is higher or lower than this there may be a serious issue! If it is too high, there could be a clog, the sludge is too deep and blocking the outlet line to the disposal area, there could be an effluent filter that needs to be cleaned, etc. If the level is lower than this, it could mean the tank has been compromised and leaking into the subsurface causing contamination. Either way, your system requires immediate attention.
How you control what goes into the tank depends on the life expectancy of the entire system (tank and drainage area). For example, if you use too much water or have a leaking faucet or toilet, this excess water will go right through the tank and out into the drainage area. Eventually the drainage area will become too wet and will not be able to handle the water volume it receives. The ground and area become saturated and soon it will be visible on the surface or the area will be greener than the surrounding area. This is a sure sign there is an issue.
Below is a list of DO’s and DONT’s. It is not all inclusive of everything you sould or should not do, but it will help you understand what you can do to care for your septic system. The basic rule: IF YOU DON’T EAT IT, DON’T FLUSH IT!
- Do conserve water – laundry, showers & dishwasher
- Do use only “septic safe” toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc.
- Do repair leaking faucets and toilets immediately
- Do use low volume flush toilets and water conserving shower heads
- Do limit your automatic water softener regeneration cycle frequency
- Do limit the use of your garbage disposal – put it in the garbage
- Do direct gutter downspouts away from your system
- Do grade your yard so surface runoff is directed away from your system
- Do minimize waste – Only toilet paper and poop should be flushed down the toilet
- Do tell contractors you are on a septic system
- Do pump and inspect septic your tank more often than not
- Don’t overload the system with high volumes of water
- Don’t put anything down the drain that could be disposed of some other way (i.e., in the trash can)
- Don’t drive over the drainage area, building over it or compacting the soil in any way
- Don’t wait for the system to back up or have problems – care and maintain the system to avoid paying for costly repairs
- Do not enter a septic tank without proper ventilation – call a professional – that would be us!
- Do not flush the following items into your septic system: bleaches, caustic cleaners, coffee grounds, disposable diapers, baby wipes or any other type of wipe, sanitary napkins, cigarette butts, fats, grease and oils, disinfectants, photographic chemicals, pills and unused medication, dental floss, Q-tips, kitty litter, tampons (plastic tips should be thrown in the garbage), condoms, paper towels, pesticides, other chemical wastes, paints, varnishes, waste oils, poisons, thinners, medicinal needles, plastic bags & more
If by chance the above items do enter your septic tank, it is a very, very, very, very, very good idea to have it pumped and removed so that it does not damage the enzymes or bacteria inside of your tank.
Maintaining proper care for your septic system is vital to the life expectancy of the tank and drainage area. The better you care for and have your tank and drainage area (when needed) cleaned out or pumped, the longer the system will last and the less issues you will have. With the advanced systems that we have nowadays, some repairs can be several thousand dollars!
What is the cost to pump out a septic tank? The cost for having the septic tank pumped out can range from $250 to $450 (budgeted cost every 3 to 5 years!) depending on the size of the tank and work involved to find/locate and access the septic tank in order to clean it properly. The basic rule here: IT IS CHEAPER TO CLEAN AND MAINTAIN THE SEPTIC TANK THAN PAY FOR REPAIRS. If you have waited too long (over 5 years) to have your septic tank cleaned out, you are setting yourself up for a failed component of your septic system and will experience a back up. This can be encountered by water entering the home through the lowest point in the home or establishment. This is usually a shower or tub. Often the system will make a gurgling sound when the toilets are flushed or when the clothes washer releases the wash water. Call us today to have your septic tank cleaned out immediately if you have or are experiencing these symptoms with your septic system.
The septic tank is usually buried underground from a minimum of 1 foot and up to as much as 5 feet deep or more. This is to allow for proper drainage inside the main sewer line we mentioned earlier. After the septic tank is installed there can be risers or extensions that may be installed to bring the access to the septic tank closer to the surface for cleaning, maintenance and inspection. Most commonly this can be in the form of a 4-6 inch pipe that comes up vertically from the tank near or at the surface. Other times, there can be an 18-24 inch concrete riser installed on the tank. Depending on the method, these access points may be lost underground after the yard is graded or landscaped. Once this happens, many homeowners worry about the cost to find or locate the septic tank or it even becomes “out of sight, out of mind” and therefore cleaning the tank gets put off or not done at all. In some cases, risers or extensions are not added at all. If this is the case, it will be necessary to excavate or dig down to the top of the tank and remove the lids in order to properly clean the inside. To get an idea of how deep your septic tank may be buried, open or unscrew the sewer clean out caps near your house (if you have them) and shine a flashlight inside. Take a tape measure or other measuring device and carefully send it in the pipe. At the bottom of the pipe where it meets the main sewer line it will bend. Stop here and bring the measuring device back up. This is the approximate depth. If there is standing water in these pipes, it may be time to have the tank pumped out. PLEASE PROPERLY CLEAN & DISINFECT YOUR MEASURING APPARATUS AFTER USE.
To properly clean out the septic tank, it must be located or found as mentioned above. There are a couple of methods that are used to find septic tanks. Each varies in additional price or cost to the homeowner depending on the equipment or labor involved. In some cases, the septic permit documentation will have a plot map (but not always) of the house and the location of the septic tank. In every plot that I have experienced or seen, it is only as good as the person who drew it! That being said, sometimes they are not very reliable. Other methods for locating the septic tank will be with the use of electronic/radio detection equipment. The technician will use the sewer clean outs or the plumbing vent on the roof and send a cable with a tip that will emit a radio signal back to a wand or locator. This is a very accurate method and in some cases more costly but well worth the money (typical cost can be around $200). Other methods can be with the use of soil or water probes. These are metal-like, typically with a metal T-handle and are pushed into the ground until hitting the top of the septic tank which is concrete (most cases – can also be fiberglass or polyethylene). The water probe is simply hooked to the hose bib and sprays high pressure water into the ground until the top of the tank is found. Either method is effective but one may encounter the same or higher cost than electronically locating the tank which is more accurate and doesn’t take as much time. The cost to the homeowner is typically done by the hour (one hour minimums) rather than flat rate. Hourly costs could range from $75-$125 per hour. In most cases the tank can take an hour or less to find. I have been called out to jobs where the homeowner has paid for the probing job and ended up with over 900 holes in their yard before the tank was found! It looked like a mix between a battle field and a rodent issue.
Well, now that the tank has been located or found, it should be determined how deep one must dig in order to get to the tank. A good deciding factor was mentioned above by unscrewing the caps off the clean outs and shining a flashlight inside and looking at the depth. This is a pretty good indicator. The only margin of error is if the yard is sloped, change in terrain or if risers have been installed to bring access closer to the surface. The only way to find that out is by….tada…digging. Yes, this is why we make the big bucks – NOT! No one likes to dig, especially here in Arizona in the middle of the summer at 115 degrees!!!! This is where alot of the cost to clean the septic tank plays a major role. If the septic tank is only buried a foot or so deep, it’s an easy dig – unless there is caliche (pronounced hard as concrete but it’s dirt)! In other areas where it is rocky or there is extremely hard soil, almost concrete like, the price will go up dramatically. Typical costs for a shovel dig can run about $75 per hour (that is first to access the tank and then put all the dirt and yard back together – minimum usually of 2 hours). If a deeper or more involved excavation is involved, costs can run at $125 per hour for use of mechanical equipment, such as the one shown below.
When digging or excavating to get access to the septic tank there are several things you are looking for. Either you will run into a riser before you get to the top of the tank or you will be digging until you get to the top of the tank, which generally will be concrete. If it were my house, I would always use the biggest access to clean the tank. There is better mobility to swing the hose and clean the inside of the tank and get all of the sludge removed. However, if you do have the risers that come up to the surface, you have every incentive to clean more frequently. There is no guess-work or investigation to be done as described above. The access is already there – get it cleaned! If you let it go too long between cleanings it is more difficult to do a better cleaning through the risers especially if you are using a 3 inch hose in a 4-6 inch riser. You get the idea.
If you end up digging down until you get to the top of the tank, what you are looking for depends on the age of the tank and year it was installed. Newer tanks have two large 24 inch round access holes (don’t say that too fast) and there are two (2) chambers inside the tank. Older tanks may have access towards the front (inlet side) of the tank or towards the middle. The lid or access to the tank may be as small as 4 x 4 square inches, 12 x 12 square inches or have an end that slides off (these are back busters)! While you are digging around you may run into some rusty rod iron hooks. Don’t get too excited. Some of these were used to hook chains and hoist the septic tank into its place, while others may be a handle to remove a lid. If you run into one of these hooks, broaden your dig and look for what would appear to be lines in the concrete or the outline of the lid you need to remove for us to clean the inside of the septic tank.
The lids or access ports to the septic tank are tappered or have a lip on them to prevent the lid from falling inside the tank. From the photos above, you can see a good chisel and hammer is best to remove these lids. CAUTION: Never attempt to open the lid. There could be highly toxic fumes or gases inside the tank. Always call a professional at Green Arrow Environmental Services, Inc. @ 480-304-5611. Besides, it’s not like it is Christmas morning and you just can’t wait to open your present (septic tank). This is a septic tank – your crap lives in there! I think you can wait to have a professional from Green Arrow Environmental Services, Inc. to open and remove the lid properly. Besides, we’re immune to the smell – NOT!
After the professional arrives, the technician will carefully remove the lid and set it to the side. They will usually either agitate the scum layer inside with a water hose, special tool or shovel. This breaks up the scum layer and also allows the technician to assess the frequency of the cleaning based on how much scum and sludge are discovered inside the tank and when it was pumpedout last, if at all. In every case, the longer it goes between cleanings, the worse off the inside will be and damage has surely already been done to the drainage area because the clear water area described above has been decreased markedly and particals have entered the drainage area and begun to clog the piping and drainage system. Up to this point, if you have encountered all of the above steps, you have probably taken excellent notes of the location of the septic tank with pictures, drawings or both.
Now that the lid has been removed, the cleaning process finally can begin – YEAH! Our protocol is to clean out the entire contents of the septic tank and use a water hose to spray down and clean the inside. The time it takes to clean out the inside of the septic tank is dependent upon the size of the tank and also the condition and thickness of the contents inside. Septic tanks can range in size from roughly 500 gallons to as large as 3,000 gallons. We usually allow a minimum of 45 minutes on the job for cleaning but can take up to an hour an a half and sometimes more. We have experienced jobs in the past, where the homeowner had waited about 16 years to clean their septic tank. It took about an hour to get the lid off – it was fused and bonded to the concrete tank. The lid had to be drilled out (additional cost) and once we got the lid off, the scum layer was so thick, deep and crusted that we had to get a pressure washer to literally “blast the crap” out of it and liquify the contents so it could be properly pumped and cleaned. Overall we were there for over three hours and then the contents would not be accepted at a local water treatment plant. This added another three hours of drive time into the job because the load had to be disposed of elsewhere. Did I mention it is less costly to have your septic tank pumped out every 3 to 5 years?
After the cleaning of the inside of the septic tank, we will do a visual inspection of the inside. We check the baffles and piping inside the tank, look for any cracking, roots or other invasive material. Upon completion of work you will receive an invoice for the agreed upon price and any adjustments to the work performed and agreed upon at or before the time of service. We will also note the number of gallons removed from the septic tank for your reference in the future.
What do we do with contents from the septic tank? This is often one of the most asked questions. There are a number of disposal facilities in the Phoenix metro area. All of them charge us (nope, it’s not free for us) for disposing of your non hazardous liquid waste. There are significant costs that are involved to process the sewage at a water treatment plant and all loads or contents are tested before disposal is allowed. There is also a manifest that is filled out and provided to the disposal facility by the driver which is to certify the contents, the source and amount of waste transported to the facility.
As mentioned above, it is extremely important to have your septic tank cleaned out more often than not to avoid or postpone expensive repairs. A good septic cleaning is ALWAYS less expensive than a major repair or a fix for a failing septic system. Call us today to schedule your septic tank cleaning at 480-304-5611.
ADEQ Certified License # 8665ITC
Certified Septic Inspector
Remember the Griswold family in Christmas Vacation? This is just a funny clip, it speaks for itself.