Septic tank pumping is an essential maintenance task to keep a wastewater system in order. But how much does it cost to pump a septic tank?
Septic tanks need to be pumped every two to three years to keep working properly. Done on time, the service costs a few hundred dollars. But left for decades, septic cleaning can turn into septic replacement and cost you $5,000 to $10,000.
Here are some important facts about septic tanks, including how they work.
Where the Waste Goes
Unlike an urban sewer system that runs wastewater into a central drainage system, septic tanks are a house-by-house system. Their capacity is based on the size of the home, and they are the ultimate destination for all of a house’s wastewater — from bathtubs, showers, sinks, toilets and washing machines.
Most tanks rely on gravity to work. Wastewater flows into the tank, which is buried in the ground outside the home, and water in turn is carried from the tank to a drainage field using sloped pipes.
How a Tank Works
When wastewater enters a septic tank, it naturally divides into three parts:
Solids sink to the bottom and form a sludge layer. Liquids stay in the middle and form a layer of mostly water. Oils and fat rise to the top and form a scum layer.
The liquid layer accounts for 90 percent of a tank’s capacity, meaning excess water use can affect the tank’s performance over time.
Ideally, water in a tank flows through in the course of several days while materials on the bottom are broken down by bacteria. Water is then carried through drain pipes to the drainage (or leach) field, where it is distributed into the soil. The size of the drainage field depends on the type of soil. Clay, for instance, holds a limited amount of water.
The sludge at a tank’s bottom requires periodic septic cleaning or pumping. Even the best bacteria can’t fully break down all organic material, meaning it will start to build up and take more of the tank’s space. If there’s not enough room for water, the sludge will start to back up into the leach field, a home’s pipes or may cause a tank failure.
Homeowners can clean out their septic tanks, but they will need to store the sludge for transport and safely dispose of it. Professional septic cleaners come with a tank truck that hooks up to the septic system and removes its contents, then transports it all safely off the property.
Average Septic Tank Pumping Cost
Angie’s List members who recently had septic tank cleaning performed reported paying an average of $270, with a general range of $245 to $295, not counting discounts many service providers offer to members.
Septic Tank Maintenance
There are several ways to keep cleaning costs lower and limit the chance of a broken tank:
- Create a diagram showing the home in relation to the tank, along with distances and depth.
- Knowing exactly where the tank is will let the homeowner tell the cleaner exactly where to dig and find the tank quickly in an emergency.
- Don’t park cars or build structures atop the tank, as this increases pressure and may cause a rupture.
- Don’t plant anything in the drainage field. Natural grass is the best choice.
- Watch what is put down the drain. Baby wipes, diapers and paper towels can clog pipes, while harsh chemicals may kill helpful sludge bacteria, resulting in a backup.
Call several contractors in the area for estimates, and check Angie’s List to find reputable providers. Ideally, look for a company that does tank maintenance in addition to septic pumping because they can to spot problems along with signs of wear and tear.
Read any agreement carefully. Where will they take the waste, and what will they do with it? While a low price or special deal may seem good upfront, fly-by-night companies may damage the tank when trying to drain it as quickly as possible.
To keep a septic tank in good working order, schedule cleanings every two to three years with a reputable provider.