How to clean and pump a septic tank

How to clean and pump a septic tank for Homeowners 

Septic tanks are essential for homeowners who aren't connected to a city sewer system. These tanks are responsible for collecting and storing household wastewater, which then separates into three layers: scum, liquid, and sludge. Bacteria break down the scum and sludge layers, but these can build up over time, leading to the clogging of the tank and costly repairs. To avoid such problems, it's essential to keep your septic tank clean and pumped. In this article, we will show you how to clean and pump your septic tank, ensuring your system stays in good working condition.

Part 1: Readying the Tank

Step 1: Find Your Tank ( yes really)

The first step in cleaning your septic tank is to locate it. It's best to start from the sewer pipe in the lower level of your house, if possible. Follow the direction it takes as it exits the house. Your tank may be out there and buried. Locating the tank now saves time and money later regardless if you or an inspector clean the tank.

Step 2: Dig Out the Top of the Tank

Your septic tank may be buried underground, making it challenging to inspect or pump. Before inspection, take a shovel and remove the dirt around the top of the tank. Your tank will have an access port lid, which should be strong and on tight. Risers can be added on top of the tank, which help you locate and access the tank without digging. Septic system pumpers can add these.

Step 3: Inspect the Tank for Cracks

After you locate and uncover your septic tank, inspect it for any damage or cracks. Look along the tank, including the inside, for damaged areas. Cracks need to be repaired by a professional once the tank is pumped so the system doesn’t fail. Look for any rusted or broken pieces on the inlet and outlet pipes required for drainage. Check any distribution boxes or pump chambers if your tank has one attached. It is useful to run some water from your house, such as from the toilet or washing machine, to see if the water makes it to the tank and then drains properly.

Part 2: Finding Out the Scum Depth

Knowing the scum depth is critical to ensure the proper functioning of your septic tank. The scum layer is the topmost layer that floats on top of the liquid layer in the tank, and it consists of oils, fats, and grease that are hard to break down by bacteria.

Step 1: Cut a Pipe

Start with a ten-foot PVC pipe. Using a saw or PVC cutter, separate it into a six-inch section and a nine and a half-foot section.

Step 2: Glue the Pipes Together

Pour PVC cement into an elbow joint. Attach the smaller pipe to the top of the larger pipe using the cement and joint. The pipe will stick out straight to the right or left in an “L” shape.

Step 3: Cap Each End

PVC caps can be found at the hardware store where you got the pipes, cement, and cutters. Push the caps onto the pipes so they’re tight and resist water flow.

Step 4: Lower the Stick into the Hole

Hold the scum stick with the smaller pipe at the bottom and facing out to the side in the “L” shape. Lower the pipe until you are holding it against the top layer of the septic tank waste without breaking through.

Step 5: Mark the Stick

Use a marker or piece of tape to indicate the scum's upper point.

Part 5: Pumping the Tank

Pumping a septic tank is the process of removing the accumulated solids and liquids from the tank to restore its capacity. Septic tanks should be pumped every one to three years, depending on the tank size and usage. Neglecting the pumping process can cause the tank to fill up with solids and liquids, which can overflow into the drain field and cause environmental damage, foul odors, and costly system failures.

To pump a septic tank, a professional pump truck is required. The pump truck has a large tank that can hold and transport the waste safely to a licensed disposal facility. Here are the steps to follow when pumping a septic tank:

Part 6: Maintaining Your Septic Tank

Maintaining your septic tank is crucial to avoid costly repairs and system failures. A well-maintained septic tank can last for many years, providing reliable and safe waste disposal for your home. Here are some tips to help you maintain your septic tank:

Part 6: Maintenance Tips

In addition to regular inspections and cleanings, there are a number of things you can do to keep your septic system in good working order:

By following these maintenance tips, you can help keep your septic system in good working order and avoid costly repairs.


Cleaning and pumping your septic tank is an important part of maintaining your home's plumbing system. Regular inspections and cleanings can help prevent costly repairs and ensure that your septic system continues to function properly. While some maintenance tasks can be performed by homeowners, such as inspecting for cracks and testing scum and sludge levels, it's important to hire a professional to pump the waste out of your tank.

By following the steps outlined in this article, you can ensure that your septic system remains in good working order for years to come. Remember to be mindful of what you flush and pour down the drain, conserve water, and be careful with your landscaping to help prevent blockages and damage to your pipes. With a little effort, you can keep your septic system running smoothly and avoid costly repairs down the line.