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Septic Tanks

A septic tank system serves as an on-site wastewater treatment system in places where public sewers are not available. One-third of all Florida homes, about 1.6 million households, use septic tanks.

Miami-Dade County regulates septage haulers. Call Industrial Facilities at 305-372-6600 for an updated list of permitted haulers.

Additionally, the Department of Health regulates the construction, modification and operation of all septic tanks. Call the Department of Health at 305-623-3500 for more information.

Septic tank systems

The septic tank system is an underground system of pipes and tanks designed to treat bathroom, kitchen and laundry wastewater through naturally occurring bacteria and microorganisms. In older homes, a septic system may be a pipe leading from the house to a cesspool. In newer homes, a septic system usually is made of a series of pipes connecting a septic tank, distribution box and a leach, or drainfield.

Processing raw sewage through a septic system is important because it protects the groundwater and the environment from contamination. Microorganisms and insects living within the drain field assist in decontamination of waste materials by consuming leftover waste particles containing such harmful germs and viruses as typhoid, gastroenteritis and viral hepatitis.

To ensure the proper functioning of a septic system, homeowners must take precautions to prevent system failures.

Identifying if your septic tank system has failed

Stop, look and smell! The most obvious septic system failures leave clues that are easy to spot. Check for pooling of water or muddy soil around your septic tank, cesspool or leach field. Check for odors of sewage or a "rotten egg" smell around your septic system or even in your basement. Notice if your sink or toilet backs up when you flush or do laundry.

Septic systems also fail when the water they contain comes in contact with groundwater. This type of failure is not so easy to detect but can still result in the pollution of nearby streams or other bodies of water. Finally, homeowners should consult local septic system professionals and water quality representatives if any problems and/or questions occur with the septic system.

Maintaining a septic tank system

Septic systems can function very well with minimal care if the system is properly cared for and utilized. In fact, most septic tanks will only require a pumping out and inspection by a professional every three years if they are utilized properly. Most modern septic systems have a life span of nearly 25 years if they are maintained and cared for properly. Here are some helpful hints you should follow to have a long-lived and trouble-free operating septic system:

Do's

  • Pump out and have the septic tank system inspected by a professional every three years. Failure to pump out the septic tank is the most common cause of septic system failure. If the septic tank fills up with an excess of solids, the wastewater will not have enough time to settle in the tank. These excess solids will then pass on to the drain field where they will clog the drain lines and soil.
  • Know the location of the septic system and keep a record of all of its inspections, pumping, repairs and contract or engineering work for future reference.
  • Ensure the septic system is installed so that rainfall and surface water flow away from you entire septic system. Excess water can come into the system from storms and groundwater, causing a failure to the system.
  • Grow grass or small plants above the septic system to hold the drain/leach field in place. Xeriscaping, or water conservation through creative landscaping, is a great way to control excess runoff. For more information on xeriscaping, read about the Florida Yards & Neighborhood Program.
  • Install water conserving devices to reduce the volume of water running into the septic system.

Dont's

  • Do not put grease or non-biodegradable materials down your sink or toilet. Grease can thicken and clog the pipes. Store cooking oils, fats, and grease in a can for disposal in the garbage.
  • Do not flush paint thinners, polyurethane, anti-freeze, pesticides, some dyes, disinfectant, water softeners and other strong chemicals, which can cause major upsets in the stomach of the septic tank by killing the biological part of your septic system and polluting the groundwater. Small amounts of standard household cleaners, drain cleansers, detergent, etc., will be diluted in the tank and will cause no damage to the system.
  • Do not flush indigestible materials such as diapers, cigarette filters, feminine napkins, cat litter, plastic, rubber, nylon or even hair, into the tank from any source, including sinks, toilets or washing machines. These products do not decompose in the septic system and will cause frequent and costly repairs for the homeowner and harm to the environment. Do not use a garbage grinder or disposal which feeds into the septic tank system. If you do have one in the house, severely limit its use. Adding food wastes or other solids reduces your system's capacity and increases the need to pump the septic tank or cesspool.
  • Do not plant trees within 30 feet of your system or park/drive over any part of the system. The pipes and drain/leach field will clog, rendering the system inoperable and ineffective.
  • Do not perform all machine washing in one day. One laundry load can use up to 60 gallons of water and could overwhelm the whole septic system with excess wastewater. Consult your septic tank professional to determine the gallon capacity and number of loads per day that can go into the system.
  • Do not use chemical solvents to clean the plumbing or septic tank system. "Miracle" chemicals will kill microorganisms that consume harmful wastes in the septic tank system. These products can also cause groundwater contamination.
Back to Top Page Last Edited: Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:59:10 PM
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