Septic tank systems are often used in rural areas that don't have connections to a city sewer line. These self-contained systems are also favored by those wanting to live "off the grid." They do require some maintenance, including occasional pumping out of the tank section. The following is a brief description of a basic septic tank system and three ways you can help keep that system running smoothly.

Septic Tanks Systems Described

Much of the septic system is underground. It's made up of a buried tank, a tank filter, and a drain bed. Waste water and solids drain into the tank. Bacteria in the tank break down the solids, called sludge, which sink to the bottom. Liquids flow out of the tank through the filter, which keeps stray solids from escaping. The liquids leach out into a drain bed, which filters that liquid and releases it into the soil. The tank has a drain pipe leading to the surface, usually with a designated cover. The drain bed is typically set up under an open field, with little, if any, hint that it exists. Make sure you know where your tank and bed are located. Driving or parking on either section is not advised.

Three Ways to Help Your Septic Tank System Work Efficiently

Practice Water Conservation

The less water you use, the longer you'll go between septic tank pump outs. The average person in the United States uses roughly 70 gallons of water per day, with between 25 to 30 percent of that used for flushing toilets. By installing a high-efficiency toilet, which uses 1.6 gallons per flush instead of the usual 3.5 gallons, you can greatly reduce your water use. Installing low-flow shower heads and making sure your faucets and toilets are free of leaks also reduces the volume of water ending up in your tank. Using less water also means a lower water bill, which is a nice bonus.

Use and Flush Only Organic Materials

Using harsh cleaners, especially those with bleach, whether it's to clean the toilet or for other household chores, means those chemicals will end up in the septic tank where they kill the sludge-eating bacteria. That goes for dumping pesticides, solvents, paints, and even old medication. Not only does the sludge pile up faster in the tank, the residue leaches out into the drain bed and can get into the groundwater. Use biodegradable products, such as organic dish and laundry soaps, as often as possible.

Have Your System Pumped Out Regularly

According to Penn State University,  the number of people living in a home determines how often the septic tank should be pumped out. The sludge should ideally be pumped out when the tank is 30 percent full. A single adult usually fills the space in a 1,000 gallon tank in about five years, while a family of four reaches the 30 percent mark in roughly 1.5 years. Based on those averages, it's recommended that most septic tanks be pumped out every two or three years. The tanks are pumped out using mobile pumping trucks sent out by septic tank service companies, such as Southern Sanitary Systems Inc.