What are the Most Common Septic Tank Problems?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2019
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If a septic tank has not been properly designed, used, or maintained, problems could occur. The most common septic tank problems typically include clogs, foul odors, and water contamination. Septic tank issues can be highly unpleasant, and in some cases, they are very costly to fix. Understanding the causes of these problems can be essential to ensure proper septic tank care and maintenance.

Excessive use is a major cause of septic tank problems, as is not pumping the tank when necessary, since this promotes the buildup of solids. Each septic tank also needs roof vents, which ensure the pressure within the system stays equalized. If these vents are faulty or clogged up, they can cause odors.

Too much water in a septic tank can push solids into the leaching field, which can cause clogs or damage to the environment. Overloading the system with too much water can also cause it to fail or shut down.

On the other hand, too little water can also cause problems, including leading to bacteria being killed off in the system. Bacteria are needed to neutralize nitrogen, which is produced in septic tanks. If there is too much nitrogen in the system, it can lead to contamination of drinking water.


Disposal of improper items in a septic tank is yet another culprit responsible for septic tank problems. Only items of a biodegradable nature should be flushed down the toilet or drain. Non-biodegradable objects will clog up the pipes and cause waste to leak into the soil. Plastics are especially hard, if not impossible, for a septic system to break down.

Putting oil into septic tanks will cause problems as well. The oil will not have time to break down, and it will clog up the upper chamber and the inlet drains. The result will be foul odors and difficulty in emptying the septic tank when the time comes. An excessive amount of food particles can also play a part in problems with a septic tank and should be restricted.

Chemicals can harm the system, and paints, solvents, or pesticides can render a septic tank completely useless. They can also lead to the system becoming a hazard to the environment. Strong chemical use or use of powdered cleaners can also contribute to the build up of nitrogen.

If a system starts emitting foul odors, it is a sure sign that there is a septic tank problem. This could be something as simple as a need to clean the roof vents or it might mean that the system needs to be pumped. It could also mean that the overflow system is failing.


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