Before Your Septic System Fails

Before a Septic System Fails....

It Leaks

Out of sight out of mind is great for some things and not for septic systems. Although your septic system is hidden, it still needs regular maintenance. Let’s look at some of the common reasons your septic is leaking.

  • Clogs in the pipes from solids. Many items should NOT go down your drains, grease and oils from cooking should be disposed of separately.
  • Other blockages can be caused by trees planted too close to the system.
  • Broken pipes or sewer lines in the system.
  • Failure to maintain the septic system.

Routine maintenance includes pumping the septic tank every 3 to 5 years, depending on the system you have and how many people are using it. A yearly inspection can prevent small issues from becoming expensive repairs

Other signs your septic system may be leaking:

  • Foul odor- Smelling sewer gases. One of the system's lids could be damaged or out of position. Sewer gases could also be escaping from the tank body itself, it might be the tank body may have cracks or holes. See how long the odor lasts and where it is coming from, the tank or the drainfield.
  • Soggy ground– You may notice that the area around your tank is soggy; this could be septic tank water coming out of the ground. However if you have an inground sprinkler system, check that first.
  • Standing water around the septic tank- When soil is exposed to wet conditions over long periods, it will often get compacted. If there is a leak in your tank, water coming from the leak could cause the nearby soil to settle and drop down as a result.
  • Alarm Sounds- Newer septic systems have a built-in alarm that will alert you of problems. These alarms either emit a beeping noise or flash a red light, and they can be located either inside or outside of your house. It is important to be mindful of them and test them yearly to make sure the alarm is working.
  • Cleaning products can kill the useful bacteria- The bacteria found in a septic tank helps break down the wastewater before it continues to the drainage field. When the levels of bacteria in the tank are insufficient, the solids will not break down. This can lead to clogging of the pipes. The levels of bacteria can drop as a result of cleaning products present in the wastewater. Cleaning products that are toxic to human beings will also kill off the bacteria that are necessary to maintain a septic system. Be aware that cleaning products of bleach, toilet cleaners and disinfectants ought not make their way into the waste piping.


  • Find the exact location of your septic system – generally it will be ten to fifteen feet out from your basement access
  • Call the professionals at Tri-County Septic to address your concerns and maintenance of your septic system


  • DO NOT pump water from your tank into your yard. This is fecal matter and other pollutants which can poison the ground as well as children and pets. Also water from your tank will adversely affect ponds or streams it runs into.
  • DO NOT attempt to go down into the system without wearing protective gear. The gasses are poisonous. It is time to call in the Pros.

Taking the time to keep your septic system in good repair not only helps extend its life, more importantly it keeps you and your family, as well as surrounding waterways safe.

when to call the pros

When to Call the Professionals

Septic systems are the one foundation components of your home that is easy to forget about. Literally, out of sight out of mind and a septic system is actually that. However, in addition to keeping the effluence out of your home and disposing of it safely, there are times when a professional is necessary. Knowing when the last time your septic system was pumped i.e. removal of sludge from the system is helpful to knowing its health. Depending on the system you have and how many people are in the home septic pumping will be every 3 to 5 years. Pumping out the system extends the life of your septic and helps protect the delicate pipe system.

Listed below are three conditions that will require the expertise of Tri-County Septic


Water Backup

  • Slow draining pipes, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  • Gurgling noises within the plumbing.
  • Toilets either are slow to drain or don’t empty and using a plunger does nothing.

There could just be a blockage in the pipes or a sign the system needs to be pumped.


EWW what’s that smell?

  • Anytime there is the smell of raw sewage or a Sulfur smell, inside or outside the home.

This is often a sign of septic leakage, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.


The grass should not be always greener:

  • Remember, seeing dead grass around your septic is not the issue.
  • Seeing bright green grass, particularly in the area of your septic.
  • When the ground feels soggy or water saturated and there hasn’t been much rain.

This may be an indication that a pipe or pipes have been has been comprised.

5 signs septic is failing

5 Signs Your Septic May be Failing

  1. Lush, Green Grass
    • What color is your grass? Is it a uniform color or are you seeing lush green grass? The grass should be the same color and consistency in the leach field as it is in any other part of your yard. This is a sign that your septic system is either full and overwhelming your leach field, or that it has a leak.
  2. Mud Puddles
    • Is there a pool of water on your leach field and it hasn’t rained lately? This can be a sign that the septic system is overflowing. When your tank reaches capacity, solid waste can clog the drainage field piping system, forcing liquid to the surface. It's best to have your system pumped and inspected for leaks.
  3. Slow Drains
    • When the septic system is the culprit, you are likely to notice this in the lowest drains of your home first. If drains in sinks, tubs and toilets are draining more slowly on the lower level of your home than the upper levels, there could be a backup in your septic system. This could simply be a plumbing blockage, but either problem can be potentially serious if neglected, so please do not hesitate to call out a professional to assess the situation.
  4. Sewage Stench
    • Is there an aroma not unlike raw sewage emanating from your property? This unfortunate reminder that more than shower, sink and laundry water is in that pit is a sure sign of a septic issue. By the time you're smelling this, you may have overlooked some of the other warnings in this article. Call Tri-County Septic today: 908-689-9088
  5. Sewage in Your Home
    • We hope for the health of your family that you never experience this unfortunate event. When a Septic Tank becomes overwhelmed, sewage will back up into the house and bubble up through your lower drains. If you have a one story house, this could be all of your drains. Once this occurs, the chances of extremely dangerous molds and bacteria damaging your home and family's health jump sky high. This is not a "close the basement bathroom door and look away" situation. Especially as the stench will permeate that door, reminding you not-so-gently about the urgency of the situation.

If you notice any of these signs, please schedule a septic cleaning today:

Call Tri-County Septic Today 908-689-9088

Septic systems, when properly maintained, are environmentally friendly, and an extremely useful feature of your home. It's important that out of sight does not remain out of mind. Neglecting basic septic maintenance can result in very costly repairs. In addition to the cost of septic repairs or septic replacements, your septic system will have to be excavated, potentially damaging your otherwise beautiful landscape.

You can maintain your septic system by pumping out your septic tank every 2-3 years, and avoid pouring chemicals down the drain that can damage your septic tank .

Call Tri-County Septic Today 908-689-9088

Serving Warren, Morris and Hunterdon Counties, New Jersey for over 30 years!

17 chemicals

17 Chemicals You Shouldn't Put Down Your Drains

There are two very important things to remember when you are going to pour something down your drain.

The first is that your septic system does allow fluids to drain out through a leach field which will in turn, enter the environment and make its way into the local ecosystem.

The second is that your septic system requires bacteria to break down solids and prevent damage to your system.

Any substance that could be toxic to the water supply - or kill off the necessary bacteria in your septic tank, should never be emptied into your system in large quantities.

For instance, rinsing off a paintbrush that was used for varnish is fine. Pouring the leftover varnish down the drain? You'd better not.

17 Chemicals that you should limit or avoid entirely:

1. Cooking Oils

Safe to eat does not equal safe to pour. Olive oil, canola oil, or any other vegetable oil, grease runoff from cooked meats, even salad dressings can all congeal and cause clogs throughout not only the pipes in your home, but throughout your entire septic system.

2. Motor Oil

For the exact same reasons as above, plus one, you should never dispose of motor oil down your drains, or even in your yard. Motor oil is harmful to the environment and dangerous for the water supply.

3. Paints

Many consider washing hands or brushes out in the sink to be acceptable, though we would never recommend that to our customers. Paints and paint additives often contain additives that are toxic. These toxins can leach into your water supply once poured down your drains. In addition to the toxins, the paint have a tendency to congeal and cause clogs. You should never put any paints or varnishes down the drain.

4. Furniture Polish

Furniture polish can be extremely toxic. Poisoning from furniture polish can cause a vast array of damage to multiple systems of the body. Read the labels of all cleaning products before disposing for proper disposal instructions, or call the manufacturer.

5. Lye/Sodium Hydroxide (NaOh)/Caustic Soda

Your septic system depends on bacteria to break down the organic matter in your septic system. Lye can kill these bacteria, causing your septic to sludge up much quicker than it would otherwise. Lye can be found in most cleaners, and in reasonable amounts, it will not cause a huge problem. As a base, it affects pH level of anything it is added to and can increase the pH of your water supply above what is safe for consumption.

6. Drain Cleaners

Drain Cleaners such as Drano are generally lye based and can kill of the necessary bacteria in your septic tank.

7. Oven Cleaners

These are also lye based products and should be disposed of per manufacturer recommendations.

8. Pesticides

It's important to remember that anything that goes down your drain will eventually end up in the water table. Pesticides can be toxic in large quantities, and certain pesticides contain bacteriocides, or antimicrobials that can kill the necessary bacteria in your septic tank.

9. Photo Chemicals

Kodak and other popular photography companies do not recommend pouring darkroom chemicals into a septic. These products can be high in metals that can affect your septic system, as well as have a toxic effect on the water table.

10. Paint Thinners

Paint thinner is an extremely volatile chemical solution. If it mixes with acids, it can have a very bad reaction. (pouring paint thinner down your drain an hour before your spouse pours out vinegar could be a huge problem.) It's highly toxic and should never be mixed with anything other than oil based paints or substances specifically recommended by the manufacturer.

11. Varnishes

Varnish is not only toxic and harmful to the water supply, but it is designed to harden, which can cause serious problems for your septic system.

12. Antibiotics

In normal quantities, such as flushing the occasional prescription down the toilet, antibiotics will not have a major effect on your septic system's necessary bacteria. However, if attached to a residence with a large number of individuals taking such medications, such as a nursing home, etc, antibiotics can cause a lot of damage to your septic system.

13. Cleaners High in Phosphates

Detergents and other cleaners with phosphates are harmful to the environment. It depletes the vital oxygen that fish and other aquatic organisms spent on and can cause significant algae problems in nearby lakes and streams. If you live in a lake community where septic systems are prominent, please educate your neighbors and encourage the use of phosphate free detergents. Phosphorus is harmful to the environment, as it can deplete oxygen which is vital to fish and other aquatic organisms. The use of phosphate-free detergents, also helps prevent algae problems in nearby lakes and streams.

14. Cleaners High in Surfactants

It is recommended to use laundry detergents that are low in surfactants. Visually, you can notice high levels of surfactants based on how foamy or sudsy the water becomes. Many surfactants have poor anaerobic degradability in the septic tank and may inhibit hydrolysis (the chemical breakdown of a compound due to reaction with water.) This impacts the ability of your septic to break down solids. Surfactants have also been shown to negatively affect aquatic life in high levels.

15. Illegal Drug Manufacturing Chemicals

True story: A household involved in the illegal manufacturing of drugs was pouring the chemical byproduct down the sink, which in turn poisoned the well and poisoning the people who were manufacturing the drugs.

16. High Quantities of Household Acids

The most common household acid is vinegar. Normal levels of vinegar are perfectly safe to put into your septic, but if you had a case of apple cider vinegar that just didn't taste right anymore (vinegar doesn't go BAD as it's self preserving as an acid) or large quantities of citric acid perhaps used in candle-making or some other hobby, the drain is not the place to dispose of these as you could have a negative effect on the pH of your water table. Please note though, that vinegar-based cleaners are much safer for your septic than phosphate or surfactant based cleaners.

17. High Quantities of Household Bases

Ammonia and bleach are the most common household bases. As a rule, ammonia is one of the safer base chemicals to pour down your septic. Bleach is also relatively safe. However, if your cleaning business closes down and you decide to pour out all of your bottles of cleaner at once, you can affect the pH level of your water table in a negative way. It's important to be mindful about disposing of high quantities of anything besides water and check manufacturer labels for suggested alternatives for disposal.

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