Most Common Cause of Septic System Failures

October 9, 2023 Published by Leave your thoughts

Cleaning,And,Unblocking,Septic,System.,View,From,Above.A septic system, though often overlooked, is a critical component of a home’s infrastructure. It’s responsible for managing the waste and wastewater generated in your household. However, septic systems can fail if not properly maintained or if subjected to certain conditions. In this blog post, we’ll explore the most common causes of septic system failures, as well as how to prevent them.

1. Lack of Regular Maintenance

Perhaps the most common cause of septic system failure is a lack of regular maintenance. Septic systems require periodic inspection and pumping to ensure they function correctly. Neglecting routine maintenance can lead to a buildup of solids in the tank, which can clog the drain field and result in a malfunctioning system.

2. Overloading the System

Septic systems are designed to handle a specific volume of wastewater. Overloading the system by using excessive amounts of water, such as running multiple loads of laundry in a short period or using a lot of water in a single day, can overwhelm the system. When the system is overloaded, it may not have enough time to treat the wastewater properly, leading to issues like backups or slow drainage.

3. Flushing Non-Biodegradable Items

Toilet paper and waste are the only materials that should be flushed down the toilet. Flushing non-biodegradable items like baby wipes, sanitary products, paper towels, or other items can clog the septic system, leading to blockages and potential failure. These materials can accumulate in the tank and interfere with the natural breakdown process.

4. Using Harsh Chemicals

Many household cleaning products contain harsh chemicals and antibacterial agents that can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the septic tank. This imbalance can reduce the tank’s effectiveness in breaking down waste. To avoid this problem, use septic-safe cleaning products and avoid excessive use of antibacterial soaps.

5. Poor Drain Field Management

The drain field is a critical part of the septic system that allows treated wastewater to be absorbed into the soil. Parking vehicles, constructing structures, or planting trees and shrubs on or near the drain field can compact the soil and disrupt the system’s ability to function properly. Proper landscaping and regular inspection of the drain field are essential to avoid this issue.

6. Grease and Oil Disposal

Grease and cooking oils should not be poured down the sink or toilet, as they can solidify in the septic tank and cause blockages. Proper disposal of grease and oils in a separate container for later disposal is crucial to prevent this problem.

7. Tree Root Intrusions

Tree roots can seek out the moisture provided by a septic system and invade the pipes and tanks. Root intrusions can result in clogs, cracks, or damage to the septic system components, leading to failure. Regular inspection and root management can help prevent this issue.

8. Neglecting Septic Tank Pumping

Septic tanks have a limited capacity and must be pumped periodically to remove accumulated solids. Failing to pump the tank can lead to the buildup of sludge, which can clog the tank and affect its ability to process wastewater. Regular pumping, typically every 3 to 5 years, is crucial for maintaining a healthy septic system.

9. Poor Installation and Design

Improper installation or design of a septic system can lead to long-term issues. This includes sizing the system incorrectly, failing to consider soil conditions, or not providing adequate drainage. Hiring a qualified septic professional to design and install your septic system is essential to avoid these problems.

10. Age and Wear

Septic systems have a finite lifespan. Over time, the components can deteriorate, leading to cracks, leaks, or other structural problems. Age-related wear and tear can result in septic system failure. Regular inspections can help identify signs of aging and allow for timely repairs or replacements.

Preventing Septic System Failures

While septic system failures can be costly and disruptive, many of these issues can be prevented with proper care and maintenance. Here are some essential steps to help you avoid septic system problems:

  • Schedule regular inspections and pump the septic tank as needed.
  • Be mindful of your water usage to avoid overloading the system.
  • Use septic-safe cleaning products.
  • Dispose of non-biodegradable items properly.
  • Avoid pouring grease and oil down the drain.
  • Maintain proper landscaping around the drain field.
  • Control tree root intrusions through root management.
  • Ensure that the septic system is properly installed and designed.
  • Pay attention to the age and condition of the septic system components.


The most common cause of septic system failures is a lack of regular maintenance. Other issues, such as overloading the system, flushing non-biodegradable items, using harsh chemicals, and poor drain field management, can also contribute to septic system problems. Preventing these issues requires careful attention to maintenance, proper usage, and regular inspections. By taking these preventive measures, you can ensure the long-term functionality of your septic system and avoid costly repairs and replacements.

Got Questions About Your Septic System? Let Us Help!

The Macken family has been serving western New York since 1968. Our company specializes in the installation, repair, and maintenance of septic systems. We can also help you deal with your restaurant grease trap. We have acquired a decade’s worth of experience and know all the ins and outs of keeping your septic system worry-free. The key to a well-functioning septic system is regular maintenance. While it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, make no mistake: eventually, a neglected septic system will require attention. So be proactive and give us a call today before you have a stinky situation to deal with.

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