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The Ultimate Guide to Septic Tank Emptying

Septic tanks play a vital role in managing household wastewater in areas without access to municipal sewer systems. Proper maintenance of these systems is crucial to ensure their longevity, prevent costly repairs, and protect the environment. Read on as we explore the importance of regular septic tank maintenance and provide you with all the information you need to know about septic tank emptying.

septic tank emptying

What are septic tanks and how do they work?

Septic tanks are underground wastewater treatment systems commonly used in areas where centralised sewer systems are not available. They are typically made of concrete, fibreglass, or plastic and are installed on residential or commercial properties.

Septic tanks work by separating and treating wastewater from household plumbing systems. Here's a general overview of how they work:

  • Wastewater collection: All wastewater from toilets, sinks, showers, and other drains in the property flows into the septic tank through a main sewer pipe.

  • Separation: Inside the septic tank, solid waste materials settle to the bottom forming a layer of sludge, while lighter materials like oil and grease float to the top, forming a layer of scum. The liquid wastewater, known as effluent, remains in the middle layer.

  • Anaerobic digestion: Bacteria present in the septic tank break down the organic matter in the sludge and scum layers through a process called anaerobic digestion. This process helps in decomposition and reduction of solids.

  • Effluent treatment: The effluent, which is relatively clearer and free of most solid waste particles, flows out of the septic tank and into the drainfield or leach field. This is typically a series of perforated pipes or chambers buried in the ground, allowing the effluent to be gradually released and filtered through the soil.

  • Soil filtration: As the effluent percolates through the soil, it undergoes further treatment and purification. The soil acts as a natural filter, removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants. The treated wastewater is eventually absorbed into the groundwater or evaporates.

What’s the difference between cesspits and septic tanks?

Cesspits and septic tanks are both types of underground wastewater management systems, but there are some key differences between them:

Storage capacity

A cesspit, also known as a cesspool or a holding tank, is a simple storage tank that collects all the wastewater without any treatment. It is designed to store the waste until it can be emptied by a vacuum truck or a similar method. In contrast, a septic tank not only stores the wastewater but also provides some level of treatment through the natural processes of anaerobic digestion and solid separation.

Treatment process

Septic tanks have a separation process that allows solids to settle at the bottom and scum to float to the top, while the effluent is discharged into a drainfield for further treatment in the soil. Cesspits, on the other hand, do not have any treatment process. They simply collect all the wastewater, including solids and scum, without any separation or treatment.


Cesspits require more frequent maintenance than septic tanks since they do not have a treatment process to break down solids. Cesspits need to be regularly emptied by a vacuum truck to prevent overflowing, whereas septic tanks require periodic pumping to remove accumulated sludge and scum.

Environmental impact

Due to the lack of treatment, cesspits have a higher risk of contaminating groundwater and soil if they leak or overflow. Septic tanks, while not providing full treatment, offer some level of wastewater treatment before it is discharged into the drainfield. The soil in the drainfield acts as a natural filter, helping to further purify the effluent.

When considering which system to install, it's important to consult local regulations and guidelines, as well as factors such as property size, soil conditions, and wastewater volume, to determine the most suitable option for your specific needs.

How often do septic tanks need emptying?

The frequency at which septic tanks need to be emptied, also known as pumped or desludged, can vary depending on several factors. These factors include the size of the tank, the number of occupants in the property, the volume of wastewater generated, and the usage patterns. As a general guideline, septic tanks typically require pumping every 3 to 5 years.

However, it's important to note that this is just a rough estimate, and the actual pumping frequency may vary. It's recommended to have the septic tank inspected regularly by a professional to determine the appropriate pumping schedule for your specific system. The inspection will consider factors such as the accumulation of sludge and scum, the level of solids in the tank, and the overall condition of the system.

Regular maintenance and pumping are crucial to prevent the septic tank from reaching its capacity, which can lead to backups, odours, and potential system failure. Neglecting maintenance can also result in solids entering the drainfield, causing clogging and reduced system efficiency.

It's advisable to consult local regulations and guidelines, as well as seek guidance from septic system professionals or local health departments, to ensure proper maintenance and pumping schedules specific to your area and system.

What are the benefits of regular septic tank emptying?

As previously mentioned, regular septic tank emptying is a crucial aspect of septic system maintenance that offers several benefits. Let's explore some of the advantages of regular septic tank emptying:

Prevents system failure

Septic tanks are designed to hold and treat wastewater, allowing the solids to settle and the effluent to flow into the drainfield for further treatment. Over time, solid waste accumulates in the tank, forming a layer of sludge. If not regularly emptied, this layer can build up and reduce the tank's capacity, leading to system failure, backups, and potential health hazards. Regular emptying helps prevent overfilling and ensures the system operates efficiently.

Extends lifespan of the system

Regular septic tank emptying helps extend the lifespan of the entire septic system. By removing accumulated solids, it reduces the strain on the tank and other components, such as the drainfield and distribution pipes. With reduced strain and proper maintenance, the system is less likely to experience premature failure, reducing the need for costly repairs or replacements.

Prevents drainfield issues

The drainfield is a crucial part of the septic system where effluent is further treated and absorbed into the soil. If the septic tank is not regularly emptied, excess solids can flow into the drainfield, clogging the soil and reducing its ability to effectively treat the wastewater. This can lead to drainfield failure, resulting in backups, foul odours, and costly repairs. Regular emptying helps prevent solids from entering the drainfield and maintains its functionality.

Protects groundwater and environment

Septic systems that are not properly maintained, including regular emptying, pose a risk of contaminating groundwater and nearby water bodies. When a septic tank is full, it may leak or overflow, allowing untreated wastewater to seep into the surrounding soil and potentially reach groundwater sources. Regular emptying reduces the likelihood of such leaks or overflows, minimising the risk of water contamination and protecting the environment.

Ensures health and safety

Regular septic tank emptying is essential for maintaining a healthy and safe living environment. When a septic tank is not emptied regularly, it can lead to foul odours, sewage backups, and the presence of harmful bacteria and pathogens. These issues can pose health risks to the residents of the property and surrounding areas. By regularly emptying the septic tank, these risks are mitigated, promoting a clean and safe living environment.

Compliance with regulations

Many jurisdictions have specific regulations and requirements regarding septic system maintenance, including regular tank emptying. By adhering to these regulations, homeowners can avoid potential fines or penalties. Regular septic tank emptying ensures compliance with local regulations and demonstrates responsible stewardship of wastewater management.

Septic tank maintenance and drainage at R & A Cleansing

R & A Cleansing are pleased to offer fast, reliable and cost-effective septic tank services to clients across West Cornwall and Devon. From emptying and collection to cleaning and maintenance, both domestic and commercial clients are sure to benefit from our comprehensive waste management solutions and septic tank drainage services. Don’t wait until it’s too late - get in touch with a member of our team today to discuss your requirements and schedule an appointment.

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