Understanding the Components of a Septic Tank System

Understanding the Components of a Septic Tank System

If your home uses a septic tank system, it’s your responsibility as the homeowner to maintain the system. Nonetheless, if you don’t know what the components of a septic tank system are, you might not be able to take care of them.

Maintaining your septic tank will protect your home from a plumbing catastrophe, which is why inspecting your system on a routine basis is a fantastic idea. Otherwise, you may need to call a trustworthy residential septic tank service to pump out your tank.

Proper septic tank design, construction, and maintenance can give you a long-term plumbing solution for your home. However, repairing or replacing your septic tank could cost you thousands of dollars.

When your system malfunctions, it can contaminate the groundwater you use for drinking, making you sick. Luckily, by understanding the components of a septic tank system, you can ensure that everything is working properly, so you don’t have to deal with this type of problem.

In this guide, you will learn about each system component, what purpose it serves, and how it works. With this in mind, let’s dive into what comprises a septic tank system.

Understanding the Components of a Septic Tank System

In a typical setup, you can expect there to be four components in a septic tank system. First, there are the pipes that funnel sewage and wastewater out of your home.

Then, there is the septic tank itself, which drains into the third component: a drain field. Finally, there is the soil surrounding the drain field, where tiny microbes of bacteria will digest and remove the contaminants from your home’s wastewater, so they don’t seep into your groundwater.

There are four things you can do to protect each of these components. You should inspect your septic tank system on a routine basis and pump it out when necessary, make sure you are using water efficiently, take care of your drain field, and avoid disposing hazardous materials in your toilet and sink drain. Now that you know what each of these components are, let’s take a deeper look at each one of them.

Pipes in Your Home

Your home’s plumbing can’t operate without pipes. Having leak-free pipes allows your plumbing system to bring pure water into your home for drinking and cleaning, and it also pumps out wastewater and brings it to your septic tank. All the wastewater you produce leaves your home via drain pipes and gets stored in a septic tank.

The Septic Tank

Your septic tank is the container that holds all your wastewater. This tank is buried somewhere underground and is watertight so that nothing leaks out into your yard. Manufacturers build septic tanks out of fiberglass, concrete, or polyethylene, so they are strong enough to avoid leakage.

The way these tanks filter wastewater is by holding it long enough so that the solids settle on the bottom (which creates sludge) while the grease and oil float on the water’s surface. The oily material that floats on top of the water is known as scum.

At the bottom of the tank, the solid materials will partially decompose. However, the solids won’t leak into the drain field until they fully disintegrate.

To prevent the solids from leaking out of the tank, your tank has specific compartments for holding the scum and sludge. The pipe that drains water out of your tank and into the drain field has an outlet in the shape of the letter T so that only water can leak out. Nonetheless, having a screen on your outlet is another way to help your tank filter out solids more effectively.

In addition, newer septic tanks have risers with lids to make the septic tank easier to access. Risers with lids allow professionals to inspect and pump the tank at ground level, so they don’t have to dig out the tank.

You should also know that septic tank systems have various names and aliases, including onsite systems, on-lot systems, individual sewage disposal systems, onsite sewage disposal systems, and onsite wastewater treatment systems. A normal part of septic tank maintenance is to pump out your tank on a routine basis.

However, before you can pump the tank, you need to remove the scum and sludge beforehand to prevent them from building-up in the system. In essence, all you have to do is inspect your system regularly and pump it out occasionally to properly maintain your septic tank system.

The Drainfield

After wastewater leaves your septic tank, it will discharge into a location underground known as a drain field. In this area, the ground’s soil will treat the wastewater as it travels further underground.

Every time new wastewater enters your tank, more partially treated water will travel into the drain field for further treatment. Unfortunately, when there is too much wastewater in your drain field, it can cause a flood, leading to raw sewage flowing up to ground level and causing all sorts of plumbing issues. When wastewater floods to the surface, it can lead to a backup in your plumbing fixtures and prevent new wastewater from getting treated in the drain field.

For this reason, many states require homeowners to have a reserve area if their drain field is in an area that experiences frequent floods. If your home has a reserve area, you will treat it the same as you would for the rest of your septic tank system.


If you have a septic tank system, you need adequate soil to treat your wastewater successfully. After wastewater reaches the drain field, it will dissolve into the soil, where microbes will remove bacteria, viruses, and nutrients from the water. The water will continue to travel underground until it reaches the groundwater.

Alternative Septic Tank Systems

If you live in an area that doesn’t have soil suitable for a traditional system, you will need to install an alternative septic tank system. Also, you might need an alternative system if there are too many conventional systems in one area or if they are too close to ground or surface water.

Alternative systems use technology to treat wastewater, and some of them replace soil with sand, plastic, or peat to treat the wastewater. Check to see which type of system you have before calling a professional to come take a look.

Overall, septic tanks only have four main parts, but they each have numerous functions in the system. After reading this guide, you should have a better understanding of the components of a septic tank system so you can take better care of it. Now that you know how it works, reach out to a plumbing professional today to inspect your system and help you maintain it!

Understanding the Components of a Septic Tank System