How Often You Really Should Pump Your Septic Tank (& Why The Answer Is So Convoluted)

We all like simple answers when seeking advice. You should sleep seven to eight hours a night, for example. Four times per year is the right answer to the query for how often to fertilize the lawn. And when it comes to pumping your septic tank, common wisdom tells you that every three to five years is the right time frame. However, if you don't dig a little deeper into this time range, you may end up pumping the septic tank far more often than you need, or you could have a backed-up system because you waited too long.

In reality, numerous factors affect the exact frequency you may need to empty the septic tank at your home or acreage. If you have a larger family than average, you may need to call the pumping company for service more often than other people. If you have a larger capacity septic tank, you may be able to call for service less often versus the average household.

Why is figuring out exactly how often you need to pump out the septic tank at your home so convoluted? Primarily, it's because it's difficult to know the capacity of your tank unless you installed it. You can hire a service company to measure it, or the pumping company can estimate the size when it cleans it out for you. Having this capacity number is critical to making a reasonable estimate.

How to accurately estimate when you need to empty your septic tank

To narrow the estimate for how often you need to pump out your septic tank, start by finding a base number that relies on the size of the unit and the amount of people living in your home. A four-person household with a 1,000-gallon unit probably needs pumping every three years. Mr. Rooter Plumbing offers a helpful chart on its website to give you this baseline number. You can then adjust it depending on how you use your home's sewer system. Remember, the septic tank always has a high level of water, which constantly releases into the leach field. Pumping primarily works to remove the solids, or sludge, in the septic tank. 

Avoid flushing unnecessary solid items down the toilet to reduce the frequency of calling a pumping service. Keeping items that can go in a trash can, like cigarette butts or hygiene products, out of the toilet will allow you to pump less often. Along those same lines, limit the use of your kitchen garbage disposal. Instead, place items in the trash whenever appropriate. On the other hand, if you regularly have guests, your home may generate more solid waste than average, requiring more frequent emptying.

Why you should pay attention to how often you need to pump your septic tank

Rather than relying on the generic advice of calling for service every three to five years, making a more accurate estimate based on your situation can be highly beneficial. Pumping the septic tank more often than necessary can be an expensive hassle. Depending on the unit size, most people can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $550 for this service.

Having an accurate estimate also can help you be confident the system is working correctly. If you end up needing to pump the tank earlier than you expect, this could be a sign that your septic tank and leach field are not functioning correctly. Maybe the leach field for the septic tank is clogged, making it seem as though you need to pump it out earlier than expected when you really need a new unit.

In addition to estimating how long you can go before emptying the septic tank, you should look for signs that you need your septic tank pumped and call the service company at those times. Having an exact estimate on how long you can go before contacting the service company means you don't need to look as often for signs that the unit is full. After all, no one wants to spend time every few days thinking about the contents of the septic system.