Signs of Septic Failure

Have you ever thought about how well your septic system functions? Most individuals just flush after using the toilet and move on. Neglecting its maintenance can cause septic tank failure which will require expensive repairs, much like your heating and cooling system. 

The septic system is your home’s most important and costly appliance. Yet septic system issues can come as a shock to your everyday life as well as your budget.

There are some telltale signs of septic system failure to watch out for:

  • Sewage coming back into your home
  • Bad smells around the backyard/drainfield
  • Slow drains
  • Flushed water draining slowly
  • Foul sewage odors
  • Wet, spongy areas and maybe standing water near your tank or drainfield (sometimes accompanied by excessive vegetation growth)
  • The most troubling sign is if someone experiences abdominal pain due to intestinal upset.

All of these signs indicate that your tank is overflowing and your drainfield is clogged up, flooding your yard and causing the water inside drains to back up.

But what’s more important is that such a situation presents a serious health hazard and requires your immediate attention. If you notice any of these potential septic tank problems, you should call a professional septic service provider to identify what is causing the septic system to fail.

Signs of Septic Failure


How do conventional septic systems work?

The conventional septic system includes a septic tank and a drainfield, which is a trench or bed subsurface wastewater infiltration system. The typical place for a conventional septic system is in single-family houses or in small business buildings.

Wastewater is conveyed from the septic tank to a shallow underground trench which is covered with geofabric or a similar material. This prevents the system from sand, dirt and other pollutants. When wastewater enters the soil beneath the trench, it is filtered through the stone and further purified of bacteria.

Every conventional septic system removes pathogens from human waste but not nitrogens. Even a well-maintained system will be a nitrogen source to the soil and may even contaminate groundwater. Untreated sewage is even fuller of nitrogens. Planting grass or other shallow-rooted plants over the drainfield helps reduce moisture.

How to recognize when your septic system is failing?

Below, we will share six signs that indicate if your septic system is failing. If the answer to any of the questions listed below is positiv, you should definitely contact a septic service company as fast as you can. 

Here are six questions to help you determine if you have a failing septic system.

Are there any damp patches on the ground near the septic tank?

Check for any damp patches on the ground around your septic tank. Several things could cause such moisture. An underlying problem could be related to a drainfield issue and the underground plumbing system that filters pollutants and other impurities from the sewage, causing your septic tank to fail.

Do you notice any patches of grass that are outstandingly tall and green?

While it may be beautiful to see, very green grass patches might signify something more serious. The grass above the sewage tank may often be dry. This is understandable, given that the soil underneath it would be thinner than the surroundings. 

Signs of Septic Failure


But, if you see bright green grass, it indicates that too much water and nutrients are being discharged into the drainfield. Effluent will essentially fertilize your lawn, causing the grass to grow tall and lush. While the grass looks good as a part of your backyard, the underlying cause could be harmful to your health. If you notice anything similar, you should contact a technician. 

Are your home’s or building’s sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines draining slower than usual?

Pay attention to your pipe fittings and if they make strange noises or don`t work properly, starting at the house’s ground floor. If the main sewage drains are obstructed at any point in your house typically the lowest drains and fixtures will be the first ones to back up, because backups begin at the obstruction and progress uphill. 

Signs of Septic Failure


Has the soil above your septic system’s drainfield been compacted since its installation?

When soil is compacted, it can harm the septic system functioning. Noncompacted soil is necessary for all soil treatment areas, whether above grade with an at-grade or a mound, below grade with trenches, a bed, drip distribution, or both.


A reduced oxygen transfer could shorten the system’s lifespan because the soil treatment area needs oxygen to break down the wastewater.

Its important to know that:

  • Reducing the porous space in the soil decreases its ability to transport wastewater. Drainage is restricted when there is no pore space
  • Low oxygen levels reduce the microbial community
  • Vegetation prevents erosion, consumes surface water, and protects components but it’s not present.


  • Vehicles – Compaction can be brought on or worsened by driving heavy machinery over landscapes. Mowing grass while the soil is damp is also contraindicative to compaction.
  • Walking  – People or animals walking over the area will compact it. If the soil is damp, this problem can worsen. Play areas like swing sets shouldn’t cover a soil treatment area.

Does your plumbing gurgle when water flows down your toilets and sinks?

Gurgling happens when something blocks the flow of air or water through your drains. When the water moves slowly through your drains, air bubbles form, causing the gurgling sound. 

Floor drains, toilets, showers, and even sinks can produce those gurgling sounds. The main reason for a gurgling drain is a full or partial obstruction in the bathroom sink, shower, or bathtub. There are many possible sound variations.

Тherefore, distinguishing between the two obstruction types is crucial:

  • Partially clogged drain – If your drain is partially clogged, it won`t take long to block completely. The gurgling would have started and the water would be draining more slowly than usual. A partially clogged sink drain will eventually become entirely blocked unless you take care of it.
  • Completely clogged drain – When the water in your sink or bathtub is rising instead of draining, your drain is blocked.

Do you notice any new blooms of algae in closeby lakes and ponds?

Most of the phosphorus in lakes and ponds originates from agriculture, septic tanks and wastewater treatment facilities. If there is a septic problem, phosphorus levels in the lake might rise, leading to harmful algal blooms. 

Algae blooms are a health hazard for humans and animals because they can intoxicate the liver. Intoxication itself can lead to nervous system problems, skin rashes and more

Signs of Septic Failure


How to deal with the problem?

Our top recommendation for septic tank maintenance is to pump the tank every three to five years, depending on the size of your tank and the household.

We also encourage you to follow some simple maintenance practices:

  • Use water mindfully.
  • Fix leaky toilets and sinks.
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products. Commonly used household chemicals may kill the good bacteria in your system.
  • There should be no connection between the rainwater system and wastewater pipes.
  • Do not flush anything other than biodegradable toilet paper down the toilet.

The primary wastewater treatment occurs in the drainfield soil. Contaminants there such as pathogens (coliform bacteria and other harmful organisms) and some nutrients, are removed by filtration and interaction with the soil. Many harmful microorganisms are killed in the soil environment.

The more you take care of your septic system, the safer your family will be. Proper maintenance of your septic system ensures its long and trouble-free operation.