What Is a Septic Leach Field and What Does It Do?

If you live or own a building in an area without access to a municipal sewer system, a septic system is really your only option for safely handling your waste. All septic systems consist of two main components, a septic tank that stores the waste and a leach field. The purpose of the septic tank is fairly straightforward, but many people are much less familiar with what the leach field is and what it does. With this in mind, here is a full overview of septic leach fields and how they work.

Septic Leach Fields Explained

Also referred to as a drain field or absorption field, a leach field is designed to allow wastewater to drain out of the septic tank. Without this vital component, the septic tank would quickly become filled with water and potentially allow sewage to overflow. In this event, you’ll be left with not only bad smells but also potentially polluted soil and groundwater around the tank.

The leach field consists of a series of perforated pipes that run from the septic tank. Typically, these pipes are buried somewhere between two and four feet under the ground.

How Does the Leach Field Work?

When the septic system is working properly, the leach field drains wastewater from the septic tank into the pipes. First, the septic tank separates the liquid waste from any solids. The liquid waste then flows into the leach field pipes where the perforations in the pipes slowly disperse the wastewater into the surrounding soil. In turn, the soil filters the wastewater while bacteria and other microbes in the ground break down the waste.

These microbes are essential for the proper functioning of both the leach field and the septic tank. Inside the septic tank, the bacteria break down toilet paper and solid waste into a sludge. Without the bacteria, solid waste would also begin to build up quickly and thus require the septic tank to be pumped out far more frequently. Similarly, the bacteria in the soil break down the waste so that it doesn’t build up in the ground.

Maintaining the bacteria inside the tank and the ground is essential to the septic system functioning properly. Regular enzyme treatments are a great way to ensure a healthy concentration of bacteria inside your septic system. However, it is also essential that you never put bleach or any other harsh chemicals down your toilets or drains. If you do, the chemicals can kill off the bacteria and result in your septic tank not functioning properly. At the very minimum, doing so will usually mean that you’ll need to have your tank pumped more often. Worse still, it could cause your septic tank to overflow or waste to accumulate in the ground around the leach field.

Overloading your septic system can also create similar problems. The septic tank and leach field require time to process wastewater. If too much water goes into the septic system in a brief period, it can cause the water to drain into the leach field much faster than it can accommodate. As a result, you could end up with standing wastewater in the leach field. This can happen in situations such as doing multiple loads of laundry while running the dishwasher or showering at the same time. It can occur whenever you’re putting more water into the system than it can handle. It might even happen due to seemingly minor things like a leaky faucet or toilet that constantly runs.

How to Know If a Leach Field Is Working Correctly?

With proper care and maintenance, a septic leach field should usually last for at least 50 years before needing to be replaced. However, there are a number of different issues that can potentially damage the leach field or affect how well it works.

If you notice sewage odors around your septic tank or leach field, this is an obvious sign that something isn’t working properly. The same is true if the ground around the leach field is soggy or wet. Another sign to look out for is if the area around the leach field has extremely green, lush vegetation. While this may be pretty to look at, it indicates that waste is building up in the soil around the leach field. If you’re experiencing slow drains, overflowing toilets or sewage backups, this is another sign of an issue with your septic tank or leach field.

To prevent issues and possible damage to your leach field, it is important that you never drive over it. You should also never put anything heavy like a shed on top of the field or allow animals to graze near it. All of these have the potential to break or crush the pipes in the leach field, which will prevent it from working properly. These things can also cause the soil in the leach field to become compacted. When the soil is too compacted, the condition prevents it from properly absorbing wastewater. As a result, you may end up with standing wastewater or extremely wet or soggy ground around the leach field.

Trees, shrubs and some other plants can also damage your leach field. Specifically, their roots can get inside the pipes and lead to clogs or breaks. Still, you are perfectly fine with planting grass and many other types of plants on the leach field as long as they don’t have deep roots. However, anything that is planted over the leach field should never be watered. If you water it, you’ll end up soaking the ground and thus not allowing the wastewater to drain properly. This is the same reason why you should never let your downspouts or any other source of water drain directly onto the leach field.

Another important factor in ensuring that your leach field is working properly is to make sure to have your septic tank pumped at least once every two to three years. If you neglect to have the tank pumped regularly, it could cause solid waste to flow into the leach field pipes and potentially clog them. This is also why you should make sure to never put any fat, oil, or grease into your septic system since these could all have the same effect. In fact, you really shouldn’t ever put anything solid into a septic system except for toilet paper and human waste.

Professional Septic System Services

If you suspect that there is a problem with your septic tank or leach field, the experienced professionals at Express Septic Pumping are here to help. We specialize in septic system inspections, testing, and repairs as well as preventative maintenance and enzyme treatments. We also offer septic tank pumping and can help install new septic tanks, leach fields, and entire septic systems. Our company is locally owned and has been serving customers in and around Nampa, Boise, and Caldwell for over 15 years. To receive more information on any of our services or to schedule an appointment, give our team at Express Septic Pumping a call today.

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