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The Parts of a Septic System and Common Issues With Them

Septic systems are an important part of many rural homes and some not-so-rural homes. If you are a homeowner with a septic system, knowing your septic system’s various parts can help you prevent problems. Knowing the anatomy of your septic system and how it works can also help you identify when something goes wrong.

Main Line to the Tank

The journey from the home to the septic tank takes place in a pipe called the main line. Like a sewer line, the main line is a pipe that carries waste from the house directly into the septic tank. Typically, all wastewater pipes in the home feed into the main line.

Sometimes, problems with the main line are mistaken for problems with the septic tank. If the main line experiences a clog, raw sewage can back up into the home. This is similar to what would happen if the septic tank itself clogs.

The best way to prevent clogs in the main line is to keep a drain basket over the kitchen sink to prevent food from washing into the septic tank. You can also place a screen over shower and bath drains to prevent hair from entering the drain.

Inlet Device

The inlet device is a pipe on the end of the main line. The inlet device bends at a right angle, leading straight from the line into the septic tank. The inlet device helps prevent solids from becoming trapped in the scum at the top of the tank.

Some inlet devices easily collect grease and hair and may clog. You can prevent this by controlling what you flush into the septic tank and by inspecting your septic tank on a regular basis.

Avoid flushing large, non-flushable items down your drain, like baby diapers and disposable wipes, because these can easily catch in the inlet device. Inlet devices come with an easy-to-access clean-out so your septic system professional can inspect the state of your inlet device every time the tank gets pumped.


The septic tank itself is an underground tank that holds many hundreds of gallons of waste. The size of the septic tank depends on the size of the household.

If the tank is properly sized for the number of people living in the house, it will need cleaning out every few years. If the tank is very large for the size of the house, it may only need to cleaning out once per decade.

Wastewater enters the tank via the main line/inlet device. Inside the tank, the wastewater separates into layers, with solids at the bottom and fats at the top. In the center is a murky, water-like liquid called effluent.

The water inside the tank is full of bacteria that helps break down the solids. Solids that are not broken down into liquids sit at the bottom of the tank until pumped by the septic tank professional. When the tank fills with enough liquid, the water flows out of the tank into the drainfield.

Perhaps the most common problem that septic tanks and/or the drainfield experience is when they fill up with solids. If too many solids are in the tank, this could cause a clog.

The best way to ensure that this does not happen is to find out from your septic system professional how often your tank requires pumping. To give you a good answer, your septic professional may need to know how large your tank is and how many people live in your house.


The drainfield is a part of the yard where the water from the septic tank flows. When the water enters the soil, it flows downward until it eventually reaches the water supply. The ground acts as a natural filter and cleans the water, so that when it reaches the water supply, the water is no longer hazardous.

The water from the septic tank flows into the drainfield via a pipe with drainage holes. If the holes clog, the system could begin to back up. Sometimes when the septic tank experiences problems, the water will flow upward from the pipe into the yard. The result is standing water, a sewer-like smell, and extra green grass over the drainfield.

When these symptoms occur in the drainfield, contact a septic system professional right away. These signs indicate that a septic system emergency exists that requires repair as soon as possible.

Work With a Septic Professional

Do you have more questions about your septic system? If so, contact a professional. A good septic system contractor can give you expert advice that can help you take care of your septic system.

At Rob’s Septic Tanks Inc., we are happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you might have about septic system care, maintenance, and functionality. Call us today to find out more. We look forward to serving all of your septic system needs.

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