How To Clean A Septic Tank

Whether you’re just curious as to how the process works or are actually looking to save yourself a bit of money by doing some of the dirty work, cleaning a septic tank isn’t all that bad.

Well, we won’t lie to you. It can get pretty gross. How about this – we’ll tell you exactly how to clean a septic tank, and then you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to have any part of it.

Deal? Deal.

Read on to decide for yourself how much work you want to put in to clean your septic tank.

What Is a Septic Tank?

Before we talk about how to clean a septic tank, we should first talk about what exactly a septic tank is.

  • A septic tank is a self-contained tank (typically underground) that contains sewage and other waste. It sits in the tank and is allowed to decompose through bacterial activity before it’s taken away and disposed of.
  • They are not connected to the city water supply in any way. For this reason, if you’re a home-owner, you’re actually responsible for keeping your own septic tank functional.
  • If a septic tank is ignored, it can get clogged fairly easily by items that aren’t able to be broken down by bacteria. This can lead to a very expensive breakdown of the entire septic system.


No doubt that cleaning your septic tank is a dirty job but unfortunately, it’s just one of those things that absolutely needs to be dealt with.

Here’s a quick overview of what is going to happen.

You need to first uncover the tank, then look for any cracks or leaks, clean out the filter, measure the depth of the actual waste inside the tank, and then call for a professional to come to pump out the waste and dispose of it properly.

So while you won’t be doing the actual cleaning out, you can do some steps that will save you a lot of time and money later on when somebody comes to actually empty it.

Alright, let’s get started!

Getting the Tank Ready

  1. First things first, you’re going to have to locate your tank. It’s most likely buried somewhere in fairly close proximity to your house.

Tip: Start from the sewer pipe in the lower level of your house (if you can), and then just follow it as it leaves the house. You should be able to figure out a general direction and then go from there.

  1. Dig out the top of your tank. Your tank is most likely underground but lucky for you if it’s not! Before the actual inspection, just shovel out the dirt around the top of the tank.
    • Once you do, you’ll find an access lid.
  2. Once you can actually see the tank, time to inspect it for any cracks. Make sure you’re thorough and look along the tank, including inside.

  • Also, be on the lookout for any rusted or broken pipes. Any damage you see will need to be repaired by a professional ASAP.

Figuring Out the Depth of the Scum

  1. Take a 10 foot PVC pipe. Using a saw or PVC cutter, cut it into two pieces. One-piece should be six inches long and the other should be 9.5 feet long.
  1. Glue the pipes together. Pour PVC cement into an elbow joint. Attach the smaller pipe to the top of the larger pipe using the cement and joint.

  • This should ultimately form an ‘L’ shape.
  1. Now you’re going to want to cap each end of your new L-shaped tool. PVC caps can be found at just about any hardware store.
  2. The next step is to lower the stick into the hole.
    • You want to stick the part with the ‘L’ down into the tank until you feel it touch the top layer of the septic waste tank WITHOUT breaking through.

  1. Using a permanent marker (or a piece of masking tape), mark the waste’s upper point.
    • As soon as the pipe rests on the top layer of scum, mark where the pipe crosses from the ground to the very top of your tank.
  2. Now instead of resting the pipe on top of the scum layer, you need to force the stick down through the scum.
    • You’ll know when you reach the bottom because you’ll feel the stick easily moving through the water instead of the scum.
  3. Mark the stick again at this new point that you just found.
  4. Now that you have both of the marks that you need, carefully remove the stick and rest it on a tarp. Using a tape measure, figure out the distance between the two marks that you made.
    • When the scum is only three inches above the bottom of the outlet pipe, you’re going to need to pump your tank.

Cleaning the Filter

Now for the fun part – time to clean the filter!

        1. Pull up the cover of the tank (if you haven’t already)
        2. Locate the pipes leading waste into the thank and water out of the tank. The filter is inside of these.
          • Note: not all tanks come installed with a filter! Look up your exact tank and see if there are even any filters to clean at all.
        3. Pull up the filters. You’ll definitely want to have some sort of protective rubber gloves on.
          • If you’re not bold enough to use your hands (and we don’t blame you), then using a rake, shovel, or gardening hoe will also do the trick.
        4. Getting the filter out is the hard part! Cleaning it is the easy part. All you have to do is hold the filter over the tank and spray it with a house.
          • Alternatively, you can just dip it in a bucket of water and spray it there until it’s completely clean.

        5. While the filter is out, you should inspect it or any damage. Look for any cracks or solids clogging up the filter.
          • If you’re unable to clean it perfectly or appears damaged, you’ll, unfortunately, need to purchase a new filter.
        6. Now just put the filter back in! Whether you had to replace it with a new filter or are just putting the same one back

Pumping the Tank

The good news is that after all that work, you won’t have to pump the septic tank yourself. Yay! Well, you could if you really wanted to.

But even if you managed to pump it yourself, you’re still going to need to transport the waste and dispose of it according to local laws in a safe and sanitary way.

For that reason, we recommend just calling in a professional for this part.

You should do a yearly inspection of your septic tank, just to be safe. But in general, you’ll need to pump the tank every one to three years.

The smaller the tank or the more people who live in a house, the more often it will need to be treated.

For example, a 750-gallon tank in a standard two-bedroom home with two people living there will last about four years without needing to be pumped.

How Much Does It Cost?

On average, this will cost you anywhere from $300 to $700, depending on exactly how big your septic tank is and if any other issues are discovered.

If you’re being cautious, you should really have it inspected annually which will cost a few hundred dollars. However, if you’re confident you can do it yourself, you can inspect it following our steps above and save yourself a bit of money.

But remember, you won’t be able to pump it yourself so you’ll at least have to get that done every few years.

Final Thoughts

If we’re being blunt, cleaning and maintaining your septic tank can be gross and annoying. Fortunately, you only have to worry about it once a year.

And, at the end of the day, if you don’t want anything to do with the septic tank, you can shell out a couple hundred bucks and have someone come do the inspection for you.

It can be helpful to just know how septic tanks work, however, especially if you’re a landlord of multiple buildings. This could save you thousands per year.

Justin Howe

Electrician and DIY specialist Justin deleted his own successful tech blog to write expert product reviews and buying guides together with his friend Robert.

Justin Howe

Electrician and DIY specialist Justin deleted his own successful tech blog to write expert product reviews and buying guides together with his friend Robert.