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Why Do Septic Tanks Smell & How to Fix It

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Septic systems are essential for managing wastewater in properties without access to municipal sewers. However, septic tank odours can be a common cause for concern. Septic smells indicate underlying issues that require attention. Promptly addressing septic system smell is crucial to maintaining a healthy septic system and preventing potential health hazards.

How Septic Systems Work

A septic tank system consists of a septic tank and a drain field. Wastewater from the property flows into the septic tank, where anaerobic bacteria break down solid waste through digestion. The liquid effluent then passes into the drain field for further treatment and dispersal. A properly functioning septic system requires regular maintenance to prevent bad smells and septic tank odours.

Adequate ventilation through a plumbing vent/vents is essential to control odour and maintain a balanced environment within the septic tank. A system malfunction can lead to a smelly septic tank and potentially hazardous conditions, requiring immediate attention to avoid further complications.

Common Causes of Septic Tank Smells

a. Bacterial Imbalance

Bacteria are crucial in maintaining a healthy system by breaking down organic matter. However, various factors can disrupt the delicate bacterial balance, leading to tank odours. An imbalance in the pH level inside the septic tank, typically outside the optimal range of 6.8 to 7.6, can hinder bacterial activity. 

Introducing harmful substances like chemicals, antibiotics, or excessive amounts of bleach can kill beneficial bacteria in your tank. Symptoms of bacterial imbalance include strong odours from drains, toilets, or the area near the septic tank and slow drains or gurgling sounds.

b. Overloaded or Clogged System

An overloaded system is one of the common causes of septic odours. This can occur when the tank is full and needs pumping or when too much water enters the system quickly. Overloading can also happen if your tank was last pumped long ago, causing solid waste to accumulate and clog the system. 

Signs of a clogged septic tank or drain field include slow drains, gurgling sounds, sewage backups, and smelly septic odours inside your home or near the tank. An overloaded system can lead to sewage leaks, environmental contamination, and expensive repairs.

c. Inadequate Ventilation

Proper ventilation is essential for controlling odours and maintaining a healthy septic system.  A vent stack allows gases like hydrogen sulphide, which cause the characteristic rotten egg smell, to escape from the tank. Factors contributing to poor ventilation include a blocked drain, blocked or damaged vent pipes, improper installation, or a missing septic tank cover.

When the system isn’t adequately ventilated, gases build up inside the tank, causing a strong sewer smell from drains or the tank itself. Inadequate ventilation can also lead to dangerous gas build-up, posing health risks to those living on the property.

d. Damaged or Malfunctioning Components

Septic system components, such as the tank, drain field, or pipes, can suffer damage or malfunction over time, contributing to septic tank problems and bad smells. Common issues include cracks in the tank, broken pipes, or a damaged drain field. 

Signs of damage or malfunction may consist of wet spots in the yard, sewage odours, or visible sewage leaks. A malfunctioning septic system can cause smelly septic odours to spread all over the property, potentially leading to health hazards and complaints from nearby establishments or your neighbours. Regular inspections and maintenance can help identify and address these issues before they escalate into serious problems.

Preventing Septic Tank Odours

Septic tank owners can take several steps to prevent unpleasant smells and maintain a healthy septic system.

Regular septic maintenance is important, including inspecting the tank, drain field, and vent pipe for any signs of damage or malfunction. Proper waste disposal practices are equally important; avoid flushing non-biodegradable items, harsh chemicals, or excessive amounts of grease, which can disrupt the delicate balance within the tank. Water conservation helps prevent system overload, fix leaky faucets and toilets, and spread out laundry and dishwashing loads.

If you notice a bad smell from your drains or toilets, seal the wax ring around the toilet base correctly and replace it if necessary. When septic tank odours persist outside your home, it may indicate that the tank needs to be pumped or that there are issues with the vent pipe or other components. Scheduling regular professional inspections and pumping is essential to prevent septic tank gases from accumulating and causing unpleasant odours.

Addressing Existing Odour Issues

If you’re experiencing septic tank odours, the first step is identifying the source. Bad smells inside the home, particularly noticeable in the bathroom or near drains, may indicate a problem with the plumbing or venting system. A gas odour that smells like rotten eggs suggests the presence of hydrogen sulphide, a byproduct of decomposing organic waste.

DIY solutions for minor odour problems include pouring a cup of baking soda or coffee grounds down the drain to neutralise odours and maintain proper air pressure within the pipes. However, if the smell persists or you suspect a full septic tank or damaged components, you must seek professional assistance from a licensed plumber or septic system specialist to address the underlying issue and prevent the build-up of harmful gases in the system.

Don’t Let Septic Tank Odours Linger – Take Action Today!

Addressing septic tank odours is essential for maintaining a healthy septic system and preventing potential health hazards. You can keep your septic system functioning optimally by taking proactive measures, such as regular maintenance, proper waste disposal, and prompt attention to issues. Commercial and residential septic tank services can help you keep your septic system in optimal condition, avoid costly repairs, and maintain a healthy, odour-free environment.

For expert assistance, contact All Kind Wastewater today.


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