Tips for Taps Blog

Protect Your Water, Avoid a Leaky Septic Tank

Protect Your Water, Avoid a Leaky Septic Tank


Have you had your septic system inspected lately?

One-third of people in the United States have a septic system to manage their waste. Proper upkeep of your septic system and the quality of your home’s drinking water are often interrelated. In fact, everyday decisions can adversely affect the operation of your septic tank and potentially endanger the quality of your home’s water.

After all, the purpose of septic systems is to treat household liquid wastes before those waste products leak into and contaminate local wells, lakes, streams, and groundwater. If a septic system breaks down due to neglect and/or misuse, all those water sources may be at risk.

How Septic Systems Work

So, just how do septic systems work when they are operating correctly?

  1. Drainage pipes within your home funnel waste into your septic tank.
  2. Solids within the water are either digested or settled as sludge.
  3. Grease, scum, and sludge are separated out from the other waste material ("surface scum").
  4. The wastewater is sent into the septic system’s distribution box, where it is sent out into the release/leaching/absorption field.
  5. Purified wastewater is released into the surrounding soil, acting as a nutrient.

How Septic Tanks Fail

There are a number of ways septic tanks can fail, potentially resulting in the contamination of local water sources:

1. Improper placement near wells.

While guidelines vary by state, many Departments of Health insist that septic tanks be installed no less than 50 feet from water wells. Additionally, these same experts also often recommend that release/drainage fields be located no less than 100 feet from wells.

2. High density of septic tanks.

Even if septic systems are placed correctly in relation to wells, a particularly high density of septic tanks within suburban areas can prove problematic. Waste concentrations from one septic tank can combine with concentrations from other tanks, resulting in an aggregated waste concentration that can prove hazardous to surface and groundwater.

3. Insufficient permeability of surrounding soil.

Sometimes, the soil at your home’s site is not particularly suitable for a septic system, and will not completely absorb the liquids released into it. Like placement and density issues, this is an issue that is unfortunately out of the hands of the homeowner.

4. System failure due to clogging.

Clogging of the septic system can lead to system failure. This problem occurs with poor maintenance practices. Homeowners can actively care for and prolong the life of their septic system. Proper care is needed to avoid clogging and early-stage system failure.

Tap Score Water Testing

The Consequences to Drinking Water

While not all septic system failures result in contaminated drinking water, the threat is real, and the results of failure may prove hazardous to your family’s health.

As the official website of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs of Massachusetts describes:

“Inadequately treated sewage from failing septic systems poses a significant threat to drinking water and human health because diseases and infections may be transferred to people and animals directly and immediately. Dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid fever, and acute gastrointestinal illness are some of the more serious examples. Inadequately treated sewage from failing septic systems is the most frequently reported cause of groundwater contamination.”

Not exactly a cheery report, is it? So, what can you do?

How to Prevent Septic System Clogging and Drinking Water Contamination

As the home owner, you can make adjustments in order to prevent or correct septic system clogging and any resulting contamination of drinking water. Here’s how:

1. Schedule routine septic inspections and pumping.

It’s recommended that your home’s septic system be inspected and pumped approximately once every three or four years. When your system is not properly pumped, blockages may occur, even if you are using your system properly and refraining from dumping any incorrect materials. These blockages can cause the efficacy of your septic tank to wane, which may later result in expensive repairs and the sacrifice of your and your community’s water quality.

Septic inspections and pumping should only be performed by a certified inspector. Candidates include both local health department officials and private contractors. If you do not have a private contractor in mind, you may contact your health department for assistance. The health department will either conduct the inspection or refer you to a qualified private professional.

2. Refrain from dumping the wrong products.

Just because something is technically waste doesn’t mean you can toss it down your pipes with nary a thought. Some things simply aren’t meant for your system. For example, do not dispose of cooking oil, window cleaners, bleach, prescription medicines, or related substances down your drains. All these can lead to clogs or water contamination if leaked. Consider placing oil into a sealed container before adding it to your trash, for example.

3. Observe the warning signs.

This may seem obvious, but you can take heed of warning signs before septic problems advance further and adversely affect the quality of your home’s water. Listen for any odd gurgling signs around your drains, pay attention to uncommon, foul odors, and check your lawn for any slow drainage and wet spots. These wet spots may be the first evidence of sewage leaking to the surface.

4. Test your water.

If you’ve encountered problems with your septic system, suspect issues may be brewing. If you haven’t had your home’s drinking water tested recently–especially if you are on well water–you can alleviate your worries and dispel concerns over contamination by turning to Tap Score. Tap Score professionally tests your home’s water for more than 100 known contaminants, and provides a complete water report in plain English that includes personalized water treatment recommendations.

Have questions? 

Don't hesitate to reach out. We've got water quality and water testing experts on staff ready to answer your questions. Feel free to email us at with any questions.

author portrait
About The Author


Kate leads operational strategy as COO at Tap Score and SimpleLab. She oversees daily, as well as long-term logistics for tens of thousands of environmental samples across hundreds of certified laboratories. However, she started her environmental testing career by way of scientific blog writing at Tap Score and it continues to be one of her favorite aspects of the business. Outside of Tap Score, Kate loves making homemade pasta, floral arranging, and singing along to Dolly Parton tunes.
back to top