top of page

Septic System Failure: Recognizing the signs

A Puddle In Your Yard

A sure sign of septic system failure is a puddle forming in your yard over the septic drain field.

Soil Failure

Q. How do I know soil is failing in my drain field?


A. Pumpers often observe water falling back into septic tanks from the field as the level is pumped down. This is an important sign of soil failure. It is obvious that the problem does not originate in the tank, but in the drain field.

It is not always easy to diagnose the cause of backups. A recent issue of the EPA newsletter Pipeline lists signs of failure as "slowly draining sinks and toilets, gurgling sounds in the plumbing, plumbing backups, sewage odors in the house, or tests showing the presence of bacteria in well water."

Clay & Sodium

The presence of sodium in wastewater can turn clay bearing soil into hardpan, which will not allow water to pass through it.

Q. How can I tell if I have clay soil?

A. Clay soils are made up of tiny particles that cling together and subsequently cling well to water. To help determine how much of your soil is clay you can simply take a handful of your soil and try to squeeze it together. Once squeezed, release your fingers and see if the soil is still in a ball. The more clay it has, the more solid and less-brittle it will appear. Although it is not unique to any one place, you can usually find an abundance of clay soil in the southeast portions of the U.S.

Grease & Sludge

A tar-like layer called the bio mat forms near the surface and around the inner walls of the drain field. This bio mat is made up of organic material which is home to billions of microbes and naturally occurring bacteria. When the bio mat grows too dense is can form a waterproof barrier and prevent wastewater from being absorbed into the soil.

When soil absorption stops, soils flood. Water backs up into the tank and into household plumbing. This is often the first sign of soil failure in your septic system.

Broken or Crushed Drain Pipes

Some homes are built on small lots where there is not enough room to properly install an on-site septic system.


It is never recommended to install tanks, drainpipe, or drain fields under an area where vehicles travel. The weight of vehicle traffic can compress soil, and crush plastic, or, in older systems, clay drain pipes.

Some houses built in the early 1940s used sewage pipe called Orangeberg. This pipe was made of paper and tar, and will eventually fail. If your home still has this type of pipe in the septic system it should be replaced.

Waste Solids Escaping Septic Tank

When solids build up through neglect (not pumping your tank) , or overuse, they can overflow into the drain field system, and clog drain pipes and soil. When this condition is present, it is often possible to restore normal functioning by having the pipes cleaned with high pressure streams of water. This is commonly known as hydro-jet cleaning, and it can be performed by most licensed septic system maintenance companies.


Once the hydro-jetting is done, have the tank pumped, then apply a full shock treatment (4 gallons) of Septic Seep directly to the drain field. Follow this with a treatment of 8 ounces of Mega-Bio™ dissolvable industrial-strength bacteria treatment.

Root Intrusion

It is never a good idea to plant trees, or shrubs near, or over a drain field. You will notice that shrubbery near your drain field is larger and more robust than similar plants in other areas farther away. This is due to the additional moisture and nutrients the plants near the drain field are able to reach by extending their roots into drain field soil, and eventually into drain pipes.

Root intrusion can be remedied in 2 ways: mechanical removal with a rotating rooter machine, or chemical removal using one of several root killers commonly found on hardware and plumbing store shelves

Mega Bio septic system drain field treatment
bottom of page