Despite their sometimes unsavory reputations, septic systems are a clean and environmentally-friendly method of waste disposal. Not only should a well-maintained system remain trouble-free and durable, but it should never truly makes its presence known. Correctly functioning septic tanks should be free of odors, wet spots, and other unpleasant symptoms.
Unfortunately, poor maintenance or careless usage can lead to messy consequences. If you're noticing a sewage odor, then something is wrong. Here are three things that a foul smell may be telling you about the condition of your home's septic system.
Foul smells from drains in your home often indicate a blockage somewhere in your pipes. If your home uses a septic system, the underlying cause could be an overfilled septic tank that's allowing solid waste to back up into your plumbing. Damage to the drain pipes leading to your septic tank is another potential cause of stinky indoor drains.
Before calling a plumber, run water through the offending drain for a few seconds. If this stops the odor, then the P-trap for that faucet may have dried out. Note that this should only happen with infrequently used drains, so you should call a plumber if the smell returns or the problem occurs in more frequently used fixtures or appliances.
2. Damaged Seals
If you have a relatively modern installation, your septic tank should have one or more risers to allow access for contractors. These risers provide straightforward access when pumping the tank or performing other maintenance procedures. If you notice an odor close to your septic tank, then one of these access ports may be the culprit.
In some cases, the problem can be as simple as a loose utility hole cover. Other possibilities include damaged or worn-out seals. These seals prevent odors from escaping, but they can wear out through use or age. Replacing the seals and tightening the riser lids should fix the problem.
3. Clogged or Damaged Leaching Fields
The leaching field is the last stop for waste from your home. This pipe system takes liquid effluent and disperses it into the environment for natural filtering. The leaching field cannot handle solid waste, however. If your septic tank becomes too full, solids and grease may enter the field pipes, creating blockages and long-term damage.
If there's a persistent odor near your leaching field (often accompanied by visible wet spots or very green grass), then the system may be overloaded and clogged. You'll need to pump your septic tank to resolve the immediate issue, but an overwhelmed leaching field may also require repair or replacement. Always consult with a qualified septic tank contractor to permanently fix the problem.