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For most people, their home’s septic tank is best when it’s out of sight, out of mind, working properly and not a concern at the moment. But that can all change in an instant, leaving you with a big pile of you-know-what that you have to deal with. Homeowners need to know if their septic tank is working properly and also when it needs to be pumped. In this blog, we’ll discuss noticeable signs that your tank needs to be pumped, when it doesn’t need to be pumped, plus what your next step should be if pumping isn’t the solution to your sewage problem.

When Your Tank Needs to be Pumped

To properly maintain your septic system, you need to know where it is located on your property. If you have a basement, go to where the sewer line exits the basement wall, and the septic tank is likely right outside. If your home does not have a basement, look for the roof vents, and the tank should be close to the house or could be several feet from the house in a straight line from the vent or sewer clean out. Extra green grass, wetness or, in some particular cases, dead grass are also other indicators that you are on top of your septic tank.

While your septic tank does not require constant monitoring, you should be on the lookout for these signs that your tank is not working like it should.


  • Outside sewer cleanout is full of wastewater (sewage). Here is a demonstration on how to check the cleanout: Many properties do not have visible cleanouts, especially at older homes and buildings.
  • Pooling water that forms around your tank is one sign that the tank is full. Wastewater (sewage) remains underground and out of sight when the septic system works properly. Solid waste particles block drain field pipes, resulting in wastewater collecting and rising to the surface.
  • Foul odors are another immediate indicator that your septic tank is full. If you’re outside near your tank and you smell sewage, your tank may need to be serviced. There is a chance the foul odor is from field line (drainfield) problems, but you can get a better idea of which part of the septic system is problematic by having it checked by a septic tank pumping crew.
  • If water is starting to drain slower and slower inside your home, or if water is backing up in the lowest drain in the house, you may need your tank pumped. If commercial drain cleaning products don’t work the first time, don’t pour more down the drain since it probably won’t do you any good. The problem is most likely a full septic tank or a major plumbing line clog. (If it’s a major clog, see the next section.)

Generally, you should have your septic tank emptied out once every three to five years, but this rate depends on the actual usage of your plumbing system by how many people live in a given household. Larger households usually need theirs pumped a little more often than others. Pumping out your tank also helps it operate reliably for a longer time, similar to getting the oil changed in a vehicle to prevent major car troubles. Check out this chart that shows how often your tank should be pumped based on the tank size and number of people living there. If you don’t know the size of your septic tank, the average holds 1,000 gallons.

Pumping Chart

Schedule your septic tank to be pumped by Baldwin County Sewer Service for a conveniently low price with excellent service by calling (251) 971-3022 during normal office hours . We currently only pump septic tanks on weekdays, and do not install, repair or replace septic systems. Learn more about our septic tank pumping with pricing, specials and resources here.

When Your Tank Likely Doesn’t Need to be Pumped

There are a few reasons you can be having sewage problems that don’t require the septic tank to be pumped. If it has been less than two years since the tank was pumped and you’re having an issue, try these options before scheduling a tank pumping: 


  • Consider the possibility of a clog in the plumbing line from the building to septic tank, especially if the outside sewer cleanout is not full of wastewater (sewage). Here is a demonstration on how to check the cleanout.
  • Many properties do not have visible cleanouts, especially at older homes and buildings. If water is backing up in just one sink, tub or toilet and it is not the lowest drain in the house, the clog might be in the house plumbing. Drain cleaner, although not good for the septic tank environment in large quantities, can clear a clog. So can boiling water or a drain snake. Contact a plumber if you don’t feel comfortable fixing the clog yourself or if you’re unable to resolve it.
  • If you have a septic lift pump with your septic system and it might not be working, you can try to troubleshoot yourself or call a plumber to help.
  • See if the filter needs to be changed or cleaned. There are usually filters on newer septic tanks that look like this. This video may help you to clean or replace the filter if you aren’t familiar with it.

Sometimes, situations arise where pumping your septic tank is not recommended at all. Properties flooded by high stormwaters from flash floods, hurricanes or other natural events should not pump their septic tank. Doing so can lead to several unexpected problems. Septic tanks made of plastic or fiberglass may actually float up out of the ground if the water is still high, damaging the system and requiring costly repairs. If the tank is concrete, ground water may flow into the tank and fill the bottom with silt and debris that will have to be removed.

Baldwin County Sewer Service offers additional resources for septic system maintenance on our website. Contact us with any additional questions or concerns.