An illustration depicting the key components and steps involved in maintaining a septic tank system, including inspecting the tank inlet, adding bacteria to aid digestion, monitoring the outlet, pumping out sludge, and avoiding harmful substances like oils and chemicals.

Preparing for Septic Tank Pumping: 7 Essential Steps

These 7 essential steps in preparing for septic tank pumping is crucial for every home and properly owners. At Septic 911, we know the ins and out and we’ll walk you through on how to prepare for it. Read along!

Septic tank pumping is a critical maintenance task that every septic system owner needs to schedule every 3-5 years. Proper preparation ensures the pumping process goes smoothly and your septic system stays in top shape.

Follow these 7 key steps to get ready for your upcoming septic tank pumping.

Key Takeaways

  1. Locate your septic tank and uncover access lids before the pumping company arrives
  2. Clear the area around your septic tank, removing vehicles, debris, landscaping, etc.
  3. Measure your septic tank’s sludge and scum layers to confirm pumping is needed
  4. Gather records of past septic system maintenance and repairs to review with the technician
  5. Conserve water for 1-2 days before pumping to ensure the tank isn’t overly full
  6. Find your septic system diagram showing the layout of components like the tank and drainfield
  7. Arrange payment and be present during the pumping to communicate with the technician

By taking the time to properly prepare, you’ll help the septic pumping process go efficiently while keeping your system functioning optimally. A little advanced planning and prep work go a long way.

Step 1: Locate Your Septic Tank

inspecting with tools and equipment nearby

The first step is finding exactly where your septic tank is buried on your property. Septic tanks are typically located 10-25 feet away from the house. Your yard may have an inspection pipe sticking up from the ground indicating the tank location. If you have a septic system diagram, it should show the tank’s position.

Once you’ve found the general septic tank location, use a shovel or probe to determine its exact position and uncover the access lids or inspection ports. Most tanks have 2-3 access lids: one over the inlet pipe, one over the center of the tank, and sometimes one over the outlet pipe. Uncover all the lids before the pumper arrives.

If you’re having trouble locating your tank:

  • Check your home’s “as built” drawings which often show the septic system layout
  • Look for visual clues like inspection pipes, high or low spots, greener grass over the drainfield, etc.
  • Contact the local health department who may have a diagram of your system on file
  • Hire a professional to locate the tank using tools like ground penetrating radar or a metal detector

Step 2: Clear the Area Around Your Septic Tank

With your septic tank located, the next step is clearing the area around it. The pumping truck needs close access to the tank, so remove any obstacles like:

  • Vehicles parked on or near the tank
  • Landscaping like shrubs, flower beds, or ground cover
  • Lawn furniture, grills, fire pits, playground equipment, etc.
  • Debris, yard waste, or other items covering the area

Make sure the tank access lids are completely exposed. If they are buried, dig out the soil until they are accessible. Aim for a clearance of at least 2 feet around each lid.

Also consider clearing a path from the driveway or road to the septic tank. Remember, the pumper hose may need to reach up to 200 feet. Clearing a path will make the process faster and easier. You can hire professionals to help when preparing for septic tank pumping to ease your life.

Step 3: Measure Sludge and Scum Levels

Before scheduling a pumping, it’s wise to measure the sludge and scum levels inside your septic tank. This confirms the tank actually needs pumping. You can do this yourself or hire a professional.

Sludge collects at the bottom of the tank, while scum floats on the top. As a general rule, the tank needs pumping when:

  • The sludge depth is 1/3 or more of the tank’s liquid depth, or
  • The scum layer is within 6 inches of the outlet tee or baffle

To measure sludge depth:

  1. Attach a 3-6″ clear plastic tube to a long pole
  2. Lower it into the tank through the inspection port until it hits the bottom
  3. Cover the top end with your thumb, trapping sludge inside as you remove the tube
  4. Measure the sludge depth and compare to the tank’s total liquid depth

For the scum layer, use a wooden stick attached to a long pole and gently lower until you feel resistance from the bottom of the scum mat. Mark the stick at the top of the inspection port. Then push through the scum and mark the stick again. The distance between marks is the scum thickness.

Tank Liquid DepthMax Sludge Depth Before Pumping
3 feet1 foot
4 feet1 foot 4 inches
5 feet1 foot 8 inches
6 feet2 feet

Step 4: Gather Septic System Records

One of the crucial yet essential part of preparing for septic tank pumping is checking previous records.

Collect any records you have of past septic system maintenance, repairs, or part replacements. These may include:

  • Receipts from previous tank pumping’s
  • System diagrams or “as-built” drawings
  • Permit paperwork from system installation or repairs
  • Inspection or certification reports
  • Warranty documents for septic components

Having these records handy is useful for discussing your system’s history and condition with the pumping technician. It gives them context to spot any developing problems or recommend proactive maintenance.

If you don’t have any prior records, start keeping a septic system log book moving forward. Record key details of each pumping, inspection, and repair. Note sludge/scum measurements, gallons pumped, condition of components, and any other important observations.

Step 5: Reduce Water Usage Before Pumping

For 1-2 days leading up to the scheduled pumping, try to minimize water usage in your home. You want to avoid filling the tank up too much before pumping.

Some easy ways to temporarily reduce water usage include:

  • Wait to do laundry until after the pumping
  • Take shorter showers and avoid baths
  • Run the dishwasher only if full
  • Don’t leave faucets running while brushing teeth, shaving, washing hands, etc.
  • If you have to do laundry, spread out loads over a few days

Excess water usage can make the tank too full, slowing down the pumping process. The tank may need to be pumped more than once to remove all the waste. Conserving water in the day or two before pumping will help things go faster and more smoothly.

Here are some facts and stats about preparing for septic tank pumping:

  • Septic systems serve approximately 21% of the U.S. population: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 21% of the U.S. population relies on septic systems for their wastewater treatment needs (Source).
  • Septic tanks should be pumped every 3-5 years: The frequency of septic tank pumping depends on various factors, including the size of the tank, the number of people using it, and the amount of solids in the wastewater. The EPA recommends septic tank pumping every 3-5 years on average (Source).
  • Cost of septic tank pumping ranges from $300 to $500: The average cost of septic tank pumping is around $350, but prices can vary depending on location and the size of the tank (Source).
  • Septic tank additives do not prevent the need for pumping: While some septic tank additives claim to help break down waste and extend the time between pumping, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims (Source).

Step 6: Locate Your Septic System Diagram

getting ready for septic tank pumping.

Most local health departments require a septic system diagram to be filed when the system is installed or modified. This diagram maps out the locations of components like:

  • Septic tank and access lids
  • Inlet and outlet pipes
  • Distribution box
  • Drainfield or leach field lines
  • Inspection ports

Before the pumping, find your copy of this septic system diagram. It may be with your home’s deed, property records, or septic system paperwork. If you can’t find it, contact your local health department to see if they have it on file.

Having a diagram of your system to review with the pumping technician is extremely helpful. It allows them to quickly determine the tank location and drainfield layout. They can also compare the diagram to the system’s current condition to identify any signs of damage or failure that need repair.

Step 7: Be Present and Ready for the Pumping

preparing for septic tank pumping service.

On the day of the scheduled pumping, make sure you or someone else is there to greet the septic technician. Let them know you’ve located and uncovered the septic tank access lids. Show them where to park the pumper truck for easiest access to the tank.

During the pumping process, communicate any concerns, questions, or past problems with your system. Provide the maintenance records and system diagram you gathered. Once pumping is complete, ask for recommendations to keep your system in top condition. Also request receipts and pumping reports for your records.

Finally, be prepared with payment for the agreed pumping price. Most companies accept credit cards, checks, or cash. Some may also offer financing options if you’re unable to pay the full cost upfront.

Septic Tank Pump Out Schedule

Preparing for septic tank pumping

How often you need to pump your septic tank depends on factors like:

  • Tank size (in gallons)
  • Number of people in the household
  • Amount of wastewater generated
  • Volume of solids in the wastewater

The following table shows approximate septic tank pump out schedules based on tank size and household size:

Tank Size1 Person2 People3 People4 People5 People6 People
5005.8 yrs2.6 yrs1.5 yrs1.0 yrs0.7 yrs0.4 yrs
7509.1 yrs4.2 yrs2.6 yrs1.8 yrs1.3 yrs1.0 yrs
100012.4 yrs5.9 yrs3.7 yrs2.6 yrs2.0 yrs1.5 yrs
125015.6 yrs7.5 yrs4.8 yrs3.4 yrs2.6 yrs2.0 yrs
150018.9 yrs9.1 yrs5.9 yrs4.2 yrs3.3 yrs2.6 yrs
175022.1 yrs10.7 yrs6.9 yrs5.0 yrs3.9 yrs3.1 yrs
200025.4 yrs12.4 yrs8.0 yrs5.9 yrs4.5 yrs3.7 yrs

These timeframes are general guidelines. Your specific pumping frequency may be different. Always measure sludge and scum levels annually to monitor waste buildup. Also follow any pumping requirements or schedules from your local health department.


Preparing for septic tank pumping is an essential but often overlooked maintenance task. With some basic preparation, you can make the process quick, easy, and effective. Remember these key steps:

  1. Locate the tank and uncover access lids
  2. Clear the area around the tank
  3. Measure sludge and scum to confirm pumping is needed
  4. Gather past system records
  5. Conserve water usage for 1-2 days prior
  6. Find your septic system diagram
  7. Be present and prepared on pumping day

By staying on top of septic tank pumping and following these prep tips, you’ll keep your septic system in proper working order for years to come. A little preventative maintenance now prevents much bigger (and costlier) problems down the line.

Get in touch with us today for a hassle-free septic tank pumping!