The national average cost for septic tank pumping is between $300 and $600 but most people pay an average of $450 for a septic pump. Although most companies charge set rates for pumping, additional factors — like a clogged or overflowing tank or a flooded drain field — may present extra problems and increase the cost of cleaning.
Pumping out the sludge from your tank is never a fun chore, but it's an essential part of septic tank maintenance. If you rely on a septic tank system for your home's plumbing, this guide will break down how much pumping costs and tips for maintaining a clean septic tank — so you can lower your long-term septic tank cleaning costs.
What's in this cost guide?
- What is a septic tank?
- How it works
- Why you need to pump it
- How to know if you have one
- Septic tank pumping cost factors
- How often to pump
- Septic tank maintenance tips
Your underground septic system treats your wastewater, and is frequently found in rural areas and towns with no sewer system available to homeowners. Wastewater includes anything that comes through your home's pipes and plumbing — like laundry water, kitchen drains and toilets.
How a septic tank works
Most septic systems have two parts: the septic tank itself and a separate drain field, also known as a leach field. The septic tank separates organic, floating and solid matter (referred to as the sludge layer), leaving the remaining liquid to flow into the drain field and release into the surrounding soil.
While the liquid is drained, the solid matter is not, and it accumulates at the bottom of your septic tank. This leftover solid matter is called sludge. At the same time, oil and grease will float at the top of your septic tank. That's called scum.
Why you need septic tank pumping
Septic systems make sure your home's waste is appropriately treated, and ensure no nasty chemicals filter into the surrounding soil — or risk your, your family's, and your pets' health. But, your tank requires periodic pumping to clean the tank and keep this system working properly by making sure your tank isn't overly full with scum and sludge.
While you should work a regular septic tank clean into your calendar, you may need additional pumps in between. If there is too much scum and sludge in your tank, it could overflow, creating a cesspool out of your drain field. If you notice any septic problems, like odors, backup issues, drain field puddles, standing water or indentations in the ground around the tank, it's time to call an expert for a septic tank pumping.
Chances are your septic system would have been noted during the home inspection and closing when you bought your home. But if your home inspection didn't note whether your house has a septic system or not — or you don't remember — there are a few key tells.
- Are you on well water? Often, that runs hand-in-hand with a septic system.
- Are you paying for sewer access for waste management? If not, you're likely on septic.
- Do your neighbors use a septic system? If they have a septic system, you probably do, too.
Your septic system may be located on your property's site plans, but you can also examine your yard for unfamiliar lids or manhole covers. Still stumped? A septic pro can help sort out your sewage situation.
Expect to pay an average cost of $200 and $500 to have your septic tank pumped. Most septic tank companies just charge a set fee to clean septic tanks via pumping. How much that rate is for your septic tank cleaning will depend on a few factors:
Your septic tank's effluent filter keeps solid waste and sludge from exiting the tank, or entering the outlet pipe. Replacing this small part can cost anywhere from $50 — if you purchase the filter yourself and DIY the filter installation — to $300, if you have a professional replace a high-end filter.
If your overflow waste is caused by a bigger problem than sludge buildup, your septic tank might be failing. If you need to replace or repair your septic tank, expect to drop a lot of dough on it.
A new, low-end plastic septic tank may cost $500, but heavy-duty concrete septic tankscan run five times that amount. Not all states permit plastic tanks, so make sure to pay attention to local regulations.
That cost also increases accordingly with household size. Small homes may need an 800-gallon tank, but larger properties might need a 1,000 gallon tank — or even more. In general, the larger the tank, the higher the price to buy a new one.
The size of the tank
Pumping costs more for septic tanks with a large gallon capacity, and septic tank pumping is needed more often. The more a tank is used, the more frequently you should hire a pro for to pump and clean your septic tank.
A septic company will spend more time pumping and repairing a tank clogged with sewage — and charge more to do it. An overused or improperly-pumped tank may have a buildup of sludge and the scum layer, which could cause the system to overflow. Nothing's worse than septic backup all over your yard!
Flooded drain field
An overflowing septic tank can flood the drain field. This smells terrible and can damage your health. But it also makes your septic contractor's job more difficult. They'll need to unclog the tank, drain any wastewater visible on the surface and unclog the septic tank plumbing. It's a lot of work to make sure your tank and yard are properly cleaned after a large mess like this.
You'll need to hire a septic service to pump the tank every three to five years. If your family is large and the septic system is used often, consider having it pumped more frequently.
And don't take any risks! If you see water bubbling in your toilets or any other septic warning signs, call a pro right away to pump and clean the tank. The cost of a pump when the problem is still small far outweighs any future problems or the risk of turning your yard into a cesspool.
Keeping an eye out for water efficiency will help your septic tank and system a last long, with fewer maintenance calls. After all, less water usage equals less chance of a system failure. Choose efficient toilets, faucets and shower heads to trim your water needs.
Pay attention to what you're dumping down the drain, too. Feminine hygiene products, paper towels, cooking grease and coffee grounds belong in the trash can — not down the drain. All of these items can easily create a clog.
Using the garbage disposal frequently is a no-no, too, because it produces fats and solids that can clog your septic tank. Consider a compost system instead of a disposal in your sink.
With a little bit of care — and regular maintenance — your septic tank can live a long and happy life.