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    Toilets bubbling; drains backing up--Help!

    Asked Jul 24, 2005, 02:23 PM 5 Answers
    Hi, I've seen some problems similar to the one I'm having, but mine is slightly different. Our home is a little over 20 years old, and about 6 weeks ago, we started having some plumbing problems. Our toilets began bubbling, occasionally overflowing, after flushing, and the drains in our tub and shower would back up as well. We looked at your very helpful site here, and decided that it was likely due to a full septic tank. It was defintely full, and needed pumping out, so for a few weeks everything was fine.

    Then, a few days ago, the same problem started up. I realized that it only happened when I was doing laundry, and then, usually on the 2nd or 3rd load. We are befuddled, and quite concerned that we could have a major septic problem. However, before we panic, we wanted to ask if perhaps it could be something else. Our washing machine is the farthest from the septic tank, and the bathrooms are approximately equal distances, but between the machine and the septic. Is it possible that there could be a blockage? If so, where is the most likely place that we should snake first? Or, should we just give up, and call in the pros?

    I appreciate any advice you can offer, as this is causing a great deal of consternation and anxiety in our home. Thank you in advance.

    PS: I just remembered that when this problem started again, there were suds in the toilet closest to the washing machine. I don't know if that's significant, but I thought I would throw it in.

    Last edited by Florida Dee; Jul 24, 2005 at 02:32 PM.
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    speedball1's Avatar
    speedball1 Posts: 28,616, Reputation: 1911
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    #2

    Jul 24, 2005, 03:07 PM


    Quote Originally Posted by Florida Dee
    Hi, I've seen some problems similar to the one I'm having, but mine is slightly different. Our home is a little over 20 years old, and about 6 weeks ago, we started having some plumbing problems. Our toilets began bubbling, occasionally overflowing, after flushing, and the drains in our tub and shower would back up as well. We looked at your very helpful site here, and decided that it was likely due to a full septic tank. It was defintely full, and needed pumping out, so for a few weeks everything was fine.

    Then, a few days ago, the same problem started up. I realized that it only happened when I was doing laundry, and then, usually on the 2nd or 3rd load. We are befuddled, and quite concerned that we could have a major septic problem. However, before we panic, we wanted to ask if perhaps it could be something else. Our washing machine is the farthest from the septic tank, and the bathrooms are approximately equal distances, but between the machine and the septic. Is it possible that there could be a blockage? If so, where is the most likely place that we should snake first? Or, should we just give up, and call in the pros?

    I appreciate any advice you can offer, as this is causing a great deal of consternation and anxiety in our home. Thank you in advance.

    PS: I just remembered that when this problem started again, there were suds in the toilet closest to the washing machine. I don't know if that's signficant, but I thought I would throw it in.
    Hey Florida, Greetings from Sarasota.
    The first thing you have to do is nail down exactly where the problem is. Check the septic tank first. If it's full again then you have a drain field that's not draining away the fluids. If you find the septic tank is Ok then I'd snake out the line nearest the tank that has backed up out of a fixture. In the meantime Let me give you a few pointers. Since the septic tank is such an essential part of a sewage system, here are some points to remember about the "care and feeding" of that part of the onsite sewage treatment system.
    A "starter" is not needed for bacterial action to begin in a septic tank. Many bacteria are present in the materials deposited into the tank and will thrive under the growth conditions present.
    If you feel that an additive is needed, be aware that some may do great harm. Additives that advertise to "eliminate" tank cleaning may cause the sludge layer to fluff up and be washed out into the drainfield, plugging soil pores. Some additives, particularly degreasers, may contain carcinogens (cancer-causing) or suspected carcinogens that will flow into the ground water along with the water from the soil treatment unit.
    Send all sewage into the septic tank. Don't run laundry wastes directly into the drainfield, since soap or detergent scum will plug the soil pores, causing failure.
    Normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, and other household chemicals can be used and won't stop the bacterial action in the septic tank. But don't use excessive amounts of any household chemicals. Do not dump cleaning water for latex paint brushes and cans into the house sewer.
    Don't deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels, disposable diapers, facial tissues, cigarette butts, and other non-decomposable materials into the house sewer. These materials won't decompose and will fill the septic tank and plug the system. To use a 5-gallon toilet flush to get rid of a cigarette butt is also very wasteful of water. Keep an ash tray in the bathroom, if necessary.
    Avoid dumping grease down the drain. It may plug sewer pipes or build up in the septic tank and plug the inlet. Keep a separate container for waste grease and throw it out with the garbage.
    If you must use a garbage disposal, you will likely need to remove septic tank solids every year or more often. Ground garbage will likely find its way out of the septic tank and plug up the drainfield. It is better to compost, incinerate, or deposit the materials in the garbage that will be hauled away. As one ad says, "You can pay me now, or pay me later."
    Clean your septic tank every 1 to 3 years. How often depends on the size of the tank and how many solids go into it. A rule of thumb is once every 3 years for a 1,000 gallon tank serving a 3-bedroom home with 4 occupants (and with no garbage disposal).
    Using too much soap or detergent can cause problems with the septic system. It is difficult to estimate how dirty a load of laundry is, and most people use far more cleaning power than is needed. If there are lots of suds in your laundry tub when the washer discharges, cut back on the amount of detergent for the next similar load. It's generally best not to use inexpensive detergents which may contain excessive amounts of filler or carrier. Some of these fillers are montmorillonite clay, which- is used to seal soils! The best solution may be to use a liquid laundry detergent, since they are less likely to have carriers or fillers that may harm the septic system.
    Each septic system has a certain capacity. When this capacity is reached or exceeded, there will likely be problems because the system won't take as much sewage as you want to discharge into it. When the onsite sewage treatment system reaches its daily capacity, be conservative with your use of water. Each gallon of water that flows into the drain must go through the septic tank and into the soil absorption unit. Following are some ways to conserve water that should cause little hardship in anyone's standard of living:
    Be sure that there are no leaking faucets or other plumbing fixtures. Routinely check the float valve on all toilets to be sure it isn't sticking and the water isn't running continuously. It doesn't take long for the water from a leaking toilet or a faucet to add up. A cup of water leaking out of a toilet every minute doesn't seem like much but that's 90 gallons a day! So be sure that there is no water flowing into the sewer when all water-using appliances are supposed to be off.
    The most effective way to reduce the sewage flow from a house is to reduce the toilet wastes, which usually account for about 40 percent of the sewage flow. Many toilets use 5 to 6 gallons per flush. Some of the so-called low water use toilets are advertised to use only 3.5 gallons per flush. Usually the design of the bowl hasn't been changed, however, and often two flushes are needed to remove all solids. That's 7 gallons! Toilets are available which have been redesigned and will do a good job with one gallon or less per flush. Using a 1-gallon toilet rather than a 5 gallon toilet will reduce sewage flows from a home by about a third. This reduction may be more than enough to make the sewage system function again. While prices may vary, 1.6 gallon toilets can usually be purchased in the $200 range, far less than the cost of a new sewer system. Baths and showers can use lots of water. "Setting up camp" in the shower with a shower head flow of 5 gallons per minute will require 100 gallons in 20 minutes. Shower heads that limit the flow to 1.5 or 2 gallons per minute are available and should be used. Filling the tub not quite so full and limiting the length of showers will result in appreciable water savings.
    Is the water from the faucet cold enough to drink? How long do you let it run to cool down? Keep a container of drinking water in the refrigerator. Then it won't be necessary to run water from your faucets in order to get a cool drink.
    There may be other ways to conserve water that you can think of in your home. The main idea is to consider water as a valuable resource and not to waste it.
    Following a few simple rules like not using too much water and not depositing materials in the septic tank that bacteria can't decompose should help to make a septic system trouble-free for m, too! Any years. But don't forget the septic tank does need to be cleaned out when too many solids builtreatment system.
    With a water meter you can determine how much water your automatic washer uses per cycle. Many washers now have settings to reduce the amount of water used for small loads. Front loading washers and suds savers use less water than top loading machines. If your sewage treatment system is reaching its maximum capacity, try to spread the washing out during the week to avoid overloading the sewage system on a single day. Septic tanks need tender, loving care too. Good luck, Tom
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    Florida Dee's Avatar
    Florida Dee Posts: 5, Reputation: 1
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    #3

    Jul 24, 2005, 03:20 PM
    Thank you for the prompt reply. When we check the septic tank, how much is too much in the tank? Are we looking for water, sewage, or what? Sorry, I know it sounds like a dumb question, but I am a little unclear as to what an acceptable amount in the tank would be. Thanks for the further clarification.
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    Florida Dee's Avatar
    Florida Dee Posts: 5, Reputation: 1
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    #4

    Jul 24, 2005, 03:33 PM
    Much much worse.
    It just got a whole lot worse. The tub backfilled rapidly while the washer was draining, as did the shower. Both toilets started bubbling as well. The water that back filled into the tub has suspended solids in it. Frankly, it looked like dilute sewage.

    I don't know if I need to call the plumber or the septic tank company in the morning. I know a septic guy, so I guess I'll start with him, unless you think I should start with a plumber.

    I look forward to your reply. Thanks again.
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    speedball1's Avatar
    speedball1 Posts: 28,616, Reputation: 1911
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    #5

    Jul 25, 2005, 06:04 AM


    Quote Originally Posted by Florida Dee
    It just got a whole lot worse. The tub backfilled rapidly while the washer was draining, as did the shower. Both toilets started bubbling as well. The water that back filled into the tub has suspended solids in it. Frankly, it looked like dilute sewage.

    I don't know if I need to call the plumber or the septic tank company in the morning. I know a septic guy, so I guess I'll start with him, unless you think I should start with a plumber.

    I look forward to your reply. Thanks again.
    Hi Florida,
    I answered you in another post. Call your septic tank guy. Good luck, Tom
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    Florida Dee's Avatar
    Florida Dee Posts: 5, Reputation: 1
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    #6

    Jul 25, 2005, 06:29 AM
    THank you for all your help. My septic guy is coming this afternoon to start the process. Fortunately, I grew up with the guy, and we've stayed in touch and on good terms. I knew I was in trouble because I was digging up the tank this morning to check it out like you suggested, and I knocked a tiny corner off the tank. When I did that, the water began rapidly flowing into the hole, and I knew then that it was all over but the check writing. Thanks again. This site is wonderful, and I know I will use it again. Take care.
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