Septic Tank Cleaning Cost

The average cost of cleaning a septic tank is $700.

In this guide

When should we clean a septic tank?
Prep-work
Cleaning methods
Labor
Enhancement and improvement costs
Additional considerations and costs
FAQ

How much does it cost to clean a septic tank?

A septic tank is a critical part of waste management, especially if you live in a rural area, and it needs to be cleaned regularly in order to keep working efficiently.

If a septic tank isn’t cleaned at regular intervals, you run the risk of experiencing some unpleasant side effects. Odor is one of the first signs your tank needs cleaning, but it could get to the point where you hear icky gurgling sounds and experience slow drains. You may also notice wet spots in the yard and in a worst-case scenario you may even deal with sewage backlogs and even illness.

A septic tank needs to be pumped 1 every two to five years, depending on use. An average household with a 1,000-gallon septic tank will require an initial inspection in addition to pumping the tank, which will cost a total of about $700.

When should we clean a septic tank?

There is not a definite answer for this question. Septic tanks contain three main waste components. The first part is the scum that floats on the surface of the water. Scum is composed of grease and other fats. At the bottom of the tank is what’s known as sludge. Sludge is the solid waste that hasn’t broken down. In between is water, also known as effluent. In this layer, bacteria are working overtime to break down all the organic material they can consume. This process is known as anaerobic activity, and indicates a healthy septic tank.

The tank needs to be cleaned when either the scum layer or the sludge layer start to overwhelm the system, which can cause clogs, odors, and sewage backup. When your septic tank needs cleaning will vary wildly depending on a variety of factors, namely frequency of use, amount of wastewater, and appropriate use. If you have a large family that uses a lot of water and doesn’t practice good septic care, you can expect to need a tank pump much more frequently than a small family who practices water conservation.

The short answer, is that a septic tank should be cleaned every two to five years, but it will really depend on the factors listed above. A septic contractor can perform an initial assessment and give you an estimate of how often your tank should be pumped. A first-time assessment will cost $300-$500, and regular inspections thereafter will cost about $100.

Prep-work

Before the tank can actually be cleaned, a septic contractor will need to perform an initial inspection of your septic area. The initial inspection will usually cost from $300-$500, depending on the complexity of your system. Your septic professional will take a look at the tank and use special tools or cameras to assess the inside of the tank. In addition, he or she will look at the filter and the drain field 2 and assess any other symptoms that may indicate it’s time for a cleaning.

During this inspection, the contractor will see how much sludge and scum is in the tank, and if it’s not yet time for a cleaning, he or she will be able to recommend the appropriate time to do so.

Cleaning methods

Usually when people talk about cleaning a septic tank, they’re more specifically talking about pumping the tank. The tank must be pumped, but there are also other ways to clean and maintain your septic tank.

MethodPurposeCost
PumpingTo remove sludge, scum, and effluent from the septic tank$200-$800
JettingTo clean out the pipes in the drain field with high pressure$200
Bacterial additive (not chemical)To break down organic solids in the tank

$15-$300

depending on type and quantity

Effluent filter

To prevent solids from going through the outlet pipe 3 to the drain field$50-$100


Labor

Pumping a septic tank is not something you can do yourself. You’ll need to hire a septic tank professional. These pros know the signs of a troubled septic system and can assess your system while facilitating the pumping process.

The septic pump operator uses a hose to extract the scum, sludge, and effluent. The operator may also use a special type of tool called a muck rake, which helps agitate the sludge at the bottom and helps the sludge get out of the tank.

It usually doesn’t take too long to pump a septic tank, often around 30-45 minutes for a 1,000-gallon tank. It can take up to a couple of hours if you have a larger tank or if there are any unforeseen issues with the tank or drain field.

Enhancement and improvement costs

Septic tank repair

As you might suspect, there’s sometimes more to the cost than just the price for cleaning. When your septic professional is inspecting your septic system, he or she will also inspect the filter and the drain field. If you’ve noticed any potential problems like sewage backups or clogged drains, you’ll want to let your pro know.

That being said, if your contractor finds out that something isn’t working the way it should, it needs to be fixed. Repair costs will vary depending on the specific issue. Replacing a filter is relatively inexpensive, around $50-$100. However, if the drain field is in trouble, loosening the soil can sometimes solve the issue, but that can cost anywhere from $1,000-$4,000.

Additional considerations and costs

  • You may notice that some stores sell “septic safe” toilet paper which is supposed to break down into smaller pieces. However, just because it says “septic safe” doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice for your system. Biodegradable toilet paper is one alternative, and recycled toilet paper usually lacks bleach, which also helps support the helpful bacteria in your system.
  • One way to stop problems before they start is to have your septic system inspected annually. You’ll want to hire a contractor who specializes in septic systems. An initial septic inspection will cost from $300-$500, but a regular annual inspection will cost around $100. During this inspection, a professional will gauge the scum and sludge levels to determine when the tank needs to be pumped next.
  • This really isn’t a project to take on yourself. For one, this is an issue of dealing with hazardous materials. The sludge and scum need to be disposed of according to local regulations, and septic system professionals are certified to do so.
  • Septic tanks are serious business. For one, you don’t want to stick your head in the tank to look around. Septic tanks produce methane gas, which can be overwhelming and can cause suffocation. Anyone who works with a septic tank needs to wear proper breathing equipment in order to avoid ill effects. In addition, avoid making any sort of flame around your septic system, including cigarettes. This is a serious fire hazard and can even cause an explosion.
  • One of the best ways to maintain a healthy septic system is to use less water. The more water you use, the more water ends up in the septic tank, which hinders the breakdown of waste. Ways that you can use less water are to install high efficiency toilets and showerheads and use a high efficiency washing machine. Other ways to save water include not running the faucet while brushing your teeth and using a dishpan for washing dishes.
  • When you ask a septic specialist for a quote, be sure to confirm if cleaning the septic filter is included in the price. In most cases, the price of cleaning the filter is included in the overall price to pump the tank, between $200 and $800. The price to replace a filter can range from $50-$100.

FAQ

  • What are the signs that your septic tank is full?

If you notice odor or standing water, it may be time to have your system checked. Clogged drains and sewage backup are also good, if not icky, signs of a full tank. In addition, especially lush grass in the drain field may indicate that more than just water is leaching through the pipes, indicating the tank may be full.

  • How many years does a septic tank last?

Steel septic tanks have a shorter lifespan because the parts can start to rust over time—expect a steel tank to last 15-20 years. A concrete tank, on the other hand, can last 40 years or more if the system is well cared for and pumped regularly.

  • How much does it cost to have your septic tank pumped?

The cost of pumping a septic tank depends largely on the size of your septic tank. An average household usually has a 1,000-1,200 gallon tank, which can cost $200-$400. Larger tanks can cost as much as $800 to pump.

  • What are signs of septic tank problems?

Odor is the easiest way to tell that something is wrong with your tank, but there are other signs. Clogged drains and drain field flooding may also indicate something is wrong. Sewage backup is probably the most obvious sign, particularly in lower drains like in the basement.

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Remodeling Terms Cheat Sheet

Definitions in laymen's terms, cost considerations, pictures and things you need to know.
See full cheat sheet.
1 Pumped: A device used to move air, liquid, or gas by mechanical means
2 Drain field: The part of a septic system that is used to remove pollutants and impurities from the fluid coming out of the septic tank.
3 Outlet pipe: A long hollow cylinder which enables the escape or release of water, gas, steam, air, etc

Cost to clean a septic tank varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Labor cost by city and zip code

Compared to national average
Adelanto, CA
-1%
Ashby, MA
+11%
Asheboro, NC
-22%
Athens, GA
-9%
Austin, TX
+13%
Birdsboro, PA
+4%
Blackwood, NJ
+28%
Cadiz, KY
-40%
Candler, NC
-21%
Chardon, OH
-7%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Chiloquin, OR
-34%
Claremore, OK
-30%
Cortez, CO
-27%
Deridder, LA
+17%
Flemington, NJ
+26%
Gulfport, MS
-3%
Harrison, OH
+6%
Hickory, NC
-24%
Hinesville, GA
+8%
Holden, MO
-21%
Hopatcong, NJ
+31%
Kinta, OK
-36%
Lafayette, LA
+20%
Lake Ariel, PA
-16%
Lexington, MA
+41%
Lisbon, NH
-25%
Livingston, TX
+60%
Los Gatos, CA
+36%
Louisburg, NC
-28%
Madison, CT
+9%
Madison, IN
-33%
Marysville, OH
-15%
Mccurtain, OK
-36%
Melbourne, FL
-16%
Miami, FL
+1%
Midland, TX
-15%
Millsboro, DE
-23%
Mocksville, NC
-19%
Muskegon, MI
-3%
Oakland, NJ
+31%
Orlando, FL
+2%
Rio Rico, AZ
-47%
Smyrna, GA
+10%
Spokane, WA
-17%
Temple, GA
-10%
Thomson, GA
-46%
Tuckerton, NJ
+29%
Tucson, AZ
-19%
Vacherie, LA
+1%

Labor cost in your zip code

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Methodology and sources