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7 Signs Your Septic Tank Is Full and Needs Emptying

Updated: Jan 17

Is your septic tank full of water and not draining? 

Homeowners often overlook the importance of regular septic tank maintenance, as it’s not the most glamorous task. 

However, ignoring the signs of a full septic tank can lead to a disastrous and costly mess in your yard or home. 

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the seven crucial signs that indicate your septic tank is full and needs to be emptied. 

By being aware of these signs, you can avoid the disastrous consequences of a neglected septic tank and ensure a clean and problem-free environment for you and your family.

How to Check Your Septic Tank Level

How to check septic tank level

Before we dive into the signs, it’s essential to know how to check the level of your septic tank.  

One way to check is by looking at your tank’s access cover and observing the distance between the top of the liquid and the bottom of the access cover.

If this distance is less than one foot, it’s a sign that your septic tank needs attention.

Another method is to use a dipstick or a measuring tape to measure the depth of sludge and scum layers in your septic tank.

The ideal level for both layers should be below 30% of the total tank depth.

If the levels are higher, it’s a clear sign your septic tank needs to be pumped.

What Happens When a Septic Tank Is Full?

what happens when a septic tank is full

When a septic tank is full, several consequences can occur, indicating the need for immediate action. 

Some signs that your septic tank is full include difficulty flushing the toilet, persistent backups, and unpleasant odors around the house. 

If left unaddressed, a full septic tank can lead to issues such as sludge buildup, which will not disappear and require professional removal.

This can cause wastewater to back into the house, causing contamination and potential health hazards. 

It’s crucial to monitor the septic tank’s level and promptly address any signs of fullness to avoid these severe consequences.

Regular septic system maintenance and timely septic tank emptying are essential to prevent such problems.

Septic Tank DIY Inspection Vs. Professional 

Septic tank DIY inspection vs professional

When inspecting a septic tank, there are differences between a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach and hiring a professional. 

DIY Inspection

  • Homeowners need training and a checklist to inspect their septic system correctly. 

  • The local health department advises homeowners with standard gravity systems to report their findings.

  • Homeowners should take precautions to reduce the risks of illness or injury during system inspection or maintenance.

Professional Inspection

  • A qualified inspector will examine the distribution box, leach field, and septic tank to ensure their integrity and operation.

  • Professional inspections are crucial for certain system types, such as aerobic treatment units, biofilters, and those with proprietary devices.

  • Inspectors will report any problems found during the inspection, including the need for tank pumping, leaks, and backups. 

What Are The Signs Your Septic Tank Is Full?

what are the signs that your septic tank is full

Recognizing these signs can prevent your septic tank from becoming a significant issue.

1. Slow Drains

If your sinks, showers, or toilets are draining slower than usual, it could indicate that your septic tank is full and needs to be pumped.

As the tank fills up, it has less room for solid waste to settle and break down properly, causing clogs in your pipes and drains.

2. Gurgling Sounds in Pipes

If you hear gurgling or bubbling sounds from your pipes, it could be a sign that your septic tank is full and the air is trying to escape. Excessive solid waste can lead to pipe blockages as well.

If left unaddressed, it can lead to sewage backups and potential damage to your plumbing system.

3. Unpleasant Odors

A foul odor around your property is one of the most noticeable signs of a full septic tank. Solid waste builds up in the tank, releasing gases that produce a strong, unpleasant septic tank smell.

If there are any cracks or leaks in the pipes, you may observe a distinct problem in the area surrounding your septic tank or inside your home.

4. Standing Water or Dampness in The Yard

A full septic tank can also cause standing water or dampness in your yard.

When the septic tank becomes too full, it cannot effectively drain the wastewater into the drainfield, leading to overflow.

The excess moisture in your yard can cause unpleasant odors, attract insects, and create a breeding ground for bacteria.

5. Increased Activity in The Tank Area by Rodents or Insects

Rodents and insects are always looking for sources of food and water. A septic tank overflowing with waste can attract these pests, increasing activity in your tank’s surrounding area.

If you notice an influx of rodents or flies near your septic system, it could signify a full tank.

6. High Nitrate Content in Well Water

Another potential sign of a full septic tank is high nitrate levels in your well water. Tank overflow can interrupt the waste bacterial breakdown in septic systems.

As a result, excess nitrates can leach into the groundwater and contaminate your drinking water.

7. Water Coming Out of The Septic Tank Lid

If you notice water coming out of the septic tank lid, it indicates the tank is full. As the wastewater continues to enter the tank, there will be no room for it to settle and separate properly.

Excessive pressure building up inside a container can cause water to be pushed out of the lid.

What to Do When The Septic Tank Is Full

what to do when your septic tank is full

If you suspect your septic tank is full, taking action immediately is essential. Ignoring the problem can lead to expensive and potentially hazardous situations. 

Here are a few steps you should take if you believe your septic tank is at capacity:

1. Contact a Professional

The first thing you should do is contact a professional septic system service provider. They have the expertise and equipment to assess the situation properly and determine what needs to be done.

2. Avoid Using Water

While waiting for a professional to arrive, it’s best to avoid using any water in your home or building that drains into the septic system, including toilets, sinks, showers, and laundry machines.

3. Locate Your Septic Tank

If you’re unsure where your septic tank is located, try to find it before the professional arrives to save time and potentially money.

You can usually find your septic tank buried underground, often marked by a concrete lid or a green grassy area.

4. Check for Signs of Overflow

Suppose you notice any signs of wastewater overflowing from your septic tanks, such as foul smells, wet spots on the ground, or slow-draining fixtures. In that case, it’s essential to inform the professional immediately.

5. Follow Professional Recommendations

Once the septic tank service has assessed your septic system, they will recommend how to proceed.

The process may involve removing excess waste from the tank, septic tank cleaning, repairing damaged components, or replacing the entire system if needed.

How Often Should You Empty Your Septic Tank?

How Often Should You Empty Your Septic Tank

The frequency of septic tank cleaning products and pumping depends on several factors, including the size of your household, the amount of water used, and the capacity of your tank. 

On average, it is recommended to have a septic tank pumped every 3-5 years.

However, if you have a larger household or use more water than average, you may need to pump your tank more frequently. The same goes for smaller tanks that may require more frequent pumping.

Following professional recommendations for septic tank maintenance is vital to avoid costly repairs or system failure.

How Much Does It Cost to Empty The Septic Tank?

How Much Does It Cost to Empty The Septic Tank

The cost of emptying a septic tank can vary depending on where you live, the size of your tank, and the company you hire.

On average, it can cost anywhere from $200-$400.

Factors that may affect the cost include:

  • The distance to your location.

  • Accessibility of your tank.

  • Any additional services, such as digging, inspection, or repairs.

  • Emergency services.

It’s essential to research and compare prices from different companies before deciding. Remember, the cheapest option may not always be the best in terms of quality of service.

How to Clean Out Septic Tank Drain Lines

How to Clean Out Septic Tank Drain Lines

Regular septic tank cleaning and maintenance of your septic tank drain lines are crucial to keep your system functioning correctly. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean out septic tank drain lines:

  1. Locate the septic tank outlet pipe from your septic tank.

  2. Use a garden hose to flush water through the pipe, pushing any debris or clogs out.

  3. If the water does not flow freely, use a plumber’s snake or auger to break up any blockages.

  4. Once the blockage is cleared, continue flushing water until it runs clear.

  5. You can also use septic tank cleaning products like septic tank cleaning powder. 

  6. Repeat this process for each septic tank outlet pipe.

It’s recommended to do this procedure at least once every three years, but it may need to be done more frequently, depending on the size of your tank and household usage. 


If you own a septic tank, knowing when it needs to be emptied is essential. Regular maintenance is necessary to avoid costly repairs and inconvenient backups.


Don’t wait until it’s too late! Take care of your septic system and avoid unnecessary headaches. Contact Barnes Sewer & Septic at (765) 584-7295 for prompt and professional septic tank services.

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