Septic tank filters play an important role in keeping your system functioning properly. By filtering out solids, they prevent clogs and extend the life of your drain field. To maintain effectiveness, septic tank filters need periodic cleaning. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to properly clean your septic tank filter.
Why Clean the Septic Filter?
A septic tank filter is usually located at the outlet of the tank before the drain field. As wastewater exits the tank, the filter traps any remaining solids. Over time, this debris builds up and can clog the filter. A clogged filter can cause wastewater to back up into the tank.
By removing trapped solids, cleaning the filter:
- Maintains free flow out to the drain field
- Prevents premature clogging of the drain field
- Reduces solid buildup in the septic tank
- Extends the life of your entire system
Most experts recommend cleaning the filter at least annually when you have your tank pumped. But twice per year is ideal, such as before and after winter.
Cleaning your septic tank filter is a quick and straightforward process. Here are the basic supplies you’ll need:
- Sewer hose or garden hose with spray nozzle
- Gloves, goggles, boots, and protective clothing
- Allen wrench or drill for removing lid bolts
- Small bucket or pan
- Mild bleach solution (for sanitizing)
- Large garbage bag (for waste)
Optional helpful items include a mirror to view inside the tank and a small trowel or scraper for removing stubborn debris.
Follow these steps to properly clean your septic tank filter:
1. Locate the Access Lid
Refer to an install diagram if needed to find the access lid(s) to your septic tank. Clear away any debris or soil hiding the lids.
2. Open the Lid
Put on protective gear. Unbolt and open the lid to the outlet side of the septic tank. Use caution, as lids are heavy.
3. Remove the Filter
Locate and grasp the handle of the filter cartridge. Slowly pull straight up to remove it. Hold it over the tank opening so water runs back into the tank.
4. Clean Debris
Aim a hose spray nozzle at the filter cartridge to rinse away any accumulated solids back into the tank. Rotate and spray all sides until clear of debris.
5. Inspect and Clean Orifices
Check the filter orifices and vents for any clogging. Use a small brush or nozzle to clear any debris.
6. Check the Alarm (If Present)
For filters with alarms, lift the float as a test. The alarm should activate if working properly.
7. Reinsert the Filter
Lower the cleaned filter back into its housing. Press down firmly until properly seated.
8. Secure the Lid
Replace the access lid right away. Hand tighten bolts to prevent entry by children or animals.
9. Clean Up
Rinse any remaining debris into the tank. Scrub your hands and gear with a mild bleach solution. Finally, wash up and change clothes.
And that’s it! A quick periodic filter cleaning helps keep your entire system operating at peak performance.
Cautions When Cleaning Your Filter
- Never leave an open septic tank unattended – serious injury or death could occur if someone falls in.
- Wear proper protective garments to avoid contact with sewage.
- Take care when spraying the filter – avoid splashing sewage on yourself or possessions.
- Disinfect any exposed skin or materials that contact sewage.
- Keep children and pets away during cleaning.
Tips for Cleaning Specific Filter Types
Laundry Filter Cartridge
- Grasp white handle firmly and lift slowly upwards.
- Hose off outer screen cage until water runs clear.
- Rotate to rinse inner fabric filter until debris removed.
- Grab the cap handle and lift upwards.
- Swish the filter in a bucket of water to dislodge solids.
- Spray down with hose over tank opening.
- Lift upwards from molded handles at base.
- Power wash jacket and each disc separately.
- Inspect and clear any orifice debris.
Polylok Zabel Filter
- Unscrew the threaded cover counter-clockwise.
- Slide out cylindrical filter and hose rinse.
- Inspect inner components and hose if needed.
- Lift top handle slowly to avoid damage.
- Rotate and spray off fixed media cartridge.
- Inspect inner screen for debris.
Signs Your Filter Needs Cleaning
Be sure to clean your septic tank filter if you notice any of the following:
- Slow drains or water backing up into the tank.
- Standing water or sewage odors around tank or drain field.
- Recent disruption of the filter such as tank pumping.
- Routine scheduled maintenance due.
- Filter alarm sounding (if present).
How Often Should You Clean the Filter?
Most septic professionals recommend cleaning your filter:
- At least once annually.
- When having the tank pumped.
- If signs of poor drainage or clogging arise.
- Per any maintenance instructions from the manufacturer.
Some filters may require cleaning every 6 months depending on usage and type. Get in the habit of regular filter checks and cleanings.
Extending Filter Life
You can help a filter last longer between cleanings:
- Use a filter effluent screen to catch extra solids.
- Avoid flushing grease, wipes, feminine products, and other solids.
- Have your tank pumped when needed to reduce sludge buildup.
- Limit use of a garbage disposal.
- Install risers for easier access.
- Use enzyme additives to break down sludge.
When to Replace Your Filter
Septic tank filters can last 5-10 years or more when maintained properly. But watch for signs of wearing out:
- Inability to fully remove clogging after cleaning
- Cracks, decay, or other damage in the cartridge
- Frequent clogs or alarms despite regular cleaning
- Old filters that have outlived their lifespan
Replacement filters cost $50-$250 and are an easy DIY install. Be sure to get the proper style and size for your existing filter housing.
Keeping your septic tank filter clean is one of the best ways to protect your drain field and extend the life of your septic system. Follow this simple cleaning process annually or whenever needed.