Tips & Advice

Septic System Maintenance Guide

Your septic tank is a living ecosystem where bacteria digest waste.

Like any live system, it can become sick if flooded, poisoned with chemicals, or not looked after.

Use this septic system maintenance guide to keep your system in tip-top shape.

First of all, you’ll want to ensure that your septic is healthy.


Your septic may need attention if any of these conditions occur –

  • The air around it smells – usually like rotten egg gas.
  • The ground is damp or soggy, or pools form downhill.
  • There’s lots of dark green grass growing on or around the absorption area.
  • The toilet or drains are slow to clear or keep backing up.
  • Many weeds are growing downhill from the absorption area, in nearby drainage channels or on the banks of a nearby waterway.
  • The septic tank has not been checked for over 12 months.
  • The septic tank has not been pumped out (de-sludged) in the past 3-5 years (this is the most common cause of problems – get it pumped!).

If any of these factors apply, you should act quickly so that the damage and the cost of repair do not worsen.


The DO-IT-YOURSELF ONCE-A-YEAR 20-minute Septic Checkup

1.) Carefully open the inspection cover – you may need a heavy screwdriver – and then stand clear for a while. Keep naked flames well away. Check the fluid level near the outlet; use a torch if necessary. Fluid should be no higher than the outlet pipe at the wall of the tank (there should only be floating ‘scum’ above this level – see the septic tank diagram in our blog Septic Tank Buying Guide). Warning – Wear protective gloves and wash hands.

2.) If you have an effluent filter, check it is working. 

Action: If it’s clogged – rinse it clean with a hose, so the drainage goes back into the septic tank. If it doesn’t clean up, replace the filter cartridge. Warning – Wear protective gloves and wash hands. 

3.) If you have absorption trenches, check the area carefully. It should not be soggy, should not smell and should not have prolific grass growth. Grass should be kept well mown and clippings removed. 

Action: If it’s soggy, smells or is overgrown with dense grass, there may be too much water flowing into your septic, or the trenches may be exhausted. You should call a plumber or septic system specialist. 

4.) Check all drains and toilets in the house are working properly. 

Action: If drains and toilets are slow to empty, the pipes may be blocked, the septic system may be full, or the trenches may be clogged or exhausted. You should call a plumber or septic system specialist. 

If you are unsure, it’s best to consult a specialist.


Tank too full




If you have a septic tank and absorption trench, the level in the tank should not be higher than the outlet. If you have a pump-out system, the tank should be no more than 2/3 full.

Solution: See next section, Pumping out.


Too much sludge and scum in the tank 

Septic tanks work by retaining solid scum and sludge and letting liquid effluent flow out to the trenches. The solids don’t move out of the tank. They just stay behind and build up. Suppose you don’t have the tank pumped out (de-sludged) regularly. In that case, it will eventually fail, and untreated wastewater with heavy solids contamination will flow out of the tank, clogging pipes and the absorption trenches. It would be best if you had your tank pumped every 3 to 5 years. 

Solution: See next section, De-sludging. 


Too much water going into the system 

This causes the effluent to flow too quickly through the tank before the bacteria have a chance to work. As a result, solids can be pushed through the system, polluting the holding tank or clogging the absorption trenches. 

Solution: Use less water. Homes on tank water are already used to conserving water, but in homes connected to reticulated water, there is much more temptation to overuse water. See How to maintain a healthy system for tips on reducing water use. 










Toxic chemicals going into the system 

Chemicals like solvents, oils, paints, disinfectants, pesticides, household cleaning products and bleaches can kill the helpful bacteria in your septic system. This may ‘kill’ the system and stop it from digesting effluent. 

Solution: Switch to natural cleaners if possible, and use smaller amounts. 







SHOPPING TIP – use low-phosphorus detergents 

Changing washing powders can make a difference to the amount of phosphorus entering rivers from on-site systems. Using phosphorus-free detergents can mean less phosphorus in the waterways, which means less risk of fish kills and toxic algal blooms. Septic systems don’t work well if too much phosphorus is going into the system. Always look for low-phosphorus or phosphorus-free detergents. 


Pumping out (about every two weeks)

If your system is smelly or the toilet is backing up, this is often a sign that the tank is overdue for a pump-out. Generally speaking, the tank needs pumping if it is more than two-thirds full of liquid effluent. You can check how full it is by using a torch.

Generally, a pump-out septic system in full-time use should be:

• Pumped out every 1-2 weeks (depending on the number of people)
• Inspected every 1-2 years.

How often you pump out depends on how large the tank is and how many people use the system. Check with your council for guidelines. You can check how full the tank is by lifting the inspection port or lid on top of the tank. All pump-out systems should be fitted with a dipstick (copper pipe with a “+” on the end) in the collection well. The dipstick should be marked with a “full” level marking that says it’s ready for a pump-out.


De-sludging (every 3 to 5 years)

You need to have sludge and grease removed from your septic tank regularly. Septic tanks need ‘de-sludging every 3-5 years; otherwise, these solids build up and reduce the working volume. When this happens, the wastewater has less time to settle and solids flow into the absorption trench and clog it up, drastically shortening the trench’s life and requiring costly repairs.

Newly pumped-out septic tanks should be filled with clean water and a handful of lime to reduce odours and encourage helpful bacteria. The other place to check if your septic system isn’t working correctly is around the absorption trench. The absorption trench is where the effluent flows after it leaves the tank. An archway or perforated pipe is laid in a gravel trench and covered with soil. Effluent seeps through the archway or pipe and is absorbed by the soil. Soil processes further treat the effluent, reducing pollutants and pathogens.

Don’t wait until the trench starts to fail before having your tank pumped. With septic systems, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure!

Clogged trenches are a common cause of septic system problems. Trenches fail when they get blocked, and effluent is unable to evaporate or drain away.

You can tell if the trench has failed because the area will be soggy, smelly and covered with dense grass.

Absorption trenches should last for 15-25 years, but if they are not well built and maintained correctly, the trench life can be reduced to as little as two years.

How to keep your absorption trench working well

What can you do to fix a failed trench? It’s best to contact your council or consult a septic system specialist (find them in the Yellow Pages).

In the meantime, there are some simple DOs and DON’Ts to help keep your absorption trench working well.

Trench DOs

  • Do proper soil tests to determine the type of absorption system to use and how large it should be.
  • Plant small trees or shrubs down-slope and away from your trench system to help absorb effluent. Use water-loving and shallow-rooted plants, such as tropical palms, banana palms, poplars, paperbark trees and wetland plants.
  • Consider installing a dual trench system to rest trenches and soil areas alternately. They will perform better and last much longer. Dual disposal areas should be swapped over every 12 months or so.
  • Build a small earth bund wall (a small ridge) about 15 cm high that is longer than and uphill from the trench area to divert surface runoff water around it, reducing the load on your trench in wet weather.


This is a well-maintained absorption area.

Trench DON’Ts

  • Do not drive over or disturb the stormwater diversion contour mounds.
  • Do not build structures on the absorption trench or plant trees that will shade it. The area should be in full sun to help plant growth, evaporation and pathogen breakdown. Small trees should be planted at least 5m away, and large trees should be over 20m away; if not, the roots will harm the trench.
  • Do not flood the disposal area with sprinklers or hoses.
  • Do not drive cars on the trench area or graze animals there. Any heavy movement may break the pipework or the dome cover and will compress the soil. A small fence will let visitors know which areas to avoid.
  • Do not cover the absorption trench area with concrete, pavers, etc.
  • Do not store loads of soil or other materials on your absorption trench area.
  • Do not place extra topsoil on top of your trench to ‘soak up’ overflowing effluent. If the trench area is soggy or water is pooling over the trench, it’s best to call a plumber and have it checked.
  • Do not let children play in the absorption trench area.


Don’t treat your absorption area like this.

Effluent irrigation systems: Do’s

Irrigation systems are susceptible to blockage and require regular maintenance service. Ideally, small effluent irrigation systems should use fixed distribution lines buried to a depth of 100mm or more with high-quality drip emitters.

Septic specialists should be employed to design and install an effluent irrigation system. If you move into a house with an irrigation system, get expert advice on maintenance.

The plants that are being watered by your irrigation system must tolerate high amounts of water and nutrients. Seek advice from a horticulturalist or landscape gardener when choosing plants for your irrigation area. The effluent irrigation area should be clearly signposted to alert visitors that recycled effluent is being discharged. The area should be protected by a low (15cm) bund wall all around to minimise surface water run-on and run-off.

Read the Do’s and Don’ts for absorption trench areas – most apply to irrigation.

Stay safe!

Don’t attempt to repair a septic system yourself – get an experienced septic maintenance contractor.

If you are checking your septic system, REMEMBER:

  • Sewage contains germs that can cause disease.
  • Septic tanks contain toxic and explosive gases.
  • Never enter a septic tank and avoid breathing fumes.
  • Never smoke or use naked flames near an open septic tank.
  • Be sure the area is well ventilated; allow some time for gases to clear.
  • Be sure someone is watching you and can call for assistance if necessary.
  • Switch off the power – electrical controls are a shock and spark hazard.
  • When done, secure the septic tank lid so that children cannot open it.

To help maintain the health of your septic system, it’s an excellent idea to speak with an industry professional.  


Garden Master has been recognised as an industry leader for over 30 years, manufacturing, supplying and servicing quality wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks for thousands of clients across Australia.

Don’t hesitate to give us a call on 1800 632 582 with any questions!



NSW Department of Local Government. 2000. The Easy Septic Guide. Developed by Social Change Media for the New South Wales Department of Local Government.

Tips & Advice

Septic Tank Buying Guide

What do I need to know before buying a septic system?

Do your homework before investing.

Your first step should be to obtain some advice and investigate what option will best suit your land before you invest!  

If you’re buying land for a new home, before you buy, check into local regulations. Your local council or local land-use consultant should be able to advise you. Many councils use a three-class risk classification scheme (high risk, medium risk and low). Council should inform you what area you fall into, what kind of septic systems are allowed, and whether you must have septic tank filters or septic tank drain fields.

When planning your septic system, you will want to factor in how close your tank and irrigation area is to your neighbouring properties.

Unfortunately, these things do happen from time to time as a result of irregular servicing or faulty tanks (not ours of course!).

For basic leaks, it is actually unlikely that you will notice them as this will occur under the ground. However, blockages and other complications will have much more noticeable signs that will give you a pretty clear indication it is time to get a service, a pump-out, or even have your septic tank replaced.

You will want your septic tank system to be:

  • 15m away from the house, outdoor play areas and BBQ
  • 50m minimum away from water bore (250m away if used as a water supply)
  • 12m uphill or 6m downhill from other properties
  • 100m from streams




Groundwater is easily contaminated. Ensure your septic system is located a safe distance from wells, bores, creeks, lakes and houses. 

Note: Water polluters in NSW can face hefty clean-up notices and fines. Penalties can be up to $120,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporations for pollution offences under New South Wales law. 


What types of Septic Tanks and Systems are available?

Septic tanks, absorption trenches or leach field style systems are the most common type of septic system used in Australia.

Note, Septic tanks do not kill pathogenic bacteria, viruses or parasites!

Septic tanks turn wastewater into an effluent that must be disinfected via UV exposure, sand filters, wetlands, or leached back into the ground via irrigation or sprinklers. You should take extreme caution with effluent coming into contact with people, food, clothing and pets.

The contents of a healthy septic tank should form 3 layers:

  • A layer of fats (called scum) floats to the surface, helping to prevent odours from escaping and stopping air from entering
  • A clear layer (called effluent), after treatment, flows out the outlet pipe as new wastewater enters.
  • A layer of solids (called sludge or bio-solids) sinks to the bottom and needs to be pumped out periodically.


healthy septic tank


When choosing a septic system, the most important thing to consider is where it will be used, how it will be used and who will use it. A septic system in a weekend holiday home, for example, will get far less use than a septic system in a large, permanently occupied family home. 

The system chosen will largely depend on the suitability of your site for effluent absorption, how many people will live in the home, what area of land is available, what kind of lifestyle the family lives, and what heavy water-use appliances are in the house. 

You should factor in soil type, salt content, local rainfall, and the water table’s depth.


With all that said, here are your typical options:



After the wastewater is turned into effluent in your septic tank, it passes through a sand filter unit before being discharged into your absorption trench. A sand filter is usually a sealed unit about 9 meters long, often with turf growing on the top surface.

Sand filters capture suspended solids and provide an aerobic environment that encourages friendly bacteria that digest waste and reduce pollution. 

Sand filter septic system

These systems are rare, used where soil conditions are less suitable for absorption trenches and where evaporation and transpiration rates normally exceed rainfall.  

After the wastewater is turned into effluent in your septic tank, it passes through perforated pipes into a line gravel bed covered with turf. The water is removed by evaporation and transpiration through the grasses.

Evapotranspiration beds

Reed beds and wetland treatment systems tend to be used in larger industrial-sized sewage treatment plants and not often (if at all) in a domestic application.

Like the other methods, after the wastewater is turned into effluent in your septic tank, it flows out into a lined wetland where reed and aquatic flora and fauna remove the nutrients before being dispersed into the absorption trenches or leach field.

wetland treatment systems

AWTS are fast becoming the most popular choice of septic system used throughout New South Wales, ACT and Victoria. Garden Master septic systems are AWTS and are the systems that we recommend.

AWTS systems can come in a two-tank or single large tank option. Per the other systems, wastewater is collected in a holding septic tank (or section within the single tank option) where solids settle, and anaerobic digestion occurs. The effluent is then moved on to the AWTS tank or section in the single tank option. In the second AWTS tank/section, oxygen is bubbled through the effluent to encourage aerobic bacteria to digest the waste. Finally, the aerated effluent is disinfected using chlorine or ultra-violet light before being pumped to an irrigation area or disbursement. 

Fixed-line drip irrigation systems are usually the preferred method of disbursement, although, in rural areas, some councils also permit the use of low throw spray irrigation on larger properties. Aerated septic systems may also be used to treat greywater to a standard suitable for garden watering of non-food plants. 

People using aerated septic systems are required to enter into a regular maintenance contract for quarterly servicing, which the council may supervise. 




Our Garden Master Elite Secondary Treatment System (STS) has been designed with a large capacity in mind. This will ensure safe and reliable operation even when doing multiple wash loads or when guests stay over.  The last things you want are embarrassing odours emanating from your septic tank.

You will not have to live your life around your wastewater treatment plant, you can have the peace of mind to know that your Garden Master STS is operating quietly and efficiently.

Garden Master Elite – One tank, one hole and one connection, it couldn’t be easier:

garden master AWTS

How much does a Septic System cost?

Septic tank and septic system prices vary depending on the type of system, the size of the home and the location. The average septic tank costs for a four-bedroom home is between $10,000 and $20,000, a one-off fee for installation plus yearly running costs with desludging every three to five years.

Don’t forget to ask for a cost estimate for maintenance and installation when getting quotes on your system. Some septic tank systems require very little maintenance beyond the regular pumping. Others, like AWTS, need you to enter into a standard maintenance contract for quarterly servicing, which the council may supervise. 


What is the process of getting a quote through to installation?

Step 1. Consultation

Before installing your septic system can begin, you will need to establish what design will suit your needs and site. A professional will need to check the soil to ensure that the area is suitable and has enough drainage. They will also check the site for the best locations for the drain field.

Step Two: System Design

Based on your site’s soil composition, location, house size and intended use, a system will be designed based on the best type of septic system for your property. This plan will include the best placement for the drain field and septic tank. While creating this plan, the engineer will meet all local standards and council requirements to ensure that the system complies with all proper standards and regulations.

Step Three: Approval

Once the design is complete, it must be approved. The local health department and local authorities must inspect the plans and ensure that they meet all necessary standards and regulations. They will make sure the layout has been created correctly and that drainage and wastewater treatment will not lead to groundwater contamination. Once the plan has been approved, the local health department will issue a permit to discharge, allowing the installation to begin.

Step Four: Installation

Once the system design has been approved, and the council issues an ‘approval to operate a system of sewage management’ which sets out the basic rules you need to follow to keep the system working well, your septic services company can install your system. A licensed installer will install your system. 

Step Five: Operation and Use

After your system has been installed, the installer will make sure that everything is working correctly. Once the system is working correctly, your installer or another member of your septic services company will explain how your system works and provide you with essential instructions on caring for your new septic system. Before leaving you with your new system, your septic services company will ensure that you fully understand your system and how to use it.


To help choose the best septic system for your needs tailored to your site, it’s an excellent idea to speak with an industry professional.  


Garden Master has been recognised as industry leaders for over 30 years, manufacturing, supplying and servicing quality wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks for thousands of clients across Australia. 

Don’t hesitate to give us a call on 1800 632 582 with any questions!



NSW Department of Local Government. 2000. The Easy Septic Guide. Developed by Social Change Media for the New South Wales Department of Local Government.


Tips & Advice

Un-sewered Areas, What Are The Alternatives?

We are encouraged to create a pollutant-free world, and for good reason. If you’ve just purchased a property in an un-sewered area, you might be thinking about installing a new wastewater system, septic tank or you might be thinking the existing one is fine.

If there is an existing septic treatment system, it’s important to note how aged it is and how well it works. Outdated septic tanks do more harm than good. In fact, Aerated Water Waste Treatment Systems will offer real advantages over old systems. Here’s why:


What’s Wrong with Outdated Systems in Un-sewered Areas?

Older septic systems can be costly to use and they also pose a real threat to both water quality and the health of others. Outdated septic tanks may:

  • Be poorly built and designed

  • Have expensive pump out services

  • Leak frequently

  • Be non-compliant with local and state Government Health regulations


Choose an Aerated Waterwaster Treatment System

A residential aerated water waste treatment system is the perfect alternative to outdated septic tanks. The Garden Master Elite System is proven to be one of the most premium aerated waste treatments available. It accepts all waste from the bathroom, toilet, kitchen and laundry before processing it into clean, odor free water. This water is then irrigated onto the garden, meaning your garden is always looking its best and you’re contributing to a sustainable environment.

Septic Tank Water Cycle

How Is an Aerated Wastewater System Installed?

Garden Master’s Elite System is installed with ease and professionalism. Once you have obtained council approval, the system is manufactured exactly to the specifications required for your property. It is then tested thoroughly, delivered, and installed on your site, all as part of the package. The system requires only standard plumbing and electrical connections. It’s serviced every 3 months and extra servicing can be provided in between this time if necessary. A Microcomputer Control Unit will alert you of any problems through a remote control alarm panel conveniently located at the back of the house.


Choose the Garden Master Solution

Garden Master provides environmentally friendly solutions for both commercial and domestic properties across Australia.

We believe wastewater treatment and recycling is not only far more efficient than relying on rainfall but also plays an essential role in relieving the stress put on water usage in Australia and around the world.


With more than 30 years of experience, you can rely on us to provide you with the best wastewater treatment products and services available. We’re available 7 days a week – contact us today to find out more!