Photo of septic tank sludge and scum layer being broken up prior to septic tank cleanout. How to Open a Septic Tank: Step by Step Guide

InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

How to open the septic tank. Septic tank cleanout or cover location, access, opening procedures. We describe some things to check before opening the septic tank, such as subsidence, evidence of recent work, or unsafe septic tank covers.

Then we illustrate how the septic tank cover or access port cover is removed. We explain why the best way to clean a septic tank is to pump out through a central manhole-sized cover, not an 8" cleanout port and not through the inlet or outlet baffle.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Procedures for Safe Opening of a Septic Tank, Cesspool, or Drywall for Inspection or Cleaning

Inspection Points Before Removing a Septic Tank Cover

PHOTO of an unsafe septic tank cover placed over collpasing concrete blocks

A Photographic Guide to Pumping a Septic Tank

Article contents:

  • How to remove a septic tank cover
  • Which septic tank opening should be used for pumping out the septic tank? Why?

This septic tank pumpout article series provides a step by step, photo-illustrated guide to opening, pumping, and inspecting septic tanks, how a conventional septic tank is located, opened, pumped out, cleaned, and inspected.

This guideline is intended for septic pumping tank truck operators and as general information for homeowners or septic service companies concerned with septic system care.

  • Subsidence (depressions or low areas in the soil) at the septic tank location - may risk dangerous, potentially fatal collapse
  • Evidence of recent work which may need to be investigated to understand the condition of the septic system
  • Evidence of backup or effluent breakout at the surface in the septic tank area
  • Septic Tank Cover Safety: here a round tank cover was found over a collapsing home-made collection of concrete blocks which had been stacked by the owner to form a septic tank access well.

    There was a dangerous collapse risk forming a fatal hazard because the masonry blocks were askew and loose, and because the tank opening into was larger than the cover.

    We covered the area with plywood, roped it off, and told the occupants and owner of this condition immediately orally and also in writing.

Procedure for Opening the Septic Tank Pumping Access Port

PHOTO of the septic tank cleanout cover having been exposed by excavation

The septic tank should be cleaned from a cleanout port - usually located in the center of the tank.

  • Pumping the septic tank through a small access opening such as over the intake or outlet baffle does not provide enough space to adequately reach and remove sludge from the septic tank bottom, and it risks future clogging of the tank inlet or outlet by incompletely-removed floating scum.

In this example we knew from prior work, the measurements to the exact location of the septic tank cleanout cover.

The photo shows the septic tank cleanout port which we found and excavated to prepare for opening the septic tank. The cover is about to be removed using a wrecking bar.

Note that we excavated far enough back from the tank opening itself that when we remove the cover we won't have a lot of dirt falling into the septic tank.


Below at in the form of individual detailed articles are the Steps in Septic Tank Cleaning Procedure in the order that they should be performed

More Reading

Green link shows where you are in this article series.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Click to Show or Hide FAQs

Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia

Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.

Search the InspectApedia website

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...

Technical Reviewers & References

Publisher's Google+ Page by Daniel Friedman

Click to Show or Hide Citations & References