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Tools for measuring septic tank scum / sludge: this article explains the necessity of measuring the thickness of the floating scum layer in a septic tank and of measuring the thickness of the settled scum layer in a septic tank as well. We include descriptions of how to make septic sludge and scum measuring tools and how to use them. Whether your system is a conventional septic tank and drain field, an above ground septic system, or even a holding tank, pumping and inspecting the septic tank is a critical septic tank maintenance and septic system maintenance chore. Septic tank pumping pumping frequency guidance is provided in a table at our website (see links abovet.) When the septic tank is pumped, measurements of the scum layer and sludge layer tell you the condition of the system.
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These septic tank sludge/scum measurements, made or at least roughly estimated by the septic pumping contractor at the time that a septic tank is pumped, provide key information that permits the home owner to know
1) whether or not the septic tank is being pumped often enough, and
2) whether or not there is evidence that the septic fields have been damaged by having not pumped the tank soon enough.
Use of this information at other websites, in books or pamphlets for sale is reserved to the author. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at "References."
At SEWAGE LEVELS in SEPTIC TANKS we explain how to interpret the meaning of high or low sewage levels in the septic tank as well as thick or thin scum or sludge levels. Readers of this document should be sure to review our table of septic tank pumping frequency. This article is part of our series: Inspecting, Testing, & Maintaining Residential Septic Systems. Also see Diagnosing Clogged Drains Is it a blocked drain or the septic system? If you can't find your septic tank see How to Find The Septic Tank - tips on locating septic tanks for inspection and septic tank pumping.
The USDA/FPS sketch at above left shows a tube and rubber ball design that can be used for measuring both the septic tank floating scum layer, and the septic tank bottom sludge layer thickness.
The tube can be constructed using acrylic plastic (as shown) or a PVC plastic pipe (more readily available. All you need is a rubber ball that is a bit larger than the inside diameter of the pipe, some string, a washer, cotter pin or wire, and a scrap of wood for a handle.
The length of pipe needs to be long enough to safely reach the tank bottom without you having to lean over or reach into the tank, but short enough to be easy to handle. Eight feet should be plenty. If you find that your septic tank bottom is just four or five feet below the ground surface you can later cut some excess off of the pipe.
Below we include the USDA sketch showing how this measuring tube can easily measure both the floating scum layer in the septic tank and the bottom sludge layer thickness in the tank.
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