Got a blocked soakaway problem? Here’s some help and advice

Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Fast Facts

  • Soakaways take the wastewater away from the septic tank and safely disperse it into surrounding subsoils
  • Flushing the wrong kind of items down the toilet or sink can lead to a blocked soakaway – prevention is better than the cure
  • Blocked soakaways, unless caught early, are often not repairable
  • Replacing a damaged soakaway is not straightforward and expert advice should be sought

What is a soakaway system?

Modern day soakaways (also known as drainage fields) are simple but clever systems. Really, they do what they say on the tin as they take the wastewater from your septic tank or sewage treatment plant and disperse it safely through the sub-soils in your garden. This happens because the pipes used to create a soakaway system are perforated or slotted, which allows the water to pass through at various points. The soil provides a certain kind of treatment of the wastewater as it passes through - I won't get into the technical detail, all you really need to know is that it does enough to ensure that the wastewater doesn't cause any pollution.

When they are operating as they should be, soakaway systems are great. But what happens when they go wrong, and you start to get soakaway problems or septic tank problems as a result?

There are a few different ways that soakaway systems can become damaged, here are the main ones:

Damage to your septic tank or sewage treatment plant - there are certain internal parts within your septic tank or treatment plant called a 'baffle' and 'dip pipe' which help keep your soakaway working as it should. Without wishing to put you off your lunch, their job is to keep the solid waste in the tank and to only let the wastewater through. Soakaway systems are not designed to take anything other than liquid, so anything else just causes a nasty blockage. In some cases, and if left unresolved, this can cause the whole soakaway to fail.

Damage caused by things above ground - not everyone has their soakaway in their garden, sometimes it might be situated on neighbouring land. If the soakaway is located on farmland for example, tractors and animals can do all sorts of damage to the soakaway system, as it doesn't sit that far beneath the surface.

Tree root damage - roots from nearby bushes or trees can block up your soakaway system and stop it working properly. Once tree roots have penetrated through a pipe, cutting away the tree roots from within a pipe might remedy the problem in the short term, but it's only a matter of time before they will be back. Unfortunately, the only way to permanently remedy that soakaway problem is to replace the pipework

Does a soakaway have to be damaged to cause a problem?

It may be that your soakaway isn't actually damaged, since there are other things that can cause problems such as ground conditions or a soakaway system which isn't big enough. Of course, you can also get blocked soakaway problems just because it's failed over time. There's no one answer as to how long soakaways can last, as there are so many things which can affect them - for example, the number of people living in the property, the ground conditions, how often the septic tank or treatment plant has been emptied, even the dietary habits of the people living in the property can have an effect! We have seen soakaway systems as old as 50 years old which are still functioning as they should be, so age isn't always an issue.

So, what can be done to sort out blocked soakaway problems?

Get your septic tank or treatment plant emptied - this might be the only easy solution, but it might just do the job. Sometimes, your septic tank overflowing can cause the wrong stuff to go into your soakaway system, which in turn causes a blockage. Catching the problem quickly might just prevent any permanent damage. And making sure you get it emptied regularly in future will stop it happening again. Ask your local tank emptying company how often you should be getting it done.

Practice good habits about what is being flushed down your toilets - no, not the obvious stuff, but anything else that is being put into your property's toilets and sinks can cause all sorts of soakaway problems. Fats, oils and greases being poured down your sink are a real no-no, because they can create an almost waterproof seal within the soakaway pipework, stopping the wastewater getting out. You can read our guide as to what not to flush into your septic tank here!

How do you clear a blocked soakaway?

Find out what type of soakaway blockage you are dealing with. If it's a soft blockage, firstly find a good drainage clearance company to deal with it, and secondly have stern words with whoever flushed the wrong things down the loo in the first place.

If you're not sure what type of blockage you are dealing with, get your septic tank emptied (we can recommend these tanker companies) and get it inspected. We can help with that - our team of field engineers regularly undertake inspections of troublesome septic tanks and soakaways. They are also well versed in carrying out percolation tests should one be required.

What if the blockage can’t be cleared?

If the soakaway is permanently blocked, it'll need replacing. This isn't always as straightforward as it sounds, as a new soakaway can't be positioned in the same place as the previous one. There are also regulations in place about what you can and can't do when repairing or replacing drainage systems too. Don't panic though. Depending on the circumstances, our expert team may be able to get the costs of replacing or repairing your system covered by your insurer. If we can't, but you still need help, we give you a quotation for a new septic tank installation, saving you the bother of a long and drawn out internet search. Either way, we can help you understand the problem, guide you through the options and help get you back to where you were.

Get in contact with our the UK Drainage Professionals team today!

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Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Sam's career prior to UKDP was spent in the marketing and service industries, so she is focused on making sure we look after our customers – and getting the UKDP message out there! Sam has overall responsibility for business operations and for delivering the best customer service we can.

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