How Do Septic Systems Work?

Understanding soils’ vital role in dirty work

  • Credit: Jake Mowrer

    Septic systems clean waste with the help of soils and the roots, microbes, and other life living in soil.

Newswise — Nov. 2, 2017 – Septic systems work 24/7 to process waste. The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) November 1 Soils Matter blog explains how septic systems use soil’s underground resources to treat wastewater.

“Septic systems function because of soil, our greatest national resource,” says Jake Mowrer of Texas A&M University. “Soils have an amazing capacity to assimilate and transform organic matter, nutrients, and pathogenic bacteria.”

Rural septic systems consist of a holding tank and porous pipes that lead out to a drain field. Here, soil microorganisms work hard. These organisms include:

  • heterotrophs to break down organic molecules;
  • nitrifiers to convert ammonia to nitrate;
  • denitrifiers to convert nitrate to atmospheric nitrogen (N2 gas); and
  • general predators to consume the coli and other pathogens that cause human and animal diseases.

The end result is the transformation of wastewater into safe water in the environment.

“Soil performs crucial functions for us 24/7 without credit or complaint, even as we kick it about and treat it like dirt,” Mowrer says.

To read the entire blog post, visit https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/how-do-septic-systems-work/.

Follow SSSA on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SSSA.soils, Twitter at SSSA_Soils. SSSA has soils information on www.soils.org/discover-soils, for teachers at www.soils4teachers.org, and for students through 12th grade, www.soils4kids.org.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members and 1,000+ certified professionals dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. The Society provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.


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