FAQ’S About Cesspools

FAQ #1: My cesspool has gone for years without pumping and now all of a sudden it needs pumping all the time. Why is this happening?

ANSWER: Look at your water bill. Are you consuming more water? There may be a plumbing leak. Are there more people living at the house? Is there more rain? Has preventive maintenance been done?

FAQ #2: How often should a cesspool be pumped?

ANSWER: As often as a septic tank. Please click to see the accompanying Penn State Chart. Pump more often if you have a garbage disposal.

FAQ #3: Should I put yeast in my cesspool?

ANSWER: No, there is no benefit though the rumor persists.

FAQ #4: How about other biological additives?

ANSWER: There may be a benefit to those in colder climates or if you have a kennel, or commercial kitchen. On Maui, the temperature is ideal for naturally occurring bacteria to do all that is needed.

FAQ #5: Where is my cesspool?

ANSWER: If you don’t know, call us to help locate it.

FAQ #6: Are there chemicals I can put in?

ANSWER: Typically, unless the cesspool is in brackish water, caustic soda will help. This is industrial strength “Draino”. The dose is 100 pounds per 2,000 gallons so the usual dose is 200 pounds. You will have to pump out the sludge first. You want the caustic to open up the walls and floor of the cesspool so seepage will occur again. If the sludge in the cesspool absorbs all the caustic, there is no active chemical to work on the walls. Grease and soap scum from washing pots and pans floats on the surface and coats the walls. The grease acts like a ceramic cup and holds the water. The caustic helps break down the grease. Caustic decreases in efficiency when used more than once every two years.

FAQ #7: How about acid?

ANSWER: The sulphuric acid that is typically used is very concentrated and dangerous to use. It is bad for the environment and, at 30 gallons or so a dose, it is not cheap. Acid may work where caustic has been applied and lost it’s effectiveness.

FAQ #8: How long will a cesspool last?

ANSWER: Judging from the calls we receive, 10-12 years seems to be the average before they start giving trouble. With the right soil conditions and proper maintenance, they can last forever.

FAQ #9: How many people are too many for a cesspool?

ANSWER: Again, all of them are different. Sizes, perk rates, annual rain fall all varies. But, in general, anything over six people on one cesspool is likely to create problems.

FAQ #10: Can I water my banana patch with my washing machine water?

ANSWER: Please! I recommend using this water. There does not seem to be a Department of Health (DOH) concern so long as the water stays within your property.

FAQ #11: Is there a way to reuse sewer water?

ANSWER: VIP has an aerobic wastewater treatment plant for homes that uses subsurface irrigation. For many people in arid areas, or during water moratoriums, this may add 600 or more gallons per day for landscaping.

FAQ #12: In one sentence, what advice would you give homeowners?

ANSWER: Know where your cesspool is, inspect semi-annually, and limit water usage.

FAQ #13: I pumped my cesspool three weeks ago and now it’s full again!

ANSWER: Individuals each use 100-200 gallons of water per day. If four people live in the house and four hundred gallons go in the cesspool per day, and assuming there is no drainage, it would only take eight days (400 X 8= 3,200) to replace the water our 3,200 gallon tanker removes. Again, chemical treatment is called for to increase seepage rate. Look for plumbing leaks.

FAQ #14: Where is my cesspool?

ANSWER: OK, OK already. It’s (a) Under the bedroom you added two years ago. (b) Under your new concrete driveway. (c) Under the wood porch you built. (d) Under the pool deck. (e) Beneath the floor in the garage. (f) Below the floor under the kitchen sink. (g) All of the above. We have found them everywhere. Call us to assist you with locating camera if you have difficulty finding it.

FAQ #15: How much of the household water used is by toilets?

ANSWER: 40% toilet, 15% laundry, 30% bathing, 10% kitchen, and 5% miscellaneous. It is easy to see how a low flow toilet, low flow shower head, and diversion of laundry water will help save the sewer system. Faulty leaking toilets are the leading cause of cesspool and septic failure.

FAQ #16: The grass is always green over my cesspool. Is that good since it helps me remember where it is?

ANSWER: NO! If the grass is green it means the cesspool is full and the water is seeping out under the cover. Remember, the cover is supported only by dirt. The dirt will erode away, and the cover will fall in. Since it is illegal to build a new cesspool, a new septic will have to replace it. A septic is different because the design intends that some water is lost via evaporation.

FAQ #17: I live in a rainy area. Are there precautions I should take?


Stand back from the house and look at the terrain. The cesspool should not be in a low spot or a “bowl”. A bowl will collect surface runoff water and the cesspool will absorb it. Also, look at the gutters on the house, and the roof line. Does the roof shed water in the cesspool area? Route guttering so the water goes on the opposite side of the house, or install drain pipes to carry it off.

FAQ #18: How do I know when my cesspool has failed?

ANSWER: The DOH defines a failed cesspool as one that has to be pumped more than twice a year, overflows, causes odors, or creates a nuisance. If “it” is up to your TV set, you’ve got a problem.

FAQ #19: The county pumps cesspools doesn’t it?

ANSWER: Yes, but the county pumps only water. If the sludge is not removed it will continue to plug the walls and floor causing poor seepage. And, if the sludge is left in the cesspool it will get thicker and thicker until there is permanent damage to the cesspool. Private pumpers charge less than the county.

FAQ #20: I found my cesspool and want to cement in a 8″ PVC pipe to make access easier for pumping.

ANSWER: Bad idea. We can’t see what we are doing unless there is the standard 16″-18″ (or greater) hole to gain access. The suction hose, when put in a pipe, will go to one spot under the pipe. How about the rest of the sludge around the perimeter of the cesspool? Also, we use “paddles” to direct sludge (turd herding) to the hose and scrape the walls. The paddles can’t get into the pipe and even if they could, we can’t see through the small opening.

FAQ #21: Can you pump from a cleanout? (A cleanout is a piece of pipe attached to the main sewage line, allowing limited access to it)

ANSWER: It is possible sometimes, but impossible to do a good job. Only a very small hose will fit inside a cleanout and little or no sludge will be removed.

FAQ #22: How do you find a difficult to locate cesspool?

ANSWER: We have a camera with an electronic transmitter and receiver. This is used to follow plumbing to your system.

FAQ #23: I heard you have a television camera you put in sewer pipes.

ANSWER: Yes we do. Unless you have repeat line plugging problems or suspected roots you probably would not benefit from this technology. It is not a good tool to inspect cesspool walls and structure. Inspections are best performed with powerful spotlights and mirrors.

FAQ #24: Is there a primary cause of cesspool failure? Jump to Cesspool Failure Tip #1

ANSWER: I always blame the toilets. A toilet may leak intermittently so it is not always obvious. Put food coloring in the tank on the back of the toilet. Wait a half hour. If the color shows up in the bowl without flushing, you have a leak. Think about it. There are 1,440 minutes a day. If a toilet leaked a gallon a minute, a cesspool would fill up in 2-3 days. Even a cup a minute yields 90 gallons a day, which will fill a cesspool in 40 days or so.

FAQ #25: Do you recommend a low flow toilet?

ANSWER: I like the 1.6 gal/flush Toto available at Hawaii Pacific Plumbing. Unlike some low flow toilets, this one will do the job with only one flush.

FAQ #26: Should I take precautions with my water softener?

ANSWER: Most cesspools and septics are not capable of absorbing the additional flow softening units contribute. There is debate that the salt used also creates less than ideal conditions for bacteria and may even accelerate damage to concrete structures. I would not use a softener on my home, unless the backwash went somewhere else. To a lesser extent the same applies with reverse osmosis drinking water systems.

FAQ #27: What steps can I take to make my cesspool work?

ANSWER: Limit the amount of people using the system. If that’s not possible, limit the water going in. Use 1.6 gallon toilets and low flow shower heads. Divert laundry water. Fix any leaks. Pump out the sludge and dose with caustic. All of this can be done for much less money than a new septic system costs.

FAQ #28: What can’t I put into the cesspool?

ANSWER: There is a long list, but if it won’t biodegrade, don’t put it in. Plastics, paint, coffee grounds, egg shells, floss, disposable diapers, condoms, tampons, cooking oil, motor oil, bleach, and solvents should go somewhere else. Please don’t empty your pool or spa here!