From Failing to Functional

The failure of a drainfield can be a huge headache. Failing or improperly functioning systems can lead to a myriad of health and environmental problems such as ground and surface water contamination.

The typical remedy is to build a new drainfield and divert the flow to allow for the failed one to dry out. However, not all homeowners can afford this, and in some cases, there isn’t enough space to allow for another drainfield. There are several different options on the market for dealing with a failed drainfield.


The patented SoilAir technology has restored hydraulically-failed septic system drainfields since 1996. It aerates the drainfield, “which promotes oxidation of excess organic material at the infiltrative surface and supports conditions for removal of N, P, organic C, and fecal coliform bacteria.”

The University of Rhode Island tested the technology on three group homes that saw two drainfields fail. One of the group homes was a four-bedroom, which would typically generate 200-400 gallons a day. This group home was generating 1,850 gallons per day—failing two drainfields in a short period of time. After treatment with SoilAir, it has not failed again.

“It’s a very innovative way of thinking,” says David Kalen, program manager for the New England Onsite Wastewater Training Center at the University of Rhode Island. “It blows air into the soil and makes the soil a media filter. It’s very different from anything out there.”

University of Rhode Island representatives wrote a white paper “Evaluation of Leachfield Aeration Technology for Improvement of Water Quality and Hydraulic Functions in Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems” summarizing their findings. They found that the “infiltrative capacity of existing hydraulically-failed systems can be restored within a few days of installation, with improvements in nitrogen removal likely to be observed after a few weeks.”

Costs for residential SoilAir equipment ranges from $1,800-$5,000 and can usually be installed in one day. Operating costs come from the energy used to power the blower, which typically runs 4-20 hours each day. The average cost is $220 per year. Septic tank professionals will typically visit the site once a year to perform routine maintenance on the air filter, unless the system is equipped with a modem and remote telemetry.

The paper states, “Our goal was to evaluate the effectiveness of SoilAir in restoring leachfield hydraulic function and improving water quality at the pilot and field scales. Together, the results of our study suggest that SoilAir is a viable, low-impact, inexpensive alternative technology to reduce nutrient contamination of surface, ground and coastal waters by failed and functioning OWTS.”

“The results of our pilot-scale studies suggest that introduction of intermittent aeration into leachfield soil under conventional non-aerated conditions can improve water quality functions, enhancing removal of N, fecal coliform bacteria, and BOD5. These improvements were generally observed within four to eight weeks of the introduction of aeration.”


Septic-Scrub is poured into the distribution box allowing water to carry it into the drainfield. It reacts with the sulfides in the drainfield to produce a nontoxic material and oxygen to replenish the soil’s aerobic bacteria and reduce soil compaction.

It is designed to be fast acting. “Our product’s goal is to oxidize iron sulfide to dissolve it up, and as soon as it comes into contact with iron sulfide it will immediately react and start the process,” says Joe Keeton with Arcan Enterprises. “Within the first 24 hours, anything our product is going to do will be done, allowing the pumper to follow up the next day to begin to judge the results.”

On average, a pumper would pay less than $200 in materials to treat the field. “The main variable determining how much product to use is how much iron sulfide sludge has developed under the pipes or at the bottom of the pit,” says Keeton.

Septic Drainer

Septic Drainer is distributed through the distribution box and carried to the drain lines.

“The hard layer of soil is called hard pan and is caused from sodium mixing with the soil,” says Mark Reynolds. “Farmers have been dealing with hard pan soil issues for centuries. About 50 years ago, they discovered that if you use calcium polysulfide, which is non-toxic and non-hazardous, then you can drive the sodium out of the soil.”

According to Reynolds, it takes an average of three weeks to see results, but they have seen it take longer and also work overnight. He recommends that you use four gallons of Septic Drainer for every 1,000 gallon septic tank, and one gallon per 1,000 gallon tank for maintenance or prevention.

“Our product breaks up the soil to foster an environment where oxygen can get in there and allow the system to restore itself. Unless you treat the hard pan issue, you will have a drainfield that goes back to being clogged.”

User Account

Chris Lanoue, owner of ADC Septic, has used Septic Drainer and Septic-Scrub on his clients’ systems. “I’ve used Septic Drainer at least a dozen times and thus far all but two were able to increase the drainage,” says Lanoue. “The two systems that didn’t work were because one had a pool on top of their drainfield, and the other system was undersized for the family and suffered from years of neglect.”

He has used Septic Drainer for about a year and a half. “I’m still monitoring the systems to see if they will maintain, but as of now, they have been. I even used it on a friend’s cesspool that was backing up continuously and it has maintained for the past nine months.”

Lanoue cautions that both treatments require a few steps:

1. Open up the cover of the distribution box and look for heavy thick biomat and other signs of why it is failing. If it’s heavy sodium, or hard pan, then I use Septic Drainer. If it’s from neglect, then I use Septic Scrub.

2. Break up as much of that black biomat as you can in order for the treatments to work.

3. Pump the tank.

4. Jetter the distribution box and the lateral lines. I continuously run the jetter until I get clear liquid to the distribution box—removing about 80 percent of the debris.

5. Use a 3″ pipe against a lateral line and dump one gallon in each line if there are four lines, or divide up the four gallons if there are three lines.

“I had a plumber call me to say that they had opened up their distribution box and poured it in and nothing happened,” says Lanoue. “If you don’t pump, clean, and jet, then it won’t work. I went out there and jetted, cleaned and vacuumed because there was a heavy biomat that was blocking all of the holes. The homeowner called a couple of weeks ago to say how happy he is because the it’s maintaining. They had been pumping every week.”

Lanoue says that Septic Drainer works well for hard pan or biomat situations. If he has a system that is draining slowly, it increases the flow. Septic Drainer is also easy to add to the system. He has found that Septic-Scrub will dissolve solid material in systems that have grease build up or hasn’t been pumped regularly.

“I was skeptical when I tried the products because I have heard of many products that claim to do something and then don’t perform. But, both products work very well. You just need to be sure and do those steps.”

Story by Jennifer Taylor


■ University of Rhode Island white paper, visit
■ Soil Air, visit
■ Septic-Scrub, call 1-888-352-7226 or visit
■ Septic Drainer, visit

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