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What is an Aerobic Septic System?

Homeowners are often confused by the number of septic-related terms floating around the industry. It can be difficult to keep track of the various procedures, additions, and categories relating to your septic system. One of these commonly misunderstood terms is “aerobic septic system.”

An Overview of Septic Systems

Many homeowners accept their septic system as a necessary part of their home without truly understanding what it is or does. Understanding the basics of how your septic system works is key to understanding how to care for it.

Your septic system is essentially your at-home wastewater treatment. Water is sent through your washer, sink, shower, and other drains to your septic tank, where bacterial microorganisms break down the solids and send the water flowing through your sewage pipes.

What are aerobic septic systems?

Aerobic treatment systems, often referred to as “aerobic septic,” are smaller-than-average septic systems that treat wastewater and sewage using an aerobic septic (cellular respiration) method, rather than an anaerobic septic (fermentation) method. Aerobic treatment systems are often planted in rural areas, while standard septic systems tend to be more common in suburban areas.

In simple terms, aerobic systems rely on air and anaerobic systems do not.

How does the aerobic treatment process work?

  • Pre-treatment – eliminates large solids and substances inside of wastewater
  • Aeration – the bacterial destruction of excess waste is the main difference between the aerobic system and the standard septic system
  • Settling – allows extra solids, oils, and grease to settle at the bottom of the tank
  • Disinfectant – mixes a disinfecting chemical that is part of the system with the water, forming an antiseptic output

Common Types of Aerobic Treatment Systems

Continuous flow/suspended growth systems

This type of system keeps wastewater in constant movement. It does not allow waste to settle, but rather treats it with bacteria and then constantly pumps air through to keep it moving.

Fixed Film Systems

This type of system provides an area of film on which excess waste may rest. This is commonly known as a “sludge layer.”

a man cleaning out a septic tank

Aerobic treatment system vs conventional septic systems

Both systems have their share of positives and negatives. As already mentioned, an aerobic treatment unit tends to work well for smaller, rural areas.

Consider the following list of the pros and cons of the aerobic treatment system.


  • Possesses higher quality effluent
  • Aerobic treatment systems tend to result in cleaner water due to their high-quality process.
  • Works faster than standard septic systems
  • Again, the higher quality effluent causes the aerobic septic tank to work much faster than a standard septic tank.
  • Can be drained into a smaller leach field
  • You can build a smaller drain field for the aerobic treatment system, which makes it more environmentally friendly and conducive to small areas.


  • More expensive due to higher quality effluent
  • Because it performs so well, the installation cost can be significantly more than that of a standard septic system.
  • Requires more maintenance
  • Since the system is more complicated, it requires more maintenance. It also requires regular filter changes.
    Uses electricity instead of biofilters
  • Again, the ongoing electrical use for pumping oxygen adds to the long-term cost.
sign on a pipe with a nose and a red line running through it

What should you do if your aerobic system smells?

Many homeowners equate “septic tank” to “smelly.” In reality, however, your septic system should not stink. If it does, there might be a deeper problem.

The most common cause of a smelly septic tank is a lack of oxygen. Oxygen keeps the bacteria in your system alive, therefore keeping the wastewater treatment process running. Without oxygen, the water remains untreated and begins to stink.

Here’s how you can solve this problem.

1. Check to ensure power is still on.

This seems like an obvious solution, but aerobic treatment systems run on electricity. If your system is off, oxygen ceases to be pumped through the tank.

2. Call your maintenance professional.

Whether or not the problem is serious, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Call a professional and have him/her perform an inspection to see if there’s a deeper source to the problem. This can save you money as a property owner.

3. Give bacteria time to re-grow.

If your tank has been off for a while, it will take the bacteria several days to come back. Be patient and take it easy on your aerobic treatment system while you wait.

septic pumping truck from norway septic granger indiana

Whether it’s an aerobic septic system or not, taking the time to care for your septic system is beneficial for your health as well as your savings. Norway Septic is a service-oriented company dedicated to providing excellent septic tank cleaning and septic tank pumping services to homeowners and business owners in the Michiana area. We take pride in doing the job that others leave behind. If it’s time for you to get your septic tank pumped, or if you have any further questions, call us today.

septic pumping truck from norway septic granger indiana

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who should you call for septic issues?

Norway Septic Inc. is a service oriented company dedicated to providing excellent septic tank cleaning and septic tank pumping services to homeowners and business owners in the Michiana area.  We take pride in doing the job that others leave behind. ” Our motto stands, “they pump, we clean!”

Call us if you suspect that there are problems with your septic system or if you need septic replacement parts like septic filters. With over 40 years of experience, we know septic systems and can handle just about any septic emergency.

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