A septic system, including the drain field, is going to fail at some point and require repair or replacement. But understanding how your septic system works and what can go wrong can be to your benefit. You'll be able to recognize the common warning signs and act on them before the situation gets worse and more messy.

Signs of a septic system failure:

Unpleasant odor. Although the smell often comes from your toilet and drains, you can't always locate the source. A bad smell may permeate throughout the entire house.

Toilet flushes slowly. You also may hear gurgling sounds when you flush. When the water and waste you flush can't go down the sewer drain, it will come back up the pipes and cause the toilet to overflow. Even if the toilet doesn't overflow, water and raw sewage may come back up through the tub or shower drain.

Drains run slowly. Plunging a drain may open it temporarily and allow the water to go down. Eventually, though, plunging won't do the trick.

Greener grass over the drain field. This is concerning, especially if the weather has been dry and the rest of your lawn doesn't look as good. Wet spots above ground often are another sign there's a problem.

Things that can go wrong:

Sludge buildup. Frequently the cause for a septic tank backup, if you don't have sludge pumped from your septic tank regularly, the tank fills and untreated solids can escape into the drain field. A septic tank can hold only so much.

Watch what you put into the tank. Too much water in the tank will take it longer to drain. Using too much water also increases pressure throughout the septic system. When this happens, bacteria can't break down raw waste particles as quickly. As a result, more untreated solids flow out into the drain field and leach into the soil. However, if you catch the problem early before too much solid waste builds up, treating the septic tank and drain lines with beneficial bacteria may be enough to restore the drain field.

Broken drain lines or septic tank parts. A septic contractor will use camera equipment or septic dye to locate broken drain lines or other mechanical problems.

Damage from tree roots. Even small cracks in your septic tank or drain pipes give tree roots openings to grow through. Generally, this isn't a problem you can take care of yourself but must rely on help from professionals.

Clogged septic tank filter. Clean the septic filter on a regular basis so it can do its job of keeping too many solids from getting into the drain field. Professional septic contractors usually clean and inspect filters when they clean the tank.

You can clean a septic filter yourself by removing it and washing it down with a garden hose. If it's clogged with toilet paper, grease, or untreated solids, there may be a problem inside the septic tank. Not identifying the cause allows solids that escape the tank to continue to build up in the drain field. This will lead to more serious problems in time. Contact Roto Rooter for more information.