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repipeslo, Plumber
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Experience:  10+ years experiance in the pipe industries.
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What can I do to help assure passing the septic dye test

Customer Question

What can I do to help assure passing the septic dye test? The tank was pumped out after a flood in March. I do not detect any odors, but am unsure as to where and if I have a drain field. I am locaed in a flood plain, and if I do not pass the test, I will loose my home! Tell me what to do before the test to give me the best chance.
Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Plumbing
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.
have you tried running a test yourself?
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.
would you like me to tell you how?
Customer: replied 9 years ago.
Reply to repipeslo's Post: We've been having internet trouble toay, hence the delays, sorry.
Customer: replied 9 years ago.
We have a 10 day window to do what we need to do. What if we just did the "fix" as if the test failed? How long would the affects of the test itself last? Would the Co. know we did a test? I have heard of air pressure in the field area, and have seen ads for products designed to save failed fields. Please give your best advice, as we are lost!
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.
Do you know what kind of tank you have? recently having it pumped is a good thing I would keep that on the down low.The test for a die test is simple. Just like its called they add die through toilet flush it and see if it shows up in the yard or if its stays in your pipes sometimes the die passes through so fast they dont even see it.
Expert:  The Home Smithy replied 9 years ago.


First thing is DO NOT pump the tank. If the inspector sees any disturbed soil where the tank may be he can fail you on the spot!

The test is performed under normal loading conditions for your septic system. eg: liquid level in the tank is where it is under normal use of your homes fixtures.

The dye pack is then added to the toilet and flushed a few times to ensure that the dye reaches the septic tank and then flows out of the liquid overflow into the leech field of the system.

What the test does is determins if there is any liquid from the system that is making it to the ground level of the lot. As the liquid is a serious health hazard to the residents of the home any indication that this is occuring will result in the failure of the test and corrective measures must be undertaken to correct this condition.


The biggest risk that you face is the high water tables in your area that have resulted from the innundation of flood waters into the upper ground layers.

What this does is not allow your septic water runoff to seep into the ground through the leech field as it normally would. The result is effluvium rising to the top of the soil at some point around the leech field. This point will be strongly indicated by the bright color of the dye pack.

If you like you can peform this test yourself. But if the dye is found at the surface the end results will be the same. The system will have to be repaired or replaced.

Here is a good web page that goes a bit more in depth into this issue.

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Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.
  • Obtain Permission: by informing the real estate agent and through agent an owner, or if owner is present, ask the owner's permission before performing this test.

  • Do Not Pump the Septic Tank Before the Test - an owner who offers to provide this service for a prospective buyer may be (inadvertently) preventing a valid septic loading and dye test. We want the system to be in-use or at least the septic tank to be at its normal level of liquid and waste (its normal condition) at the time of testing. More details about the problem of septic tank pumpouts as a cover-up of a septic problem or failure are at Don't Pump Before Testing Septic Systems: warnings for home buyers about septic tank pumping.

  • Confirm that the septic tank has not just been pumped before starting a loading and dye test, by visual inspection and by asking the septic system maintenance history. If the inspector sees fresh excavation in a likely septic tank location it is possible that the tank was pumped recently. If the system has not been used sufficiently since pumping the septic loading and dye test should be postponed until the tank has first been filled. Otherwise the "loading test" is simply filling the tank rather than pushing any liquid test volume into the drain field.

  • Septic system records: Are there written records of septic system installation, repair, or maintenance? Home inspectors performing a septic loading and dye test are not required to review written records nor to perform offsite research at a health or building department facility. Some inspectors may elect to offer that service for an additional fee.
  • This info all found on
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.

STEP BY STEP - Septic Loading & Dye Test Procedure

INSIDE STEPS - What to Do Inside the Building

  • Locate and inspect key inside septic system components:
    • Location of the main house waste line exit point and cleanout.
    • Location of any other drain lines leaving the building, possibly suggesting more than one septic tank or drywell
    • Location, type, number of plumbing fixtures. Are there fixtures that are unlikely to be draining into the septic system because of their distance or elevation?
    • Location and types of septic system pumps and alarms
    • Report components that appear to be installed but which were not readily accessible for inspection.

  • Run bathtub or sink water (cold faucet only) or similar fixture closest to where dye will be introduced (typically at a toilet in the next step).

  • Confirm water flow into septic: Inspect DWV lines, particularly in the basement or crawl space, to assure that the water being run is entering the septic system (as opposed to sinks and tubs being routed to a drywell while the toilet (and dye source) is routed to a septic system. Check that the drains are in fact connected and not spilling into the building. (E.g. where traps were removed for winterizing.) Confirm that water flow from fixtures being run is going into the septic system or document that such confirmation was not possible. Often by running a test fixture the inspector can find and listen to the main waste line, confirming that the fixture is flowing into that drain. An access port at a septic tank may also permit this verification.

  • Flush the toilet with clean water where dye will (later) be introduced, assure it flushes normally so that you won't spill dye from an overflowing toilet into the building. Do not put dye into a toilet or other fixture before you have confirmed that the fixture will drain rather than backup and overflow into the building!

  • Introduce dye into the toilet.(MUST use enough dye to stain no less than the volume of the septic tank. Typically this is 10 pellets or more and 2-3 tablespoons of dye. See the specs on the dye you buy and see DYE WARNINGS below. Some tablets are so weak you'd need 200 to stain the tank!)

  • Record start time and estimated flow or measured GPM. Record all other pertinent descriptive factors as listed below.

  • Run additional plumbing fixtures to obtain your total flow in GPM into the system and document which fixtures were run and the total GPM estimated or measured flow rate. Note that if the building is served by a private pump and well, the flow rate is not constant. The flow rate will vary as the pump on-off pressure cycle varies.

  • Occupancy/Usage recording: note occupancy or time since last occupancy; note number of occupants, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms. Observe and record separate handling of gray water and assure it's being discharged to an approved location (not surface nor storm drains) if it's not flowing into the septic system.

    If the system has been recently pumped, or if a cesspool is installed, this test may be invalid: it may not be possible to run enough water during the test period to fill an empty or partly empty tank or cesspool

Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.

WATCH FOR INSIDE - What to Watch For Inside the Building

  • Check for in-building drain leaks: At the start of your septic dye test, inspect the fixture drain and (if a basement or crawl space expose the drain piping) check for other leaks in the building. Once, with permission of the owner, we began a dye test from the second floor of a building only to hear screams of horror from the occupants of the floor below as red dye erupted from their ceiling. Always be sure that there are no leaky traps or drains before you leave water running in a building.

  • Watch for sewer line backup in the building - indicating system blockage. Check all fixture drains before leaving water on. Check floors below running fixtures for signs of current or previous leaks. Don't risk flooding or damaging the building by leaking or overflowing fixtures. If leaks prevent testing, document this information. Check fixtures periodically during the test period, to assure no leaks or overflows.

  • Find the waste line: If you didn't do this before, locate the sewer pipe exit point in the building. Confirm that the tub/sink drain for the fixture being used to load the system is in fact draining into the sewer line. It is important to take this step early in the test cycle, and to check all building areas to be sure that you are not inadvertently spilling water (and dye) anywhere inside.

  • Confirm test water runs in septic drain line: Feel and listen to sewer pipes to assure that water is running through them to the sewer system.

  • If this cannot be established or if only toilets drain into the septic system it may be necessary to use a garden hose to provide water into the toilet to test the system, or to warn the owner/client that the test is inconclusive for this reason as well as other limitations. (Beware of unsanitary cross connections; don't leave the hose in place when finished.)

  • Trace all sewer piping (note visible components, report areas where there was no view or no access). Note locations of kitchen, laundry, bathrooms. If there is more than one exiting sewer pipe, introduce a different colored dye, and begin an additional test of measured flow at the appropriate fixtures. Record bathrooms that may have been added since original construction (permit may have been required.)

  • Check lowest plumbing fixtures for backup: Check for bathroom fixtures at house level lower than exit point of main sewer line. Confirm presence and operation of appropriate sewage ejector pump or other permitted destination for such waste lines. Watch for septic backup and overflow from fixtures low in the building - during your test if the main waste line is blocked, or perhaps you will see evidence of prior backups and overflows
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.

OUTSIDE STEPS - What to Do Outside the Building

  • Record weather conditions (heavy rain, snow cover, frozen snow, flooding, drought, etc.).

  • Trace the sewer pipe, if possible, from the point of apparent exit from building to locations of apparent or plausible septic tank and absorption system. Clues such as depressions, rectangular or circular tank outlines, mature trees crowded together and larger open areas may indicate where components could possibly have been installed. (Excavating equipment may not fit among large old trees; very rocky areas may not hold septic components.)

  • Examine the absorption area for signs of trenches, such as sunken parallel lines. Do this before starting the test, during the test, after the test, and up to five days after the site inspection (an added service or an admonition to the client) since it is possible in odd cases for effluent to appear on a property days after the initial test. Fortunately, in cases of a failed or marginal system this procedure often shows breakout in 20-30 minutes

  • Note the locations of and distance to well, trees, pools, additions to the building, driveways, etc. that might infringe on the tank or absorption area.

  • Examine all site areas including property boundaries that could reasonably be reached by drainfield extensions, nearby streams, ponds, storm drains, edges of mound systems, edges of banks, rocky areas, steep slopes near the septic fields

  • Do not probe the soil over suspected septic tank locations by using methods that could damage the equipment. Heavy wrecking bars, for example, can puncture a steel or fiberglass tank cover or break a plastic drainfield l
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.
Expert:  repipeslo replied 9 years ago.