My drywell's got the stink
March 31, 2012 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How can I get my drywell draining properly again?

My washing machine, dishwasher, and kitchen sink drain into a drywell, and lately we've noticed a bad smell when we use the dishwasher and washing machine. I can access the drywell by removing the cover to the pit in the backyard, and when I took a look today, I could see that it's not draining well, it's got that same odor, and what I could see of the walls are pretty scummy and gross. I'm letting it drain fully on its own now, and I'll pump out the rest of the water if need be tomorrow. I was thinking about giving the walls of the pit a good scrubbing once the water's out to see if that helps, but is there anything else I can do (any product I can use when I scrub?) to get this thing draining ok again, short of calling someone to come out and re-excavate it?
posted by cmaxmagee to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
A drywell like this?

If so, it could be that too much soil has gotten in around the rock bed around it.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:00 PM on March 31, 2012

It's a bit more low-tech than that. It's a rectangle and it has a big reinforced cement cover, so once I pull the cover aside I have full access to the pit. More like this.
posted by cmaxmagee at 5:12 PM on March 31, 2012

it can be tough to get one working again if it is plugged with sediment. If it is bacterial growth it might be easier. The below advice is with the caveat that it is well above your water table and so any chemicals will be neutralized before it gets to the water table (that people might drink out of). Get a chemical sprayer (clean-maybe a new one) like this and fill it with a mild bleach, just a straight bleach like pure Clorox, no scents or anything, and spray all the walls and bottom. Let it set for a while (an hour or two) and then scrub, I would use a small push broom as my brush. Repeat as necessary. After that use an environmentally friendly cleaner like simple green in a VERY mild solution and scrub some more. It might reinvigorate the drywell by cleaning out a bacterial mat/slime mold that has gotten a foothold.

If your water table is shallow (say less than 20' below the surface) you should really contact your local government (city or county) and ask for their advice and/or find out if you can even have a such a drywell. Here in Oregon you cannot without a license from DEQ so the shallow water table in most of the state doesn't get nasty germs in it from human waste/garbage that can lead to fun things like dysentery, cholera, typhus, blue baby syndrome, etc.

If the well has silted it up the only real fix is to build a new one.

For future use I would use soaps and such with a very low nutrient load-no phosphates, and as mild as possible. I would also try to scrap as much of any food waste off my plates into the garbage/compost before sending it to a drywell also.
posted by bartonlong at 6:26 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would also try to scrap as much of any food waste off my plates into the garbage/compost before sending it to a drywell also.

Excellent advice for any wastewater system, septic, drywell or sewer.
posted by bz at 6:30 PM on March 31, 2012

Depending on where you are, there are some regulatory implications to maintaining a drywell. It may not be possible to get permits to build a new one -- I'd check your state's environmental agency's website for the regs before proceeding. (And your city's, if you're in a city large enough to have environmental regulations.)
posted by pie ninja at 4:01 AM on April 1, 2012

In case anybody reads this, I ended up having to get it professionally pumped and cleaned out. Hopefully that'll give it a few more years of life because tying into the main septic is going to be a much more costly project.
posted by cmaxmagee at 5:48 PM on April 4, 2012

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