What is the difference between cesspits, cesspools & septic tanks?

Cesspits, cesspools and septic tanks are alike in construction, and none are connected to the main sewer system, however, unlike septic tanks, cesspools and cesspits do not include a treatment system. This article will explain these differences further so you are well-informed and ready to choose the best option for your location. 

What is the difference between cesspits and cesspools?

Prior to the 1936 Public Health Act, cesspits and cesspools were different things. Cesspits looked like wells, as they were a circular brick chamber built about 2 metres deep in the ground, and acted like a soakaway. The logic behind the design of the cesspit was flawed, and the drains would eventually just back up. So the Public Health Act prohibited the use of cesspits, and other drainage methods had to be used from then on, such as cesspools and septic tanks. After this cesspits and cesspools came to mean the same thing.


What is a cesspool/cesspit? 

A modern cesspool or cesspit is a watertight, fibreglass storage tank which holds sewage and is stored underground in a pit. It does not have an outlet or carry out any treatment process, and the only piping is to release gases which accumulate in the tank. 

Cesspools require regular emptying by a licensed waste disposal company, which is why they are usually a temporary solution. The regularity of emptying differs depending on the size of the property, the size of the tank, and the number of occupants. Cesspools are normally used in locations which don’t have access to mains drainage, and holiday homes, camp sites and places where the discharge of effluent into the ground is not possible due to unsuitable soil conditions. 

Ideally, cesspits are fitted with an alarm that notifies you when the tank is at capacity, this is the safest way to check when it needs emptying. It is not advised for someone to open the lid to check the level, as the cesspit will emit hazardous, noxious gases, which are dangerous for a person to inhale.  


What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is quite similar to a cesspit as the tank construction is almost the same. It is also stored underground, and is not connected to a main sewer system. However, a septic tank is a component of a sewage treatment system where the wastewater, or effluent, drains into a soakaway after treatment. 

The tank has two or three chambers which separate waste into liquids and solids, and then the liquids (effluent) move through an outlet into a soakaway chamber or drainage system. A soakaway, also known as a drainage field, is a system of piping which is designed to spread liquids evenly into the surrounding soil. Usually soakaway septic tanks need to be emptied of the residual solid waste every 12 months by a professional company to ensure there are no blockages.


In summary:

Having a cesspool can become costly long-term, and they are not the most eco-friendly choice as the untreated effluent could overflow into the surrounding environment. Septic tanks have a treatment system, so they are safer, but if possible, it is recommended that the most affordable and convenient option for any location is to connect to a mains drainage system.  


Here at Express Drainage Solutions, we provide a professional cesspit or septic tank emptying service, and we are also the best choice if you are looking to connect your home to the mains sewer system. Our drainage experts operate all across the South East, so if you would like to learn more, contact us today.

Want more information?Contact us today on 020 3124 1785

EDS unblocked and repaired over 20,000 drains last year for the residents and businesses of London.

Do we cover your area?


Express Solutions Group

Category: Septic Tanks


NRSWA ISO9001 ISO14001 Chas Environment Agency NADC ROSPA QMS

Contact Express Group

We’re waiting to help you today!
020 3124 1785

Contact Us »