What is a Cesspool Used For?

Literally and Figuratively, and Can You Swim in it?

dirty swimming pool
Man floats in dirty pool. Or is it a cesspool?. Blend Images/Dream Pictures/Getty Images

What exactly is a cesspool, anyway? It has nothing to do with swimming pools and is more about what happens when you flush the toilet in your home. Basically, it's a big underground cylindrical hole, sometimes covered, that collects liquids and solid waste that flow from a home or group of buildings. Considered a drywell, the walls of the excavated hole are lined with stone or concrete. If the walls are not mortared, the remaining liquid sewage waste is absorbed into the soil. Cesspools serving more than 20 people per day were banned in 1999, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

A cesspool also can be described as an excavated pit or an artificial reservoir for holding liquids; especially an underground tank for storing rainwater.

Most homes either have a septic (cesspool) system or

Unless you accidentally fall in a cesspool or jump in one because of a dare, you would never have any reason to go swimming in one. Thankfully, it would be pretty difficult to go swimming in a cesspool. It's basically a sewer, or a holding tank for one, and has a smallish opening. Think about it. 

A cesspool also can be described as an excavated pit or an artificial reservoir for holding liquids; especially an underground tank for storing rainwater.

What is the Difference Between a Cesspool and a Septic Tank?

Cesspools are often confused with septic tanks. The main difference: a septic tank offers some sewage treatment and feature an outlet for the liquid waste to drain into a soakaway. Septic tanks need to be emptied about once a year. A cess pool will need to be drained more frequently as it does not have this outlet.

Figuratively Speaking

You've probably heard the term cesspool used to figuratively describe someone or something that is surrounded by or in the midst of corruption, and general germiness, nastiness and everything bad and distasteful. The term is often used figuratively or metaphorically, to describe an individual or group that is mired in controversy and general ungodliness.

Quotes and Expressions

  • Your eyes are like two deep pools -- cesspools. Probably the same person who said, "You remind me of a flower - cauliflower."
  • The water-pumping station out back looks more like a cesspool.Washington Post Jun 23, 2015
  • About 74 percent of the county’s residents rely on septic tanks and cesspools rather than municipal treatment plants. New York Times Jun 4, 2015
  • Hollywood is a cesspool of misogyny and racism. Salon May 11, 2015
  • For he (Cato) gives his opinion as if he were in Plato's Republic, not in Romulus' cesspool.- Cicero
  • Washington's a cesspool of money. - Stewart Udall

Synonyms: sink, sump, cesspit

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