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How to Get Clay Soil to Drain Better - Solving Foundation Issues

August 24, 2023

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Homeowners often wonder how to get clay soil to drain better. This is a vital topic, as soil issues can affect a home’s foundation, risking cracks and settling. Poor drainage also risks wilted grass and landscaping features. However, clay soil tends to hold moisture, more so than many other soil compositions!

How to get clay soil to drain better:

  1. Add organic matter
  2. Till or dig the soil
  3. Install drainage systems
  4. Add grit or sand
  5. Install mulch
  6. Aerate the soil

This is just a quick overview of how to get clay soil to drain better. Some additional details about these methods, keep reading! Also, remember to call a foundation inspector if you notice damp soil affecting your property’s foundation. Prompt repairs can keep them from getting worse, keeping repair costs as low as possible.

how to get clay soil to drain better

How to Get Clay Soil to Drain Better, In Detail

Clay soil can be quite challenging to work with. Clay tends to hold onto water and drain poorly. This risks premature foundation damage, as said. With this in mind, check out a few methods to use so you can get clay soil to drain better:

Add Organic Matter

Incorporating organic matter like compost, well-rotted manure, or leaf mulch into the soil helps improve its structure and drainage. Organic matter creates pore spaces in the soil. These allow water to move more freely and prevents compaction. A landscaping engineer can help determine the best choice for your property’s soil.

Till or Dig

First, avoid working with clay soil when it's too wet. Second, tilling or digging when it's slightly moist can help break up compacted layers and improve drainage. This also allows you to add organic matter mentioned above to those lower layers of the soil. You can also inspect it for needed drainage systems and other solutions.

Install Drainage Systems

If your property is consistently waterlogged, consider drainage systems like French drains, gravel-filled trenches, or perforated pipes. These systems help divert excess water away from problem areas. French drains are especially excellent for residential properties. A contractor buries these a few inches underground, so they’re out of sight and out of the way!

Amend with Grit or Sand

Adding coarse sand or grit to clay soil can improve drainage. It does so by increasing the size of soil particles and allowing water to flow more easily. However, avoid adding too much sand, as this can lead to a cement-like mixture. Again, discuss your property with a landscaping engineer if you need assistance with determining the right amount of sand or grit.


Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, to the soil surface. Mulch helps regulate soil temperature, reduce evaporation, and prevent compaction from heavy rain. Quality mulch also helps keep nutrients in the soil, for healthier vegetation and grass.

Aerate the Soil

Using a core aerator or broad fork, create holes or channels in the soil. This helps to improve air circulation, water infiltration, and root penetration. The air will also help dry out the soil as needed. Aerating the soil also allows you to inspect it for needed underground irrigation and drainage.

How Does Clay Soil Affect Foundations?

If you’re wondering how to get clay soil to drain better, you might also ask why it’s so important! Clay soil can have a significant impact on the foundations of buildings and structures. This is due to its unique characteristics that make it different from standard topsoil. Note a few ways that clay soil can affect foundations:

  • Clay soil can expand significantly when it absorbs water and then contract when it dries out. This cycle exerts pressure on foundations. When the soil absorbs water, it swells and pushes against the foundation. Then, when it dries, it contracts and risks settlement.
  • Differential movement occurs when different parts of a foundation experience varying degrees of settlement or heaving. This is often due to differences in moisture content in soil beneath those areas. This movement can lead to cracks in walls, ceilings, and floors, causing structural issues.
  • If clay soil becomes excessively wet and then dries out rapidly, it can lead to subsidence. This is where the ground sinks or settles unevenly. This can cause foundations to shift and risks structural damage.
  • The uneven settlement caused by clay soil can lead to uneven distribution of stress on the foundation. This can result in cracks in walls, floors, and other parts of the building, affecting its stability.
  • Clay soil's propensity to shrink and crack as it dries can lead to the development of cracks in the soil itself. These cracks can provide pathways for water to infiltrate, which increases the soil's expansion and contraction cycles.

foundation drainage

Will a French Drain Work in Clay Soil?

Yes, a French drain can be effective in managing water drainage in clay soil. However, there are some important considerations to keep in mind when installing a French drain in clay:

  • Clay soil has poor natural drainage due to its fine particle size and compact nature. While water doesn't pass through clay easily, a French drain can help by providing a pathway for water to flow.
  • When installing a French drain in clay soil, create a trench that is properly sloped. This allows water to flow by gravity. The trench should slope away from the problem area and lead to a suitable drainage outlet.
  • Choose a drainage pipe with perforations to allow water to enter the pipe from all sides. The pipe should be covered with a geotextile fabric to prevent soil particles from clogging the perforations.
  • In clay soil, using coarse gravel in the trench around the drainage pipe can provide an improved pathway for water movement. The gravel allows water to percolate through and around it, assisting in drainage.
  • When backfilling the trench, avoid compacting the soil too much. Compaction can hinder water movement through the soil.

A Word From Our Crew

Total Foundation Repair Austin is happy to explain how to get clay soil to drain better. Hopefully we’ve offered some excellent tips! Also, if you’re near the city, call our Austin foundation repair contractors. We’ll schedule a FREE inspection and repair price quote for your property.


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