Guest writer Chaya Goodman is the editor of

 I know very few women whose favorite subject is septic systems.  For that matter, with the exception of guys who earn their livings pumping out septic systems, I don’t know any men who particularly savor the topic.  Nevertheless, septic systems are a part of life that most people who live in rural areas can’t avoid.  Since I’m a home improvement lady who likes to face challenges head on, I’d like to demystify the septic system for you.  Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll feel a little less queasy and anxious when you think about your home’s septic system.  OK, ladies, brace yourselves, we’re about to get a little dirty:

How Your Septic System Works
In short, your septic system is a 1000 (or so) gallon concrete tank that is buried underground, out in your yard.  Solid waste stays in the tank to be broken down by friendly bacteria, and wastewater flows out to different locales, depending on the kind of septic system you have. There are two types of septic systems: mound systems and gravity systems.  Gravity systems are the simplest type.  Wastewater flows from the house to the septic tank, then from the tank to a distribution box.  The distribution box channels water into absorption trenches where it sinks into the ground.  Mound trenches work like this: Solid waste matter and liquid waste all get treated inside the tank.  The tank allows liquid effluent to exit into the mound, which is essentially layers of sand and earth that absorb treated liquid waste water.  Sounds appealing, right?
What’s the Deal with Bacteria?
If you’ve ever had candida overgrowth (AKA, yeast infections – something most women deal with at some time in our lives), you’ve learned the benefits of friendly bacteria.  Just like your body needs to maintain proper levels of friendly flora, so does your septic system.
Ideally, when everything is working properly, friendly bacteria that live in the septic tank break down toxic human waste, so that by the time the liquid effluent flows into the ground, it’s less toxic.  A septic system with proper bacteria levels probably won’t smell.  If you notice a sewage-like funk emanating from the direction of your septic mound, either your absorption field is failing, or you don’t have enough friendly bacteria in there to treat your sewage.
What Can’t You Flush?
Basically, don’t flush anything that can’t decompose quickly, or will kill the friendly bacteria that break down your sewage.  Things that can’t decompose quickly include garbage disposal waste (garbage disposals and septic systems do not play well together), paper products (like tampons), and too much water.  Overloading your system with water will cause it to malfunction, so it’s best to embrace some water-saving measures.  Detergents and anti-bacterial products (like bleach and anything containing triclosan) will kill friendly bacteria.  Water softeners are also no-no’s, as they leach sodium into the soil, which interferes with absorption.
How to Glam Up Your Septic System
There isn’t much you can do to glam up the underground part of your septic system, but you can definitely choose a“>tank cover with some personality.  I know, I know, it’s not as fun as getting your nails done or choosing paint colors for your kitchen (and I never expected to use the words “glam” and “septic tank system” in the same sentence), but why not express your individuality?  Faux rock septic tank covers often offer the functional benefit of venting the system.  Covering up that concrete circle on your lawn with a decorative flower pot is another great option. 
Now you know the basics.  Informed women are powerful women!
Guest writer Chaya Goodman is the editor of