Arguably one of mankind’s greatest creations was the toilet, giving us a comfortable and hygienic way to do what comes naturally to us.
Before the invention of the flush toilet in the mid-1800s, it was commonplace for them to be found outside so that the smell and unpleasantness could be kept far from others.
Although these outhouses are all but extinct today, toilets that don’t rely on water seem to be making a comeback, and especially among people trying to reduce their footprint on the planet.
Enter, the composting toilet, a device that is a lot more pleasant to use than it sounds, and one of the hottest new ways to save water and reduce your strain on our natural resources. If you like to try things for yourself, making a DIY composting toilet might be up your alley, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
So, how do you make a composting toilet?
There are a few types of composting toilet DIY projects you can try your hand at, depending on the style of toilet you want to make. Composting toilets can be either split systems, batch, continuous or self-contained, with the easiest one to make yourself being the batch composting toilet.
With such a huge selection of affordable and environmentally friendly composting toilet models out there, this isn’t something you should have to DIY unless of course, you want to.
This guide to composting toilets can walk you through what’s required, and give you the lowdown on what makes these bathroom accessories so unique.
- 1 The Different Types of Composting Toilets
- 2 How Do You Make a DIY Composting Toilet?
- 3 Can You Pee in a Composting Toilet?
- 4 Do You Have to Empty a Composting Toilet?
- 5 How to Empty These Toilets
- 6 Tips for Emptying a Compost Toilet
- 7 Can You Use the Compost for Your Garden?
- 8 The Benefits of Composting Toilets
- 9 Related Questions
The Different Types of Composting Toilets
The concept behind the composting or dry toilet is a simple one: the waste that is collected by the toilet is then processed and turned into compost, which is then returned to nature.
The way that each model of toilet does this process differs though, with a few types available to choose from.
A split system composting toilet is one comprising of two separate sections. The pedestal is the part above the floor, and this is where you sit to use it.
The tank is the part below the floor and where the waste is stored ready to be composted. If you have room underneath the floor or need a dry toilet with more capacity, this is an ideal choice.
Self Contained System
This type of toilet is where both parts are connected in the same system and can be used in rooms where there’s no space under the floor for a tank.
They’re popular with tiny homes and RVs as everything is kept in one space, provided there’s a level surface for them, and are good portable options.
Continuous and Batch Systems
Within each of these categories are continuous and batch systems, which differentiate them further. A continuous system is one where the waste enters and then comes out the other side as compost.
A batch system is one where the waste chambers are filled and then emptied, with a new chamber taking its place until the cycle starts again.
How Do You Make a DIY Composting Toilet?
To make your own composting toilet doesn’t require a lot, but they won’t be as state of the art as those you can buy ready-made.
However, if you want to see what these dry toilest are all about, this is a simple DIY guide you can use.
- 3 x five-gallon buckets
- 4 x 2×4 planks
- A square sheet of plywood
- Toilet seat and hardware
Steps for a DIY Composting Toilet
- Create a line in your plywood around the diameter of the bucket, and then saw the circle out.
- Place your toilet seat and hardware over this newly cut circle and line it up so that it’s even. Drill holes on the four sides of the plywood where your toilet will go and connect the hardware.
- Attach the four pieces of 2×4 to the corners of the plywood to enable it to stand up.
- Stand the plywood table up and then attach the toilet seat onto the hardware you installed earlier.
- Place the bucket underneath the pre-cut hole.
- Scatter a few inches of sawdust at the bottom of the bucket to keep it clean and do this each time you change it over.
- After using the bathroom, cover it with another layer of sawdust to keep the smell away.
- When the bucket is nearing full, take it away and replace it with a fresh bucket with new sawdust.
- Take the used bucket out to your composting heap and allow it to sit for a full year to cure it. It’s essential to do this, especially if you plan on using it to compost vegetables and fruits that you’ll eat.
- With a three-bucket system, you’ll have one curing, one being used, and another fresh and ready to go.
Can You Pee in a Composting Toilet?
When using a composting toilet or dry toilet, you may decide to divert the urine from entering it by using a special system that allows for this to happen.
There are pros and cons to choosing a urine-diverting toilet and it’s a personal choice, but one you’ll need to figure out before you select one.
In a standard composting toilet with urine-diverting, this liquid waste is collected at the front of the system and sent through the toilet in a pipe.
Any solids will fall into a specific container in another part of the toilet and they’re kept separate. These types of toilets usually don’t self-compost, so the waste must be collected and disposed of as it gets full, but they can go much longer without needing to be emptied.
For toilets and systems that do their own composting, the urine can be collected in the same place as the solid waste, or the user might decide not to use this toilet for it.
During the composting process, the urine is part of the process and can help add much-needed nutrients and moisture to the mix, but it also means the compost chamber fills up a lot faster and thus needs replacing sooner as well.
Do You Have to Empty a Composting Toilet?
One of the main reasons people cite when declining to install a composting toilet is not wanting to empty them, as the thought of sifting through or smelling all of the waste is an immediate turn-off.
Although this is a rational excuse, it doesn’t mean that all composting toilets are the same, as they all operate differently and so too does the final product.
Unfortunately, you will need to empty a composting toilet one way or another, but how that waste looks and what’s involved in it will differ.
Many people have the wrong idea about how this part of the process works and it’s enough to deter them from getting a dry toilet for themselves, but it’s not as bad as you think.
How to Empty These Toilets
To empty a composting toilet, you’ll need to follow the guidelines or instruction manual that came with the model you purchased.
Depending on what type of toilet you have, there’s a right way to get the job done with minimal fuss.
Self-contained and portable toilets
These are the types of toilets found in RVs and tiny homes, and to make the job easier, they usually feature something called a Biobag.
These bags are where the waste is transferred to and kept, and when it’s time to be emptied, you simply pick them up, seal them, and then dispose of them at a general waste facility.
Batch composting toilets
A batch system can be emptied by opening the top of the toilet, removing the seat part, and taking out the container.
You then replace the old one with a fresh one and dispose of the waste inside.
Continuous composting toilets
These types of composting toilets feature a tray or compartment that can be pulled out and emptied.
Usually, there’s not as much need to empty them as much of the waste has turned to compost, so you may be able to put it straight into your gardens or another compost pile.
Split system toilets
A split system toilet may be more complicated to empty, but newer models are trying to change that.
In most cases, you’ll need to open up a specific compartment and empty the compost, sometimes by using a wheelbarrow and shovel.
Tips for Emptying a Compost Toilet
The type of toilet and its emptying process will always be different, but whether you’re using a homemade one or have purchased a split system portable composting toilet online, there are some tips you can follow to make it easier and safer.
- Follow the directions on the specific model of composting toilet you have, even if you’ve used a similar model previously. Not all of them operate the same way and there will be key steps to take to ensure it’s done correctly.
- Wear a dust mask when emptying your composting toilet or when dealing with any processed compost to avoid inhalation.
- Keep your hands and wrists covered with long latex or rubber gloves. Keep these on while you are emptying and dealing with the composted pile.
- Ensure compost has been buried deep under the ground if this is what you plan on doing with it, at least four inches down.
- Don’t carry heavy loads of waste or compost if it’s too much. Using a wheelbarrow can take the strain off and ensure nothing is dropped.
- Never place fresh compost onto any plants you plan on eating. This needs to be cured before it can be used to fertilize fruit and vegetables, which can take some time.
- If you have a separate urine compartment, this can sometimes be emptied directly onto plants. Provided nobody in your household has an illness or disease that can affect their urine, it is a good, natural fertilizer for plants.
Can You Use the Compost for Your Garden?
Although a composting toilet does exactly what its name suggests, and turns your waste into compost, it’s not as straightforward as that pile you make from your kitchen scraps and old bits of grass clippings.
Before it’s been cured, this waste is hazardous, and shouldn’t be ingested, so keeping it away from edible plants is essential.
The nature of the compost that comes from these toilets is different from our other compost pile, and it can be hazardous and unsanitary to use it one certain plants, especially edible ones like herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Here are some safe ideas for what to do with your compost your toilet makes:
- Sprinkle it around fruit trees: Larger fruit trees can get a boost of nutrients through the soil without having to put it directly on edible plants. By spreading it around the base you’ll ensure that it’s fed well.
- Add it to your compost pile: If you have an existing compost pile in the backyard, you can add the waste to that. It must sit for the right amount of time to be cured, and once it resembles the look and feel of topsoil, it’s okay to use in the garden.
- Spread it on grass: Sprinkle the compost on your lawn to give the grass a dose of nutrients and bring some life back into it.
- Spread it on non-edible plants and gardens: If you have a garden of flowers, plants, and other non-edible varieties, this compost can be a great addition.
The Benefits of Composting Toilets
Regardless of the type of composting toilet you use and whether you decide to make your own or have a professional system installed, there are lots of benefits to be had.
Not only can you and your household benefit from them, but so too can the environment, so they’re a great all-rounder product that has lots of advantages.
- Free compost: Having round the clock access to free compost and a healthy, natural way to fertilize your gardens is a huge benefit. Not only does it save money and time, but ensures you’re wasting less and being more sustainable by growing your own fruits and vegetables.
- Savings on water costs: The biggest benefit to the homeowner is a reduction in their water charges. Toilets can account for up to a third of a household’s water usage so making the switch to one of these toilets will be noticed instantly on your water account.
- Eco friendlier: There are lots of benefits to the environment with one of these toilets. First, there is no need for pipes or other hefty installation processes used in standard plumbing. Second, having a reduced reliance on water means less is waste and less energy is used.
- Simplicity to install: Unlike other types of toilets, most people can easily install a composting toilet by themselves, or even create a DIY one to use at home. This is ideal for people hoping to live off the grid or become more self-sufficient in their lifestyle habits.
Composting toilets are nothing new, but the range and features of eco-friendly bathroom systems now on the market certainly are.
If you’ve been thinking about trying a composting toilet for yourself but have been scared or grossed out about what they entail, we’ve got all of the answers you’ve been looking for.
Do Composting Toilets Smell?
Modern composting toilets have been designed to have no lingering odors which were common in older models, but it’s also up to the user to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
These toilets have seals and separate chambers to keep the smells away, but you might also have to use things like deodorizers and materials like vinegar and sawdust to mask them too.
Can You Have a Composting Toilet in a House?
The most common type of accommodation to use a composting toilet is an RV, cabin, or tiny house but it is possible to have them in a regular home as well.
Some US building codes require at least one flushable toilet to be present in a house, but nothing is stopping you from using your composting or dry toilet for the bulk of your waste, provided it’s been installed correctly.
Is a Composting Toilet Worth It?
Depending on the type of composting toilet you get and where it’s installed, these eco-friendly options are usually more expensive than regular ones.
However, where you end up saving money is on your water usage and utility bills, and it’s also hugely beneficial for the environment. If you can afford it and have the right setup, a composting toilet has a lot of advantages.