How to Make a Composting Toilet

by Kent Griswold on August 19th, 2011. 77 Comments
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As my husband and I began mapping out the interior of our rustic shed-turned-cabin in Montana, he knew we wouldn’t have plumbing, and I knew I didn’t want to deal with chemicals or smells. With two small children and weather that can range from -20 to 85-degrees Fahrenheit, we also didn’t want to deal with schlepping outside for potty breaks. Building our own humanure toilet turned out to be our perfect solution.

With only 12x20 feet of living space, the whole cabin is virtually a kitchen/bedroom/bathroom. We had to choose between putting the loo by the hot stove (not safe for children) by the hide-a-bed, or in this quiet corner. While some question the cleanliness of pooping so close to a food prep area, one must remember that this is not a flushing toilet that sprays bacteria into the air with every flush. Your backside seals the toilet while you do your business. There is no splash. Compost debris quickly covers the deposits, and the lid is shut immediately. Also, having water within easy reach is a must for cleaning up "accidents." We hope to adjoin the outhouse to The Shabin in the near future.

We get quite a few jokes from friends and family about our “lovey loo,” but I would take our lovely-loo over a honey bucket any day! It’s a bucket inside a wood box, and we cover – um – the deposits with sawdust. it has a real toilet seat on it for looks and comfort, but it is what it is, and it works very well.

Recycled red outhouse behind The Shabin always stinks!


I’m a city girl with a flushing toilet, and if our composting toilet had ever started to stink or had drawn bugs, I would have buried the whole mess and put up an outhouse last year! In fact, we did install an outhouse on our last trip and I hate it! Within one day of putting the outhouse to regular use, it stunk to high heaven and was full of flies even though we continuously tossed lime into it. So pardon me if I prefer my little lovey-loo over in the cabin’s quiet corner. Privacy is highly overrated anyway, or so I tell myself … before swearing that we must purchase a curtain next time we’re in town!

After emptying and rinsing the bucket, start with a layer of wood shavings or other dry debris.

I’m not sure why wood shavings and leaf debris work so well to cover the smell, but I would emphasize that new shavings don’t work well. We take our composting debris from the wood pile, and perhaps the older debris has more microbes? We keep the shavings in a basket next to the lovely loo, and we do put toilet paper in with the leavings. Every “deposit” is covered with about an inch of dry compost. I would not recommend using kitchen scraps.

Using lysol after each bucket-dump could obviously negate the "green" effect of your composting toilet. However, after a bout of dysentery, diarrhea or vomiting, you may want to use a spray or two. In our case, the lysol was NOT being used for the lovey-loo but for disinfecting the cabin from an infestation of deer mice that had settled in during our absence. Deer-mice poop carries hanta virus, and breathing spores of it can be fatal.

To make your own, build a wooden box around a bucket. Create a removable lid with or without a toilet seat attached. Know where you’ll be burying or composing your deposits. We bury ours deep out in the fields where the tractors will till it under the following season, while some build a separate compost pile, covering it with straw and claiming that humanure is usable after one year. As long as fresh waste is kept away from human consumables and out of reach of small pets and children, it is an eco-friendly and smell-free means of living comfortably off-grid.

Bethany Learn lives in Oregon with her husband and two small children. She has a degree in Exercise & Sport Science from OSU, and she is the founder and main instructor behind Fit2B.US which features wholesome home workout videos for the whole family. Fit2B Studio and her blog “Fit2Bmama” are rapidly gaining popularity, and she enjoys a wide following on Twitter and Facebook, and she has been a guest on Get Fit Now Radio & The Organic View. Bethany also heads up the MOMS group at her church and operates a resource site for aspiring writers called Ready to Publish. Bethany’s hobbies include editing, reading, dragon boats with the Castaways, crocheting rag rugs out of recycled shirts, and fixing up “The Shabin,” which is a rustic little shabby shed that she and her husband are converting into an off-grid, sustainable cabin on family land in Montana.

August 19th, 2011and filed in Tiny Furnishings
Tags: cabin, Composting Toilet, Loo, Montana, shed
77 Comments

77 Responses to “How to Make a Composting Toilet”

  1. Ph?m Thu says:

    Hi Kent Griswold!
    I am supprised that you can made a composting toilet yourself. I am from Vietnam, here we use a normal toilet which use much water. So, can you let me know how to make a composting toilet. I would like to learn to make one. Hope you answer me through my email wearefamilymt@gmail.com.
    Thanks!!

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