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Composting Toilets and How To Handle Humanure The Simple Way

Have you ever wondered how composting toilets work? I think you’ll like this easy to understand explanation.

So you’ve heard/read about them before, but might not completely get all that’s involved if you tried it.

Thanks to Laura Allen of Greywater Guerillas and Kristen Dirksen of Faircompanies.com they explain/show you exactly how it all works. But in case you don’t want to stream the video I’ll help you “get it”…

Composting Toilets 101

In this video they set the urine up to flow into a separate container (so it’s not mixed with poo) because you can use it almost right away (after diluting with water) as a nitrogen fertilizer.

If that doesn’t interest you, you can just mix urine and poo and no worries really.

There’s another container inside where you poop in and you treat the smell by sprinkling little pieces of wood (sawdust works great) on it. This will get rid of the odors for you.

As you’ll see in the video later (or picture below), the toilet can be built yourself but there are also ones you can buy (for way more $).

Composting Toilet

What happens to the poo, and “the maintenance”

For a little while it’s stored in the toilet. In this particular house, they’ve made it very easy by making everything work outside.

This box right here opens up to the INSIDE of the toilet (where the poo/urine is). This way you can easily move it outside… Keeping the dirty work outdoors (no walking around the house with a bucket of poop). Very nice setup for this.

Composting Toilet - How It Works - What to do

The fun part: You can’t just leave the POO in there!

It needs to be moved to a spot where it can sit and “transform” in a matter of one year.

That’s why that simple to use opening is there. So you can move into one of these…

Composting Toilet Process

After you let it sit there for about a year all potential live pathogens are killed and you’ll have what we call “humanure”.

So after 365 days, you are rewarded with a completely TRANSFORMED and much smaller “batch” that can be used as soil along with watered down urine for fertilizer.

Apparently it’s just like dirt and contains no foul smell whatsoever after one year. And it gets much smaller – note the size of container after one year. Pretty cool, huh?

Composting Toilet Humanure Aftermath

Watch the video yourself, here:

What are your thoughts on HUMANURE?

Share with us in the comments!

Interesting FACT: One sewage-free office building in Canada uses composting toilets to save 1,850 gallons of water per day.

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Check out these other articles on composting toilets:

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 27 comments… add one }
  • January 17, 2011, 8:47 am

    I recommend reading the humanure book. You can get it for free off bittorent, make sure you send some money to the author (you can mail cash in some circumstances).

    Of course there are many ways to compost, but in it he explains that removing the urine is not always such a great idea. I forget now how it interferes with ideal thermophilic composting, but that’s what he says. Also, humanure refers to the raw piss’n crap, not the resulting substance after composting. Also, the actual composting process is done quite fast, in weeks, not a year. The reason it is left for a year is to allow certain pathogens to die off.

    I have a post on my blog about a dehydrating pasteurizing toilet that is another option, each system of course is suitable for different circumstances. If you can’t leave the compost for a year, pasteurizing is an option.

  • January 17, 2011, 9:14 am

    Msny options out there- and yes, leave the urine in the mix…

    Here’s a video on the subject that I did a ways back to anyone interested- on a composting, simple sawdust/bucket toilet…



  • January 18, 2011, 2:53 pm

    Thank you for the video link Deek, super helpful!

  • January 18, 2011, 2:54 pm

    I have been wanting to order my own copy of the Humanure book for a while now but haven’t gotten to it because I haven’t been able to convince Andrea about the whole thing… Heck, I’m not sure if I’m ready for it yet. It feels too challenging in an apartment.

    • John Chiasson
      March 16, 2013, 10:33 am

      Hey Alex, no need to buy The Humanure Handbook, just google humanure, go to Jenkins’ website and you can read the latest edition online for free. He also let’s you download the previous editions for free.

  • kevins microhomesteadblog
    January 19, 2011, 3:17 am

    it’s totally not an issue smells like dirt I keep mine in the shop it gets over 100 degrees out there and no odor. I like peat moss as a cover. See mine on http://kevinsmicrohomestead.wordpress.com/ an a new portable shower system I just developed 😉

  • January 19, 2011, 8:58 am

    Yeah- no smell- and easy to do/make. My wife wasn’t so hot on the idea of me using/building a composting toilet- but she now used it all the time. And yup, we’ll have one on hand, and in use in our July/Summer Massachusetts hands-on tiny shelter/housing/building workshop that I’m putting on.

    As for ther Humanure handbook- def. pick it up- a great read- informative, and comically written at times too….its in its 4th/5th printing already! The word’s spreadin….


  • January 19, 2011, 9:00 am

    holy typos! lol- dang notebook computer with its munchkin-sized keys! Sorry…

  • January 19, 2011, 11:25 am

    Neat videos you’ve been making Kevin. I like your portable “simple” shower too. Along with that useful water heater in it…

    Haha Deek. I knew what you meant. Looking forward to that workshop in MA.

    I’ll pick up the Humanure book soon but I’m still not so sure about doing it in an apartment.. My neighbors would hate me. Where would I store it for a year outside?! 😀

  • April 5, 2011, 8:56 pm

    We have 3 composting sawdust toilets, my husband made them. They are the perfect answer to waste. We are going to build a vault style bathroom with composting toilet as part of our permaculture plan.

  • Marsha Cowan
    January 4, 2012, 8:04 pm

    I am so glad that composting is on the uprise and that there are finally really good composting toilets out there from which to choose. I want to make my own, however, just because it gets me closer to my roots, living at Grandma’s house with an outdoor John. Thanks for this article and video. I learned quite a lot from it.

    • January 5, 2012, 11:13 am

      Thanks for your comment, Marsha, glad you got a lot out of the article and Kirsten’s video.

  • robi
    March 16, 2013, 5:20 pm

    YES! They work and NO they do not smell! Its amazing. Living off the grid in Slab City in an RV, I got tired of emptying the smelly tanks. We built an outdoor shed with a Humanure toilet in it for our guests (most of our living is outdoors…in the desert. I wanted one in the RV to save on water as well as we have to drive to get water so water is like gold out here, not something to flush down a toilet. I did use dirty sink water to flush, but would rather use that to water a garden than water poo.

    If everyone did this then we would not have to worry about cities needing to add 30% of “recycled water back into the drinking system. And besides, I like the idea of everything I eat and excrete to be a full circle back into life.

    PS, I tried burning dog poo in our burn barrell and it burned for days and was smelly. SO need to devise a separate dogmanure system as well.

    Only issue I have not figured out is what to do if one is traveling in their tiny house…where to put for a year?

  • Ric Stabile
    January 13, 2014, 5:30 am

    Hi Alex and “Reply” Guests ! Wow ….What a read and study for the coming future ! Millions of cities wasting so much Water around the entire globe ! We humans have been created to actually conserve not waste. After thousands of training and wasting….We are still not getting it ! Composting is the most functional, valuable, practical , and wisest investment into getting a little more A + quality of life what’s left of Planet Earth.
    And besides….. Think of all of those thousands of Pusher, puller, towable, and 5th wheelers driving for weeks……And yes…There are those that drive for months and don’t understand why with even up to 25 and 40 gallons of waste to dump, why they clog up ?
    The cost for an RV Tech. In most cities to correct the most of the time dried up feca matter is up to $ 1000.00 ……….Replace waste (Black) tank….
    Not including when after driving your RV for over 500 miles that friendly drivers of all kinds have not been waving at you and your family for all those miles…….But …Just to let you know that you left something back there on the 101 freeway……..?! The highway patrolman who finally caught up with said; ” Are you aware that you dropped something back there that resembles…waste matter and what appears to look like your black tank and a massive Hazmat fine and clean up “?
    Just think about what you could do by removing the black tank from that used RV, and use the empty space for……extra water, fuel,tool compartment, or whatever you like and…….Recycle off the freeway !
    To the wise ones in and out there all over the world………
    Composting may quite possibly be in a Theatre near you.
    Thank you Alex , Ric.

  • ThinkCreatively
    May 24, 2014, 6:53 pm

    Always wanted a composting toilet. Regular toilets are so wasteful, but what are the laws like about having composting toilets & human waste composting in cities?

  • May 24, 2014, 8:05 pm

    Bacteria dies in most cases of freezing…I wonder if there was a way…nahhh….wink wink

  • Comet
    May 24, 2014, 8:41 pm

    @RIC and @ ALEX—

    The RV and other comments are well put but-if you DO decide to devote that space to a compost toilet–WHERE do you dispose of it? Seriously—-I have not stayed in an RV park in a while but back when I did I know some would let you—for a fee–dump your black/gray water tanks and fill up again. BUT do they HAVE places where you can dump the contents of these bucket type loos?

    It’s not like you can just pull off the hiway and dig a hole or find “Composting ‘R’ Us” sortsa places at this time. I have not noticed Humanure drop spots like you find at the hiway Rest Areas for pet waste–yet!

    You can–for those who are using their house as a “home Base” to RV from—plumb in disposal lines where you just use the RV hoses to dump into your septic or sewer line.

    It is in some ways like the sloooow spread of charging stations for cars—they are out there but extremely few and far between. And the range is not so attractive either—we were at a hotel parked next to a Tesla—the sexiest lil car ever!—and wondered–how FAR could you GO on vacation before you had to STOP for several HOURS at least to re-charge? I guess in that case the staid and odd looking Prius types are your better bet but—

    If you read any of the RV mags or websites by people who CARE about their RV’s this problem of waste disposal and conservation and taking CARE of the systems is HUGE. And for these people I suspect that dumping and cleaning out the tanks IS a daily concern and a frequent occurance. It is the people who use the RV for a weekend or two over the summer that might think it is just FINE to let things go–“Out of sight out of mind”. And for those people—maybe the only way for them to learn the lesson IS to have the damage and clean up.

  • BarbG
    May 26, 2014, 5:35 pm

    We successfully used a SunMar Excel NE unit on our off-grid property for over 8 years until the body was inadvertently broken to the point of being unfixable. Unable to afford a replacement we built one from scratch. What concepts we kept from the original: the idea of a vent stack from the back of the unit that goes through the roof and SunMar’s enzymes, microbe mix, and compost material. What we added: a big black tumbling compost bin to sit in the sun and end-of-season dried goldenrod flower heads and sawdust to stretch the compost material. It would have been nice to not have to replace the original unit but s*** happens.

  • Jean Clelland-Morin
    March 28, 2015, 12:56 pm

    I was looking for the pull-from-outside to which you could add garden debris. The best Humanure is from a Vegan butt. I have a signed copy of Joe Jenkins ” The Humanure Handbook – copyright 1994.

  • Patricia Crawford
    April 13, 2015, 11:27 pm

    I am only concerned about two issues with a composting toilet. The first is, if you pour out deluted urine onto the ground, does it smell for long? I have land and could pour it out into the woods, but am planning tourism on my land and even if the urine is away from areas where people will be camping, I am concerned about the smell being picked up on the wind. And smell is also my second question. If you are directly downwind from the vent pipe of a composting toilet, can you smell it AT ALL. Thanks in advance to anyone who responds.

  • Kara
    August 27, 2017, 11:22 am

    My first question is, if it takes 1 year for the compost to be ready, how does that work if I keep adding to the barrel?

    My second question is, do different kinds of sawdust vary on how effective they are?

    And my third question is, how frequent to people empty their buckets?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Alex
      August 28, 2017, 11:30 am

      Haven’t done this myself, but I would say you would wait 1 year after the last barrel deposit, am I right?

      As far as sawdust goes, not sure, but I’m pretty sure they’d all work pretty well. I’ve used a composting toilet before (a very busy one in fact), and the sawdust really does absorb the smell.

      As far as frequency goes, it depends on use and number of people right? But I’ve heard people say as frequent as every few days to as much as every 2 weeks. So it all depends! Hope that helps 😀

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