Tiny House Composting Toilet Blues

composting toilet

I’ve been living in my tiny house now for a good while and the big challenge of composting toilet has been going well.  Initially I had wanted to have a flush toilet and my house is setup so I could drop a toilet let in quickly, but the quotes for a sewer line alone started at $50,000 so I begrudgingly went with the composting toilet.

I haven’t really read too much online about people’s experiences with composting toilets, the few I’ve read were just over the moon, glowing reviews.  So I thought I’d share my experience so far.  It has mostly been positive and easier than I thought, but with this recent incident it goes to show it isn’t all great.

It's more than a dietThe other thing I don’t think people talk about in their composting toilet posts is diet.  I have learned that a good diet beyond good health, impacts how easy it is to use a composting toilet.  Good healthy foods, meals with salads, and less processed foods makes composting toilets easier to manage.

With a good diet your body functions better, it can extract more moisture and nutrients out of the what you eat and keeps things with composting toilets easier.  I also know the better one eats, the more regular one is; for my body, I usually need to visit the restroom at 10:30 am almost without fail, which 9 times out of 10 means I’m out and about, where there are toilets for me to use.  So diet is worth noting and was something I felt was missing from the discussion.

Currently it is illegal in my city have a composting toilet, as it is in most municipalities; plus I’m renting my land, so I wouldn’t want to be composting on land I don’t own.  What seems like the happy medium and it is what I do, is bagging the waste every week into a biodegradable “plastic” bag and then sending it along with the city trash; at that point its essentially like a diaper, but the plastic will breakdown in a landfill quickly.  There are other options out there for this too and I considered them, but for me this works.

I am currently using pine bedding (from the pets section) which has a nice scent, but I don’t think it absorbs as well as other options.  I’m thinking I’m going to switch to a mix of half pine bedding and half mix of peat moss which is very absorbent.  Peat moss is a pretty good option, but it isn’t a sustainable material, it’s harvesting is actually quite destructive to wet lands.  I know for gardening that coconut coir (husks) is the sustainable version of peat, but I don’t know how it performs in composting toilets.  I’ve ordered an 11 lb block of coconut coir for $16 to try out, which I’ll report back on later.

It has been pretty straight forward, but I still opt to keep my bucket setup outdoors.  I do keep my liquids and solids separate, which at this point means I go peep in the woods and then use the bucket.  Later on I hope add a urine diverter later on, but it isn’t a must at this time.  I have a mini deck space that I keep it on.  The smell isn’t anything to be concerned over, but I’m not sure having it inside with no moving air would be a good idea at this point.

luggable looMy bucket has a pretty tight seal on the lid, so it is pretty hard for things to crawl in, but it is possible.  The other day I went to use my setup and when I opened the lid, I was greeted by a swarm of fly larva.  A hundred wriggling maggots.  It was gross!    What was interesting was they were on the seat between the seat and the lid.  What I don’t know is if that was because the flies couldn’t get into the toilet or if they just preferred that narrow space.

Luckily it was very simple to take care of.  I easily popped off the lid, then hosed it off in a very sunny spot.  I figured the intense sun would kill the larvae so I didn’t have a ton of flies.  I double bag the bucket so I closed the first bag, then tied up the second bag that was still clean.  Job done, took all of two minutes, but I realized something is flawed in my system.

I did some googling to discover that this is a semi-common issue when the heat of summer comes on.  You’ll be going along in the winter, it gets warmer and then all a sudden the flies come out.  I learned about a product called Mosquito Dunk, which you crumble into a spray bottle, mix up with water and then when you use the toilet, you give it a few mists on the surface.

mosquito dunkMosquito Dunk as described by the maker  is a “larvaecide that kills mosquito larvae only. It is deemed organic by the USEPA.  Dunks are harmless to beneficial insects, pets, birds, fish or wildlife.  Kills within hours and lasts for up to 30 days.”

So I’m going to give this option a try and see how things pan out.  I will report back in a few months as I learn more,

  1. I found an Excellent article on this topic that all should read.

    by Shaye Boddington
    Bucket Toilets: Our Verdict (and Advice) After a Year of Using Ours

  2. We struggled for years with a Sun Mar. No matter how careful we were, ever 6weeks, a new batch of tiny flies. We finally switched to a urine diverting toilet. Urine goes to a “FrenchDrain” – solids into a plastic bucket made for this toilet. Composting happens outside. A handful of wood chips if you want to cover things up if “townies” are visiting. You can buy the special seat/ diverter and build your own. A vent pipe with a “muffin fan” will totally eliminate odors.

  3. I’ve been using the Luggable Loo seat on a bucket for 8 years of part time use and often found fly larvae under the seat as well. It gets emptied often enough that they get cleaned off before they hatch but my son’s Nature’s Head had some fly problems. I’ve read that it’s better to keep the compost material wet underneath with the dry top layer keeping the odour under control. Diatomaceous earth is supposed to be a good additive as well. I check the seat regularly and keep it clean. It’s usually good for at least 1 or 2 weeks of being unattended before something shows up.

    My neighbour used to have a composting toilet and used a big blue plastic drum for the longer term composting. It didn’t have holes in the bottom so the anaerobic process wasn’t really working properly but she was able to take it all away when she got her own place and could have an outdoor composting space. If you find a good source of free buckets and lids (winemakers often get concentrate in big buckets) you can keep the contents in the sealed buckets and either take them to someplace else to compost or make other arrangements. It’s a bit more work but doesn’t waste the material.

    You can also do the proper anaerobic composting with only a small amount of leachate being left behind if you take the container away later. https://www.planetnatural.com/composter-connection/compost-digesters/anaerobic/

  4. Hi Ryan,
    My parents have used an Airhead separating toilet for their primary toilet for two years. They use coir with enzymes and it works perfectly. They empty the liquid container every couple of days, and the solids every three to four weeks.
    They have liners, essentially large biodegradable coffee filters, that they use to keep the pan clean when using it for solids. Once you are finished you crank the handle a quarter turn and the coir/compost covers the deposit. There is a small fan that constantly sucks air through the system. The fan has its own solar panel. I have put my nose to the fan outlet and it smells like garden soil. Its amazing.
    The lid has a rubber seal and all vents have fine wire mesh. It has only had flies once, when the lid was left open.
    We recommend this system as it works really well with no nasty smell. When you empty the solids it just earth, except the last day or two. You can store in a second bucket for another fee weeks if you wish and then it is all good.

  5. So as long as one puts his/her waste into biodegradable plastic bags, he/she could circumnavigate the whole issue of legalities regarding composting toilets?

    Do you feel that adding literal sh*t will negatively impact the over-stuffing of landfills?

    Couldn’t the nutrients found in waste be contributed to something more meaningful, like plants in a garden?

    • If it is correctly composted, particularly if you use a liquid separating system then it can safely go into a garden, although I wouldn’t put it in your veggie patch…

      • What I meant was to add the humanure to decorative flowers, to attract pollinators, after it breaks down in a compost system of course.

        Wouldn’t that be illegal in most counties though?

        • https://humanurehandbook.com/ More info than you’ll probably ever need on composting people poop.

  6. I read Garbology-Edward Humes recently and learned that using biodegradable bags for garbage going to the landfill does not necessarily mean it will break down. Because of the lack of air and little exposure to the elements, the pile works to preserve and entomb anything buried.

  7. A couple of points. I wouldn’t use any coarse medium like wood chips or pine needles. The medium needs to be between the consistency of chicken scratch and hamster bedding (fine pine shavings. Peat moss works fine as well. Fine planer shavings from kiln dried wood works the best. Any custom cabinet shop will usually give you all you can haul away.

    The best way to avoid the flies is to use a toilet designed to eliminate that problem from the get-go like the BoonJon. Google it. It is a urine diverting toilet with enough space inside to hold a Hot Shot No Pest strip which kills any insect that finds its way inside the toilet. There is no need for using diatomaceous earth to control bugs. The BoonJon is designed for just such applications like the tiny house, tree houses, cabins, etc.

  8. I have used a mixture of pine kitty litter (some recyclable litter) and agri. lime (always) …never have had any flies, but I do empty it after 3 days…. into a 2′ hole, cover with soil…. when I visit again, it’s always just nice dirt. I found that the cedar bedding just smells too much like the gerbil.

    • You need to be very careful handling or using lime. It can cause permanent damage if you accidently get it in your eyes. Even having it around can be a hazard to children. The manufacturers recommend wearing safety goggles when using it which most people don’t do. There are better alternatives.

  9. Hey sandy! I just bought a C-Head and am eager to start using it. But I just looked at the Hot Shot No Pest strip and saw that a. they’re banned in NJ, and b. they advise you to not put them in a room where you’ll be for more than 4 hours. sounds awfully toxic! what alternatives are there (since I live in NJ)- preferable not so toxic – to keep critters away?

    • Hi Jacqueline, If you prefer not using a pest strip, then the next best alternative is probably diatomaceous earth. You can purchase it at any pool supply store fairly cheaply and it will last a long time. Add a cup or two to your medium. Diatomaceous earth is harmless to humans except in large doses but is toxic to all insects good and bad and can be toxic to earthworms. Also it does not degrade. If you are composting your waste this can have the bad effect of killing black soldier flies which are very helpful in reducing the bulk of the waste and eliminating house flies.

      I have used the pest strip continuously for two years with no ill effects and absolutely no bugs. If you limit the exposure of the strip by only uncovering a portion of it with the package, that should reduce the off gassing. In addition, the gas is relatively well contained in the housing of the toilet as opposed to escaping into the room. Use it only long enough to treat the problem if you are concerned about exposure. Reseal the strip in its package for future use. People considering using a pest strip should read the EPA data and make a decision based on what they read. I have read the EPA findings (https://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/dichlorv.html)
      and personally I find the warnings a little overzealous, and they are basically continually noting that they really can’t say anything for sure, but that is my take. Accounts of the ill effects on other research papers are also anecdotal. There may be legitimate consideration with respect to exposure of children and infants. Consider the application and make your own decision.

  10. I built my own Lovable Loo a few years ago. It was mostly great. The only issue I had was the construction that my husband did. The second one I did was much better a few years later. 🙂 We had the toilet inside a regular house, in an RV we were living in (parked), and both inside and outside a tent we lived in for a bit. In all instance I used a regular toilet seat and regular buckets. I had lovely piles that composted everything quickly, regardless of our diet. We used a thermometer to ensure proper sanitation. I never had a fly issue, not once. I wonder if those seats may have contributed to the issue. As for our cover material, we used saw dust, wood shavings, grass clippings, straw, and leaves. All worked great, but the grass clippings were my favorite. It made the whole bathroom smell wonderful. Where we live now we cannot use a Lovable Loo since we have no place to compost. Like, none at all. But as soon as we move some place with a yard we will be back at it. I hope your issue is better now and that you have found a nice routine. 🙂

  11. sadly, the high cost of many of the composting toilets is not only prohibitive, but strikes me as a special kind of irony. some people claim to build an entire house for the cost of just one of those high-priced composting toilets.

    on the other hand, what to do with one’s human waste is a very personal issue. i have been using the C-Head, which for the most part meets my needs. there’s no way around it – you just have to learn to suck it up and deal with your shit. literally. carrying my pee around in a gallon container to dump into Walmart’s public restroom was unpleasant at first, but i’ve learned to get over it. likewise with my solid waste, mixed up with peat moss and hammered tight into a 5 gallon paint bucket for disposal.

    leaning to live simply has brought me closer to what living” in a human body really is – and that includes the sounds and smells of life, learning to embrace what most people would find offensive, and being responsible for the disposition of my own waste as well.

    • Try not to use peat moss but coconut coir instead. Peat moss is not sustainable and the environment (marsh land) is harmed when it’s harvested.

  12. I’m curious. If you have a tiny house that’s parked and you have a composting toilet then where does the water come from for a shower and dishes? And where does the grey water go after shower? It’s like a trailer w tanks?

  13. I am hooked up to the city water that goes to the main house. there’s a water spigot that comes out if the ground (to water the back pastures). i have a heated hose that attaches to that spigot and runs into the house. i have a water heater as well. water comes in that way. all grey water runs out via a PVC pipe dug into the ground. the land i’m on has a very high water table, so there’s never been any problems. knock on wood. 😉

    oops – except in winter. when it falls below freejacqueizing, just to play it safe, i keep a slow drip in the bathtub faucet. . .

  14. Two things. Flies are a common problem with composting toilets. I have a detailed post on how to get rid of flies. It’s an easy problem to solve, fortunately. Second, the humanure approach is really out of date. It requires a large amount of an organic cover material. This has to be brought into your house and stored. It could be a source of flies. It’s messy. You have to add a lot of material to the toilet, reducing capacity. You also have to empty all that material outside again. Personally, I don’t want the toilet to take a lot of effort and time, as the humanure system does. A better approach is to build (or buy)a toilet that will dehydrate the solid waste, rather than compost it. A fan and vent are necessary. The waste is composted outside in a bin. This increases capacity of the toilet dramatically, and is not messy. You can see instructions for a DIY toilet on my site. Above all, a urine diverting system will reduce odor and make the whole procedure much easier.

    • Thanks for the link to your site Richard.
      The urine diverter is a must. https://www.ecovita.net/privy.html
      I have a large bag of diatomaceous earth for the garden. A PC fan for constant positive pressure/ventilation is planned. Low energy use and a long life is a plus for PC fans. ( Yes, don’t get them wet. ) Thanks for the tips.

  15. Richard, I agree with everything you said except the part about venting being necessary. With a toilet like the BoonJon that is extremely easy to empty, no ventilation is necessary and this is big issue. The reason is simple and the concept proven. The toilet need only be able to seal and retain the moisture in the waste to prevent any odor and if it is emptied regularly, like once a week, there is no need to vent the toilet. The processed waste can be deposited into a very simple solar dehydrator that will expose the waste to heat as well as dehydration which usually is enough to destroy any pathogens. I have made a simple solar dehydrator from a cheap black plastic trash can, a 4 gallon milk crate and a 5 gallon Rubbermaid bin. Once the waste has been dehydrated (usually one week, about the time you empty the toilet again) it can be crushed using a tamper and the granules spread on the compost heap near the center where it again is exposed to heat, bacteria, fungus, etc. Running vent hose and installing a fan can be complicated and can be expensive since the correct fan needs to be one that is designed to have moisture drawn over it continuously. This entire operation takes up very little space, time or skill and provides a very good method of dealing with solid waste and excellent compost.

    • Can you please send directions to your composter/dehydrator. thank you

  16. the garbage man must be thrilled to stop by your house and pick up the large plastic bag poop bomb you leave for him every week. The rest of you are poop hoarders.

  17. This might be a tiny bit of frightful inquiry however I have been on many destinations about treating the composting toilets and particularly about Nature’s Head (which is the thing that I would like to purchase) and nobody tends to this issue I am aware of. Be that as it may, much like the retching and period questions how does the toilet particularly deal with blended fluid and strong waste. I cannot represent everybody except not exclusively does looseness of the bowels and free stool happen, as a lady (from what I hear this isn’t such a keeps an eye on issue) so does pushing out some pee when I crap – and this is twofold for pregnancy (which I am – intensely; and plan to be again in the following 5 years or thereabouts). Has any one had issues with this or does it not by any stretch of the imagination have any perceptible effects?

    • I have similar issues, with some pee leaking whilst I poo, and I also have IBS, so often Deal with loose stool and diarrhea. I keep wood pellets (the kind used in wood stoves) on hand. The are wonderfully absorbent. I just sprinkle an extra handful in when necessary.

    • So here is the deal with “blended fluid and strong waste”. If you vomit, don’t vomit in the toilet. Use a bag lined bucket and then put some medium (sawdust, etc) in the bag to absorb the fluid. Remove the bag and tie it off and then discard it. If you have diarrhea, with the C-Head, you can put a bag down inside the opening of the toilet, wrap it around the seat and use it and then put medium inside the bag and remove and discard it. There are pictures of this in the owner’s manual which can be downloaded from the website. If you have Crones or some other condition that leads to frequent loose or wet stools, you have to use a bucket system where you add medium after each use. Add pine pellets to the mixture as they absorb a lot of moisture. If you add enough medium to cover the waste, you may find you can continue to use the toilet without having to empty it each time. Look at the C-Head churnless models.

  18. No matter the unit
    The high dollar poop dehydrators or the low end lovable lol
    All the poop needs to be removed so there is allways more work than flush a toilet.
    The loveable loo recommends to pee and poop in it.
    No pee diverters.
    Also they take vomit, loose stools, none plastic menstral pads even dead mice.
    Sure ones gotta empty a bucket once a week into a compost pile but hey it’s your poop.
    As far as peat moss is concerned use only Canadian spaghum
    It is a high quality horticultural peat product. Through proper management and harvesting practices and research, the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA) and associated organizations and institutions, are doing their best to ensure that peat moss is a renewable resource.

    Have a issue with flys or smell???
    Add more cover
    Easy peasy

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