Tiny House Toilet Options: What It’s Really Like To Use A Composting Toilet

tiny house toilets
Tiny house toilet options are a rather taboo topic; it’s an area where I think people have a lot of questions but are too afraid to ask. It’s one aspect of tiny living that sparks morbid curiosity.

  • How do you set up a toilet in a tiny house?
  • What are your tiny house toilet options?
  • How does a composting toilet really work?

And of course, Is a composting toilet gross? Does a tiny house toilet smell?

NAVIGATION

But we all must heed the call of nature. If you’re planning a tiny house, you need to know your toilet options, so you can be sure to choose a tiny house toilet that you can live with. Today I’m going to give you the straight talk about tiny house toilets. As someone who’s lived with a tiny house composting toilet for years, I’m happy to share all the honest details of my experience with tiny house toilets.

My Tiny House Toilet

My Tiny House Toilet

When I first built my tiny house, I was firmly against composting toilets of any sort. Frankly, I thought it sounded strange and challenging. I wanted a flush toilet.

My tiny house setup is pretty similar to others’ situations. I stay on a piece of land owned by a friend, and we have an arrangement where I can stay there if I pitch in on the taxes for the land. When I was deciding where to spend on land setup, I was treading that fine line of spending enough to make it livable, but not so much that I couldn’t walk away if something didn’t work out. So I ran water to my land for about $4,000. I installed a driveway for $2,000.

But then I got an estimate to have a flush toilet installed, and I went into sticker shock. It was $50,000!

tiny house outhouse toiletThere are a lot fewer regulations around freshwater compared to sewage. There are more inspections, infrastructure, health codes, and more that you have to navigate. In Charlotte, where I live, the permit for water metering alone is $2,200 for freshwater and $9,700 for a sewer connection! That’s just the meter! You’re spending almost $10,000 just for the privilege of paying for sewerage.

So for price alone, I decided that maybe I could reconsider the necessity of a flush toilet. I grew up camping; I went through boy scouts. I figured I would give a compost toilet a shot and see if it was really so bad.

Several years later, I can attest that a compost toilet is a totally livable tiny house toilet option. I barely think about my toilet anymore. It’s become part of my routine home maintenance and housekeeping, and it’s no big deal.

I recently put in a septic system on my property, but it’s not specifically just for my tiny house; it’s for my planned expansion. It’s much cheaper than connecting to sewer. Fortunately, where I live, it’s allowed. In many cities, if there’s a sewer system, you don’t have a septic option. Many places won’t give a certificate of occupancy without a sewer connection either.

If you do have the option of septic, it’s much more affordable. At the low end, a septic system costs around $3,000. They average between $5,000-$10,000, up to as much as $30,000. If you live in a highly-populated area like New York or California, you may have more environmental restrictions, so even septic gets expensive.

Regardless of where you live, if you’re considering a compost toilet as one of your tiny house toilet options, there are quite a few things to consider in your exploration. As someone who decided rather quickly as I was building my tiny house, I must admit that it’s not bad. I really don’t mind my compost toilet at all.

Tiny House Toilet Options

Tiny House Toilet Options

If you’re building a tiny house and want to weigh all your tiny house toilet options, there’s quite a range to explore. Here are a few of the more popular tiny house toilet choices and what I’ve learned about each.

traditional flush toilet

Traditional Flush Toilet

As far as tiny house toilet options go, this one is probably the most comfortable but maybe the least practical in terms of cost (and depending on your land setup). To have a flush toilet, you’ll need to connect to your cities sewage or install septic. For some people, it’s worth the investment. For others, it’s a deal-breaker.


five gallon bucket

5-Gallon Bucket Composting Toilet

From the most traditional to probably the least traditional, you can go with the economic 5-gallon bucket composting toilet. These are easy enough to make. You line the bucket with a bag and affix a toilet seat to the top. You fill the bucket with an absorbent substrate.


luggable loo toilet

Luggable Loo

I have the Luggable Loo, and I’m quite pleased with it. I’ve been using it for years. It’s very similar to the 5-gallon bucket option, but the lid snaps into place, and it’s built to be extremely durable. Initially, I chose this tiny house toilet option out of convenience, but it’s worked well for me. Compared to the other costlier options, I haven’t found any noticeable drawbacks to choosing the Luggable Loo composting toilet.


Separett Villa 9215 AC-DC Composting Toilet

Separett Villa 9215 AC/DC Composting Toilet

The Separett Villa 9512 is a waterless and self-contained composting toilet. There’s a high-tech fan system that helps vent and a tank for holding waste. It’s big enough for three weeks of use by several people. Bob Vila voted it the best composting toilet on the market, but the price tag is a little high at around $1,000.


Sun-Mar Excel Non-Electric Waterless Composting Toilet

Sun-Mar Excel Non-Electric Waterless Composting Toilet

The Sun-Mar Excel unique-looking toilet is a self-contained compost toilet that requires no electricity to work (perfect for a tiny house). It’s high capacity, and according to the Daily Gardener, “If you’re only going to use it now and again—perhaps in a cabin used on weekends—it will cope with five to seven users.” The vent on the back helps keep it from smelling. Again, this toilet is around $1,200, making it a cost-prohibitive tiny house toilet option for some.


Self-Contained Composting Toilet

Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet

The Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet separates solids from liquids, making it a practically odorless option (almost all toilets will have some odor, of course). The Nature’s Head toilet needs to be emptied every few weeks and can be used with a composting medium (like peat moss) to help make it simple to compost. The price point is around $1,000, making it a similar tiny house toilet option to the other composting toilets I mentioned.


Self-Contained Composting Toilet with crank

Nature’s Head Dry Composting Toilet with Crank Handle

Voted one of the best composting toilets by NY Mag’s The Strategist, the Nature’s Head Dry Composting Toilet with Crank Handle seems to be a preferred choice for RVs, campers, and van-lifers. The crank handle helps agitate the contents of the toilet, making it compost faster and easier. An Amazon reviewer and user recommends spraying it out after liquids, using a spray bottle filled with water and natural dish soap, which minimizes the smell.

In general, I’ve heard the best reviews of the Nature’s Head toilets, and I’ve also heard positive reviews on the Separett. It’s also important to recognize that certain toilets will have safety certifications, which can help if you want to be sure to go the completely legal route. Some municipalities require toilets to meet specific codes and regulations. If this applies to your area, you may want to consider one of the commercial brand toilets.

tiny house water

What Is It Like To Have A Composting Toilet?

What Is It Like To Have A Composting Toilet

So, what is it really like to have a composting toilet? I get asked this question more often than you’d think. People want to know—does it smell? How do you use a compost toilet? Isn’t it gross?

First of all, I was definitely concerned when I started on my tiny house journey. I’m very clean and tidy, to the point of being a bit of a neat freak. So the thought of a dirty, smelly toilet in my tiny home was not appealing to me. Plus, I worked a professional job, where it was necessary to be hygienic and presentable at all times.

composting toiletBut after several years, I can say, it’s not a big deal at all. It’s incredible how quickly you get used to using a composting toilet. Besides, I’m often out and about, living my life during the day. To be very candid, it’s rare that I need to use my composting toilet. Not to mention that I live on 32 acres, and being a guy, I can find a tree for liquid waste. There will be weeks, sometimes even months, where I don’t need to use my composting toilet at all.

Now for solid waste, it’s a little trickier, especially if you’re not out and about throughout the day. Even with liquids, going in the same spot year after year becomes an issue. It can damage the soil, trees and pose certain hazards (and urine smells).

I also should add the caveat here that as a guy, I’m not as familiar with feminine hygiene needs and the composting toilet, so I had to do some research on the topic. Macy over at Mini Motives has a comprehensive post about feminine hygiene and composting toilets. It seems that many of the sustainable options for menstruation work just as well with composting toilets. As she says, “Whatever you use is your preference, and they CAN all be used with composting toilets.”

Charlotte has a lot of health requirements surrounding the disposal of solid waste. You are required to bag it and put it in the trash. At first, this seemed odd to me, but if you think of it like baby diapers or dog waste, it’s really not too different. There are eco-friendly bags that help. I also suggest reading the Humanure Book, which delves into what you need to know to compost human waste safely.

I’ve learned that the smell factor is an issue if you don’t separate liquids and solids. Things that are wet smell more and break down quickly. Bacteria are drawn to warm, wet environments, especially those that are dark and have oxygen. So, it’s essential to keep waste covered and dry.

You can still use toilet paper with a compost toilet, especially if you’re bagging it up. There’s RV-specific toilet paper that breaks down quickly and is suitable for those with compost toilets.

Tiny House Toilet Indoors Versus An Outhouse

Tiny House Toilet Indoors Versus An Outhouse

Almost every tiny homeowner I know has a composting toilet inside their tiny house. When I first started using a composting toilet, I was still in the process of building my tiny house. Because of this, I was using my bathroom as storage, and I had no space for anything. I wasn’t sure what to do with the toilet, so I set it up outside with a little coverage deck (again, keep in mind I live on a vast, isolated piece of land).

tiny house bathroomsWhen the house was ready, it was time to move the toilet inside, and I remember thinking, “Why?” Why would I want to invite smells, bacteria, and occasionally even flies into my house?

If you can make an outhouse or outdoor bathroom happen, I say, why not go for it? I’ve seen some nice setups, where people have a little shower in their outdoor bathroom, a sink, and a little toilet. You could go with an outdoor bathroom or just an outhouse. It’s less of a headache than having a bathroom indoors.

But of course, there are some hazards, including pests, bugs, and even animals that are more prevalent outdoors (and more likely to break into your outhouse). In the middle of a winter storm, pouring rain, or the dark of night, not everyone loves going outdoors to do their business. Plus, it gets very cold in the winter, which is excellent for keeping smells at bay but not great for comfort. The heat can get intense in a small space in the summer, and you may end up with flies and bugs.

You have to weigh the pros and cons of the outhouse versus an indoor bathroom with a composting toilet and decide what’s right for you. Again, my experience is as a guy who is very comfortable outdoors and lives in an isolated area. For a family or those living in a tiny house community, your needs may be very different.

Compost Toilet Hacks & Materials

Compost Toilet Hacks and Materials

If you decide that a composting toilet is the right tiny house toilet option for you, certain items will make your bathroom experience more pleasant and easier. Not only will these items cut back on the smell factor and keep your bathroom cleaner, but they’ll prevent some of the issues that arise with tiny house toilets.

Tiny House Toilet Hacks

Tiny House Toilet Hacks

  • Consider a built-in woodchip bin. A built-in bin is a nice feature in a tiny house bathroom. You could, of course, use a bucket or container to hold the wood chips, but having the bin makes it look more cohesive. I’ve seen some built-in bins about 2 feet x 2 feet, with a closed lid to store the chips.
  • Install a solar-powered vent fan. A fan is a must-have if your bathroom is indoors. You need something to move odors out of the small space. Make sure the end of the vent is carefully screened to prevent flies and pests from sneaking into your bathroom.
  • A urine diverter keeps the toilet smelling fresh. Even though we think of solid waste as the source of smells, the truth is that wet matter smells much more than dry. If you want your bathroom to stay fresh, a urine diverter is a fancy funnel that splits the liquids and the solids. I’ve heard from female friends that this is an especially appreciated feature.
  • Seal the toilet lid carefully. Take time to seal the toilet lid very carefully. A good seal will go a long way toward keeping smells out. You can use weatherstripping, similar to what you would use on a door, to get a nice tight seal.

design your dream tiny home

Tiny House Composting Toilet Materials

Tiny House Composting Toilet Materials

The other question I often get about my toilet is about the materials used to absorb the liquids and solids inside the toilet. You need some absorbent material in the toilet to keep things from getting messy or smelly. For me, wood shavings (yes, from the pet store) are my preferred choice.

I’ve tried many materials, and the same wood shavings you’d buy for hamsters or guinea pigs work well inside your compost toilet. It’s absorbent, low-odor, cheap, lightweight, and easy to deal with. It might feel a bit funny buying hamster shavings for your human toilet but let me tell you—it works!

Composting Toilet Materials Options


wood shavings compost material

Wood Shavings

What I use, and my highest recommendation. I’ve tried many toilet materials, and the shavings from the pet store are the best, cleanest option.


sawdust compost

Sawdust

Similar to pet wood shavings, sawdust works well for composting toilets. The main issue is that unless you live near a lumber mill or own a woodchipper, unlimited sawdust can be tough to access.


use cat litter as compost material

Cat Litter

Some folks have tried various types of cat litter for composting toilets. It’s a bad idea, and it isn’t a sustainable option that works well for humans.


coco coir composting

Coco Coir

Made from the shells and husks of coconuts, coco coir is sustainable and can work well for composting toilets, but it’s challenging to come by and can be expensive.


compost with peat moss

Peat Moss

There are more sustainable peat moss options out there now, and it’s not difficult to find. As far as materials go, peat moss isn’t a terrible tiny house toilet option.


wood ash compost

Wood Ash

I wouldn’t recommend using wood ash as your tiny house toilet material. It’s very messy and hard to deal with. It is, however, odor absorbent.


grass clippings as compost material

Grass Clippings & Leaves

I’ve also found that this is not a great long-term solution. Unless you have something to finely breakdown the clippings and leaves, it’s a pain to maintain. Plus, leaves and grass clippings have their own smell as they breakdown, which can exacerbate the already smelly situation.

compost bucket toilet construction steps

Should You Choose a Composting Toilet For Your Tiny House?

Should You Choose a Composting Toilet For Your Tiny House

All in all, using a composting toilet isn’t a bad tiny house toilet solution. Having used one for many years now, it’s not terrible at all. To be honest, I hardly even think of it most of the time.

There are a lot of people out there who claim that a composting toilet doesn’t smell…and they’re unfortunately wrong. The odor seems to be the biggest worry for most tiny house owners, and I’m not going to lie—it’s a toilet; it smells. The biggest thing you can do to mitigate the smell is to keep your toilet outside and choose the outhouse option as your bathroom solution.

I realize that an outdoor toilet isn’t realistic for many people, so the next best way to combat the smell is to have a really good ventilation fan. If you install a high-quality fan and keep your toilet sealed, you will minimize the smell. It’s also crucial that you’re diligent about using plenty of cover material and cleaning out the toilet frequently. Those steps will go a long way.

If you choose to dispose of the waste in a bag, you can put it out with the trash (again, like pet waste or a diaper) in most places. It’s not pleasant to think about, but once you’re used to it, it’s really no big deal. If you choose to compost, make sure that you have the approval of the landowner (if that’s not you).

While most of us probably don’t want to think too much about the toilet for our tiny house, it’s one of those things that makes life more livable, clean, and comfortable. The call of nature is something we all must heed, so it makes sense to find a tiny house toilet solution that you can live with in the long term.

Even though I’ll admit, I decided to take the plunge into a composting toilet as a last-minute solution to save the plumbing costs; it’s something that I’ve been satisfied with for years.

design and build collection

Your Turn!

  • What are your biggest concerns about using a composting toilet?
  • Do you prefer an outdoor or indoor bathroom?
7 Comments
  1. Thanks for toilet options! Can’t wait to read it, I needed that Information 🙂

  2. To answer your own question, NO, composting toilets do not smell. I investigated this myself head-down. That is to say, I stuck my head into the composting toilet to „sniff around“. This toilet was installed on my sailboat and I used peat moss for the composting agent. Properly vented (a small 12 volts computer fan will do just fine), there is no smell. I survived the test to tell the tale. As mentioned in the article, there are several options. The biggest drawback, though, is the pee bottle. 2 people will fill it in a couple of days and then what? There is a solution, though. Most of these bottle options do have a drain valve and you can connect a drain hose. Where it drains to will be your job to figure out. … 🙂 … There are options, though. If you are willing to spend a little more money, you can buy a „house“ sized composting toilet which will handle the liquid as well. It may set you back about $3,000 or so but may very well be worth it since it handles it all for an average house and occupancy. It requires household current but comes with a 12 volts option.

  3. Wow this is a great resource. Very nice job putting this all together!

  4. I live in as you mentioned, highly populated California. Since a compost toilet is not an option could you tell me the rules & regulations regarding flush-toilets for LA county. Or where l might find out?

  5. You only discuss regular flushing toilets and composting, what about incinerator toilets? I have not been able to find a lot of articles on them but they seem like a great (if expensive) alternative option.

    • I have not used them personally but I’ve only heard negative things from people who have used them.

  6. incinerator toilets are a bad option. Incinerator waste was a bad invention over all. It uses such huge amount of electricity what is the point. They are using incineration right now to burn plastic in other countries. Incineration is a destructive way to process any kind of waste. It would greatly impact your energy bill and use valuable resources every flush haha

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