Friday, August 28, 2015

Emptying My Composting Toilet

I live off grid and have no sewer connection. So I have a composting toilet. Pretty simple. "But how do you empty your toilet?" 

This is a very frequent question I hear. At least in the world of tiny house people. I suppose the rest of the country probably does not discuss this. Ever. And if poop grosses you out, don't read further! While I do empty the liquids container every week to ten days, the solids bin only needs emptied about every 4 months with mostly just me using it.

There are several ways to deal with this, but I am just going to describe the one I use. The urine I dilute with water and use to fertilize all my plants around here. They love it! And in the winter, it just goes around the base of my trees, who also seem happy with the arrangement. But what do I do with all the four months worth of poop? 

Eventually it will be used as fertilizer as well. But to be safe, I'm giving it lots of extra time to break down after leaving my toilet. I have two compost bins outside. One for all my kitchen and garden scraps and one for my toilet. The toilet one will get heated up before going on any plants just in case there are any nasty bugs in there, which I doubt, knowing my own health and diet.

 With a Natures Head toilet like mine, all you have to do to empty it is slide the lid/seat off the top. Then you can pick the whole base up and simply turn it upside down to empty it. You can hose it all out then if you want, I did this once, but there is really no need. Below is what the most recent four months worth of poop looked like when I dumped it. (I already warned you to stop reading if you are squeamish about this!) Mostly, it looks like slightly damp dirt or potting soil. In the very middle of the photo you can see a lighter spot, that's one of the most recent additions to the toilet and is not completely broken down yet.

And this does not smell like anything other than moist dirt. For real. If you can change an average baby's diaper, this is less gross and less smelly. Plus my toilet never kicks or tries to put it's fingers in there while I'm emptying it. ;-) So it's much better!

Now I put fresh coconut coir (or peat moss if you prefer) back into my newly empty toilet. This is what surrounds each "deposit" I make into my toilet and helps keep there from being any odors. As you can see below, my whole toilet is sitting outside on my step. Now it's almost ready to put back in my bathroom.

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you probably know (And again, you were warned if you find all this gross!) that I keep worms in my toilet. They speed up the rate at which everything breaks down and help reduce how often I need to empty the solids. But I just dumped them all out when I emptied my toilet. And now I need some back in there.

Worms do not like being exposed to light, so they had quickly all retreated deep into the pile. I just used a shovel to scoop a hole in the middle of that pile and grabbed a handful of worms back out. Touching worms does not gross me out. (Spiders are a whole different story though!) And I added these back into my freshly emptied toilet. Where they quickly retreated out of sight again. This process did leave a lot of worms in my outside bin, but this is no problem, they just keep multiplying in both locations.

One note, based on the experience of someone else who tried this. If you plan to add worms to your toilet, make sure you keep the solids bin from getting too wet or too warm. If either of those condition occur, your worms may try to flee for their lives. I have never had this problem and as long as the conditions in there are good (for worms this means slightly moist, dark, and lots of poop to eat) they will stay out of sight and you'll never even know they are there.

I do keep a little spray bottle of vinegar and water in my bathroom to give the bowl a quick spritz after each use and help keep everything nice and fresh. You can see that in this shot with my toilet back in place and with the lid and seat back on top.

Now I have a toilet that's ready to go for months again! See, composting toilets really are not that scary. I am very happy with mine.


  1. Do you just start with the coir or do you keep adding it?
    Is your compost bin an open to the ground bin or a closed plastic container type?
    Thanks for the info. It sounds easier than it seems. I wonder what people who don't have an area for outside composting do?

    1. Just start with it. The bin, which is a closed plastic container (this is how I can pick my whole toilet up to carry it outside and dump) has a tumbler bar which you can see in several of these photos. You can easily turn it after each use of the toilet and toss the contents of the bin around. Burying the newest down under the already composted material.

      If you have no where to compost outside, you can just bag it and toss it. Much more sanitary than using disposable diapers which everyone puts in the trash. And it really is easy!

  2. Ariel, I just love your blog. Your candor about even the more...basic...levels of life is so refreshing and really helpful for those pondering Living Large by Going Tiny! Thank you thank you thank you. You even make me want a composting toilet! Lol.

    1. You're welcome! I hope that's true for some people at least, and that's why I try to write about everything. ;)

  3. What about the urine? Do you empty that more often? I would be more worried about the ammonia smell from the urine than the poop smell with your system. Do you put anything in that part of your toilet to help keep it from reeking of ammonia?

    1. Like I said above, I do empty the urine every week to ten days. I add a bit of sugar and a few table spoons of vinegar back into the tank each time I empty it. I hear they both help with buildup and odor, but I can't tell you for sure if that's true. When the tank is back in the toilet, it's pretty sealed off and I've never gotten a whiff of smell except for when I pull it out to empty.

  4. Aloha Ariel,

    Thank you for your thorough blog!

    The warning about the pictures not only allowed me to steel myself before looking :::embarrassed grin:::, but also to see how the compost *should* look. The steeling was unnecessary :::smile:::

    Houston, I have some problems. I'll write Nature's Head directly to resolve them. After which, I would like to add worms. Where do I get them?

    Mahalo, again, for sharing!

  5. Aloha again, Ariel,

    I just finished emptying and thoroughly cleaning (hosing down) the entire toilet after speaking with Nature's Head. The man I spoke with said I should be emptying it once a month! Do you think adding worms will extend the time between dumpings (no pun intended)?

    He said the coco coir should be damp, not wet. Should it clump when I squeeze it, or crumble like dirt? I found the coco coir in a bucket and, since it's very humid here, I'm hesitant to add any water. There's about four inches at the bottom of the bucket that's like dirt--that is, it's not part of the block of coir.

    1. I think the timing on emptying can vary a lot with different usage and numbers of people using the toilet. I am the only one using mine most of the time, but I also only empty mine 3 or 4 times a year. And yes, I do think the worms help get everything broken down faster.

      Also there are several places you can get worms, but I ordered mine from and they have great customer service.

      I'd say the coconut coir should like about like this picture. Not my shot, I'll have to get a few good ones myself next time I empty my toilet.

  6. I love your blog and Youtube videos. Just one question: how do you dispose of used feminine hygiene products (e.g. sanitary napkins, etc.) Do the worms eat them?

    1. I do use a cup (google Diva cup or other brands) some of the time. Otherwise I just through sanitary napkins in the trash. I think the worms probably would eat them if given enough time, but with the glues etc. in there, they might not be good for the worms health.

    2. Glad to see you use the diva cup! Warning: I'm about to play 20 questions. Do you just dump it in with the worms as well? And what type of worms do you use and where do you get them? Is there a reason you keep kitchen scraps in a separate container rather than throwing them in with your waste? and do you have a post on your kitchen scraps container? I saw in another post you mentioned a container with holes in it?

    3. I do just dump it in with the worms. They seem to love it. I bought red wigglers to get started. From I found the company to be wonderful to deal with. They even sent me new worms for free when I accidentally killed my first batch though it was no fault of theirs!

      Kitchen scraps I put outside just so I don't have to empty the toilet as often. When I still lived in an apartment with no outside composting area, I kept a few 5 gallon buckets with kitchen scraps and worms. Now with the space I have, they all go outside.

  7. I have read your post, it was very helpful to me.
    Thank you for share the post.
    see it here

  8. Hey there,
    Fascinating stuff! Very informative and exciting as I embark on the off grid lifestyle. Do you use regular toilet paper or an alternative?
    Thanks for getting in to the nitty gritty for all of us who don't yet know!

  9. Thank you Ariel! This sounds intresting. I am trying right now to find a solution for a compost/ecological toilet in town, for an ecological appartement building all in wood.

    I am not sure if the other people will accept the worms 😂, but let's see.
    I learnt a lot from you!

    Thank you!