Are you wondering what it’s like to use a bucket toilet as a composting toilet system? Here’s our experience after several years of using a bucket toilet.
Bucket toilets come in a few different shapes:
- Camping: There are portable camping toilets that are quite literally a bucket with a toilet seat attached. These can be sealed up so you can take your waste home. Or, depending on the rules of where you are camping, you may be able to bury your waste.
- Separator toilets: Separator toilets are self-contained composting toilets. These are designed to separate liquids and solids. They are often used on boats or in RVs.
- DIY bucket toilet: We decided to build a composting toilet that collected waste in a bucket rather than a large container.
This post is about how we managed our DIY bucket toilet, and what we learned after several years of use.
Our Wood Pellet Toilet
In the beginning, we thought we would use wood pellets to make wood dust for our composting toilet. We also thought it wouldn’t have much urine in it. Ideally, bucket toilets don’t have any urine.
This didn’t work out quite the way we expected. We found that people who stand up while peeing have no problems walking into the woods and peeing on a tree. We even set up a bullseye target so that everyone could pee in the same location. However, people who had to squat while peeing outdoors found it much more difficult to go in the woods. Even some people who can pee while standing disliked going in the open air.
So our toilet always had more liquid than was ideal. This was why we swapped to wood pellets instead of wood dust.
Here was our method:
- We filled the bucket toilet about 1/3 of the way with softwood pellets. We encouraged everyone to pee in the woods, thus reducing the overall liquid in the bucket.
- We made a 5-gallon bucket of wood dust by mixing 1/2 a bucket of pellets with a few cups of water, the pellets easily disintegrated into dust. The bucket had a water-tight lid to prevent the dust from getting too moist.
- Every time someone used the bucket for solid waste, they fully covered it up with wood dust (about 1/2 to 1 cup).
- At the end of the day, we added another cup of wood dust to the bucket.
- When the bucket was full, it was emptied into a typical plastic compost bin.
- We had 3 composters, which allowed the waste to be composted for 24 months before we needed to start filling the bin again.
For our family of 4 (two standing pee-ers to sitting pee-ers), the bucket toilet needed to be emptied every other day.
Those of you who are very observant may have noticed some changes from our original composting toilet design. After our first year, we decided to tuck the outhouse further back into the forest. (Picking up and moving an outhouse isn’t something you can’t do if you’ve got a trad outdoor toilet). We also swapped the metal roof for a clear plastic roof to let in more light.
Pros and Cons of the bucket toilet
What we liked about our bucket toilet:
- It was actually easier to use than we expected. We thought emptying it would be stinky and unpleasant, but it really wasn’t. The wood dust did a good job of keeping everything clean.
- The compost didn’t smell and it appeared quite healthy. We even got a bloom of mushrooms on top every year.
- Wood pellets were affordable and easy to use. We emptied a few bags into a garbage bin, then scooped from there.
Why we considered changing to a different system:
- The only problem with our wood pellet bucket toilet was that it started to fill quickly once we had a few guests on our property. We pretty much had visitors all summer long, and emptying the bucket once or twice a day became tedious.
What About the Compost?
Probably the most exciting thing about our composting toilet system was how great the compost was! We were so impressed:
- The composters never smelled.
- They seemed to rot really well. We usually got a bloom of mushrooms on top during the spring and fall.
- By the time we emptied the composters, there was nothing left but light and airy compost. No evidence of toilet paper or anything else.
I’ll admit, managing the human manure was our greatest concern… but the whole system was so much nicer than an outhouse. We weren’t about to put the finished compost on our vegetable garden, but it was great for building soil on our rocky property.