DIY Composting Toilet

DIY Composting Toilet At Farming My Backyard

If you are longing to get off grid, a DIY composting toilet is simple to construct and use.  I built an experimental humanure toilet and used for a year on a trial basis (my bathroom is too small for two toilets!).  I was pleased with the results, and will make a second bathroom with it one of these days.  Knowing how to properly build a compost toilet is great for potential survival situations.

If you choose to use one, you can save a little on the utility bills, reduce your impact on the environment, and open up new living possibilities such as cheap land, or your own mortgage free tiny house.   Even though things such as a homemade composting toilet, handwashing your laundry, or living without a fridge seem extreme to most people, these are valuable skills to have at your disposal.

What is a Composting Toilet?

A composting toilet is NOT an outhouse!  It does not smell.  It does not create pollution.  Building a compost toilet is a good way to take refuse and turn it into a resource.   A DIY composting toilet takes human waste, and dry material such as sawdust, crushed leaves, or wood ash and composts it with straw at a high heat to kill potential pathogens.  At the end of the process you are left with sweet smelling, clean, and hygenic compost.

1 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

How to Build a Homemade Composting Toilet

Building a simple sawdust toilet can be as easy as balancing a toilet seat over the top of a five gallon bucket, or a gorgeous handcrafted wooden work of art.   Here’s a quick tutorial on how to build a simple yet sturdy DIY composting toilet.

9 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Assemble your supplies.   You will need two five gallon buckets of the same height, four 2x4s the same height as the buckets, a toilet seat plus hardware, a piece of plywood larger than your toilet seat, and eight screws.

6 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Saw a hole that is the same size as the five gallon buckets into your piece of plywood.

5 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Line your toilet seat up centered over the hole you just cut.  Mark where to drill holes for the toilet seat hardware.  Drill those holes.

8 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Screw a 2×4 at each corner of your plywood to create four legs.

7 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Stand the frame up onto it’s legs.  It’s time to start putting it all together!

4 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Attach the toilet seat to the plywood.

3 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Place one bucket so it fits into the large hole in the plywood.  Add a few inches of your cover material (such as sawdust) and it’s ready to use!

How to Use Your DIY Composting Toilet

2 DIY Composting Toilet @ Farming My Backyard

Before using a bucket the first time make sure there is a few inches of cover material in the bucket.  Use as you would any toilet.  Instead of flushing, cover all the contents with a thick layer of cover material.  The cover material is the big key to making this system work.  Sawdust is ideal, because it is fine, and absorbent.  I know people have used peat moss and crushed dry leaves with good success.  I had none of those things available, and had good results using wood ash from our woodburning stove.  Completely cover all contents with the cover material.

When the bucket is full, put in an empty bucket and take the full bucket out to your outdoor compost bin.  A three bin system works best with compost toilets.  That way you have one to fill, one to cure for a year, and one to harvest finished compost.  To keep your carbon and nitrogen levels balanced make sure to add lots of dry material such as straw.  Use plenty of straw.

When your bin is full, let the compost cure for a year.  If you are planning to use the finished compost on edibles make sure that it reaches an internal temperature of 122 degrees for at least one week to destroy all potential pathogens.  If it does not reach high temperatures it is safest to let it cure for second year.  If you don’t want to wait two years it’s still safe to use on non-food crops or orchards.  There are compost thermometers available to check temperatures.

If the idea of composting human waste is new, I suggest reading Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon (affiliate link).  It’s entertaining, yet informative.  If you want a more in depth look at composting toilets The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins (affiliate link) is the way to go.   The Humanure Handbook can also be downloaded for free here.

This post shared at: From the Farm Blog Hop and Simple Saturdays Blog Hop


Tagged with: ,
Posted in Mindful Energy
29 comments on “DIY Composting Toilet
  1. We were just talking with my husband today about composting toilets. I find the idea very interesting. My question is, does it smell? I mean at all, or just a little.

  2. Kathryn says:

    If you use the wrong cover material, or if you don’t add enough it can smell. Once you put the cover material on it’s just like flushing as far as smell goes.

  3. marije says:

    Hi! i have got two questions about using the compost toilet:

    1:can you use toilet paper and put that in the bin?
    2:if you store this for a year, should you keep a lid on the bin? (totally closed> or a bit open for air to circulate?)

    we are thinking about making a composting toilet in our communal vegetable garden.

    thanks for the answers, love Marije.

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      YES! Put the toilet paper in the bin. It helps offset liquids and speed up composting. As for the top of the bin, leave it open to the air, but make sure to have a thick layer of straw, leaves or sawdust on the top.

      If you are thinking about setting up a system, you should read the Humanure Handbook, which has lots of awesome details about safety and compost temperature.

  4. June says:

    Hi , I’m wondering your thoughts on using a compost toilet when a person performs daily coffee enemas . I know coffee grounds are compostable , but would the actual liquid coffee be a bad thing ?

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      Coffee grounds are fine, but much liquid in a composting toilet will cause odor issues, so enough sawdust or other cover material would have to be added to absorb it all.

  5. Betsaida Jimenez says:

    Hi! My boyfriend and I started living tiny 6 months ago in a motor home we’re remodelling. The toilet is atrocious and I’m hoping to convert to a composting toilet. I was wondering how long it takes before having to switch out the container in this setup.
    Thanks! ^_^

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      It really depends on how much use it gets. You don’t need to switch it until it’s full because the sawdust handles any odor issues.

  6. Angel says:

    I’m using 2 buckets.1 bucket for number 1.1 bucket for number 2.i’m going to have to use peat moss or the coconut fiber.not sure witch one is the best.can u help with that?a few more questions.do I need to stir my number 2 bucket?dose the peat moss need to be wet or dry when I start?does the peat moss I add after each use need to be wet or dry?i’m not sure what I’m doing here plz help!

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      I HIGHLY recommend the book Humanure Handbook. It really does a great job of explaining how to use a humanure system safely. You don’t need to use two different buckets, in fact using two will slow down the composting process. Use peat moss or coconut fiber or sawdust as a cover material inside. When your bucket is full take it outside to an enclosed compost bin to dump and use LOTS and LOTS of leaves or straw in your outdoor bin. But definitely grab a copy of the Humanure Handbook for details of how to use a composting system!

  7. Anoushka says:

    Hi, I was wondering if you could give me an estimate of the total cost of building the toilet?
    I’m doing a school project and it would really help c:

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      I created the one pictured using leftovers from other projects so I didn’t spend anything upfront. If you wanted to build one with all new materials you could probably check online at home depot or Lowe’s for an idea of costs.

  8. Bryan says:

    Question about this subject. I thought I had read that ashes could be used as a cover material as well, r/t or in place of straw. Any experience with this or information? Thanks in advance!

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      So you wouldn’t want to use ashes in place of straw in your outdoor bins because you really need that bulky carbon to keep everything composting. You can use ashes instead of sawdust in your indoor bin, they are just a little dusty.

  9. marilyn says:

    I have been homesteading for 40 years. We have used an outhouse for all that time. It does not smell unless the carbon to nitrogen ratio is not correct. We use sawdust, paper, wood ashes, and occasionally lime to keep it smelling fine. It is nothing more than a really big compost toilet. It is very handy during the day, but at night or inclement weather we use a 5 gallon compost toilet with sawdust. Now that we are getting older,(70’s) we are looking to make a bigger toilet that will require less frequent emptying. Perhaps a 17 gal. Model. It is still in the thinking and planning stage. I wish you all the best in you homestead adventure. Ours has been full of adventure, hard work, tragedy, and fun. Homesteading like old age, is not for sissies.

  10. sofie says:

    Hello Kathryn

    Thanks for this I found it really helpful
    This is all new to me and i have a few questions

    – Could I use sand ?

    – What do you use/ do about toilet paper? Do you have any good solutions to this problem

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      I’m glad you found it helpful! Sand will not break down the same way a high carbon material like sawdust, pine needles, or leaves would, so my guess is it wouldn’t work. As for toilet paper, it helps offset liquid in the system, so just use normally and cover it with your cover material.

  11. Tami Lewis says:

    We live off grid and this is exactly what we do. You’re right…. done properly there is no smell, something that surprises my guests!

  12. Laura says:

    i was wondering as you say use a 3 bucket system….can I empty the contents into a larger compost bucket? I realize this might be an unpleasant process but I have my reasons. If I did so and then covered in fresh material? Thanks!

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      You can, but it’s not going to compost down in a bucket because it won’t get the airflow that it needs like in a compost bin.

  13. Nitai Kshatriya says:

    I very delighted to find out this on the internet web website on bing, just what I was looking for : D besides stored to favorites .

  14. Pam sayle says:

    1) So,how do you turn the compost pile if it’s wet and Full of wet sawdust and hay?
    2) do you have the bucket of cover material sitting by the toilet as well?
    3) Do you have a big pile of sawdust or ash outside? I’m worried about running out of materials in the winter snow.

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      You do not need to turn a humanure pile. The Humanure Handbook has lots of details on how to successfully manage the outdoor pile here: http://humanurehandbook.com/manual.html. How people store the cover materials varies depending on their location and source of the cover materials, as well as how likely they are to be snowed in at their location. Something like wood ash is continually produced as you heat your home, so no need to store a lot of it.

      Here is a link to pictures of many humanure toilets, as well as the varied containers people use to store the cover material. http://humanurehandbook.com/album_toilets/album_toilets.html

  15. Amber says:

    I’m looking at building a composting toilet in our cabin. Do you find the composting toilet to attract bugs into your home?

    • Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard says:

      We have not used it long term. However I have not heard from anyone that does use it that it attracts bugs. If you are using ample cover material I cannot see how it would attract anything.

6 Pings/Trackbacks for "DIY Composting Toilet"
  1. […] a really simple composting toilet without separating the urine and the feces. Here is a great how to make a simple composting toilet with instructions for covering the […]

  2. […] Not having much water was hard on the hygiene front.  I brought baby wipes which helped a lot.  On the plus side, the location did have a composting toilet at a short distance away, requiring a bit of walking.  I was surprised the composting toilet did not smell at all, unlike porta potties or outhouses.  I was so impressed at the condition of the composting toilet that I have started researching DIY info such as this one. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Welcome! I’m Kathryn and I'm creating a tiny urban homestead in Portland, Oregon. Our 1/10th acre lot includes gardens, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. If you want to create an urban homestead please subscribe for email updates and let us help inspire you with baby steps to farming your backyard.
Get Your Free E-Guide!
Herbal Courses To Choose From
Contributor at the Homestead Bloggers Network