How To Make Your Own DIY Composting Toilet

How To Make Your Own DIY Composting ToiletIf 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, and reduce your impact on the environment.

Knowing how to make a composting toilet can open up new living possibilities such as cheap land, or your own mortgage free tiny house.

Skills such as a homemade composting toilet, handwashing your laundry, or living without a fridge seem extreme to most people.

However, 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.

If you’d like a printable copy of these instructions to put in your emergency supplies, or to take to the store with you, you can purchase a downloadable PDF for 99 cents.

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.

For some reason, 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.  It’s entertaining, yet informative.

If you want a more in depth look at composting toilets The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins is the way to go.   The Humanure Handbook can also be downloaded for free here.

If you want more homestead related books, feel free to check out our resource page!

To get the printable copy of these instructions to put in your emergency supplies, or to take to the store with you, purchase the downloadable PDF for 99 cents.

 

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84 thoughts on “How To Make Your Own DIY Composting Toilet”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

    • I’d suggest not putting the toilet in the garden due to cross contamination risks. But like Kathryn said, after it has been properly composted, it’s safe.

  3. 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 ?

    • 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.

  4. 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! ^_^

    • 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.

  5. 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!

    • 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!

      • Hi! ..really valuable info ESPECIALLY for a SHTF scenario in the city!..is it ok to leave full #2 bucket covered with coconut coir or such in a garage/closet or should a tightly sealed lid be put on it?… or how about transferring it to a heavy duty garbage bag? If transferred to a bag should it be loosely closed off or tightly twisted closed off?? Thank you sooo much!! I just love learning about this crap 🙂

        • It will not break down and compost in the bucket or bag, because it needs air. However,that would be a way to keep it contained until getting it to a larger aerated bin.

  6. 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:

    • 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.

  7. 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!

    • 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.

    • I am 60 years old now and have used composting toilets all my life, Wood ashes works well for a cover and saw dust works well, peat moss works well, coconut fiber works well, so here is my 2 cents on it. Here is a huge hint Always use a dry cover. The dry cover helps soak up moisture.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

    • 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.

      • Hi, how about a diverter for liquids for the number 1 to reduce the moisture content. Not sure how it could be added to the design.

        • The moisture is needed to help reach an internal temperature high enough to kill pathogens. If it’s much too high, simply use a different bucket for quick trips.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

    • 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.

      • Hi there, I’m using a wheelie bin for my compost toilet.. just wondering if I need to do anything once it’s full such as empty it for airflow or can I just leave it? I’m using sawdust but it’s not the finest sawdust so I hope it still works properly!
        Thanks!

        • Yes, you’ll want to move it to a larger bin with more airflow and add more carbon, such as straw or leaves. It won’t break down with just sawdust in an enclosed bin.

          • Hi there… We too have a wheelie bin but as our second container. We empty our small (17L) inside when it is full, into the wheelie bin and then cover the contents with straw (about 2-3 inches) and leave the lid open but covered with a deep corrugated steel plate for ventilation/keeping the rain out. Do you think that this will allow it to decompose properly? Thanks.

            BTW, this thread has been most useful so thanks for taking the time to maintain it!! 🙂

          • I think if your second container can hold 3 feet by 3 feet it should be good. If it’s smaller than that you won’t reach hot enough temperatures.

            Glad it’s useful to you!

  12. 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 .

  13. 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.

    • 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

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

    • The urine should not be separated all the time as it helps with composting process. However, the wetter it is the more cover material you will need.

  15. Hello! I’m not sure if this question has been asked. But what do you think is the best way to get rid of a full bucket if you are currently mobile and without a permanent location? Im usually in one location for less than a week. What’s the easiest, most sanitary, and most polite way to get rid of it?

    • I think if you are mobile it’s a good idea be aware of local laws. Also perhaps an RV toilet might be a better option because then you can use local dump stations. Here’s an interesting article that talks about composting toilets versus convention RV toilets, but also has some links from people who have successfully used composting toilets in their RV near the bottom of the article. http://roadslesstraveled.us/dirty-little-secrets-rv-dump-station/

    • You can get composting bags and dump the bucket in one (you may not want to wait until it’s full depending on the size of the bags) and dispose of them in a dumpster. Any place that accepts diapers and tampons/pads is suitable.

      A better solution if you’re in a park with pit toilets might be to dispose of it there.

  16. Hi.I was wondering if I could use coal dust as a cover material? Or could I use fresh cut grass (I’m a gardener)also could I use wood waste from when I chainsaw my logs ? Let me know thanks Paul.

    • I’m not familiar enough with coal dust to know if it would work. Grass clippings will be too big to use as a cover material for the indoor bin, but can go into the outdoor bin. Wood waste from chainsawing would probably be perfect for in or out.

  17. How on earth does number 2 not smell even if covered with sawdust??? And what if I choose not to compost how do I dispose of the bucket?

    • The trick with sawdust is it needs to be very fine to provide an immediate odor barrier. The sawdust also is vital to encouraging the aerobic bacteria needed to break it down into a safe state. If you do not compost or compost at a high heat, this IS NOT a safe method to use. The composting is vital to killing off any potential pathogens.

      If you’re not interested in composting, I suggesting using a portable toilet where you can empty the contents directly into a flush toilet where it can be safely treated at the water treatment plant. Here’s an example of that kind.

        • I haven’t heard much in regards to which sawdust is best, although cedar does have properties that make it take a long time to break down. So if you notice slow composting and are using cedar, maybe try a different sawdust.

      • Thanks for this informative site..I am starting to use a commercial compost bucket loo for when im gardening. I hate having to take off gloves, boots etc. to go inside just for a quick pee! I was wondering whether it would be possible to use bokashi in addition to the dry matter since it works in anaerobic conditions? I use bokashi for household scraps and it works well.

  18. I see you built the toilet, but have you actually used it? I’m concerned that the MDF particle board may not be sturdy enough to support an adult’s weight and the movement of getting on and off it is going to break the screws/nails out of the board. There seems to be a need for cross bracing to keep it from getting severe wobble.

    • We did do testing of it to make sure that it was a legitimate emergency plan. My 300 pound husband also has used it, however, if you wanted it for daily use, some cross bracing or higher quality wood would be a good idea. (Also, the plywood pictured is very scratchy, so something else to keep in mind when selecting wood).

  19. Hi there, thank you for the info! From my research I’ve seen that generally a plastic bucket is used under the toilet. Would it be ok for me to use a metal one?
    Many thanks!

  20. The French music festival Le Son Continu uses compost toilets, and although after four days they were beginning to get a teensy bit ripe, they were by far the best bogs I’ve ever used at a festival. Much, much better than chemical toilets.

  21. In my part of the world sawdust is very hard to come by. Is anyone using fine dry sand (I have a lot of 2 million year old seasand on my land) or any kind of sand instead of sawdust? I reckon it would be just as effective, but haven’t built our composting loo yet.

  22. Thanks for the interesting project, Kathryn. I have no idea how old this post is but I thought you might like to know that the wood you used in your pictures is not plywood – and your description may be a source of confusion to some readers. Your pictures show CHIPBOARD, which is probably the cheapest way to go, being inferior in strength and durability to plywood, given the same dimensions.

    Plywood (see Wikipedia) consists of full-width layers of thinly sliced board. Each layer (a sixteenth to an eighth of an inch thick, typically, “peeled” of the log in sheets by impressive machinery) is bonded across the grain of the preceding one, making the board a lot stronger than the random assembly of the wood chips bonded together in chipboard.

    Predictably, the surface of plywood is not as “scratchy” as the chipboard alternative. Typically, plywood, that has its edges hidden, is indistinguishable from a solid wood board, to the casual observer. In any case, sanding, two coats of varnish (or paint) and a final light sanding would tend to remove most of the discomfort, accordingly, from any board product – as well as improving the hygiene aspects of having a sealed, cleanable surface.

  23. Hi! What would you suggest I could clean the sides of the chute to my toilet with, please? I’ve been told to use vinegar, but I’m concerned about killing off microbes. Thanks for the information you’ve provided here too!

    • If you’re just using a spray bottle or damp paper towel with vinegar on the sides of the bucket it should be fine! That won’t affect the beneficial microbes much.

  24. i agree that compost toilets don’t smell bad but do we need a compost bin with a lid to dump the waste from the compost toilet?

  25. Hi
    We have a large number of cats, and we use wood pellets as cat litter. Once used it turns to wet sawdust.
    My question is, can I use the used cat litter in the same way and make compost? If I can, how do I stop the used pellets, which have soaked the urine up, smelling of ammonia?
    I have heard of composting toilets, but it never occurred to me that I could possibly use the spent cat litter.

    • You can compost pet waste. I would recommend reading the Humanure Handbook, or Gene Logdon’s book for details on how to do it safely.

  26. I would like to try this system and was wondering if when composting could I substitute dry sugar cane mulch for the straw?. I can’t get straw anywhere but I can get the SC mulch from the landscape supplier.

  27. According to Joseph Jenkins’ “Humanure Compost Toilet System Condensed Instruction Manual” (p. 3), wood ash or coal ash are NOT suitable for cover material!! Microorganisms do not eat ash, and ash raises the pH of the organic mass, which hinders the reproduction of the microorganisms, which is bad. You want those little guys to thrive! Ash IS good for the SOIL in your garden, but it’s bad for compost and should never be added to the composting toilet or outdoor composting bins.

  28. I have a mission in Eastern Uganda. We care for the needy in 3 small, rural villages. We don’t know how old the villages are, but they probably started up a short time after the AIDS epidemic and the massacre of Idi Amin. So the people are traumatized and many have lost the motivation needed to provide their own necessities.

    Most of the villagers have minute houses with a latrine nearby. Some families, however, have never built a latrine, and now that the villages are becoming more crowded, there is more danger that barefoot children will be sickened by fecal droppings.

    The underground water table in Uganda is chose to the surface of the earth, and I was concerned that the current latrines might be contaminating the ground water. We know that the water table under Africa is drying up, but we have no way to check that in our area except through a dowser who operates on intuition. So it’s probably safer to now to provide composting toilets instead of more latrines. Also, free compost can only be a good thing for our people.

    One concern is that the villagers may not maintain sanitary conditions with composting toilets. We have no way to monitor this consistently in the outlying areas. Another is that we don’t have sawdust, and since we have been replacing many wood fires with solar powered equipment, we may not have enough ashes. I would appreciate any comments and/or suggestions that you might have for us.

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