Composting Toilets: Tips, Tricks and Solving Problems
We’ve been using our composting toilet for over a year now and we’ve gone from “There’s no way that will work and smell ok” to practically writing the book on how great a composting toilet is!
With this article and video we dive deeper into some of the issues we’ve come across and a few of the biggest “grey” areas for living with a Composting Toilet.
If this is the first Composting Toilet Video and Article you’ve come across make sure to check out other articles and videos for more on what it is and how it all works: www.gonewiththewynns.com/all-composting-toilet/
We covered most of the questions below in the video, but just in case you want to read it here’s the shorthand version along with a few updates:
- Why does my toilet smell? If there is any smell it should alert you there is a problem. For us we’ve smelled odors only a couple times and that was due to the fan coming unplugged accidentally. If it smells, its likely user error that can be easily remedied. We recently did a test and used half the amount of COCO COIR we normally use, after 2 weeks of use it began to smell because there wasn’t enough compost material to cover the waste, I put a few big scoops of hydrated COCO COIR into the toilet and within 12 hours the smell was gone. It’s all about proper humidity, correct amount of compost material and the fan pulling out any smells while drying the solids bin.
- What if my Urine tank smells? Don’t eat asparagus! If it smells like Urine when the liquid tank is connected to the toilet you should check that the fan is working because it shouldn’t smell. Put 2 tablespoons of raw sugar in the urine tank for smell, you can also try leaving a cup of vinegar in the tank after dumping. We’ve also heard of people using grape pop to reduce the smell, and some people swear by a product called Bio-Kleen…we have yet to try these 2 methods. Honestly I haven’t found the perfect solution to reduce urine smell upon dumping, if you have any tricks of your own please share in the comments.
- How do I clean off the buildup of Urine on the liquid tank? Dump urine, put 3 inches of Vinegar into Urine Tank, place 1 inch of rocks in the tank and shake. Let it set for a bit and shake some more. Any caked on urine will eventually come off.
- How do I clean the Toilet after use? Spritz Water/Vinegar Mixture after going #1. If necessary wipe the bowl with a piece of Toilet paper after going #1 or #2. For us, any extra clean-up after using the toilet is rarely necessary, and no it’s not because I have good aim, it’s just the way the toilet is designed.
- How do I store and hydrate my Compost Medium? It’s often recommended to use a gallon zipper bag to hydrate the COCO COIR or Peat Moss, we prefer to break off clumps from our brick and do a ‘hands on’ hydration until the COIR feels like a slightly moist soil. We demonstrate here: How to Prep and Dump a Composting Toilet
- How much water do I need to hydrate the compost? It varies, but we typically use around 1.5 liters of water to hydrate enough COIR to fill the base up to the handle (as recommended by the toilet mfr).
- Where can I legally dump the solids? If you’re traveling by RV like us the safest place to dump is to put your waste into a 13 gallon (composting) bag and put it in the dumpster. Yes this is legal and not it’s not disgusting, there are laws that allow human waste to go into landfills so that adult and baby diapers can be thrown away with regular household refuse.
- Any Regular maintenance? Other than making sure the fan and fan filter are not clogged there’s no extra maintenance.
- Do I need to wash the base after dumping? No, any leftovers will continue to compost as you use the toilet.
- Do I need any extras? If you’re out to sea or wild camping in the middle of nowhere we’d recommend having these spare parts: Spare Fan, Spare Liquid Tank just in case, spare liquid tank cap. You can purchase an extra base if you want to continue composting before placing in a compost pile or bin. Another cool tip: put a piece of Velcro on the liquid tank and lid so you always know where the lid is.
Some of the Tips and Tricks not covered in the video:
- Can I directly connect my Urine to the old Black Tank? This can be done but the mfr does not have a kit for this so you’ll have to head down to the hardware store and create your own. I don’t think it will be too difficult if you’re replacing a toilet that is already plumbed into the black tank. One thing to be concerned about is the solidifying of urine on the tank walls. I would highly recommend you combine your black and grey tank if you re-route your urine because if you do not mix the urine with water the urine will cake onto the tank walls and may become impossible to remove.
- What about Heavy Menstruation? The composting toilet can handle heavy menstruation according to the manufacturer. If it affects the humidity of your solids base I would recommend adding an extra scoop of compost medium to counteract the moisture.
- I’m a clean freak; can I use Lysol or Bleach to clean the toilet? As long as you’re not pouring liquids down the solids tank feel free to clean or disinfect the toilet as often as you’d like.
- How long does it take to truly compost? This has long been a debate about composting any sort of waste, along with the segregated groups of “to-aerate” and “not-to-aerate”. As a general rule of thumb most of the bacteria is dead within a day, but to fully compost can take anywhere from 3-12 months. Basically the longer you can let the waste sit, the more composted it will be (assuming the conditions promote healthy compost). Wish I could give you a definitive number but there’s just too many grey areas…and I’m not a scientist.
- Can I bury my waste in the Ground? Before attempting this I would make sure you understand local laws and regulations. In theory many public lands have a Leave No Trace policy and when it comes to human waste they request you bury it a certain depth and a certain number of feet away from trails or campgrounds…so I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be able to bury your compost in the same manner, but I’d check with the proper authorities before attempting this.
- Will a Composting Toilet really change the world? We had a guy accuse us of destroying the world because we were putting our not-fully composted waste into a dumpster. Seriously people?!? Come on! We honestly believe if everyone made the switch to a composting toilet it would create a drastic change: We’d save millions of gallons of fresh water (who knows maybe CA wouldn’t be in the midst of a giant water crisis), the cities would use far less chemicals to treat sewer water, electrical consumption would go down, a composting toilet would inspire people with homes to start composting all their food waste keeping tons of “trash” out of our landfills, and our utility bills would go down! Or at least that’s our take on it.
- What’s the difference between an Air Head and a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet? We originally spoke to the owners of both companies when we were researching a composting toilet to install in our RV. I believe the Air Head has a ‘normal’ toilet seat and the liquid tank can be removed without lifting the solids base as high. Also the Air Head is more expensive. After weighing the benefits, speaking with the owners, doing some online research, and needing to reach our delivery deadline we felt the Nature’s Head was the best option for us…but that’s just our opinion so I’m not going to try and sway anyone on the subject.
- Do you Like the Dry Flush Toilet that wraps and seals waste for RV installations? Keep in mind I have zero experience with this toilet, however we have a friend who purchased this toilet and they seemed to like it. The biggest downfall to this toilet in my opinion is you’re taking human waste, that would breakdown rapidly in nature, and now you’re wrapping it in a petrol based plastic product that will poison the ground and take hundreds of years to decompose (the company claims biodegradable plastic is in the works, but their website has said this for years now). Also the cartridges that hold the plastic are expensive, so each flush costs about $1.
- What About the Separett Toilets? First thing to know is: this toilet is not a Composting Toilet! It’s basically a holding area for waste. The “RV Sized” model is the Separett Villa 7010 (also knows as the “Weekend”). At the time we were looking into composting toilets these weren’t marketed in the USA, so I haven’t done a ton of research on it. The main thing for us is Nature’s Head is made in the USA, pretty rare to find such a unique product designed and manufactured in this country (and not china or somewhere with cheap labor).
Here are my concerns with this toilet, keep in mind I’ve not seen, or used one in person:
– I wonder about the waste going directly into a bag and not being mixed with any compost material, maybe the fan is powerful enough to keep the smell from entering the coach, but you definitely would need to do a roof mount exhaust vent otherwise if you vent underneath the coach I would guess the smells will likely surround your entire RV.
– Another thing you’ll want to understand is the urine drainage process in the Separett, I believe you are required to route the urine to another tank of some sort, which could be your grey tank, but it will likely require some engineering to make it happen.
Other than those couple concerns it looks like a fine toilet for about the same price, however I’m not sure it’s a better option for RVing than our composting toilet.
If you would have asked us about a composting toilet anytime before the summer of 2013 we would have said something like “there’s no way that will work and not smell, especially in the small spaces of an RV.” We’ve been happily proven wrong and we can honestly say we love our composting toilet, not only the way it works but we love everything it stands for. So, for those of you out there that want to hate…go for it; but for those of you who are genuinely interested in making a difference, want to Wild Camp for longer, or you simply hate having to deal with a black tank, we hope all this information has been helpful…and one last time because I know I’ll get this question: Yes it does work, no it doesn’t smell and yes we really like our composting toilet.
If you’re interested in buying our same composting toilet, the best place to purchase is directly from Nature’s Head.
Larry, the owner of Nature’s Head, has offered up a special discount to everyone that reads our site. If you click the link below he’ll beat the Amazon Price:Buy From Nature's Head Directly
The main advantage of ordering direct, vs Amazon, is to make sure you get the options you need for your specific installation (i.e. do you need the spider handle? Do you need a solar fan? Do you need spare parts?) Click the link above, select your configuration (we have the Spider handle with extra Liquids Bottle) and at checkout the discount will be automatically added.
If you’re still in research mode you’ll want to visit our site just before you purchase to click the link above, otherwise the discount may not be automatically applied. If you have questions, the customer support team is extremely helpful and can be reached by email or phone which you’ll find on the Nature’s Head contact page.
Please share your tips, tricks and any thoughts you have about composting toilets in the comments below. We honestly feel if we make this taboo subject easy to talk about; the more people will become interested in greening up their Sailboat, RV, cabin and home toilets. If you need technical help please call or email Larry, we are just users of the toilet, he can better help with “more complicated” issues.