Love Your DIY Bucket Toilet

I love my toilet.  I honestly never thought I’d say that.  Who even gives that much thought to their toilet?

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It all started when I was working on my tiny home while trying to move into it.  I was using a Luggable Loo at night, but I had access to a real toilet during the day.  As it turned out, I didn’t have to use the Luggable Loo that often; it was just nice to have.

But, the time came when I needed to feel more independent so I started using it more frequently.  It felt low to the ground and the seat felt chintzy.  It was functional and it didn’t smell, but it wasn’t comfortable.

Then, one day, it was full.  Now, with a bucket toilet, you should always have two buckets–one to empty and clean while the other is in use.  I had this.  The seat for the Luggable Loo is supposed to fit any five gallon bucket — but, it didn’t.  It wouldn’t snap onto my second bucket and, while I did push it hard, I was also afraid of breaking the seat.  I didn’t break the seat, but I never got it to snap properly on the second bucket and it was a weird kind of circus act sitting on it while making sure the seat was kind of on the bucket and not going to slide off.  This wasn’t going to work.

Make Your Own Box Toilet

wood cube
This is not my cube, but it’s the same result

Within one day, I had my box toilet built and installed.  I purchased six 24″ birch squares from my local DIY building center and two square dowels two inches by two inches.  My son cut the boards down to 18 inches square because that’s the average height of a toilet.  From there, I simply created a cube from the squares, adding the two inch square dowels in the corners for support,  and used a piano hinge to create an opening lid on the cube.

 Finally, I cut a hole in the top for the opening of the seat and installed a gray toilet seat through the top board.  That toilet seat made all the difference.  With the box and the solid seat, my composting toilet is solid, warm, and quiet.  Most of all, it doesn’t smell and it’s easy to clean.

A cube lends itself to a lot of design possibilities, but the geek in me has settled on a Portal Companion Cube as the inspired design for this toilet.  To accomplish this, I will cover it with EVA foam, using Plasti-Dip, paint and marine-grade resin to make it durable and cleanable.

Operating A Composting Bucket Toilet

Composting toilets, on average, are $1,200 – $1,500 to install.  This was not an option for me.  There are some debates over what to use as filler or cover and whether or not to divert urine from solid waste so I’ll try to clear this up.

To Divert or Not To Divert

The major argument for diverting urine is that urine, by itself, is sterile and doesn’t smell, but mixing it with poo makes the toilet smell unbearable.  Mixing liquids and solids makes it fill faster and, depending on your cover material, urine can also make the bucket quite heavy when you go to empty it.

The argument against diverting is that having two buckets is a hassle and, if you use the right cover material, there is no smell.  There are also special considerations such as certain times of the month for females and those times when solids and liquids come out together unexpectedly.  Also, children have a hard time if you’re using a two bucket system and may not hit the diverter in a one bucket system.  Cleaning the diverter screen is an unpleasant job.

I mix liquids and solids in my single bucket system and have never had a problem with smell or flies.  If I let the bucket get more than 3/4 full, there is some smell.  Also, if ever I start to notice a smell, it’s usually because there is a need for more cover.  Nevertheless, I add a little garden lime to help dry out the pile and neutralize aciditiy.  My cover material helps me make sure the bucket is never too heavy to take out to the compost piles.

Cover Materials

bucket toilet covers

I’ve always seen sawdust and peat moss as the most frequently recommended cover materials.  Based on this article, though, I opted for a bag labeled compost and mulch.  This was not what the article was referring to.  It was like composted soil which meant that it did a terrible job of absorbing the urine and was super heavy to take out.

My next experiment was with wood mulch.  It’s cheap; cheaper than peat moss.  It was easy to obtain from my local DIY store and didn’t create much of a mess. This worked well but was still heavy when it came time to remove the bucket.  It also was a little unpleasant to look at and doesn’t seem to be reducing very fast in my compost bins.

Finally, I’ve settled on pet bedding made of natural wood shavings.  Sawdust is not readily available to me.  Pet bedding comes compressed and is lightweight which is a huge consideration in winter when you have to refill the cover bucket.  It’s highly absorbant so I don’t have to use filler every time I pee and it remains odor-free.  It’s lightweight when I have to take it out.

Refer to the article when making your own informed decision for filler or cover materials.

Using Your Composting Bucket Toilet

  1. Put a small amount of filler in the bottom of your five gallon bucket.  One to two inches is enough.
  2. Put bucket in place.  It’s ready to use.
  3.  Go to the bathroom as you normally would. Unless you’re using a diverter or two bucket system, this is no different than using any other toilet.
  4. Use cover material.  I keep a metal pet food scoop in a stylish kitchen trash can next to the toilet.   It matches the intended decor and there wasn’t room for a more hidden cover material storage solution in my tiny bathroom.
  5. Replace full bucket with newly prepared bucket.  Empty in your compost pile. Cover with dry materials if contents seem to moist or if there is an odor.
  6. Rinse bucket and let sit in the sun to sanitize.  The filler you placed in the bottom should have kept contents from sticking making cleaning easier.

For more information, the Humanure Handbook comes highly recommended.