18 Common Questions People Ask About Composting Toilets

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Composting toilets, or off-grid toilets, are becoming more popular for people who live off-grid, in tiny houses, or want to reduce their environmental footprint. Compost toilets use natural processes to break down human waste and turn it into compost.

But composting toilets do not work like normal toilets. If you are planning on installing one on your property, you should know the common questions people have so you are best prepared for managing and maintaining your composting toilet.

We have previously written about the basics of composting toilets, the different types of composting toilets options available, and our 6 favorite off-grid toilet systems. But if you’re considering installing a composting toilet in your home, you’ll likely have questions.

In this blog post, we’ll give you the answers you’re looking for. Read below to learn more.

outdoor toilet paper

1. How Does a Composting Toilet Work?

Composting toilets use natural processes to break down human waste into compost. These biological processes involve a combination of microbes, bacteria, and fungi. These aerobic microorganisms use a process to break down the waste and transform it into compost.

The following are the two types of composting toilet systems:

  • Self-Contained: Self-contained composting toilets are standalone toilets that hold both the toilet itself and the composting bin.
  • Central Toilets: Central composting toilets have a separate bin located away from the toilet.

2. What Are the Benefits of a Composting Toilet?

As an alternative to traditional flush toilets, composting toilets come with many benefits. These include:

  • Environmental Friendliness: Compost toilets don’t use water, and there are many composting toilet systems that do not require electricity or fuel. So, you can reduce your carbon footprint and water waste by using these toilets. Additionally, you can make your own organic compost and apply it to non-edible plants on your property.
  • Off-Grid Living: Many homesteaders rely on compost toilets because the toilets don’t need to be connected to a plumbing system. You can have a septic tank on your property to divert the waste from your compost toilet. Otherwise, you can have a self-contained toilet system that stores the waste near the toilet.
  • Cost Savings: Since you don’t need to install or maintain plumbing systems, composting toilets will save you money in the long run.

off grid toilet

3. Are Composting Toilets Legal?

In most parts of the United States, composting toilets are legal. Still, it’s essential to check with local regulations.

Note that in some areas, composting toilets may be legal but subject to specific rules.

Please also note that some places may have regulations that go beyond the toilet itself. For example, there may be regulations on how you should dispose of or use the compost from your composting toilet.

There are 11 states that accept composting toilets, and they are:

  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

7 US states do not have regulations regarding composting toilets, and they are:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma

The remaining 32 states have some regulations on composting toilets. To learn more about the specific regulation for your state, see a detailed list of which states allow for composting toilets.

4. Do Composting Toilets Smell?

Manufacturers designed composting toilets to be odorless. But, like traditional toilets, they can start to smell bad if you don’t properly maintain them.

The key to keeping your composting toilet odor-free is to make sure that the composting process is moving along correctly and that the toilet is well-ventilated.

One of the leading causes of odor in a composting toilet is too much moisture. Moisture may accumulate if too much urine is added to the composting bin or if your toilet isn’t properly ventilated. To prevent moisture from building up, ensure that the urine and solid waste are kept separate and that the toilet’s composting bin is well-ventilated. A urine-diverting toilet is made specifically to keep solid waste separate from urine.

Another reason why your composting toilet may smell bad is incomplete composting. If the composting process isn’t proceeding smoothly, it may lead to odors and a buildup of waste in the composting bin. To stop this from happening, you may wish to regularly add composting material (i.e., wood chips, peat moss, and coconut coir) to the bin and make sure it’s adequately aerated.

Finally, you’ll want to take time to maintain and clean your toilet to prevent odors. You can do this by wiping down the toilet regularly with a damp washcloth, cleaning the composting bin, spraying organic distilled vinegar on the dry toilet after use, and ensuring the toilet’s adequately ventilated.

To recap, with proper maintenance and ventilation, your composting toilet shouldn’t produce any noticeable foul odors. If you do notice smells, take the steps we’ve mentioned to address the underlying cause.

5. How Often Do You Need to Empty a Composting Toilet?

outhouse toiletHow often you need to empty your composting toilet depends on how big your composting toilet is, how many people use it, and how often people use it. With that said, you’ll need to empty certain composting toilet models every few weeks. Other models can go a few months without being emptied. Septic tanks should be emptied and cleaned every 3-5 years.

Most models of composting toilets come with separate compartments for liquids and solids. The liquids drain into a separate container, while the solids fall into a composting bin. Some models come with a rotating drum or other mechanisms that help break down the solids and speed up the composting process.

Note that while your composting bin fills up, you’ll want to add composting materials like sawdust or coconut coir regularly. This helps maintain the right balance of carbon and moisture to make the composting process more effective.

6. Can You Use a Composting Toilet in the Winter?

Yes, you can safely use a composting toilet during the winter. But in colder temperatures, the composting process may slow down. This slowdown occurs because the microorganisms that break down the waste become less active in very cold weather.

To help the composting process move along smoothly when the temperature drops, certain composting toilet models come with heaters or insulation. We suggest using these if you are located in regions that can have freezing weather during the colder months. Still, keep in mind these types of composting toilets require fuel or electricity to function properly.

7. How Much Do Composting Toilets Cost?

The cost of a composting toilet will vary depending on what model you buy and what features are included. But, in general, prices range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

8. Do You Need to Add Anything to the Composting Toilet?

outdoor composting toiletThe answer to this question depends on what kind of composting toilet you have. Some models will work better if you add composting material, such as sawdust or coconut coir, to help speed up the composting process. Other toilets may need a nearby garbage bag to toss toilet paper. Additionally, some toilets may need a separate funnel to divert urine from the primary composting chamber.

If you intend to make your own composting toilet, you will need to source individual parts so you can construct your own off-grid toilet.

9. Can You Use a Composting Toilet for Both Solid and Liquid Waste?

Yes, almost all composting toilets are designed to handle both solid and liquid waste. Still, we suggest keeping solid waste separate from liquid waste. When in a single compost tank, urine and solid wastes can emit a foul odor and create an environment to foster harmful pathogens.

Fortunately, if you find yourself with extra urine, you can repurpose it and use it as a urine fertilizer. Urine is an organic fertilizer that is filled with nutrients to help plants grow. To learn more, consider reading our article on how to dispose of urine from composting toilets as well as our article on how to dispose of human waste from compost toilets.

10. Can You Install a Composting Toilet in an RV?

portable toiletYes, there are composting toilet models specifically designed for RVs and other mobile homes. Composting toilets are also often self-contained, so they’ll work well while you’re on the road.


11. How Do You Clean a Composting Toilet?

We suggest cleaning a composting toilet at least every 3 months. Like regular toilets, they need to be cleaned regularly to make sure the area remains sanitary.

Using natural and organic cleaning products would be ideal for a composting toilet. Some examples of products that are safe to use are organic cleaning vinegar or Nature Flush Enzymes. These are powerful, antibacterial substances that are safe to use for cleaning.

But generally speaking, composting toilets don’t need much labor to clean. All you need to do is remove any solids and toilet paper from the bin when it gets full and add more composting material as needed.

In terms of your composting chamber, where the waste is stored, it should be cleaned yearly. And septic tanks should be cleaned once every 3-5 years.

12. How Long Does It Take for the Compost to Be Ready?

Again, the answer to this question will vary depending on the model of your composting toilet and the conditions in which you use it.

After you empty your compost bin, the compost may be ready in as little as a few weeks to as long as a couple of months.

13. Can You Use Compost From a Composting Toilet as Fertilizer?

Yes, compost from a composting toilet works effectively as fertilizer. The compost made in your composting toilet is rich in nutrients and can fertilize the soil around non-edible plants, trees, and gardens.

It’s important to note that you should ensure the compost has fully decomposed before you use it as fertilizer. This process can take a few months.

Please don’t forget to follow proper sanitation guidelines when you handle and use the compost. This means you should wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after handling the compost. Moreover, it would be best to avoid using the compost from a composting toilet on edible plants to avoid any contamination from human waste.

14. Can You Use a Composting Toilet in a Tiny Home?

Yes, just like in RVs, composting toilets are an excellent option for tiny homes. This is because there are certain models available that take up less space than traditional flush toilets.

15. How Do You Maintain a Composting Toilet?

Separating Compost ToiletMaintaining a composting toilet is simple and shouldn’t give you much trouble. There are a few basic guidelines you should follow to ensure the composting process is effective and odor-free.

First, as mentioned earlier, you should remember to regularly add composting material like sawdust or coconut coir to the composting bin. Doing so will help maintain the right balance of moisture and carbon within the bin.

Next, remember to regularly empty the liquids container as well as the composting bin. We’ve discussed this in a previous point. But to reiterate, how often you’ll need to do this will depend on how big your toilet is and how often people in your home use it.

Additionally, it’s important to keep your toilet clean and free of any debris or foreign objects. You can do this by wiping the toilet with a moist cloth and using a small brush to clean the composting bin.

Finally, you’ll want to track the composting process to ensure that it’s moving along nicely. You don’t need to check every day. But it’s essential to keep your eyes peeled for any odors or signs of incomplete composting.

16. What is the Best Compostable Material for Reducing Smell?

Composting material is used to improve the quality of your compost. The effect it has on your compost depends on the type of composting material you use. When it comes to composting material for off-grid toilets, we suggest the following:

  • Coconut CoirCoconut coir is the fur fibers of a coconut. Coconut coir carries “good bacteria” that speed up the composting process.
  • Peat MossPeat moss helps retain nutrients that can be lost in the composting process due to leaching. Peat moss also helps reduce the odor and regulates the moisture and air in a compost pile.
  • SawdustSawdust, like wood chips, add carbon to your compost pile, which can help achieve a carbon-nitrogen balance.

You should pick the composting material that is best for your needs.

Pro Tip: Add compost material to your compost pile after finishing number 2.

17. Do Composting Toilets Need Water?

cartridge composting toiletNo, most composting toilets are designed to function properly without the need for water to work properly. In fact, a composting toilet system is often referred to as a dry toilet for this reason.

Since these toilets are not dependent on water, it means they are independent of the sewer water system. This makes a composting toilet a good option for those living on an off-grid homestead or in a mobile home.

Since there is no water in use, your composting toilet may start to smell bad. It is important to use a room with proper air circulation and to clean the area on a regular basis.

Pro Tip: We suggest having a small spray bottle with organic vinegar and applying it after each bathroom usage.

Still, you should know some states require you to have a flush composting toilet. There are some micro-flush composting toilets that require a small amount of water to function. Micro-flush toilets can be connected to a water tank or septic tank and pull water from a river or lake.

18. Do Composting Toilets Need Electricity?

biogas toiletSince most composting toilets function without flushing, they do not need electricity. However, for ventilation, you will likely need a small fan than runs on electricity.

To help reduce odor, we suggest adding compost material to your compost pile.

Also, you should know about HomeBioGas Incinerator Toilets. They are a type of off-grid toilet that uses electricity, 1.5-2 kilowatts of electricity per cycle to burn waste at 970 to 1400°F (500-750°C) and convert it into ash. These types of toilets can also function or propane gas as an alternative to electricity. 

off grid toilet

Final Thoughts

In short, composting toilets are great if you want to live off-grid, in a tiny house, or simply live a more sustainable lifestyle. They’re legal in most areas, don’t require plumbing, and produce compost that you can use as fertilizer for non-edible plants. If you decide that a composting toilet is for you, make sure to do your research to find a model that works best for your needs.

We hope we were able to answer some of your questions and that these answers helped you better understand composting toilets.

If you are interested in living on a homestead, it is important to learn about off-grid plumbing. But it is also important to learn about other useful skills like food storage, soapmaking, and water purification. To see our full checklist of items all aspiring homesteaders should learn, check out our article on How to Become Self-Sufficient.

To see our 6 favorite off-grid toilet options and how to build your own composting toilet, consider reading our article on the topic.

If you have any specific questions about composting toilets, feel free to contact us, and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

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