Although the off-grid lifestyle is enriching, the truth is, it requires us to give up many of the everyday comforts we take for granted.
Activities like going to the bathroom and taking a hot shower with the government's grid power are as simple as pressing a button or turning a knob. Still, it's not that simple when you're living off the grid and need to prioritize every drop of running water.
As we clearly stated in the off-grid beginner's guide and the ultimate guide to tiny homes, this lifestyle is hard work, requiring a massive amount of planning and resource management. Ask any experienced homesteader, and they will tell you the same thing.
I currently live off-grid in the New Mexico mountains, and when I started building my first tiny home, I didn't execute a clear plan for my off-grid toilet. Instead of locating a water source and narrowing down the best solution based on my situation, I tried to save time by going with a portable option — which was a huge mistake.
Three months after moving in, I realized my off-grid toilet setup was utterly inefficient, and I had to rebuild the bathroom from the ground up, which cost me a lot of time and money. Before that, I ran into similar problems with my camper when setting up my DIY solar power, so don't make the same silly mistakes I did.
I hope that by writing this article, you will better understand the types of off-grid toilets and how they work, so you can optimize your off-grid experience without the hassle of redoing the entire bathroom.
First, I'll take a few moments to hammer out the importance of water sourcing and the local laws concerning waste management. After that, I will go over three of the most popular off-grid toilet solutions and provide recommendations for some of the best models on the market.
If you get to the end of the article and you're still curious to learn more about alternative lifestyles, take a moment to explore expertly-curated content from all our categories — Digital Nomads, Tiny Homes, Off-Grid, and Van Life as well.
Living in an off-grid homestead requires cutting yourself off from the city utility lines, meaning you'll need to tap an independent water source and comply with the local laws regarding waste management.
In my experience, finding a full-time off-grid water source that's clean and reliable is a challenging task that demands a lot of money and resources.
My suggestion is to take your time and follow through with careful planning, so you don't end up wasting valuable resources and precious time on a frustrating rebuild that you could have avoided with a little bit of due diligence. Either way, here are two pro tips to help you sort out your off-grid toilet situation with ease.
Any standard flush toilet uses vast amounts of water on a single flush, making it a significant resource drain for your supply of clean water. As a result, getting rid of your regular toilet is the first thing to do if you're trying to live a more self-sufficient and eco-friendly life off the power grid.
As stated, the best solution for off-grid toilets is to locate an underwater vein on your property. Although water sourcing is an expensive undertaking that requires a lot of money and resources, it's well worth it in the long haul.
The alternative is to find an accessible water source in your vicinity and refill as needed.
Luckily, there are a few off-grid toilet options that won't require you to set up a fully functioning water system on your property — and I will outline a few of the best ones below.
There are a few restrictions and regulations concerning human waste that you'll need to be aware of before you start building your off-grid toilet.
Most states decree that every property has at least some sort of waste management system in place. However, there is no mandate to use the city utilities with a fully-functioning septic system. Instead, you fulfill a list of specific criteria.
For the most part, this means there are certain restrictions on waste disposal methods and compost management. Consider the above mostly a formality, as the state can't force anybody to make any significant costly alterations to their property, like dig a septic tank.
Aside from issues discovered during the initial routine inspection, most of the potential problems arising from poor waste management usually stem from other residents that might complain about how you're handling things.
But for that to happen, you'll need to be incredibly neglectful when it comes to maintaining your off-grid toilet.
Suppose you don't take care of waste management correctly. In that case, nearby residents will notice the terrible smell coming from your sewage, jeopardizing your entire project, not to mention the health and safety of your neighbors.
With that said, certain states have restrictions on composting toilets, but those are few and far between.
In general, as long as you have designated compost spots on your property and you make sure to follow any state-mandated waste management restrictions, you should have no issues.
Some of the most commonly used off-grid toilets fall under the composting toilets category. There's also the less-talked-about option of incinerator toilets and a wide array of temporary solutions to consider.
Below, I'll do my best to outline the essential qualities of different off-grid toilets while providing a first-hand account of the pros and cons of each type.
When reading, remember that there is no clear-cut best option for setting up a proper toilet and waste management system at an off-the-grid location.
Which type is ideal for your situation largely depends on the specific resources at your disposal, the location of your property, and the waste management methods that are open to you.
Luckily, all of the options on this list are pretty viable in their own right, so you won't have any trouble finding a sanitary off-grid toilet solution that meets your needs. Otherwise, OptOutLiving has articles covering van life toilets and tiny home appliances, so don't forget to dig into those for more ideas about alternative lifestyles.
Composting toilets are a type of toilet (dry) that uses natural materials in place of water to decompose your poop via a composting process.
There are a few different brands of composting toilets, and most of them have slight differences in their design and functionality.
One of the best-selling dry toilets on the current market is the Nature's Head composting toilet. I'll use this model as my prime example when explaining how composting toilets work.
This particular compost toilet has three sections - the toilet seat, the compost bin, and the liquid bin. The uppermost section (the toilet seat) has a latch that attaches it to the compost bin, and it holds the ventilation port and the sorting handle.
Don't forget to cut a hole in the wall for the ventilation port. Put it behind (or next to) the toilet so the hose can expel the odors outside the bathroom. The "sorting handle" is the small lever at the side of the seat. Use it to empty the contents of the bowl into the appropriate compost container.
Simply put, the two holding tanks (liquid and compost) are separated, and depending on the nature of your visit, you'll need to open the appropriate port before sitting down and getting on with business.
The liquid container is at the front of the toilet, and you can take it out by slightly lifting the seat and removing the container from the holder.
There's no way to tell how often you'll have to empty the contents of this off-grid toilet on the compost pile since that depends on how many people use it. The good news is that the whole process is quick and painless for the most part.
And finally, we have the compost bin located below the seat and just behind the liquid container. It's pretty self-explanatory how the liquid portion of the toilet functions, but the solid waste will be a bit more challenging to manage.
First, you need to buy peat moss or sawdust, pour some in the compost bin, and add water.
The compost bin contains an S-shaped metal rod (on the inside) marking the approximate fill level. The metal rod is called an agitator, it's connected to a crank on the outside of the toilet, and it shifts the container's contents by turning the crank.
After adding ingredients to the agitator, pour enough water to soften the mix and loosen the crank. To use again, block off the solid compost section with the lever, and turn the crank so that the poop easily integrates with the sawdust or the peat moss.
Some people say that you can reliably use the toilet more than forty times before you need to empty the compost bin, but in my experience, the easiest way to know is to check and see how difficult it is to turn the handle.
Once the handle is hard to turn, you know it's time to unlatch the bin and seat and empty the contents in a plastic bag or bury it on your property.
Afterward, you can use the compost to manure, toss it outside, or dispose of it with the regular trash.
As stated earlier, there are a few different compost toilet brands with a solid reputation among the off-grid community.
The one mentioned above - Nature's Head - is probably the most popular due to the compact size and affordable prices, but I also recommend Sun-Mar toilets.
There are only a few slight differences between these two off-grid toilets worth mentioning. The Sun-Mar has one section for liquid and solid waste, and the crank is on the front instead of the side.
Additionally, this toilet doesn't have sections; you add the peat through the toilet seat, and it has a small, removable tray at the bottom for convenient disposal.
Summary: Nature's Head is a cheaper alternative, slightly under $1000. Just take note it's a bit more challenging to set up and clean. Sun-Mar is generally easier to use, but it's almost double the price and takes up twice as much space in your bathroom.
An incinerating toilet is an alternative off-grid toilet option that uses fire to manage solid waste instead of water. A lot of people like incinerator models because they are effective waterless toilets.
Similar to composting toilets, you'll want to hook up a ventilation pipe to help fumigate your bathroom or outhouse. The vent will expel the heat generated from the incineration process, so you'll want to run it beyond any trees, plants, or other flammable materials.
If you add ash to the mix, it's a good idea to have a metal container or covering below to collect any debris, although most of it will gather in the bin just below the toilet seat.
Incinerator toilets use bowl liners that need to be placed in the bowl before you use it. While purchasing them from the original distributor might be a bit pricey, you may get lucky and find some cheaper alternatives on Amazon.
The mechanics are the same regardless of where you buy your incinerator toilet. Use the side lever to make sure waste goes down into the incinerator. Bowl liners make sure that the waste is contained and falls into the incinerator when you open the latch, meaning less cleaning.
Another benefit of incinerator toilets is they get rid of toilet paper. After you drop the waste and the bowl closes again, press the pedal to start the incineration process. The process usually takes around 15 minutes and is very noisy.
Ash is significantly more straightforward to get rid of than human waste or even compost, so this toilet might initially look like a better alternative to the standard composting toilet system. However, there's a huge issue that I need to address.
This toilet requires a lot of electricity to achieve the necessary temperature, which means it needs to be plugged into a power socket at all times. On top of that, the power required to run this toilet is more than a standard solar panel can produce.
There's also the issue of noise pollution. Even for an average-sized home, incinerator toilets are noisy, meaning they will cause a significant disturbance for tiny houses.
Finally, setup and installation require a lot of knowledge and technical skills. Consider this your warning.
When it comes to incinerator toilets, the most famous brand is the Incinolet, and their models come at around $2000.
While the off-grid toilets listed above are some of the best models for homesteading purposes, it might be helpful to list a few alternatives for people who aren't looking to go off the grid permanently.
If you're only looking to get away for a few weeks and don't want to dig a ditch for an outhouse, then there are a few viable alternatives for off-grid toilets.
The Stansport portable camp toilet is essentially a toilet seat over a 5-gallon bucket, with the option to add a plastic bag under the seat.
The plastic bag will allow you to clean up after yourself much more quickly, but it'll reduce the eco-friendly options you have when it comes to disposing of the waste.
On the other hand, keeping the bucket as-is will mean throwing out the contents and cleaning the bucket immediately; otherwise, things will start to get malodorous.
The Thetford porta potty is another choice for anyone who needs a toilet while on the move.
The Thetford is an inexpensive option that's easy to transport and has a 4-gallon water tank that allows you to flush the contents of the upper section into the bin at the bottom.
After that, you can dispose of the black or greywater at a designated dumping location of your choice. These are my choices for some of the best off-grid toilet options on the market, but you can easily find alternatives that suit your needs better with a basic search.
Setting up your off-grid toilet can be a bit of a pain, especially if you're new to this whole eco-friendly lifestyle.
However, as long as you know your budget and take the time to explore all the different types, you should have no issues finding an off-grid toilet that meets your needs for the long term.
If you have questions, feedback, or other positive recommendations, feel free to reach out to us on social media and share your experiences with off-grid toilets. Otherwise, stay tuned for more in-depth articles featuring pro tips, hacks, and expert recommendations for off-grid living and beyond.