Off-Grid Toilet: Sanitary Toilet Solutions for Off-Grid Living

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED May 27, 2021

An off-grid toilet
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Off-grid living means giving up on a few of the everyday comforts that many of us take for granted most of the time.

When we say “everyday comforts,” the first thing that many people are going to think of is probably the internet.

However, anyone that’s spent any amount of time in an off-grid cabin without any running water knows which comfort is the most difficult to let go of.

Sustainability

Living in an off-grid home will mean cutting yourself off from the city utility lines, which means that you’re going to need your own water source.

This will require trying to find an underground water vein on your property, which is a costly project and very rarely works. The alternative is to fill up water bottles at a freshwater source outside of your property every day.

What we’re trying to say is that your water supply is going to be very scarce and much more challenging to come by than you may think. 

Any standard flush toilet uses vast amounts of water on a single flush, making it a big resource drain for your supply of clean water. This means that getting rid of your regular toilet is the first thing that you’re going to need to do if you’re trying to live a more self-sufficient and eco-friendly life.

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.

Legality

Terms of service written on a paper in a typing machine

There are a few restrictions and regulations concerning human waste that you’ll need to be aware of before you get started.

Most states will mandate that you have at least some sort of waste management system in place on your property. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be forced to install a fully functioning septic system that connects to city lines, but you’ll need to fulfill specific criteria.

Most of the time, this will simply mean that there will be certain restrictions on the methods you use to get rid of solid waste and how you manage your compost pile. This is mostly a formality, and the state can’t force you to make any significant costly alterations to your property, like dig a septic tank.

Most of the potential issues that can arise from poor waste management will come from any neighbors that might complain about how you’re handling things.

For it to come to that, you’ll need to be incredibly neglectful when it comes to maintaining and cleaning your toilet and not take any care regarding the potential odors or locations of your “dumping grounds.”

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.

Off-Grid Toilet Options

Three arrows on a ground

Some of the most commonly used off-grid toilets are those that fall under the composting toilets category.

We’ll get into them in a bit more detail further in our article, but we’re also going to draw a bit more attention to another alternative that is mainly overlooked by the tiny home community.

We’ll do our best to outline the best qualities of all of the different types of toilets that we mention, and we’ll also point out some of the most prominent flaws.

We should get out of the way early because there is no one best option when it comes to off-grid toilets. Your requirements will depend on the resources you have at your disposal, the location of your property, and the waste management methods that are open to you.

Luckily, all of the options that we’ll go over are pretty viable in their own right, so you should be fine with just about any of them.

Composting Toilet

Nature's Head composting toilet

This type of dry toilet uses natural materials in place of water to decompose your poop.

There are a few different brands of composting toilets, and most of them have slight differences in the ways they’re built and how they’re operated.

One of the better composting toilets that you can currently find on the market is the Nature's Head composting toilet, so we’ll use it as our 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.

A hole will need to be made in the wall just behind or next to the toilet to pass the vent hose through and expel the odors outside the bathroom.

We refer to the “sorting handle” as a small lever at the side of the seat that switches the hole inside the bowl from the liquid to the compost container.

Simply put, the two containers 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 located at the front of the toilet and can easily be removed 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 since that’ll depend on the number of people that use the toilet, but the whole process is quick and painless.

And finally, we have the compost bin that’s located just below the seat and just behind the liquid container.

Mechanics

It’s pretty self-explanatory how the liquid portion of the toilet functions, but the solid waste is naturally going to be a bit more challenging to manage.

The first thing that you’ll need is to go out and get yourself a big bag of peat moss or sawdust.

Regardless of which you get, you’ll need to go ahead and put some of the contents of that bag in the compost bin and add water to it.

As for how much materials should be added, the compost bin inside contains an S-shaped metal rod that’ll mark the approximate height.

This rod is called an agitator, it’s connected to a crank on the outside of the toilet, and it’s

meant to shift the contents of the container by turning the crank.

After you add materials up to the agitator, pour in enough water to soften up the mix and make the crank easier to turn.

Once all of this is done, all you need to do is go to the bathroom, block off the solid compost section with the lever, and turn the crank so that the poop gets more easily integrated with the sawdust or the peat moss.

Some people say that you can reliably use the toilet more than 40 times before you need to empty the compost bin, but in our opinion, an easier way to tell is by seeing how difficult the handle is to turn.

Once it gets too difficult to turn the handle, you’re going to unlatch the bin and the seat, and you’re going to dump the contents in a plastic bag or a ditch in your garden.

The compost that comes from this process can be used as manure, disposed of in nature, or can even be thrown out in a bag as regular trash.

Selection

As we mentioned before, there are a few different compost toilet brands that you can choose from.

The one we mentioned above - Nature’s Head -  is probably the most popular due to the compact size and affordable prices, but there are also brands like the Sun-Mar compost toilets as well.

There are only a few slight differences between these two off-grid toilets.

The Sun-Mar only has one section for both liquid, and solid waste and the crank is located in the front as opposed to the side.

Additionally, this toilet isn’t separated into sections, the peat is added through the toilet seat, and it has a small tray at the bottom that’s removed when you need to dispose of the contents.

Nature’s head is a cheaper alternative that comes in at just under $1000, but it’s a bit more challenging to set up and clean.

Sun-Mar is easier to use in general, but it’s about twice the price and takes up twice as much space in your bathroom.

Incinerator Toilet

Incinolet incinerator toilet

An incinerating toilet is exactly what it sounds like - an alternative to the regular bathroom appliance that’s so waterless that it actually uses fire.

All jokes aside, this type of toilet uses heat to get rid of your waste.

When it comes to these types of toilets, the most famous brand is probably going to be Incinolet, and their models come at around $2000.

Similar to the composting toilets, an incinerator toilet is also going to need a venting pipe that’s connected to the outside of your bathroom or outhouse.

The vent will expel the heat generated from the incineration process, so it’ll need to be well beyond any trees, plants, or other flammable materials.

There might also be some ash mixed in, so it’s a good idea to have a metal container or some sort of covering just below to collect any debris.

However, most of the ash is going to be collected in the bin that’s located just below the toilet seat.

The toilet uses bowl liners that’ll need to be placed in the bowl before you use it, and while they might be a bit pricey from the original distributor, you might get lucky and find some cheaper alternatives on Amazon.

Regardless of where you get them from, you’re going to need to place a bowl liner in the bowl, and after you’re finished, you’re going to press the lever at the side of the seat to open the bottom of the bowl so that the liners and the waste falls into the incinerator.

These liners will make sure that the waste is contained and will fall when you open the latch, as well as allowing you to clean the toilet less frequently than you would otherwise.

You’ll also be able to burn up the used toilet paper by simply dropping it into the bowl instead of having to use a trash can.

After you drop the waste and the bowl closes again, you’ll press the pedal at the front of the toilet to start the incineration process.

This usually takes around 15 minutes and is pretty noisy.

Because of the generated heat and noise, it’s recommended that you place this type of toilet outside of your house.

This type of toilet can raise a racket even in an average-sized living space permanently, so a tiny house will be like an echo chamber for the incinerator.

Downsides

Ash is significantly easier 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 we need to address.

This toilet requires a lot of electricity to achieve the necessary temperature, which means that it’ll need to be plugged into a power socket at all times.

On top of that, the power that’s required to run this toilet is going to be much higher than any standard solar panels will reliably be able to cover.

You’ll also need to either be a full-time handyman in order to set this up yourself or engage a professional to handle it for you.

Temporary Solutions

The Stansport portable camp toilet

While the other options are explicitly geared towards homesteading purposes, it might be helpful to also list a few options for people who aren’t looking to go off the grid permanently.

If you’re only looking to go away for a few weeks and don’t want to dig a ditch for an outhouse, then there are a few viable options that you can pick from.

Additionally, these picks are also a good option for anyone that does live off-grid but doesn’t have too much space to spare.

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 easily, 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.

Another choice for anyone that needs a toilet while on the move is the Thetford porta potty.

This is an inexpensive option that’s easy to transport and has a 4-gallon water tank that’ll allow you to easily flush the contents of the upper section into the bin at the bottom.

The black or greywater can then easily be disposed of at the nearest designated bathroom or dumping location of your choice.

These are our choices for some of the better portable toilets currently on the market, but you can easily find alternatives that might suit your needs better.

Conclusion

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 what kind of budget you have at your disposal and you’re at least moderately handy with your tools, then you shouldn’t have any issues with pretty much any toilet on or list.

Oliver Guess
Oliver is an off-grid living enthusiast currently residing in the mountains of New Mexico. His interests in sustainability originally lead him down the path of an off the grid lifestyle. When he's not tinkering with his broken solar panels, Oliver enjoys searching out hot springs, whittling and cooking.

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