A vandalized public bathroom stall with a black toilet seat and lid with smiley face drawn on it.

Are Composting Toilets Dangerous?

For many people, the water and plumbing requirements of a traditional flush toilet just won’t do. They may be traveling in an RV or camper van. They may also live in a home without water and sewer infrastructure or a septic system. On the other hand, they may just be concerned about their water usage and footprint on the planet.

In all these cases and more, a composting toilet is one of the best and most common choices. But due to the more up-close interaction with human waste, some are concerned they could cause problems for you or others using them.

So let’s take a closer look and dispel some myths about composting toilets. 

A vandalized public bathroom stall with a black toilet seat and lid with smiley face drawn on it.

What Is a Composting Toilet? 

A composting toilet is a common type of “dry” toilet that you can use without additional water or connection to a plumbing system.

You can often find it in places where water is scarce or where a traditional plumbing system would be impractical. That includes remote campgrounds, off-grid homes, or RVs and camper vans. 

How Do Composting Toilets Work? 

For users, a composting toilet isn’t too much different than other types. The waste naturally falls into the storage container by weight or is released with a handle or button.

In most cases, users will add a small amount of additional material like peat moss or sawdust before or after they go. That’s removed with the waste to the composting chamber. Some models allow or require users to “stir” the composting mixture in the chamber with a crank handle or other mechanism, properly aerating it for the next steps. 

Once the waste has reached the composting chamber, natural bacteria and microorganisms go to work to decompose and process it all. Here, most pathogens will also die. That renders the final result a safe, soil-like material.

You can dispose of it or use it for gardening when mixed with traditional compost materials. In addition, some composting toilets collect liquid waste separately from solid waste, helping control moisture levels. It also requires a separate storage container to be emptied.

Traditional toilets require additional water or connection to a plumbing system to function.

Are Composting Toilets Safe? 

When used correctly, composting toilets are very safe. For many, the primary concern lies in handling human waste, which carries many viruses and other harmful pathogens. This, after all, was among the primary reasons sanitation came to be! 

But a properly operated and maintained composting toilet safely dispatches these harmful substances. That’s done through the use of “good” bacteria and microorganisms.

Some occur naturally, while you can intentionally introduce others into the composting chamber to encourage proper decomposition. With adequate air and time, human waste is safe to handle in prescribed ways. 

Still, composting toilet users should maintain basic sanitary practices when emptying and cleaning their systems. These include the use of gloves or other protective equipment, as well as supplementary handwashing and additional cleaning. 

What Are the Benefits of a Composting Toilet? 

The primary benefit of a composting toilet is the lack of water or traditional plumbing. This allows owners to install them just about anywhere.

The composting process also eliminates much of the unpleasant odor associated with other water-free toilet systems. Composting toilets are also great for those looking for an eco-friendly option for disposing of their waste or who want to reap the benefits of nutrient-rich composting material. 

Composting toilets are an eco-friendly option for disposing of waste.

What Are the Drawbacks of a Composting Toilet? 

The biggest downside of a composting toilet is it’s not for the squeamish. These folks may not feel comfortable emptying and disposing of their waste in an even more intimate way.

It’s different from emptying a typical black tank and certainly from any at-home toilet. In addition to the gross-out factor, emptying and cleaning your composting toilet takes time other toilet systems don’t usually require.

Finally, you may have occasional issues with disposing of your waste. Some areas have relatively stringent rules about human waste and what can you should do with it. 

This is the biggest mistake you’re making emptying your black tank.

How Do You Maintain a Composting Toilet? 

Unlike most traditional toilets, composting toilets need regular and periodic maintenance to perform correctly. The first step in maintaining one is ensuring nothing other than human waste or approved, compost-safe toilet paper makes it into the composting chamber. That includes harsh cleaning chemicals, which you can swap for green or eco-friendly alternatives.

This helps protect the crucial microorganisms that break down the waste from chemicals or other harmful substances. It also ensures that everything decomposes successfully. 

You’ll need to clean the exterior of your composting toilet as needed (again, using substances safe for your composting bacteria). Also, periodically empty and clean the waste storage containers.

Composting toilet users must regularly check their ventilation fan in the composting area. It’s crucial to ensure the bacteria inside have enough air to do their work.

Can I Put a Composting Toilet in My House? 

One of the top benefits of a composting toilet is the ability to install one nearly anywhere you can imagine. This, of course, includes your house, regardless of whether you have access to running water or not.

That makes them a common choice for off-grid homeowners who don’t want to deal with the expense and hassle of buying and installing a septic system. 

Composting toilets can be one of the easiest, safest, and most eco-friendly ways to “go” without the help of typical water and sewer infrastructure. If you can get over the idea of handling your own safely processed waste, they can be an amazing addition to your home or RV systems. It saves tons of water and produces a rich, nutrient-dense composting material ideal for gardening. 

Would you own a composting toilet?

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