Mother Earth News Blogs > Ask Our Experts

Ask Our Experts

Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.

Reader Roundup: DIY Composting Toilets

You don’t need to purchase a commercial composting toilet to safely recycle human waste. A simple setup of a bucket, seat and sawdust — giving these toilets the name “sawdust potties” — will do. We asked members of our Facebook community about their experiences with DIY toilet setups, as well as any building or sanitation codes they had to follow. Their consensus? This natural method is unexpectedly inoffensive, and it saves water to boot. — MOTHER

I’ve lived with a DIY composting toilet for 13 years. I’ve used just about everything as a composting medium, including pine shavings, coco peat, peat moss and sawdust. Sawdust is by far the best. I found that mice loved the coco peat, and I had problems with flies until I started using sawdust. I’ve discovered it’s best to keep as much liquid as possible out of the bucket, so I have a separate urinal. We have no code outside of the city limits here, so we didn’t encounter an inspection problem. — Michael Bandeko

We add a few scoops of coffee grounds to our coir shavings and lime. Flies hate it, and it adds an earthy smell. — Beverly Jones Miller

We use a composting toilet at home as a backup for bad weather. We’re planning on using it exclusively soon, as well as installing a greywater recycling system. Water conservation is a priority, and our city charges way too much for sewage. We also have a composting toilet in our RV to save water. — James Bill Riley

My mother wanted to use a piece of land that she purchased decades ago as a weekend and vacation destination. However, the newer codes in western Pennsylvania prohibited the installation of a composting toilet. The only “sewerage” system allowed was a mounded setup that would have easily cost $20,000. She ended up selling the land because the cost of the system was prohibitive, and the land wasn’t worth keeping without a sewage-disposal setup. — Sarah Menchini Anstey

My husband and I once neglected to empty our composting toilet bucket before we left for two weeks in the middle of summer. Much to our surprise, there was zero smell when we returned. We’ve found that the bucket toilet works great and plan to use one in the off-grid cabin we’re currently building. There are no codes where we are, so we’d rather go this route than shell out thousands to install and maintain a septic field. — Bee Kielb

I loved my DIY composting toilet and can’t wait to have another when we settle into our new home. I thought the smell might be a problem, but it wasn’t with mine. I oiled my wooden toilet with homemade rose oil and was rewarded with no offense to even the most delicate of noses. — Martha Hill

Photo by David Omick