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Dry Composting Toilets, An Alternative Toilet

Updated on February 3, 2016

Composting Flushless Toilets for the Cottage or Cabin

Sometimes called dry toilets, waterless toilets or biological toilets, composting toilets are a great alternative toilet when there's no suitable water supply or waste treatment available. These types of toilets use composting to break down the waste.

Many cabins and cottages that are in the wilderness are far from sewers, making installation of a flush toilet very expensive. The long trek to the outhouse on a frosty morning is unpleasant. Composting toilets are now available and don't require any water so they are perfect for rustic settings. They make a great cabin toilet.

Our Experience With a Composting Toilet

A Flushless Toilet

We installed a composting toilet at our cabin because we don't have running water and needed a flushless toilet. We've been using the toilet for four years now and it's been great. I recommend a composting toilet for anyone who can't afford or doesn't want to, install a flush toilet. They make a great alternative toilet. The compost the toilet produces fertilizes my trees and the trees are thriving. Each spring when we arrive to open up our cabin for the summer I just have to empty the compost out of the toilet and we're ready for another season. The compost smells just like fertile soil, and not anything like you would expect it to smell.

Sun-Mar Excel - Electric

Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel
Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel

This model is designed for 3-4 person on a regular basis or 6-8 people for weekend use.

NSF/ANSI Certified, venting kit included

Dimensions L x W x H (in.): 33 x 22 1/2 x 33 with a detachable footrest


How Do Composting Toilets Work?

What is a Composting Toilet?

Composting toilets rely on bacteria to break down the solids into compost. Compost needs: 1) air, 2) water, and 3) food. The urine provides the water and the human waste provides the food. The air is provided by rotating the waste container.

The amount of urine that goes into the toilet would make the compost too wet if it was all absorbed so there is a screen to allow most of the urine to pass through the waste. The wetness that does stay behind is enough to keep the compost moist. All that is needed then is to provide aeration. Our toilet has a crank on it that you turn every couple of days. The toilet is basically like a big composting barrel with a seat on top of it, and instead of composting garden waste, the toilet is composting human waste.

Most composting toilets use electricity although there are models that don't. The electricity is needed for a heating element which evaporates the urine and also heats the inside of the toilet. The heat helps to accelerate the composting process. A non-electric toilet is much slower composting than an electric one.

Does a Composting Toilet Smell?

Sometimes There's Problems

Learning how to keep the toilet composting can be challenging. If the mixture is too wet, then the toilet smells. If the mixture is too dry flies are attracted to it. We've had both problems. Quite frankly having the toilet smell was nicer than the fly problem. If the toilet is smelling it's because the mixture is too wet and it's easy to add more peat moss to overcome the moisture. The flies however presented a particular challenge because they weren't easy to get rid of without using chemicals to kill them off.

In spite of some of the problems we've had with the toilet once we learned how important it was to keep the mixture at optimum condition for composting, it went very smoothly. Now that I know what the mixture is supposed to look like I can keep the mixture composting without any problem.

Composting Toilets - non-electric

Sun-Mar Excel Non-Electric Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel-NE
Sun-Mar Excel Non-Electric Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel-NE

Non-electric; ideal for off the grid

Uses no water

Usage: 2-3 people continuous use, or 5-7 people weekend use.

NSF/ANSI Certified:

Dimensions L x W x H (in.): 33 x 22 1/2 x 32


Is a Composting Toilet Easy to Install?

Venting is the Hardest Part

Certainly installing a composting toilet is easier than putting in a flush toilet, but there are still some things you have to do that may be challenging for the ordinary home handyman. All composting toilets need to be vented and that means running a pipe up the wall and through the roof. If you aren't intimidated by cutting a hole in your roof then you will find the job easy. Because once that is done the rest is easy. You'll need to set up a drain for overflow, then all you have to do is plug it in and you are good to go.


What Happens to the Toilet Paper?

What Can You Put in the Toilet?

Many people ask me, but what about the toilet paper? You can put normal 2 ply toilet paper into the composting toilet and it breaks down into compost. You don't have to buy any special type of toilet paper. I try to buy 2 ply rather than 3 ply just to help make it easier. The toilet can't compost feminine hygiene products. As well if someone is on antibiotics it's best to have them use another toilet because the antibiotics may kill off the microbes in the compost.


It's Really Easy

I took charge of "running" the toilet so that I could learn what was needed to get it successfully composting. We are a family of 2 adults and 2 children so each day I throw 4 scoops of peat moss in it - one scoop for each person. Every second day I rotate the toilet. On the days I rotate the toilet I add in a scoop of microbe mix.

Every Day

Add Peat Moss

Sun-Mar calls the peat moss mix, Compost Sure. It's a mixture of hemp and peat moss. If the mixture is too wet I'll add an extra scoop and if it's too dry then I might skip adding anything that day.This was the hardest part, learning to read the mix and knowing how much peat moss to add.

Every Second Day

Add Microbe Mix and Rotate the Toilet

Then every second day I rotate the toilet. On this day I also add microbe mix. This adds microbes to get the composting going. The microbe mix is a must have item to keep your toilet composting.

I had a pile of garden waste and added a scoop of this microbe mix to the pile and it composted in less than 6 weeks. I couldn't believe how much faster it went with the help of the microbe mix.

Compost Quick

Not Necessary, But Nice to Have

Sun-Mar also suggests using Compost Quick. It can be sprayed on the waste to accelerate it and can also be used for cleaning the toilet. You can live without it, but I like it for cleaning and I think it helps with composting when it seems sluggish.

How Often Does it Need to be Emptied?

We Do Ours Once a Year

If you have to empty the toilet mid-season it can be very smelly and unpleasant. I've had to do this before when I couldn't get the toilet composting. If it's not composting the waste builds up and you have to empty it because the toilet gets too full. It's unpleasant to empty because you aren't dealing with compost, you are dealing with the raw stuff and yup, it is VERY smelly. When the toilet is composting well we don't have to empty the toilet. I've pretty much got it down to a science now where I empty the toilet once a year in the spring when we open up the cabin for the summer. We spend about 70-90 days at our cabin in a year. If you are spending more than that then it is likely you will have to empty the toilet more often.

In a Nutshell

Composting Toilets do Work

I will admit there were times I was cursing the toilet. Learning how to get the thing composting was frustrating. Emptying it when it wasn't composting was horrible and smelly. However, now four years later, I can say that composting toilets do work and once you learn how to operate them the job isn't too bad. It's certainly better than the trek up the hill to the outhouse on chilly mornings.

There is an ongoing cost for the toilet because you have to buy the peat moss and microbe mix, but during the season we use our cabin the cost only amounts to $50 -$60 so it's not hugely expensive. I'd recommend buying a composting toilet to anyone who has a rustic cottage or cabin.

What do you think about composting toilets? - Or just leave a note to say you stopped by

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      my dad died and left one at his bungalow. never got it up and running and i think the venting at the ceiling was the hold up. So that's a biggie for my hubby!

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image


      6 years ago from Canada

      These toilets are a great idea especially for cabin and cottage living, or if you want to live off the grid!

    • rainydaz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @anonymous: Usually when the barrel starts to be hard to rotate it will be time to empty it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      we installed the Sun-Mar NE in a brand-new "outhouse" this summer and this very much helped me break it down (pardon the pun) in simpler terms for the family - thanks!! Have been worried about how to know if getting too full, etc.

    • SayGuddaycom profile image


      6 years ago

      These are very popular among cruising sailors i.e. live aboards (like me) and this is a great lens on the topic.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 

      6 years ago from Shanghai, China

      A composting toilet makes so much sense! I will bookmark this page. Right now I live in a city in an apartment, but if I ever get back to the country, I will definitely have one!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have a friend who had a composting toilet in what we now call a sustainable or green home they built back in the 70' early Clivus Multrum I think it was called. Great lens!

    • lyttlehalfpint profile image


      6 years ago from Canada

      Never heard of these toilets, being in Ontario and a big camper and cottager, this is definitely worth a look. Great informative lens.

    • traveller27 profile image


      6 years ago

      Great job on this topic.

    • normandes profile image


      7 years ago

      love this part "Let nature take care of it"


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