composting toilet

The Allure of Humanure: Ten Reasons To Love a Sawdust Toilet

An outhouse exteriorMy recent adventure involving a clogged low-flow toilet makes me miss the days of the bucket.

We used the Humanure system for over 5 years, and it worked great for us. Sure, there were bitter cold January days when I heard “Papa, the toilet’s full. Will you empty it?”, when I wished we could just flush, but overall, I’m quite fond of the bucket.

Here’s why:

The Allure of Humanure: Ten Reasons to Love a Sawdust Toilet

  1. A sawdust toilet never gets clogged.
  2. When it needs cleaning, you just take it outside and spray it out.
  3. It uses no water, except for cleaning.
  4. Composting returns nutrients to the soil.
  5. There’s no splash.
  6. It’s great for camping. Leave no trace.
  7. You’ll never have a plumbing leak.
  8. It doesn’t smell like an outhouse. It smells like the woods.
  9. They make for great conversation. “Derek, what do you collect?” “Well, funny you should ask…”
  10. They never get clogged. Ever.

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

17 thoughts on “The Allure of Humanure: Ten Reasons To Love a Sawdust Toilet

  • Mrs4444

    Hmmmm. Never heard of this. I might have to Google it!

  • Mrs4444

    Okay, seriously–is this like a sawdust “litterbox” for people?

  • Kind of… except you don’t have to scratch in the dirt afterwards…

    They make great camping toilets, and they don’t smell (well, they don’t smell worse than any other toilet).

  • The_Game

    What about toilet paper? Where do you put the toilet paper? And what happens when you need to urinate?

    No thanks, regular toilet for me.

    • Derek Markham

      Toilet paper goes right in the bucket to be composted as well. Urine can go in the bucket, but we also used a ‘pee bucket’ so the main one wouldn’t fill up right away with liquid.

      The humanure toilet is a great choice if you don’t have a regular toilet, or if the water is off due to some kind of infrastructure problem. If all you have is a flush toilet, but the water or electricity is out (to the town pumps), you can’t flush anything. A bucket will work no matter what.

  • My grandmother had one of these when I was a little kid. Hated it. It used to smell and it was a bit away from the house so I didn’t like going there in the dark. There certainly wasn’t any reading of a good book in that toilet. In and out real quick.
    .-= leigh´s last blog ..Oztent 30 Second Tent – I Want Of These =-.

    • Derek Markham

      That sounds like an outhouse – the humanure system isn’t any smellier than a regular bathroom.

  • Pitch Penny

    The way I have my Sawdust Toilet set up is:
    I have The well made wooden box and wooded toilet seat
    (the nicer that looks the better) next to that I have a well stocked
    supply of sawdust and organic mix’ins (it is fun to stalk out cool stuff)
    Now what I have done which i feel is a step above the whole process
    discribed here, is I have added another toilet seat that is over a washing basin (those over sized sinks you see in washing machine rooms) I have this washing basin boxed up like my 5 gallon sawdust
    bucket is (to look real nice) and I have suppled a warm water bidet hose…this way I keep a roll of T Paper hanging for anyone that wants
    it…but it is totally not needed…everything (pee & washing up water)
    goes down a drain to a simply dry well that is out of site…
    the whole system is “out of sight” if you ask me!

    • Derek Markham

      Wow! That is a very cool set-up. I definitely have to integrate that into our next building. Thanks! (Any pictures?)

      • Pitch Penny

        It simply amazes me how some people don’t “get it”
        Yes sure you can equate the “Saw Dust Toilet” with a
        Except for the most important fact that it is not being used by a CAT
        Our opposable thumbs allow us to hold a scooper of saw dust and cover correctly
        what a cat can’t! ~
        I am going to lay it out again, what I feel is the best of GREEN
        when it comes to Toilets…First is your 5 gallon contains (I have 2 one sits with a 2 inch layer of
        saw dust, it’s lid on & covered with tapistry to hide it…it sits next to my saw dust toilet) the other has the same 2 inch layer of saw dust and goes inside a beautiful wooden box with a hole on top and a nice wooden toilet seat…
        next to this I have a wooden box (same size) filled with saw dust (I actual use a mix of shredded organic matter with saw dust) a scooper with a long handle goes in here….
        next to this saw dust box is yet another wooden box this one contains a wash basin
        (the kind you find in laundry rooms that have a deep basin) minus the legs this wash basin is seated into the box, and piped out the bottom of the box in a buried shallow trench leading outside my bathroom to a 3 feet deep dry well (dig a hole one square foot 3 feet deep, filled with rocks, sand and earth) This last box with wash basin has a >Bidet Hose< hooked up with
        adjustable water temperature and of course there is a wooden toilet seat mounted on top…

        The Sawdust Box is for solid matter only then you "scoot" over to the wash basin
        this is for Urine (or you Sit on the wash basin first for urine and scoot over to the sawdust toilet) when you are ready for wash up while sitting on the wash basin box you scoop up a few
        scoops of sawdust and cover completely your solid matter, then you turn on your water supply and was up your underside, I keep small towels in a basket on top of my back up 5 gallon (covered with tapestry) bucket.
        I grab one and dry off and toss this relatively clean small towel
        into a laundry basket to be washed and reused…This is Green Green Green! And I love it!

  • Derek,

    A 6 gal. plastic bucket with toilet seat and urine diverter works great. Sawdust toilets only smell bad when feces and urine are allowed to mix. A urine diverter directs urine to a separate 1 gallon jug that has to be emptied every other day (2 people). This can be poured around the base of trees and basically breaks down into ammonia nitrate (liquid gold fertilizer). As for the “sawdust” I prefer to buy a big bag of potting soil………..take a poop and then cover with about 3 scoops of potting soil……….no smell, no smell, no smell. It dries it out…………….it is pretty arid here in New Mexico so that helps. With two people………this toilet needs to be emptied about 2 times per week. Where……right into the compost pile………….then beautiful compost for the garden………………but only ever applied to fruit trees, raspberry bushes etc………I would never apply to crops like leafy greens, etc. I don’t want to risk e.coli infections. Again…….the trick to all this is never mix urine with feces and when you do poo…………cover it up thoroughly with dirt so the stool begins to desiccate (dry out). I can’t believe how there really is no smell. And gosh why spend $800 to $1400 on a composting toiler when you can make your own for less than $150


    • Bhagavan

      Where can I buy a urine diverting toilet insert?

    • The Urine Diverter is totally unnecessary. We dispose of all our ‘contents’ into the bucket and use enough cover material to cover all TP. The N from the urine is needed to break down the carbon in the sawdust and poo. We have 10 buckets on rotation and guests are shocked that 9 buckets of ‘waste’ has not stunk up one of 3 closets in our boot room. I looked into the diverter myself but decided that I would try it without. Saved another $150 by not getting a diverter or dealing with a jug of fermenting urine. To each his own but if you add enough cover material, nothing should smell at all. We use Peat moss since our soils PH is 7.3 (want to make it more acid).

  • After being introduced to the amusing and informative book “The Humanure Handbook” our family has used sawdust toilets on and off for several years. We recycle houses as a family income project. We use the sawdust toilets at the work site. Also while camping. My husband and sons built a “green room” (outhouse) with recycled materials from other projects which had an anderson window with a beautiful view of the woods (had a blind also) and a hardwood floor, a shelf with reading material, a bucket with sawdust and of course the sawdust toilet. Never had an odor problem, or insects either. We set up the sawdust toilet inside the house in the wintertime for an extra option, ( we have a large family and only one flusher). We composted it all and year three started using the compost in the gardens. Wow! It was even better than goat manure or chicken manure, plus it didn’t smell bad. We didn’t turn the compost pile, only adding green clippings and old hay on top after we dumped a bucket on.

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  • I’ve been making composting toilets for 10 years now for campsites and allotments in the UK. I highly recommend them as an alternative to the flush toilet. The separation of urine from poo means that there is never a smell. Have a look at the urine separator and compost toilets that I make



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