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5 Things Homeowners Need To Know About Composting Toilets

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Many parts of the western United States are dealing with drought conditions and water restrictions, and for homeowners in these areas, cutting back on water usage may seem like an impossible feat. Fortunately, you don't need to stop taking showers or washing your dishes; the easiest way to save water around your home is to install waterless toilets. Here are five things you need to know about composting toilets.

How much water do regular toilets use?

Your toilet uses a lot of water: about 31% of the total water consumption in your home. If you have older toilets, they use about 3.6 gallons of water for every single flush. The average person flushes the toilet about five times a day, so each person in your home is using about 18.8 gallons of water per day just to flush the toilet. A family of four will use about 26,000 gallons of water every year to flush their toilets. Even newer, low-flow toilets use about 1.6 gallons per flush, or about 11,000 gallons per year for a family of four.

How do composting toilets work?

Composting toilets use no water and are not connected to a sewer system or a septic tank, but they don't look too different from regular toilets. The seat and bowl of the toilet look just like what you're used to, but below the seat and bowl is a holding tank, not a pipe to the sewers.

This holding tank stores and breaks down your waste. Electric heaters or fans within the tank keep the waste warm and encourage the growth of the bacteria that will break it down. Some models of composting toilets also have rotating arms inside the holding tank to stir the waste and help it break down.

Do composting toilets smell?

Storing decomposing human waste beneath your toilet may sound horrifying, but well-maintained composting toilets don't smell bad. If you maintain your toilet properly, you can expect to smell an earthy odor, like any type of compost, but you won't smell sewage.

If you don't maintain your toilet, bad microbes may take over your compost heap and lead to bad odors. You can avoid this by encouraging the presence of good microbes; this is done by adding microbial starter cultures or organic material like sawdust or peat moss to the compost.

How often does the compost need to be emptied?

A concern for some people is how often the compost produced by the toilet needs to be emptied out of the holding tank. The frequency will vary based on how big your holding tank is, how many people are using the toilet, and how much toilet paper is used. The composting process shrinks the waste to about one-tenth of its original size, so your toilet can hold more compost than you might expect.

If only two people are using the toilet, you may only have to empty the compost every three weeks. If you have a larger family, plan to empty it more frequently. The compost should be emptied when the holding tank is nearly full, so just make sure to monitor it.

What do you do with the compost?

Your compost is nutrient-rich and can be used to fertilize shrubs, trees, and other non-edible plants. Avoid using it to fertilize edible plants like fruits or vegetables, just in case any of the dangerous bacteria from your waste survived the composting process. Before you start spreading compost around your backyard, check your municipal and state laws to make sure that using this type of compost is permitted.

If you need to cut back on your water usage, the easiest thing to do is switch your regular toilets for a waterless variety such as composting toilets. If you want to do this, contact a local plumber or look at a site like for more information.