Today’s post is the catch-all information that didn’t fit into the previous two. If you need to catch up, so far, I covered what is a composting toilet and how it works as well as how to make compost and how to empty and clean the toilet. So, the hodgepodge of information today includes the questions you might want answered, the pros and cons of having a composting toilet, tips and tricks as well as some basic maintenance.

Let’s Start with the Burning Questions

Does It Smell?

This is probably the second most common question I’m asked, after the general question of how do I like the composting toilet. And, even though tons of people have said it before me, I’ll add my voice and say: It Does Not.

It’s so absolutely counter intuitive that even I sometimes noticed when I change out the compost that I breath through my mouth. That, of course, is something you do when something stinks to help you not smell it so much. I catch myself and laugh every time.

It seems like it should because you—sorry for the visual here—basically, have a bin fills with dirt and poop, compost and solids. It’s hard to wrap your mind around that not being a gross stinky mess.

Now, when you are changing the compost or when you open the trap door to use the compost bin, you will get a whiff of something but it’s much more earthy (like dirt) than stinky (like poop).

Still, it’s so hard for people to believe, that most must step into a rig with a composting toilet and do the sniff test for themselves.

One note, here. If you find you are having a smelling issue, in all likelihood, it means the compost is too wet. If you started with compost on the dry side, the problem is likely that the solids tank is becoming contaminated with urine. In other words, you aren’t using the separate tanks per the instructions—sitting farther back for the solids tank and a little forward for the liquids tank. Make the adjustment and the issue should resolve.

What About Toilet Paper?

You can put toilet paper into the composting toilet. If you are going to do this, single-ply is recommended.

RV-safe toilet paper breaks down faster than non-RV-safe toilet paper in a black tank so I have to assume this is true for the composting toilet as well. If you want to know if your favorite brand is RV-safe, you can conduct a simple quick test. Put a square or two in a jar half filled with water, put on the lid and shake for 10 seconds. If the square remains intact, it is not RV-safe. If, however, it shreds into little pieces, it is RV-safe and won’t clog a blank tank. Or won’t clog it as easily, anyway.

That said, it takes a long time for even single-ply, RV-safe toilet paper to break down in the composting toilet. When I first had mine, I noticed lots of toilet paper remained when I emptied the bin so I stopped adding toilet paper to the compost. Now I toss toilet paper in the garbage can. And I’ve since learned that most people with a composting toilet do the same.

In fact, most RVers, regardless of what type of toilet they have, toss toilet paper in the garbage because, it turns out that even RV-safe toilet paper can cause clogs in black tanks. Plus, most people don’t want to buy RV-safe toilet paper because it is noticeably more expensive than regular.

And, women, it is also not a good idea to put tampons in the composting bin either. First, most are not 100% organic (many are a mix of rayon and non-organic cotton). Plus, they are chlorine bleached. Even if you use 100% organic, it would take a really long time for the compost to break it down. Like toilet paper, you are simply better off using a garbage can for disposal.

What If You Are Sick?

Two things can happen when you aren’t feeling well: vomiting and/or diarrhea. So, the natural question to ask whether or not the composting toilet can handle those bodily fluids. Or do you need to find an alternate receptacle?

Because those bodily functions are “natural” and made up of organic matter, the composting toilet should not have any problem processing either vomit or diarrhea. However, a word of caution here. Both vomit and diarrhea have a very high water content. So, if you are sick for an extended period of time, the composting toilet likely will not be able to keep up. You could try the trick of adding a handful of the drier compost from your Ziplock each time you are sick.

Where Do You Dispose of Used Compost?

Your kitchen garbage bag of used compost can be dumped in the trash just like any other bag of garbage. Or, if available, you can add the compost to a local compost pile or bin.

I have also heard of people using it to fertilize a garden. It is suggested you don’t use it on edible plants such as vegetables. However, it is supposed to work great for flower gardens, bushes, scrubs, etc.

Where Do I Empty the Liquids Tank?

 For the liquids tank, there are a few options. The most obvious one is an actual toilet. You can carry it to the bathroom at your RV campground, at a rest area or at a gas station.

If you are at a place with full hookups, just dump it down a sewer hookup. That’s what I do most of the time. I either remove my sewer hose (hooked up to dispose of gray water) and dump it down the sewer receptacle at my site or, more likely, I go to a nearby empty site and dump it down that sewer receptacle.

I also experimented with dumping it down one of my inside drains so it would end up in the gray tank. You might find the idea of this too gross which is valid. But it is an option. I asked Oliver to make sure the uric acid wouldn’t be harmful or break down the material that makes the gray tank. I learned that both the gray and black tanks are made of the same material. The only difference is that a black tank’s walls are a bit thicker. Since it’s true of the Oliver tanks, I’d think it would be true of other rigs’ tanks as well.

Finally—and this one is both surprising and disgusting to most people—you can simply dump the liquids tank on the ground. As I understand it, there can be local laws and regulations prohibiting this. And, of course, if you are in a campground, they might not want you doing it.  

Before I go on further about this, let me pause for a little story that might illuminate on the idea of liquids on the ground.

A Dog Story

So, when I decided to transition my life into full-time RV living, the process took three and a half years. In that time, I researched, downsized and generally prepared for the life change. This included selling my house. In the years leading up to putting it on the market, I made improvements, took care of some maintenance issues, etc.

One of the items I wanted to address was the burn areas in my yard that my dog, Solstice, created over the years. I figured a nice lawn with help with curb appeal.

Black Lab in a pink outfit with hearts.
Any excuse to add another pic of Solstice, right?

I learned from the internet that those dried out burn areas are, in fact, caused by over fertilization. It turns out urine has a lot of nitrogen in it. Go look at any fertilizer bag at the store and you will see it touts the nitrogen in their fertilizer. Interesting, right? I thought so.

I also learned that if you look closely at where the burn ends, you’ll notice the grass will actually be darker and lusher than your regular grass. It wasn’t noticeable by standing in my yard. But, when I stood on my balcony and looked down over my yard, it was so obviously. There was a dark green ring of lovely grass around each burn area.

See where I’m going with this? Urine, in the right quantity is actually a fantastic fertilizer. That dark green ring represented the ideal amount of nitrogen.

Solstice side note: Since I mentioned her, let me also say I cannot believe it’s been six months since I lost her. As predicted, the pain has lessened and the tears aren’t daily. But I still miss that girl like crazy, think of her every single day, and tears still come unexpectedly on occasion. The cat, as a result, gets way more kisses and attention than she ever did before. It remains unclear whether she thinks this is a good thing or not.

Back to Liquid Disposal

So, if you decide to empty the liquids tank on the ground, don’t just dump it but, rather, sprinkle it around so you don’t create over fertilization burns.

Pros and Cons of the Composting Toilet

Some of this may be a repeat from the first post explaining the composting toilet, but I wanted to include a fast handy list of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Never deal with a black tank. Many people then convert the black tank into a second gray tank to extend time out when boondocking.
  • Doesn’t use water which is also super handy when you are boondocking because all of your water, therefore, can be used for showers, dishes, cooking, etc.
  • With their rise in popularity, you can find other RVers to talk to about your composting toilet if you need help or advise or want to bounce ideas off someone.
  • Low maintenance and less that can go wrong than with a black tank.

Cons:

  • The frequency with which you need to empty the liquids tank. It definitely gets old.
  • You have to carry supplies (coconut coir, trash bags, bleach tabs, vinegar, scrub brush), more than you have to have on hand than for a black tank, I’m pretty sure.
  • Men have to sit to pee.
  • When things go wrong, it can be very gross. For example, if someone uses the solid tank and forgets to shut the trap door, then the next person doesn’t notice and pees. Yep, then you have sewage and it is a stinky mess. This hasn’t happened to me but I’ve heard stories. Bugs can also be quite gross and I’ll have two entire posts dedicated to those little buggers.

Tips and Tricks

First, when the toilet isn’t in use, keep the lid down. This contains the smell. That earthy dirt smell of the compost isn’t bad, but it’s also probably not what you want your rig to smell of.

By keeping the lid closed, you’ll also reduce the urine smell. This, for me, was the single biggest surprise of the composting toilet. Without the water of a toilet to dissipate the urine, the smell is strong. Way grosser than anything I ever smelled from the composting part of the toilet.

Plastic tank next to a big bottle of white vinegar.
An extra liquids tank and the big bottle of white vinegar.

Good news, though. I found a solution. And it’s the second tip. Each time you empty the liquids tank, pour white vinegar into the liquids tank. I’ve never measured but it’s probably about a cup. Or a half inch covering the bottom. It’s chemical magic because you’ll never get a whiff of urine again.

The manufacture suggests a couple of spritz of vinegar into the bowl (at the front where the liquid holes drain) which I also do. It acts as a mini cleansing of the area. But a few spritzes aren’t enough to counteract the uric acid smell, no matter how much of a water drinker you are. I buy the giant bottle of white vinegar and store it next to the composting toilet.

If the vinegar doesn’t work for you—and I don’t know why it wouldn’t—the manufacture also suggests that a few drops of Dawn dish washing soap in the liquids tank will also do the trick.

On a wood grain background, two white plastic lids, 3 small cylindrical fuses and a fuse hold with a red cord.
Composting toilet spare parts: 3 fuses, 2 liquids tank lids and 1 fuse holder. Purchased in 2017, including shipping, for $6.15.

My third tip is to keep spare parts on hand. There aren’t many and they are quite inexpensive, so there is no reason not to. With such a simple unit, you might be wondering, What spare parts? I have a spare fuse, lid for the liquids tank and two extra liquids tank in case I’m boondocking and there isn’t a place to dispose of the urine. I used the extra tanks for the first time at the Balloon Fiesta. Everything can be ordered from the manufacture’s website.

The final tip is to regularly check that the fan is plugged in.You want to make sure it stays connected to the top part of the toilet. This is especially important after you’ve dumped the liquids tank. Because you have to raise the entire top to remove the liquids tank, often you’ll inadvertently cause the cord to pull out. It can also work its way out during travel. The fan is so small that it hardly makes any noise so don’t rely on hearing that the fan isn’t running.

Maintaining Your Composting Toilet

I found a succinct paragraph on the Nature’s Head website explaining how to maintain the composting toilet. So, rather than me rewriting it, let me simply quote it:

Maintenance requirements for the head are very minimal. All metal parts (bolts, hinges, latches, knobs, agitator, and trapdoor components) are either stainless steel or brass. Filters on each side of the base should be removed and cleaned yearly or when emptying the solid wastes. Each filter is secured to the housing with two Phillips-head bolts. Remove the bolts, clean and replace. Caution should be taken so that the fan is reinstalled with the airflow exiting the unit.

Hmm, rereading this makes me think I should clean my filter. Haven’t don’t that yet and I’ve had the Oliver and, thus, the composting toilet for two years now.

If you had a question that hasn’t been answered in this or the two preceding posts on the composting toilet, let me know and I’ll do my best to provide the answer. The last posts on the composting toilet will deal with preventing a bug infestation and what to do if it happens.

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