I almost titled today’s post A Bug’s Life and Death. But decided that it might be confused with the movie about cute bugs. And there is absolutely nothing cute or nice or fun about bugs when they decide to take up residence in your composting toilet. Now, I promise, we come to the last post about the composting toilet. Today, I tell the story of my bug infestation, share everything I did wrong, share the various solutions I tried until, finally, I landed on the one that worked for me. I hope you never get an infestation, but if you do, hopefully by reading this, you find a solution in a much shorter time frame than I did.

Worst Case Scenario

Once you hear my infestation story, you might think I actually had three consecutive infestations. But, really, I feel confident that I had one that just lingered. One where I never fully got rid of the bugs the first and second times I tried. And it only takes a few to start the process again. Add a little time to the mix and you’re left with a new infestation.

My infestation started in the hot and humid climate of Alabama in June 2018. I feel fairly confident in saying you have a higher chance of getting them in hot and humid weather because, in that weather, there is just so many more bugs flying around. This was before I understood that a well-functioning, well-maintained composting toilet could get bugs. And before I was following the prevention tips I mentioned last week.

At first, I confused the bugs flying around my trailer as the Alabama environment. Mostly I’d been using the campground’s bathroom and bathhouse so it wasn’t until one day when I opened the trap door of the composting toilet and was met with a swarm of bugs that I realized I really did have a problem.

Even after the swarm, I will admit to waiting a few more days, thinking if I killed all the ones flying around my rig the others might just go away. Yes, I know, big time denial. I killed hundreds of them with my fingers and hands, slapping them like a mosquito.

Now one of the reasons my story gets worse before it’s gets better is because I did exactly what the manufacture’s website suggested. Exactly. Interestingly (and not surprisingly), this advice is no longer on their site.

Attempt #1

I found a gardening store and purchased Diatomaceous Earth (DE). If you are a gardener, you might be familiar with this product. It is a bug deterrent. So, following the instructions on the website, I added a couple tablespoons of the white powder to my composting toilet and mixed it in with the agitator. Then I sprinkled more on the top for good measure.

A few hours later, I decided I didn’t have time to wait for it to work so I decided to help things along. As I have had to say many times before, this is not advise I’m offering to others. With a can of Raid in my hands, I sucked in a big breath of air, went into the bathroom, opened the toilet’s trap door and fumigated the hell out of that little compost bin. I closed the trap door and ran out.

I did this for several times a day for several days. As a side note and as a non-smoker, if I ever tell you I’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, I want you to remind me that I probably did it to myself.

It certainly reduced the number of bugs so I thought I was making headway. Long story made short: I was not.

Then I decided that adding the Diatomaceous Earth to existing compost might have been ill-advised and that what was needed was a fresh batch of compost. By then, I’d read a post from by a boater who said she had the exact same problem and the Diatomaceous Earth didn’t work. So, she tried Bacillus Thuringiensis (often called BT) and it worked for her. I found BT in the garden section at ACE Hardware under the name/brand Thuricide.

Attempt #2

Bin of a composting toilet filled with compost. A hand holding a tablespoon filled with a thick dull green liquid to prevent bugs.
Attempt #2. Fresh compost with BT.

I dumped the old compost (which is a nasty story in and of itself with all those gross bugs and Raid-fused compost, one I will spare you from reading). I scrubbed the composting toilet and did a final bleach water rinse. Then I put new compost in with 2 tablespoons of BP. 

I was still in a humid place and didn’t want more bugs coming up the tubing so I didn’t plug the fan in and disconnected the vent tube from the toilet. I stuffed toilet paper into the vent tube and on both sides of the toilet to keep bugs from getting into the compost bin. This actually might have worked but the problem became that the chemical smell from the BT was too overwhelming so I gave in and attached the vent hose back up.

But then the bugs were back. Now, here is what I’m not sure–did I somehow miss some of them when I did the cleaning or did they return thru the tubing when I hooked up again?

Attempt #3

So, third attempt to eliminate them. By this time, I’d left the hot humid climate. I decided to clean every nook and cranny multiple times. I emptied the compost and started again.

What I came to realize was that the reason the Diatomaceous Earth and the BT never fully worked was because there is so many other places in the composting toilet for them to hide, live and lay eggs and that mixing chemicals into the compost alone doesn’t come close to addressing those hiding places.

The biggest place the compost (and bugs and bug eggs) hide is in the rim of the base. Because the agitator tosses the compost a bit, there is compost in that tiny rim.

Bottle of bleach laying on gravel. Also has Q-tips and package of 12" square dowels.
A few of the supplies for the final cleaning and ridding of bugs. Bleach, wooden dowels and Q-tips.

So, during the cleaning process this time, I made more an effort to really pressure wash everything. Then I used a tiny brush along the rim. Then, because I still didn’t think I got it all, I used Q-Tips. Q-Tips worked the best because of how far I could push them in, then I dragged them along. I did it over and over and over again until they finally came out clean. Then I added bleach to the bottom of the base, added water and did another scrub to make sure bleach touched everywhere. I went along the rim with bleach-dipped Q-tips.

I did something similar to the top of the toilet, the bowl part. It’s a lot harder to clean because you don’t have easy access to every part so I dropped a bleach wipe down in it (with it being turned upside down so resting on its lid) then using a stick (I used a square dowel but a wooden chopstick works well too), I moved the wipe all around. I also did a final bleach rinse on the top one too.

Then this next step only works if you are somewhere that has a bathroom you can use. I put the toilet back in the rig but didn’t hook up the tubing or add compost. Every couple days, I lift the top so I could see into the compost bin and wiped it out with a bleach wipe.

Here’s the amazing part: after that thorough cleaning job, I found a couple bugs and several of the teeny brown pellets which I assumed were eggs. I did this for two weeks because I could, but I’m guessing a few days probably would be sufficient to find all the lingering buggers.

What Is Now Recommended

So, I started by saying that when I got an infestation, I followed the manufacture’s suggestion for the remedying the situation with no discernible difference. You might be wondering what the manufacturer now recommends. Here it is, but note I have not tried this as my bug problem has not returned.

If your toilet incurs flies or gnats, we suggest using Ortho Home Defense for flying bugs with Essential Oils or Wondercide Indoor Natural Pest Control for Home and Patio (Cedar scent). Spray interior sides, and also spray around the toilet area. Both sprays are pet and kid safe.

Now, I have to be honest, I doubt I would try this suggestion. I learned from the three times the bugs came back after I thought I was beating them that the best thing is to get rid of them by getting rid of them. Literally, moving them out of the rig. Attempting to chase them out is not a solution I’d want to experiment with again.

Previous Posts about Composting Toilet:

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