Best Zero-Maintenance, Composting Toilets for Off-Grid Cabins

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If you want a cabin that is off the grid, you are probably interested in toilets that do not take much maintenance. This is a relatively new way to decompose waste from a toilet that is healthy for the environment.

What is the best zero-maintenance toilet for off-grid cabins? My choice for an Off-Grid Composting Toilet is Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet. It is a good price, it is highly recommended and it breaks down waste well. It separates both the solids and the liquids.

These composting toilets can be used in a cabin or even an RV. It can be used for a garden even if you fancy that sort of a thing.

Best Composting Toilets for Off-Grid Cabins

I was surprised at how many composting toilets you could buy. I was also surprised by how much they cost. But regardless, I have found one I think works quite nicely.

The Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet was the pick of the bunch that I chose. I chose this one because of a few different reasons.

It is extremely durable. It was made by two old sailors who wanted to create a product more user-friendly than any other composting toilet on the market. It was built for the sea so it has a rugged design and the materials are stainless hardware to withstand many circumstances. Fortunately, a cabin off the grid probably will not have much in the way of rugged living.

One of the best things is that it is extremely affordable. Well okay, it’s still $1,030 USD but comparatively, it’s a better price than some of the ones that are $1200 or $2000 USD. It works just as well and it is much more affordable. If you are able to have an off the grid cabin, chances are you have enough money for a $1,000 toilet.

The toilet has a low energy fan in the back to circulate and recycle airflow through the bathroom to get rid of any possible bad smells. The toilet should break down anything with odor so it shouldn’t smell anyways, but if it does, then you have the fan to help.

It has a warranty of 5 years. It weighs about 30 lbs in total. It’s bigger than a normal toilet but for good reason. It is a nice neutral color that fits well in a bathroom. It looks like a toilet and it has such a simple design.

This toilet was made for boats but you’ll be in a cabin which will not be moving as much. It will work just great. This toilet can be bought on Amazon for $960 USD. It has 4 out of 5 stars. Many people have found this product to be amazing and use it for a variety of things.

One person talked about how great the company treats its customers. That is also something I look for when buying things. Good customer service is can make it or break it for me.

How do Composting Toilets Work?

Have you ever seen a garden compost before? Nature’s Head uses a separation system that separates solids from liquids. The Sun-Mar toilets work in a similar way with a drum that holds the waste for the process.

After the separation happens, there is a big chamber that holds all of the waste. It has a crank to turn the waste every so often. This creates oxygen which then feeds the bacteria that doing their job to turn the waste into compost. It may need a place to dry so hopefully your bathroom is a dry place.

Over 90% of what we put into toilets is water. In the Sun-Mar toilets, this gets evaporated and sent through a ventilation system back out into the atmosphere. Whatever solid material is left will be converted into soil by process of natural decomposition. With Nature’s Head toilets, the urine is just put into a whole separate container.

The purpose and hope are to break down all viruses or pathogens that could create problems and make the bathroom smell terrible. The great thing is if this works correctly, you can create nutritious soil for your garden or the trees and forest surrounding your cabin.

There is another type of toilet with multiple chambers have a screening system that they use. This allows the waste to compost in stages and then land on a tray to be thrown out once it is composted and dried.

Compost toilets really make a difference when you do not want to deal with water. They also help with protection against diseases like hepatitis A or dysentery. Both of which nobody wants to have. It is a lot safer than an outhouse.

It is a good idea to also add shredded newspaper and peat moss to compost with the waste so it is a more even compost. It will also help with reducing smell as well. These are generally called green compost and brown compost. Brown is usually paper and green is fruits and grass.

You can learn so much about composting that can apply directly to these kinds of toilets. I would highly suggest studying composting more in-depth if you have not already. It will help you to be more effective with your composting toilet if you do.

How to Maintain an Off-Grid Composting Toilet

Let’s say you bought the one I recommended. You would need to empty the urine chamber often. It says to do it every time it is full but I personally think that you should just empty it when you feel the need which in my case would be before it is full.

These toilets will save you lots of money on water and it will give you lots of compost if you are into gardening. Along with that will come some responsibilities to keep the toilet in top notch condition.

The toilet seat and the lid are cleaned with something special. You will need some of this Nature Flush Enzyme. It is a liquid that breaks down bacterial things. It cleans your toilet and helps with composting. I would suggest looking it up for more information. You can’t buy it on Amazon

The bowl will need some of the Nature Flush Enzyme too. For the same exact purpose as before. Also, use a toilet bowl cleaner of your choice. After that, spray it down with a wet paper towel. Don’t use toilet wipes or chemical because that will kill the compost and the wipes will not compost either.

Cleaning products that are high in chemicals will not work for this toilet. Yes, they are meant to kill many pathogens but they can also kill everything that is breaking down the waste in your toilet and you do not want that to happen.

Make sure that you are using natural cleaning supplies, like biodegradable products. These will work together with everything else to have a composting toilet that works well for you.

Do Composting Toilets Smell?

When maintained properly, your composting toilet should not smell. If you’re already familiar with composting, you know how it works. If you were making a compost pile of kitchen scraps, you would add equal amounts of green material, or nitrogen, with brown material or carbon. 

The brown material includes cardboard, sawdust, toilet paper, dried leaves, and sticks. 

NOTE: The table below is specific for composting kitchen scraps, not your composting toilet. The green material for your toilet will be human waste, but the brown material will/can be the same for your toilet. DO NOT put any of the green material items listed in your toilet.

table of nitrogen and carbon material for a composting toilet

The same principles apply to your composting toilet. For the model recommended in the article, you easily dump the urine when full, and the rest is composted with the help of carbon material. The storage chamber only has so much room, and when it’s full, bad things will happen. Urine can leak, sometimes even before the tank is full, so you must be diligent about emptying it.

I prefer sawdust for my carbon since I can easily get it from a friend of mine who owns and operates a sawmill. See what is available to you and what you prefer to use. 

The trick to smell prevention is keeping the moisture level low. If your carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is off or the moisture levels aren’t within the right range, your whole cabin will quickly smell like feces and/or urine.

Waste Disposal and Cleaning of Your Off-Grid Toilet

Following these steps when you need to “dump” the compost from the toilet.

  1. Get your gloves on.
  2. Lift off the lid.
  3. Take off the liquid bin (it should be dumped when it’s about 3/4 full, but some models have built-in liquid sensors)
  4. Check local regulations and laws for dumping the liquid. I personally dump in a public toilet.
  5. Get a composting bag or trash bag and place it around the compost bin. Pick up the toilet and turn it upside down so the contents fall into the bag.
  6. To clean, use a vinegar and water mixture in a spray bottle or some other detergent and spray it clean. 

What Can’t Go Into an Off-Grid Toilet?

Your composting toilet for an off-grid cabin is not a trashcan that anything can be added. We’ve already discussed some items that are acceptable and some items that are not acceptable.

These toilets break down human waste into compostable material through natural processes. If certain items are added, it can throw off the whole process, and you will end up with a stinky pill of _______. You fill in the blank. 

So, what can not go into your composting toilet?

  • Food waste: Even if you have a compost pile in your backyard where you place banana peels, coffee grounds, and other food waste, do not put it in your toilet. Composting human waste requires different processes than food waste. 
  • Certain Chemicals: We discussed that some cleaning agents can be used on your toilet, but other harsher chemicals may not. If you add bleach to your toilet in an attempt to clean it, this can throw off the composting process as well. Only use certain products or cleaning vinegar. 
  • Hygiene Products: Feminine products, such as tampons or pads, should never be disposed of in your composting toilet. They will not break down, therefore leaving you with a gross mess to clean up later. 
  • Drugs/Medications: This seems self-explanatory, but I wanted to include drugs or medications. These have a variety of compounds that will disrupt the composting process. 

Related Questions

Do tiny houses have toilets? Yes, actually, in the tiny house community they all use composting toilets. It’s easier for them and it is more eco-friendly. Generally, people who want to live the simplistic life want to be eco-friendly. These are great because they produce compost and they have no smell. There are other options for tiny houses but this is a popular one.

Do I need a septic tank if I have a composting toilet? No, you do not. Well for an off-grid cabin you do not. United States building codes generally require you to have a flushing toilet and approved sewer or septic tank system at your dwelling place. If you are off the grid, you can get away with much more and you won’t need a septic system running through your cabin.

Can you put toilet paper in a composting toilet? Yes, you can. Paper is a source of carbon for the compost. It is a brown compost that is useful in creating the soil that the compost will eventually break down into. Toilet paper is just fine and it will break down fairly quickly. You don’t have to buy any special paper, thankfully.

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