Are composting toilets high maintenance? Short answer: no, not really! Long answer: maintaining a composting toilet (or any small potty) is essential to the health and happiness of you and your family. Using a portable composting toilet is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to manage waste no matter where you are in the world. However, like any other toilet system, it does require regular maintenance to ensure proper functioning and longevity.
In this article, we will provide you with the essential tips for maintaining your composting toilet and keeping it in optimal condition. We will discuss
- what a composting toilet is and how it works
- steps for regular composting toilet maintenance
- And troubleshooting common compost toilet issues
all of which will help make composting toilet maintenance a breeze for newcomers and seasoned sustainability experts. While some of the following will focus on our portable composting toilet, Cuddy, most of this will be applicable to any small potty on the market. So, without further ado, let’s get into composting toilet maintenance!
Understanding the basics of a composting toilet
What is a composting toilet? They are an eco-friendly solution that helps in waste management and contributes to sustainable living, saving on water and chemicals.
How does a composting toilet work?
A portable composting toilet like Cuddy operates on a simple yet ingenious principle: it separates liquid and solid waste, ensuring that each component is broken down ideally and efficiently. The solid waste undergoes decomposition through the action of helpful microorganisms. These microorganisms break down organic matter into simpler compounds, releasing nutrients and transforming it into nutrient-rich compost affectionately known as humanure (human manure).
The decomposition process is facilitated by maintaining the proper moisture, oxygen, and temperature balance within the composting toilet system. Adequate moisture levels ensure the microorganisms can thrive and effectively carry out their composting activities. Sufficient oxygen supply is crucial to support aerobic decomposition, which is more efficient and odor-free. This is why Cuddy comes with an agitator to aerate the compost so that things don’t begin to smell! Of course, Cuddy also has an internal fan and carbon filter to ensure your small potty remains odor-free in any small space.
Steps to maintaining your composting toilet
Regular maintenance is essential to keep your composting toilet functioning properly. Following a few simple steps, you can ensure that your composting toilet remains in optimal condition for years.
Regular inspection of your portable compost toilet
Inspecting your compost toilet regularly is crucial to identify any potential issues before they become major problems. Take the time to carefully examine the various components of your composting toilet, including the solids bin, liquids bottle, and ventilation system; your small potty may differ, but in Cuddy, this is the internal fan and filter. You can see these clearly in our setup video.
During inspection, pay close attention to any signs of wear and tear, leaks, or unusual odors. If you notice any issues, address them promptly to prevent further damage.
How to clean your portable composting toilet
- Remove any excess condensation from inside the unit. Use a soft cloth or biodegradable paper towel to not scratch the polypropylene of your Cuddy.
- Dilute white vinegar in a spray bottle for natural cleaning and spritz away, using a soft cloth or paper towel to wipe. This will clean and sanitize all parts of your composting toilet, helping prevent odors and ensuring the composting process continues smoothly.
- If you have a Cuddy, pay attention to the modesty cover and pee chute that helps divert any stray liquid straight into the liquids bottle-eliminating the need to aim (particularly helpful for those moments when you miss or can’t see where to aim!). Spraying vinegar on the plates and letting it and water run down the pee chute helps avoid unpleasant smells.
- The liquids bottle can also be filled and rinsed with a vinegar water solution. Of course, you can use stronger biodegradable cleaning products, but it is not usually necessary - especially if you have a Cuddy.
You’ll have noticed we didn’t ask you to empty and clean the solid bin. That’s because the longer your waste is able to compost, the better it becomes. Of course, you may need a pit stop with more regular use, but try to leave a little compost in the bin - this acts as your next starter.
Managing the solids in a composting toilet
Properly managing the solids is crucial for successful decomposition and the production of nutrient-rich compost. The first important step in this process is adding an organic bulking agent to aid the composting process. A bulking agent, such as sawdust, sphagnum peat moss (sustainable peat moss), or our favorite, coconut coir, helps maintain the ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the composting chamber. This ratio is essential for the breakdown of organic matter and for preventing foul odors.
If your composting toilet doesn’t have an agitator, regularly adding a thin layer of bulking agent on top of the waste material will help enhance airflow and create an optimal environment for decomposition. Remember to mix the bulking agent thoroughly with the waste to ensure even distribution. Many small potties do not come with an easy agitator like our Cuddy. Cuddy’s agitator mixes up the bulking agent with waste quickly, easily, and efficiently, properly aerating the compost to expedite decomposition - so you don’t need to top up after each visit. Saving on bulking agent and your budget!
Maintaining the ventilation system
Your small potty may not have an internal ventilation system… but Cuddy has one built inside! The ventilation system – Cuddy’s internal fan and carbon filter – plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of your portable composting toilet. These parts help control moisture levels, prevent odors, and promote the breakdown of organic matter.
Regularly inspect the ventilation system to ensure that it is functioning correctly. If you vent your composting toilet externally, check for blockages or obstructions that impede airflow. If you notice any issues, clean or replace parts as needed.
Cuddy’s internal carbon filter is a literal breath of fresh air. It helps remove any odors that may arise during the composting process. The filter can easily and inexpensively be refilled with aquarium carbon found in most pet stores. You can expect to go 6 months to 1 year before changing the carbon!
Troubleshooting common issues with a composting toilet
Even with proper maintenance, issues may occasionally arise when it comes to maintaining your composting toilet. Here are some common problems and how to address them.
Dealing with odors
Cuddy, the portable composting toilet should never stink; in fact, it should hardly ever smell, and if there is a scent, it’s more like the forest floor rather than something unpleasant. If you do notice any foul odors coming from your small potty, check the ventilation system for blockages. Ensure sufficient airflow and consider using odor-reducing substances in or around the compost bin, such as baking soda or diatomaceous earth, to tackle the issue. If your composting toilet is Cuddy, then it may be time to replace the carbon pellets inside the internal filter. You can learn more about why composting toilets may smell here.
Compost fills up too quickly
If the composting chamber or solids bin fills up faster than expected, evaluate your waste management practices. Are you adding toilet paper to the mix? Even though toilet paper is technically biodegradable, using toilet paper fills up the solids bin significantly faster while slowing down the decomposition process. We recommend placing used toilet paper in a separate receptacle so that your compost bin doesn’t fill up too quickly – also, toilet paper tends to get wrapped around agitators, so if your composting toilet has one of these handy mechanisms (like the Cuddy does), you should definitely place paper products elsewhere until you can properly dispose of it.
If you experience issues with liquids overflowing – or just want to avoid that from ever happening in the first place – be sure your portable composting toilet has an indicator that notifies you when the liquids bottle is full. Cuddy has a smart LED light that will let you know when it’s time to empty!
Condensation in composting toilet
Don’t worry; condensation in composting toilets is not a bad thing! It’s actually a good sign that the decomposition process is working well. However, too much moisture can throw off the balance of good bacteria, causing foul odors and inefficient decomposition. Feel free to read our helpful guide about composting toilet condensation here.
Top Tips for Maintaining a Happy Composting Toilet
Composting toilets are very simple to maintain. Below is a list of tips we have curated to help ensure the microbes helping us out are as happy as possible! Please feel free to comment below if you have other tips from your experience.
Keep it aerated – sh*t stirring.
Who doesn’t like to stir some sh*t up? Mixing up the contents of your solids bin helps the bacteria and microbes and accelerates the drying of the solids: For Cuddy, use the built-in agitator to give the bin a stir if you’re having a wee. The more it breaks down and dries – the less you empty it!
Keep it dryish
If any liquids (or slightly too-liquid-for-comfort poop) get into the solids compartment, this may prevent aerobic breakdown. Try topping up with fresh, dry coco coir or other material to absorb the excess moisture. Also, stir the solids more frequently for a few days to help the material dry out - you could also take it outside to air out if you have the option.
Remember you want some moisture in the solids bin, which is why we say keep it “dryish”. Moisture helps the composting process. You just need to avoid excess moisture.
No other waste besides human waste
Human waste should be the only thing going inside your composting toilet. Even other seemingly organic matter, such as food scraps, hygiene products, cotton, and wood, should never be put in your small potty. These objects will not decompose as quickly (if at all) as human waste does, so keeping all other disposable products out of your compost toilet is best.
Don’t fill it with toilet paper, either
To maximize your time off-grid, we suggest using a separate bin for toilet paper. Tissue paper takes a long time to break down and will still be around when you come to empty your solids bin.
Fly Kryptonite – Diatomaceous Earth
Try adding diatomaceous earth to your compost to help prevent pesky (harmless) little fruit flies and possibly their scarier but also harmless big brother Black Soldier flies (USA only?).
This can be added to the fresh composting material after emptying, after each use, or both.
Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock. Get yourself 1lb from Amazon – not an affiliate, though we probably should be!
Keep a small spray bottle of white vinegar diluted 5 to 1 with water beside your loo. A few sprays after each use will help reduce any odours from liquids left on the surface.
Maintaining your composting toilet is now complete!
There you have it! By following these routine maintenance steps, navigating common troubleshooting concerns, and learning those top tips, you can ensure that your composting toilet remains in excellent condition. Regular inspection, cleaning, and compost management will help prevent issues and lengthen your portable composting toilet's lifespan and efficient operation!
Now is the time to enjoy the benefits of your eco-friendly potty; click here to learn more about Cuddy, the odor-free portable composting toilet!