Composting Toilet Tips & Tricks
All you need to know about your RV composting toilet
If you love to be on the road, composting toilets a.k.a. dry toilets, are an absolute need for your comfort and safety, they are great for the environment and for the ‘outdoorsy’ folks. However it’s crucial to pay attention to a few details, but don’t worry, after you've gotten used to it, the benefits are totally worth it!
A composting toilet is very straightforward, with the help of a composting accelerator (e.g coconut coir) you keep your solids without smell and speed up the decomposition process. Contrary to what people think, they are easy to keep.
Here are some tips and tricks that you need to know to keep your composting toilet clean and fresh smelling:
1. Composting toilets should NOT smell
If you think this kind of toilets should be smelly… think again. What would be the purpose of having a toilet system if the main feature (keeping the smell at bay) doesn’t work? If your toilet is smelling bad, something is wrong! And you must solve that mystery as soon as possible.
Always have a vinegar and water solution at hand so you can pour some in the toilet after you go, this will help to move the urine down into the tank. You can also use two tablespoons of raw vinegar to sweeten the acidity of the smell. After you clean your tank, pour a cup of vinegar to keep it fresh. Leave it there, without rinsing.
If you notice there is urine sticking to the walls, pour the content and put some small rocks in your tank, add three inches of vinegar and shake thoroughly. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, and repeat a couple of times both the shaking and the sitting. The rocks will work as an abrasive and clear the dried urine from the walls.
To prevent urine from sticking to the walls of the container, use a cup of vinegar immediately after you dump the urine and it won’t happen again.
This is the procedure for cleaning your tank thoroughly:
Dump the Urine
Spray with Water
Rinse it Out
Dump it again
Add the Vinegar (and leave it there)
2. Check your fans and moisture
If you open the trap door and your solids are smelling, your fan must have ran out of business. Make sure your fans are always running well, especially after a long drive down the road. Bumps along the way are common, and all the jiggling may get the pieces to loosen out of place. Most of the times, a small push is enough to put them back into their places.
If the fan is OK, but the smell is still there, check for a moisture problem. It’s either time to dump your composting, or your coconut coir is too moist or too dry. Play around with moisture levels and see what works for you. When you do it right, it will stop smelling.
3. Bug control
Bug problems? Go for diatomaceous earth, you can find it in any pool store. Pour a couple of scoops into the compost bin and mix it up. After you dump that compost, start a fresh one and put two more cups of diatomaceous earth in, this will eliminate all the bugs, flies or any other creatures that are bugging you (pun intended).
4. Check the bug source
If the bugs come back, you must check what is attracting them. Some fruit gone bad or anything rotten in a corner of your tank may become a true feast for bugs. Be sure to check the filter where the vent is, and if it’s still there, check for holes.
5. Don’t be a clean freak
You don’t need to wash the base after every dumping! Having a little bit of leftovers hanging on helps promote composting in your new batch. Don’t worry about getting everything perfectly clean or antiseptic. What makes a composting toilet easy and convenient is exactly the fact that you don’t need to clean it every time you dump the contents...If it smells or attract bugs, it is time to wash. If its not, just dump it and start over.
6. Keep it hydrated
Don’t let your Coconut Coir or Peat Moss dehydrate. The manufacturer recommends breaking your coconut coir or peat moss into tiny bits, pour some water and let it simmer until the next morning in a bag. If you don’t like to wait, use a bucket to break the coconut coir and stir it with two liters of water until it is properly hydrated. This takes about 10 or 15 minutes, tops.
You can buy coconut coir in big brick sizes, they are thin and can be easily stored while small bricks tend to be more expensive. Try to avoid spag or peat moss because they are not as sustainable nor as eco-friendly as coconut coir, since spag or peat moss both take a whole lot of time to grow. They come in a gigantic bag, and that’s not a great thing to have in a limited space RV.
7. Where can you legally dump?
You must always pay attention, because there is no single rule, but a lot of local rules. You can dump in a lot of places, but if you don’t do your research you might get into trouble. Whenever you’re somewhere where you don’t know the rules or restrictions, keep it safe and don’t dump. You can always pour the urine inside your gray tank, through the shower drain or take it into town and pour it into a toilet.
There are a lot of local county regulations. One BLM or national forest area may be fine with sprinkling your urine, but other places may not allow it. Always double check ahead of time. Flushing your urine down a toilet or finding a sewer drain for your solids are safe options just about anywhere.
The same goes for composting. There are plenty of campgrounds with composting piles, where you can take your bag and toss it right into their pile. But be sure to ask for permission. Lawn and leaf containers, or trash dumpsters are safe and legal, it is not a biohazard and it is nontoxic. Dispose of them as you would dispose of any other trash and you should be fine.
8. Extra spare parts
Check the fan and the filter every once in a while, making sure nothing is clogged. If you don’t have any issues, bugs or odors, you’re doing fine.
It is always good to have a spare liquid tank, if you’re on a sailboat, there could be a big swell and you might lose your container. A spare cap is also great, they are easy to lose and you want to cover it up if you’re taking it to town with you.
If you are in the middle of nowhere for a while and want to compose even further, it is good to have a second base so you can continue for an extra two or three weeks until you are ready to dump, but that’s optional. Having an extra fan is always great, it is the only electric moving part inside the toilet. If it goes out, you’re in a world of trouble! It costs only a few bucks and is totally worth having.
To sum it up, make sure you keep bugs and smells at bay and thoroughly research dumping rules. Keep a spare fan, spare tanks and treat your coconut coir right and you’re all set for your trips.