The most common questions we get about the Nature's Head composting toilet (other than “Does it smell?”) are How do you use the toilet? and How do you empty a composting toilet?
After purchasing the Nature's Head composting toilet, your next big decision is choosing what to use as your compost material. We learned the most readily available material is Sphagnum Peat Moss, available at most Garden Centers or Hardware stores. Downside though, is the peat moss bags are huge! and not the most eco-friendly option available.
Peat moss is extracted from peat bogs that take thousands of years to form and years to recover and therefore is not a readily renewable resource. The solution is to use Coco Fiber, a more eco-friendly and sustainable option for composting than Peat Moss.
Tip: Do not install your composting toilet until you have the composting material, otherwise you will not be able to go #2 in your Tiny House!
How to Prepare the Toilet for Use
Prepping the toilet is very easy, sanitary and relatively quick. This 10 – 15 minute process is best done outside, unless it's raining. You’ll want 2 liters of water, a bucket, gardening gloves and a shovel.
- Take off the top, aka the seat and set it out of the way.
- Break off enough Coconut Fiber or sphagnum peat moss (about a 1 gallon buckets worth) and place it in your bucket.
- Hydrate the Coco Fiber or sphagnum peat moss (typically comes dehydrated in a solid mass) with water until no dry clumps are visible and it has the look and feel of fresh garden soil (damp and crumbly, not wet). I use approx 1.5 – 2 liters of water.
- Pour the hydrated coco or moss until it levels out just under or at the agitator.
- Put the toilet back together and its ready for use.
- It is recommended that you allow up to 6 hours between readying your toilet for use and then actually going #2 in it. This is to let the Toilet contents, the coco fiber, to get to the proper temperature needed for composting.Tip: Do not put a plastic bag inside the base, it will not work and isn’t necessary or helpful.
The liquid container of the Nature's Head composting toilet holds 2.2 gallons, and trust me you don’t want to wait till it’s full to empty it! The liquid tank is somewhat translucent and you can see the pee line when it’s about 2/3 full, this alerts us it’s time to empty! We typically empty the urine tank every 3-4 days (full-time use with 2 Adults) depending on how much we use the toilet in our Tiny House. This process can be a little smelly, especially if you’ve eaten Spicy Indian Curry or anything with a large dose of Garlic since you’ve last emptied, so use caution on where you decide to empty it (see below). I would recommend purchasing an extra liquid tank, you never know when you might need it (especially if you accidentally leave it behind at the campground!).
- Open the top, aka the seat, and lift to a 45° angle.
- With your free hand grab the handle, pull out the liquid tank and cap it.
- Dispose of Liquids - ideal way is to create a simple French Drain. This is a small pit, filled with gravel, then covered with landscape cloth, soil and finally grass. A vertical plastic tube should be placed in the middle of the drain so you can pour the urine from the top down into the gravel.
- Once you’ve emptied, if possible, rinse tank with a little water (enough to cover the bottom), swirl like you're rinsing out a glass, and empty. This helps reduce any build-up that may occur on the bottom and sides of the plastic bottle.
- Place the liquid bottle back into the toilet and clamp down the seat before use.
- Wash your hands and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
When it comes time to empty the toilet we typically judge by the handle on the base. When the handle becomes difficult to turn it’s time to empty and change the compost, if you want to visually measure it’s time to empty when the base is ¾ full (it will look and smell like dirt inside other than the pieces of white toilet paper). This process is clean, it does NOT smell and takes about 5 minutes. For the two of us using the toilet full-time, it takes around 3-4 weeks for the compost bin to “fill up”. Nature’s Head recommends emptying the toilet after 60-80 uses depending on how much toilet paper you like to use.
If you are using the toilet full-time you want to wait at least 8 hours after your last deposit before emptying the composting toilet. If you want to give your waste more time to compost you can purchase a second base (it comes with a bungee lid) to store the compost and allow it to decompose even further before emptying. Here’s the process I use to empty the solids out of our composting toilet:
- Put on Gloves (recommended if you are using the toilet full-time and optional if the contents have sat long enough to be fully composted).
- Remove the Liquid Tank and cap it (the last thing you want to do is accidentally spill it!).
- Unplug the vent hose and power cord, unscrew the two knobs holding the base to the floor, remove the entire toilet and take it outside (yes, your neighbor may look at you funny).
- Remove the top, aka the seat, and set it on the ground.
- Cover the top of the base with a 13 gallon Trash Bag; it is (typically) a perfect fit. We use a composting bag because it’s better for the environment as it will biodegrade much more rapidly than plastic. The downside to a composting bag is they are thinner than a normal plastic bag so you must be more careful so the bag doesn’t rip, they’re also more expensive but we’re only using 15 in a year so cost isn't really an issue.
- Fill the base with hydrated Coco Fiber, take the toilet inside and reconnect the lid, power supply, vent hose, liquid tank and finally screw the toilet back down to the floor. It’s unnecessary to clean the base as any leftover waste will help begin the composting process for the next batch.
It may sound like a lot of steps but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll see its really much better than dealing with the standard RV black water tanks and their emptying and cleaning and finding emptying stations.
Have more questions about how to prepare and empty the Nature's Head composting toilet? Want to share your favorite emptying techniques? Let it all out in the comments below.