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  • Steve Nubie

How to Build an Off-Grid Bathroom

Off-grid bathrooms are as old as an outhouse and we’ll cover how to build one. However, there are other options you could consider and it all depends on why you need a bathroom without the convenience of running water and electricity.


The whole toilet concept is another example of something we often take for granted, but how many of us have been stumped to find that the toilet won’t flush when the power’s out, or wonder how we’re going to do anything in a bathroom while some plumbing is under repair?


What’s significant is that human waste is a virulent pollutant holding and carrying a significant biome of bacteria and viruses. Bathrooms make it all so easy, but throughout history and even in parts of the world today diseases from Cholera to Typhoid ravage populations with poor sanitation and infrastructure.


Reasons for an Off-Grid Bathroom



The reasons you might need an off-grid bathroom could be as simple as a long-term camping trip, or a power-outage that just seems to go on and on. It’s also possible that you want to pursue an off-grid lifestyle or maybe want the convenience of a bathroom somewhere on a distant piece of property.


Whatever the reason, the type of off-grid bathroom you design and build will vary depending on the situation and how long you plan to use it. More importantly you should take any design seriously to avoid many of the problems that literally plague parts of the world.


From the Simple to Complex


On a basic level, an off grid bathroom concept is designed to effectively deal with human waste so that it does not pollute the surrounding environment. For some, finding a tree in the woods is as simple as it gets. But going to the bathroom sometimes gets a little more complicated especially when toilet paper is involved.



A small shovel and a roll of toilet paper can work in an emergency, but it assumes someone has the ability to find a remote or at least private location. It also helps if it’s some distance away from a camp, home or garden.


If you simply want to create a more permanent solution you could always dig a latrine.


Keep the shovel handy and you could even use some leaves like burdock to act as a toilet paper substitute.


A step up is the use of a 5-gallon bucket with an old toilet seat attached and a plastic bag to dispose of any waste.



This can be located in any room or outbuilding and offers more options for the endless pursuit of privacy. The toilet seat attached to the bucket makes things at least feel a bit more comfortable.


What also helps with a bucket toilet is its portability.


No matter where you go or where you’re working you can take it with you and all you need is to find a spot that gives you some privacy. Disposing of the waste is always a challenge but burying it is an option or disposing of it in a garbage can. Don’t compost it. Human waste makes for dangerous compost.


Speaking of compost….


There’s a toilet concept called a composting toilet. It uses a mix of organic materials like peat moss, soil, powdered lime and anything else you would use in a compost heap to accelerate the decomposition of waste.



Compost toilets are usually used where there’s no opportunity to dig a hole in soil to accommodate waste like you would find beneath an outhouse or a latrine in the woods.


As long as the compost mix is active, the composting toilet will cause the waste to decompose and usually prevents odors. If odors persist the bucket holding the compost can always be buried, and once again the waste from a composting toilet should never be turned into a traditional compost heap intended for a garden.


On the Road


Any long distance trip usually requires a rest stop but some of us remember how many rest stops were actually closed during the pandemic. Worse, there are times where you just can’t stop even if it’s finding the proverbial tree in the woods.



For times when you literally need to go while traveling there are some bathroom options you can use in the car in an emergency, at least off to the side of the road where there’s a bit of privacy.


Then again, if you can pull off the road a bucket with a plastic bag is always an option.


A tarp or poncho can give you some instant privacy and one of those hollow foam tubes that kids use in swimming pools and make short work of a soft seat on top of the bucket. Just don’t forget the toilet paper when you’re traveling.


Outhouse Engineering



A standard feature on any farm or homestead going back centuries was the traditional outhouse. Most featured an image or carving of a crescent moon or heart on the door. Some had an exhaust chimney to encourage ventilation.


The design was simple with a small, shed structure with a door enclosing a platform that someone could easily sit on. An oval was cut into the top of the platform so someone could easily sit and a pit was carefully dug under the outhouse about 3 to 4 feet deep. Toilet paper or other materials we’re at hand and also tossed into the pit.


Some outhouses had small buckets of lime with a scoop or even collected compost materials that could be thrown into the pit to encourage decomposition and mask odors.


When the pit was almost full, the outhouse would be lifted and relocated to another location over a freshly dug pit. They were usually located away from the house or cabin to minimize any odors from drifting towards the house, but not too far so it was still accessible in winter.


Instant Outhouse



There are small sheds and even portable-pottie enclosures you can buy online. Some of the port-a-potties are chemical toilets that require regular emptying by a service, but an easy to assemble shed or pottie can be placed over a hole dug in the ground if you don’t have the time, skills or inclination to build an outhouse.


You could also place one of these popup outhouses over a bucket toilet or other improvised toilet –even a simple latrine.


Toilet Paper Alternatives



There are natural alternatives to toilet paper. A lot depends on your location but people have used everything from leaves to cattail heads, moss, newspapers and of course old phone books. It’s all a question of using what you can to clean up with a material that can ultimately decompose.


If you have the time, you can even make your own toilet paper from wood pulp or recycled newspaper.


That kind of DIY project was another common lesson from the past pandemic.


√  Sponge and Vinegar


This is an old Roman idea and it’s not really recommended. A sea sponge on a stick was left to soak in a bowl of vinegar and used in place of toilet paper. Curiously, the Romans probably didn’t realize the antiseptic properties of vinegar but it was commonly used for centuries. It still doesn’t sound like a great idea when reused later by someone else.


√ Water Bottle


Think of it as a portable bidet. A water bottle with a hole drilled in the lid will deliver a spray that can be used like a bidet. Add a little vinegar or rubbing alcohol to the water and it will have antiseptic properties.


Hand Sanitation


It’s rare that you would see a toilet that’s not next to a sink in a conventional bathroom, but some of these ideas we’ve covered will rarely have sinks.


In an outhouse there was sometimes a water bowl and pitcher on a platform off to the side, but not always. What’s important is to think about how someone could sanitize their hands after use. Here are some options:


√ Hand Sanitizer


It’s fair to assume that some of us still have plenty of hand sanitizer around. It’s the perfect way to sanitize after using an improvised toilet. One thought is to tape it upside down on a bucket or attach it with a string to any other tool or accessory used for bathroom duties.


√ Baby Wipes


If it works for babies it will work for the rest of us. Most baby wipes are bio-degradable and saturated with an antiseptic lotion to kill germs.


√ Paper Towels


It’s a hassle to carry around a towel and any towel hung in an outhouse will need to be frequently replaced. Worse, any wet towel left outdoors on a hook in an outhouse will frost up in winter. A roll of paper towels may be the best and easiest solution and because they’re bio-degradable you can just toss them in the pit.


Outhouse Heat in Winter



If you’ve ever used an outhouse in January you know what it’s like to feel -20 degree temperatures on bare skin. There are some fairly simple, off-grid heating solutions from tea candles under a flower pot to small but luxurious wood burning stoves.


How ambitious you get with heating solutions for an outhouse depends on how many people have to endure the cold and the severity of your winters. Either way, it may be nice to explore the options –just in case.


Don’t Give Up on That Flush Toilet


The telegram is simple. If a toilet won’t flush, don’t use it. But even when the power is out and the water’s not running you can still flush a toilet. All you need to do is collect about a gallon and a half or more of rainwater or water from any other natural source.


The water doesn’t have to be purified or even filtered. After all you’re just going to flush it down the toilet. Fill the water tank at the back of the toilet and you’ll get a good flush with each fill. It’s a possible short-term solution and beats building an outhouse from scratch or squatting in the snow.


However, there are occasions when a toilet won’t work because the septic system is backed up.  In fact, it can even back up into your home and erupt from the shower drain and overflow the toilet.  Here’s an article that tells you what to do in addition to other articles on the subject of everything bathroom and toilet:


It’s Not Complicated


We’ve been dealing with this basic bodily function since we emerged on the planet. What’s important is to appreciate the sanitation risk and find the best solution to fit your situation. As time goes on you may get to a more robust solution is needed. Until then, keep that shovel handy.

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