On everybody’s mind: Toilet troubles

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image by "clairity"I’ve heard parents refer to their children’s “tummy issues” as “toilet troubles”, but this article isn’t about indigestion or the stomach flu.  It’s about a question that keeps popping up either in emails or comments.  Here are two recent examples:

If during a disaster a person starts running low on water, how does a person plan for a portable toilet in town?

What’s the best way to deal with human waste if the grid is off? My daughter and I came up with the idea of litter box/litter.

Obviously people want to know: What do we do about toilet issues in a grid down scenario?  Or if our well begins to run dry?

Contact with human waste can carry so many diseases that it’s only smart to be concerned.  Some of those diseases are cholera, dysentery, giardia, typhoid fever, and hepatitis.  Clearly we don’t want to return to the days of these diseases running rampant.  So, what’s a mom to do in a worst case scenario?

Two emergency toilet options

Here is an excerpt from my book that helps answer this question.

When the toilet won’t flush, or when flushing toilets aren’t within driving distance, having a good, sturdy shovel on hand would be a good idea. However, there are a couple of options a little higher up on the evolutionary scale.

The 5-gallon bucket wasn’t invented just for janitorial use. In fact, it can make a mighty fine, albeit temporary, substitute for your toilet.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A 5-gallon bucket. You can be choosy about the color, but really, in the end, it doesn’t matter.
  • A snap-on toilet seat will make the experience more comfortable and homey. An old toilet seat works just as well, as long as it doesn’t slip off while holding its passenger.
  • Heavy-duty trash bags. Plan on using two of these to line the bucket. Commercial liners specifically designed for this purpose can be purchased also.
  • A supply of kitty litter, sawdust, peat, or dirt.
  • Unscented liquid bleach, diluted with water in a 1:10 solution.
  • Air freshener.

Line the bucket with two of the trash bags and snap on the toilet lid. Sprinkle a cup or 2 of kitty litter in the bottom of the bag and after each “Number 2.” Additionally, sprinkle a cup or 2 of the bleach solution into the bag to kill bacteria.

Another option I mention in the book is to continue using your bathroom toilet.  Empty out all the water and then follow the above steps beginning with, “Heavy-duty trash bags…”  If you keep the toilet seat and bathroom door closed, the odor won’t be overwhelming.

The problem with both these solutions is that the bagged waste (okay, pee and poop) will have to be disposed of each day.  If you live in a city, this could become a real problem because guess what?  Everyone else around you is dealing with the same issue. City parks, green belts, and the like will soon become makeshift landfills.

Is there a way to reduce the amount of waste in the first place?

Chemisan to the rescue

A product that I highly recommend is Chemisan.  I interviewed one of the company’s executives for my book and was so impressed by this productand the fact that it had first been developed with third world countries in mind.  Chemisan is a powder that can be sprinkled over human waste and within a few weeks (depending on weather and climate conditions), it turns poop into environmentally friendly compost.  Incredible!

You can buy Chemisan on its own or as part of a combo with the Gotta-Go Toilet, another product I recommend.  The cardboard toilet is designed to be sturdy and long-lasting (for cardboard), but when it’s served its’ purpose, the toilet itself is bio-degradable.  The whole concept is really impressive, and I’m glad some pretty sharp minds have already developed these products.

Although you will still have to bury the waste, within weeks it will become harmless.

Don’t over-worry about this!

Too often we imagine scenarios right out of Hollywood: Mad Max and The Road come to mind.  But keep in mind that these films are pretty far out there in terms of being realistic.  Their intent is to shock and make money, not necessarily in that order.

Yes, an EMP could take out the entire grid in North America, but then again, it might not.  It might affect some areas more than others, some electronics more than others.  There are too many unanswered questions about the potential and likely effects of EMP, and really, it shouldn’t be at the top of your list when it comes to being prepared.  Not even in the Top 5.

Plan for what is most realistic: a fairly short-term emergency.  The last thing government officials want, regardless if it’s city, county, state, or otherwise, is an out-of-control emergency that endangers the lives of millions.  Think about it.  If 75% of the population dies, who will be left to pay taxes??  If at all possible, sanitation services, at the very least, will be up and running as quickly as possible.

A checklist of supplies

To be ready for toilet troubles, here’s a quick checklist of helpful supplies.

  • at least 1 5-gallon bucket with toilet seat lid
  • several boxes of heavy-duty trash bags
  • 2 gallons of unscented bleach
  • several boxes of kitty litter
  • at least one heavy duty shovel
  • at least 2 ways to heat water for sanitation purposes (propane, solar oven, rocket stove)
  • plenty of toilet paper or cloth wipes
  • lots of bar soap, liquid soap, baby wipes, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer



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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

29 thoughts on “On everybody’s mind: Toilet troubles”

  1. You or your readers might want to read the book titled The Humanure Handbook and have a look at the the Loveable Loo. If you do an Internet search, an earlier version of the book can be found in PDF form for free download and the toilet is easy enough to build from salvaged pieces and parts. With some discipline human waste can be managed in a grid down situation easily enough. A very large portion of the population of this planet does it everyday.

  2. I’m no fecal expert but I’m pretty sure it takes a lot longer than a few weeks for human waste to become harmless after burying it. When used as humanure I think the recommendation is to wait at least two years before use but one year may suffice. I know you’re not suggesting using it as compost but I think this would indicate a few weeks is probably not long enough.

  3. Are you against cloth toilet paper during a grid-down situation, or all the time? We use cloth paper and just throw it in the bucket and eventually into the wash with the cloth diapers. However, I will admit that I’m not up for cleaning the cloth toilet paper if I have to do the old-fashioned laundering.

    I have a question unrelated to this post, but am not sure where else to post it. I was talking to my mom about all this prepping and survival stuff to sort of see where she is with it. She brought up the late 70s with gas rationing and weekly inflation of food prices, etc. Her argument was that people always think things are going to get fall apart, but we find a way out of it. I’m curious why today’s preppers feel like things truly are more dire at this point. I prep but it’s more out of preparation for very likely scenarios around here, like power outages, and possible scenarios, like unemployment. But I’m curious about prepping for major collapses and EMPs and such. Maybe you have already covered this and I just can’t locate the post. Thank you!

    1. Stealth Spaniel

      Re: the 70’s. Jimmy Carter was/is a bumbling, manipulative fool-Obama is Jimmy Carter times 1 million. We did not have Al Quieda, suicide bombers, Islam freaks in the US, the Russian bank shoot out in LA,beheading civilians, 17 trillion $$$ in US debt,or planes being flown into skyscrapers. I will not repeat what my mother said when she was sitting in a gas line-on her “designated day” !!! It was a little nuts in the 70’s-now we are on the brink of insanity.
      Thanks for this article LIsa. Well researched and with much common sense.

  4. I’m glad the other reader mentioned the Humanure Handbook. The author did very thorough research. As mentioned you can find it online for free. It seems to me the most practical and sanitary solution should there ever be a long term outage.

  5. In addition to maintaining an 18 month supply of toilet paper, I also have:
    store bought baby wipes (on sale of course)
    supplies for home made baby wipes
    telephone books
    supplies to build a privy, including lime
    5 gallon buckets w/ trash bags and kitty litter
    an hillbilly bidet….(small manual pesticide sprayer from Walmart)
    old t shirts, plastic coffee can, and concentrated Lysol….as a last resort!

    Hopefully I’m prepared to maintain our hygiene, no matter the severity of a societal collapse! 😉

    In reference to Karyn’s concern:
    Jimmy Carter’s foolish and inept leadership was harmful to our nation, but that was a different era. His poor leadership and the resulting recession was a fraction of what we face today! In my 45 years, and my parents 65 & 66 years, we have NEVER seen SO many scenarios pooling together that, on their own, could cause harm to our nation. I agree with Stealth, we are looking at a perfect storm like our nation and possible our world have never seen! Keep an eye on the EU economy…when they collapse it will be a domino effect for us!

    (Rant off….)

  6. Keep the potty seats from potty training. They should fit reasonably but not perfectly well in the top of a 5 gallon makeshift toilet bucket. My mom-in-law found one at a thrift store for a few dollars. DON’T use the soft spongy kind though, because they act like a sponge and get full of pee (know this from personal experience with my little guy!)

  7. While I do have a stash of toilet paper, and we keep it in the bathroom for guests, we do family cloth here too. Why not, when we already do cloth diapers? Frugal, environmentally friendly, and CLEAN. (I promise!) I save space and money for more important things, like food storage, and have fewer trips to the store. Besides, it is great practice for my family to not be wasteful, no pun intended. Thanks for the reminder about the snap-on toilet seats. I’ve been meaning to pick one up.

  8. I’ve been so thrilled to read that I am not the only person who uses ‘bathroom cloths’. I started doing this several years ago (only for #1) as one of my many ways to save money. I HATE flushing money down the toilet. Toilet paper and insurance are two things I can’t stand to spend money on. That being said….I have both. I keep a couple years supply of TP on hand. I’m a believer in having at least 2 alternate ways of doing everything beyond the normal. Two alternate ways to cook, keep warm, keep cool, supply water, poo, transport supplies, …… Prepping gives me a sense of control.

  9. for those of you near any forestation, in my younger days, and even not so long ago, when having spent time wondering in the woods, there were occasions when i just couldn’t wait to get home “to go”. so i’d find some plants that were suitable for wiping.. this included 6 or 8 tree leaves or even a wad of ferns, etc, etc. (stay away from poison ivy, now…) they worked perfectly. now, i know that there are concerns about little critters on such things, however, one could come up with a method to disinfect such things before use

  10. I second the Humanure book – an excellent read, and very informative.

    Also read the book, “Holy Shit” by Gene Logsdon (website here: http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com) which talks about animal as well as human waste composting. Heck, you can compost small dead animals very quickly if you do it properly.

    Composting (NOT burying) waste is not as dangerous or scary as you might think, and no chemicals or “products” to buy are required. It is the most natural thing in the world for waste to be returned to the earth – it is literally how nature grows the food that feeds us all. All humanity needs to do is relearn what it used to know.

    In the US, we have become brainwashed into being terrified of every microbe and germ out there – to the point where we are literally inventing antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains. Think about it, how did we manage to survive all those ice ages and millennium before toilet flushing and hand sanitizers? Our species survived BETTER when we followed nature, built up immunity with the correct diet (animal fats and meats are critical to immune system health to keep “bad” microbes/germs in check) and with exposure to all sorts of “scary” dirt from the day we are born. We were literally taller before we became dependent upon agriculture, and it is no accident that today’s children are predicted to have shorter life expectancies than their parents.

    (See Jared Diamond: http://www.ditext.com/diamond/mistake.html)

  11. Why not invest in a well designed composting toilet? No smell, compact, easy to clean and the composted “product” is clean and dry and not yucky to deal with. I know of many new sustainable houses being built with only composting toilets eliminating the need for water or septic/sewage hookup.

  12. Good post and comments. Not a subject anyone really wants to think about but sure will be an issue at some point even if it’s short term. We’ve already used the bucket method when remodeling our only bathroom. On another related subject I need to finish making those extra cloth diapers. Not fun to run out of diapers! Also for us women to have plenty of cloth feminine pads for ourselves and our daughters. I’d rather make these items now when I can buy PUL and absorbant microfiber fabric cheap online then have to make due like our mothers/grandmothers had to. Could be good bartering items too. As well as any baby item. Maybe you already did this but you could do a whole post on how to prep for baby and the many good products out there for that. 🙂

  13. Hello everyone. I know I am not a mom so please be kind. I love this site. Anyway I have recently purchased a “biopod” to turn my waste food into free chicken food. Basically the black solder is attracted to the bad smell and lays her eggs. The eggs become larva and they are a eating machine. After 2 weeks my biopod did not smell bad anymore. The little guys eat so quickly that it never smells bad now. I am getting way off point. During my reading I saw on the website for the product that they sell these things to urban dog owners as a way to get rid of their “waste”. They collect it and throw it in just like how I do my waste food. The larva is so aggressive that the “waste” will be completely gone in a day. This would mean no bad smell!! I would think it would be a good option if our toilets stopped working. I am not a sales man. I just think they are a cool concept.

  14. I’m surprised that no one here thought about turning it into fuel. With the right rig up you can run a propane/natural gas generator off of the methane produced by your family’s waste. Or even set it up to use as cooking fuel, like propane and natural gas.

    You’d need to take care, since it is VERY flammable, but so are propane, gasoline, natural gas, etc.

  15. I grew up poor in the fifties. for TP we used newspaper, and catalogs ( any kind) we had an outhouse.
    we lived on a small farm and if we didn’t grow it, we didn’t eat it. we grew everything from beans to peanuts.
    what cash we had($50.00 a month for a family of 5) was very carefully spent. I now prep as much as I can
    and still try to live by if we don’t grow it, we don’t eat it. I know there are things we can’t grow that we
    budget for.

  16. Just wanted to leave a quick note to THANK you for this. I got this information from your book a while ago and took steps to prepare. Well….we ended up using our bucket/lid/bag/litter when our septic failed and it took 5 days to get anyone out here to check it out. With seven children in the house, some of whom are too young to understand, it was an easy way to continue carrying on with a bit of normalcy. THANK YOU for sharing this sort of information for moms like me! When this is over (today I hope!) that bucket/lid/bag/litter set up will go right back into the van for emergencies 🙂

    1. I like the Chemisan toilet and have recommended it, but the company doesn’t seem to be very stable. I’ve seen their products on a website here or there, and then it’s discontinued. I don’t know what the problem is, but if/when you do find their products, be ready to buy.

  17. Since Chemisan is no longer available, is there a newer product on the market that works the same? Or do you recommend just sticking with kitty litter??

  18. What about the concept of squeeze bottles of water to be used like a bidet. I am thinking about condiment bottles, perhaps one color for each family member. Washing this way if water is available (we have plenty of water, but not much else) should clean skin. We have dug an old fashioned out house. Have closed the openings and use it as a yard shed for now, but will be ready when the time comes.

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  20. Very informative and practical tips on the toilet issues. I made notes to use during our camping adventures away from civilization.

    Seriously, I didn’t appreciate all the right-wing moms, self-proclaimed conservatives, and Trump supporters who posted comments in 2012 and later on this page casting shade on Jimmy Carter and Obama. But since you brought it up: So, how do you like your guy now?

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