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A buyer's & user's guide to portable chemical toilets: this article describes use of chemical toilets, how they work, and how they reduce wastewater consumption. The photograph at page top is of the Thetford PortaPotti, a portable toilet which uses chemicals. Other common portable toilets include models from Sears, the Coleman, and Reliance toilets who provide a hassock model portable chemical toilet.
This article provides the details of the set-up, use, maintenance, cleaning,and emptying-out of chemical toilets. We also discuss portable toilet repairs and winterizing.
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Chemical toilets have limited storage capacity and must be pumped and periodically cleaned by a septic company.
Similar to simple chemical toilets but more sophisticated in design are recirculating toilets which separate the waste from the chemical and then re circulated the fluid through the toilet tank.
Chemical toilets with larger waste reservoirs are used in RV's and campers as well as for full-sized portable toilets or Porta-Johns used at construction sites and at outdoor festivals.
Readers should also see ALTERNATIVE & WATERLESS TOILETS for a discussion of camping toilets, chemical toilets, emergency-use toilets, waterless toilets, graywater systems, composting toilets, home health care toilets, incinerating toilets, outhouses, and latrines. Citation of this article by reference to this website and brief quotation for the sole purpose of review are permitted.
The following is from: New York State Appendix 75-A.10 Other systems
Chemical toilets have limited storage capacity and must be emptied and cleaned by the user.
The photograph at page top is of the Century 6205 2.6-Gallon Portable Toilet by Century Tool, a portable toilet which uses chemicals to deodorize and disinfect toilet waste.
We built the wooden platform shown underneath this toilet in order to raise the seat height to a more comfortable position, but in normal use this toilet works just fine placed directly on a floor or on the ground outdoors.
Version I of our wooden chemical toilet height platform is shown at the top of this page.
Version II of our chemical toilet height increase platform that added railings and a wider platform for greater stability is shown just below - we call this version, constructed in 2014 the Throne.
Designed by Jennifer Church and constructed by the author, the Throne added a 3-inch bottom platform that raised the seat height of the porta-potty to about 19" from the floor. That's the maximum height recommended by the ADA though some users may prefer 20".
If you need to provide seat height and grabrails that meet ADA specifications for accessible designs see
Other common portable toilets include models from Thetford®, Sears®, the Coleman®, and Reliance® toilets who provide a hassock model portable chemical toilet.
How to Operate a Chemical Toilet or Porta Potty
Here are complete details for operation and maintenance of the chemical porta-potty toilet.
Before First Use of the Toilet
The portable chemical toilet is now ready to use.
One packet of dry powder, or one plastic bottle of liquid portable toilet disinfectant / deodorant (shown above) is sufficient to treat forty gallons of wastewater, but this toilet base only holds about three gallons of waste, so just use a tiny amount, about 1/10 of a dry powder packet or 1/10 of a liquid bottle of chemical. Just estimate – precision is not necessary. Keep the chemicals away from children.
When you observe that the toilet bottom waste reservoir tank is getting full (liquid is near the top of the opening visible when you pull the “T” handle out to give view into the bottom tank) the toilet needs to be emptied.
When use of the toilet is not going to be required for a few days or longer periods it should be emptied, cleaned, and left empty.
The illustration at left shows simple pictorial instructions provided by Century Tool, the manufacturer of the portable toilet used to illustrate this article.
Emptying the portable toilet waste reservoir into a toilet or other dumping locadtion
If a local septic tank outdoor access port is available, open the septic tank pump-out port at the top of the septic tank cleaning riser pipe. Pour the toilet waste reservoir contents into that opening and replace the cap on the pumping port immediately.
If the septic tank pump-out port has become buried by deep snow, or if no septic tank outdoor port nor RV dumping station is available, the portable toilet can be emptied into an indoor toilet – pour carefully so as not to splash.
Our photo (left) shows a small chemical toilet holding tank being emptied into the service riser over a residential septic tank. In some circumstances this is ok.
RV HOLDING TANK DUMP INTO SEPTIC TANK? is a detailed article explaining when it is probably ok and when it is probably not ok to dump a chemical toilet, a porta-potty, or an RV waste holding tank into a septic tank (rather than dumping these at a sanitary waste disposal station, for example, at a campground or marina).
Portable toilets include these brands: Thetford Porta Potti, SeaLand’s SaniPottie, Coleman Portable Toilet, Fiamma Bi-Pots, Century Portable Toilet, Dometic Sani Porti, Visa Potty, Companion Eziloo and Primus Deluxe Portable Loo. CONTACT us to add other portable or camping or alternative toilets and products.
Also see our detailed article about camping and emergency use toilets found at Camping & Emergency Toilets.
Watch out: SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY discusses the importance of safe, non-collapsing and child-proof septic tank access covers.
When use of the chemical toilet is not going to be required for a few days or longer periods it should be emptied completely, washed, and left empty.
For odor and sanitation control, add a fresh dose of disinfectant/deodorant to the toilet waste reservoir followed by about a half-cup of water (just enough to wet the dry chemical and cover the bottom of the waste reservoir). (see How Much Chemical to Add above).
Do not leave the toilet top tank filled with flush-water as it may freeze and damage the toilet.
Question: How can I replace the accordion valve flush-plunger on my chemical toilet?
Reply: Yes but it's not easy to replace the accord ian valve or flush valve on a porta potty
The accordion valve on a chemical toilet is that flexible plunger pushed to force water from the reservoir tank into the toilet bowl (photo at left). On at least some chemical toilets it's a replaceable part - you'll want to obtain exactly the proper part that matches your toilet to be sure that the replacement fits and doesn't leak.
Watch out: You'll probably find, as I did, that a sticky sealant is used between the accordion valve or flush valve surface and the upper surface of the plastic porta potty at the mounting hole. You may need a replacement sticky gasket kit from the manufacturer to do this job reliably. If you fail to seal the valve at its mount position the new toilet flush valve will look fine, but it may not pump an adequate dose of water into the toilet bowl for flushing.
Question: How to freeze-proof a porta potty
I want to keep my porta potty in my van for occasional use during the upcoming Michigan winter. How do I keep it useful without it freezing? - Bonnie Jones
Reply: RV Wastewater System Anti-Freeze, Heat, or Leave the System Empty
Short answer: to keep a portapotty in a van in freezing conditions, first buy and use RV wastewater and flush water environmentally safe antifreeze product from an RV supplier.
Option 1: leave the toilet drained, empty, and treated
We leave a chemical toilet in a remote cabin in northern Minnesota through very deep freezing weather. But first we empty the water from the flush reservoir and we empty the toilet base as well. Then we leave a very small quantity of water along with toilet treatment chemical in the toilet base receptacle. By that means the toilet fresh, without a lingering worry about developed odors, bacteria, or mold growth while it's sitting idle. The toilet is almost ready to use when people return to the cabin. All that's needed is to add water to the flush reservoir.
Option 2: use an RV antifreeze product in the chemical toilet?
For buildings (or vans) where we need to leave a portapotty in ready-to-use condition in freezing conditions we'd have to add a heat source OR we'd need to add an antifreeze mix to be sure of avoiding damage. You MIGHT get away with letting a small amount of waste in the toilet bottom freeze but it's risky.
People who own an RV or a boat that includes water supply and waste piping learn that to winterize their vehicle they need to drain the system of water and usually they also add an antifreeze to be sure that pumps or any components that might contain residual water won't be damaged by freezing.
If you check with your local RV suppliers you'll find that they sell RV wastewater holding tank antifreeze for use in the holding tanks in those larger vehicles. Most RV and Marine antifreeze solutions use ethylene glycol (EG) or propylene glycol (PG), with glycerin as a primary second ingredient. Also in RV applications and some others, antifreeze solutions include phosphates as an anti-corrosion agent that you would not need in an all-plastic water or wastewater system. (Phosphate-containing antifreeze is used in the U.S. but prohibited in Europe.)
According to Splashproducts propylene glycol antifreeze is considered "generally regarded as safe" or "GRAS" by the U.S. FDA. The company states that their RV & Marine antifreeze is "Safe for incidental contact with people, pets, and wildlife".  We'd always prefer to use an environmentally safe product that can be used in both the flush water supply and in the wastewater holding tank if you are going to use an antifreeze in a chemical toilet or portapotty.
You will also find "drinkable" antifreeze (propylene glycol based antifreeze) sold by other RV suppliers and intended for use in the RV's drinking water holding tank and pump. Although no one is going to be drinking out of your porta-potty, that's what I'd prefer to use in the porta potty flush reservoir tank.
Watch out: many antifreeze solutions are toxic if ingested (drunk) and may also be environmental contaminants that should not be dumped into a septic tank nor onto the ground surface.
While at least some manufacturers of the chemicals used in chemical toilets (to deodorize and to stop bacterial action in order to prevent dangerous production of potentially explosive methane gas inside the toilet) inform us that their products are environmentally friendly, New York State, as an example, does not want homeowners discharging chemical toilets into the environment.
Further, as we have advised at RV HOLDING TANK DUMP INTO SEPTIC TANK? about dumping RV toilets into the septic system, there is some risk that discharging these chemicals into a conventional septic system could cause it to stop working, depending on the frequency and volume of chemical waste to be disposed-of.
With this in mind, we use chemical toilets where there is no onsite waste disposal system at all such as in a weekend cabin without plumbing, or in RV's, but not as a permanent toilet facility in a permanently occupied building.
Chemical toilets or camping toilets and porta-potties are also suitable for the "pack it in, pack it out" environment in which waste is removed from the site and dumped at an approved RV dumping facility.
Chemical or portable toilets may also be a life-saver for home health care or for elderly, disabled, or other people of limited mobility who need a close-by toilet or who need to avoid excreting large amounts of drugs or antibiotics into a private septic system. See Disabled or Elderly-Use Toilets for more information.
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to buy, use, clean & maintain chemical & portapotty type toilets
Question: can I use household chemicals as an alternative to over-the-counter toilet deodorants & disinfectants
there are alternative effective recipes for use in Portable toilets that can be made from household chemicals. Do you know of any such mixtures that are available - Colin 6/12/11
Reply: yes, ... maybe, ... sort-of
Raft-camping down the Colorado River we carried an ammunition can used as an emergency day-toilet. Inside the can were supplies including ziplok plastic bags, toilet paper, and a small bottle of diluted bleach. The routine was to defecate into the baggie and also use it to dispose of toilet paper. Since all of that waste had to be packed out of the Canyon, and because the can was exposed to high temperatures during the day, we poured a little bleach into each baggie to slow the decomposition and gas production - avoiding an exploding ammo can.
Question: how do I keep my porta-potty from freezing?
I want to keep my porta potty in my van for occasional use during the upcoming Michigan winter. How do I keep it useful without it freezing? - Bonnie Jones 10/5/11
Good question Bonnie.
Question: how do I treat a toilet so it can be left for weeks?
Is there no way to treat a toilet so that it can be left for weeks? Thing is we only use the toilet a couple of times when we visit a remote cabin. Getting the toilet to a dump point is a mission, so it would be good if there was a way to avoid it each visit. - Mark 2/1/2012
Mark, if you use the proper amount of disinfectant I've found that a chemical toilet is just fine left alone for weeks;
Question: where can I buy a chemical toilet in Ghana?
i live in an area which has a lot of salty water in the soil. if the water does not affect the manhole the salt would. i need this portable chemical potty to buy where can i get one in Ghana - Evelyn 11/9/12
Evelyn portable chemical toilets are sold worldwide in most large cities at camping and RV suppliers, contractor supply houses and some plumbing suppliers; if you can't find a close source I'd just ask someone to bring one in for you - they're not heavy. The Thetford is particularly widely distributed, and back in 2011 we read of a whole collection of test-porta-potty toilets being brought from the U.S. to Kumasi by Danny Alexander.
However as you'll read in the article above, a small porta-potty is not going to be very functional for permanent or regular use in a home with more than one or two occupants - you'll find that you have to empty and clean the unit daily; conversely, a very large reservoir portable toilet means that it may be heavy and awkward to carry to a disposal point.
Where electricity is limited, there is LP fuel shortage, or where cost matters, therefore ruling out an incinerating toilet, you might be better off considering a composting type toilet, even a site-constructed one. See COMPOSTING TOILETS.
Question: is it OK to dump my chemical toilet into the outhouse ?
I have a cabin way up north and are wondering about a chemical toilet instead of using the out house at nite because there are bears and wolves there. The out house is legal there. Would it be safe to dump the chemical in the out house - Dave
I'm doubtful that modest doses of chemical toilet waste will make much of a change there other than perhaps reducing odors. But I'd be sure not to overdose the chemical toilet - just use the required amount of chemical, don't dump whole bottles or packets of chemical into your chemical toilet or you'll be dumping more than needed into the outhouse, and you might risk leaching chemicals into surrounding soil.
Question: we are considering getting a chemical toilet - are they smelly? Can the chemicals be flushed into a home septic tank?
We are considering getting a chemical toilet for use in our home's bathroom. My questions are, can chemical toilets be flushed into a home septic tank, and do they smell really bad after a bowl movement? Any suggestions as to which type of chemical toilet would be good for in-home use would be greatly appreciated. - K.S. 1/23/13
Chemical toilets are not smelly - at least not from urine or feces that are placed in the toilet, any more than a water-flush toilet. The deodorant recommended by the manufacturer is placed in the chemical toilet holding tank along with a small volume of water as a starter; it's effective both in odor and sanitation;
If you don't use a recommended treatment chemical, indeed the toilet may smell and also may be unsanitary if not emptied very frequently.
Question: what about using a porta-john on a boat - isn't high temperature a worry?
4/23/14 Anonymous said:
How do you avoid high heat on a boat?, and should I be worried about this?
Reply: No if proper chemical treatment is used, otherwise yes heat is a concern with some portable toilets & some fixed, waterless incinerating toilets
If you are asking about a chemical toilet for boat use, in normal use the addition of odor control treatment chemicals to the toilet base should prevent troublesome methane gas formation at problem levels by controlling the amount of bacterial action - basically stopping it.
Watch out: if someone omits the recommended chemical toilet treatment, then it is possible that some models may use a holding tank that is too air-tight, un-vented, that could result in a toilet explosion. Check with the product manufacturer to make sure that the model about which you inquire is rated for high temperature locations and marine use.
At CAMPING & EMERGENCY TOILETS I describe a real-world worry about harmful explosions that can occur if un-treated sewage waste is kept in a tightly sealed container and exposed to high temperatures.
More about Marine Toilets suitable for both small craft and some larger boats, even submarines, along with their history can be read at MARINE TOILETS.
Questions & answers or comments about buying, using, maintaining, repairing, and emptying out a chemical toilet or porta potty.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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