Today we are talking about toilets.

Glamorous, no. Practical and essential? Yes. If you’re living off-grid, you’re going to need some sort of toilet solution.

Here are my picks for the best off-grid toilet options that don’t smell, and some that don’t require plumbing, either.

First up, let me address some common questions about off-grid toilets, specifically about septic and plumbing.

Is there a toilet that doesn’t need a septic tank?

There are 4 types of toilets on my list that don’t require septic: compost toilets, pit latrines, incinerator toilets and biogas toilets.

I’ll explain more about each, further on. 

Spoiler alert: I find composting toilets to be the most convenient and simple off-grid toilet method that doesn’t require a septic tank.

Can you make a bathroom without plumbing? (upflush toilet)


The most obvious is the pit latrine (outhouse) style toilet. Composting toilets and incinerator toilets also don’t require plumbing.

Can you have a flushing toilet off grid?

Yes, you can have a flush toilet while off-grid.

I have a whole post about septic tanks, which explains the difference between cesspools and septic and how you can easily have an off-grid, private septic. 

You can hook a regular flush toilet up to this and go on your merry, off-grid way.

Read on for more information about the ‘up-flush’ toilet, too. This can be a good option for some homes connected to septic, too.

You can also use a HomeBiogas Digestor as well.  They are designed to run off of flush toilets, we’ll get more into detail later in this post.

Do composting toilets smell?

Yes and no.

Self-contained composting toilets generally don’t smell, but many people complain that centralized composting toilets have a slight odor.

A proper-functioning composting toilet should not have a strong smell. If there is a malfunction, or if you leave it for too long without transferring it to your humanure pile, however, it could begin to stink.

With my homemade 5-gallon bucket composting toilet, I’ve got a few tricks to stop any smell. If you do it right, no smell!

Where can I put the compost from my composting toilet?

Good question, because you cannot treat Humanure compost exactly like your other animal manure based compost.


  • Directly in your garden
  • Directly on any potted plants or herbs


  • In your fruit forest (the roots of the trees will filter any nasty stuff, and the fruits or nuts you harvest will be safe to eat). In this case, I like to mix with regular compost (30/70, majority regular compost) instead of entirely humanure on my trees.
  • On your lawn – for green, lush grass or flourishing flowers
  • Any other greenery you’re not planning on consuming: like shade trees or a living fence (bamboo, etc).

*** allow the compost from your toilet to sit in a compost pile for 6-12 months before using in any capacity, including on your yard or living fence.

Now let’s get into the best off-grid toilet options for homesteaders:

Compost Toilet (Bucket-method)

I’ll tell you straight forward, this is my preferred approach. It’s simple, effective, and cheap! Anyone can make one with just a 5-gallon bucket, and it does the job without a stink.

Win-win all around, I say.

What it is:

A basic toilet frame and lid, situated overtop of a large bucket. The bucket collects human waste and you manually transfer it to a compost pile.

Our compost pile is fenced in (essential to keep chickens and dogs out) and is a mix of humanure, kitchen waste, and organic matter like leaves and sawdust.


It’s so cheap and easy. There aren’t maintenance costs, and everything is pretty straightforward; just carry the bucket out and add it to the pile.

Works for both outhouses and indoor bathrooms and doesn’t require plumbing or water. It’s a dry system.

In the end, you have some great compost to add to your fruit forest or lawn.


Build it yourself: you will need to build your own frame, secure a toilet lid on top and build your own fenced-in composting area.

Source your own materials:  You will need

  • 10 to 15 5-gallon buckets (with lids)
  • Short sections of metal sheeting (essential for keeping your pile dry, in case of rain)
  • Sawdust or peat moss and dry leaves from the garden (reduces smell and makes cleaning easier, too).

You need to move the bucket manually.

There can be a slight stink, but that’s easily solved with peat moss and dry leaves and I only notice a smell outdoors, never in my bathroom.

Compost Toilet (commercial)

There are two types of Commercial Composting Toilets – the self-contained, and the centralized units.

Self-contained Composting Toilet

What it is:

A self-contained composting toilet has a compost tank underneath the toilet. It doesn’t need water or plumbing to operate.  

The design allows for the composting process to happen in a very clean, convenient way and it looks a lot like a regular toilet.

As a dry toilet, these conserve water. Great for locations that experience drought, like Arizona, Texas, or California, or mountain regions where you don’t want to hook up plumbing.

They don’t require septic tanks, plumbing, or water to operate.

And, of course – in the end, you have compost!


You have to manually crank or turn them, and manually empty on a frequent basis. Delaying to empty can result in a bad smell.

Expensive, running hundreds of dollars.

Centralized Composting Toilet

What it is:
The difference with these centralized composting toilets is where the waste goes – to a central tank, not under the toilet. It is there in the holding tank that the process of composting and anaerobic digestion occurs.

These are better for larger families, as the central tank is massive and can hold a lot more waste before it needs to be emptied.

When the tank is ready to be emptied, most times it’s already halfway through composting.


Emptying the tank, in my opinion, is a lot more involved and dirtier than the simple compost toilet bucket method.

They are expensive and require installation, sometimes even creating a compartment under your bathroom floor.

Not for outdoor use in cold climates. Since you need living bacteria for the composting process to work, cold locations like Alaska and Wyoming might experience issues with compost toilets (the bacteria will die in freezing temps).

Biogas toilet

What it is:

Similar to a composting toilet, but one level up. A biogas toilet converts waste through anaerobic digestion while saving the gas emitted from waste to be used as a cooking gas or to heat water.

It’s awesome to think of all we can do with our own waste – even use it for energy!

Biogas toilets are a good option for indoor or outdoor toilets and can be flushed using greywater for an added sustainable solution for your home.

A biogas toilet should come with everything needed; including the biogas bag.


Biogas toilets do use a minimal amount of water (but you could recycle your greywater here). 

You should also manually ‘pump’ the toilet a few times, which isn’t hard.

Toilet paper: While it’s best not to throw toilet paper in any type of off-grid toilets, biogas toilets are not as forgiving as composting toilets if you happen to forget.

Expensive: a biogas toilet starts at a $1000 bucks or more, so it’s a big investment.

Also, these are better for larger families – they will create biogas much faster than a couple or an individual will be able to.

Finally, there are some dangers associated with biogas (namely – explosions), so you need to be careful and follow all the instructions when handling the biogas bag.

Regular flush toilet

What it is:

Yes, you can use a regular flush toilet with an off-grid system. The best approach here is for your toilet to drain into your septic tank.


No major change needed with a regular flush toilet. Everyone in your family is probably familiar with it and no special approach or maintenance needed.

You might not need to make any changes to your existing bathroom if you already have one.


It uses water and plumbing and isn’t creating any compost for your yard.

It isn’t the best off-grid option, because you likely waste a good deal of water when flushing (unless, of course, you are recycling greywater to flush it).

Pit latrine squat toilet

What it is:
This is an ‘outhouse’ or a toilet that is just a hole, dropping straight into the ground.

Should be a minimum of 10 feet deep.

Easy to build, and a good temporary option if you’re building your own home and need something for the short term.

However, my DIY composting 5-gallon toilet is just as easy and you get compost at the end, so why not upgrade to a composting toilet?


Pit latrine toilets are not legal everywhere. There are clear requirements about proximity to streams and other sources of water where they are permitted.

Check your county’s requirements or local laws before digging a pit latrine.

Pit latrines are for outdoor use only, and they do generally smell more than other options on this list.

Increasingly, composting toilets are more accepted than pit latrines. 

Incinerator toilet

What it is:

Basically, you burn up the waste at a really high temperature, resulting in only ashes to discard. These toilets don’t require water, but they do need energy (electricity or generator power) in order to reach the high temperatures to incinerate the solid waste.


I think this is a good option for those living on a boat or other alternative housing options.

They are really small and do away with waste without any smell.


Require energy to burn and liners for each use (so not the most sustainable option for off-grid use).

Each toilet is expensive – over $1000 for a single toilet. 

Also, being a very specific product, if you do run into maintenance costs or need spare parts, you will not find them at a local hardware store and your regular plumber may not know how to fix it.

Cassette Toilet

What it is:

A cassette toilet is more likely to be seen in an RV or a converted school bus; it’s a toilet with a removable compartment. You drop the waste into a more permanent tank (like at an RV park, for instance, or create your own compost pile).

Picture an adult-sized version of a child’s training potty and you’ve got the idea.

A great, basic option for those living in tiny homes or mobile homes, like RVs.

They are simple to use and easy to clean, and not too expensive.


You do need to clean the removable compartment occasionally to prevent smells.

You have to dump the waste into a more permanent location regularly (daily, if it’s one of the small ones).

They are small and compact, but not ideal for larger homesteads or as permanent solutions in a bathroom.

Upflush toilet

Also called a “macerating toilet” these toilets connect to pre-existing plumbing lines and push against gravity with powerful pumps to force the waste up and away.

Some say these work ‘without plumbing’ but I don’t like that term, because they do, in fact, connect to your home’s pre-existing plumbing. Composting toilets do not require any plumbing and or water, so saying up-flush toilets don’t need plumbing is confusing.

What it is:

Looks like a regular toilet, but with a powerful pump to push water up, against gravity. A good idea if your bathroom is in a basement or below other plumbing in your home.


An easy way to add a bathroom without doing major renovations to your home’s plumbing. Connections can be hidden by a pipe, or you can actually see the pump directly behind the up flush toilet.

Easy enough to install by yourself.


Requires water and connects to your home’s plumbing, so you will need indoor or outdoor plumbing and a septic tank for this option.