Emergency Sanitation

Imagine that a natural disaster such as an earthquake, tornado or hurricane has happened. The power is out and the water or sewage plant is out of commission. What are you going to do about using the bathroom? You have a toilet in your house, and it’s safe to go back inside again, but the utilities will likely be out for quite some time. What do you do?

If you have a lot of water stored away, you can use some of it to pour in the bowl, which will help create a vacuum to flush your toilet. This works and is often a little messy, but it would do for a few flushes. But what if you need to save your stored water for drinking and if the sewer lines are full? They’ll get backed up eventually and then you’ll have one stinky situation on your hands! Often, it’s a good idea to fill up your bathtub(s) with water during an emergency situation while there is still water in your pipes so that you’ll have a little extra for things like watering plants, doing laundry or for bathing. But planning to use this water for flushing the toilet for a long period of time isn’t a good idea, because eventually the sewer system will get backed up.

The problem becomes how to be able to go to the bathroom without using the toilet in your house, how to keep your family from becoming sick and how to keep your house from smelling like the sewer. It’s important to know how to dispose of waste in the proper manner to avoid cross-contamination of your water supply and to avoid disease.


emergency potty, shtfpreparedness.com

You can use the toilet in your bathroom by shutting off the water to the house and to the toilet. Flush the water out of the bowl. Plug up the hole at the bottom of the toilet with something like a small foam ball or some rags to help prevent backed up sewage from coming into your home. Then line your toilet bowl with a 13-gallon heavy-duty plastic garbage bag (I personally prefer black so that when you remove it from the toilet, you don’t have to see the contents). Duct tape the edges of the bag to the toilet. Add a cup of kitty litter or dried organic material such as leaves or wood shavings to the bag each time you use the toilet or pour in a little bleach or lime to help reduce odors. When the bag is full, remove it and tie it in a knot or use a twist tie to make sure it’s closed.



You’ll need:

• 5 gallon bucket
• Package of kitty litter; dried organic material such as leaves, grasses or wood shavings; bleach or lime
• 13-Gallon heavy-duty garbage bags
• Toilet seat (available at Walmart in the camping section or at most camping/outdoor stores and online)


Put a garbage bag inside the bucket. Fold the edges of the bag over the top of the bucket and cinch it tight or tape the bag to the side of the bucket. Place the toilet seat on top and secure into place. In a separate bucket nearby, keep your kitty litter, bleach, lime or dried natural composting material. Use the toilet as you normally would. Take a scoop of kitty litter, dried composting material, bleach or lime and cover up your “stuff.” When the bag becomes full, remove and cinch the top. Bury it in a safe location, away from all water sources.

You may want to find a way to stabilize your camp toilet so you don’t fall over while you’re using your bucket. There are lots of free building plans online to help you build your own toilet surround or you can purchase a pre-made toilet stabilization device.


Some people prefer using two separate buckets. One for liquids and one for solids. The liquid waste, if completely separated from the solid waste, can be safely disposed of in your yard. This can be helpful because then you only have to worry about burying the solid waste.

One should also consider using two buckets when sickness or disease is an issue. No one wants to risk contamination when there are others using the toilet who may have gastrointestinal issues. There should always be a separate area for those who are sick and need to use the restroom. And be sure to carefully sanitize, use proper cleaning procedures and not use a sick person’s waste in composting.


composting toilet

Everyone has an opinion on the best way to safely eliminate waste. According to the Humanure Handbook, “The rationale for separating urine from feces is that the urine/feces blend contains too much nitrogen to allow for effective composting and the collected refuse gets too wet and odorous. Therefore, the urine is collected separately, thereby reducing the nitrogen, the liquid content, and the odor of the collected refuse. However, there is a little know alternative method of achieving the same result which does not require the separation of urine from feces. Organic material with too much nitrogen for effective composting (such as a urine/feces mixture) can be balanced by adding sufficient carbon material such as cellulose in the form of sawdust or a similar material, rather than removing nitrogen. The extra carbon material also absorbs excess liquids and can cover the collected refuse to eliminate odor completely,” Humanure Handbook, p. 86-87.

Did you know that human waste can be used to create compost for gardening? It must be done properly to make it safe, but that’s always an option. To learn more about “Humanure,” click here.


free range family

Have you heard of family cloth? Many people are already using these. These are basically wipes made of fabric. You can make your own from fabric scraps or even purchase them online. Store them dry in a box, soak them in water or a bleach/water solution when dirty, and clean them with boiled water.

Or, like much of the rest of the world, use water. You can purchase a portable bidet or peri-bottles(the kind that women use for post-partum cleanup). Peri-bottles are inexpensive and easy to use.


Just because there’s an emergency, doesn’t mean the “poop” has to hit the fan. Knowing your options and being prepared can provide you with the knowledge to keep your family safe and healthy, while making it a little easier to function in an already uncomfortable situation.

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