Humanure Dry Toilet Made From a Milk Crate


Modern toilets take two valuable resources, water and nitrogen rich human waste, and combine the two to create a problem: sewage. In a dry or “humanure” toilet, you cover your deposits with a layer of non-toxic sawdust. Once the toilet is full you dump the contents into your outdoor humanure pile and compost the waste at high temperatures for at least a year. You can then use that compost as fertilizer for plants. The ubiquitous five gallon bucket is the most commonly used humanure receptacle. Most humanure toilet designs I’ve seen such as the ones on Joseph Jenkin’s website make use of wood which I’m not crazy about in the wet environment of a bathroom. Even with a coat of paint wood gets grungy. Alternatively, you can buy plastic camping toilet seats that will clamp on to a five gallon bucket but they have, in my opinion, an unacceptable wobble when you sit on them. For these reasons I designed a sturdy dry toilet making use of a scavenged milk crate. Even if the idea of humanure grosses you out (and it’s definitely the most controversial subject in our book), our milk crate toilet would be great for camping, emergencies or your remote cabin.

Putting this toilet together takes just a few minutes. First, find a milk or beer crate and a five gallon bucket. Make sure that the crate you use is large enough to accommodate the bucket. And note, I know of someone arrested for scavenging beer crates behind a strip club, of all places, so be discreet or ask for permission. Incidentally, when the police finished booking the beer crate scavenger the officer placed the paperwork in . . . a scavenged beer crate doubling as an in box!

Attaching the Toilet Seat to the Crate

Next, find a toilet seat. Forage one or pick up a cheap seat at your local hardware store. In an emergency situation, you could also use the one on your regular toilet and simply bolt it back on when the zombie threat has passed and the sewage pipes are flowing again. To attach the seat to the milk crate simply position the plastic bolts and nuts that come with the lid in the center and on the short end of the bottom of the crate. Don’t over tighten.

Cutting Out a Hole in the Crate

Place the bucket so that it will be appropriately positioned under the seat. Mark the outline of the bucket on the crate with a knife and cut out a circle with a jigsaw or keyhole saw so that the bucket will fit through the former bottom of the crate.

Attaching Legs to the Crate with Cable Ties

Cut four pieces of scrap wood (we found some old table legs for a more finished look), and attach them to each corner of the crate so that the bucket projects about a 1/2-inch above the level of the crate. The legs will be approximately 13 1/2-inches. Make sure that the toilet seat will fit snugly against the top of the bucket. We attached the legs with cable ties, but you could also use screws or bolts.

Moving the Spacer

The last step is to move the spacer on the bottom of the lid, so that it does not hit the top of the bucket. Pop it out with a knife or chisel, drill another hole, and reposition.

Your humanure toilet is now done and ready for use. Simply lift the crate off the bucket when it comes time to empty the contents. Follow the detailed instructions on Joseph Jenkin’s website to learn how to properly compost human waste.


This toilet is simple to make, easy to clean, and is made of readily available materials. I think this particular design will be useful in emergencies and, when combined with Jenkin’s excellent humanure methods, would prevent the dangerous raw sewage nightmares of the sort we saw in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. There is a creative commons licence on all the text and photos on this website so feel free to translate and disseminate this post widely. We’re “open source” here at Homegrown Evolution. If you make an improvement in the design please let us know.

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76 Comments

  1. Looks easy. ha ha. Does the Homegrown household recycle all your human waste? I don’t recall reading about your personal experiences with that, and would love to.

  2. Here in Chicago, scavenged milk crates are often used as basketball hoops. So you’re effectively putting Poop in a Hoop. Thanks, Erik, for this inspirational post.

  3. @anoymous:

    Mrs. Homegrown here on that kinda nasty last photo. I just have to say that splatter you see up the side is not what you might think it would be but rather a permanent stain leftover from the bucket’s former (and rather mysterious) incarnation.

    I’ve complained about this bucket to Mr. Homegrown in the past, my argument being that if we must poop in a bucket, let it at least be a nice bucket.

    But in his flush of triumph following the milk crate epiphany, no funky stain would stand in the way of his posting this project ASAP.

    We’re getting a new bucket. A black one, I think.

    • To avoid staining the buckets and to make waste disposal easy, try using heavy-duty garbage bags as liners.

    • I’ve used and emptied a number of composting bucket toilets. They’re pretty nice. . . . One way to make sure the contents empty cleanly is to line all inside surfaces —of a slightly-wet bucket— with newspaper.

  4. haha you two are wonderful! love the milk crate design. have to say our wooden box frame is still looking sweet after 9 years, but we have gone through 4-5 buckets… they just don’t age gracefully. merde

  5. Funny, I have been mulling this over in my head for a while. I need to just break down and buy the book. I had one crazy idea but nobody to bounce it off of:

    The waste is supposed to be composted for a year – could this theoretically be sped up by increasing the heat? I’ve been half-heartedly dabbling with solar ovens lately; could a solar composter work to speed the process? If it’s just a a matter of reaching a certain temperature… but I’m probably missing something. We have a local equestrian center that cooks the stable muckings up to 150 degrees and then sells it as compost. They do this to kill any weed seeds that might slip through, but could human poo be “cooked” too? yum.

  6. This would be better still with a urine-separating seat (check out separett.com); it’s the urine that causes strong latrine odors, and the urine is useful fertilizer (nitrogen, phospohorous) immediately (some counties in Sweden actually require urine-separating toilets). Also check out oursoil.org, to see how Wendell Berry’s “elegant solution” is being put to use in Haiti, to rebuild the soil.

  7. We picked up a bucket with toilet seat lid sold as a camping port-a-loo for emergencies. The nice thing about it is the color: it’s black. No stains, no muss. :)

  8. this is such a great idea!!! the only thing that would make it better was if the crate were an oval or circle too (i have had the misfortune of using a thunder box) and it would make it much more comfortable!
    once i get my own place, i am going to give this a full hearted test run!!!

  9. Beautiful! This totally could be viewed as art with multiple messages and ideas coming off from it! ie. Recycling, anti-plastic, water conservation, anti-industrial, anti-consumerism, etc. Good job!

  10. hmmmm, I’ve moved to using a cheap crumbled poultry food for my cat litter – works fine. Wonder if I could compost the cat litter, too, or use the (unused :) ) poultry food as the covering material in a toilet – not as cheap as dirt and plant material from the yard, but at $10 for 50 lbs, it’s not outrageous, and for the cats a lot cheaper than regular litter.

    • Since even the cheap bulk cat litter is mostly clay, baking soda, and some kind of fragrance you would be just adding clay to your compost plus the deodorizing effect of the fragrance, you should be good.

    • I use chicken feed for my cat litter as well, then I just spread it where the chickens can get it, they clean it up wonderfully! Have been doing this for two years now, but recently discovered that the pellets work better for me because they don’t track like the crumbles

  11. @catlover – I use wood pellets for my cat litter, and when they turn to sawdust after the urine hits them, I store it in buckets outside and let the ammonia release, then use it for the compost. It works very well as a cover for the loo, as well as cover for kitchen scraps. Your poultry food may work in a similar way.

  12. @Anonymous w/ Urine Separation comment:
    After reading the Humanure Handbook, my understanding is that it’s best to leave it in. It adds moisture, and does some other sciency stuff I can’t remember the specifics on, making it better for the garden and compost in the long run.

  13. Hi
    We installed our dry toilet about two months ago. We went for a wooden seat and surround for more comfort! Nice and warm in the winter. We are currently using a standard bucket destined for adults to use as a ‘nightjar’. It holds 5 gallons but with five of us using the toilet I end up making two trips to the compost heap per day! I am looking out for a bigger container…..

  14. I hope my husband makes one of those toilette for out side for the grand kids so they don’t pee in my pool.

    • When my dad had an inground pool he would tell all the kids who got in the pool he put tablets in the pool water so if anyone peed in his pool the water would turn RED! Worked like a charm. No one wanted to take a chance to try it out. LOL

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  17. I live on a farm, I have a garden with a ‘double hole’ outhouse, so no mad dash’s back to the house! I keep a bag of lime in the outhouse with a one cup scoop in it. After a ‘heavy’ deposit,..a sprinkle of lime on top keeps away odors and flies. Also helps with decomposition. Try it! you’ll like it!

    • We used to do that at my Grandparents “primitive” cottage when I was a boy. It worked very well. The cottage had electricity but no plumbing or running water. I spent some of the best summers of my life out there.

    • Thanks for the tip anonymous. I assume you are somewhere back east? Out west we can’t use lime as it will raise the pH of our soil.

    • Growing up on the farm we had no running water or sewer until we moved to a house in town when I was about 12 years old. So we of course had an outhouse and a “water closet” that was essentially a small room with a pail inside a wooden box in the house. My father and us kids hated emptying and cleaning the pail so we opted for the outhouse and mom was the only one who used the water closet and then only at night. For odor control the outhouse had a lid and a vent to let gasses out from the underneith. We never needed lime and every couple of years my dad would move the outhouse, cover the hole with plywood and then next time it was due to be moved he would just clean out the previously used hole as it would be composted and could be used as fertilizer. I hope this gives others who use outhouses some tips.

  18. Many bakeries and other stores get products in square buckets. They are more stable and don’t require a milk crate.
    BTW when I worked in the bush we used these type of toilets a lot. More comfortable than squatting and with the bottom cut out could be used anywhere in the bush (just dig a cat hole).

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  26. I suppose you could mount a toilet paper holder on one side of the crate as well. If you really want to get fancy, a deodorizer on the other side. :)

    Awesome idea. We have a shell cabin up in the hills without plumbing and only an old out house. This shows some promise. Thanks!

  27. Don’t get grossed out but we use a large coffee can with a lid and put our “used” toilet paper in that and then bag it when full and toss out with garbage. Got the idea in Mexico where due to poor sewer systems most people put theirs in baskets next to the toilet. Doesn’t fill up the 5 gal. bucket so fast and produces a better compost

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  37. I made one on Sunday; I used a rectangular crate & secured legs with screws. Since I raise earthworms & sell their castings & make apartment-sized vermicomposting kits, making this toilet made sense.

    • I will & when it’s all set, I’ll take a photo. I still have assemble the carbon. I began diverting coffee grounds & tea bags from the earthworms. I have plenty of shredded paper (earthworm bedding) & once the snow melts, I’ll have plenty of white pine needles. I plan on placing a layer of carbon down prior to initial use. After the initial emptying, I may line the container.

  38. We have been using the humanure system for 21 years now, living off-grid and in our hand-made straw bale house, and we love it. Sawdust is easy to obtain, and it is a much more sustainable resource than peat moss (which is used with the expensive store-bought composting toilets). Jenkins’ book The Humanure Handbook, is really great – loaded with information and answers to every question one might have. Re: some of the comments in this thread: It is extra work lining the interior of the bucket with newspaper, paper sacks are an unnecessary waste of a reusable resource that is not very renewable, and plastic bags would be a mess to clean out. This system works perfectly as is. Our toilet boxes are wooden and not gross at all. I do like your milk crate idea, though!

  39. You should line your Bucket with old plastic grocery store bags….So everyone can empty there own bag and its never smelly or dirty this way!

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  42. I agree its a handy gadget but I wouldnt put the waste even after being on the compost heap as there are heavy metals and toxing in human waste.
    There is an island of the west coast of Scotland that had the Islanders removed back onto the mainland because of mystery illness where the islanders were dying off one by one as they had no doctors or hospital on this island.
    Years later when it was being investigated it was found that human waste was being washed through the ground water into their vegetables.There cotages were higher up the hill and the vegetables were at the bottom.

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