Breaking down outhouse waste with products

By Jackie DavisJackie Davis


Photo by mtsvancouver


The Question

Is there a product that makes the waste in the outhouse break down faster? Ours has no odour, but it is filling up, and we don’t want to move it.

—Paula Purvis, Ella Lake, Ont.

The Answer

Sometimes the truth is messy: Outhouses fill up, and “the idea is that you move them,” says Mike Gooch, chief building official for Huntsville. There are products out there that may help, but our experts said, why tinker with nature?

“As long as you have lots of oxygen and bacteria—which in an outhouse, you do—it’s best not to add anything,” advises Ted Thompson, a building inspector for the Township of the Archipelago. “We have a ton of outhouses in our township. I don’t know of anyone who adds anything to theirs.” Doug Schultz, septic inspector for the Township of McNab Braeside, agrees. If you can’t relocate the outhouse, he suggests having it pumped out.

A lot of the bulk that builds up in outhouses comes from toilet paper. If you must add something, choose a product containing bacteria that can break down cellulose, such as EcoEthic’s BioSurge. Say no to anything with lye, formaldehyde, quaternary ammonium, colour, fragrance, or a hazard symbol.

Ultimately, how fast the biffy fills up depends on how often it’s used and the size of the hole, says Sandy Bos, member of the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association, on-site sewage-system inspector for the Township of Muskoka Lakes, and the happy owner of an outhouse that hasn’t moved in 20 years. A product may “extend the outhouse’s life a little bit,” but it won’t prevent the inevitable.

As Thompson says, “There’s nothing magical out there.” So if a product claims otherwise, that might just be a load of…well, you know.


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Jan. 13, 2014

2:13 pm

I've got to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the source of this article. We have an outhouse in cottage country that we've been using for 12 years. The people who owned the place before us used it for 18 years and I'm not sure how long it was used before that. It's never been pumped out or moved and it pretty much always looks about the same. We use a all natural yeast type of bio-degrading agent along with plenty of water (2 gallons with watering can when we leave) and we don't put toilet paper down inside. The outhouse is used mostly on weekends (summer and winter) and a week or two for holidays in the summer. The odour is usually pretty low unless we have a large number of people visiting. When that's the case we give it an extra boost of pellets and water and in a few hours the odour is greatly reduced. I do believe the trick is regular maintenance of the bacteria culture.


Mar. 26, 2012

8:47 am

I have my out house pumped out by the local septic service. Doesn't cost much and prolongs the life our the "long drop".

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