A Year Without the Grocery Store talks about Water Woes – How to Set Up a Portable Bathroom in an Emergency. Being prepared and having a backup works for small events, like frozen pipes, as well as larger disasters.
Three years ago this week – Actually, on January 1st of 2018, I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom. After “using the facilities” I flushed the toilet and went to wash my hands, but when I turned the faucet to the ‘open’ position, some sputtering water came out followed by nothing but air.
Yes, on January 1st, we found out that our pipes had frozen. But. . . I was ready. Awhile before, I had purchased everything that I needed to set up a portable bathroom. Today, I want to walk you through the relatively easy process of making sure that you have what you need to set up a portable bathroom. I’ll also share some tips and tricks on how to make it function more efficiently (and be less stinky).
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Main parts of a Portable Bathroom System
There are two main parts to a portable bathroom – a portable toilet and a handwashing station.
Getting ready to set up a portable toilet is fairly easy.
1.) Find a place to put your portable bathroom.
On both instances that we had to set up our portable toilet, we have always used our main floor half-bath. There is usually enough room to put a 5-6 gallon bucket where our legs would normally be with room around the outside to be able to step around it to get to the door. If you don’t have anything like this, you could use the main larger bathroom in the house, or even the master bath.
If, however, you are completely devoid of any of these options, you can work outside the box a bit. There is such a thing as a pop-up privacy tent. These are usually used for showers or portable toilets while camping. You could set one of these up in an out-of-the-way room, but be warned, it won’t smell the best despite some suggestions that I will make later to keep the stench down.
2.) Source your FREE 5-6 gallon bucket.
Did you know that most grocery stores that have in-house bakeries will give away their frosting buckets (some of which are 5-6 gallons) for free? So the next time that you’re in a grocery store that has a bakery, walk over and ask them if they have any empty frosting buckets that they are willing to give away. Or you could even call ahead and ask for the bakery so that you can find out BEFORE you go whether or not they have any frosting buckets available at that moment. Several bakeries have told me that they throw them out at the end of the day on the day that they empty them.
Once you get it home, you will have to clean it with warm soapy water – and maybe a smidge of bleach to get the residue out of it. Once it’s clean and dried, you’re ready to use it when the need arises.
If, however, you prefer not to get free buckets, you can get cheap ones from any hardware store. If you ONLY intend to use them for a portable toilet, you don’t need to bother with getting food-grade buckets. Home Depot and Lowe’s both carry non-food grade buckets in their stores at reasonable prices.
3.) Purchase your toilet seat and heavy-duty trashcan liners.
I purchased my snap-on toilet seat from Amazon, but I didn’t feel the need to purchase specialized “Doodie bags” or trash bags that are marketed to collect human waste. We just used regular heavy-duty trash bags from Costco.
4.) Purchase kitty litter or gather an alternative.
Kitty Litter? Yes, kitty litter! You need something that (1) will absorb liquid waste and (2) will help keep both the liquid and solid waste from smelling as bad as it otherwise would. Kitty litter does passably at both of these. It won’t keep it from stinking at all, but it will reduce the stench and will help absorb the liquid that you’ll be adding to the bag.
Don’t like the idea of using kitty litter? There are other alternatives that you might have laying around for free. Do you have a fireplace? Start collecting the ashes in it. They work fairly well at both absorbing the liquid as well as dealing with the smell. Pine chips, sawdust, and newspapers torn into small strips also work.
We’ve covered what you need to be prepared to set up the portable toilet, but what do you need for a handwashing station. You can go two different routes for this.
First off, you can use hand sanitizer. And while this works fine if you just need to disinfect your hands, it doesn’t work if you also need to clean solid matter which may have gotten onto your hands from your ‘trip to the loo.’
We prefer to use our five-gallon water jug with a spigot. This allows us to wash any dirt and debris from our hands after using the ‘facilities.’ But having both hand sanitizer and a five-gallon water jug with a spigot on hand can’t hurt.
Setting up a Portable Bathroom
So besides gathering the items that you need, there are few other points to help you set things up in a way that will serve you well.
In the “portable bathroom”
Whether this is an actual bathroom or a pop-up privy, it works similarly. When you realize that you need to set up a portable toilet, grab your bucket, trash bags, snap-on lid, and odor fighter.
We double-line our bucket with two Costco heavy-duty trash bags and snap the toilet seat/lid onto the bucket over the two trash bags.
We take one of our glass bowls and fill it with kitty litter or ash and keep it in the sink. If you are using a pop-up privy, then you’ll want something on which you can set your bowl – whether it’s just some newspaper on the ground to contain any stray particles or a stool to put it at a level easier to reach. Then we place a scoop of some sort – usually a measuring 1/2 cup into the bowl. Once the facilities have been utilized, everyone is supposed to put a scoop of our anti-stink medium into the portable toilet.
Outside the Bathroom (or Privy)
Because we keep our bowl of kitty litter or ash in our bathroom sink, and because there isn’t much room on our bathroom sink, we have always placed our water jug with a spigot at the kitchen sink. Our kitchen sink has always had ample counter space beside the sink on which to set our water jug. It also allows for the flow of the jug into the sink, so we don’t have to worry about wastewater.
Another added benefit from doing it that way is that we always keep a hand towel near the sink, so we have a towel on which to dry our hands.
The process is a simple one, but if you haven’t thought it through, the first time could be more problematic than if you’d taken steps beforehand to know what you need to purchase and where you need to place it.
A practical benefit that we experienced
So before the incident when our pipes froze, my husband (the wonderful man that he is) only tolerated my prepping. He acknowledged that at some nebulous day in the future we might have need of an item here or there, but he saw no practical purpose in keeping all this stuff around that we weren’t using on a regular basis. And at that point, I would have said, “Don’t let me catch you getting him started on my food stash.”
But during Christmas vacation – while his dad was staying with us no less – our pipes froze, he realized that having items on hand was more than helpful. By investing about $40, I had SAVED us hundreds of dollars. It took four days for a professional company to figure out how to defrost our pipes so that we could have water. We would have had to pay for 2 hotel rooms for 3 nights plus all the meals that we would have had to eat out. It would have easily cost us $700-$1000.
But once he saw how a little money spent beforehand saved us a ton of money on a ‘regular day’ not some nebulous day after society collapses, his tone completely changed. He went from reluctantly ‘allowing’ me to prep to being completely on board with my prepping.
Not only that, but he has become a driver in our prepping. If I need something built, he’s right there to do it. He makes suggestions on what we should do next. He helps as we look for ways to make ourselves more self-sufficient right where we are. We are much more of a team than we were before our pipes froze…