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Outhouses and Drain & Septic Products?

July 17, 2020

Outhouses and Drain & Septic Products?

Quite recently, I decided to hitch-up my trousers, lace-up my boots, and shoulder my backpack for a week-long solo trek on the backcountry trails of the Colorado Wilderness. It was a transformative, well-nigh transcendent experience to say the least, but that’s not really what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to tell you about one small aspect of that trip, one tiny fraction of my week of adventure that got me thinking about (of all things) outhouses and Drain & Septic products. 

You see, right at the trailhead of one of those wilderness trails, there was an old outhouse, and because the trail was pretty well-traveled, there was, let’s just say, no waste of space inside that odor-factory of a waste bin. I’m pretty sure I smelled that outhouse before I saw it, tucked beside the trailhead. 

But the truth is that it didn’t have to be that way. In fact, if cared for properly, outhouse odors and waste accumulation don’t have to be overwhelming. 

Here at Unique Drain & Septic, we deal mostly in the realm of home septic systems, such as in this article, but we occasionally get some especially curious people asking some pretty loaded questions (pun absolutely intended). Well, today we’re going to answer these questions once and for all. Along the way, we’ll also give you a little overview of outhouses: how they are constructed, how they work, and how to extend their life.


What is an Outhouse?

 It’s good to start with the basics most of the time, and even though outhouses have been around for hundreds of years, plenty of people probably still don’t know what they are! Well, essentially an outhouse (or a privy, as it is sometimes called) is a little building separate from a larger home that is built over a pit. A hole or toilet seat is situated over this pit, which holds waste and toilet paper until the outhouse is full. When an outhouse becomes full, it can be pumped or moved. Most outhouses have a ventilation system that carries odors up to the roof of the building and out into the air. 

In outhouses’ very rich and dense history, people just dug big pits into the dirt and installed only very simple ventilation systems, but modern outhouses generally use a plastic or concrete tank to keep waste from seeping into freshwater sources and may even boast a built-in solar powered fan and sophisticated ventilation system that directs smelly gases away from privy users. 

Like I said above, after an outhouse is full, the pit is sometimes pumped and other times the entire outhouse is moved to a new location and the old pit covered with dirt and abandoned.

While they might seem disgusting at first glance, in a lot of ways, modern, well-built and well-maintained outhouses can be very clean and easy to use!

How to Care for An Outhouse

Now we get to the fun part of our little investigation into outhouses: how do you take care of it? Now, there’s a smelly heap of bad information out there on how to properly care for an outhouse, information that we at Unique Drain & Septic want to provide an alternative to. But first, we have to briefly cover some of this “traditional wisdom.” 

Traditional Advice for Outhouse Care

The two biggest issues in outhouses are olfactory-overwhelming odors and rampant insects (mostly flies). Waste digestion doesn’t generally figure into the picture too much (which we think is a problem, but more on that later). To combat odors and insects, most traditional wisdom has said to use lime (or lye in some areas) to reduce smells and the likelihood of insect infestations. 

Lime absorbs a little bit of liquid (mostly urine) and may pull some moisture out of the air, which is said to make waste digestion more efficient. (We tend to disagree. Water is essential to hydrate bacteria for waste breakdown.) Other more reliable research actually suggests that lime slows waste degradation, meaning that the outhouse fills up quicker!

But beyond all this and despite its supposed benefit, you can’t get around the fact that lime is a very dangerous chemical. Traditional users of lime even warn against getting any on the toilet seat of your outhouse, because it will cause skin burns! I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to use a substance that dangerous, no matter how bad the odors are!

And the simple fact is that you don’t have to use it. There’s a better way to suppress outhouse odors and insects without putting your health at risk, a way which can be combined if you choose with more natural DIY methods for suppressing odors (see below). These solutions may even extend the life of your outhouse!

The Right Way to Maintain an Outhouse

Going back to our first point, like I hinted above, we occasionally get some people asking if Unique Drain & Septic products work in outhouses. The answer is that they absolutely do! In fact, Drain & Septic products will do a much better job of digesting waste, eliminating odors, and ultimately extending the life of your outhouse than lime will! 

We recommend that you regularly use Septic System Digester in your outhouse. This product will add beneficial, aerobic bacteria and enzymes into your outhouse pit.  As the bacteria in Septic System Digester work, they produce more enzymes that break down larger molecules of waste into smaller portions that the bacteria can actually digest. That way, you’re getting double the waste-digestion power. 

Aerobic bacteria, as you probably have heard us say before, are odorless. They only produce carbon dioxide and water as byproducts of waste digestion. The real icing on the cake about aerobic bacteria is that they will actually replace “bad” bacteria (those smelly critters that come from your stomach and produce hydrogen sulfide gas). Couple the regular use of Septic System Digester with a little bit of supplemental water (to hydrate the aerobic bacteria), and you should be well on your way to enhanced waste digestion and suppressed odors. 

Other Ways to Care for Outhouses

Now, granted, because we are dealing with an outhouse and not a regular septic system, you might still have some issues with odors. This will largely be due to the fact that the system is open and uses a lot less water. All the same, there are some other natural DIY hacks that might help to reduce odors and insects without using dangerous lime. These odor/bug solutions can be used along with Septic System Digester. 

Here are some of these hacks:

  • Sawdust. Sprinkling a thin layer of sawdust onto the surface of the waste inside your outhouse pit might help to significantly reduce odors, creating a “crust” layer between you and the poop!
  • Straw or peet moss. Chopped straw or peet moss can also make up a crust layer. 
  • Ashes from your wood-burning stove. Ashes from burnt wood can make a great odor-suppressing crust layer on top of the waste in your outhouse. 
  • Crushed dry leaves. If you’re low on other natural resources, simply crushing dry leaves and sprinkling them onto the waste can also create a smell-barrier. 

Keep in mind, while all of the items listed above will decompose, it creates more work for Septic System Digester and will ultimately cause your outhouse pit to fill up faster. But if you really need some extra odor suppressing power, these hacks might provide a viable solution when used along with Septic System Digester

Packing Up and Pulling Out

We’ve finally reached the end of our outhouse journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. The fact is that outhouses are neat little relics from the past that have somehow found they’re way into the present day in modernized versions. While outhouses might seem a little obscure and even downright gross to some people, they can actually be pretty nice if cared for properly. 

If, on the other hand, an outhouse is neglected like that one at the trailhead to the Colorado Wilderness, they can turn up your nose from miles away (take it from me). What I learned from that experience is that proper maintenance is everything, and using the right products that are safe for you, your family, and your friends is of utmost importance, even when it comes to an outhouse. 

We hope that this article has been informative and helpful. Maybe it has even given you a newfound appreciation for the artifact of the outhouse! If you should happen to have a question, concern, comment, or funny story you’d like to get off your chest, please reach out to us at support@uniquemm.com. At Unique Drain & Septic, we’re here to walk with you down every trail, even those with a nasty-smelling outhouse perched on the side!

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