How do portable toilets work?

August 2, 2022

Portable outdoor toilets can be found at about any public gathering. Even so, they have a reputation of not being sanitary or pleasant to use.  A supplier of the toilets found in a survey it conducted, 72.7 of the people who responded said they did not think porta-potties were clean or sanitary to use. 

While their reputation may not be the best,most people are happy enough to have them when they need them. The units require maintenance and some know-how,and when set up and maintained properly, they have little if any smell and are very sanitary to use.

Have you ever wondered how do porta-potties work? Once people understand how they work, and if they are maintained, some of the reluctance to use them goes away. 

A portable toilet does not have an outside source of water like plumbing, and it must hold the waste material until it is removed. There are chemicals and treatments that break down the waste and keep odors in check. They are miniature waste treatment plants in a sense.

Different levels

Part of understanding how do portable toilets work is understanding the different levels. A basic portable toilet consists of a no-splash urinal and a toilet seat. There are more expensive levels that have flush toilets and even more nice ties. Either way, they are made of aluminum and polyethylene which makes them light and very sturdy. They have a translucent roof to allow light in and vents. Some have fans to help circulate the air.


There area few chemicals, as well as water, used in the porta-potties to help keep the smell down and dissolve the waste. 

  • The water of course mixes with the waste and works with the chemicals
  • Blue dye is used because it turns green as it works, which lets workers know when chemicals need to be replaced.
  • Fragrances are used to keep the smell down.
  • Surfactants help fragrances dissolve and spread more uniformly, which makes the fragrance more effective at controlling odors.
  • Biocides and enzymes are chemicals that help decompose the waste material and make cleaning it easier.


The weather has a lot to do with how do portable toilets work. In summer the heat makes the smell worse, so the ratio of chemicals to water is changed. In winter there is the possibility of freezing, so a salty brine is added to keep that from happening. Keeping portable toilets out of direct sunlight in summer, for instance, will help with the smell.


 Keeping the correct mixture of chemicals, and changing them when necessary is also essential. Workers connect a vacuum hose to the holding tank in a truck and the waste is sucked out. The unit is then cleaned and ready for use again. Generally, they are cleaned about once a week or every 100 uses.

It is a delicate balance to keep them operating the way they should and to keep the smell down. When taken care of properly, a portable toilet should not be much different than any public facility.

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