When #2 Becomes the #1 Priority

Let’s face it: lots of us were drawn to the “prepper movement” because of, well, the romance of the possibilities. The purity, the sheer glamour of testing one’s mettle against anything the world can throw at you. No Big Brother looking over your shoulder. No government taking what you worked hard for to give to someone who didn’t. A great reason to stock pantries and rifle magazines, loading the shelves with crates of ammo and freeze dried food, huge containers of water. You and you alone are 100% responsible for what happens to you. I’ll admit, it definitely has a primal allure!


But one of the most overlooked things I see when people  get ready (probably because it is far less romantic that geeking out over gear) for that big apocalyptic event is sanitation and waste disposal…specifically human waste disposal. For those of us here  in the sticks, it’s not nearly the looming disaster that it will be for those of you in urban areas, living in multi-story apartment buildings, or even suburban layouts. But after a few days, we all end up in the same pot (no pun intended): I don’t care how many bullets the magazine in your multi-thousand dollar tricked out AK-47 holds; shooting your shitter ain’t gonna help when it fills up and you have no way to flush it, chief.


So a great, region-wide event occurs. In the big city, the power grid is down. City water no longer flows. It’s the middle of summer. People have no AC, no running water to wash the sweat off their worried brows. People are dealing the best they can at first, but basic needs and instincts kick in. The toilets everywhere very quickly fill up with no water to flush them. Once the toilets fill, the urinals fill up. Then the sinks and bathtubs. Within three days, any toilet in an urban area is overflowing with feces, festering and fly-covered in the sweltering summer heat. The stench and sanitary conditions are repulsive, and people start migrating out of their comfort zones to do their business. Closets, corners, alleys, dumpsters, even vacant cars are quickly turned into makeshift bathrooms. Humans, knowing deep down that water equals sanitation, relieve themselves near public water ways, park ponds. Within two weeks, by my best guess, a large city with no running water or sanitation facilities, and no paid public employees to clean them up, will become a giant cesspool of filth, sickness and disease, largely because that little porcelain doohickey in your bathroom won’t flush. People start heading into the surrounding areas to get away from the spectacle, and then the people in rural areas start feeling the pressure. So what can you do to protect yourself from the basic issue? This isn’t something you can overlook.


The easiest way to counteract the immediate issue is water. Lots and lots and lots of water. If you live in a home with a septic tank, you’re made in the shade, more or less…IF you have  a steady supply of water, like a nearby pond or river. Once your toilet is full (don’t let it go too long, or it will clog), you can take a bucket of water and either full the back tank on the toilet until it engages the float, then flush, or you can simply dump water in the bowl until suction occurs, and the toilet will flush on its own. This system is a luxury, though, and can’t be counted on. Luckily, gray or non-potable water can be used for this task, but count on a couple gallons per flush. If you have a city septic system or sewer, try to ensure the system is still functioning and not clogged. If it’s not, then you can use the water-filling method with your toilet. If it IS clogged, sewage could back up, causing big time problems.


If you don’t live in a home with a septic tank, you have some planning to do. Not only do you have to supply a way to get rid of the waste from the immediate area, you will have to deal with the fact that you will have to deal with the possibility of built-up waste and smell from others around you (say, if you live in apartment building). YOU may have a way, however basic or complicated, of dealing with the issue, but those around you who did not plan ahead will possibly make the area unbearable to be in. Keep that in mind and have a second location to go to if necessary.


If you plan on bugging in during a long-term event, a nice, simple portable toilet is a 5-gallon bucket. It’s not extravagant, but if you line it with trash bags or some other catching system it works surprisingly well. I find that the plastic bags that grocery stores use to pack your groceries in can work OK…just check them for holes first! They usually have “handle” holes built into them, which you can run 2×4’s through to keep them in place while acting as a makeshift toilet seat. Once you’re done with your business, pull the bag out, tie it up using the handles, (it won’t be airtight) and dispose of it elsewhere (preferably outside if possible.) If you line the 5-gallon bucket with a heavy-duty trash bag, you can use it multiple times; just be sure to sprinkle wood ash, kitty litter, or even dirt over the waste between uses to keep the smell down and the flies and other vermin out of it. I’d probably try not to urinate in this bucket and keep it solid-waste only, just in the off chance you utilize the bucket for other uses that might require some degree of cleanliness. This toilet system is dirt cheap and very portable. You can also line your (emptied) existing toilet (if you have a really good magazine rack by it, say) with a trash bag and use it the same way. Having a disinfecting spray made up of bleach and water will keep things sanitary and knock the smell down too.

old-school latrine.

If you live in a rural area with some real estate around you (and hopefully privacy), you can dig cat-holes. These are basically one-time use holes, preferably around a foot deep, where you can leave your business behind after you bury it. Or, if you’re staying where you are and you’re pretty sure it’s permanent, you can dig a latrine (a large, deep trench in the ground) or even build an outhouse if you have materials. The really big thing to watch for with these ground-dependent receptacles is proximity to drinking water. If you’re pulling water from a well, keep your waste 100 yards or further away. Bacteria will get in your drinking water, and I’m sure in a serious SHTF event, you won’t want to get sick.


They also sell completely non-electric, non-water dependent composting toilets for the prepper with a few bucks. These convert poo into usable compost, supposedly, though I’d do my research first before I bought one, and make sure that it’s right for your conditions. Chemical toilets may work OK too, but they need to be flushed and re-filled with chemicals to work properly…and who needs another thing to stock up on?


Speaking of stocking up, toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper! I’m pretty sure my wife would rather die than have to wipe her bum with a series of nature’s own leaves. Yes, it’s bulky, but TP provides a level of comfort that’s hard to parallel. Have you ever cleaned your backside with leaves? Any serious prepper should go out and try it sometime…yeah, you heard me. When you get done reading this, go take a crap in the woods, back to a nice sturdy tree, and wipe up with green leaves. (Dead leaves break and crumble, with obvious consequences.) You will immediately go buy stock in Charmin. Trust me on this one…I know frontiersmen and explorers cleaned up with leaves for millenia, but we have the technology…put that little bit of SHTF romance behind you (hah! I kill me!) for as long as you can. It would also pay off to research poison ivy, oak, and sumac to know what NOT to contact your derriere with. Nobody wants to fight the zombie horde with an itchy nether region.

Hand sanitizers, antibactetrial soaps, and disinfectants should be kept on hand for obvious reasons. Stock up…staying clean means staying healthy. And while you’re at it, keep things as fly- and vermin-free as possible. Flies have no problem walking around in poo then stamping around happily on your next meal…the more you can keep that sort of thing OUT, the healthier you will be as well.

What did I miss? THere must be a million ways to handle this subject; I just touched on the matter at hand. What do you have planned to dispose of solid human waste once the SHTF?

Stay safe!


47 comments… add one
  • Wally July 16, 2014, 9:54 pm

    Two words for you: BABY WIPES

    Have been stocking up on these for YEARS. Like we store a lot of our dried products (beans/pasta) we fill up a 5 gallon airtight container and stack them up. If not stored carefully, they can dry out even if unopened.

    Not only do they fill in for toliet paper, but are also helpful for “cleaning” when running water is in short supply.

  • Lee July 16, 2014, 11:39 pm

    When I was in the Army we had “burn-out shitters”. The Army used diesel fuel, and poured it on the poo, then set fire to the thing. Keep stirring. I’m not sure how hard it would be to get the poo to burn, and if it’s a real bad SHTF event, you probably won’t have much diesel about, but there could be another way to set fire to the doodie. Military sanitation manuals might provide more options.
    As for TP, if you really get desperate, T-shirt material or similar will work, and you could always wash it to reuse it. Not pretty, but might be all you have, especially if you’re in the pines…

  • Hildegard July 17, 2014, 5:33 am

    The worst problem will be the animals that shit the tiolets full to the top, shit in the shower (like on the cruise ship), and wait for “somebody” to clean it up. Really, how hard is it to figure out the toilet doesn’t work ? Why would you shit in the shower when you are surrounded by an ocean? They all knew the ship was crippled. Hang your fat ass over the side.

    • Anonymous August 5, 2014, 3:27 pm

      OMG! How disgusting!! People really did that? And that was for how many days? The average “Joe” really has no idea what to do when their world goes awry. Most people have no common basic instinct or sense.

    • New Prepper August 5, 2014, 3:30 pm

      OMG! How disgusting!! People really did that? And that was for how many days? The average “Joe” really has no idea what to do when their world goes awry. Most people have no common basic instinct or sense.

  • Hildegard July 17, 2014, 6:03 am

    re: tornados

    If you have a basement, stash some clothes and shoes for every family member. If a tornado comes through and you survive, great. Especially if it comes at night, do you want your kids walking through the debris field barefoot in their jammies?

    • Michael July 17, 2014, 6:23 pm

      In earthquake country the disaster prep folks tell people to tie and old pair of shoes to your beds frame.

  • HB July 17, 2014, 7:22 am

    To characterize any situation that would require you to use preps because no other resources are available as “romance,” “sheer glamour,” and “primal allure” may be the most bizarre and ridiculous statement I have ever read on the subject.

    • Road Warrior July 17, 2014, 9:08 am

      Fair enough…then I have some people for you to meet who absolutely love daydreaming about this sort of thing. So there ARE people out there who think it romantic, in an odd sort of way.

    • Twohawks July 22, 2014, 9:21 am

      I absolutely agree with RW…that’s why Hollywood does “Doomsday Preppers” and all the survival shows.

  • RoyG July 17, 2014, 8:46 am

    several things to stock up on as a substitute to toilet paper and are easy to store are facial tissue, paper napkins and soft paper products like those…. these products are easy to stack less bulky than toilet paper and have multi uses too… also these days they are alot cheaper than toilet paper..

  • Ray July 17, 2014, 8:56 am

    I grew up with an out house and well water. Remember to place your “two holer” down hill from, as well as keep it 100 yards from your water. Keep as much quick lime as you can in a shed or dry barn to sprinkle on the “poo” as that will keep the smell suppressed, and bugs and “critters” off, and go a long way toward keeping the fecal coliform count down in the ground water. Dig you a nice DEEP (6ft. +) hole under that “happy shack” and have a plan to move it(the out house)when the hole gets ’bout half full. Have a piece of hard plastic or tin to cover the inside of the “kick board” or get “P” on your feet, And stockpile a toilet seat or two , unless you just live for slinters in your soft “bum” Just remember that animal “poo” is your friend if you have to grow your own food . Don’t flush it; add it to the mulch pile. Cat holes get nasty FAST , unless you dig ’em DEEP and move overland (bug out) often. Hand filling a flush toilet gets old FAST and stinks like a five gallon bucket of “poo”. Nether one is more than a “three day” solution as you MUST get the “waste out of the shelter-SOON. P.S. — You should try and make your outhouse “all weather” and include stove jack and a small wood stove. Mama is gonna like you a lot more when her and the kiddies ain’t feezein’ there butts off come winter

  • Mike the Gardener July 17, 2014, 9:43 am

    I have friends that don’t even leave home without a roll or two in their vehicles. And I agree with Wally. baby wipes! They are worth their weight in gold … ok maybe not that much, but you get the point.

  • Diana July 17, 2014, 9:44 am

    I’ve been planning to use a variation of the 5 gal bucket by simply putting plastic grocery bags in my existing toilet (with the bowl empty, of course). My question for readers is if the water is also off how likely is it that a major sewer backup will occur? Where will people get enough water to overload the sewer system? I live in a hilly city and am higher than alot of the surrounding area if that makes any difference. Thanks.

    • Anonymous November 30, 2014, 6:48 pm

      Your solid waste won’t have enough water to carry it far enough and you will get a back up eventually. Remember there won’t be other gray water going thru like showers, cloth washing activitys and pee pee flushes. Just saying so you can try to figure a back up plan ! No pun intended ! I too will be using extra water from my well to flush with but when it runs out I will have lime and be ready to build an outhouse .

    • Rastus McGee November 30, 2014, 6:53 pm

      Your solid waste won’t have enough water to carry it far enough and you will get a back up eventually. Remember there won’t be other gray water going thru like showers, cloth washing activitys and pee pee flushes. Just saying so you can try to figure a back up plan ! No pun intended ! I too will be using extra water from my well to flush with but when it runs out I will have lime and be ready to build an outhouse .

  • Leon July 17, 2014, 9:50 am

    #2 can indeed become the top priority. This technique won’t work everywhere, obviously, but a hunting camp latrine is easily made with a few simple materials. If the “throne” is made before hand, the rest of could quickly be assembled. Here’s how to make an emergency latrine: http://www.survivalcommonsense.com/how-to-do-number-two-in-the-woodsfeed/

  • smokechecktim July 17, 2014, 11:40 am

    you can buy a toilet seat designed specifically to fit on the standard 5 gallon bucket. Much more romantic then a 2×4

  • Rob July 17, 2014, 12:10 pm

    It’s called the “luggable loo”.

  • Roseman July 17, 2014, 12:16 pm

    I am grateful to have a good well and septic system.

  • The Wiseman July 17, 2014, 3:04 pm

    I live rurally on 2 acres; several neighbors nearby on similar spreads. I have a driven well @ 227′ with a 3/4 HP 240v AC motor driving a pump hanging at 200′. Water comes into the house at 12 gallons/minute, and fills two standard tall pressure tanks, providing 55 lbs. sq./inch at the faucets in kitchen and two bathrooms. Also automatically fills toilets.

    I have a 1,000 gallon septic tank behind the house; this is connected to a sand mound drain field 40′ lower than the tank – which keeps constant pressure on the drainfield and keeps it clean. Gravity-powered throughout.

    To deal with the lack of electricity when SHTF, I have installed a manually-powered “SimplePump”tm (you can Google this) at 150′ in my well, in tandem to my regular electric pump. It fits right in the same 4” well pipe. My plumber and I installed it in 3 hours. Using a 6′ aluminum toggle-type handle mounted on the wellhead, I can pump all the water I need for a day right out of my own well. The SimplePump pumps right into pressure (55 lbs. s/inch) and will fill up your regular pressure tanks so that your faucets will flow and your toilets will flush and refill themselves! To avoid the neighbors begging water, I had built a rustic “potting shed” structure directly over the wellhead with a hinged roof to facilitate replacement of both pumps and plumbing if needed. We plan to pump at night if/when SHTF.

    Think about it! hundreds of thousands of rural and suburban dwellers are sitting atop the same setup as mine. Without electricity though, they are screwed – hundreds of gallons of pure water beneath your feet, and no way to get it up! But by adding a manual-powered SimplePump, you can use your own well and avoid all of the above, providing your own sweet water forever. One hour of pumping (15 minutes for me, 15 minutes for my wife, etc.) gives us all the water we need next day. Also provides pressure for garden hose in case of fire.
    Please note – I am in no way affiliated with the SimplePump company; found them on the web and paid $2,000 for the unit and paid my plumber $200 to install it. He rigged up what plumbers call a “street valve” (used on fire hydrants in cities) to switch over from the electric pump to the simple pump, so that I use the same pipe from the wellhead into the house.

    • John July 18, 2014, 4:56 pm

      Good set up. But what happens if you get family or friends coming to your place? Let’s say 100 people (things really get bad). That amount of people can overwhelm a system that you designed for your family.

    • Anonymous September 11, 2015, 11:31 pm

      A well pump would only require a few solar panels with built in inverters to power the well pump during the day and the pressurized tank would handle most needs at night. The whole solar setup would be about $1100 plus another $200 to integrate it. No manual pumping required!

  • Novice July 17, 2014, 3:12 pm

    I don’t remember where I heard it but the most butt simple (pun intended) way to stock up on TP is a phone book. Just keep a few of these puppies around and wad up and wipe as needed. I have a few 4″ volumes stored just for this purpose. It takes far less space and they’re free.

  • walt July 17, 2014, 4:07 pm

    ditto, and not like TP has a shelf life :)

  • Jumbo July 17, 2014, 5:14 pm

    I’ll bring it up because no one else has…

    In the SWAsia some of the toilets have a little water pipe with valve that goes into the toilet bowl under the seat and aims at your backside. A form of a bidet that would be ease to set up to be gravity fed off a 5 gallon bucket of water on top of the toilet tank.

    Like someone above said, I have a well and septic, as well as roof gutters to supply water, so I “should” be able to keep flushing.

    I think I’d rather use the bidet and trade my TP than waste all that TP on myself. The wife may think otherwise though.. :)

  • D, Smith July 17, 2014, 5:57 pm

    Kleenix is NOT a good substitute for TP…it is designed to not dissolve when wet and you can clog a toilet pretty quick by using it. Also probably a good idea to buy the cheap TP that dissolves like Scott rather than the fancy Charmin. Having a lagoon system here on the farm we only flush poo paper, never just wet stuff

  • Michael July 17, 2014, 6:27 pm

    A 5 gallon bucket, some trash bags, and some kitty litter, will get you though most situations just fine.

  • Pineslayer July 17, 2014, 7:58 pm

    Build a shed fill it with TP, you will the most popular person when the stores go empty.

    I saw set up like Jumbo talks about. It plumbed into the water source on the toilet looked like a rinser on the sink, good idea for now too. How high would you need to put the 5G bucket to get good pressure?

    A local plant called Mullein is referred to as Indian TP, big soft leaves.
    It has a 3 year life cycle I think. First 2 years it grows as a rosette, then the 3rd year it puts out seeds. Might be a good idea to let it have a portion of your yard.

  • John R July 18, 2014, 8:33 am

    Maybe you can answer a question I have wondered about for years. What do the Arabs use, wondering around in the deserts on the backs of their camels? I would think using sand could be the reason so many of them are so mean.

  • smokechecktim July 18, 2014, 11:14 am

    They wipe with their left hand and then rinse the hand when they are done with a small amount of water. That’s why its considered an insult to eat with your left hand.

  • Rual Runner July 18, 2014, 11:36 am

    If you have a septic system, be careful when you are using bleach for disinfecting the sinks and toilet. Too much bleach will kill the bacteria that break down the solids in the septic tank. We use a combination of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide in spray bottles to disinfect hard surfaces. Spray them on and let it dry. Half a box Ridex flushed down the toilet every month will help keep your septic system in good working order.

    • Pineslayer July 18, 2014, 4:58 pm

      Rual Runner, we are using white vinegar to clean the basins and toilet, it is cheap in bulk at Costco. Good shelf life, I think. When we have city folk visiting I have to hide the bleach, they just don’t get it no matter how many times I explain it.

      • Rual Runner July 18, 2014, 9:25 pm

        I hear you about hiding the bleach….my m-i-l is old school….if it doesn’t smell like bleach and pinesol, it isn’t clean.

  • ArmyVet July 18, 2014, 3:30 pm

    Damn RW, what a shitty topic (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

    Mrs. Army and I began addressing this topic last year. We purchased a chemical toilet, but no chemicals. Instead, we will be using tall kitchen garbage bags as liners. We lean toward one time use for these. I have an area on our property, here in rural America, somewhere in the Ozarks, already designated as a bury spot. It is far removed from the house, well and the garden area. Don’t want to take the chance of contaminating our drinking water or the soil in the garden .

    Thanks for taking on an issue that gets very little discussion int he prepping circles. Keep up the good work.

  • kevin July 18, 2014, 6:53 pm

    all good stuff to think about that’s for sure we have a porta potty that makes it simple but getting rid of the waste is a whole nother matter

  • asder July 19, 2014, 4:42 pm

    A good idea seems to be outhouse filled with sand, straw, hay or sawdust. Simple in construction, getting rid of the waste and not much stinks. The best place to dispose of ‘waste’ is an area where there is little water (ie, away from ponds, rivers, swamps) in order to avoid contamination of the water, and he has a waterproof (old swimming pools, places of extraction of sand or gravel pits, or just throw everything into large hole several meters behind the house sealed layers of thick construction foil, sand and gravel, as does a pond in the garden (at least this method is still used in many parts of the former Eastern Bloc and the USSR).

  • Javelin July 20, 2014, 12:13 pm

    There is a great book on this subject “How to shit in the woods, an environmentally sound approach to a lost art” by Kathleen Meyer Covers a lot of things you may or may not have thought about with this subject, and has some pretty funny stuff too.

  • Roger July 20, 2014, 11:33 pm

    Personally, I store (in bulk) both toilet paper and paper towels in old 30 gallon metal drums (water-proof and mouse-proof) as well as some in the house proper, for obvious reasons and as trade items. If and when SHFT, the four-section open-air compost pile will get extra contributions.
    Each section will be actively used for one year, and by it’s fourth year will be good fertilizer for your garden. Watered-down urine can be used as infrequent fertilizer on some plants like fruit trees, it is nitrogen-based! Burning your feces is a ‘good’ way to piss off your neighbors and a waste of fuel! Don’t forget meds like anti-diarrea, anti-constipation, etc., or your S will HTF and probably splatter! Good Luck!

  • Twohawks July 22, 2014, 9:16 am

    Great article on a neglected subject!

  • Prepperpoppop July 23, 2014, 11:44 pm

    A backup to tp is a portable bidet or as better known as one of those 3 gallon pump sprayers you get at the big box stores. Works fine!

  • Socially MobileCamel and Straw Media July 25, 2014, 2:27 am

    We are a team that has devoted the past few years to creating sensational first impressions for Business Websites on Desktop and Mobile Devices. We create the Impression “We Sexy it Up”.
    Just follow the link : http://thecamel.co/

  • Chuck Findlay July 25, 2014, 10:51 pm

    I have the book “Travel Trailer Homesteading” I got it from the Goodwill store for $1.00 a few years ago. And in it it shows you how to have / build a septic system out of 2 55-gal plastic drums and some PVC pipe. With it you can have a flush toilet system that is off-grid and requires only the time to build and it gives you a toilet that works just like the one we all use today.

    If you are interested in any kind of off-grid stuff, this book may be one to get. Check it out from a local library first to see if you like it.

    Also there are plans on-line that show you how to build a composting toilet that doesn’t cost $1,500.00. Mother Earth News and Backwoods Home magazines have them on-line. You should look at, cut & paste the article to a Word file and save it on your computer.

  • Sky June 8, 2016, 11:24 pm

    Yeah to Chuck Findlay.I’m pretty damn weirded out by people talking about plastic bag toilets, and listing toilet paper as a number one concern. Haven’t any of you ever been outside of (presumably) America? So when there’s a crash rubbish doesn’t get emptied. This means your plastic bags of shit build up and become a major biological/ plastic contaminants waste. Google “flying toilets of Kibera” to see how that might work out for you.
    In case you guys missed it, about 2/3 of the world don’t have flushing toilets, and most of Africa and India have no toilet paper (that means a lot more people than the whole of America). So you get some clean water, put it in a squeeze bottle, spray your ass with it, use your (left) hand to wipe your ass, wash your hands. Easy.

    Additionally, viewing sewerage as a thing to take as far away from you as possible totally misses it’s value as a nutrient source for your incredibly degraded soil. (Google loss of topsoil, peak phosphate, etc). Download a free “Humanure” book, and figure out how to compost your waste to make it safe to return to soil. If you don’t like their take, google ‘diy composting toilet’-we put thousands of them in all over the developing world to protect water, safely deal with pathogens and improve the ability to grow food.

  • SticksinMO September 2, 2016, 3:49 am

    25 acres, two septic systems, 3 wells/pumps commected to a deep (900+ ft) underground stream, 2 outhouses, 5 250 gal water towers with solar deicers, rainwater harvesting, and a solar charged emergency backup system for the well as well as automatic propane powered generator with enough propane to last 18 mos running it 4 hours/day and kit and locations to fill portable tanks, 120 gallons a haul, from giant underground storage tank a few miles away, or the big propane filling station other side of town …. who needs TP when you can wash your bum with running water and be squeeky clean? Got enough trees around for wood burning furnace for hot water, and heater for at least 10 years, bleach tablets up the ying yang, Hell i can even run the AC on those ultra hot humid summer days for a few hours.

    Another overlooked commodity…. salt.

    From cleaning cuts (cooled boiled salt water) to helping keep pests away, to nutrition and water and food preservation….

  • R. BUTLER August 27, 2017, 12:57 am

    One way to deal with human excrement is to deposit it in a 5 gallon plastic waste bag and then douse it with about 1/2 cup of white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to kill the odor and any potential pathogens that may be transferred through soil contamination. You can also rinse your hands in a small amount of vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to sanitize. If kitty litter is used in the plastic bag that will work too but will not abate the pathogens, and kitty litter can have toxic perfumes. Cedar pellets are an alternative.


Leave a Comment