An outhouse is a small structure separate from a main building which often contained a simple toilet (for example a pit toilet
Pit toilet
A pit toilet is a dry toilet system which collects human excrement in a large container and range from a simple slit trench to more elaborate systems with ventilation. They are more often used in rural and wilderness areas as well as in much of the developing world...

 or pail closet
Pail closet
A pail closet was a room used for the disposal of human excreta, under the pail system of waste removal. The closet was a small outdoor privy which contained a seat, underneath which a portable receptacle was placed. This pail, into which the user would defecate, was removed and emptied by the...

) and may possibly also be used for housing animals and storage.


The term "outhouse" is used in North American English
North American English
North American English is the variety of the English language of North America, including that of the United States and Canada. Because of their shared histories and the similarities between the pronunciation, vocabulary and accent of American English and Canadian English, the two spoken languages...

 for the structure around a simple pit toilet. Outhouses used as toilets are referred to by many names around the world including Dunny
Dunny or dunny can is Australian slang for toilet, either the room or the specific fixture, especially an outhouse or other outdoor toilets. It is often used to specify a distinction between a flushing toilet and a non-flushing toilet...

(Australia), Biffy (U.S. Girl Scouting), Kybo (Scouting worldwide), aldaco (Chilean Culture), patente (Rio Grande do Sul
Rio Grande do Sul
Rio Grande do Sul is the southernmost state in Brazil, and the state with the fifth highest Human Development Index in the country. In this state is located the southernmost city in the country, Chuí, on the border with Uruguay. In the region of Bento Gonçalves and Caxias do Sul, the largest wine...

, Brazil).

The term "outhouse" may also be used for any small building away from a main building, used for a variety of purposes, but mainly for activities not wanted in the main house. Outhouses are used for storage, animals, and cooking, to name a few uses. Larger structures have names such as barn, stable
A stable is a building in which livestock, especially horses, are kept. It most commonly means a building that is divided into separate stalls for individual animals...

, woodshed, detached garage and storage shed.

In Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 this toilet is frequently referred to as a dunny or "thunderbox". Waste deposited in earth closets was euphemistically referred to as "nightsoil". In suburban areas not connected to the sewerage, such outhouses were not built over pits. Instead, waste was collected into large cans, or "dunny-cans", which were positioned under the toilet, to be collected by contractors (or "nightsoil collectors") hired by the local council. Collected waste matter would then be removed from the premises and disposed of elsewhere. The contractors would replace the used cans with empty, cleaned cans. Until the 1970s Brisbane relied heavily on this form of sanitation.

In New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 such toilets are referred to as "long-drops". These are the usual toilet-variety found on walking/tramping tracks and other locations where water is unavailable for flushing. Less commonly bachs
Bach (New Zealand)
A bach is a small, often very modest holiday home or beach house. Alternatively called a crib, they are an iconic part of New Zealand history and culture, especially in the middle of the 20th century, where they symbolized the beach holiday lifestyle that was becoming more accessible to the...

 may have these instead of flush toilets.

The term biffy is sometimes encountered in the context of U.S. Girl Scouting, and may have originated with the "BFI
Browning-Ferris Industries
Browning-Ferris Industries was a North American waste management company that was disbanded in 1999. Its name is a licensed trademark of Allied Waste Industries. Its headquarters were located in the Eldridge Place 1 and 2 complex in the Energy Corridor area of Houston, Texas.BFI was founded in...

" logo of what was at one time Browning-Ferris Industries
Browning-Ferris Industries
Browning-Ferris Industries was a North American waste management company that was disbanded in 1999. Its name is a licensed trademark of Allied Waste Industries. Its headquarters were located in the Eldridge Place 1 and 2 complex in the Energy Corridor area of Houston, Texas.BFI was founded in...

 (now part of Allied Waste Industries
Allied Waste Industries
Allied Waste Industries was a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. A vertically integrated company that owned and operated solid waste collection businesses, recycling facilities, and landfills, it was a leader in the solid waste industry in the United States...

), a waste collection company whose trade lines in some markets include the servicing of portable toilets.
The term "Biffy" can also perhaps be traced to a company operating in Minnesota named "Biff's," which services portable toilets.
Campers are told the term is an acronym for "Bathroom in the Forest For You." An alternate explanation: when backpackers prepare a cathole or trench latrine in their overnight campsite (even embellishing it with fresh-cut flowers), they call it the BIFF - Bathroom In Forest Floor. A backpacking group will carry a zip-lock bag with a trowel
A trowel is one of several similar hand tools used for digging, smoothing, or otherwise moving around small amounts of viscous or particulate material.-Hand tools:...

, toilet paper
Toilet paper
Toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination. However, it can also be used for other purposes such as blowing one's nose when one has a cold or absorbing common spills around the house, although paper towels are more used for the latter...

, and a lighter (to burn the used tissue); this bag is known as "the BIFF key".

The term "biffy" appears to have originally been a localism
A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics. Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier...

 in Minnesota and adjoining places. Students studying linguistics in the mid-20th century were given the sample sentence, "If I said 'meet me at the biffy' what would you think?" Hysterical laughter would convulse the class as the professor queried students from other regions and logged their responses.

The term "kybo" is popular within the Scout Movement
Scouting, also known as the Scout Movement, is a worldwide youth movement with the stated aim of supporting young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development, that they may play constructive roles in society....

 worldwide. The term "kybo" may have originated at the Farm and Wilderness Camps in Vermont
Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state ranks 43rd in land area, , and 45th in total area. Its population according to the 2010 census, 630,337, is the second smallest in the country, larger only than Wyoming. It is the only New England...

 where it came from the coffee cans (Kybo brand coffee) that held the lye or more often lime used to keep odor to a minimum. It was only after Kybo coffee (Motto: a cup full of satisfaction) was no longer available and the cans were no longer used that folks began to come up with other possible reasons for the term "kybo". The word is believed by some to have originated as an acronym for "Keep Your Bowels Open" although this may be a backronym
A backronym or bacronym is a phrase constructed purposely, such that an acronym can be formed to a specific desired word. Backronyms may be invented with serious or humorous intent, or may be a type of false or folk etymology....

. An interesting aside is that toilet paper is often referred to as "Kybo Tape" or "Kybo Wrap". The term appears in summer camp
Summer camp
Summer camp is a supervised program for children or teenagers conducted during the summer months in some countries. Children and adolescents who attend summer camp are known as campers....

Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 as a parody of "Downtown
Downtown (Petula Clark song)
"Downtown" is a pop song composed by Tony Hatch which, as recorded by Petula Clark, became an international hit – No. 1 in the US and No. 2 in the UK – at the end of 1964.-Original recording:...

When you are sleepy and it's time to go peepee there's a place to go... kybo
When you are droopy and it's time to go poopy there's a place to go... kybo
Just listen to the rhythm of the froggies in the toilet,
Even though it's smelly I am sure you will enjoy it
The lights are not on in there, but you forget all your worries,
Forget all your cares in the kybo
Is not it fun to go... kybo

Kybos are firmly woven into the lore of RAGBRAI
RAGBRAI is an acronym for Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It is a non-competitive bicycle ride across Iowa that draws recreational riders from across the United States and overseas. They ride from a community on Iowa's western border to a community on Iowa's eastern border,...

, the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. "Kybo Roulette", in which riders waiting in line guess which toilet door will open next, is a common and celebrated diversion on the ride. See external link below to view "Adopt-A-Kybo" humor piece.

A floating toilet
A toilet is a sanitation fixture used primarily for the disposal of human excrement, often found in a small room referred to as a toilet/bathroom/lavatory...

 looks like an outhouse, however, it floats on or above the water. It is essentially an outhouse with a collection tank below to keep feces out of the water. Most feature urine diversion
Urine diversion
-Urine diversion:Urine diversion refers to the separation of urine from feces at the point source, i.e at the toilet or outhouse. A toilet fixture used to help facilitate the separation is called a urine diversion toilet or UDT. The bowel has two separate compartments which may or may not be...

, dessication (UDD) to permit urine to pass. Applications for this type of outhouse are homes located on or above water or for areas that are flooded.

Design and construction

Outhouses vary in design and construction. Common features usually include:
  • A separate structure from the main dwelling
    Dwelling, as well as being a term for a house, or for living somewhere, or for lingering somewhere, is a philosophical concept which was developed by Martin Heidegger. Dwelling is about making yourself at home where the home itself is a building that is a house...

    , close enough to allow easy access, but far enough to minimize smell.
  • Being a suitable distance away from any freshwater well, so as to minimize risk of contamination and disease.
  • An important feature which distinguishes an outhouse from other forms of toilet
    A toilet is a sanitation fixture used primarily for the disposal of human excrement, often found in a small room referred to as a toilet/bathroom/lavatory...

    s is the lack of connection to plumbing
    Plumbing is the system of pipes and drains installed in a building for the distribution of potable drinking water and the removal of waterborne wastes, and the skilled trade of working with pipes, tubing and plumbing fixtures in such systems. A plumber is someone who installs or repairs piping...

    , sewer
    Sanitary sewer
    A sanitary sewer is a separate underground carriage system specifically for transporting sewage from houses and commercial buildings to treatment or disposal. Sanitary sewers serving industrial areas also carry industrial wastewater...

    , or septic system.
  • Walls and a roof for privacy and to shield the user from the elements—rain, wind, sleet and snow (depending on locale) and thus to a small degree, cold weather. Floor plan
    Floor plan
    In architecture and building engineering, a floor plan, or floorplan, is a diagram, usually to scale, showing a view from above of the relationships between rooms, spaces and other physical features at one level of a structure....

    s typically are rectangular or square, but hexagonal outhouses have been built. Thomas Jefferson designed and built two brick octagons at his vacation home.
  • Outhouse door design: There is no standard for door design. The well-known crescent moon on American outhouses was popularized by cartoonists and had a questionable basis in fact. There are authors who claim the practice began during the colonial period as an early “mens”/ “ladies” designation for an illiterate populace. (The sun and moon being popular symbols for the genders during those times. Others refute the claim as an urban legend. What is certain is that the purpose of the hole is for venting and light and there were a wide variety of shapes and placements employed.
  • In Western societies, there is at least one seat with a hole in it, above a small pit.
  • In Eastern societies, there is a hole in the floor
    A floor is the walking surface of a room or vehicle. Floors vary from simple dirt in a cave to many-layered surfaces using modern technology...

    , over which the user crouches.
  • A roll of toilet paper is sometimes available. However, historically, old newspapers and catalogs from retailers specializing in mail order purchases, such as the Montgomery Ward
    Montgomery Ward
    Montgomery Ward is an online retailer that carries the same name as the former American department store chain, founded as the world's #1 mail order business in 1872 by Aaron Montgomery Ward, and which went out of business in 2001...

     or Sears Roebuck catalog, were also common before toilet paper was widely available. Paper was often kept in a can or other container to protect it from mice, etc. The catalogs served a dual purpose, also giving one something to read. Old corn cobs, leaves, or other types of paper were also used.
  • Outhouses are typically built on one level, but two story models are to be found in unusual circumstances. One double-decker was built to service a two-story building in Cedar Lake, Michigan. The outhouse was connected by walkways
    A footbridge or pedestrian bridge is a bridge designed for pedestrians and in some cases cyclists, animal traffic and horse riders, rather than vehicular traffic. Footbridges complement the landscape and can be used decoratively to visually link two distinct areas or to signal a transaction...

    . It still stands (but not the building). The waste from "upstairs" is directed down a chute separate from the "downstairs" facility in these instances, so contrary to various jokes about two story outhouses, the user of the lower level has nothing to fear if the upper level is in use at the same time.
  • U.S. President Calvin Coolidge had a window in his outhouse, but such accoutrements are rare.
  • Outhouses are commonly humble and utilitarian, made of lumber or plywood. This is especially fit so they can easily be moved when the earthen pit fills up. Depending on the size of the pit and the amount of use, this can be fairly frequent, sometimes yearly. As pundit 'Jackpine' Bob Cary wrote: "“Anyone can build an outhouse, but not everyone can build a good outhouse.”
  • However, brick outhouses are known.Examples here Some have been surprisingly ornate, almost opulent considering the time and the place. For example, an opulent 19th century antebellum example (a three-holer) is at the plantation area at the State Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia
    Stone Mountain, Georgia
    Stone Mountain is a city in eastern DeKalb County, Georgia, United States. The population was 5,802 at the 2010 census. It is an outer suburb of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.-Geography:...

    . The outhouses of Colonial Williamsburg
    Colonial Williamsburg
    Colonial Williamsburg is the private foundation representing the historic district of the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. The district includes buildings dating from 1699 to 1780 which made colonial Virginia's capital. The capital straddled the boundary of the original shires of Virginia —...

     varied widely, from simple expendable temporary wood structures to high style brick. See Jefferson's matched pair of eight-sided brick privies. Such outhouses are sometimes considered to be overbuilt, impractical and ostentatious, giving rise to the simile
    A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words "like", "as". Even though both similes and metaphors are forms of comparison, similes indirectly compare the two ideas and allow them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities, whereas...

     "built like a brick shithouse." That phrase's meaning and application is subject to some debate; but (depending upon the country) it has been applied to men, women, or inanimate objects.
  • Construction and maintenance of outhouses is subject to provincial, state, and local governmental restriction, regulation and prohibition. It is potentially both a public health
    Public health
    Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" . It is concerned with threats to health based on population health...

     issue, which has been addressed both by law and by education of the public as to good methods and practices (e.g., separation from drinking water sources). This also becomes a more prevalent issue as urban and suburban development encroaches on rural areas, and is an external manifestation of a deeper cultural conflict. See also urban sprawl
    Urban sprawl
    Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a multifaceted concept, which includes the spreading outwards of a city and its suburbs to its outskirts to low-density and auto-dependent development on rural land, high segregation of uses Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a...

    , urban planning
    Urban planning
    Urban planning incorporates areas such as economics, design, ecology, sociology, geography, law, political science, and statistics to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements and communities....

    , regional planning
    Regional planning
    Regional planning deals with the efficient placement of land use activities, infrastructure, and settlement growth across a larger area of land than an individual city or town. The related field of urban planning deals with the specific issues of city planning...

    , suburbanization
    Suburbanization a term used to describe the growth of areas on the fringes of major cities. It is one of the many causes of the increase in urban sprawl. Many residents of metropolitan regions work within the central urban area, choosing instead to live in satellite communities called suburbs...

    , urbanisation and counter urbanisation
    Counter Urbanisation
    Counter urbanisation is a demographic and social process whereby people move from urban areas to rural areas. It first took place as a reaction to inner-city deprivation and overcrowding. Initial study of counter urbanisation was carried out by human geographer Brian Berry...

  • Outhouses are inherently part of larger battlegrounds concerning the environment
    Environmental policy
    Environmental policy is any [course of] action deliberately taken [or not taken] to manage human activities with a view to prevent, reduce, or mitigate harmful effects on nature and natural resources, and ensuring that man-made changes to the environment do not have harmful effects on...

    , environmental policy, environmental quality
    Environmental quality
    Environmental quality is a set of properties and characteristics of the environment, either generalized or local, as they impinge on human beings and other organisms...

     and environmental law
    Environmental law
    Environmental law is a complex and interlocking body of treaties, conventions, statutes, regulations, and common law that operates to regulate the interaction of humanity and the natural environment, toward the purpose of reducing the impacts of human activity...

  • A modern analogy
    Analogy is a cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject to another particular subject , and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process...

     to the outhouse is the "Clivus multrum", which is an electric and waterless compost-making machine. See composting toilet
    Composting toilet
    A composting toilet is a dry toilet that using a predominantly aerobic processing system that treats excreta, typically with no water or small volumes of flush water, via composting or managed aerobic decomposition...

     and humanure. They are an alternative to outhouses and septic fields, and provide effective sanitation in areas too remote for sewer lines. Worm hold privies, another variant of the composting toilet are being touted by Vermont's Green Mountain Club
    Green Mountain Club
    The Green Mountain Club is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Vermont's Long Trail - America's first long-distance hiking trail which stretches from Massachusetts to the Canadian border along Vermont's high ridgeline...

    . These simple outhouses are stocked with red worms (a staple used by home composters). Despite their environmental benefits, composting toilets are likewise subject to regulations.
  • Street urinals, also known as vespasiennes or Pissoir
    Pissoir, retitled Urinal in some countries, was the first feature film directed and released by John Greyson.Released in 1988, the film's central character is an unnamed man who conjures a circle of dead gay literary figures, including Sergei Eisenstein, Dorian Gray, Yukio Mishima, Frida Kahlo and...

    are common in some European cities. Since the 1990s, these were offtimes replaced by the far superior Sanisette
    Sanisette is a registered trademark for a self-contained, self-cleaning, unisex, public toilet pioneered by the French company JCDecaux. These toilets are a common sight in several major cities of the world, but they are perhaps most closely associated with the city of Paris, where they are...

    . This is a new urban analog to the outhouse—at least insofar as it is a free standing building that houses a unisex outdoor toilet (albeit with modern amenities and a toll being collected). See also pay toilets.
  • While one might think 'there is nothing new under the moon,' in 2005 a patent was issued for a 'portable outdoor toilet with advertising indicia.'

Biological processes

An outhouse is primarily a hole dug into the ground, into which biological waste solids and liquids are introduced, similar to a cesspit
A cesspit, or cesspool is a pit, conservancy tank, or covered cistern, which can be used to dispose of urine and feces, and more generally of all sewage and refuse. It is a more antiquated solution than a sewer system. Traditionally, it was a deep cylindrical chamber dug into the earth, having...

. If sufficient moisture is available, natural bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 within the waste materials begin the fermentation
Fermentation (biochemistry)
Fermentation is the process of extracting energy from the oxidation of organic compounds, such as carbohydrates, using an endogenous electron acceptor, which is usually an organic compound. In contrast, respiration is where electrons are donated to an exogenous electron acceptor, such as oxygen,...

. Earthworm
Earthworm is the common name for the largest members of Oligochaeta in the phylum Annelida. In classical systems they were placed in the order Opisthopora, on the basis of the male pores opening posterior to the female pores, even though the internal male segments are anterior to the female...

s, amoeba
Amoeba is a genus of Protozoa.History=The amoeba was first discovered by August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof in 1757. Early naturalists referred to Amoeba as the Proteus animalcule after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his shape...

s, mold
Molds are fungi that grow in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae. Molds are not considered to be microbes but microscopic fungi that grow as single cells called yeasts...

s, and other organisms in the surrounding ground soils and flying insects entering the privy hole also consume nutrients in the waste material, slowly decomposing the wastes and forming a compost pile in the base of the pit. Bacteria form a complex biofilm
A biofilm is an aggregate of microorganisms in which cells adhere to each other on a surface. These adherent cells are frequently embedded within a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance...

 on the wastes and in the surrounding exposed soils around the perimeter of the pit and feed on the wastes splashed or dropped into the pit.

An outhouse operates differently from a septic tank
Septic tank
A septic tank is a key component of the septic system, a small-scale sewage treatment system common in areas with no connection to main sewage pipes provided by local governments or private corporations...

 in that the pit is not normally filled with standing water. The solids act as a sponge to retain moisture but also are exposed to open air, allowing for insects and earthworms to feed on the wastes which would not be possible within a septic tank. Septic tanks also tend to contain only organisms that can survive anaerobic conditions, while the open outhouse pit can sustain both aerobic
Aerobic organism
An aerobic organism or aerobe is an organism that can survive and grow in an oxygenated environment.Faculitative anaerobes grow and survive in an oxygenated environment and so do aerotolerant anaerobes.-Glucose:...

 and anaerobic
Anaerobic organism
An anaerobic organism or anaerobe is any organism that does not require oxygen for growth. It could possibly react negatively and may even die if oxygen is present...


The process of decomposition is slow due to the layering of waste materials but is generally effective if the input of new wastes does not exceed the decomposition rate of the bacteria and other organisms. Small amounts of moisture from urination
Urination, also known as micturition, voiding, peeing, weeing, pissing, and more rarely, emiction, is the ejection of urine from the urinary bladder through the urethra to the outside of the body. In healthy humans the process of urination is under voluntary control...

 are absorbed by existing decomposed wastes in the base of the pit. In soils where the percolation rate of water through the soil is slow and where there is not a large amount of waste entering the pit, the wastes can slowly decompose and be rendered harmless without causing groundwater contamination.

Soil percolation and groundwater pollution

In soils with a fast rate of percolation such as sandy soils, or where the base of the pit penetrates topsoils and clay going directly down to underlying gravel and fractured substone, waste liquids entering the unlined pit may quickly seep deep underground before bacteria and other organisms can remove contaminants, leading to groundwater pollution. This fast percolation of liquid wastes out of the pit can be slowed or prevented in newly dug outhouses by lining the base of the pit and the walls with a layer of absorptive organic material such as a thick mat of grass clippings. This material then decomposes and becomes part of the compost pile lining the pit that continues to act as a moisture sponge
In most outhouse designs, the privy hole is covered by a small building. The primary purpose of the building is for human comfort, so that the user does not get wet when it is raining or cold when it is windy. However the building has the secondary and (possibly unintended by the builder) effect of protecting the privy hole from large influxes of water when it is raining, which would flood the hole and flush untreated wastes into the underlying soils before they can decompose.

On flat or low-lying ground, the privy hole can be further protected from rain and floodwaters by constructing a small raised hill or berm around the edge of the hole, using material from the hole when the pit is first excavated, to raise up the outhouse foundation. This helps falling rain and surface water to flow away from the sides of the outhouse so it does not enter the pit and lead to groundwater contamination.

Rain and surface water flowing into a low-lying open pit will also lead to soil erosion around the edges of the pit that may eventually undermine the building foundation, and potentially lead to collapse of the structure into the enlarging hole.

End of pit life

Eventually over a period of many years, the solid wastes form a growing pile that fill the pit. A new pit is dug somewhere nearby, and soil is used from the new pit to cover and cap off the old pit. Underground organisms such as earthworms continue decomposition of the old pit until the material is indistinguishable from other ground soils.

High volume usage

In locations where an outhouse must service a large number of users, the single pit may be extended to form a long covered trench or a series of separate pits, so that the waste inputs are spread out over a larger surface area. The fastest waste decomposition generally occurs in the uppermost layer of solids exposed to the air. Decomposition continues slowly in deeper layers but relies on diffusion of air into the solids to sustain life for the organisms within the solids.

A deeper pit may appear to provide additional capacity but a thick layer of fresh solids deposited by many users may exceed the natural decomposition rate of the organisms in the pit, leading to increased potential for waste seepage out of the pit. A deep pit may also penetrate upper slow-percolation surface soil layers, and allow entry of contaminated waste liquids into the underlying fast percolation subsoils.

Decomposition may be accelerated by stirring or turning the pile, which breaks up the pile and introduces air pockets and air channels that allow faster organism growth within the bed of solids.

Holding tanks

In areas where an open pit cannot be safely constructed due to extremely high soil percolation rates and lack of absorptive organic material to absorb and decompose liquid wastes, the open pit is replaced with solid-walled storage tank that typically must be pumped out regularly since liquids are not permitted to leach out of the storage tank.

Hazardous waste

As with standard septic and sewage systems, toxic substances such as paint, oil, and chemicals must not be dumped into outhouse pits. The toxic materials will either kill the organisms breaking down the compost pile or the chemicals may not be digestible, eventually seeping deeper underground and contaminating groundwater under the pit.


The decomposition of the solids by organisms naturally leads to the emission of gases such as methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 and hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of expired eggs perceptible at concentrations as low as 0.00047 parts per million...

. These gases linger within the pit and are the source of the pit odor, but the open-pit nature permits diffusion of these gases out of the pit, so concentrations are typically low enough not to cause harm.

The odor can be reduced by installing a vertical vent tube in the corner of the outhouse structure. In the warmth of the day the vent tube is heated, which sets up a slow air convection current that draws fresh air into the privy hole, and expels warmed pit gases out the top of the vent tube.

Insect control

Some types of flying insects such as the housefly
The housefly , Musca domestica, is a fly of the suborder Cyclorrhapha...

 are attracted to the odor of decaying material, and will use it for food for their offspring, laying eggs in the decaying material. Other insects such as mosquitoes seek out standing water that may be present in the pit for the breeding of their offspring.

Both of these are undesirable pests to humans, but can be easily controlled without chemicals by enclosing the top of the pit with tight fitting boards or concrete, using a privy hole cover that is closed after every use, and by using fine-grid insect screen to cover the inlet and outlet vent holes. This prevents flying insect entry by all potential routes.


One of the purposes of outhouses is to avoid spreading parasites such as worms, notably hookworm
The hookworm is a parasitic nematode that lives in the small intestine of its host, which may be a mammal such as a dog, cat, or human. Two species of hookworms commonly infect humans, Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus. A. duodenale predominates in the Middle East, North Africa, India...

s. These worms are able to travel up to 4 feet from the waste through soil, so outhouses are commonly made at least 6 feet deep.

Controversies, trends and records

Outhouse design, placement and maintenance has long been recognized as being important to the public health. See posters created by the Works Projects Administration
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...


The growing popularity of paddling, hiking and climbing has created special waste disposal issues throughout the world. It is a dominant topic for outdoor organizations and their members. A grass roots organization -- Hikers Against Doo-Doo, also known as HADD—exists dedicated to providing information, insight and strategies for addressing the problem of waste disposal. The response to the growing problem has varied around the world.
  • On August 29, 2007, the highest outhouse (actually, not a building at all, but a pit toilet surrounded by a low rock wall) in the continental United States — which sat atop Mount Whitney
    Mount Whitney
    Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of . It is on the boundary between California's Inyo and Tulare counties, west-northwest of the lowest point in North America at Badwater in Death Valley National Park...

     at about 4,418 meters (14,494 feet) above sea level, offering a magnificent panorama to the user — was removed. Two other outhouses, in the Inyo National Forest
    Inyo National Forest
    Inyo National Forest is a federally administered forest in the United States. The forest covers parts of the eastern Sierra Nevada of California, and the White Mountains of California and Nevada. It contains two wilderness areas: the John Muir Wilderness and the Ansel Adams Wilderness...

    , were closed due to the expense and danger involved in transporting out large sewage drums via helicopter. The annual 19,000 or so hikers of the Mount Whitney Trail
    Mount Whitney trail
    The Mount Whitney Trail is a trail that climbs Mount Whitney. It starts at Whitney Portal, west of the town of Lone Pine, California. The hike is about round trip, with an elevation gain of over...

    , who must pick up National Forest Service permits, are now given Wagbags (a double-sealed sanitation kit) and told how to use them. "Pack it in; pack it out" is the new watchword. Solar powered toilets did not sufficiently compact the excrement, and the systems were judged failures at that location. Additionally, by relieving park rangers of latrine duty, they were better able to concentrate on primary ranger duties, e.g., talking to hikers. The use of Wagbags and the removal of outhouses is part of a larger trend in U.S. parks.
  • In 2007, Europe's highest outhouses (two) were helicoptered to the top of France
    The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

    's Mont Blanc
    Mont Blanc
    Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco , meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence...

     at a height of 4,260 meters (13,976 feet). The dunny-cans are emptied by helicopter. The facilities will service 30,000 skiers and hikers annually; thus helping to alleviate the deposit of urine and feces that spread down the mountain face with the spring thaw, and turned it into 'Mont Noir'. More technically, the 2002 book Le versant noir du mont Blanc (The black hillside of Mont Blanc) exposes problems in conserving the site.
  • However, atop the 5,642 meters (18,510-feet) Mount Elbrus
    Mount Elbrus
    Mount Elbrus is an inactive volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, Russia, near the border of Georgia. Mt. Elbrus's peak is the highest in the Caucasus, in Russia...

     -- Russia's highest peak, the highest mountain in all of Europe and (at least) topographically dividing Europe
    Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

     from Asia
    Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

     -- sits the world's "nastiest outhouse" at 4,206 meters (13,800 feet). It is in the Caucasus Mountains
    Caucasus Mountains
    The Caucasus Mountains is a mountain system in Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus region .The Caucasus Mountains includes:* the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range and* the Lesser Caucasus Mountains....

    , near the frontier between Georgia
    Georgia (country)
    Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

     and Russia
    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

     and a 'stone's throw' from troubled Chechnya
    The Chechen Republic , commonly referred to as Chechnya , also spelled Chechnia or Chechenia, sometimes referred to as Ichkeria , is a federal subject of Russia . It is located in the southeastern part of Europe in the Northern Caucasus mountains. The capital of the republic is the city of Grozny...

    . As one writer opined, ". . . it does not much feel like Europe when you're there. It feels more like Central Asia
    Central Asia
    Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

     or the Middle East
    Middle East
    The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

    " (Per Outside Magazine 1993 search and article). The outhouse is surrounded by and covered in ice, perched off the end of a rock, and with a pipe pouring effluvia onto the mountain. It consistently receives low marks for sanitation and convenience, but is considered to be a unique experience.
  • Australia's highest "dunny" -- located at Rawson's Pass in the Main Range in Kosciuszko National Park
    Kosciuszko National Park
    Kosciuszko National Park covers 690,000 hectares and contains mainland Australia's highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko for which it is named, and Cabramurra the highest town in Australia...

    , which each year receives more than 100,000 walkers outside of winter and has a serious human waste management issue, was completed in 2008.
  • A stone outhouse in Colca Canyon
    Colca Canyon
    Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River in southern Peru. Peru's third most-visited tourist destination with about 160,000 visitors annually, it's located about 100 miles northwest of Arequipa...

    Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

     has been claimed to be "the world's highest."
  • Many reports document the use of Dunny cans (complete with pictures) for the removal of excrement, which must be packed in and packed out on Mount Everest
    Mount Everest
    Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain, with a peak at above sea level. It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. The international boundary runs across the precise summit point...

    . Also known as "expedition barrels" or "bog barrels," the cans are weighed to make sure that groups do not dump them along the way. "Toilet tents" are erected. This would seem to be an improvement over the prior practices, including the so-called "McKinley system"; there has been an increasing awareness that the mountain needs to be kept clean, for the health of the climbers at least.

Popular culture

  • The double-decker outhouse has been used as an unflattering metaphor
    A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

     for the "Trickle-down theory
    Trickle-down effect
    The trickle-down effect is a marketing phenomenon that affects many consumer goods. Initially a product may be so expensive that only the wealthy can afford it...

    " of politics, economics, command, management, labor relations, responsibility, etc. Depending on who is depicted on top and below, it is an easy and familiar cartoon.
  • On November 10, 2003, a drawing of an outhouse was used by B.C. (comic strip)
    B.C. (comic strip)
    B.C. is a daily American comic strip created by cartoonist Johnny Hart. Set in prehistoric times, it features a group of cavemen and anthropomorphic animals from various geologic eras...

     cartoonist Johnny Hart
    Johnny Hart
    Johnny Hart was an American cartoonist noted as the creator of the comic strip B.C. and co-creator of the strip The Wizard of Id. Hart was recognized with several awards, including the Swedish Adamson Award and five from the National Cartoonists Society...

     as a motif in a controversial and allegedly religiously-themed piece. The cartoonist denied the allegations, and the convoluted analysis of the alleged iconography
    Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

     of the cartoon.
  • In Michigan
    Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

    , the Upper Peninsula's Trenary has the largest outhouse race but Mackinaw City is home to an annual and largest "outhouse race south of the Mackinac Bridge
    Mackinac Bridge
    The Mackinac Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac to connect the non-contiguous Upper and Lower peninsulas of the U.S. state of Michigan. Opened in 1957, the bridge is the third longest in total suspension in the world and the longest suspension bridge between anchorages...

    ". Another famous outhouse race is during the Yale Bologna Festival.
  • Charles Chic Sale
    Chic Sale
    Charles "Chic" Sale , was an American actor and vaudevillian. Named at birth Charles Partlow Sale, he was a son of Frank Orville and Lillie Belle Sale, and brother of writer, actress Virginia Sale-Wren....

     was a famous comedian in vaudeville and the movies. In 1929 he published a small book, The Specialist ISBN 0-285-63226-4 which was just earthy enough to be a hugely popular "underground" success, and just tactfully worded enough to not risk being banned. Its entire premise centered on sales of outhouses, touting the advantages of one kind or another, and labeling them in "technical" terms such as "one-holers", "two-holers", etc. SeeThe Specialist by Charles (Chic) Sale (as told in 1929). Over a million copies were sold. In 1931 his monolog "I'm a Specialist" was made into a hit record (Victor 22859) by popular recording artist Frank Crumit
    Frank Crumit
    Frank Crumit was an American singer, composer. radio entertainer and vaudeville star. He shared his radio programs with his wife, Julia Sanderson, and the two were sometimes called "the ideal couple of the air."...

     (music by Nels Bitterman). As memorialized in the "Outhouse Wall of Fame", the term "Chic Sale" became a rural slang synonym for privies, an appropriation of Mr. Sale's name that he personally considered unfortunate. Id.
  • Folk singer
    Folk music
    Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

     Billy Edd Wheeler
    Billy Edd Wheeler
    Billy Edward "Edd" Wheeler is an American songwriter, performer, writer and visual artist. He has written songs performed by over 90 different artists including Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Hazel Dickens, and Elvis Presley...

     wrote and performed a song titled "The Little Brown Shack Out Back", a surprisingly sentimental look at the outhouse (lyrics are worth the read, and the song is worth the listen). The song is often played on the Dr. Demento
    Dr. Demento
    Barret Eugene Hansen , better known as Dr. Demento, is a radio broadcaster and record collector specializing in novelty songs, comedy, and strange or unusual recordings dating from the early days of phonograph records to the present....

     radio show.
  • The U.S. National Park Service
    National Park Service
    The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

     once built an outhouse that cost above $333,000.
  • As a college student, Richard Nixon
    Richard Nixon
    Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

     achieved renown by providing a three-hole outhouse to be tossed onto the traditional campus bonfire.
  • Tsi-Ku also known as Tsi Ku Niang is described as the Chinese Goddess of the outhouse and divination. It is said that a woman could uncover the future by going to the outhouse to ask Tsi-Ku.
  • Old outhouse pits are seen as excellent places for archeological and anthropological excavations, offering up a trove of common objects from the past—a veritable inadvertent time capsule—which yields historical insight into the lives of the bygone occupants. It is especially common to find old bottles, which seemingly were secretly stashed or trashed, so their content could be privately imbibed.

See also

  • Chemical toilet
    Chemical toilet
    A chemical toilet is a toilet which uses chemicals to deodorize the waste instead of simply storing it in a hole, or piping it away to a sewage treatment plant. Common types include aircraft lavatory, some passenger train toilets and the portable toilets used on construction sites and at large...

  • Clivus
  • Composting toilet
    Composting toilet
    A composting toilet is a dry toilet that using a predominantly aerobic processing system that treats excreta, typically with no water or small volumes of flush water, via composting or managed aerobic decomposition...

  • Dunny
    Dunny or dunny can is Australian slang for toilet, either the room or the specific fixture, especially an outhouse or other outdoor toilets. It is often used to specify a distinction between a flushing toilet and a non-flushing toilet...

  • Ecological sanitation
    Ecological sanitation
    Ecological sanitation, also known as ecosan or eco-san, are terms coined to describe a form of sanitation that usually involves urine diversion and the recycling of water and nutrients contained within human wastes back into the local environment....

  • Feces
    Feces, faeces, or fæces is a waste product from an animal's digestive tract expelled through the anus or cloaca during defecation.-Etymology:...

  • Flush toilet
    Flush toilet
    A flush toilet is a toilet that disposes of human waste by using water to flush it through a drainpipe to another location. Flushing mechanisms are found more often on western toilets , but many squat toilets also are made for automated flushing...

  • Historical Digging
    Historical digging
    Historical digging is the pursuit of antique bottles and related objects while excavating defunct privy vaults, old town dumps, landfills and elsewhere...

  • Honey bucket
    Honey bucket
    A honey bucket is a bucket that is used as a toilet in communities that lack a water-borne sewage system. The honey bucket sits under a wooden frame affixed with a toilet seat lid and may be lined with a plastic bag...

  • Hudo
    A hudo is an outdoor pit toilet in a Scout camp, with a wooden sitting frame and a tarpaulin for coverage. The name is in common use in Dutch and Belgian Scouting, and has international connotation.-Etymology:...

  • Human feces
    Human feces
    Human feces , also known as a stool, is the waste product of the human digestive system including bacteria. It varies significantly in appearance, according to the state of the digestive system, diet and general health....

  • Humanure

  • Latrine
    A latrine is a communal facility containing one or more commonly many toilets which may be simple pit toilets or in the case of the United States Armed Forces any toilet including modern flush toilets...

  • Pail closet
    Pail closet
    A pail closet was a room used for the disposal of human excreta, under the pail system of waste removal. The closet was a small outdoor privy which contained a seat, underneath which a portable receptacle was placed. This pail, into which the user would defecate, was removed and emptied by the...

  • Pay toilets
  • Pig toilet
    Pig toilet
    A pig toilet is a simple type of toilet consisting of an outhouse mounted over a pig sty with a chute or hole connecting the two. The pigs consume the faeces of the users of the toilet....

  • Pit toilet
    Pit toilet
    A pit toilet is a dry toilet system which collects human excrement in a large container and range from a simple slit trench to more elaborate systems with ventilation. They are more often used in rural and wilderness areas as well as in much of the developing world...

  • Pissoir
    Pissoir, retitled Urinal in some countries, was the first feature film directed and released by John Greyson.Released in 1988, the film's central character is an unnamed man who conjures a circle of dead gay literary figures, including Sergei Eisenstein, Dorian Gray, Yukio Mishima, Frida Kahlo and...

  • Portable toilet
    Portable toilet
    Portable toilet are simple portable enclosures containing a chemical toilet which are typically used as a temporary toilet for construction sites and large gatherings and events. Most of the portable toilets have black open-front-U-shaped toilet seat with cover...

  • Sanisette
    Sanisette is a registered trademark for a self-contained, self-cleaning, unisex, public toilet pioneered by the French company JCDecaux. These toilets are a common sight in several major cities of the world, but they are perhaps most closely associated with the city of Paris, where they are...

  • Sanitation
    Sanitation is the hygienic means of promoting health through prevention of human contact with the hazards of wastes. Hazards can be either physical, microbiological, biological or chemical agents of disease. Wastes that can cause health problems are human and animal feces, solid wastes, domestic...

  • Toilet
    A toilet is a sanitation fixture used primarily for the disposal of human excrement, often found in a small room referred to as a toilet/bathroom/lavatory...

  • Toilet history
  • Toilet paper
    Toilet paper
    Toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination. However, it can also be used for other purposes such as blowing one's nose when one has a cold or absorbing common spills around the house, although paper towels are more used for the latter...

Literature and further reading

ISBN 978-1-85894-337-4 Member of the Outhouse Wall of Fame ISBN 978-0-285-63226-4.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.