How Do Porta Potties Work?

Porta potties are a convenient and sanitary solution for providing temporary restroom facilities at events, construction sites, and other locations without permanent bathrooms.

But how exactly do these magical boxes work?

Read on to learn all about what’s inside Porta Porty and how Porta Porties work.

How Do Porta Potties Work?

Porta potties are portable toilets that work without plumbing. When you use them, waste goes into this tank.

The tank contains toilet chemicals that break down the waste, minimize odors, and reduce bacteria. These chemicals often turn waste into a gel-like substance to manage odors and cleanliness. 

They are built to be moved around and to stand up to all kinds of weather. Inside, there’s a toilet seat, a tank to hold waste, and sometimes a hand sanitizer or even a sink.

The components are contained inside a molded plastic or fiberglass box that typically measures about 4 feet wide by 4 feet deep by 7 feet tall. 

What’s Inside a Porta Porty?

Now, let’s dive into the major components that make a porta potty function:

1. Waste Holding Tank

The main component is the integrated waste holding tank, typically made of molded polyethylene plastic.

This tank has a capacity ranging from 30 to 60+ gallons, depending on the size of the unit. It holds all the urine and waste deposited into the portable toilet. 

On basic models, the tank has a top opening where the toilet riser connects. More advanced units have a slide-out waste tank that can be rolled out the back of the unit for servicing. The tank seals tightly closed with a rubber gasket to contain odors. 

2. Toilet Bowl and Riser 

Inside each portable toilet is a toilet riser that sits above the waste tank. A toilet seat and lid are attached to the molded plastic riser.

When the seat is lifted, the user is positioned above the waste tank opening. After use, a spring-loaded piston closes the opening to seal in odors. This allows multiple people to use the toilet between service pump-outs.

Many portable toilets use a gravity flush system where the water tank sits directly over the toilet bowl. Some upscale models have a vacuum-assisted flush for better rinsing with less water usage.

3. Urinals

Male portable toilets also include a urinal, which is essentially a wall-mounted stainless steel trough with a drain that empties directly into the waste tank.

Urinals divert liquid waste from the main toilet bowl, allowing the unit to be used by more people between cleanings. The urinal adds capacity without taking up more space.

4. Water Storage Tank

To allow flushing, portable units have a second tank that holds 15-40 gallons of fresh water. On basic models, this top tank connects via a hose and valve system to the toilet bowl, releasing water when the flush mechanism is pulled. More advanced units utilize a macerator pump system to generate the flush.

The fresh water supply needs to be refilled as needed by the service crew. An access opening or cap on the back of the unit allows the tank to be topped off.

5. Vent Stack 

At the peak of every porta potty is a ventilation stack (also called a vent pipe or relief vent).

It serves the very important purpose of releasing gases, odors, and aeration from the waste tank into the environment while preventing pressure build-up. It extends all the way down into the waste tank so stale air can escape.

Some vents have an activated charcoal filter built in to help control odor release. And vent pipes covered with a grate prevent any precipitation from getting inside. The vent stack is critical for keeping portable toilets pleasant to use.

6. Other Accessories 

There are a few other commonly included items that enhance the portable toilet user experience:

  • Toilet paper dispenser and toilet paper: Providing toilet paper is a necessity! Paper is dispensed via a standard roller dispenser mounted inside.
  • Hand sanitizer dispenser: Hand sanitizer is vital for maintaining sanitary conditions given there is no sink. Sanitizer helps users clean their hands after toilet use.
  • Odor control dispenser: Small deodorizer blocks placed inside the unit help control odors between pump-outs.
  • Urinal screen: A screen placed in the urinal collects any debris. This keeps the drain clear and the unit tidier.
  • Coat hook: A hook on the back of the door provides a place to hang bags, coats, etc. off the floor.
  • Toilet seat cover dispenser: Some units have a dispenser that offers toilet seat covers for added cleanliness and privacy.

How Does the Toilet Flushing System of Porta Potty Work?

When you press the flush lever or button the following things happen:

Step 1: An electric pump activates (on deluxe models) or a seal on the tank is released (on basic models). This allows a rush of fresh water to flow into the toilet bowl from the upper tank, creating a flushing action.

Step 2: The soiled water exits via a valve or blade at the bottom of the bowl and empties into the waste holding tank. 

Step 3: A piston seal closes off the waste opening to contain odors inside the tank.

Step 4: The pump shuts off automatically when the flush cycle is complete, stopping the water flow.

Step 5: The toilet bowl refills with a small amount of water from the upper tank in preparation for the next use.

Some higher-end porta potties have a more advanced vacuum-assisted flushing mechanism that uses less water per flush.

How are Porta Potties cleaned and Serviced?

The waste holding tank will fill up after ongoing usage, requiring regular pumping service and cleaning. Here is how the pros handle porta-potty maintenance:

Step 1: Technicians arrive onsite with a truck specially designed to vacuum out porta potty waste. The truck has a large storage tank and a suction hose.

Step 2: They open the back door of the porta potty and insert the suction hose down into the waste tank. Powerful suction empties the contents into the truck’s storage tank for safe transportation.

Step 3: Next, the waste tank is sprayed out with a high-pressure hose to wash away any remaining debris. A tank cleaning nozzle on the end of the hose allows all surfaces to be sanitized. 

Step 4: Cleaning fluids and deodorizers may also be added to control odors and prevent waste buildup. The waste tank is now empty, clean, and ready for service again.

Step 5: . The truck delivers the collected waste to a treatment facility where it is properly processed and disposed of.

Typical Service Frequency

Servicing frequency depends on the unit’s capacity and how heavily it is used. but typical service intervals are:

  • Standard single stalls: Weekly to biweekly service
  • Construction site units: 1-2x per week 
  • Special event units: Daily or even 2x daily for heavy use
  • Multiple stall setups: 2-3x per week

Technicians monitor waste levels and can advise on ideal service frequency. Daily maintenance checks are also a smart idea for any large setup. Monitoring usage and planning an appropriate cleaning schedule is the best way to keep porta potties in top condition.

How are Portable Toilets Transported?

What good is a portable toilet if it isn’t easy to transport? Here is how a portable toilet get from point A to point B:

1. Specialized Trucks 

A specialized truck with a hydraulic lift gate is used to transport portable toilets. These are sometimes called “pump trucks” or “potty trucks.” The large rear cargo area includes:

  • Racks or channels to hold units in place and allow stacking.
  • Ratchet tie-downs to secure cargo for transit.
  • Powerful lift gate to load and unload units at any location.

The driver pulls up to the portable toilet units already installed onsite. They unlock the door and tip each unit back slightly onto the rear lift gate using a stabilizing jack stand.

The racked truck bed allows units to be stacked upright for transit, while keeping contents level. Straps and tie downs keep stacks secure. 

Upon arriving at the destination, the driver positions the truck, then uses the lift gate to gently lower each unit to the ground. The base is tipped forward again to level and access the door. The portable toilet is now ready for use in its new location!

2. Crane Placement

For large multi-stall portable toilet setups, a truck and lift gate may not be able to access the installation area.

In these cases, a crane is used to hoist units and place them into position. The driver situates the truck as close to the setup area as possible. 

Each unit is strapped into a cradle which the crane operator carefully lifts and maneuvers to the precise location required. Ground crew gives direction on gently lowering the portable toilet.

Once secure on stable ground, the base is tipped forward again for use. Cranes allow placing units anywhere the ground can support their weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How do you keep porta potties from tipping over?

Ans: Porta potties are designed with a low center of gravity and a wide base to make them very stable. Some also have staked tie-downs that can attach to the ground for extra security in windy conditions. Placing them on a totally flat, level surface also helps prevent tipping.

Q2. What chemicals are used in the toilet? 

Ans: A special RV and marine toilet chemical containing enzymes and solvents is typically used. This helps break down waste, control odors, and prevent clogs. Blue chemicals provide the best cleaning and deodorizing action.

Q3. How do you get rid of the smell in a Porta Potty?

Ans: Regular waste pumping, scrubbing down all surfaces, and using deodorizing chemicals help keep odors at bay. Leaving the ventilation fan running and the door open when not in use allows airflow. Air fresheners inside the unit also help neutralize odors. Avoid overloading the toilet’s capacity.

Q4. Can you put toilet paper in a porta potty?

Ans: Yes, toilet paper is specially designed to break down and dissolve when wet. As long as a porta potty is properly maintained with enough water in the tank, toilet paper will not clog the system. But any other items like paper towels, cigarettes, or feminine products should never be flushed.

Q5. How do you transport a Porta Potty? 

Ans: Portable toilets must be transported upright and securely strapped onto a truck or trailer rack designed for this purpose. The units can be stacked, but should not exceed the rack’s weight ratings. Drivers need to take care not to knock the units when loading, transporting, and unloading.

The Bottom Line

Portable toilets provide a practical, sanitary solution anywhere permanent facilities are lacking. Thanks to thoughtful engineering, they pack waste containment, ease of transport, and flushing functionality into a small plastic box.

By understanding how porta potties work and taking care of regular service needs, you can keep these important units in operation and provide bathroom access to your guests or workforce.