How Do Porta Potties Work?

Porta potties. A sweet relief for some, but something others won’t touch with a 6 ½ foot pole. You’re familiar with their lingering presence at state fairs and construction sites. Maybe you’ve had the privilege of waiting in line for one. Perhaps you got as far as using ’em — but what is a porta potty? And how do porta potties work?

We’ll tell you.

Portable toilets may not look glamorous but don’t fault them for it. Their purpose is function. They provide an inexpensive, effective way for all your patrons to take care of their business. Plus, they save us 125 million gallons of water every day!

They’re actually required for convenient restroom access in the construction world to keep workers comfortable and prevent job site contamination. 

All-in-all, they’re not as bad as they seem. It wholly depends on how they’re maintained and how your rental company handles their sanitation standards. 

Keep on reading if you want to know more about how to use a portable toilet at your events.

Wait… If I Go In, Are These Safe?

how do porta potties work

Short answer: yes, when used and maintained properly. 

However, we know they have somewhat of an unsavory reputation. 

People don’t necessarily think of them as “clean.” And lots of people don’t even want to sit on the seat. When staring into the face of a porta potty tank, you can’t really blame them. 

It’s true certain bacteria-born illnesses, like salmonella or norovirus, can be caught by using a porta potty. However, these diseases are totally avoidable if a person has a healthy immune system and proper hygiene.

We hope to ease a bit of this stigma, especially considering how functional portable restrooms actually are. 

If the porta potty is being used for both workers, OSHA has strict restroom sanitation requirements meant to keep everyone safe. A good rental company will undoubtedly uphold those same cleanliness standards, even if your event is a public affair. 

And, believe it or not, you’re far more likely to catch diseased germs during a picnic than when using a portable toilet.

How do portable toilets work to keep you safe? It’s all in the strangely blue water inside the tank. The chemicals used are non-toxic when diluted and help eat away at bacteria. 

Related: How Many Port A Potties Per Person?

Where Does The Poop Go? 

Each unit is self-contained and requires a fearless individual to empty the tank waste. On average, a sanitation worker services up to 50 units a day

And how are porta potties emptied, you ask? 

Workers use trucks carrying waste storage units and freshwater tanks. A vacuum attached to the waste storage is then connected directly with the porta potty tank via a hose. From there, the vacuum sucks the waste into the storage unit on the truck. 

After it’s all emptied, you’re probably wondering how do they clean porta potties

Well, the emptied porta potty tank is filled up with fresh water and a safe chemical solution. Inside, porta potty sanitation workers spray down the entire unit. That includes the seat, urinal, floor, walls, and door. This ensures any lingering bacteria are cleared away. 

Additionally, the heroic workers restock all the hygienic necessities, like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and paper towels. All the waste is lugged away and disposed of at a municipal treatment plant

What Chemicals Are Used in Porta Potties?

The magical blue potion swirling down below doesn’t have an exact formula, but it does contain five main ingredients. 

  • Water: Well, it’s water!
  • Blue Dye: Dye mixes with the water to mask the appearance of waste. Blue dye will turn green when enough waste mixes in it, which is a clear sign the chemicals have lost effectiveness and need replacement.
  • Biocides and enzymes: These guys eat the odor-causing bacteria in our poop. Because of their snacking habits, the decomposition of human waste is sped up, making disposal a much easier process.
  • Surfactants: When placed in the blue brew, it helps added fragrances dissolve and spread evenly inside porta potty units.
  • Fragrance: Fragrances help mask the smell of our waster. Cherry and bubblegum are the most popular, but other scents, like lemon or berry, also exist.

How Are Porta Potties Built? 

The portable toilet design is tried and true. 

The body is thick, as it’s built from aluminum and polyethylene. It’s covered by translucent roofing, which helps deflect sun, and vents are built into the walls for increased airflow. 

The porta potty inside includes a toilet seat, non-splash urinal, a non-slip floor, and a 60-gallon tank. 

So, uh, do porta potties flush? Actually, kinda! Some units have a flushing mechanism to help circulate the tank contents. But the waste doesn’t travel through any plumbing and is still temporarily held inside the porta potty tank.

They Can Weather The Elements 

Lots of Special Event Porta Pottys - Gray 2

Related: Anti Freeze Porta Potties

It’s true — the weather affects inside porta potty units. But there are simple solutions to combating seasonal weather changes. 

Sometimes temperatures can drop enough to freeze the solution in the tank. How do porta potties work in the cold, then? 

Easy! Salt brine is included in your chemical mix to prevent freezing. A salt cake is actually situated in the urinal, and as people use it, more brine is releases into the porta potty tank. 

This tool is pretty crucial — frozen human waste isn’t exactly the easiest thing to clean. 

Now, here’s how to use a porta potty during a hot, hot summer. 

Typically, intense heat can really bring out that portable toilet scent. To prevent units from stinking up so quickly, the chemical-to-water ratio changes. More odor-eating enzymes mean less poo smell, woo!

Units also contain vents for airflow, and the ceilings help reflect light, but keeping it in a shady area will also help hot, sunny day scents. 

Other: Who Invented The Porta Potty?

What To Think About When Renting A Port A Potty

Porta-johns will vary in shape, size, and internal features. You’ll want to consider the following before landing on your portable toilet rental: 

  1. The type of event you’re hosting, or project you’re working on will greatly determine which john design you choose. Are you okay with the standard fair? Would your crowd appreciate a climate-controlled potty? Or maybe your event calls for a luxury upgrade, where units have full countertop sinks?
  2. How many people you’re expecting will determine the number of porta-potties you’ll need. Most events call one for every 50 people, but that ratio varies. For example, at a construction site, you want one for every 20 people.
  3. Location, location, location! For events like state fairs, which cover large amounts of land, you’ll want to have plenty of units available in each area. But when budgeting it all out, keep in mind proximity to your event will affect maintenance and delivery costs.
  4. The length of your project will affect the overall cost, so have this in mind when sourcing a rental quote.
  5. The amount of maintenance you’ll need is another consideration. This will depend on the length of your event and how many people flow in and out of it. More regular maintenance may be required if your project is bigger. And definitely confirm your chosen rental company follows great sanitation standards.

Porta potties have certainly come far. Units can have porcelain thrones, waste circulation systems, and even marble countertops. But even the standard john gives you a safe and inexpensive way to relieve yourself. 

Above all, make sure you’re opting for a rental company that can handle all your event’s portable toilet needs. 

Wilkinson Portables is a portable restroom rental company in the foothills of northern California. We’d love to be there for you when nature calls. 

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