Even though the modern toilet is relatively new, the need to dispose of human waste has always been there. But why did toilets used to be outside?
Have you ever watched a TV show set in the olden days like Little House on the Prarie, or Anne of Green Gables? Ever wonder why they go to the bathroom outside? Shouldn’t toilets be in the comfort of their own home? In fact, they weren’t just outdoors. They were down a long beaten path as far away from the main house as possible. That made it difficult for people to use the bathroom at night, which is why most homes also had chamber pots.
The main reason toilets were kept outside is because, without indoor plumbing and proper disposal of waste, toilets stunk. Additionally, gases like methane could even seep into the house and cause an explosion.
Outhouses are small structures, that are separate from the main house. They were usually wooden huts, sometimes brick. The roof was sloped in case it rained. The doors of outhouses had ventilation that sat above eye-level. Sometimes, this was a large slit at the top, while other times it was a half-moon shape on the door.
Inside, the seats were strips of wood that covered the hole. Many outhouses had two holes of different sizes to accommodate small children. Most times a board sat at the back so you could lean back and balance over the hole.
The outhouses were kept so far from the main house because of their horrible smell. There were ways to keep the outhouses as fresh as possible by sprinkling:
- Earth or Soil
Some had levers that “flushed” by sprinkling one of these after every use. However, these methods had minimal effect.
Disposal of contents was rather easy. The back of the outhouse, under the seats, was open, and the floor sloped down so that the urine could wash away the feces. While in the back of the outhouse was a compost heap. Its enhanced properties were considered “good” for the garden. (Note this is not recommended and is completely unhealthy!)
Sometimes these outhouses became blocked and would have to be cleaned by the owner or they would hire a Night Soil Man, who rode around at night dumping peoples outhouses. Other outhouses used buckets to catch the waste. Once these buckets were full they too would need to be dumped. Sometimes, the contents of these buckets were buried or thrown onto the compost heap. Most of the time this was handled by the Night Soil Man. — definitely not an enviable job.
Early Indoor Plumbing
A few families were wealthy enough to have indoor plumbing. Yet, in those days an indoor toilet was not recommended. In most situations, the toilets were placed in the kitchen to share the plumbing line. However, having human waste that closes to food preparations was completely unsanitary.
It wasn’t until indoor plumbing became a thing and proper drainage was in a place that modern toilets became popular. Indoor plumbing is a luxury that we often take for granted, not knowing the true pain of walking to the outhouse.
Want to learn more about toilets?
Now that you know the answer to the question “Why did toilets used to be outside?”, you may be even more curious about the history of vital modern appliances. If so, check out our answers to questions like When did toilets become common?, How have toilets changed over time? and How did toilets work in castles?
You can also learn more about toilets by reading if toilets can be recycled or not, if toilets really flush backwards in Australia, if toilets can explode, and what to do when a toilet freezes. Or if your concerns are more practical and you just want to optimize your own bathroom situation, check out the Top 10 Best Toilet Reviews and learn if toilets come in different heights and whether all toilet tanks are standard.