How Are Porta Potties Cleaned?

You might think removing the waste would be the hard part, but scrubbing the unit itself tends to be more intensive.
Cleaning a porta potty is no walk in the park.
Cleaning a porta potty is no walk in the park. / Benjamin Rondel/Corbis/Getty Images

After checking that a porta potty has hand sanitizer and toilet paper, you may ask yourself: How do they clean this thing? Disinfecting a portable toilet isn’t as simple as wiping down the surfaces and pouring some bleach in the hole. To keep these public amenities (relatively) clean, sanitation workers require special equipment and a strong stomach.

Unlike the toilets most of us have in our homes, porta potties aren’t connected to any sort of sewage system. Instead, the waste goes into a large storage bin beneath the toilet seat and stays there until the facility is ready to be serviced.

Cleaning a portable toilet means emptying this holding tank long before it has a chance to overflow. To do this, sanitization workers use a vacuum hose connected to a large truck. The hose sucks the waste out of the bin and transports it to a different storage tank on the truck. Once that’s taken care of, the truck takes the waste to a plant where it will be properly treated.

A few things need to be added to a drained toilet before it’s ready for the public. When the tank is empty, sanitation workers fill it with fresh water and a blue chemical solution, which suppresses odors and bacteria in between cleanings.

Cleaning the bin may seem like the hard part, but sanitizing the rest of the facility can get much messier. Workers are responsible for scrubbing down the urinals, floors, walls, and toilet seats. If you've ever used a porta potty at a crowded event, you understand how dirty that job is. Any debris in the porta potty is also removed at this time.

You can watch a video explaining the process below from Service Sanitation:

Porta potty cleaners can get paid $50,000 a year for doing what the rest of us shudder to think about. Here are even more messy jobs for the bravest among us.

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A version of this story ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.