The water closet, although a very convenient and almost indispensable appendage to a first-class residence, is open to many objections, arising from carelessness in its management, freezing of pipes, etc., which are too well known to need specification. The earth closet, improved as it has been already, and doubtless will be, is destined, if we mistake not, to prove a formidable rival to the water closet. The general principle which gives value to the earth closet is the power of earth to deodorize decaying and decomposed organic matters. This is due partly to its absorbent power upon gaseous compounds, and partly to chemical reaction, between the substances of which earth is composed and the offensive matters. The absorbent power of earth upon effluvia has been long known. In rural districts the practice of burying clothes to rid them of smell caused by too ifttimate contact with that personally disagreeable, but to hop-growers exceedingly useful little animal, the skunk, is a common practice. It is well known that excrementitious matters, covered with dry earth, are not only completely deodorized, but form the most valuable of all known fertilizers. The mechanical construction of earth closets, as they are now made, is such, that by a very simple movement, matters deposited therein are instantaneously covered with a layer of dry earth, and, thus deodorized, may be removed with as little offense or trouble as ashes. The plan is commendable in many points of view. On shipboard its introduction would obviate the most intolerable nuisance,. In hospitals it would greatly promote the health and comfort of both patients and their attendants. It is equally applicable to dwelling houses, wherever situated, and under any circumstances whatever, and is as applicable to a commode as to a room set apart for the purpose. It removes all danger of the impregnation of wells with excrementitious matters, an accident now of frequent occurrence, and the cause of frightful epidemics. Its universal adoption would lessen the demand upon the water supply of cities to a very large extent—an important consideration. It can be made convenient in use, and lastly, but not by any means least, such a system might be made to restore to lands the large amount of valuable fertilizing matters which now flow through the sewers of seaboard towns to contaminate the water for miles around. The value of this now wasted sewerage is enormouB. It may be estimated in millions annually. Engineers have acked their brains to devise some means of utilizing this ivaste; it seems to us that the earth closet is the true aethod for its accomplishment. Not that we believe the Principle has been yet wrought out to perfection, but that it is capable o f being applied so as to cover all the requirements of the case. Our attention was first called to this subject by the perfect absence of smell, and the superior cleanliness of the earth closets of the Oneida Community, an association which, whatever its errors of belief, is not open to any criticism on the score of cleanliness. These closets are daily cleaned, without inconvenience, by simply drawing away tlie earth and deodorized matter with the receptacle allotted to them, and replac. ing it by another. The compost is used on their lands, and is considered an extremely valuable manure. We are glad to see that public attention is being directed to this matter on both sides of the Atlantic, and we trust the subject will be discussed, and the matter tested until its merits are fully established, A patent is pending at the Patent Office now on a very ingenious earth closet, the invention of an Englishman. As soon as the patent issues we shall probably illustrate the subject in these columns.
This article was originally published with the title "Earth Closets" in Scientific American 20, 20, 313 (May 1869)