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Pooping in a pail and other prepper pastimes

I am in the middle of a plumbing problem and thought I’d share what I’m learning AS I’m learning it, since I learn a lot from the “what went well/what didn’t” threads elsewhere in this Forum. To the extent possible I’ll try not to repeat what is in the “Toilets when there’s no water” thread. 

It seems our outbound sewer line is blocked. We are lucky that we have an unfinished basement so the disgusting backup is mostly in our non-living areas. But though we have plenty of clean incoming water, if any of it goes down the drains it just makes the backup WORSE and more disgusting. My preps are coming in handy, but I’ve learned some things!  Warning, this thread is – kinda gross. 

  • You need more trash bags than you think. I’m peeing in the toilet as usual but not flushing, and throwing the wet TP in the trash. Despite my husband’s objections, I am also
  • Pooping in a pail, using my “luggable loo” for “#2”, with two trash bags inside and a big scoop of kitty litter. It still smells, though, so I take it out to the trash afterward and thus the need for lots of trash bags. 

I wasn’t thinking clearly when this first happened and at first I was trying to practice “hygiene” outside – hand washing, etc. using the outdoor faucets. This sucked since it is freezing here. I quickly realized that all I really have is a drainage problem, so I put big bowls under each house faucet to catch the hand washing water and then I throw it outside.  From this I learned a few other things:

  • Pails are REALLY handy.  LOTS of pails.  In addition to the “luggable loo” pail, which is serving its purpose, I have a pail in the bathroom to dump the hand wash water into, and a pail in the kitchen for dishwater. To the extent possible I’m using biodegradable soap and as the pail fills up I’m dumping it on the edge of the woods. 
  • I also had to use a pail for cleaning up the backup in the basement. It was disgusting. Thank goodness I had dish gloves and plenty of hand sanitizer.  At first I was cleaning up with the ol’ wringing out a wet rag method, but this took forever. I finally figured out that using a squeegee to push the water into a large dustpan worked much faster. I probably made thirty trips to the woods with buckets of gross water. My next prepping purchase will be a water vacuum. Would love a review of those for a  future guide. 

The stuff I bought for hurricanes – shampoo caps, GoodWipes, wet toilet paper, etc. (plus the hand sanitizer that has basically become a staple in pandemic times) have been absolute gifts when I need to use as little water as possible. Here are some other tiny things I’ve noticed:

  • Habits are VERY hard to break. My husband kept running the faucets etc. without thinking, thus making our backup worse. I made signs with a big red magic marker and post-its saying “STOP! Minimize water use!” and posted at each sink and toilet, and that helped. 
  • My preps were not as – prepped – as I thought. It took me a while to find the Luggable Loo, the trash bags, and the solar shower (which I ended up not needing).  I thought I was SO organized! I wasn’t.  We always say we should practice but does anybody really? These “mini emergencies” – only a drainage problem, instead of a full on emergency – are the ideal scenarios in which to work out the tiny details (which is why I am writing about it).  
  • We should have a list of hotels with in-room laundry and kitchen facilities.  This problem has been going on for three days now (a plumber came on day one and SAID the problem was fixed – it wasn’t!) and we are considering moving to a hotel. However, with Omicron raging I really, really don’t want to be around other people, so finding a place with in-room laundry and kitchen facilities would be ideal.  Good to learn this now as in the future I might need to find one quickly, and WHEN you’re dealing with a literal “poopy situation” is not the time to figure stuff out like that.
  • I found myself remarkably reluctant to use my preps. Example: The kitty litter with the Luggable Loo. I thought, Well maybe I should save this for a “real” emergency. I decided the situation definitely warranted the use of my supplies and that I can buy more kitty litter later!
  • Very grateful for my “not quite BOB”. In addition to my full-on BOB, I keep a fully packed suitcase with three days’ worth of clothes, toiletries, and medications in case of a family emergency. I haven’t needed to use it yet but knowing that it is there is a stress reducer.  Given that we can’t do laundry just now, having three days of clean clothes set aside is a blessing.

Well, the plumber just called and is on his way.  Stay tuned. My next post might be about my hotel room kitchen kit, that allows us to have hot healthy meals even in a hotel without a kitchen. I put it together last summer in case we had to travel in the pandemic but haven’t tested it out yet. 

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  • Comments (31)

    • 8

      Nice thing about prepping for extreme crisis is that these same preps can be used for everyday breakdowns.  And these everyday events help us to test out our preps to see how they actually work.  I learned a lot from a 2 day power outage at my mother-in-law’s house.

      Between the pandemic and the power outage, my family no longer sees me as the crazy prepper.

      • 2

        LOL! The pandemic pushed my husband from supportive to appreciative. Your heroics for your MIL should have them mimicking you!  

    • 3

      OH NO! This has got to be one of the worst disasters I can imagine! 

      You seem to be in good spirits about it though, which is a strong skill to have to get through these situations. 

      I am going to go look at my trash bag stock and see if I need to buy another box or two. For your situation, do you recommend buying a lot of kitchen sized trash bags, smaller bathroom can sized ones, or just use grocery bags?

      Are you filing an insurance claim to help with the cost of repairs and cleanup? Make sure you have a remediation team come out and make sure there is no mold and everything is sanitized. If you are filing an insurance claim, call the company and ask about temporary housing. My policy covers hotels, eating out expenses, and other things that I need while my house is being made whole again. I congratulate you for being as prepared as you are and dealing with the situation in such high spirits so far, but you have earned a break and you should go get a hotel for a while.

      • 2

        I think any trash bag that won’t rip would be fine! I used double layers of heavy-duty 13 gallon kitchen bags. 

    • 4

      Where are you dumping the waste? Thanks for illustrating the importance of poop prep. Folks act like I’m a little crazy for writing about things like The Humanure Handbook, but it’s something you need to plan for.

      • 6

        I am rather mortified that I am discussing, in public, where I am dumping my poop.  For the stuff in the pail, I covered it in kitty litter, double-bagged it, and then threw it in the household trash bin outside to be hauled away next week.  I hope that is okay? I mean is it really worse than throwing out kitty poop?  

        For the stuff that was all over basement floor, which was mostly water (dank smelly gross water), I dumped it in a big pile of leaves on the edge of our woods, which is quite far from any occupied dwellings, walking paths, or water sources. I know that isn’t 100% sanitary but what was I supposed to do with it? I couldn’t dump it down the household drain! I didn’t want to dump it in the stormwater drain because that goes into a freshwater creek.  I figured if it percolated into the pile of leaves and then the dirt and then eventually into the groundwater, it’s kinda like a big ol’ natural Big Berkey, right? 

        Apparently the problem was a tree root through our sewer line. They’ve cleared it enough to allow us to shower, do minimal laundry, etc. and will be back next week with a backhoe to replace the line.  FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS, people. Five thousand dollars this is costing me. 

        As for damage in the basement – it is blissfully minimal. It is an unfinished basement, so there was just (disgusting) water on an unfinished slab, which I cleaned up quickly and then blasted it with space heaters to dry it out (which is what the restoration folks would have done too). Now that I can shower again I’d honestly rather do the sanitation work myself vs. having strangers potentially carrying Omicron do it so I’ll blast it with bleach over the next few days also. I’ve already filed three insurance claims in five years and am not eager to file another as they might just cancel me.  One problem will be a roll of leftover carpet we had down there that got soaked. We’ll definitely need to throw that out. Luckily not much else was damaged and the other things that got wet can just be washed and sanitized. We USED to have an old mattress and boxspring in that very place and thank goodness we moved them last year. Another preppier tip: Do not put anything that might get water damaged ON THE FLOOR of your basement!

        I’m kind of kicking myself for not signing up for the sewer line insurance offered by our utility. It seemed like SUCH a scam, partly because they were SO EAGER to sell it to us (they must have mailed us a dozen times).  But in retrospect it would have been worth it.  This is a classic example of why financial preparedness is an essential part of preparedness. Luckily our emergency fund CAN cover this, but still…..I’d rather spend $5000 on some new GEAR!

      • 3

        I’m sorry you’re going through this. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It sounds like you’re handling the situation as well as possible. Just a quick note about the sewer line insurance. Typically such insurance policies are not offered by utilities but rather by insurance companies whose marketing material makes it *look* like the offer comes from utilities. They may not be scams, but the marketing material is misleading. It would be worth a call to the utility to see whether it is affiliated with the offer, if anyone is considering such a policy. 

      • 4

        Another preppier tip: Do not put anything that might get water damaged ON THE FLOOR of your basement!”

        Legit recco. When I was 24, I went on a camping trip, got snowed/rained on, and returned home with a lot of wet camping and backpacking gear, which I spread out on the garage floor to dry because it was still raining/snowing and the house had no backyard. The next day, the sewer overflowed into the garage. Turns out the previous occupants had been flushing tampons and the sewer line was packed with them. I was living in the house on a very temporary, unofficial sublet, so I wasn’t on the lease and could not raise appropriate hell with the property managers, and my housemates were all kinds of ridiculous and couldn’t be bothered to get on the phone and demand remediation. (By “all kinds of ridiculous” I mean, among other things, that when I moved out a couple of months later, the garage floor was STILL covered in TP and human excrement, and I was literally the only person who felt like this was maybe… not… fine?) While I was more of an adult than either of the young women I lived with, I was not so much of one that I had even heard of renter’s insurance, let alone bought a policy, so I lost over $500 of high-end backpacking gear. Icing on the cake? I bought it all while I was working in the outdoor industry in college and had a sick pro deal. It took me eight years to replace it all, and I actually paid full price the second time.

      • 2

        That sucks about your backpacking gear. 

        Especially keep your food storage up off the floor. Keep the food in cardboard boxes and other easily damaged containers up on the top shelves. A 5 gallon bucket with your two week dehydrated food is good to put on the bottom shelf though.

      • 3

        Wow!  That was a very hard lesson or set of lessons that at least you learned. I wonder what your roommates took away from that?  I am sad to hear it was so costly.  And I think the landlord would have preferred to learn of the mess even if they didn’t cover your damages. I can’t imagine the property damage from months of that seeping into the structure. Security deposit won’t cover that. 

    • 4

      Sorry to hear about your house. 

      You mention wanting to buy a water vacuum and looking for a guide. This YouTube video by Project Farm does a good job at comparing some of the top brands on the market. Hope it helps you pick a good one for your needs.

    • 3

      We recently acquired some experience using a CleanWaste toilet, a Luggable Loo alternative. During a six-day power outage, it was golden. Best purchase of 2021.

      • 2

        I, too, keep  luggable loo handy.  I use Double Doodie waste bags with “bio gel”.  Definitely keeps the stink down.  my most extensive use was on a project with three people fir two weeks.  Each bag is good for two to three sessions….

      • 2

        This reminded me, we have an old commode from taking care of my grandpa, that would be a really solid prep to just buy a ton of the absorbent bags for it, at least for a shelter in place problem. Nice and tall too.

    • 3

      Thanks for sharing the gross stuff, M. E.! After all, it’s what we all have to deal with at some point. We had several years of septic issues, (very costly to eventually fix, as we needed all new dry wells dug.) It would inevitably back up when we had company coming. Embarrassing and funny to tell your guests that the guys can go sprinkle the trees, and only periodic flushes would stay down! For a while I lugged laundry waste water outside, and we dumped our bath water out of the windows to keep enough drainage room for those all important flushes! Now when the well pump went out, that was the tough one…

    • 5

      M.E.,

      Many condolences that you are having/had to deal with this, and many thank yous for taking the time to record your observations and experiences. (I know you mentioned being mortified about sharing this subject, but I really, really appreciate hearing practical, actual experiences on this matter, so know that I’m part of your audience who completely appreciates the candor.)

      “Pails are REALLY handy. LOTS of pails.” This takeaway reminded me of a thread on another forum where someone was documenting their experience of getting hit by Hurricane Michael and then spending the next one to two years rebuilding their home. He remarked that 5 gallon buckets were some of the most useful tools available during the period, especially when he was living in a garage during the rebuilding process. Obviously it sounds like “waterproof container” is the key here (not specifically 5 gallon buckets), so thank you for reminding me to think about my waterproof container resources. It sounds like you found good uses for a lot of them really quickly.

      I also appreciate the note about breaking past habits by needing to put visual reminders about where/when to change behavior to avoid making the backup problem worse.

      Also, very interesting that you experienced a reluctance to use your preps. I’ve heard *some* anecdotes about this issue before, and I think it’s part of an interesting conversation about the whole of prepping. We don’t just need to have helpful gear+appropriate skills, we also need the habits/mindsets that allow us to feel confident that “yes, this is the appropriate time to use Prep X to make life better.” One of my issues with planning for a water loss (and I haven’t yet thought through a “sewage block without clean water loss” situation) is how long I would plan to stay in a home without water. Basically the question of “how many flushes should I store water for before I stay in my place in an emergency, no-flushing water conservation mode or I leave for a place with water.” So for me that involves defining when and how I use my preps. But I am still figuring it out, so I would definitely expect some “should I really use my preps now?” resistance, should an issue happen right now.

      If you get any spare time (most likely in the future after this has been resolved), the composting toilet approach discussed in the humanure handbook was an incredible eye opener for me about options for dealing with our poop and pee. It’s based on composting, so a clay-based kitty litter probably won’t be compatible (and thus I don’t know that it solves your current problems), but it might give you some helpful ideas for the future.

      I hope the plumber’s visit was accompanied with very good news! And if you get bad news, I also look forward to hearing about your hotel cooking kit — I’ve been loosely looking into those the past few months.

      • 5

        Glad to hear the post was helpful. I am definitely going to buy some more buckets/pails for all sorts of uses. I have this kind for my camping gear (and it’s the one I used for hauling out the disgusting water) and this kind for my hotel kitchen kit (post coming soon!) I recommend getting different colors for different uses (like orange for “not sanitary” and white for “sanitary” or something)  I also wish I had more gloves. Even though I had dishwashing gloves, they got really gross really fast and I would have liked to have lots more disposable ones at the ready. 

        As I continue going through this process, I am learning new things. There is a “sewer access” (there’s probably a name for that) with a manhole cover about 1,000 yards from my house. It occurs to me that in a situation of extended problems I could get a strong friend to take the manhole cover off and go dump stuff in there if absolutely essential.  (I got this idea when I saw the plumbers remove the manhole cover).  There are apparently articles on how to remove a manhole cover, and special tools for that since they are so darned heavy. So maybe another thing to add to our preps or have The Prepared write about!

        Also I learned why it is important to have an extra-large wrench. The plumbers needed that to remove the “cleanout” cover. Yet another thing for which there are apparently special tools, but it looked like just a large wrench would do it.

        Overall, once the pandemic is over, I am seriously considering taking a basic plumbing class. I assumed having plenty of stored water + ways of getting safe drinking water was enough. But in a long-term survival situation I would really like to know how to manage plumbing better in general. For example, there is a creek near my house that I could probably reroute to get a reliable water supply. But I’d need the tools, supply, and know-how to do that.  

        I’ll definitely look into composting toilets after this experience. Based on an initial search ready-made ones are EXPENSIVE!  I’m also starting to ponder where I could easily set up a solar shower to allow effective drainage, in case that becomes necessary in the future. 

      • 4

        Quick note: “Based on an initial search ready-made ones are EXPENSIVE!” Pleeeeeease read the Humanure Handbook before you get pulled into purchasing an expensive commercial model.

        You might still end up getting a commercial one (and that’s fine), but once you read through the system, you’ll have a better sense for why you might want to pay the commercial price over just setting up your own system with 5 gallon buckets, sawdust, straw, and chicken wire/wood pallets.

        The 4th edition of the book is available free online here: http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html (scroll down past the image of the table of contents and you’ll see links to the chapters). (This is the book Josh Centers reviewed for The Prepared recently and linked to in his comment above.)

        Very cool to hear that round, collapsible bucket is holding up for a dirty but necessary job. And I’m thrilled to hear your hotel kitchen kit uses the rectangular collapsible basket, I have one just like it that I’ve started bringing on camping trips.

        Your plumbing comments are great, I’m taking notes for my own knowledge. I have a basic home owners repair book, but haven’t delved into the plumbing section yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it skims over or ignores the useful info you’re pulling up here.

      • 3

        M.E., I thought about this, and want to clarify something. The Humanure System is very knowledge-based. This is great because you don’t have to buy expensive things to put together the system, and it’s not rocket science level of knowledge needed.

        However, if you are currently under a lot of stress for dealing with a whole collection of issues (only one of which is figuring out where to put your poop), me suggesting “go read this book!” could be very frustrating and unhelpful.

        So, two clarifications:

        1) In case my above comments implied otherwise, I don’t necessarily expect my recommendations to solve your *current* problems in an efficient manner. If you’ve got the mental bandwidth, fantastic. But it would make total sense to me if you put off reading about Humanure until after this plumbing problem is solved, instead of trying to learn a new system while dealing with everything else.

        2) The Humanure Handbook is free online, but despite my recommendation above, you might consider getting the $20 PDF copy of The Compost Toilet Handbook instead (https://slateroofwarehouse.com/Books/Joseph_Jenkins_Books/Compost_Toilet_Handbook). I pulled up my PDF copy on my phone to see how reading it on my phone looks, and the dimensions of the pages were decent for sizing to a phone’s screen (and I could also zoom in on text and photos fine).

        The Compost Toilet Handbook is slightly more focused on how to make the toilets, which may be helpful sooner. Basically the Compost Toilet Handbook spends way less time talking about the history of sanitation, is free of poop jokes, and has tons more photos and case studies about people using the system.

        Ok, time for me to get off my compost toilet soapbox.

      • 1

        It has….tons of photos……..of people using the system? 

        😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱

      • 1

        🤣

    • 4

      We are dealing with a similar, but less drastic situation here.  The drain pipes pass through an unheated crawlspace, so every time they are used a thin layer of ice is left behind.  This is okay as long as each time any water goes down the drain, enough water does to first melt the previous layer of ice, but small amounts of water just add layer upon layer until it backs up into my bathtub all smelly and gross.  So we have a dishpan in the kitchen sink and an empty ice cream tub (the only thing that fits well) in the bathroom sink to catch water from minor uses like hand washing or rinsing out a glass.  Every time the toilet gets flushed or dishes need washing, that’s an opportunity to dump the tubs at the same time, then run more water until we’re sure the pipes are clear. 

      The hardest habit to break in my household, is water conservation.  During severe cold we have to LEAVE THE TAP RUNNING while washing dishes or brushing our teeth (when the pan/bucket is removed temporarily) and it’s really hard to keep from turning it off!

      I hope to insulate the crawlspace by next winter.

      • 2

        That will be a good project to insulate that crawlspace and those pipes. To help with the pipes you can get foam insulation around the pipes that look like pool noodles or there is an electrical heating option that I thought was pretty cool. I’m sure you are aware of these options already, but just wanted to share some ideas.

      • 3

        Yes, thank you.  They do have foam – and over that some fiberglass batting bundled on with twine which I added last year in desperation – but that only helps when the temp isn’t too far below freezing.  Once it gets down around zero, none of that seems to matter anymore.  I’m sure electric heat tapes or something would help, but there’s nowhere to plug anything in short of running extension cords out a window and in through the access panel.  Not an ideal situation.

        When I do get around to insulating the whole crawlspace, I’m thinking of also opening some vents between it and the basement, so heat rising to the basement ceiling can get in there through their shared wall.  I think that would help a lot.

        This all should have been done a long time ago, but other more pressing projects kept taking priority.  I think it’s finally nearing the top of the queue though!

    • 6

      I will offer a quick rundown of the Humanure Handbook:

      • You don’t need expensive composting toilets. The HH’s version of a compost toilet is basically pooping in a bucket, except you build a wooden box to contain it and attach a seat.
      • Why not just poop in a bucket with an attachable seat? You can, but it’s easy to tip over the bucket. You do not want to tip over the bucket.
      • You need a high-carbon material to cover the excrement. The best material is sawdust.
      • Refer to my composting guide for more, but in essence, compost is all about nitrogen/carbon ratio. Since poop and pee are high nitrogen, you need high carbon to add bulk and keep smells down. Wood is about as high carbon as you get, but chips and shavings don’t break down well, thus sawdust.
      • Put some sawdust in the bottom of the bucket and then thoroughly cover your droppings.
      • Compost pile: dig a small bowl where you want the pile so things don’t seep out. Then you need something to hold in the contents. Some wire fence in a circle works well and is quick to put together.
      • You’ll want a compost thermometer because you want this compost to get HOT. Like 160F, at least for a while. Once the pile is topped off, let it sit at least a year.
      • If the pile starts to stink, add more carbon cover material. Sawdust, hay, shredded cardboard, shredded leaves, etc.
      • If you’re uncomfortable using this compost in veggie gardens, use it for perennials. If the compost gets hot enough for long enough, it should be perfectly safe.
      • As always, check local laws. Some places won’t like this. But it’s better than dumping it in the woods or the trash.
      • 4

        Josh, kudos on taking the time to post a quick list here!

        I want to address something that looks to me like a point of confusion in your advice (I re-read your book review and saw it there, then saw it again here).

        “Compost pile: dig a small bowl where you want the pile so things don’t seep out. Then you need something to hold in the contents. Some wire fence in a circle works well and is quick to put together.”

        And in the review you said: “Interestingly, while Jenkins cautions against covering poo with soil, he insists that you should put your compost piles directly on the ground, as the soil contact encourages the microbes needed to break down the pile. He recommends digging a small depression under the pile to prevent leaks from the sides of the bin, and lining that depression with organic sponge material like grass.”

        From my reading, Jenkins emphasizes having a pretty thick “biological sponge” as the bottom of the compost pile (before any toilet material is put on) and also sidewall “cushions” for the compost pile (in addition to covering the top). See how much material he’s putting on the bottom when starting a new pile in this video:

        Here’s a figure from the Compost Toilet Handbook:
        Jenkins_CompostToiletHandbook_CompostBinDiagram

        I don’t have the scientific/academic resources to support this, but my hunch is that the biological sponge might hinder fecal microbes from being hand delivered to soil. At least until *after* they’ve had some initial rounds of battle with the composting microbes. (Which means the fecal microbes might be in pretty rough shape by the time any of them do make it through the sponge to reach the soil and think about continuing their lifecycle.) Also perhaps the aerobic composting microorganisms are better at moving from the soil to the compost via the biological sponge than the fecal microbes are at moving from poop to soil through the sponge layer.

        But regardless, Jenkins emphasizes both the biological sponge and the cushion wall, so that toilet material isn’t contacting the soil, nor can anyone touch toilet material by touching the sides of the compost bin. So I think your advice bullet point might be better as:

        “Compost pile: dig a small bowl where you want the pile so things don’t seep out. Put about a foot of fluffy carbon material in the bowl to make a bottom cushion/sponge, add some wire or wood pallets around it to hold it vertical and then pile another foot of fluffy carbon material, that you can later push to the sides (to make the wall cushions) when you are adding toilet material into the middle of the pile.”

        When I got a chance to use a functioning Humanure system, it was one that used straw for cover material and chicken wire to hold things up. I clearly remember the manager of this system warning us to make sure we had enough wall cushion material set up, to avoid accidentally pouring the bucket of toilet material through the wire wall and onto our shoes. 🙂

      • 3

        Good catch. Yes, you should line the bottom with some sort of sponge material if you can.

      • 2

        Would ashes work in place/in addition to sawdust? I figure ash is pretty much straight carbon.

        We have so much from the wood stove and I never know what to do with all of it, so much of it is just “dumped”. I’ve Googled the “lists” of ideas, but none of them need much ash.

      • 2

        I think ash would work – I used latrines for a long time/on many occasions and ash was one of the things we would throw on top (ash, soil, grass cuttings, etc).

        Re other uses for ash: it makes for a very good dish cleaner! It’s mildly abrasive and apparently antimicrobial, too. Just sift it so you get rid of the big chunks, scoop a little, mix it with water to form a paste and you’re good to go. I used it for a long time and really liked it; it works like a Bar Keepers Friend sort of thing. But of course, you’d only use a little each time so this wouldn’t solve your big ash problem 😉

        Almost forgot: I also used ash water to wash clothes. I don’t remember the exact instructions but it was as simple as mixing ash with water, letting the water stand, and scoping the water off the top to use instead of laundry soap. I actually just found some instructions here that might be more helpful.

      • 4

        Be careful there.  Boiling ashes is basically making lye which is the very caustic ingredient in soap making.  

      • 4

        Good tip. But there is no boiling involved. For dishes, you use the ash straight as it is, and for clothes, you just let the ash stand in water, and when the ash falls to the bottom you just use the water on top.

    • 4

      I would add, to reduce risk of contamination, that you fill a wash basin with water for hand washing before you poop, so that you aren’t touching the water dispenser after and can immediatley wash your hands while touching only the soap.