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What’s that blue liquid in a porta-potty?

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I’m almost afraid to ask, but what is that blue liquid stuff in the bottom of a portable toilet? If I drop something in it (ewww) is it safe to grab it out?


Blue goo

Whether it was at an outdoor festival, in a bus or an airplane, or your friend’s RV, chances are you’ve used a portable, chemical toilet. Of course, since a working septic or sewer system isn’t always available, portable toilets have to find some other way to make some really foul-smelling stuff tolerable for a somewhat prolonged amount of time.

What a wonderful new smell you’ve discovered

The blue stuff you find in the bottom of a portable toilet is a really, really powerful deodorizer with disinfectant properties. While formaldehyde-based deodorizers were used in the past — and still are, in some circumstances — they’ve largely given way to more biodegradable and environmentally friendly formulations, such as glutaraldehyde or stuff called quaternary ammonium compounds.

Admittedly, you don’t want to drink these either, but they’re rather a bit less nasty than the stuff they pickle frogs in for dissecting.

If you’re really curious, we obtained a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for a popular brand of portable toilet disinfectant which you can see in its entirety here, but the most pertinent part is as follows:

  • 75-85% Water
  • 5-10% Surfactant mixture
  • 1-5% Fragrance mixture
  • 1-5% Colorant mixture
  • 0-1% Ethyl alcohol
  • 0-1% Surfactant

It then goes on to say:

Product is a blue liquid with a pungent, fragrant odor. Combustible liquid. Contact can cause moderate to severe irritation and possible injury to the eyes. This product may be irritating to the respiratory system and skin. Contact with skin can cause irritation and allergic reaction (sensitization) in some individuals. This product may be harmful if it is swallowed. Acute ingestion or inhalation may cause central nervous system effects. This product may be harmful to aquatic organisms.

Now, before you read that and decide to panic and hold it in the next time you’re at the county fair, relax — this is the safety information for the concentrated solution, which according to the manufacturer is diluted at a rate of 3-5 oz per 5 gallons of water.

Hit the (poop) deck

So while dropping your phone into the bottom of the porta-potty may still kill it, it won’t kill you should you decide to perform a heroic rescue. I’d just make sure to wash my hands immediately after — more for the stuff that goes into the disinfectant, rather than the disinfectant itself… if you catch my drift. I’ll leave it at that.