hygienic darkroom retreat

profound rest for the self‑healing psyche

by andrew durham

11 - water

If you already have a bathroom and kitchen you can darken easily or mostly, and you can get to it, at least with a blindfold, great. If not, make the quick, cheap, portable fixtures below. If basic versions are too punk rock for you, try the upgrades. You can incrementally improve them as you find out for yourself the value of retreating.


  • bucket with lid, 10-25L
  • 1-2L soda bottle with cap, filled with water
  • loosen cap slightly
  • squeeze bottle over bucket, with or without lid. Use one hand or put it between your knees for hands-free use
  • wash hands or food
  • slide lid off bucket to drain water into bucket
  • putting food waste in the bucket helps keep the smell down
  • table
  • rectangular plastic basin, like a restaurant bus tub
  • short stand, 30h x 30 x 40cm, behind basin
  • 10 or 20L bottle with valve-cap on stand
  • drinking water (if separate from wash water): in 20L bottle with valve-cap
  • waste (water and food): two, 20L buckets with lids
  • salvaged sink set in a counter-height table
  • drains directly into waste bucket
  • upgrade again by adding a drain tube to outside.



It’s a 20L bucket with a toilet seat on top. No kidding.

  • put 2 liters of sawdust in the bottom
  • put 15 liters more sawdust in another bucket by the toilet
  • with a scoop, put a 0.5L of sawdust in toilet after each use
  • place toilet away from bed and close to return vent
  • dispose of in a covered compost pile:
    • include food scraps
    • alternate with layers of carbonaceous material like leaves, straw, sawdust
    • let it sit for a year before use
    • cover with dirt and plenty of carbonaceous material
  • replace toilet paper with water to ensure cleanliness and prevent abrasion and infection
    • fill a 0.5–1.5L soda bottle with water
    • loosen the lid slightly
    • hold upside down, with lid against lower back
    • squeeze to get a small stream of water that runs straight down crack over anus
    • wet fingers of free hand and wash anus
    • wonder how you ever accomplished this task any other way

A 20L bucket sits inside a box with a hole in the top. The return duct attaches to a hole in the side of the box. So all air exits the room through the toilet, containing all odor. Bucket also collects pee, so empty it every 3-5 days. Making a vented urinal or a toilet that separates pee from poop is possible, too.

Overall dimensions: 35cmH x 60W x 60D


plan: toilet top

plan: toilet frame

plan: toilet liner


  • top
    • platform made of 15–20 tongue and groove boards or 12–20 plywood
    • front and back boards, ~24 x 36, go under platform to fit on top of front and back frame pieces and between frame legs
    • hole is at least 20mm smaller than bucket opening all the way around
    • attach toilet seat to top
    • reinforcer only for tongue and groove boards, directly behind toilet seat mounts
  • frame
    • made of 24 x 36 lumber
    • joint is extra strong, non-planar joint (see gridbeam.com)
    • black dots indicate heads of screws. Always drill pilot holes for screws.
    • adjust leg height to allow a 15mm space between top of bucket and underside of toilet top
  • liner
    • made of thick plastic sheeting (0.006” or 0.02mm)
    • folds into an open box
    • resulting triangular gussets in corners A fold against outside of liner
    • liner fits inside frame
    • top edges fold over horizontal frame pieces and get thumbtacked in place on outside
    • toilet bucket goes inside air and waterproof plastic liner
    • cut hole B for return duct
      • 30mm smaller than return duct to stretch and fit over it snugly
      • so duct is 50–100mm off floor and next to a frame leg (attach a bracket to support duct if necessary)
      • fold nearest gusset away from hole
      • hole B in plan is just an example: 70mm diameter hole for 100mm diameter duct



A washcloth or sponge for a sponge bath

  • on waterproof floor (or covered with large plastic sheet) make a 2m diameter border of towels and sit in the middle
  • put shower water in two 1.5L soda bottles with loose lids or nearly closed drinking spout lids
  • hold a bottle above yourself with one hand and wash with the other
  • wipe up water with towels and squeeze it out into bucket

plan: shower


It’s a simple shower which collapses for storage, requiring no pipes and little water. Parts from top to bottom:

  • hook (in ceiling, 50mm)
  • bucket or bottle (4-8L, hangs from hook by handle)
  • siphon tube (polyethylene, 4mm ID x 50cm, bent near its middle with heat to hook over rim of container)
  • 4 cords (hung from hook, tied to curtain rod)
  • curtain rod (common irrigation tubing, black polyethylene, 30mm OD, circular, 375cm long for 120cm diameter, dowel inside ends for smooth joint)
  • curtain (polyester or plastic sheeting, with 15cm sleeve for rod (as shown) or grommets and rings, 5cm bottom hem with small river rocks inside to weigh it down)
  • x=holes in curtain for cords to tie around curtain rod
  • large tub (90L+, from garden supply store, catches everything at the bottom. Could also be a large, deep tray or pan.)

Solar water heating method: use clear 4-8L drinking water bottles with rectangles of black plastic sheeting inside to act as elements. Have supporter give it to you when hot. Or, with dark clothing and sleeping mask on tight, grab it from a sunny spot.

Adjust water temperature with cold water to suit yourself. When ready to bathe, suck on the tube to start the siphon action. Water flows for eight minutes. Not bad. Dump used water into a 20L bucket with a lid for later disposal.

Adjust shower length and water flow with different size containers and tubes. Make sure hook can hold the weight.


That’s the state of my art of low-cost DIY darkroom design and construction. Check back for the latest developments. If you design something simpler, faster, cheaper, more effective, more elegant, or just different, please let me know. See
introduction > open-source.

Thank you for reading my book. I hope it helps you find yourself and feel joy.

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