Do you know how your character would relieve themselves if the weather was terrible outside and going to the outhouse was dangerous? Why did people collect pee and poop? Why might there be a frog in the pot? 

Our second toilet alternative is the chamber pot. Also known as the potty, the potty pot, the pot of pee, the pot of poo, the thunder pot, the thunder mug, the stool, the bucket, a jerry, a jordan, and the bucket of ew. Also, the bedpan or the bedside commode are considered versions of the chamber pot. I know many people in my area, especially the elderly, that still refer to relieving themselves as “going to the pot.” 

Chamber pots are defined as anything designated for urinating or defecating in that will later need to be dumped out after use. 

They were historically used inside the home, at night, during storms, bitterly cold weather, or other types of bad weather, and when someone could not go outside to relieve themselves. This could be because they were injured, infirmed, on bed rest, small children being potty trained, heavily pregnant women, or plain old lazy people, but this could include others. 

Chamber pots come in many shapes and styles. There were small and large teacup-shaped ones. Also, bowls with lips that were large and let the pee roll in but were several inches so your hand could easily lift it from the outside of the pot without spilling. I find this is the least likely to tip or spill. 

There were some that looked like the gravy boats of today and are commonly mislabeled as antique gravy bowls at antique shops. 

Bedpans are another form of a chamber pot. They are placed under people who cannot get out of bed or, historically, to the outhouse to relieve themselves. Ancient ones sometimes had a spout attached to one side to help men relieve themselves better. 

From ancient times until modern flushing toilets when chamber pots fell out of use, many pots would have something painted inside or added to the inside, like a frog, for men and boys to aim at. That would be very handy when potty training! 

The chamber pot is thought to have been invented in the 6th century BC in Greece and was primarily used by women after they gave birth. These were made of tin, lead, ceramics, or clay. It is possible they used other things too, but whatever they used would need to be waterproof. 

While we typically think of chamber pots as a pot you squat over in the corner, that was not always the case. Even in earlier pots, they could have a seat with a hole to sit on, and the chamber pot was placed under the seat. These were made of many things. For example, wealthy Romans had limestone seats over their pots, while poor people had wooden ones. You could have many kinds of materials for your stories, including wood, stone, ceramic, metal, or plastic if you’re writing a modern story. In a post-apocalyptic story, something like a car seat with a cutout hole and a bucket under the seat might be an interesting option, but hard to clean. Many homes in the 1800s and likely earlier had clever cabinets to hide the pots or, my personal favorite, a chair that had a seat you could lift to find a wooden seat to sit on with a hole that was for using the chamber pot.

 Today, many elderly people use a bedside commode. This is basically a chair with a bucket. Many toddlers use a potty chair, which is basically a child-sized chair with a bucket. 

Chamber pots would have to be emptied, preferably every day. I know people who are off-grid that use a 5-gallon bucket and do not empty it every day. However, they have a lid to cover smells when no one is actively using them. Modern times require the waste to go at least 200 feet from any groundwater source to get rid of it. I’ve heard of people dumping into the outhouses they use. I know a few modern homesteads with a septic system with a special above-ground attachment to let them dump the waste in because they don’t believe in pipes being attached to their homes. This is common in my area among the former Amish. 

Historically, places like London during the Middle Ages were known for people throwing the waste out the window and sometimes hitting the unfortunate people below. They did, however, yell out the window, “Watch for water.” This was the signal the chamber pot was about to be emptied. There were also large holes dug for dumping waste called a sis-pit. 

In some historical periods, urine was collected and used for washing laundry, dyeing hair, or even weird historical medical treatments. EW! During Napoleon’s era in war times, there was a door-to-door collection of urine. This was because they could refine it to make saltpeter—an essential ingredient in making gunpowder. 

Many times in history, people have saved the poo for their crops to be used as manure. They did this in Rome and medieval Europe, to name a few. It is rumored that this is currently practiced in North Korea, with a requirement that each able-bodied person must bring in a quota of poop daily. This practice is unsanitary, to say the least, and there is a risk of disease-causing pathogens and parasites. 

Fun fact: During the times of carriages, there was something called a carriage pot. On particularly long journeys, they used these so the driver didn’t have to stop so the passengers could go to the bathroom. They could use the pot inside the carriage. I can’t find too much information on these, but I am picturing the hay rides I have been on with all the bumping and jarring of modern roads, or even dirt roads, and the modern suspension. It was not a smooth ride. I am wondering how the rider first aimed with all the jarring around that happens, and second, I hope it had a latching lid. Otherwise, the first rough bump will spill it. This could land on the passenger or the other passengers, the carriage, and then the rest of the ride would smell of urine or worse. 

What could possibly go wrong: 

Likely to go wrong: Your character spills the chamber pot as they try to empty it. Maybe it spills in the home, tips onto their shoes, or is spilled onto someone else. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character’s young boy is like all young boys and misses the chamber pot. Sometimes parents find the entire wall behind to be peed on instead. 

Possible to go wrong: we do not empty The chamber pot in a timely manner and overflows. Depending on how big the pot is will determine how long it takes to fill and overflow. 

Possible to go wrong: Depending on how many people live in your character’s home, there could be a line to use the chamber pot, just as people have to use the modern bathrooms today. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character helped with a bedpan, which was not placed correctly, causing them to wet the bed instead of the bedpan. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character trips and falls while taking out the chamber pot, spilling it. This could be spilled on them and anything close by. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character or their child uses a chamber pot you squat over, and they miss while going poo, making a mess. This would be awful if they had diarrhea. 

Improbable but technically still in the realm of possibilities: The chamber pot breaks because of its weight. This would most likely be with a cracked or a very old and brittle pot. 

Improbable but technically still in the realm of possibilities: Your character mistook the chamber pot for a gravy bowl and ate gravy out of it. This is most likely to happen in a modern era, with mismarkings at an antique shop. I really hope it was washed first!

Helpful Links to learn more:

Chamber Pots:,for%20the%20use%20of%20women


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