Going to the toilet is a basic human requirement but still something we tend to be a bit taboo talking about. Especially when it comes to how you cope with needing to go to the toilet in your campervan. The internet is full of information to the point where it can be overwhelming but not always easy to navigate the pros and cons.
However we are here to try and write a simple guide breaking down the basic elements of each one. This should give you a basic overview on the principles of each design. you can then research further into the type of toilet you like the idea of and find out more information.
The main two components in choosing a toilet seems to be how expensive and how eco friendly is it. Companies are listening to the customers and trying to provide less harmful chemicals that was has been on the market until recently and a variety of designs mean there is a toilet fit for every bum.
Best seat in the van!
When thinking about vanlife, it is important to have a list of essential things, that are important to you, included in your design. You may be starting a conversion from scratch or maybe you are buying one ready to go. Either way, your dream home on wheels will have several must haves such as windows or no windows, what type of heater, fixed bed or a pull out?
Almost every person will have their own list and vision. Often these are then impacted by costs, van size and layouts. It may not be practical to have an automatic flushing toilet in a Caddy where space is a real issue, for example.
One of the things that both Louise and I were adamant about was that we needed a toilet of some sorts. When we saw our campervan we were glad to see that she came with a toilet already installed. We currently have a Thetford toilet and cassette in place half way down the campervan on the drivers side. This model features an electric flushing pump, a waste compartment accessed from outside, a tank for the flush liquids and a toilet roll holder.
In this post, we look at some of the types of toilet you can get for your campervan, talk about the chemicals and how they work, look at some more Eco friendly toilets and how they compare cost wise.
From the Bottom Up!
Mobile app to locate toilets. Cost – Free, Installation – Mobile app.
Let’s start at the rear end of the scale, no toilet. For some people, having a toilet is a luxury they just can not manage. Either space restrictions, cost or just a lifestyle choice not to have one! When we had our T5 campervan, we didn’t have a toilet on board. We just made sure we took advantage of public restrooms in supermarkets, pubs or dotted around towns. The only problem for me was the first pee of the morning where we would have to make sure we were parked near a 24 hours supermarket or public toilet for the morning dash!
Vera the Wanderlust also decided to forgo a toilet when they left in their VW.
“We hit the road in our VW T3 in July of 2019. We had packed everything we needed; food, clothes, music, bedding, tools, you name it and we’d packed it. Everything except one thing- A toilet.
To be honest we were so excited to start our journey that we hadn’t even considered what it meant to not have a toilet in the van. For the first few months it wasn’t much of a problem, it was warm outside so even if we need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night we just got up and found the nearest public restroom using the app ‘Where is public toilet Europe’.
However, as our trip progressed in to winter and the weather started turning for the worse, it became more of a challenge finding the courage to brave the elements, to find a restroom or a suitable natural space to do our business. As a result we have started to think about investing in a chemical toilet, although we think we may decide against it as they are not overly environmentally friendly.” You can follow them on Instagram @verawonderlust and on facebook
Using ‘Where is public toilet’ app (only available on android) you are able to use your current location to search for public toilets near you. The app is free to download and easy to use. This would have been so helpful for us!
Bucket and a tent – Basic costs – under £30 for full kit
One of the toilet options we looked at when in a smaller campervan was to have a bucket and tent option. We had seen a toilet tents for sale the VW festivals and did purchase a pop up tent for around £20. You can buy a bucket with a toilet seat attached for around £10-20 but you can just get a bucket from the £1 shop and a bit of insulating foam around the edge for added comfort.
Essentially you place a bucket in the tent and do your business. It is recommended that you line your bucket with bin bags!
Lots of chat happens in the camping and campervan forums about what to use to soak up the fluids and mask smells. Most opt for sawdust or cat litter and line the bin with a small amount then layer a little over after each use. Disposal of this waste must be done in accordance of the laws where you are. It is your responsibility to check this.
Removable Porta Potty – Easy to store and empty, from £50 and up. (Thetford/Dometic)
The next step up from a bucket is a small portable toilet cassette stored in your campervan. The two common brands are Thetford and Dometic. This is where waste is held in a secure holding tank underneath the toilet bowl. There is a twist disc to open and close the valve. This allows the waste to go down and the smells to stay sealed in an air tight container below. Some are fitted with pump flushes so that a 2nd tank, containing clean water and a pink chemical, clean the bowl and keep it fresh.
The tank size can vary greatly depending on what you want to spend but the more you pay out, the more comfortable the experience will be for you. The small portable ones are handy to stow away under a bench seat or in a cupboard for occasional use. This isn’t so bad if you are a solo traveller however if you are sharing with someone, it can test the personal boundaries fairly quickly. It may be that one person has to leave the van whilst the other uses the loo. Not so much fun in the rain and snow!
Fixed Porta Potty. Service waste from outside, approx. £350 and up. (Thetford/Dometic)
A fixed toilet has advantages but is usually reserved for larger vans, given the space they take up.
These will often be the same basic design as the above but on a larger scale. With a fixed toilet in your campervan you are able to add walls, giving you a cubical in the van for privacy. Often these have an outside door to access the waste container. Some of the waste tanks have wheels to make them easier to transport but when they are full, they can be quite heavy and the shifting contents make it unstable.
Chemicals – 3 main types on the market but what do they do?
We touched earlier on the chemicals and if you have been into caravan and motorhome shops you may have seen shelves displaying pink, blue and green liquids. The core functions of these chemicals are to break down the waste and reduce odours. To be truthful, it is hard to disguise the smell of the harsh chemicals altogether so pick what is more offensive for you!
Pink and Blue
Typically, the pink liquid is a nice fragrant one that us diluted to make the flush water. The blue ones are usually diluted for the waste tank. Some of the older solutions contain more harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde.
The green toilet liquid is usually the more eco friendly of the toilet cleaners but do still check the ingredients. It is more environmentally conscious, can be emptied into a septic tank and is only in temps as sold as -20, depending on the brand.
Some of the older solutions contain more harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde. This is a toxic element which needs to be handled and disposed of safely. Due to the harm these chemicals can do the environment they do need to be handled safely. There are come companies now working on less toxic alternatives, harnessing enzymes and natural substances instead, to make them better for the environment.
There are plenty of discussions on the alternatives you can read on line. Some people recommend using biological washing tablets however some reviews have said the smell was worse and it took a long time for the solids to break down.
Composting Loo – Self contained housing and ventilation.
Those looking for a more environmentally friendly toilet for their campervan, without the use of harsh chemicals, may think about the composting toilets. The science behind these is to separate the fluids and solids holding them in separate areas. The solid waste is dried out using ventilation and sawdust, the fluids are sent to another tank for easier disposal.
Emma Milford – turning a chemical toilet into an eco toilet
After much deliberation about building my own composting toilet, or installing an all singing all dancing throne, I decided to simply go with the Thetford Porta Potti 145; a small portable toilet which can be purchased from must outdoor retailers and fits in my van under my table or in the back of my van – one day (when I build it!) it will be on a pull out tray in my storage area.
This lovely little toilet is super simple to use, fits pretty much anywhere and does what it says on the box! There is a 12ltr waste reciprocal which will hold around a week’s worth of waste, unless you’re a large canine, a bellow pump ‘flush’ and it can be emptied really easily. With the flick of a catch, the container detaches from the main body and there is a spout to aim the contents in to a private loo, drain, chemical disposal point etc.
Personally, I don’t use any chemicals in either the waste area or the ‘flush’ section (just some plain water in the ‘flush’ section), as I want the ability to empty it pretty much anywhere without killing the environment or my friendly neighbour’s waste pipes. I don’t find it smells without the chemicals but a good rinse with water and a wipe over with some eco cleaning spray after emptying keeps it fresh and clean, and if you can avoid mixing solids and fluid, it tends to smell less.
Top tip… DO NOT add toilet paper to the mix; cheap paper generally does disintegrate but be like the Europeans and just bag it with your normal waste and save any blockages. Overall, this is a great little loo, which isn’t cumbersome or heavy, is easy to install, empty and store wherever you have the space. Happy camping!
The joys of a composting toilet by Clare and Ryan.
“We are Clare and Ryan and we have been living full time in our custom built van conversion since September 2018. Since then we have travelled throughout the UK, spent the winter in the Iberian Peninsula, the summer in Scandinavia, visiting 12 countries so far and our plans for 2020 are to head east and explore the rest of Europe.
As we custom designed our van, spending many hours on YouTube exploring the right design and layout for us, we came across composting toilets for the first time. The more we investigated, the more we liked the idea of being free of nasty chemicals and smells, whilst being self contained with the ability to wild camp for longer periods without having to find suitable waste disposal points. Being on a budget in a relatively small van, with no dedicated shower room, space and costs were also important considerations.
After doing some shopping around we settled on the Kildwick Koodle with purple sparkling separator bowl (no longer available but Strumpet & Trollup do a similar model), costing about 400 GBP. It now lives on a sliding pull out, neatly tucked away but easily accessible, vented to the outside by a flexible pipe. We use a dilute vinegar solution in a spray bottle for our liquids flush and cover any solid deposits with a sprinkling of sawdust.
The fan assisted ventilation over time dries out the solids and we have not had any issues with unpleasant smells or flies. We supplement our compost loo usage with public toilets but find that we empty the liquids container daily and the solids box is emptied [responsibly] about once a month and takes about 5 minutes.
Please remain seated during the performance
The only real surprise for us (easily overcome) was that we needed to change our mindset on how we use the toilet. For me I found I needed to sit further forward than a traditional toilet and hubby has to sit down to pee to help ensure proper separation of solids and liquids – the key to successful composting toilets and the avoidance of smells.
After 18 months on the road, I have to say that getting a compost toilet has been one of the best decisions we made. It has been easy and convenient to use, saving us significant time and money, not having to find and pay for waste disposal points, it is far better for the environment, using no chemicals or water and is definitely less yucky than the alternatives. As we sit watching fellow travellers drag a smelly, sloppy box of waste across a car park, spending 10 minutes trying to juggle the toilet box, water, splash back and holding their noses, we have a quiet chuckle and wonder, why doesn’t everyone have a compost loo, we certainly wouldn’t be without ours!”
Toilet paper – Can I flush it?
The ‘Bog standard’ toilet roll we use at home isn’t really recommended as conventional loo roll takes a long time to break down and leaves clumps in the tank (and also around where you are emptying it). Unless you want to poke at bits of paper with a stick to get rid of them it is easier to buy the campervan toilet paper in the caravan shops or at least the cheapest thinnest paper from the pound shops.
Just like your toilet at home, all campervan toilets need regular cleaning. Different products will need to be used given the components of your toilet and the seals involved. Domestic cleaning products on the plastic toilets in a motorhome can cause problems that are hard to fix.
Tank Cleaner – After a little use and especially in the summer time, waste tanks can get quite dirty and smelly. If you think emptying them is bad enough, wait until you need you need to scrub the cap which is often an oversight to wash. If you do swill the cap out at the site, don’t drop it down the hole! There are several different types of tank cleaner from liquids to tablet cleaners. It is recommended to empty and rinse the tank and then add a cleaning solution. You ideally want it to slosh around in there for a good amount of time so if you can do it whilst driving between locations would be a great opportunity to give it a good blast.
You will need to follow the instructions on the packet for disposal but usually you can empty it down a toilet at home or at a waste disposal point.
If you have a built in flush tank, it is advisable to empty this if you are storing your camper over winter. Due to freezing temperatures, the waste tank could freeze causing the liquid to expand and contract, bursting your pipes.
Empty the container and give it a good clean. Remove the spout cam this will ensure that it does not get stuck after being still for a long time and also that no pressure builds in the tank.
The rubber seal should be maintained also to avoid it drying out. Spray this with a specific lubricant or run a little olive oil onto it. Thetford do sell a lubricant for this purpose.
If you have a toilet in your campervan, tell us what you have and how you feel about it to help other readers below.