Campervan Toilet Talk: The Questions You’re Just Desperate to Ask

Campervan Toilet Talk: The Questions You’re Just Desperate to Ask

Buy or Sell Campers

Buy or Sell Campers

20 January 2023

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When it comes to vanlife, there are few topics more anxiously anticipated than the one of toilet talk. It’s a question that many folks who live in their vehicles grapple with daily: What do vanlifers do about going to the bathroom when they don’t have access to a regular toilet? Whether you want to think about it or not, this is an issue all campervanners must come face-to-face with (metaphorically… hopefully not literally).

The good news is that, while it may seem ‘ewwww’ at first, there are plenty of easy and practical solutions available for managing your hygiene while living in a van – no matter where you are. Let’s get down and dirty with some questions you don’t dare to ask and tackle the biggest challenge of them all: Campervan Toilet Talk.

We all know that one of the most pressing questions when it comes to vanlife is: how do you go to the toilet? It’s a dilemma that has stumped even the most experienced of campervanners and left many a newbie in a state of flummox. Fear not! In this blog post, we will be answering all your burning (metaphorically… hopefully not literally) questions about going to the toilet in your campervan. From what type of toilet to choose, to how to empty it, we’ve got you covered. So read on and let us help you take care of business (literally).

The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Campervan Toilets

With our ‘fresh take’ on van toilet FAQs we’ll be answering four pressing questions from our vanlife community:

1. Do I really need a campervan toilet, can't I just use public toilets or squat behind a bush when nature calls? 2. What are the different types of campervan toilets and which one is best for me and my needs? 3. How do I actually go about using a campervan toilet, what's the process, and how do I empty it afterward without making too much of a mess? 4. And finally, what are some top tips for keeping my campervan toilet clean and fresh-smelling on long journeys (or even short ones)?

These questions won’t apply to all vanlifers – some campervanners get by without a toilet onboard at all, choosing to stick to campgrounds or RV parks with toilet facilities. While these may be an attractive option if you plan on sticking around for a while or you like the community of a campground, what if you don’t want to pay for an expensive campsite every night? What if you prefer to wild camp? Or if there aren’t any public options available where you’re headed? Fortunately, there are other ways to empty your plumbing without relying on indoor plumbing!

1. Do I really need a campervan toilet, can't I just use public toilets or squat behind a bush when nature calls?

We’ve all been there; nature calls, but there’s no restroom in sight! The easy option would be to resort to the great outdoors and err… nature. And that’s fine, you can do that if you feel like you’re somewhere where this won’t pose a problem. There’s some etiquette that goes hand in hand with this and we can’t say enough about how important a ‘leave no trace’ policy is. Going to the toilet in nature is a totally acceptable way to go number providing:

You pack or bury what you leave behind.
You bury your waste well enough that it can’t be discovered by another human or animal.
You’re in a private space. This is not for the sidewalk.
We asked some of our most trusted van builders for their thoughts on the big toilet debate, and @sandyvansofficial were very much all for it, they firmly recommend “No toilet! Nature” when it comes to their builds.


All of that said, a campervan toilet gives you much more convenience, especially at night… there’s no need to squat behind a bush in the dark! While it’s true that you can usually find public bathrooms wherever you go, a campervan toilet is no doubt much easier to use when on the road. Thinking about where you’re likely to be hanging out and weighing up the pros and cons of nature vs human-made solutions will help you reach your own personal verdict… to ‘toilet’ or not to ‘toilet’!

What are the different types of campervan toilets and which one is best for me and my needs?

When it comes to campervan toilets, your main options are compost, portaloo, cassette toilet, and bucket toilet. It can be overwhelming to decide as each has its unique pros and cons.

Composting Toilets

Composting toilets are the most eco-friendly way to go as they use very little or no water, but they do require emptying compost waste every couple of weeks or so. We asked our trusted van builders for their top recommendations and a solid(!) choice is the Nature’s Head compost toilet. Evan Tice – pro van builder from @Appalachian_Vans told us “As of this moment, I’d have to hang my hat on the Nature’s Head composting toilet. I’ve been in the van-building world for over 2 years now and I still have yet to hear a bad thing about it.” This was further backed-up (editor: is the opportunity for toilet puns endless??) by the guys at AW Vanworks who advised “We use Nature’s Head composting toilets in all of our vans and they work great! We haven’t seen a better option on the market yet.” If you’re in the market for a compost toilet but aren’t a fan of Nature’s Head, alternatives – as recommended by Camp N Car custom converters – are OGO and Airhead brand composting toilets. However, convenience comes at a cost – these compost toilets are typically between $1,000 – $1,200. We quite fancy the look of the CUDDY Compost Toilet too, which is a bit more pocket-friendly from around $700.


Portaloos (such as Porta Potti), on the other hand, offer convenience and perhaps the most ‘toilet-like’ user experience in terms of appearance and flush. They can also easily be locked away discretely under a seat, or even kept in a small toilet tent outside, making them a favorite with many vanlifers. The downside? They have limited capacity for holding waste and require regular maintenance in terms of dumping out the solid tank. You can expect to empty these 1-2 times a week if there is a couple of you in your campervan, and you’ll need to use chemicals and research where you can dump your waste (it’s not always possible to do so in public toilets). Much cheaper than a compost toilet, you can usually pick one of these up from around $100 for a basic model.

Cassette Toilets

Like portaloos, cassette toilets have a great ability for high-capacity workability, thanks to their easy-to-remove tanks, but installation isn’t always so simple – especially post-conversion. They are probably the most common toilet solution in motorhomes and RVs where they are typically mounted on an externally facing wall, with an external access hatch. The more expensive models allow you to plumb in a water supply from your main vehicle tank. You may be wondering ‘what’s the difference between a portaloo and a cassette toilet?’ The primary difference between a portaloo and a cassette toilet is that the cassette toilet isn’t really portable. It simply has a portable waste tank. It’s affixed to your camper, so you can’t take it anywhere you want. But, like a portaloo, chemicals are used to reduce the smell but they can become costly and aren’t great for the environment. Most tanks for your cassette toilet have a sensor that tells you when it reaches capacity – usually every 2-3 days. Most have a handle and rollers so that you can pull it behind you to the dump station. If yours doesn’t, and you have to carry it, make sure you empty it before it gets too heavy! You will need to use appointed dump stations for these.

Van Life Bucket Toilet

Finally, the traditional bucket toilet is simple and cheap to buy or make. There are factory versions such as The Lugabble Loo – which is literally a bucket with a toilet seat, lid, and lugging strap (approx. $15), or there are more sophisticated versions of the same thing out there. It’s also possible to construct your own! You’ll need a toilet seat, urine bottle, a lidded box for solids, sawdust, a urine splitter, and some form of box as a frame (that will support your weight). It’ll need emptying regularly, but if you stick to using distilled vinegar to spray the pan after use and to ‘line’ your urine collector receptacle, this will cancel out any smells and you can dump your waste in public toilets (or bury it in nature – see ‘no trace’ tips above).


In the end, it’s all about weighing up your individual needs – both practically and aesthetically – to decide what toilet is right for you, your campervan, and your toilet habits!

How do I actually go about using a campervan toilet, what's the process, and how do I empty it afterward without making too much of a mess?

If you own or rent a campervan, chances are you’ve already asked yourself the question: where does one empty the dreaded ‘campervan toilet’?

Under no circumstance should you ever deposit any materials into storm or sewer drains that form part of a municipal wastewater system. Such drains may only be purposed for rainwater runoff, while others are explicitly designated as sewers. Beware; there can still be penalties even if the amount dumped is minimal.

When it comes to disposing of campervan toilet waste, the most practical choice is a dumping station typically located close to campgrounds and RV parks. But if you don’t find one nearby, fear not as there are other ways too – truck stops, public rest stops, and even some local dealerships offer disposal sites for your convenience! Campground dumping stations often come with the added benefit of a pressurized water hose, making it simple to flush out tanks and toilets. Cleaning has never been easier – or faster!


Ideally, you should utilize a facility specifically created to dispose of your waste appropriately. Not doing so can cause harm to the environment and give vanlifers a bad name. But exploring the great outdoors doesn’t have to mean sacrificing sanitation! If you’re camping in a remote area, take advantage of outdoor, or vault (also called pit), toilets. This is acceptable, as long as you also rinse the toilet out over the vault toilet and not in a nearby stream or body of water. If that’s not an option, many dispersed camping zones provide instructions on how to make your own proper latrine.
The US Forest Service recognizes that wild campers may have no other choice than to dig a hole, and as such, they provide guidelines:


Ensure that you are at least 100 feet from any water source.
Dig a hole that is at least 6-8 inches deep for one trip to the bathroom. If you are disposing of waste from a full or nearly-full cassette toilet, you will need to dig a longer and wider hole, but not a deeper one. This is to aid the decomposition process – the deeper the hole you dig, the longer it takes.
Do not dump toilet paper. Keep a separate trash bin to hold toilet paper. Take it away, with the rest of your trash from the trip.

Clean out the cassette with water above the latrine you dug. Never rinse out your toilet in a stream or body of water.
Cover the hole with loose dirt once you have finished.


While it’s true that emptying and disposing of a campervan toilet can be intimidating, adhere to this code and you’ll be feeling confident in no time.

And finally, what are some top tips for keeping my campervan toilet clean and fresh-smelling on long journeys (or even short ones)?

It is absolutely essential to routinely clean your campervan toilet in order to keep bad smells at bay. To that end, here are a few tips on how you can make sure your campervan stays fresh and odor-free.

Rinse It Out Every Time You Empty It

To keep your cassette or compost toilet free of grime and bad odors, it is essential to rinse it out each time you empty its contents. For the best results, be sure to perform a deep cleaning before storing away for the off-season.

Be Careful How You Clean Your Campervan Toilet

Avoid using a stiff brush for scrubbing as this can cause cracks to form that will collect debris and make the toilet more of a pain to clean in the future. Do not use harsh chemicals, as these may damage the toilet.


If the odor is a problem and water isn’t doing the trick, try using citric acid. This will leave the area applied with a fresh citrus smell.


If you have a separate pee bottle in a more simplistic toilet set-up, we recommend adding half a cup of distilled vinegar to the bottle itself and also making up a spray to clean the bowl after use – (4 parts water, 1 part distilled vinegar). While chemicals might serve as a deodorizer, their scent can often be reminiscent of that found in portable toilets.


Rather than using formaldehyde-based chemicals, we highly urge you to opt for eco-friendly options when cleaning and deodorizing your campervan toilets. Examples of such products include Camco Orange Citrus-Scent Toilet Drop-Ins, Porta Pak Deodorizer, and Walex Bio Pack – all of which will help reduce formaldehyde’s negative impacts on the environment.

Final Thoughts

Vanlife can be amazing, and challenging, and amazing, and challenging…all in an hour! One of the least amazing (and most challenging!) aspects is human waste. In this blog post, we looked at whether or not you need a campervan toilet (spoiler: if you’re planning on spending any length of time camping in your van, then the answer is probably yes!) We also took a look at the different types of toilets available and how to actually use them without making too much of a mess. Finally, we shared some top tips for keeping your campervan toilet clean and fresh-smelling.

Have we missed any essential tips or helpful resources? Are there any products, systems, or techniques that you’d love to give a shout out to? Please share them with us!

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