When it comes to van life, it’s easy to focus on the fun parts, like the freedom of hitting the open road or the adventures of traveling. However, it’s also important to consider practical concerns, such as where you intend to go to the bathroom.
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How Do You Go to The Bathroom When You’re Living in a Van?
Using the bathroom may not be the most elegant topic, but it’s something every van owner needs to think about. While many people can make do without one, it’s hard to beat the convenience of having your own private restroom. In this guide, we’ll go over some popular campervan toilets, including the following:
- Bucket/emergency toilet
- Cassette Toilet
- Composting toilet
- Flushable toilet
By the end of this article, you’ll have the knowledge and resources you need to choose between these van toilet options.
Do You Really Need a Toilet in a Van?
While a toilet is definitely a convenient appliance, not everyone needs one in their van. You can get away without installing a toilet by taking advantage of these sources:
- Public restrooms (at gas stations, parks and campgrounds)
- Private restrooms (at stores and restaurants)
- Outdoor locations (such as parks and forests)
To determine whether you need a sprinter van toilet, consider the pros and cons.
Here are the benefits of installing a campervan toilet:
- Convenience: You don’t have to hunt down a public restroom whenever you need to use the bathroom.
- Cleanliness: Having a private van bathroom is generally more sanitary than going outside or sharing public restrooms with strangers.
- Safety: If you have your own bathroom, you don’t need to go outside to use the restroom at night or in remote locations.
While anyone can enjoy the benefits of a campervan toilet, it’s especially useful if you plan to take long road trips. During an excursion, the last thing you want to worry about is where you’re going to the bathroom.
Here are the disadvantages of installing a toilet in your van:
- Costs: Not only do you have to pay for the toilet and installation, but (depending on the type of van conversion toilet you use) you may incur energy and water costs.
- Maintenance requirements: Most toilets require regular maintenance and emptying to prevent the build-up of odors. They’re also susceptible to issues like clogs.
- Reduced space: If your van is already small, installing an bathroom will consume even more of that space.
If you use your van for short road trips and stay in central locations, you can probably manage without a van toilet.
Van Life Toilet Options
When examining campervan toilets, you’ll quickly realize that there’s no shortage of options available. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular models and their respective pros and cons.
Bucket Toilets for Van Life
A bucket toilet is the simplest and most affordable campervan toilet you can find. Also known as an emergency toilet, it’s often the top choice for van owners that don’t plan on using the restroom extensively. In essence, it’s a portable, small campervan toilet featuring a bucket fitted with a snap-on toilet seat and lid. The bucket (usually around five gallons) is lined with disposable waste bags (usually doubled to prevent leaks) that go under the seat.
Once the bucket toilet is full, you should carefully remove the bag and dispose of it at a designated dump site or trash receptacle. If none of these options are available, you can bury it underground (after checking to ensure this is allowed at your camping area).
- Easy to use/set up
- Easy to clean and sanitize
- Conserves space
- Lower quality than other campervan toilets
- Needs to be emptied regularly
- Risk of strong odors
The Best Bucket Toilet for Your Van
If you’re looking for the best portable toilet for vans, we recommend the Reliance Luggable Loo. This 5-gallon bucket toilet is both durable and reliable — it weighs around 3 pounds and is compatible with most garbage and waste bags. It’s also affordable, with each unit costing anywhere between $25 and $35.
Cassette Toilets for Van Life
A campervan cassette toilet is a gravity flush toilet installed over a small, removable waste tank. As a hybrid toilet, it offers the benefits of both standard and portable units. Use it as a regular toilet, then — when the tank is full — remove it through an access panel by the side of your van and empty it in a public restroom.
The waste tank is smaller than the black tank found in a standard van toilet — it has a capacity of around five gallons, which will fill up in about three to five days. When it’s done, a sensor in the tank will let you know. After you empty the contents, you need to clean it and re-attach it to the cassette toilet.
- Relatively small size
- Easy to use
- Portable waste tank
- Resembles a standard toilet for van life
- Risk of strong odors
- Risk of leakage
- Not as comfortable as traditional toilets
- Requires regular emptying
Can You Go Number Two In a Cassette Toilet?
The cassette toilet is designed to hold both solid and liquid waste (so yes, you can go number two in a cassette toilet). Unfortunately, this increases the risk of bad odors — you can solve this pesky problem by investing in deodorizing chemicals or a spray.
How to Empty Your Van’s Cassette Toilet
To empty your van’s cassette toilet, start by draining the toilet bowl and turning the valve blade handle to “closed.” Next, remove the waste tank from your van through the removable access panel and take it to a public restroom or dump station.
The waste tank will have a dump spout — open this, then position the tank over a toilet or dump station. After pressing the tank’s pressure release button, the waste should flow down the spout via gravity. If you’re at a public restroom, try flushing the waste in portions to prevent the toilet from clogging. Once the tank is empty, clean it using water and a high-quality cleaner.
The Best Cassette Toilet for Van Life
Here are a couple of our van cassette toilet recommendations:
- Thetford cassette toilet: This model can hold up to 5.1 gallons of waste, has a flush water tank capacity of 4 gallons and features an integrated no-splash pour spout. It costs around $545.65 per unit.
- Camco standard portable travel toilet: This folding caravan toilet has a sealing slide valve that locks out odors and prevents leaks. It also has a 2.5-gallon flush tank and a detachable waste holding tank with a capacity of 5.3 gallons. Camco is a great choice if you’re looking for an affordable option — it costs around $100 per unit.
Composting Toilets for Van Life
Composting toilets are unique, dry campervan toilets that compost human waste to produce a soil-like substance. Rather than use water to flush the waste into a storage tank, they rely on aerobic bacteria that breaks down the solid waste into natural humus.
This type of toilet has a lever that, when pushed, opens a trapdoor that allows the waste to drop into the lower compartment of the toilet. Then, liquids are separated from solid waste to prevent sewage from forming and emanating a strong odor. The extracted liquid is evaporated or stored in a separate bottle (which can be disposed of), while the solid part is mixed with carbon-rich materials and allowed to compost.
- Reduces water wastage
- Doesn’t create odors during composting
- Easy to install and maintain
- Provides fertilizer for non-edible plants
- Can be expensive
- Some models require electricity to run
- Requires consistent emptying
How Do You Use a Composting Toilet?
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use a campervan composting toilet.
- Start by placing dry pit moss or wood shavings into the toilet’s compost compartment. These materials help decrease bacteria action (thereby reducing the risk of unfavorable odors).
- If you’re going number one, use the appliance as you would use a normal toilet. The liquid will find its way into the liquid chamber via the holes within the toilet bowl.
- For a number two call, you need to engage the trap door lever. This will allow the solid waste to drop directly into the storage/compost compartment. One you’re done, pull back the lever to close the trap door.
- Empty the liquid waste regularly to keep it from smelling (about every three to four days). The solid waste can stay in the storage compartment for longer (about one month to 90 days).
How to Install a Composting Toilet in Your Van
Here’s a brief explanation on how to complete a DIY composting toilet for van installation:
- Choose your desired composting toilet size and model (this varies depending on the camper van’s available space and your personal preferences).
- Remove the built-in toilet seat (be sure to store this safely).
- Add a gripper plug to the hole in the toilet seat’s bottom section to adjust its size.
- In your van, create a stable platform (about 2 to 3 inches high) for the toilet seat. This can be made using sheets of plywood.
- Add studs to the base of the toilet seat, then fix them to the van floor or walls.
- Re-attach the toilet seat and ensure it is properly positioned and comfortable to sit on.
- Connect the exhaust system (which consists of the solid and liquid waste compartments) and ensure they are correctly positioned.
How to Empty a Composting Toilet
Van composting toilets need to be emptied regularly to prevent odor build-up. Here’s how to properly handle one:
- Before emptying the composting toilet, wear a dust mask and protective or latex gloves.
- Open the top of the toilet unit by removing the seat panel.
- Remove the waste container or disposable bag from the waste compartment and dispose of it in a trash can or at a designated dumping area.
- Clean the composting toilet (ideally with a vinegar spray) and replace the liquid waste container. Remember to put new biodegradable waste bags in the solid waste compartment (if your toilet uses them).
The Best Composting Toilet for Van Life
The Nature’s Head toilet is the go-to option for most people looking to install a composting toilet. It’s a self-contained, portable unit that can fit in any sized van. Of course, with a cost of around $995 per unit, it’s on the pricy side — however, most users agree it’s worth the cost.
Flushable Toilets for Van Life
A flushable van toilet is a permanent toilet for campervans that resembles the standard model found in most homes. However, instead of the contents flushing into a septic or sewer line, they drain into a holding tank that needs to be emptied regularly. The holding tank, commonly called the “black tank,” is attached to the underbelly of the van and connected to a drain hose.
- Easy to replace
- Large waste storage tank (with a capacity of up to 40 gallons)
- Ability to use a drain hose for cleaning
- Odors may build up
- Requires regular emptying
- Uses a large freshwater storage tank
- Can freeze in winter
How to Install a Flushable Toilet in Your Van
Here’s how to install a flushable toilet:
- Seal a rubber, cone-shaped gasket to the floor — this will hold the campervan toilet in place. If you are replacing an old toilet, you’ll need to turn off your water line and remove the pump first.
- Gently put the new van toilet on top of the gasket and line up the mounting holes. Once it’s in position, put bolts in the holes, then use a wrench to tighten nuts over the bolts. Make sure the toilet is steady.
- Attach the hose to the rear side of the toilet. Once this is done, turn on the van water pump and check if the campervan toilet works properly.
Where to Dump Your Toilet’s Black Water Tank
You should dump the contents of your van’s black water holding tank before it gets full. Generally, you should try to dump it whenever an opportunity arises (to avoid driving around with a full waste tank).
There are plenty of locations where you can dump your van’s black water tank. Top options include:
- Campgrounds and RV parks
- Gas stations
- RV dealerships
- Approved municipal sewer systems or septic tanks
- Rest stops
Always make sure a location permits dumping before you empty your tank.
How to Dump Your Toilet’s Black Water Tank
When dumping the black tank, follow these steps:
- Connect a sewer hose to the outlet drain of your van’s sewer system.
- Fit the other end of the sewer hose onto the sewer outlet at the dumping location (make sure the connection is tight to avoid spills).
- Pull the black water valve on the outlet of the van’s sewer system and wait until you can no longer hear the sound of water rushing through the sewer hose. This indicates that the black water tank is empty, which means you can close the valve.
- Open the gray water valve — the soapy water from your sinks and bathroom will empty through the sewer hose and dislodge any solid waste that might be stuck in the hose.
- Close the gray water valve and slowly disconnect the sewer hose from your van.
- Rinse the sewer hose with clean water, then detach the remaining end from the dumping site’s sewer line.
The Best Flushable Toilet for Van Life
Here are our top flushable toilet recommendations:
- Thetford Aqua-Magic V Foot Pedal Flush: This flushable toilet fits well with any type and size of camper van. This unit, which is angled-back to provide a comfortable, home-like experience, costs around $150.
- Domestic 310 Series Standard Height Toilet: This value-priced campervan toilet features power flush technology and a full-size ceramic bowl to provide the comfort of a residential toilet unit. It costs around $250.
What Is The Best Campervan Toilet For Me?
Now that you know the different types of toilets available, you might be wondering: which one is the best toilet for van life? To help you decide, consult this brief guide we’ve assembled below.
No Toilet: Best For Boondockers and Non Full-Time Van Lifers
Not everyone needs a toilet in their vehicle. If you’re not a full-time van lifer, or if you spend the majority of your time boondocking (or parking at campsites), you’re better off saving the money and hassle by relying on public restrooms.
Bucket Toilet: Best For Emergency Use
As a portable toilet for campervans, bucket toilets are an ideal option if you don’t require a permanent installation (but still want a toilet for emergency uses). You can enjoy the benefits of a restroom without worrying about extensive costs and maintenance. Bucket toilets are also great minivan toilets as they don’t consume too much space.
Cassette Toilet: Best For Non Full-Time Van Lifers
As a cross between standard and portable toilets, cassette toilets are the best van toilets for people who use their vehicle frequently, but don’t live in it full-time. This toilet choice lets van passengers enjoy a sturdy unit without worrying about the maintaining a black tank.
Composting Toilet: Best For Long-Term Use/Environmental Aficiandos
If you’re looking for a toilet that you can rely on for a significant period of time, a van life composting toilet is a good option. While this model is pricier than portable units, it lasts long and works efficiently. It also reduces water use and conserves waste, which is a huge perk for the environmentally conscious.
Flushable Toilet: Best For Full-Time Van Lifers
For those who plan to live full-time in their vehicles, you’re probably going to need a flushable toilet. While these tend to be more high-maintenance than other models, they’re generally the most reliable. Flushable toilets are also good options for van lifers that spend a considerable amount of time at campsites and RV parks (as these locations are prime spots for emptying black water tanks).
Where Do I Put My Campervan Toilet?
The location you place your van life toilet depends on the style of toilet, as well as the size of your campervan. Most people choose between one of these spots:
- Campervan toilet box
- Private room
If you have a small, portable unit, you can conveniently store this in a campervan toilet box (a container designed for discretion). Some boxes are even meant to be aesthetically pleasing by showcasing unique patterns and designs.
On the flip side, if you’re installing a larger toilet, you need to carve out a space in your van. If you have enough room, you can set up a fully functioning bathroom complete with a toilet, sink and shower. Alternatively, you can conserve space by putting your toilet in the shower.
Will My Van Toilet Smell? | Tips for Keeping Your Van Fresh
One of the biggest downsides of having your own van toilet is the risk of odors. In general, models that are not connected to a drainage or plumbing system (such as campervan portable toilets) are more likely to cause odor than others. However, this doesn’t mean flushable toilets are exempt from smells — to put it simply, if you have a toilet in your van, you’re going need to take a few sanitary precautions. Here are our recommendations:
- Empty regularly: Whether your waste is stored in a bucket toilet or a black tank, it’s important that you empty it regularly. Ideally, waste should not linger in the space for more than a few days (with the exception of solid waste in composting toilets).
- Use chemicals: If you have a flushable toilet, it’s advisable to put black tank chemicals in the appliance after every use. Using chemical concoctionse, this product helps break down human and paper waste (which reduces odors).
- Use vinegar spray: Vinegar is made from acetic acid, which makes it a great cleaner and disinfectant for your campervan toilet. It’s especially ideal for composting toilets, as it can go directly into your compost.
- Keep things clean: No matter what toilet you use, you should clean your bathroom and unit regularly. You should also take the time to scrub tanks and portable appliances clean after emptying them.
- Use air freshener: A simple (yet effective) solution for keeping bad odors at bay is using air freshener. Just buy a bottle, keep it in your van bathroom and apply when needed.
By following these steps, you can keep your bathroom clean, sanitary and smelling good.
Plan The Perfect Van Life Journey Today!
Planning a van lifestyle takes some serious thought and consideration. Not only do you have to determine whether you want an van bathroom, but — if you decide that you do want one — you have to figure out the exact campervan toilet style that’s right for your needs.
While this process isn’t easy, you don’t have to go through it alone. Our team is more than happy to talk to you, answer any questions you may have about van life and help you discover the best van life toilet for your precise needs.