Today we’re going to be talking about the thrilling topic of RV toilets.
Now there’s a topic I never thought I’d be writing about, and I hardly think that you’re all that thrilled about needing to read up on it, huh!?!
In this article about the smallest room in the RV, I’m going to tell you about the different types of toilets that you can get in an RV and the benefits and the not-benefits (what’s the opposite of a benefit?).
Just a heads up, I use a myriad of words to describe the bodily functions, but they are all PG rated, like number ones and number twos.
Yes, this is the weirdest topic I’ve ever written about.
Types of RV Toilets
An RV toilet is probably the closest thing to a normal toilet in the RVing world; but it’s still a little different.
- This is a gravity flush toilet – so when you flush the toilet, gravity flushes all the contents into the black tank which is directly below the toilet (or very close to).
- Is either a porcelain RV toilet or there are plastic toilets.
- There is a valve at the bottom of the toilet bowl that when open goes directly into the black tank (a holding tank for the waste)
- There’s a little bit of water in the bowl (which is shallower than a regular toilet), much less than in your conventional toilet.
- If you’re doing number ones you just wee into the bowl as normal and then flush using a foot pedal or button. The foot pedal opens up the valve at the bottom of the bowl and also releases some water to flush away the contents straight into the black tank.
- If you’re doing number twos then some water will need to be added to the bowl first. This is done by either the foot pedal or button. You then do your business and once again, flush using the the foot pedal or button. Sometimes some extra water may be needed to fully flush the contents away, and there is often a water sprayer beside the toilet to do this with.
If that sounds all a bit confusing, the RV Geeks have a video that explains how the RV toilet works. You can see their video here.
- The black tank is emptied at an RV or campground dump station, by connecting a hose from the RV black tank to the dump station.
- How often this gets emptied is of course determined by how many people are using the toilet and how often, and by how big your black tank is. But it could be anywhere between 5-20 days… or more, or less.
Emptying the black tank – There are actually lots of instructional videos on youtube about how to empty your black tank, connecting the hoses and all that stuff. I’ve never done it myself so I’d just recommend that you do a search on youtube and I’m sure you’ll find heaps of information.
The disadvantage of this type of toilet, is the need for the toilet to be positioned above the black tank. This limits where in the RV you can position the bathroom.
A macerating toilet may look like any other RV toilet, but instead of the contents of the toilet falling directly into the black tank below, the contents go through a macerating pump which chops everything up into a slurry, which can now be pumped to wherever the black tank is located.
This means the toilet can be positioned anywhere in the RV.
The macerating toilet does use more water than the gravity flush toilet though.
The cassette toilet works in the same way as the RV toilet, but instead of the waste going into a black tank, it goes into a cassette type of tank which is removed by hand for emptying.
The cassette look like this:
- Emptying the cassette involves taking the cassette out (usually accessed from outside the RV) and dumping it into a dump station or in a toilet. Click here for a video by a fellow Kiwi (so you’ll get to hear our funny accent) walking through emptying the cassette.
Portable Toilet or Chemical Toilet
The portable toilet (sometimes called a porta potti) or chemical toilet is a self contained unit you can use anywhere. It works on the same principle as the cassette toilet above, but the portable camping toilet comes in two parts with the holding tank or cassette part right under the toilet seat part.
It has a small holding tank for fresh water and the flush system has a small electric pump or hand pump, to flush the contents into the holding tank below.
You can easily seperate the bottom half of the toilet from the top half so that you can dispose of the contents.
Click here to see a video explains it nicely.
When emptying either the cassette toilet or the portable toilet into a normal toilet, you need to be careful that it’s not on a septic tank system. The chemicals used in either of these toilets can be detrimental to the good functioning of a septic system.
I’ve left the composting toilet till last because this is the one that seems to be becoming very popular and fashionable (if a toilet could be called fashionable?) at the moment.
Here’s a few things about the composting toilet that are a bit different to a regular toilet:
- The liquids are kept seperate from the solid waste (i.e. pee goes into the urine container/bottle at the front of the toilet and poo goes into the faeces container at the back.
- Men will be better to sit when peeing. This is to ensure the wee goes into the urine container and not in with the dry material.
- The poo drops straight into the poo container. After each poo you add composting material into the container, like peat moss or coconut coir.
- There is no water used in the composting toilet.
- The liquids container will need to be emptied either in a regular toilet, dump station or if appropriate, outside somewhere. Depending on your usage (how many people and how often you use the loo) this will need to be emptied every couple of days or so.
- The container containing the poo and composting material (peat moss/coconut coir) will need to be emptied out every 2-3 weeks (once again, it’s different for everyone) and it gets emptied into a bag and then put into the regular trash.
- The poo container does need to be vented. Firstly to take out any smell that should happen to be in there, but also to take out any moisture.
- However, the composting toilet should not smell. By keeping the liquids and solids seperate there is no toxic material being created and it’s the mixing of the two that causes the smell.
Here are two posts (both with videos) that answer a lot of the questions about composting toilets. The Wynns (Jason and Nikki) love their Nature’s Head self contained composting toilet and highly recommend it to all and sundry. Composting Toilets: Tips, Tricks and Solving Problems
James and Steph (The Fit RV) are happy with their composting toilet but they’ve had a few trials which gives you a bit of a different perspective to the Wynns. The Straight Poop on our Composting Toilet
I think it’s worth looking at both perspectives so that you can think about your toilet use and whether the composting toilet would be right for you.
All these toilets can handle toilet paper, so you don’t need to put the toilet paper in a seperate trash bin. There are special toilet papers that break down quickly so that it doesn’t clog anything up in your tank. An example of this is the Scott Rapid-Dissolving Toilet Paper
Ladies, if you’re not the one making the toilet decision you need to be aware of this stuff so that you can make an executive decision about the final choice. There’s that time of the month where things can be a lot more messy, so you need to take this into consideration.
I know this is a bit TMI, but I wouldn’t want to be boon docking in some remote location in the middle of nowhere during a particularly bad period and then realise the toilet makes things a truck load worse. I’d wanna know well before that toilet even made it past the threshold!
Less (or no) water used for flushing – The biggest factor I can think of is that on a heavy flow days all these toilets use less water than your toilet at home. Will it wash things away sufficiently? And the composting toilet uses no water at all.
No feminine products down the toilet – This is pretty standard for all toilets I thought, but there have been times when I’ve flushed down a tampon. However, none of these toilets cope very well with tampons. Sure, if you use the 100% cotton tampons they will break-down but it will take a long time and having the tampons in the waste tank can cause blockages. I have heard many, many women talk about how much simpler, cheaper and environmentally friendly a menstruation cup is. Such as a diva cup or moon cup.
Phew, are we done now? I hope so, that was a lot more talking about toilets than I really wanted to do! But it’s also a topic that had so many questions for me. And I gotta say, the answers weren’t as easy to find online as I would have thought. Obviously others don’t really want to talk about toilets either. I get it.
Do you have any other important points about RV toilets that you think I’ve missed here? Let us know in the comments.
Friday 14th of August 2020
Im looking to put a cassette toilet on top of the wheel arch which is 23cm high. Am I mad? Is there a toilet which would be acceptable height when on top of the wheel arch?
Monday 15th of January 2018
What can you tell me about dry flush toilets?
Monday 15th of January 2018
Hi Sheree, I've never heard of them before, but a quick google search makes me think that they may be a great option for an RV! First site up was this one: https://dry-flush.com/features/ so I'll be starting there.
Saturday 8th of July 2017
My rv toilet water had evaporated y setting for awhile and when I noticed and added water then flushed the sliding part that opens was very slow to close. I added vinegar in a diluted state and let sit for a couple of days and wa-la...back to shutting properly. What had happened was the minerals in the water left deposits on the flap which felt like sand paper so when it tried to close the rough surface rubbed on the rubber seal and hung up because of the rough surface.
Monday 29th of May 2017
Isn't there a true composting toilet. One that degrades the feces to soil. Tnx. Noel
Saturday 10th of June 2017
Hi Noel, sorry for the late reply. But I believe all the composting toilets degrade the faeces to soil however... they need to be left for long enough to turn into compost, and this takes much longer than most RVers will hang around in one spot. That's why most RVer's will dispose of the solid material rather than try to find somewhere on board to store it and let it decompose.
Tuesday 11th of April 2017
I use a squirt bottle of 50/50 water/vinegar for general cleaning. If I twist the nozzle so a strong stream is produced (instead of a mist) it helps remove any solids clinging to the bowl after flushing.
For general cleaning I use the Lysol disposable wand. I DO NOT flush the cleaning portion when done. I like that it's a soft cleaner and I don't have to store a gross brush.
Tuesday 11th of April 2017
Thanks so much for your input JenW, I'm glad to hear from someone who actually has an RV rather than just me being a keyboard warrior. We don't have those disposable toilet cleaners here in NZ (I could order them on Amazon, but then the shipping cost would be... ughhh) but they look great!