Best RV and Camping Toilets 2017
Boy, isn't a toilet the best sight when you really, REALLY have to go? And strangely enough, when you see one, or know you are close to one, does your intensity of having to ‘go’ massively increase? Then once you get there it seriously becomes a case of you BARELY MADE IT??!!!!!! What’s that about?
Most RVs, campers, and even some van dwellers, are likely to have some sort of RV toilet, be it portable, fixed or an RV composting toilet.
Which type of RV toilet you choose is a personal decision that no-one but you can make.
RV Toilet Reviews
We have found the best toilets of all types for your consideration. Below we have Best RV Toilet (traditional gravity flush), Best RV Toilet on a Budget (traditional gravity flush), Best Composting Toilet system, Best Portable Camping Toilet (has an electric flush), and Best Portable Camping Toilet Runner-Up (manual pump flush).
Gravity Flush RV Toilet Reviews
First up, the traditional gravity flush toilet that most RVers use. This style RV toilet generally sits directly above the black tank and uses water from the RV's fresh water tank to flush the 'goods' down into the holding tank.
Gravity Flush RV Toilets Compared
Portable Camping Toilet Reviews
Portable camping toilets give tent campers, van dwellers, and other outdoor lovers who don't have a fixed toilet in an RV they are dragging along the ability to do their 'duty' in a civilized manner. The alternative is to grab a shovel, dig a hole, and pop a squat. Yeah, makes a camping porta potty sound like a luxury item if we put it that way.
Portable Camping Toilets Compared
We can give you a little guidance as to the pros and cons of each type of RV toilet to help you make the best decision.
RV Toilet Guide
There are four types of RV toilets that you can choose from, depending on your circumstances and rig:
1. Traditional gravity flush toilet
2. Composting toilet
3. Portable camping toilet
4. Cassette toilet
If you are a REAL, rugged nomad, you can always get a bucket style toilet. This is the most inexpensive and disposable type of portable toilet for camping. We're not really going to count that type as it's so infrequently used. It's just not practical for most. And many people turn their nose up at how 'unglamorous' it is!
But if you insist, you can certainly purchase a bucket style toilet. Um, enjoy?
Let's dive into the four most common types of RV toilets.
Traditional Gravity Flush RV Toilets
The traditional flush RV toilet is much like a household toilet but it doesn’t have a water holding tank in the back. These toilets must either be used with an RV that is connected to an outside water source like a water hose (hence giving your unit water pressure) or used with the water pump on and pumping water from your RV holding tank.
Non-RVers can be confused when they first see an RV traditional toilet. Where's the handle to flush the tank? Usually, there's a foot pedal you use to flush. Also, you usually either pull the lever up or hold it halfway down to fill the tank with water if you prefer.
An RV toilet uses MUCH less water than a regular household toilet. Well, this really depends on how long you choose to flush it. Usually, all it takes is a second or two of allowing water to flow to get your contributions down the hatch. If you are conserving water, you won’t want or need to flush any longer than that.
How To Use A Traditional RV Toilet
A gravity flush RV toilet is usually made from hard plastic. You can find a toilet with a porcelain bowl, but all of the other parts will be plastic. Our top picks for traditional RV toilets both have a porcelain bowl.
There are different heights to choose from so if you are having a hard time getting up and down from the throne, you can usually find a higher setup. Or, you can build a higher base. Some of these toilets are narrower than others. You can find a standard sized (elongated) bowl, but make sure it fits in the area the toilet will be going into.
Traditional Gravity Flush Pros
- Most commonly found toilet in an RV. Easy to replace.
- Doesn't use much water
- It's the only type that doesn't have you 'seeing' your waste. (Unless you have a spill!)
Traditional Gravity Flush Cons
- Uses your water supply. Not so great if you boondock.
- Have to dump/deal with the dreaded black tank
- Odors are sometimes an issue
- Black or toilet tank can clog
RV Composting Toilets
"What is a composting toilet?" you may ask? It's a self-contained toilet that doesn't use any water. It also separates the solids and the liquids. They are great for boats and RVs where a water supply and/or a dump are not around every corner. Many folks who use one never go back and 'going' in a bowl of water seems like a very strange and wasteful thing.
Contrary to popular belief, and the biggest question posed over this type of toilet is, “Does it smell?”
Myths About Composting Toilets: No, They Don't Smell When Used Properly, and Other Myths Debunked!
No! They really don’t when they are used properly. You may smell a little soil-type smell, but you aren’t going to have a sewer smell. Why? Because with a composting toilet, the solids and the liquids are not mixed. The mixing of the two is the cause of 'sewer smell'. Also, they use a little vent fan that pulls odors outside through your vent.
In a composting toilet, no sewage is made because there are two separate holes for the different contributions.
How Composting Toilets Work: Composting Toilets 101
The solids area should be filled (per instructions of the toilet maker) with something like sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir. There is an agitator inside of this compartment that you turn after each deposit. This helps it dry quickly and also covers it.
Nothing to look at and nothing to smell! The liquids container separates from the unit and can be flushed down a toilet or septic tank/dump.
How long until you have to dump these compartments? Of course, that answer varies greatly depending on how many people are using it and how often they are using it. If you live in an RV with a family of 4 full-time, it may not be ideal.
For ONE person, living in an RV full-time, the liquids might have to be changed every other day. The solids compartment can go for at least a month, possibly longer depending on if you choose to go in other places from time to time. Obviously, for a single boondocking man, if they go #1 outside, they are going to have to dump the liquids much less frequently.
Life Among Pines
DISCLAIMER: I may have a slight bias in this review, as we only went on a single week-long trip with our RV before installing the composting toilet.
We made the decision to install a composting toilet before beginning our full time travels after extensive research on methods of extended boondocking. Much like a full solar set-up, a composting toilet is an upgrade/conversion that may not even be necessary depending on your particular travel lifestyle. We knew from the beginning that we would be boondocking as often as possible, for as long as possible, so avoiding a full black tank would be very valuable for us. Keep this in mind when considering a composting toilet for your own rig.
After doing some research we selected the Nature’s Head brand of composting toilet, so this review will cover that specific product.
The most prominent benefit of a composting toilet is the length of time between needing to empty or “reset” the composting tank of the toilet. We are able to go a maximum of up to four weeks of regular use without needing to reset. Though on average, I typically reset ours around every three weeks.
The reset process is fairly easy and involves emptying the compost tank into a trash bag which can then be disposed of in a trash can or dumpster, followed by refilling the composting tank with a compost medium. We have settled on coconut fiber coir as our compost medium of choice, as it can be purchased on Amazon in block form (great for limited RV storage) for typically around $15. We are usually able to rest our compost six to eight times per block of coconut coir. In all, the compost reset process typically takes around fifteen minutes.
In addition to resetting the compost tank, emptying the urine tank is another part of the composting toilet’s regular maintenance. This is quite simple: when the urine tank fills, it must be emptied. For us, this is typically every two days.
Emptying the urine tank can mean pouring it outside, depending on where you are, pouring it into another toilet (such as a campground or rest area toilet), or pouring it into your gray tank. We have a second urine tank for our composting toilet, which can come in handy for situations where you may not be able to empty the tank immediately.
If you accidentally do not empty soon enough, the urine tank will begin to overflow, which means that it backflows into the composting tank. This is bad news bears.
Normally, the composting toilet has relatively no scent at all or a sort of “earthy-plant-scent.” If the urine tank is allowed to backflow into the compost tank, the mixture of urine and solids will quickly create the sewage smell that you want to avoid. When this happens you will want to reset the compost tank as quickly as possible.
When we began using our composting toilet we found that there was a slight learning curve to its use. It took a few resets and a couple of months of use to really get the hang of it. We eventually learned things like understanding the right level of dampness when refilling the compost medium and becoming accustomed to the schedule of emptying the urine tank to avoid overflow issues.
For all of the benefits of a composting toilet, there are definitely some downsides as well.
For one, I personally feel that the Nature’s Head brand is quite overpriced. For the hefty price tag that the brand carries (around $950), it does not feel like you are getting what you paid for. The product is extremely simple overall, made of 90% plastic, and its construction is so-so.
After a month of use, we actually came to find that the first unit that we purchased was defective due to poor construction. Nature’s Head did send us a replacement at no cost to us, but regardless, it was a very negative experience and gave us a “cheap” early impression of the brand.
I would also say that the Nature’s Head product has some design flaws. The fact that the urine tank is able to backflow into the compost tank is the main flaw. Next, level detection on the urine tank is accomplished by the tank being semi-translucent plastic. At times it can be challenging to accurately determine how full the tank is, especially under low light. If you are not cautious, this can quickly lead to overflow situations.
Additionally, the manufacturer chose not to include any sort of gasket where the crank mechanism (used for regularly turning the compost medium) enters the compost tank. I was told by a representative that gaskets in these locations “were not necessary because the compost medium is never meant to be wet.” If you do end up in a situation where your urine tank overflows and the composting tank is quite full itself, it is possible that you will have sewage liquid leak from these gasket-less areas on the composting tank. (yes, this has happened to us before ☹️ )
If you are properly using your composting toilet, this type of situation will never occur, yet I personally feel that it's possibility points to poor design.
Once we found a rhythm, maintenance of our composting toilet became a simple and easy part of our travel lifestyle. We feel that our composting toilet is an invaluable part of our boondocking outfit and we are pleased that we made the decision to convert to it.
- Longer boondocking stays
- Less fresh water usage
- No black tank mess
- No need to spend time flushing the black tank
- No smell
- Never clogs
- No need for special “RV” toilet paper
- Full composting toilet is typically lighter than a full black tank
- Good customer service (Nature’s Head)
- Emptying and resetting the compost
- Frequent emptying of urine tank
- More complicated than traditional black tank toilet
- Somewhat involved installation
- Poorly designed (Nature’s Head)
- Somewhat low quality (Nature’s Head)
The problem with some people is over usage or not renewing the medium for the solids often enough. The more that goes into the solids tank at a time, the wetter it gets, and if your stuff doesn't get a chance to dry because there is too much in there, it will start smelling and it sure will stop composting. You will get a sludge if you aren’t changing out the tank often enough. We’re not saying it’s impossible for a family of 3+ to use one, it will simply need more frequent maintenance.
What happened with the couple below is that he is an athlete and he eats a LOT every day. At times it was too much for their composting toilet to handle. Watch this video for a more thorough explanation of their experience.
Here's a Not-So-Glowing RV Composting Toilet Review
Still, with an RV composting toilet, you don’t have to drive your rig to a dump station to empty your black tank if you are boondocking. You no longer have to deal with a black tank - period. No more accidents at the dump station or clogged black tank messes. You are also using less water. Therefore, RV composting toilets make the most sense for conservationists and for those who boondock a lot.
What do you do with the solid waste? People either keep them in the bag and throw them in the trash (this is what people do with diapers) or they can dig a hole and bury it and it will eventually compost.
Read our RV composting toilet review to learn what is our top pick.
RV Composting Toilet Pros
- Doesn't consume any water
- No water means less waste water to have to dispose of
- Very little power consumption. (Just the circulating vent fan.)
- No need to move your rig to dump your black tank
- No black tank disasters or clogging
- You can put your kitchen waste into your composting toilet. However, this will fill it faster.
RV Composting Toilet Cons
- Changing out solids may be more frequent with big eaters or large family
- You may be embarrassed to carry urine container to bathroom. (Get over it) 😆
- It can attract bugs if you get a hole in the protective vent screen
- Won't work as quickly/efficiently in very cold climates
- Can be unpleasant to clean out if you don't manage it properly
Portable Camping Toilets
These mini commodes are fully portable and require the least amount of work for installation. They require more work as far as dumping goes, (more frequent dumping than the other two) and it’s a pretty unappealing type of dump.
Since there is no separation of the solids and liquids in a portable camping toilet, the result is raw sewage. You can remove the portable toilet top to take just the waste tank to an appropriate dumping place (either an RV dump or a toilet). The issue is that you are going to see and smell the sewage worse than you would at a sewer dump using a hose from a black tank (traditional) or than you would with a composting toilet.
Why These Types Of Dumps Can Be Gross: Watch At Your Own Risk! (Vomiting)
This is the price you pay for the ease of installation and easily transported nature when you are using a portable toilet for camping.
Some portable commodes also sit lower than the other types do, so if you have a hard time squatting, you may need to either reconsider your choice or place it on an elevated platform. Though our top picks for portable toilets both sit at close to residential toilet height.
Portable Camping Toilet Pros
- You can take it with you if necessary
- No real installation required, just to bolt down if you so desire
- Better than nothing
- Uses very little water
- Doesn't need a dump station to empty
Portable Camping Toilet Cons
- You have to re-see and smell the contents when you dump
- Can have a small capacity holding tank
- More frequent dumping
This type of toilet is similar to the portable camping toilet but the big difference is that this type is fixed in place. The waste storage tank is usually accessible from an access door on the outside of the RV.
How To Dump Your RV Cassette Toilet Tank
This type of tank, determined by what type of toilet came with your rig, is also like the portable type in that you are going to have to get up close and personal with the sewage when you dump it either into a toilet or an RV dump.
How NOT To Empty A Portable Toilet. And What's With The Mess All Around This Place?
A cassette toilet typically is found in smaller vehicles such as vans. If your rig comes with this type of toilet, you would have a hard time changing it out for a different type of toilet.
Cassette Toilet Pros
- It's better than nothing
- Uses very little water
- Doesn't require a dump station to empty
Cassette Toilet Cons
- Very small holding tank
- Fairly gross to have to empty the tank
RV Toilet Paper Ins And Outs
Think you can use just any old brand of toilet paper in your RV? Think again. The camping toilet paper you use can also clog your black tank if you don't use the right stuff. Camping toilet paper should disintegrate quickly in water. Lots of people claim to use Charmin Ultra Soft or Angel Soft brands without any issues. Still, how do you know what is the best RV toilet paper?
You can buy 'real' RV toilet paper - you know, the stuff marketed as such. However, it may not suit your... well... your back-end, very well! (You may or may not like the feel of it or how strong it is.)
There are certain types of 'normal' toilet paper that you can generally put down your black tank. TP labeled 'septic safe' is usually RV safe toilet paper.
If you aren't sure if what you pick is safe or not, fear not. There's a super simple test you can do.
Testing Your Toilet Paper For RV Friendliness
Get a jar and partly fill it with water. Get one sheet or two of your toilet paper. Put it in the jar so that it is completely wet. Then, shake the jar a couple of times. Let sit for an hour or so and then shake again. If it doesn't shred, you might want to steer clear.
RV Toilet Paper Test
There you have it. There are a few things to consider for your specific situation as far as what type of RV toilet you will go with. Most rigs use a standard traditional gravity flush toilet, which works fine for most. If you boondock a lot or you just like the idea of using less water, a composting toilet might be good for you. It's pricey though, so this issue might limit using this type.
Well, we've done our part, now it's up to you to choose and get your new RV toilet on the road!
Camp on, Addicts!