Camper Toilets: Guide To The Common RV Toilet Types
(Camp Addict does NOT accept payment from any company to review or endorse their products.)
Aren't toilets' fun'? Ok, 'fun' is the wrong verb.
But 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? Ok, let's stop with the jokes and get to it.
Most RVs, campers, and even some van dwellers are likely to have some sort of camper toilet. It may be portable, fixed, or even an RV composting toilet.
Which type of RV toilet you choose is a personal decision that no-one but you can make.
In this guide, you will learn what camper toilets are all about, what kind will be best for you, and what you should look for.
Already know all about camper toilets? Just want to know what is the best choice for your RV? Click the button below to read our camper toilet reviews.
The Best Camper Toilet Guide Ever
There are four types of camper 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
But hey, if you are a really 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 discuss this type as it's so infrequently used.
A bucket is 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.
So uh, enjoy?
Let's 'dive' into the four most common types of RV toilets, now that we've 'flushed' the bucket idea.
Traditional Gravity Flush RV Toilets
The traditional flush RV toilet is much like a household toilet but without the water holding tank in the back.
These toilets must either be used in one of two ways:
- While connected to an outside water source (hence giving your unit water pressure)
- With the water pump on, 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 press 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. Actually, how much water you use depends on how long you flush it.
Usually, all it takes is a second or two of flowing water 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 usually the other parts will be plastic.
Dometic now makes a porcelain toilet with a wooden seat and lid. (Kelly has this model now) Our top picks for traditional RV toilets both have a porcelain bowl.
There are different heights to choose from.
If you are having a hard time getting up and down from your throne, you can usually find a higher setup. Also, if needed, 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 RV Toilet Pros and Cons:
RV Composting Toilets
'What is a composting toilet?' you may ask. It's a self-contained toilet that doesn't require any water. It also separates the solids from 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 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!
Nope. They don’t when they are used properly. You may smell a little soil-earthy type smell, but you aren’t going to have a sewer smell.
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 the bowl air 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?
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 he goes #1 outside, he is going to have to dump the liquids much less frequently.
Thoughts on an RV Composting Toilet
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
Much like a full solar setup, a composting toilet is an upgrade/conversion that may not even be necessary depending on your particular travel lifestyle.
The most prominent benefit of our Nature's Head 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. It can then be disposed of in a trash can or dumpster. Then you simply refill the composting tank with a compost medium.
In addition to resetting the compost tank, emptying the urine tank is another part of the composting toilet's regular maintenance.
For us, this is typically every two days.
Emptying the urine tank can mean pouring it outside, pouring it into another toilet (such as a campground or rest area toilet), or pouring it into your gray tank.
When used properly, the composting tank has relatively no scent at all or a sort of 'earthy-plant-scent'.
For all the benefits of a composting toilet, there are definitely some downsides as well.
For one, I personally feel that Nature's Head brand is quite overpriced.
For the hefty price tag that the brand carries (just shy of $1000), 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.
I would also like to 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, the 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 itself is quite full, you may have sewage leak from these gasket-less areas on the composting tank.
If you are properly using your composting toilet, this type of situation will never occur, yet I feel that it possibly points to poor design.
All said, we feel that our composting toilet is an invaluable part of our boondocking outfit and we are pleased that we decided to convert to it.
RV Composting Toilet Pros and Cons:
The problem for 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.
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 a family of 3+ can't 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. (You will still need to dump your grey tank though if your rig has one. Most do.)
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 solid waste?
People either keep them in the bag and throw them in the trash (same thing 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.
Advice on Keeping Your Composting Toilet Clean From Kelly R. (Thanks, Kelly!)
- Keeping the urine hole/tube clean eliminates most urine smell. Kelly R (not to be confused with Camp Addict Kelly) keeps a bottle of fresh water handy and pours a dab of it down the urine hole after each urine 'session'.
- She also keeps a bottle of Nature's Miracle (a liquid enzyme designed to clean up pet urine accidents) handy and pours a bit of that down the urine holes each day to help keep it clean and neutralize any urine smells. (We know people who keep a spray bottle full of water or this to spray into the urine section.)
RV Composting Toilet Pros and Cons:
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.
Just watch this shiny video below to get a glimpse of what it can be like.
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. Therefore, if you have a hard time squatting, 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 and Cons:
RV Cassette Toilets
This type of toilet is similar to the portable camping toilet. 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.
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 To NOT Empty A Portable Toilet.
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.
RV Cassette Toilet Pros and Cons:
Is RV Toilet Paper Necessary?
Think you can use just any old brand of toilet paper in your RV toilet? 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.)
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.
Now you know what 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!
Kelly Beasley is co-founder of Camp Addict and loves sharing her enthusiasm for the RVing lifestyle. As a full-time RVer since May 2015, Kelly's playful writing style helps make learning about the sometimes dull subject of RV products a bit more interesting.
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing since April 2014, Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle.