As bonafide van life bloggers, we are only too happy to answer any and all questions about living the van life. We only wish so many questions didn’t revolve around how we shit and piss.
Nevertheless, you have to give the people what they want.
So here it is, our big guide to van life toilets.
Do You Really Need a Van Life Toilet?
Do you really need a toilet in a campervan?
We have traveled the world in three vans, and we have had exactly zero toilets! In fact, the van life movement has been around a lot longer than portable composting toilets or sprinters with full-sized bathrooms.
That’s not to say you don’t need one or two solutions for dealing with surprise ones or twos but having a real toilet is not the only way to skin this cat.
Where Do You Go to the Toilet if You Live in a Van?
If you live in a van, you have three main options for going to the toilet: a toilet in the van, in an external toilet, or in nature. Let’s explore these options more thoroughly.
In the Van
Whether you have a toilet on board or not, if you van life long enough, at some point, you will need to go potty on board, and when it happens, you want to be prepared. The solutions for going to the toilet range from rustic and rudimentary to lavish and luxurious.
We started at the bottom, and we are still on the bottom, so let’s start there.
For the Poo-rists: A Poop Bucket and a Pee Bottle or Jar
Welcome to Van Life 101. It’s not always pretty, but it works, and it will get you down the road to the next real toilet.
Using an ordinary bucket and a bottle or old jar is cheap, and it is pretty effective, but there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind with this setup.
For starters, don’t mix the one with the two. Keep them separate, and things are going to go a lot more smoothly.
For the Van Life Poo Bucket
A large, sturdy 5-gallon bucket (20 liters) with a snap-on lid is best. You can repurpose an old bucket or pick one up from the hardware for about $10.
You need to line your toilet – you can use regular garbage bags, or there are specially designed human waste bags, which are better suited to the task but also pricier.
A layer of compostable materials such as sawdust (wood chips, straw, hay, shredded newspaper, or other organic material) can be used to line the bag initially and between uses to help you get a couple of uses out of one bag. Poo powder is also available that will help consolidate waste.
You can create or buy a seat for your bucket toilet. DIY solutions include a split pool noodle or section of PVC pipe that fits around the bucket’s rim.
You can also buy a pre-fabbed poo bucket like the Luggable Loo from Reliance, but you will be paying a premium for a bucket with a toilet seat and people will call you a sucker.
For the Van Life Pee Jar
Much like the poo bucket, the pee jar deserves a moment’s consideration to avoid any potential disasters on the road.
The first consideration is volume. In our opinion, you want something that will allow you to use it overnight and once in the morning. That will allow you to get into a stealth camp at night and get on the road the next day without ever getting out of the vehicle. If you’re drinking enough water, that’s up to one or two liters per person. Having a bottle per person is not a terrible idea. We think a 2-litre (64 oz) bottle does the trick…unless you’re getting on the beers.
The second consideration is whether to go for wide-mouthed or narrow-mouthed receptacles. Wide is easy to get the pee in, but it’s also easier for the pee to get out, and narrow makes it harder for pee to immigrate or emigrate. Once again, we have a view on this, and if your bottle is large enough, then getting the pee in easily and closing the lid is the priority and the best way to minimize spillage. Thus, we opt for a wide-mouthed water bottle.
Another consideration is your own equipment; some of us have handy little hoses, and some of us may benefit from a funnel. There are several pee funnels on the market that can bridge the gap.
Finally, some purpose-designed collapsible pee bottles are coming to market that claim to be space-saving and hard to miss. However, we’re not sure they beat the traditional setup.
For the Emergency Evacuation: Foldable Portable Toilet
A foldable toilet can be easily stored and takes up very little space.
This is a great option if you only use your onboard toilet in emergencies. However, it’s not ideal if you’ll need to pack and unpack it all the time.
The foldable portable toilet can be used with human waste bags and poo powder to consolidate waste. It’s designed for pooping only, and the waste needs to be dealt with as it’s created (a blessing and a curse).
For the Inbetweener: The Cassette Toilets
A middle ground between portable and permanent solutions, cassette toilets are a popular choice among modern van lifers looking for economical and space-saving poop solutions. These toilets can be permanently fixed in the van and feature a small, removable waste tank known as a cassette. Poopers can remove the cassette for easy emptying at designated dump sites. They offer the benefit of a more traditional toilet experience, although you’ll need to empty the cartridge every couple of days or so, which can become a bit of a chore.
Best Cassette Toilets for Van Life
Here are some of the best cassette toilets for van life on the market right now.
Dometic 976 Portable Toilet
An affordable and compact option, the Dometic is a solid offering from a reputable brand. Small and easy to store, it weighs just 14 lbs (6.3 kgs) and features a 5-gallon waste tank. It is also reasonably priced at $140.
Thetford Porta Potti 565e
Another super portable potty Thetford Porta Potti 565e, is perfect for van lifers with limited space. With a 3.8-gallon flush tank and a 5.5-gallon waste tank, it’s a serious option and affordable at just $210.
YITAHOME Portable Toilet
A larger, more permanent option, the Yitahome has a slightly larger capacity with a 6.3-gallon waste tank and a number of premium features that warrant permanently installing it in your van. It’s also the most expensive of the three at $282.
For the Green Bum: Composting Toilets
Eco-conscious van dwellers might consider a composting toilet, which is a more environmentally friendly option than cassette toilets. Composting toilets are also easier to dump and less smelly. However, they are more bulky, more difficult to install, and more expensive.
These toilets separate liquid and solid wastes, with solid waste combined with a composting material like coconut coir or sawdust to promote decomposition and reduce odor. While composting toilets are relatively low-maintenance, they still require regular emptying and the addition of new composting.
Best Composting Toilet for Van Life
Here are some of the best composting toilets for van life on the market right now.
The Cuddy is a composting toilet specifically designed with van life in mind. Its square-shaped design makes it easy to fit in your build, and an integrated ventilation fan eliminates the requirement for external venting via a hose. The Compo Closet Cudd is also the cheapest of the three options, coming in at $780.
The Airhead is another compact unit suitable for campervans and is also very popular amongst van lifers. It is one of the lightest designs on the market but also requires the installation of an external ventilation fan. The airhead also is the most expensive option setting you back $1,200 for your on-board pooping experience.
For the Royal Flush: A Flushing Toilet
A plumbed-in flushing toilet that connects to a black water tank is the epitome of van life luxury. Purists would say you’re swerving dangerously close to RV or even, dare we say, stationary life. Not us, though. If you’ve got the space, go for it.
You’ll need a large black water tank to store your waste, upward of 20 gallons (75 liters). You will also need sufficient fresh water onboard to flush your loo. Nevertheless, it may be an easy decision for those who value their creature comforts or those who plan to live in their van permanently or at least for long periods.
Flushing toilets might be cheaper than composting models upfront, but they will cost you space, time, and labor to install.
Best Flushing Toilets for Van Life
Here are some of the most popular flushing toilets for van life.
Thetford Aqua-Magic V
The Aqua-Magic V is maybe the best value-to-quality ratio model on the market. It features a classic design and tall seating, so you’ll feel like you’re sitting on your throne at home. Its foot pedal delivers a water-efficient full or half flush. It’s also incredibly lightweight at a touch over 10 lbs (less than 5kg). It has a hand sprayer for convenient rinse-downs. The Aqua-Magic V comes in at just around $200.
The Dometic 320 has an elongated, deep ceramic bowl and enameled wood seat, offering more comfort than most standard campervan toilets. The pedal system is easy to operate and delivers a well-pressurized flush. It’s a little pricy at $400, but Dometic is a reputable brand that uses high-quality parts.
YITAHOME RV Toilet
Like its counterparts, the Yitahome model is lightweight, manually operated, and water efficient, using only half a liter per flush. However, one complaint about these models has been the quality of the parts, which makes the Yitahome our least favorite of the three at $250.
How and Where Can I Empty my Van Life Toilet?
Disposing waste from personal portable toilets responsibly is essential to prevent environmental contamination, health hazards, and general grossness. They require specific disposal methods and locations. Here’s a quick guide on how and where to dump them:
How to Dump Personal Portable Toilets
- Preparation: Before disposal, prepare by wearing gloves and ensuring the loo is sealed to prevent spillage. If your dunny uses disposable liners, tie the liner securely. For toilets without liners, the holding tank itself will need to be transported.
- Transportation: Carry the toilet or waste bag cautiously to avoid leaks or spills. These toilets are designed for easy transport, but care is necessary, particularly if navigating uneven terrain or if the unit is full.
- Disposal: At the appropriate dumping location, follow the specific procedure for waste disposal. For bagged waste, this typically means simply disposing of the sealed bag. For holding tanks, you’ll need to pour the contents into the designated receptacle. After emptying the tank, it’s important to clean it thoroughly. Most dump stations provide facilities for rinsing.
Where to Dump Personal Portable Toilets
- Designated Dump Stations: The most environmentally responsible and sanitary option is using designated dump stations. These are commonly found at RV parks, campgrounds, and some public rest areas. They’re designed for this purpose and are equipped with facilities for both dumping and rinsing waste containers.
- Public Toilets: In general, the dumping of black water tanks in public toilets is prohibited. But, in some cases, waste from smaller personal portable toilets can be disposed of in public restrooms, primarily when the waste is contained in disposable liners. However, this practice can be frowned upon or prohibited in many areas due to sanitary concerns. Always check for signs and seek permission from relevant authorities or facility managers if in doubt.
- Home Toilets: If you’re near home or a home and can’t access any of the above options, you can empty the contents of a portable toilet into a regular toilet. This method requires caution to prevent spills and splashes, and thorough cleaning of the portable unit afterward is a must.
- Professional Services: Some regions may have services available where waste is professionally handled. These are paid facilities where you can drop off waste or have it collected, providing a convenient, hygienic, and environmentally conscious option.
In all cases, it’s really important to avoid emptying portable toilets into open environments, like outdoor areas or water sources, as this is illegal, harmful to the environment, and gross.
The next thing to address when it comes to pooping on the road (that doesn’t sound right) is where you might find other toilets you can use. Ultimately no matter what kind of van life toilet you have on board, the less you use it, the better because, at the end of the day, you’re the one that’s going to have to deal with that shit.
That’s why the savvy van lifer is always on the lookout for external toilets that might be exploited in order to keep your own porcelain clean.
Here’s where to find them.
Public restrooms are great, and many countries offer public facilities (of varying levels of quality). Australia, for us, has the best national network of high quality public bathrooms. Here are some of the obvious places where you will find toilets.
- Parks – You can find public toilets at parks, beaches, and national parks worldwide. Sometimes, these facilities are locked after hours, poorly maintained, or downright disgusting. In a handful of cases, they can even be a bit sketchy or dangerous. Always scout out the facilities in the daylight first.
- Gas Stations – Gas stations are van lifers’ best friend. Fuel up, grab some snacks, and relieve yourself at these triple-threat beauties. Gas station toilets can have similar issues to public parks, depending on where you are travelling.
- Shopping Centers – Shopping centers and, in some places, large stores, supermarkets, and big box stores in America, for example, often have toilets.
If no opportunities to use public facilities present themselves, private toilets might offer an opportunity to relieve yourself without defiling your sanctuary.
Here are some of the best places to find toilets for a small fee:
- Campgrounds – Paid campgrounds and occasionally free campgrounds or rest stops have toilets. They usually also have dump points where you can eliminate your waste.
- Restaurants – Come for the facilities and stay for a coffee or two. Take your laptop and knock out a bit of work, and that coffee/toilet break has paid for itself.
- Gyms – If you are traveling in an area with affordable gyms or with a large network of gyms, you can get affordable shit, shave and shower AND get a workout in.
Going to the Toilet In Nature
Far from public or private toilets? Fear not. When nature calls, it also answers. Going in nature is how we were born to toilet. For some people (like Kelli), it will feel natural. For others (like me), squatting over a hole will always be a bit ehhh. Nevertheless, for an intrepid van life adventure knowing how to go in nature is a prerequisite.
When you are far from civilization, in the wild parts of the world, here’s how you do it.
- Pack your kit. It should have a trowel (or, better yet, a small foldable shovel from your recovery kit), toilet paper, a bag for said toilet paper, and hand sanitizer.
- Choose a secluded spot at least 50 meters away from any water source, preferably more. Also, be mindful of other vans, campers, and hikers. Also, watch out for anything that could be a nuisance while you are doing your business. This includes stinging and biting insects and prickly or stinging plants.
- Dig a hole 15 cm – 30 cm deep (6 – 12 inches) and wider than you think.
- Pop a squat, chief. It’s time to go. Make sure you’re facing downhill if the ground is uneven. Be careful of clothing being in the way.
- Once you have handled your business, pack your toilet paper in the bag, and don’t leave your shit tickets in nature, or everyone will hate you. Cover up your hole. If you are in a heavily trafficked area, you might want to plant a small stick to give others a heads-up.
- Sanitize up, and it’s time to flee the scene.
Hopefully, we have answered all your questions about van life toilets, but if we missed something or you have a comment, please leave it below or send us an email. And if you have questions about van life we can help with, let us know any time!