Van Toilet – The Good, The Bad, and the Smelly

Picking the right toilet for your van is a challenge in itself, with so many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming.

This post has been carefully created to give you some insight into all the different types of toilets currently on the market. Unfortunately, there is no miracle toilet, and yes, most of them smell, but there are some great options out there that will make pooping in a van as pleasant as possible.

Discover the pros and cons of each of the toilets as well as a breakdown of the price, upkeep, how often you need to empty it, and of course… the smell.

Finally, if you are still undecided about what toilet is best for you we have done some analysis and recommendations based on different lifestyles and circumstances, including:

  • Fulltime vanlifers
  • Weekend warriors
  • Families
  • Best budget toilet
  • The best toilet (if you have unlimited money)
  • Best all-arounder


Find the all the recommendations here.


Composting Toilet

This is perhaps one of the most popular van toilets amongst full-time vanlifers, the composting toilet offers a comfortable ride whilst being environmentally friendly.

What is a composting toilet?

Composting toilets use the natural processes of decomposition and evaporation to recycle human waste. Composting toilets, sometimes referred to as dry toilets, separate the liquids and solids to allow the decomposition to occur.

An infographic which looks into the price, upkeep, smell and frequency of emptying each van toilet - Composting toilet

Pros

  • Little to no smell
  • Can be dumped in a normal bathroom
  • Can go up to a month without emptying the solids
  • No need for chemicals
  • Environmentally friendly

Cons

  • Fixed/Installed Toilet
  • Needs a 12v hook-up
  • Expensive
  • The liquid needs to be emptied every 1-2 days
  • You will need to store some form of carbon material (e.g. sawdust, coconut coir, or peat moss) in your van to put in your toilet – which can be bulky
  • Men must sit down, even when doing a pee!

Which composting toilet should I buy?

The most popular composting toilet is made by the brand “Natures Head”. This toilet has the familiar aesthetic of a regular toilet with little to no smell thanks to the fan which keeps the solids dry and the odor gone. However, it is by no means perfect, it has a small tank for liquids which requires emptying daily (depending on how many people use the toilet). It is also one of the most expensive toilets on the market at approximately $1,000 (£720), not to mention the ongoing expense of carbon material needed to keep the toilet composting – this can be upwards of $100 a year if you empty the toilet every 3 weeks.

Natures Head Composting Toilet
$1000

A simple line drawing of the Natures Head Composting toilet.

Another popular choice for people who want the environmental benefits of a composting toilet without the expense is to make one themselves. This can be achieved quite easily, by simply making a box and inserting a divider to separate the liquids and solids. However, an even simpler option would be using 2 bucket toilets.


The Chemical (Cassette) toilet

This popular toilet rose to prominence in Europe before breaking out as a bit of a global phenomenon. This versatile toilet offers an experience that mimics a “normal” toilet as well as being compact and convenient.

What is a chemical toilet?

A chemical toilet is a small self-contained plastic toilet. Chemicals are added to aid with the smell and also help to break down the solids. The solids and liquid gather in a tank which is then removed and emptied at a chemical waste point.

There are two main types of chemical toilets used in a van – fixed (cassette) and portable. Fixed toilets often have an external door that allows the cassette to be removed externally. This means there is no risk of spillage inside of your van. A portable toilet (e.g. the Porta-Potti) is incredibly popular as it has the same functionality as a fixed cassette toilet with the added advantage of its compact size and cheap price.

An infographic which looks into the price, upkeep, smell and frequency of emptying each van toilet - Chemical / Cassette toilet

Pros

  • Feels like a normal toilet
  • Easy to set up
  • Affordable
  • You can bolt some to the floor of your van
  • Small and compact
  • Easy to move around (portable)

Cons

  • Liquids can freeze in winter
  • Have to deal with chemicals
  • Can be smelly (especially if you do No.1’s and 2’s)
  • Need emptying weekly
  • Probably the most disgusting waste disposal of all toilets on this list.

Which Chemical toilet should I buy?

Thetford is perhaps the most well-known brand for chemical toilets (portable or fixed). Other notable brands include Dometic, Camco, and SereneLife. Whether you are looking for a fixed or portable van toilet, there are a few things you should take into consideration prior to purchasing.

1.The weight of the cassette when full

You will have to be able to fully lift the cassette at capacity in order to be able to dump it. Therefore, if you are a solo traveler, or perhaps don’t feel up to lifting something heavy (especially considering its filthy cargo) then opt for a smaller capacity tank. This unfortunately means you will have to dump more regularly.

2. How long you want to stay off grid

Once again, this factor will play into how big you need the tank to be. However, as mentioned above, bigger = heavier!

3. Electricity use

Depending on the chemical toilets flush mechanism, you may need to hook the toilet up to 12v power. This is something to consider if you are trying to preserve your electricity for as long as possible as there are other “flush” mechanisms that require no electricity.

4. Fixed or Portable?

This is perhaps the most important question. Both options have their very own unique set of pros and cons. A portable toilet can make a space much more flexible (important in a small vehicle), however, there is a risk it could topple over. A fixed toilet has the advantage of the external hatch meaning there is absolutely no risk of getting poop on the floor of your van. Unfortunately, this makes the space less versatile and arguably takes up more room.

Fixed

Thetford C224-CW
£359.95

A simple line drawing of the Thetford C224-CW toilet

Dry Flush Vacuum toilet

A vacuum toilet is one of the more unique solutions when it comes to picking the best toilet for your van. This slightly more obscure option feels like it wouldn’t be too out of place on a spaceship.

What is a vacuum toilet?

The Dry Flush toilet comes with mylar liner bags that fit inside the bowl. You can pee and poo in the bowl and then you flush the toilet as you would on a regular toilet. Once you flush the liner bag collapses, twists and seals the waste in an airtight configuration.

An infographic which looks into the price, upkeep, smell and frequency of emptying each van toilet - Dry Flush Vacuum toilet

Pros

  • the cleanest toilet on the market
  • waste can be disposed of in a landfill
  • completely odorless
  • easy to clean

Cons

  • expensive toilet
  • the cartridges are extremely expensive
  • not environmentally friendly
  • not recommended to be installed in a shower as it is not waterproof
  • needs 12V electrics

Which Dry Flush Vacuum toilet should I buy?

Currently, there is only one toilet on the market that fits the bill. There is a different type of vacuum toilet which when the flush is pressed, the waste is pulled from the bowl using a vacuum in the holding tank. Although it does the job, it’s not what we are referring to in this section.

The only Dry Flush Vacuum toilet on the market is by Laveo. With a not so modest price of $685 (£500), it really is a premium toilet. What’s worse, is the price of the cartridges that are needed for the toilet to operate. The cartridges cost approximately $18 each, which averages out at over $1 per flush. Therefore if you go to the toilet 4 times a day for a year it will cost you a staggering $1,460. Now, imagine there are 2 people using the toilet, that almost $3,000 just to use the toilet – ludicrous!

With that being said, it is the cleanest, most hands-off toilet on the market. You will never have to come face-to-face with feces. I’ll let you decide if it’s worth it.

Laveo Dry Flush Toilet
$685 (£500)

A simple outline drawing of the Laveo Dry Flush Toilet

Bucket Toilets

A bucket toilet offers the convenience of a regular toilet at a fraction of the price of its vanlife brothers and sisters. Best yet – if you have a bucket, all you need is a snap-on lid and you are good to go.

What is a bucket toilet?

I think it’s fair to say these toilets are fairly self-explanatory – you poop (and pee) in a bucket.

Bucket toilets are somewhat similar to a composting toilet but simplified (if you separate the No. 1’s from the No. 2’s). Simply place a bag in the bucket and fill it with carbon material and you’re good to go – you can poop all day and night (or until the bucket is full)

Note: you can use the bucket for liquids and solids, however, mixing may cause more of an unpleasant odor.

An infographic which looks into the price, upkeep, smell and frequency of emptying each van toilet - bucket toilet

Pros

  • Very cheap
  • Small and Compact
  • Can use indoors or outdoors

Cons

  • Bags must be thrown out frequently
  • Not the most comfortable

Which Bucket toilet should I buy?

There are a plethora of different bucket toilets on the market. Most of which can be bought for under £20. However, if you already have a bucket, you may wish to buy just the lid – this will provide a bit of comfort and lock in any unwanted odors – this solution is more commonly found in the US.

The most popular bucket toilet is the Luggable Loo. This reinforced 19L bucket will be sufficient if you are looking for a no-frills toilet solution.

Luggable Loo
£33.88

Outline drawing of the Luggable Loo which is popular amongst vanlifers and campers alike.

Collapsible toilet

A collapsible toilet is not unlike a bucket toilet – without the bucket. Generally speaking, these “toilets” are essentially just a toilet seat that you can attach a bag to or place over a hole in the ground.

What is a collapsible toilet

These toilets fold up to be a fraction of the size of a regular toilet, making them perfect for use in a van.

An infographic which looks into the price, upkeep, smell and frequency of emptying each van toilet - Collapsible toilet

Pros

  • Easy to store
  • Affordable
  • Sturdy and lightweight
  • Can use indoors or outdoors

Cons

  • Easy to set up
  • No chemicals required
  • Easy to throw bag away
  • Small

Which Collapsible toilet should I buy?

There are plenty of collapsible toilets on the market that all perform the same role for a very similar price. However, there are a few things to consider prior to selecting which one is right for you:

1. The height of the toilet

If you struggle to bend down, or perhaps just prefer the convenience and comfort of being sat on a more familiar toilet height then you will want a higher toilet.

2. How much storage space

The best thing about a collapsible toilet is the little amount of space they consume. However, not all collapsible toilets are created equally. Some fold away to be absolutely tiny – so much so, you could fit it in a handbag, others are slightly bigger. So, I guess it depends on how much room you are willing to sacrifice within your van!

The two points above are correlated, the more comfortable the seated position, the bigger the toilet. Therefore you have to pick one to prioritise. Personally, we would pick size over comfort any day!


So, what toilet is right for you?

Below we have briefly discussed what toilet is best for different lifestyles and circumstances. These are just our personal opinions, but we definitely think it could be useful if you are still on the fence!

What we would recommend for full-time vanlife

Composting

A composting toilet allows a lot of versatility that some of the other toilets don’t. For example, the longer periods of time between emptying means you can stay off-grid for longer. Although it has a high initial cost, we believe that you won’t regret it.

What we recommend for weekend warriors

Bucket or Collapsible

If you are only planning on staying in your van for short periods of time, a toilet won’t be high on your priority list. However, it is always great to have one in case of emergencies.

For this reason, we recommend the bucket or collapsible toilet. Both of these options can be easily stored and offer a low-tech, highly functional solution – even on a shoestring budget.

What we recommend for families

Chemical/Cassette

A chemical toilet is a very common choice of toilet as it is perhaps is the most similar to a regular toilet. There is no need to separate liquids and solids, and it has a level of familiarity to it. Yes, emptying it is a horrible process, but its ease of use and conventional design makes it a comfortable experience for children and adults alike.

Best budget toilet

Bucket

A bucket toilet is the epitome of high function, low price. Its simplistic (yet somewhat comfortable) design really makes the best of a bad situation. The air-tight lid allows smells to be locked in and should be fine in transit. Finally, a bucket toilet (if separating liquids and solids) can be used as a fairly effective primitive composting toilet, if treated right!

Best toilet (if you have unlimited money)

Dry Flush Vacuum

We personally think there is no better toilet on the market today. With that being said, its CRAZY maintenance cost really makes it inaccessible for most people.

The Laveo Dry Flush toilet is in a league of its own as it makes the unenviable job of emptying the toilet completely mess-free and fine for even the biggest germ-phobic person.

Best All-Arounder

Composting

A composting toilet, as mentioned previously is one of the most environmentally friendly toilets going, it also has little to no odor – what more could you want?

We understand its initial price may be off-putting, but it’s certainly worth considering if your budget can stretch to it.


There is no right or wrong answer when picking a toilet, just the answer that works best for you. So whether you are a bargain hunter, eco-warrior, or tech-obsessed, there is a toilet for you!

For reference, we have opted for a portable chemical toilet (Porta-Potti) with the hopes of eventually upgrading to a composting toilet in the future.

Feel free to ask us any questions about toilets! You can always find us in the comments.

Whilst you’re here why not check out our page dedicated to all things PLUMBING. From water pumps to heaters, to showers, this page links to step-by-step guides carefully walking you through each process (they also include diagrams that would make IKEA Proud).

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