RV Toilets - Which is Best?

An RV toilet cassette

An RV toilet cassette

RV toilets seem to play a role in RV life out of proportion to their size. They are only used a few minutes a day, but when they are used they must work as advertised. When not in use they should not advertise their presence through smell.

Motorhome owners need to pay particular attention to RV toilet smells (mainly from the chemicals with which they are cleaned), since these can spread throughout the vehicle if not properly controlled. Caravan owners need to do likewise since an ensuite is often placed next or close to the sleeping area.

Public Toilets

The best type of toilet when RV’ing is someone else’s. By using caravan park amenities and public toilets wherever possible, whilst these do not always come up to the same standards of hygiene that you would expect at home, you spend less time emptying and cleaning your own toilet. Keep a pack of hygienic wipes handy for public toilets without soap (which is most of them) as well as a few rolls of your preferred toilet paper.

The National Public Toilet directory map (also available as an app) is a useful thing to have on your smart phone – see here for details.

If you don’t have an RV toilet, you may not only be caught short one day, but by not being ‘self contained’ you may be restricted in where you can stay. See here for details of the CMCA’s ‘Self-Contained Vehicle’ policy.

RV Toilet Options

RV toilets themselves come in a number of types, shapes and sizes. In days gone by, lids with buckets sufficed, and variations of these are still in use today. DIY enthusiasts have something of a field day in this area, and it is amazing what can be done with pool noodles, water pipes, plastic chairs and milk crates. If you are so inclined, Google ‘thunderboxes’ or ‘bumper dumpers’ to get a sense of human ingenuity in this area.

To the relief of many, RV toilets that mimic the comfort and convenience of domestic ones are now common. There are two basic types - built-in and portable - and both operate in a similar way. Built-in toilets tend to be slightly larger and heavier (with ceramic bowls) than portable ones, which are made of plastic. Portable toilets are slightly smaller and lower.

How RV Toilets Works

The modern RV toilet is called the ‘cassette’ toilet. They consist of two chambers, with an upper chamber holding water for flushing and a lower chamber to hold liquid and solid toilet waste as well as used toilet paper. Each is filled separately with water, with the lower chamber also containing chemicals to break down the waste and destroy harmful bacteria. Flushing is carried out electrically in the case of built-in toilets and with a hand pump for portable versions.

An all-important sliding 'blade' separates the two chambers of portable toilets. This incorporates a hole surrounded by a rubber seal. This is usually pulled forwards during use and pushed in when not in use. Smells are often caused when the rubber seal is damaged or deteriorates.

In both cases the black water chamber or ‘cassette’ is removable for disposal at a dump point. Built-in RV toilets have an external hatch which provides access to this cassette. Most cassettes have wheels to make transport to the dump point easier.

For information on what type of chemicals to use to breakdown human waste in RV toilets, read our articles on safe toilet chemicals and by Emeritus Professor Jenkins.

Using Cassette Toilets

When using RV cassette toilets, here are a few suggestions:

  • Even if little used, always empty the cassette before travel
  • A medium-sized portable toilet emptied often is easier to carry, empty and store than a large one emptied infrequently
  • Never empty cassettes into toilet bowls – they cannot handle sudden and large volumes of waste and become blocked
  • Use gloves when emptying cassettes at dump points or wash your hands immediately afterwards
  • Rinse the dump point after use and leave it as you would wish to find it
  • Do not use domestic toilet chemicals to clean RV toilets – domestic chemicals are strong and can damage an RV toilet’s rubber seals
  • Because portable toilets are usually slightly lower than ideal, supporting one on a dedicated caravan step or DIY wooden base makes time spent sitting on one more comfortable.

For those with good bowel control, using an RV toilet for ‘No. 1s’ and a caravan park or public toilet for ‘No. 2s’ reduces the amount of work required in looking after your RV toilet.  

Standing a portable toilet on a step can make it easier to use

Standing a portable toilet on a step can make it easier to use

Chemical Cassette Alternatives

Some RV toilets have the same vacuum system that is used on aircraft. These are intended for use only on large RVs.

Another, the ‘Cinderella’, actually burns the waste there and then. The only residue is ash. These are costly but effective – further details can be found here.

A Cinderella Toilet. Pic courtesy Cinderellaeco.com.au

A Cinderella Toilet. Pic courtesy Cinderellaeco.com.au

In case of a Toilet Emergency

According to the the CMCA:

“If ‘caught short’ where no toilet exists, do ‘whatever’ at least 100 metres from campsites or water courses, buying waste by at least 15 cm (the length of an average hand). Mix with soil to speed decomposition. Do not bury sanitary items or disposable nappies.”

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