When it comes to putting a toilet in your van there are many choices. If you’re looking for the ultimate in convenience and comfort you might decide on a composting toilet. Or, if you’re looking for a low cost way to prepare for “emergency use only” situations a simple foldable camper toilet may be best.
Let’s take a look at the best toilets for van life and their pros and cons.
The best portable toilet for a van is the Thetford toilet. This van toilet doesn’t need to be plumbed or connected to the electrical system, which makes it incredibly easy to install.
It comes with a pump flush to clean the bowl after use, and it also has a sealed valve to keep odors from escaping the holding tank.
Composting toilets are fantastic for van life, but they are a more expensive option. While there are many composting toilets on the market, the best one for van life is the Cuddy by Compo Closet. Best of all, Cuddy is one of the most affordable composting toilets on the market and has some of the best features.
Because the Cuddy was specifically designed for vans (unlike other composting toilets which were created for boat life, RV life and off-grid living) it has some unique features which make it the best composting toilet in a van.
The agitator handle is located on the front of the toilet, which makes it easy to store in a cabinet or drawer. Additionally, the lid has special hinges which allow the top to open fully even with the back of the toilet flush against a wall – this means you don’t have to reposition your toilet each time you use it.
Lastly, because of it’s square design, it can be stored efficiently without wasted and unsued space.
Compared to it’s competitors, Cuddy offers more features for less cost.
Dry flush toilets are a convenient toilet for van life because they’re incredibly easy to install and use. Simply go in your Laveo Dry Flush Toilet, and then the mylar lining shrink wraps your deposit and stores it in a stink-proof container until you’re ready to throw it away.
The downsides to a dry flush toilet are the cost of the replacement cartridges and the impact to the environment. One cartridge lasts 15 “flushes”. Plan for approximately $.75 per flush because the refill’s aren’t cheap.
If you have a rental van and don’t want the hassle of cleaning up between each guest then this would be an ideal van toilet.
If you don’t have the space for a permanent van toilet, or you have a pre-built van without space to add a toilet, then the emergency Go Anywhere portable folding toilet is a great option.
This toilet stores away in a small briefcase sized package that can be tucked away when not in use. It’s lightweight, weighing only 8 lbs, and is very portable.
When you’re ready to use this folding toilet, just set it up by folding down the stabilizing legs, add a replaceable wag bag and do your business. The replacement bag will trap materials and odors inside until you’re able to dispose of it.
Pros and Cons of Camper Van Toilets
When it comes to camper van toilets there’s a few pros and cons. Of course, it’s a nice convenience to have a toilet in your van, but it requires a bit of storage in an otherwise small space.
Camper Van Toilet Pros
I’m just going to state the obvious, get it over with, and move on to the nitty gritty.
The benefit of having a toilet in your van is being able to poop in your van – this means you can use your clean van bathroom whenever you want and have total privacy. The other side of this coin is that you DON’T have to use a public toilet.
✅ Easy and convenient
✅ Clean (or at least cleanliness within your control)
✅ Available 24/7
Camper Van Toilet Cons
Again, there’s a few obvious items here: some types of van toilets can stink 💩 – literally (more on this later).
If you don’t want to risk an occasional odor in your van then the simple answer is not to do your business inside your van.
More importantly, unlike a toilet that is plumbed to a water and sewer system, your van toilet uses a holding tank… which you will need to dispose of.
Arguably, this is the least fun part about living in a van (or maybe it’s the dishes.)
❌ May require chemicals
❌ Added cost
❌ Added space requirements
Additional disadvantages to having a toilet in your van include requiring additional space to install or store your van toilet, increased complexity in your build (depending on the type of toilet), increased capacity of fresh water and holding tanks and the cost of the van toilet itself (ranging widely from $50-$1100).
Let’s break down each of these items, and what specifically you should be considering when deciding on including a portable camper van toilet in your build.
Things to Consider When Buying a Van Toilet
There are three primary categories to consider when deciding on a portable camper van toilet:
👉 install complexity
👉 ease of use
Cost of Campervan Toilet
This includes your van toilet and any additional cost to install it.
Most van toilets are $100-$200, but if you’re looking at a composting toilet then you should plan to spend $800-$1100.
Installation costs can also vary. If you’re simply storing your cassette toilet in a cabinet you won’t need anything other than the cabinet space.
If you want to put your van toilet on drawer slides, budget $50-$100 for heavy duty drawer slides. They need to be rated to a weight that can support your toilet when it’s full plus your own body weight.
Heavy Duty Drawer Slides I Recommend:
Composting toilets need to vent to the outside of your van- if you’re doing the labor yourself this will just cost you time in order to drill a hole and install a 12v fan. Which leads into your next item to consider…
Van Toilet Installation
How complex is your van toilet set up and installation? How much time and labor is required in order to build it?
The simple cassette toilet stored in a cabinet is your quickest and cheapest installation option – literally just buy the toilet and make sure you have a cabinet large enough to store it.
If, instead, you’d like to put your toilet on drawer slides you’ll need to install a simple drawer. This is fairly straightforward and something anyone can build.
Make sure you buy heavy duty drawer slides! The weight rating on the slides you buy should be more than the combined weight of your van toilet and the user (if your cousin who is a linebacker is ever going to use your van make sure your plan for that before you end up with a toilet drawer that won’t push back in).
Some van lifers want a dedicated bathroom space in their van. If that’s you, then you’re probably considering a full van shower setup – essentially this makes it a wetbath that is dual purpose as a place to use the toilet and to shower.
This is the most complex van toilet installation as it requires a full room with waterproof walls, a door, and plumbing.
Regardless of which of the above storage methods you choose, if you’ll be installing a composting toilet you will also need to factor in labor for the ventilation.
Composting van toilets have a hose that pulls air across your solids tank and exhausts it out of the van (usually through the floor).
Simply put, this means you’ll need to connect the 12v fan to your electrical system and you’ll need to drill a hole in your van.
Finding a drill-able space on your van floor can be a challenge so leave yourself options when planning your layout.
Ease of use
This is the last thing you’ll want to consider when deciding on which toilet is right for your van, and it really just comes down to personal preference.
How will you use your toilet? Is it an emergency only situation? If yes, then you can get away with a simple and cheap setup – like a cassette toilet in a cabinet.
Do you plan to use your portable camper van toilet for number 1 (liquid) only? Smell will be less of a concern so you can easily get away with the less expensive van toilet options.
In most places, urine can be dumped outdoors safely without requiring a trip to the dump – meaning you won’t have a huge need for an additional holding tank beyond what the van toilet itself can hold.
When I’m boondocking I dump my liquids tank following leave no trace principles – 200+ feet from camp, and any water sources. Always check first though, because some locations (like the desert) have additional rules.
REI has good tips on how to properly pee in the backcountry.
If you’ll be utilizing your portable camper van toilet for all things (liquids and solids) then you will want to strongly consider the more expensive toilet options, which also come with a lot of added conveniences.
Composting toilets separate your liquids and solids. Most people think that your poop is what stinks, but the main cause of unpleasant bathroom odor is when your solids and your liquids mix together. By separating them you eliminate most of the unpleasant odors.
The exhaust fan will remove any additional odors out of your van toilet and aid the composting process by providing fresh oxygen.
I’ve been able to go up to 2 months before changing my solids tank without any smells.
Types of Van Life Toilets
You have 3 primary types of toilets to consider when choosing a van life toilet:
👉 portable van toilet
👉 composting toilets
👉 emergency only
Portable Toilet For Vans
Portable campervan toilets are a lot like regular house toilets- all of your business is mixed together down the drain of the toilet bowl. It’s not separated or composted.
The main difference from a house toilet is that portable van toilets aren’t plumbed to water. Not having to be physically connected to a water and septic system is what makes these portable.
Instead, the toilet holds fresh water and flushes the bowl with a manual push- how much water you use is dependent on how long you hold down the button.
The second difference is that your business is held in a tank until you can responsibly dump it. Many people can go up to a week before having to empty their tank (for use by a single individual).
An important thing to note with portable van toilets is that you’ll need to use a chemical additive to keep your holding tank from smelling.
There’s not a huge range in prices for these types of portable camper van toilets- most of them range in the low $100’s.
If you want a larger holding tank and a few more bells and whistles you could spend up to mid $200’s for a portable toilet.
✅ Easy to dump
✅ No ventilation required
❌ Requires frequent dumping
Composting Van Toilets
Composting van toilets are the crème de la crème. They’re also by far the most expensive- most of them sell for around $1,000 or more.
The primary function of a composting toilet is to separate your liquids from your solids. This is achieved by using a special toilet bowl that directs ones and twos to different holding tanks.
By keeping your business separated it allows your solids to compost.
Liquids are simply dumped responsibly in nature, or in a public toilet.
Compost solids are placed in a sealed trash bag and thrown away. Technically the composting period for human waste takes many months (6+), so what you remove from your composting toilet isn’t fully composted or safe. It’s really important to understand that you’re throwing out human waste if it isn’t fully composted, so you need to be more careful.
Always check local regulations, as they can vary.
Note: it’s personal preference whether you put your toilet paper into the solids tank. Septic safe toilet paper (like Scotts brand) will compost fairly quickly.
Alternatively, some vanlifers choose to have a separate trash can for their used TP.
Composting van toilets work without chemicals! You’ll prep your solids tank by lining it with a damp composting medium (like coco fiber). These can be bought in dehydrated bricks for easy storage.
When you need to make a new batch you simply add some water to the composting medium before placing it into your solids tank. Once your poo lands in this material nature takes care of the rest- no chemicals needed!
Note: some people add enzymes to their mix to expedite the composting process. I’ve tried using these and not using these- in my opinion, if you’re a single user (read: don’t have a ton of daily deposits to the van toilet bank) then the enzymes aren’t necessary. If, however, you plan to add several fresh nuggets daily then you’ll want to help nature move along faster with some enzymes.
Plan to dump your liquids tank every 1-3 days and your solids tank every 2-4 weeks, depending on use.
Lastly, most composting van toilets have a ventilation system for the solids tank. A 12v fan is used to pull air across the solids tank (fresh oxygen is necessary for composting) and out through a hose that vents through the bottom of your floor. This means installing a composting toilet in your van requires an electrical connection and a ~3 inch hole drilled in your floor (or sidewall).
✅ No chemicals
✅ Easier to dump
❌ More complex install
❌ Constant (but low) electrical use for fan
Cuddy Composting Toilet
Overall, Cuddy Compo Closet compost toilet is the least expensive composting toilet option but it comes with many innovative features the other brands don’t include. Cuddy compost toilet also has the smallest holding capacity, but that’s offset by its compact size which makes it easier to store, especially in a van.
Additionally, the Cuddy comes with some very innovative features, such as the ability to mount it flush against a back wall while still opening the lid fully, and having a front-mounted agitator handle for easy access.
Airhead Vs Natures Head Composting Toilet For Van Life
If you’re looking for a more traditional “sitting experience” Nature’s Head and Air Head are most closely similar to a typical toilet seat size and height.
I prefer the Air Head over Nature’s Head because you can empty the liquids tank without having to open the solids tank – and see everything in it.
I have also heard that the Air Head van toilet has an easier “target” for anyone who has the luxury of standing up to urinate.
OGO Composting Toilet
OGO is also a pretty big contender for best composting van toilet. It has a larger capacity for liquids (trust me, this is important and goes a long way to not overflowing your liquids container- don’t ask me how I know).
OGO also has an automatic agitator – which could be a pro or a con. Pro: it automates your composting. Con: it requires a small amount of electricity to do so, and could create some noise.
Emergency Van Toilet – Simple And Effective
If you’re opting not to have a full camper van toilet setup it’s still a smart idea to have some type of system in place for emergencies.
Trust me, no one wants to plan for a 3am “I think I had bad sushi” experience, but when it happens you’ll be glad you have options.
Verdict: Do You Need A Toilet For Van Life?
Yes. At a minimum, you need something for emergencies. Anything beyond that really comes down to personal preference and how you plan to live in your van.
If you want ultra convenience, consider a composting toilet for your van.
If you’re ok with a little less convenience and a large savings in cost then a portable van toilet is your best option.
However, if you plan to make use of public restrooms and mother nature, then you may only need an emergency toilet.
Verdict: What Is The Best Portable Camper Van Toilet?
The best van toilet is a composting toilet. Cuddy is the best composting toilet if you’re looking for features, comfort, ease of use and overall cost.
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Written by Claire Fleming
I’m a travel enthusiast who spends half the year in my self-built camper van with my dog, Oscar, and the other half at my home in Raleigh, North Carolina or on international adventures.