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Should you have a toilet in your camper van?

When building your own campervan, one of the big decisions you will need to make that will affect your van layout is whether or not you want to include a toilet and shower in your build.

We often get asked by shocked people on Instagram, “Where is the bathroom in your campervan?!” Originally when we built our campervan, we weren’t going to include a toilet. However, once we were about to move into our van full-time, we realised that a toilet would be integral.

When you’re parked in the middle of nowhere it’s easy enough to go to toilet outside in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. But if you’re in a built up area, or just an area where there aren’t a lot of outdoor options, a campervan toilet is pretty important, especially after a morning coffee!

In this post we discuss the pros and cons of putting a toilet in your campervan, and the different van toilet options.

Pros of putting a toilet in your campervan

  • Convenience – so you don’t have to go outside when it’s pouring down with rain in the middle of the night, or drive around searching for a public toilet after drinking your morning coffee!
  • Privacy & hygiene – to some people, the idea of squatting down in the outdoors where someone may stumble upon you mid-wee is horrifying, and a van toilet avoids this

Cons of putting a toilet in your campervan

  • Space – depending on whether you opt for a Porta Potti style portable toilet in a storage box or a full on shower and toilet cubicle in your van, a toilet can take up a lot of valuable storage and living space
  • Smell – different toilet options have differing levels of smell associated with them – a portable chemical toilet has a fairly unpleasant chemical smell, whereas a composting toilet has a more earthy smell
  • Faff of emptying it – If you’re going to commit to a toilet in your van, you will need to regularly find a spot to empty it. Chemical toilets will need to be emptied in a designated spot due to the chemicals. 

After weighing up the pros and cons of installing a toilet in our van, we decided to install a DIY composting toilet for our camper as this way we could ensure it didn’t take up too much space, and composting toilets are so much easier to empty than camping chemical toilets. We plan to spend most of our time away from civilisation and off-grid, so it would have been near impossible for us to empty a standard Porta Potti chemical toilet.

If you don’t want to build your own toilet, below we’ve gone through the different portable chemical toilet and pre-built composting toilet options, as well as some information on how to go to the toilet responsibly if you don’t have a campervan toilet.

Campervan toilet options

If you don’t want to build your own DIY composting toilet, then you can either buy a chemical portable toilet, or a pre-built composting toilet. These are the two types of campervan toilet, and can be stored inside a pre-existing bench or cupboard, and brought out when in use.

Portable toilets

Portable toilets are the classic option that most people who have a toilet in their camper van will have. You can easily fit one under a bench or in a big slide out drawer, so they don’t take up too much room.

Portable toilets are made up of two components: the upper part forms the toilet bowl and also has a water container for the flush mechanism, and the lower part is a removable waste tank. Water is added to the upper water container so that when the pump flush is used it works like a standard toilet flush. Water is also added to the removable waste tank along with some chemicals to reduce the smell form the toilet.

A lot of these chemicals can be quite harmful to the environment, and need to be disposed of properly at a chemical toilet disposal point which can usually be found on campsites. If you choose to install a Porta Potti in your van, we’d suggest choosing a more environmentally friendly option such as the Dometic GreenCare toilet tablets.

The most common portable toilet available is the Thetford Porta Potti, and another very similar van toilet is the Dometic portable toilet which is available in a couple of different waste tank sizes. The cheapest models with the smallest tank sizes can be purchased for around £100.

Dometic 972 Portable Toilet£110Buy now
Thetford Porta Potti 335£70 Buy now

Compostable toilets

compostable toilet is often bigger than a portable toilet, meaning you will may need to a toilet cubicle to house it. The most common compostable toilet seen in a cubicle is the Nature’s Head composting toilet. The benefits of a compostable toilet are 1) it stores liquids and solids in two different tanks, which means it doesn’t smell, and 2) they don’t use any of the unpleasant chemicals that portable toilets use.

The basic premise of the compostable toilet is that pee is stored in a small tank, and the tank which collects solid waste contains a bulking material such as sawdust or coconut coir. Each time you use it, a handful of the material is added to cover the waste and minimise smell.

A lot of composting toilets also have a built in fan which vents any smells outside of your van, so this is definitely the best option in terms of minimising any unwanted odours.

The downside of the composting toilets, other than their large size, is that they’re quite expensive. Most composting toilet start at around £300-500, with some of the more expensive models costing upwards of £1,000!

A good budget option is the Agande compost toilet which is under £200, a mid-range option that is made of a nice birch ply and so blends in well is the Kildwick MiniLoo composting toilet, and a popular high end option is the Natures Head composting toilet which costs around £1,000.

Agande composting toilet£200Buy now
Kildwick MiniLoo composting toilet£475 Buy now
Natures Head composting toilet£1,000 Buy now

Where do you go to toilet if you don’t have a toilet in your van?

If you were out on a long hike and you needed to pee, what would you do? You’d find a nice spot hidden away in some trees…and have a pee. Obviously if it’s the middle of the night, and it’s raining, you might not want to wander out of your cosy van to go and find a spot to pee, so that’s where a pee bottle can come in handy. I’m sure some people are grossed out at the idea of this, but it’s not really that different from using a toilet (and especially not that different from having a portable toilet in your van that you’ll have to empty at some point!).

We have a Nalgene with a wide mouth that we use as our emergency pee bottle, if we’ve got to go in the middle of the night. Charlie has a SheWee she uses with the bottle for the ultimate van peeing lady solution. It’s super easy to use. In the morning, you can just empty the bottle and job done. We bought a red ‘danger’ Nalgene so that we never forget it’s the pee bottle and not the water bottle!

For when your needs are slightly more solid, you have a couple of options. A lot of the time there will just be a public toilet nearby, or you will drive past plenty of service stations and supermarkets/McDonalds etc that have a toilet on the way to where we’re going to park up.

If you’re staying off grid for a few days, further away from civilisation, you should use a shovel to dig a hole somewhere out of the way. You will need to make sure that your hole is at least 15cm deep, and at least 50m away from any water source. You will also need to ‘pack out’ your toilet paper, which means taking it away with you in a rubbish bag (a sandwich bag that can be sealed works well for this).

How do you shower if you don’t have a shower in your van?

So here’s the thing…we actually do have a shower in our van. We opted to install an outdoor shower in our van so it wouldn’t take up any extra space in the van, and because we plan on spending a lot of time in southern Europe which tends to be pretty warm, so an outdoor shower won’t be a problem.

We’ve installed a Camplux tankless 5L hot water shower by our back doors which is fed from our water tank, and this has a shower head attached to it. We have a shower curtain pole which attaches to our back doors, and a shower curtain which pulls across to give us privacy and a little wooden decking to stand on. It makes for the perfect easy shower setup that doesn’t take up any extra room in our van, but gives us the flexibility to shower every couple of days without having to hunt one out in a service station or gym.

Want to know exactly how to convert a campervan? Our 331 page bestselling book, The Van Conversion Bible, covers all aspect of a van conversion, from planning your layout to a step-by-step build guide.

The ultimate guide to converting a campervan

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