On-the-Go Convenience: An Easy Motorhome Toilets Guide

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Motorhome & Campervan Toilets – All You Need to Know

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to motorhome toilets, where we’ll navigate you through the ins and outs of these essential facilities in your home on wheels.

Whether you’re a seasoned motorhomer or a newbie to the world of van life, understanding the different types of toilets, their features, and maintenance can significantly enhance your road trip.

Join us as we flush out all the details and make your journey on the open road a breeze!

motorhome toilets

Motorhome Toilet Types

Cassette Toilet

The chances are if you have a European or UK-manufactured motorhome or caravan, you will have a Dometic or Thetford cassette toilet. These are the most popular choice of motorhome and campervan toilets in the UK.

These cassette toilets don’t look dissimilar to a residential toilet and are usually plastic in standard motorhomes, or porcelain in high-end motorhomes.

Motorhome toilets use your freshwater tank and water pump for flushing and some even swivel to allow for clever wet rooms and to make the most of awkwardly shaped motorhome bathrooms and small spaces in van conversions.

The big difference between household loos and motorhome loos is that in a motorhome, your toilet is self-contained and permanently installed over a small holding tank, called a toilet cassette. 

How do motorhome toilets work? When you open the toilet blade (a flat plastic cover which separates the bowl from the cassette and slides back when you open it with a lever) and flush, the waste matter drops directly into the waste tank below.

When the cassette is full, it is taken out through an easy access service door on the outside of the van and emptied at a waste disposal station (more of the emptying later!).

If you have bought a second-hand or used motorhome with a Thetford toilet, you may want to consider one of their fresh-up sets which consists of a new cassette and toilet seat. We have done this for every motorhome we’ve bought, …it’s just one of those things!

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opening in a side of a motorhome with a door to reveral a toilet cassette

What is a SOG toilet system?

A SOG toilet is not a toilet in itself, but a system you fit into a cassette toilet. Fitting a SOG system means you will not need chemicals and in fact, defeats the object if you do use them.  

A SOG system consists of a 12v electric fan which creates a negative pressure and extracts any unwanted smells from the toilet cassette whenever you open the blade to flush. The vent either comes out the side or top of your van depending on the cassette and layout although ideally not into your awning!  

We would highly recommend a SOG loo (and haven’t been paid to say so!), it’s one of the best motorhome accessories we’ve had fitted. You can find out more about them here

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Gravity Flush Toilet

When you have a gravity flush toilet, everything inside your motorhome looks the same as with a cassette toilet, although a traditional gravity toilet is often operated by a foot pedal instead of a push button.

The waste drops into a large holding tank which must be sited directly underneath the toilet and is emptied via a sewer hose. Some large motorhomes, overland vehicles and most RVs have a single waste tank for both grey and black waste.

Some cassette and gravity flush toilets have a cistern, although it’s more common in modern motorhomes for the water to come directly from the onboard water tank.

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Portable Toilets

If you are in a camper van or small caravan you may have a portable camper toilet, where the lightweight plastic toilet bowl and small waste tank are separated for emptying.

The most well-known of these are Thetford Porta Potti toilets, which are two-piece, fresh-water flush toilets that are completely self-contained and portable.

There are lots of different models and brands like Fiamma, Hi-Gear and Dometic portable toilets, and portable composting toilets which don’t require water. Some of these portable camping toilets fold up making storage and transportation easy.

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porta potti stored in an under bench seat in a campervan

Composting or Compost Toilets

If you prefer to use a natural solution without chemicals or don’t want to be dependent on finding dump stations regularly, then a composting toilet is the answer.

Most models divert urine away from solid waste into a small tank or bottle. Solids go to a different tank, which is lined with natural materials such as sawdust, coconut fibre or chopped straw.

After using a composting toilet, you throw a handful of natural solid materials like peat moss or coconut coir into the compost chamber. The material covers the waste and helps it to break down, and prevents smells from rising.

Composting toilets are mostly odourless, other than a sort of peaty smell, and don’t need to be cleaned out as often as other types of campervan toilets. They use hardly any water and don’t need to be plumbed in. You do need to rotate the compost chamber frequently to aerate it.

In a compost toilet, solids do not start the composting process but are compostable on disposal – you can find out more about compost toilets here.

Human waste from these toilets can be disposed of easily. Urine can be tipped down a public toilet or out in the wilds (away from inhabited areas, public roads, drains and watercourses) while solids can be double bagged and placed in a compost bin or general waste.

This type of toilet is a good option if you’re touring or travelling where chemical toilet points are few and far between. Some models need 12v to run a small ventilation fan which is a sustainable option if you use solar power.

We spent a long time travelling with a traditional motorhome cassette toilet but swapped it to a Separett Tiny compost toilet when we bought an overland truck. For us, it’s the best option because we prefer wild camping in remote spots, and we have found the ease of use and lack of smell a real game changer. 

Vacuum Flush Toilets

Vacuum toilets are flush toilets that use suction for the removal of waste resulting in a minimal requirement of water per flush. These are the toilets used in trains and aircraft, but RV vacuum toilets are much quieter!

The toilet works when a vacuum is created from the 12v vacuum pump through the vacuum tank and up to the toilet. The vacuum removes the contents of the bowl at high speed, pulls it through the vac tank and up to the vac pump from where it is then pushed into the waste tank.

This type of system is a good choice for large overland trucks, motorhomes and RVs where the tank may need to be some distance away from the toilet.

vacuum toilet with the lid up

Macerating Toilet

The main reason for fitting a macerating toilet is that the black tank needs to be apart from the toilet because of the floor plan or design of the RV or motorhome.

The macerator pump grinds waste and toilet paper into a fine slurry, which is then pumped through a pipe to the black tank.

Macerating toilet systems also prevent direct airflow from the black tank when you flush, meaning the toilet never smells.

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Using Your Motorhome Toilet

There is an endless debate in the motorhome community about whether it’s okay to poo in your motorhome toilet. Of course it is!

After years of working in healthcare, I can confirm that urine smells way worse than poo when it starts to break down, but poo plus paper is bulkier and will fill up your cassette faster.

Some people don’t like pooing in their van toilet because they like to keep it fresh and don’t want to carry a toilet brush – we get that too!

You can get biodegradable toilet bowl liners which help conserve water and cassette capacity. Just do the business, seal the bag and flush down a normal toilet.

Lots of people ask about the order of things. Should you open the blade before or after performing? After six years of full-time motorhome life, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter! But, it is a good idea not to open the blade whilst seated because any weight on the plastic parts of your toilet can distort them as they move.

Portable and cassette toilets in motorhomes, sometimes known as a chemical toilet or Elsan toilet, will require chemicals to help manage the smell as your waste breaks down.

Gravity-flush toilets do not need chemicals as they are designed to have water in the bowl which prevents smells from rising.

Chemicals for your motorhome or caravan cassette toilet are widely available in most large supermarkets and camping shops. These are the original Thetford colours but you will find that other brands have mirrored them for ease.

  • Blue is for the toilet cassette and helps to mask the smell.
  • Green is the same as blue but it is environmentally friendly and can be emptied down a normal loo.
  • Pink is for the flush-water tank or cistern if you have one, keeps the bowl clean and smells nice.

Some people use non-bio washing tabs in their loo instead of chemicals. We’ve never tried this so can’t really say whether it works, but it does seem popular (and very probably cheaper!).

What about toilet paper for campervan toilets? We generally use middle-of-the-road loo paper, not the cheapest but not quilted. We find that this breaks down without a problem. Some people prefer not to flush toilet paper as it takes up room in the cassette. It’s easy enough to use small nappy sacks of bags to collect used paper and dispose of it in a normal bin.

Thetford motorhome loo roll and chemicals

Cleaning Your Motorhome Toilet

We tend to clean the toilet daily and the toilet cassette every month or so. As well as keeping things smelling fresh, this also helps to prevent the build up of chemicals inside which can interfere with the working parts.

Whatever your model of cassette, and there are a few, you really need to get your hand into the large opening on top and have a good scrub around to loosen off debris and build up.

Once you’ve done that, give it a rinse and then fill it with a mix of water and a specialist product like Elsan Deep Clean Cleaner and leave to soak for about 8 hours before emptying and rinsing again.

We have also used various products in the past for soaking the cassette including bleach (this can be difficult to dispose of though) and full fat Coke, which works a treat – but don’t ask me why, it just does!

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man in an orange hat cleaning a toilet cassette by a motorhome

Disposing of Black Waste

For many motorhomers, this is, unsurprisingly their least favourite task.

Whenever we stay on a site, we are woken early by canny fellow travellers trundling their toilet cassette off to the disposal point, in the knowledge that first thing in the morning is the most fragrant time for this notoriously smelly place!

In our experience, black waste points come in many forms and are not all equal. We’ve used everything from a shiny purpose-built service area with automatic flushing, to literally an open sewer in the ground. 

You can find out where to empty your motorhome toilet using Park4Night, which shows service points on its app.

Always wear protective gloves when emptying your motorhome or campervan toilet – we also know someone who has special shorts for the job!

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designated motorhome dump station
motorhome casette toilet emptying point

Emptying Cassette & Portable Toilets

Some motorhome and caravan toilets will have a light by the flush button to let you know when they’re nearly full.

Always empty when the light is amber. From bitter experience, we know not to leave it until the light is red! If you’re travelling as a couple and use your toilet for all your needs, this is likely to be every three days or so.

In some badly designed chemical toilet emptying points, if the hole or grating is particularly small and the poo has yet to break down, you may be faced with having to poke it or break it up in some way to get rid of it!  

If you suspect this is the case, make sure you have a stick handy for poking or give the cassette a vigorous shake. Don’t use the hose or you may well end up covered in your own waste …you have been warned!

This quick video from Thetford explains how to empty your toilet cassette without covering yourself in waste!

Emptying a Black Waste Tank

For those with a fixed black waste holding tank, how often you empty it depends on how large the tank is and whether it’s a combined black and grey waste tank.

For those with a fixed black waste holding tank, how often you empty it depends on how large the tank is and whether it’s a combined black and grey waste tank.

The average person creates around two litres of bodily waste a day. Add a bit more for loo roll and you should be able to work it out. Vacuum, gravity and macerating toilets will have holding tank sensors to let you know when you need to empty.

A black tank cannot be emptied into cassette toilet emptying points, which are not designed to accept sewer waste from a hose.

Combined black and grey waste cannot be disposed of in the normal European and UK grey waste facilities, which are designed to cater for grey waste only. Having said that, we have often seen, especially in France, toilet waste being emptied over a grey waste grating and then sluiced through using a hose!

Because of the faecal matter in your waste, you will need to find a specialist service point which has a drive-over all-in-one waste disposal point. These can sometimes be found in marinas or boat yards, or you could find a manhole which goes directly into a sewer and empty into that. Just make sure it’s not a storm drain.

Follow these tips for the best way of emptying:

  • Drive your motorhome close to or over the grill or manhole.
  • Place one end of your sewer hose over the grating or hole or fix it to the outlet, depending on the type of dump station.
  • Check that the valves to your black water tank (and your grey water tank, if you have one) are both closed.
  • Unscrew the cap to your black or waste water tank.
  • Attach the hose adapter and check it is secure.
  • Open the valve to the black or waste water tank.
  • The waste will rush down the hose and empty.
  • Once empty, connect a garden hose to the rinse valve if you have one and flush through the last of the waste. Let it run for a few minutes.
  • If you don’t have a dedicated rinse system, just flush your toilet a few times.
  • Close the valves, then disconnect the hoses and rinse them through.
  • Add some fresh water and chemicals to your holding tank before using your toilet again.
person dressed in red holding a sewage hose from a motorhome into a sewer

Motorhome Toilets & Wild Camping

If you’re planning on wild camping and your motorhome uses a cassette or portable toilet, follow these tips to manage your black waste:

  • If you don’t use chemicals in your loo, you can empty your waste into any toilet, but you should make sure that you can keep the area properly clean after you have emptied. If you’re doing this into a household toilet at home it’s easier, but public toilets are not designed for toilet cassette disposal. Using public facilities to empty your loo is really only for emergencies, as the large quantity of liquid waste and toilet paper can easily block a regular toilet.
  • The flush system on most motorhome loos will not cover the whole bowl with water unless you run the flush for at least 30 seconds, which is not the best use of your limited water or cassette capacity. To use less water, keep a spray bottle of water and Thetford Pink Fluid in the loo and use it to cover the bowl after use. This will dilute any residual urine and stop it from breaking down so quickly, which is when it starts to smell, keeping your toilet fresh without using too much water.
  • Get a composting toilet. You won’t need a water supply or chemicals as no flushing is required. Some portable campervan composting toilets even fold up when not in use!
  • Take a fold-up shovel, dig a hole and do it the old-fashioned way. Poo responsibly and make sure you’re as far away from buildings, watercourses and wildlife as possible. Remember not to leave soiled loo paper for others to find or animals to dig up. Use a biodegradable nappy sack or dog waste bag until you can dispose of it properly.
  • Carry a spare motorhome toilet cassette, this will give you twice as long out in the wilds!
white motorhome parked on a beach with the sea in view

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