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What is the best toilet for a camper van?

Updated: Jun 22, 2023




One of the biggest questions in off-grid van living is where do you go to the toilet if you live in a camper van?


With the van life movement in full swing, this question is being asked more and more, and the good news is, there are now some really good solutions that cater to off-grid campers who want something better than the old “poo-in-a-bucket” option.


In this article, we’re going to cover the nitty gritty detail of choosing the right portable toilet solution for your needs, as well as some of the most asked questions from people within the van life community around exactly what toilet is the best for a camper van or indeed, a Mercedes Sprinter style van conversion.

These questions will include:


  • Do you really need a toilet in your camper van?

  • How do camper van toilets work?

  • How do you manage or empty different toilet options like composting and chemical toilets?

  • Are there any new portable toilet solutions that are suited to van conversions in particular?

  • What are the best toilets for camper vans and van conversions and why?


Here's a quick video to kick things off:



The 5 key considerations for buying a camper van toilet


In our view, there are 5 key considerations when shopping for a portable camper van toilet.


They are ranked in the order of what we consider to be the most important things first.

So here’s the list:

  1. Smell containment or release

  2. The “gross factor" of using and maintaining your portable toilet option

  3. Off-grid viability

  4. Size, installation & maintenance

  5. Price

In a moment, we are going to dive into each of these 5 considerations and we are going to use them as a measure against the 5 types of toilets that are currently on the market as portable toilet solutions for camping, caravanning, RVs etc.

Those 5 toilet types are:


  1. Non-flushing bucket or bag toilets

  2. Chemical toilets

  3. Composting toilets

  4. Incineration toilets

  5. Dry Flush toilets (a new option)

So let’s start with the first of the 5 key considerations, smell containment or release, and then we will talk about each point as they relate to the 5 types of mobile toilets available.


Smell containment or release. The #1 thing for a great portable toilet in a camper van.


On the surface, smell containment or release might seem like an odd choice for the top spot in things to consider when shipping for a camper van toilet. In fact, it’s quite often something that people don’t think about at all. Instead, they look at the metrics of a toilet like its size, its price, how many liters it holds, how heavy it is, how much energy it uses, and so forth. Those are all numbers, but toilets are more than that.





















Done wrong, your portable van toilet could make every dollar you’ve spent on the van itself a waste because you simply don’t enjoy using it because it stinks - constantly - of wee or poo.

Sorry to get gross here but the one thing those awesome Instagram photos of van lifers living the dream don’t show you is the stench of their poo as it sits baking under the bed in a cheap or bad toilet that fails to contain or release odor properly.

So, in our mind, getting a toilet that contains or releases the smell well is essential.

Bucket or bag camping toilets just don’t cut it when it comes to smell!


When it comes to keeping your environment smell free, we are not huge fans of the cheapest of all toilet options which are the humble “poo-in-a-bag” or “poo-in-a-bucket” options.


Although cheap, highly portable, and extremely efficient in regard to water and power use (they require none) these kinds of toilets do not contain or release smell at all.

This might be OK if you’re traveling alone and you are banking on getting used to the stench of your own excrement, but for everyone else, we would advise that you skip these solutions if for no other reason than a declaration that you are indeed not a savage.




So moving on from there, the next stop is chemical toilets.

Chemical toilets and how well they manage smell

Chemical toilets are the kind where your poop is flushed into a holding container at the base of the toilet called a “cassette”. Once there, your poop is semi-treated by chemicals until you empty it into a special dumping point (often found near campgrounds or caravan parks) or into a normal toilet that is connected to a sewer.

Importantly, you should never empty a chemical toilet into a septic toilet system because the chemicals will kill the bacteria that make a septic toilet system work.

Of the 6 things to consider when buying a toilet for a camper van, #2 is “the gross factor” which chemical toilets fail horribly on, but for now, we can give them a tick for at least containing the smell of your dark passengers at least until you get reacquainted with them at the point of dumping.


Composting toilets for camper vans and how well they contain and release toilet smells


A lot of people love the idea of a composting toilet in their van and for good reason. They don’t use any chemicals or water and the process of treating the poop is more natural. You just feel like you’re doing better things for the planet whenever the word “composting” is involved.

That being said, for now, we are going to focus only on a composting toilet’s effectiveness at containing or releasing the smell that comes from regular toilet use within the very confined space of camper vans, Mercedes Sprinter, or other van conversions.

To understand their effectiveness in regard to smell management, you need to understand two key things that composting toilets rely upon to reduce smell:

  1. They separate your wee from your poo

  2. They need access to a vent that leads to the outside of your van so that a fan in the toilet can pump the smell out

The separation of wee and poo in any toilet that doesn’t completely capture the smells permanently is really important because it’s the blending of the two substances that creates the well-known stench of what many refer to as “sewage smell”.


With composting toilets like the popular Nature's Head composting toilet, the toilet separates the wee into its own container and your poo into the composting system directly below where it naturally lands in the bowl.

Once your poo hits the composting area, it is mixed through the composting material in the base of the toilet by winding the handle on the outside of the toilet and the composting begins.

That being said, whenever you open the hatch to do a number 2, you will be confronted with the smell of your prior poos mixed with the smell of the composting material which is not altogether pleasant and you do still have to empty the system at some point in the future, knowing that what you’re emptying is your waste and that of those who have also used the toilet. While far from smelling like sewage, it’s not a bouquet of flowers.


Overall though, while the poo-hatch and toilet lid is shut and the toilet is not in use, you won’t smell much poo if you’re using a good composting toilet, even within the confines of a camper van.


However, we mustn’t forget the second thing that a composting toilet relies on to evacuate the smell which is access to a permanent vent to the outside.


While not a big deal, you do need to install a vent to the outside of your camper van in order to have a low-smelling composting toilet. That vent will be used by a small fan in the toilet to push the smell of the composting poop out. If you don’t do that, your van will stink for sure.

In short, composting toilets don’t rely on suppressing smell as much as they rely on evacuating it via fans and vents on a continual basis as the composting process does its thing.

In regard to urine smell in composting toilets, you don’t really smell it once it’s been flushed through to its container, so long as you spray the area where you wee with the recommended spray after each wee.

In our view, composting toilets make for a really good solution for camper van toilets, but they’re not the best.


One last point worth thinking about composting toilets in camper vans is what you put in it.


One last thing worth thinking about is the fact that with composting toilets, you must be very strict with what goes in it.


  • No feminine products

  • Only single ply toilet paper

  • Basically only what comes out of a person + thin toilet paper


As you'll see below with the Laveo DryFlush toilet, that can be quite limiting.


With the Dry Flush system, you can put anything in it which can be very handy in a camper van.


Let’s now look at the 4th type of toilet for camper vans, incineration toilets.

Can incineration toilets be put into camper vans and if so, do they smell?


This will be a short paragraph because the bottom line is, you can’t install an incineration toilet into a camper van or van conversion.

We called the best-known incineration toilet company (the Cinderella or “Cindy”), and they refused to sell one if it was going into a van, camper van, caravan, or anything that wasn’t a fixed location.


They are a significant piece of equipment that is not at all well suited to the confines of a van.


In regard to smell though, they would get a big tick because there’s no smell once you burn your poo - but for a whole bunch of reasons, they’re not ideal for use in camper vans so we won’t bring incineration toilets into the remainder of this article.

Laveo DryFlush toilets and why they are crushing it with van lifers and camper van owners


The newest type of camper van toilet on the market is the Laveo Dry Flush toilet. This is a fully electric toilet that takes an entirely different approach to portable toileting.


Powered by a rechargeable motorbike battery, these toilets utilise a patented mylar bagging system that uses fans, a vacuum, and a motor to hygienically wrap your waste moments after you hit the flush button.

There are no chemicals, no composting bricks or sprays to buy, no vents required (meaning you can move the toilet anywhere), and most importantly, there are no smells at all because the toilet automatically spins an airtight mylar bag around your waste four times before making a fresh bowl.


Of the 5 types of toilets, the Laveo Dry Flush toilet is hands down the best for containing smell in camper vans or any environment in fact.

Selection criteria # 2 - The gross factor of different toilet types for camper vans

Now that you’re well acquainted with the various types of toilets for camper vans, we can skip through these remaining 6 buying considerations fairly quickly.


Once you’ve assessed a toilet's ability to contain the smell, the next thing to think about is what we call “the gross factor” of dealing with the different types of portable toilets on the market.

This is very granular because it’s very important! Campervanning and off-roading should be a pleasurable experience but the fact is, we humans poop throughout our whole lives and it has to be dealt with.

If we don’t get a toilet solution that is at least bearable, we will soon come to hate what should otherwise be an awesome experience.

So let’s start with the bucket and bag solutions…

Pooing in a bucket (or a bag) is gross




There. We said it. If you don’t think it’s gross, I can almost guarantee you that not everyone else in your family thinks the same, and travel is usually a team sport!

This is not the dark ages!


Pooping into a plastic bag or an empty bucket and then carrying it around is NOT the most pleasant experience one can have in life and it is among the main reasons that those who hate off-roading take that position.


They just won’t do gross toileting!


What about chemical toilets? How gross are they?

Chemical toilets at least give you the temporary relief of flushing away your waste at least for a while.

But rest assured, there is a second coming with chemical toilets and that’s when the cassette is full!

Whether you draw straws or it always falls to one brave person, going to a public toilet or dumping point and then pouring your almost raw wee and poop down the hole is flat-out gross.

Of the two, at least if you get to a public toilet that’s connected to a sewer, you won’t have the stench of a thousand loads of human feces waiting for you, but it is still beyond horrible hearing, seeing and smelling your own chemical-curdled excrement slop into a toilet bowl.

Again, these moments can ruin what should otherwise be an enjoyable holiday!


Composting toilets - gross or not?

Aside from their compost smell, compost toilets are actually really good in regard to their gross factor. The composting process obfuscates the smell of your raw poo and you don’t really ever see your poop in its raw form either once you’ve cranked it through.


This gives composting toilets a good rating in this department, but they’re far from perfect because you do know that the composting material that you’ll later be handling is laced with your (and your friends and family's) poop. For most people though, that’s quite tolerable.


Laveo DryFlush toilets and “the gross factor”…


Here again, the DryFlush toilet wins by a country mile.

Why?


Simply put, once you hit the flush button you neither see nor smell your waste again - at all.


Once your bagging cartridge is empty (about 15 flushes), all you have to do is lift the seat of the toilet, grab the garbage bag in the base of the toilet (that will be holding 15 air-tight, smell-free parcels of waste), and then tie the bag off and drop it in a wheelie bin, just like you’d drop a sealed doggy bag in.

It is absolutely pain-free, smell-free, and dignified!

What about off-grid viability?


Bucket and bag toilets are absolutely great for off-grid viability. There’s no water required. No power is required. You really can take them anywhere. So they get a huge thumbs up here.


That being said, if you can’t easily dump the bags as you use them because there are no bins nearby, where do they go, and what happens if you don’t dump them for a while?


The answer is simple.


You stink out your camper van!


In our mind, if you’re prepared to poo in a bucket or a bag when you’re “out bush”, you’re better off just taking a shovel and digging a hole because at least that’s the last of it.

Just skip the bucket or bag toilet altogether!


So what about chemical toilets? How do they perform off-grid?

In our mind, chemical toilets are NOT suitable for off-grid use in camper vans.

In our mind, chemical camping toilets get a solid fail because you have to empty them either into a toilet that is connected to a town sewer or into a specialised dumping point like those found in caravan parks and near some large campsites. You can’t just dump them into a river, or on land.





For that reason, chemical toilets are not really suitable if you’re planning on going truly off-grid and into the wild. There just aren’t the necessary facilities in the middle of nowhere to responsibly dump your holding tank.

Composting toilets for off-grid use in camper vans


On this point, composting toilets do well. They require only a small amount of power to run their evacuation fan, and they don’t require any water.


Not only that, unlike chemical camping toilets, you don’t have to dump their contents into a toilet or dumping point.

So long as you’re not gone too long, you should be able to stay off-grid for a while.

The Laveo comes up trumps as the best off-grid camper van toilet


Once again, we rate the Laveo right up at the top of the current options with only a slight mark against its name because, like the composting toilet, it needs a little bit of power to operate effectively.

That being said, the Laveo only takes 1-hour to charge and it is good for over 300 flushes on that without any access to stored power. So if you flush 5 times a day, that’s 60 days that you could be off-grid without having to charge it.


Even then, it can be charged from a 12-volt charger or solar panel, or from a wall charger.


What about the bags you might ask? Well, that's the great thing about the Laveo...it seals the smell completely into the mylar bags so if you can't dispose of the used bags for a week, a month, or even longer, they won't stink your van out.


In our mind, it’s a full off-grid toilet solution.


#4 - Size, installation & maintenance of camper van toilets


There are really no bad options here other than the incineration toilet option which is far too bulky and large to use in a camper van. By the time you account for all the vents and fans and pipes in an incineration toilet, it’s too big, too complicated to install, and just not suitable. And that’s to say nothing of how much power they take to run!


Obviously, space is at a premium in camper vans, and you need to be mindful of how much space your toilet is taking.


Bag and bucket toilets are the winners in this regard because they’re often collapsable and therefore they take up almost no space. There’s also nothing to think about in relation to installation or maintenance.

Second would be the chemical toilets or the Laveo Dry Flush toilet because they are completely stand-alone and don’t require space for any vents and take nothing to install.

They are ready to go moments after you get them out of the box, but the chemical toilet does require a lot more cleaning - in fact, every time you empty the cassette, you have to thoroughly rinse it and that is a horrible job!


Third would be the composting toilets which are larger on account of the vents that are required which increase their overall footprint, and there are a few things to do before you can use it because you have to install a vent and secure the toilet inside of your van.

While not a major job for someone that is handy with basic tools, it can be daunting for those of us who are not so handy. Drills, screws, measuring, etc are all required.


Also worth thinking about is the fact that the composting toilet is the only one that has to be fixed in one location within the camper van because it has to be connected to the external vent to evacuate the smell.

All of the other toilets could be stored in one place, pulled out and used, and then stored back in that spot (which could be anywhere).

This could be particularly valuable when you want to take your toilet anywhere that isn’t in the van. For example, you might want to go camping or four-wheel-driving to somewhere that your camper van cannot go. In these situations, you could take your chemical or Laveo Dry Flush toilet with you and you still have a toilet.

All in all, in regard to size, installation, and maintenance, the Laveo Dry Flush wins again.


There is nothing to install.

There is nothing to clean or rinse.


You can move it anywhere and store it anywhere.

It’s the smallest of the toilets after the bucket and bag options, equal to the chemical toilets but with none of the maintenance drawbacks.


#5 - Price. What is the best value camper van toilet?


Last but not least, we need to address the price.

Naturally, if the price were no option, we would just go for the one that best suits our needs, but that’s not always possible.


That being said, having dealt with all of these toilets, I can honestly say that investing in the right toilet is easily one of the best investments one can make in their outdoor adventure setup.

So here’s the long and short of it…

Bucket and bag options are by far the cheapest and range in price from $20 - $60.


If you’re a rough and ready, “nothing disgusts me” type of person, then maybe that’s for you, and God bless you.


Next, chemical toilets range in price from around $100 for a basic toilet from Kings or Anaconda, up to about $700 for something fancy.


Next, you have your composting toilets which also have a broad range but upon closer inspection, there’s really only the Nature's Head or Air Head toilets that are suitable for use within a camper van because the others are designed for fixed locations like tiny homes, granny flats or off-grid houses. They have underground tanks and the whole shooting match.


A Nature Head retails for $2,250 on Amazon in Australia and an Air Head is only available from overseas at around the same price.

Both are very good composting toilets.

Next, you have the Cinderella or “Cindy” toilet which is the incinerator toilet. As discussed, this toilet really isn’t suitable for use in camps vans but they retail in Australia for $7,500.

Finally, you have the Laveo Dry Flush toilet which retails for $2,300 in Australia and New Zealand and is available on this website.

Summary

Naturally, as the exclusive distributors of Laveo Dry Flush toilets in Australia and New Zealand, we are biased in our writing here.

That being said, we strongly believe that in regard to functionality, versatility, convenience, and value, the Laveo is the best camper van toilet on the market today which is why we worked so hard and invested so much to bring these toilets to Australia and New Zealand.


We hope that you have enjoyed this article and we encourage you to share it if you’ve found value in it.

We went to a great deal of effort to really go into the finer points of camper van toilets and to acquaint you with many of the aspects of off-grid toilets that most websites and retail stores don’t cover with you.


We wish you all the very best with your off-road adventures!



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