For those embracing the van life or just spending a lot of time in their van, one of its greatest tests is managing without a 'normal' toilet - making it essential to get creative when nature calls!
There's a widespread debate throughout the adventure van community — do you install/have a portable cassette toilet in your vehicle or not? For those who aren't in their van full-time, it's not impossible to get by without one. But for those who look forward to long trips in their van, it soon becomes apparent that having that option to go to the bathroom is a total lifesaver.
We understand if even thinking about the prospect of dealing with a toilet is giving you a headache. Having an extra "thing" to deal with is not fun. However, when you're faced with certain situations, like going outside in below-freezing temperatures when you're parked at the local ski hill, the troubles that come with finding the right portable cassette toilet and maintaining it become well worth it.
Deciding to add a portable toilet in your adventure van doesn't have to trigger fear - we've got you covered! With this article, it's easy to make the right decision. We'll break down all the must-knows about toilet considerations and top models for cassette toilets—and some helpful tips & tricks too.
What Is a Cassette Toilet?
Below, you’ll find answers to many things you may be wondering about portable cassette toilets, such as what they are, how they function, and why you might want one with you on the road.
The way that van toilets traditionally work is that the waste is directed to a black tank that is located underneath the coach. When the black water tank has reached its capacity, it must be emptied at an authorized dump station. The system is relatively basic, and it allows you to use the portable toilet in the same manner you would a regular toilet.
Although this is the typical practice for handling waste, it does come with multiple disadvantages:
- For these toilets to work, they need to have a constant water supply. Flushing will not work without one, which can be problematic in certain areas while boondocking (camping without the standard amenities that you’d find at a campground or RV park).
- Traditional portable toilets are often hard to clean and maintain — because the tank is enclosed, storage of detachable sewer hoses is required.
- Fitted toilet options take up a lot of real estate in your vehicle. They’re not often ideal for vans and smaller truck campers.
For these reasons, a portable cassette toilet can be a better option for many adventurers who want to rely on something other than public restrooms.
Also referred to as cartridge toilets, cassette toilets are partial or fully-portable toilets designed for adventure van use. They are small in size, more compact than traditional van toilets, and store their waste inside of a “cassette,” which is a removable compartment that is emptied at dump stations or public restrooms when needed.
Cassette toilets require water for flushing, although most models operate on very little. The installation process is also much easier than traditional toilets, which need to be installed by a special technician. You can fit a portable cassette toilet into a van yourself.
Advantages of Cassette Toilets
The main advantages of cassette toilets are:
- They are light and take up very little space in your vehicle.
- They can be emptied in a regular toilet.
- You don’t need to rely on finding and parking at a dump station.
- Cassette toilets are usually cheaper than portable composting toilets.
- Maintenance and cleaning are relatively easy — this will help to keep an on-the-go bathroom in great condition.
- No separate holding tanks — all the functionality is contained within the unit.
- Because of their design, waste will not cross paths with any living areas.
How Does a Cassette Toilet Work?
If you’re at all familiar with any other type of portable chemical toilet, cassette toilets work in generally the same way. There are two tanks: an upper tank filled with water and a lower tank containing chemicals. When it is flushed with clean water, waste enters the lower tank, and the chemicals begin to break it down.
The cassette is then emptied from either an internal access door or an external hatch. Most of the waste tanks are equipped with wheels and/or handles to help with the emptying process.
What’s the Difference Between Cassette Toilets and Portable Camping Toilets?
With these two types of toilets, you use them in the same way, they both store waste in a tank, and they are emptied in pretty much the same way.
Another difference comes from how the waste tank is accessed. For camping toilets, the top section must be removed to empty the waste tank. This is not the case for cassette toilets — their tank can be emptied without doing anything to the top section. This is where the internal access doors and external hatches (ala Winnebago Revel) mentioned above come into play.
How Do You Dump Out a Cassette Toilet?
Although each model will vary slightly, these are the main steps for how to remove waste from a cassette toilet:
- Check to confirm that the bowl is empty and that the valve blade handle is closed.
- Pull out the tank from either your internal access door or external hatch.
- Transport the tank (either by carrying it or rolling it on its wheels) to the closest restroom or dump station.
- Expose the spout on the tank. Lift the tank up over the dump hole or standard toilet and point the spout down. Press the vent button and then wait until it has fully emptied.
- Rinse out the tank by pouring some water into it and emptying it again. Repeat this process until the draining liquid is clear.
Does It Smell Bad?
If you use them as intended and clean and empty them regularly, you should have no issues with the smell. The chemicals you add to the waste tank will break down the organic matter and eliminate the smell.
Not following these general cleanliness guidelines can lead to a very unpleasant smell in your van.
Can You Go #1 and #2 in It?
Many recommend only using them for going #1 — going #2 should be reserved for emergencies only, and the tank should be dumped shortly after. Do your best to save those situations for public restrooms and standard toilets wherever you can find them.
How To Use a Cassette Toilet
Using a cassette toilet is virtually the same as using a regular toilet — there is a seat and a bowl where the waste goes. The major difference is just the size of the seat: It’s likely smaller on a cassette toilet. Then, depending on the model, you either press a flush button or manually flush it by pulling a handle.
What Features Should I Look for in a Cassette Toilet?
Not all cassette toilets are exactly the same, here’s what we think are the most critical factors to look out for:
Overall Size of the Toilet
Although cassette toilets are smaller than regular toilets, they do come in different sizes. Make sure the weight, the waste tank capacity, and the dimensions of the unit will fit with your van and will suit your personal needs.
If the cassette toilets are on the bigger side of the spectrum, wheels and/or handles will make them more maneuverable.
The Size of the Holding Tank
The tanks within cassette toilets are much smaller than those found with traditional van toilet systems. Many tanks are about five gallons; look for models with more or less capacity from there, depending on how many people will be using it.
Flush Type and Nozzles
Cassette toilets will have either a manual pump flush or a battery-powered flush. The battery option will require you to charge it. The manual option will require a little extra work when it’s in use.
There’s typically only one flushing nozzle, but some models come with two or three. In general, more nozzles result in a cleaner bowl. The freshwater can reach more of the toilet’s inner surface, cleaning away more waste in one flush.
It really comes in handy if a specific model has a good fill indicator, which lets you know when the tank has reached capacity. This will help you to stay on top of emptying and cleaning the cassette toilet and also help you to avoid any unwanted messes.
Carry Handles and Emptying Spouts
Anything that will make it more comfortable to carry and empty the waste tank is very valuable in a cassette toilet model. It’s not usually a pleasant experience, so having a good handle, wheels, and an easy-pour spout is super helpful.
5 Best Cassette Toilets for Your Van
Here are our picks for the five best cassette toilets for your adventure van.
Thetford Porta Potti 565e
This portable toilet is a wonderful option for all van dwellers. The sleek and modern design will fit in your van nicely, and the comfortable seat height makes it easy to use. The holding tank can hold 5.5 gallons, and it comes with a kit to hold it down so it won’t splash around when you hit a bump on the road.
If you are looking for an option that is easy to use and clean, is odor-proof and leak-proof, and has a handy, battery-powered flush, this is the choice for you!
SereneLife Outdoor Portable Cassette Toilet
This cassette toilet is an incredibly portable option, coming with a carrying case that easily holds it. Once compacted, this option will easily fit in the trunk of your car.
With a capacity of up to 120 flushes, the 5.3-gallon tank saves you from frequent water changes.
The polyethylene is easy to clean, leak-proof, and corrosions-resistant, meaning it will last through countless camping trips. Additionally, the rotating emptying spout and double-sealed drain will keep it odorless and prevent any spills.
Dometic Portable Toilet
- If you want an incredibly small, compact option for a portable toilet, choose Dometic. Although the holding tank only holds 2.6 gallons, the small size is convenient for on-the-go camping trips. Additionally, the tank level indicator will allow for easy tank level monitoring.
- The smooth design makes it easy to carry, and the high-quality construction will withstand harsh environments.
- Lastly, the powerful touch button for flushing conveniently doesn’t require pumping or batteries.
Thetford Porta Potti 365
- This portable cassette toilet has a no-frills design that is built for comfort, with a high seat height and sleek design.
- The piston flush is easy to use; the ergonomic handle makes it easy to transport.
- Lastly, if you are worried about making a mess, this option features a rotating pour-out spout that makes the process sanitary, mess-free, and convenient.
Earthtec ETEC Portable Cassette Toilet
This sturdy yet lightweight cassette toilet is made from nanotechnology polymer, which makes the surface non-stick for extra sanitation. The tank can hold up to five gallons, and the design of this toilet keeps odors trapped inside.
The featured rotating pour spout makes for easy clean-up and a splash-proof experience while changing the tank.
For a high-capacity option that isn’t too heavy to carry with you, choose the Earthtec ETEC cassette toilet.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Cassette Toilet
Here are some of our top tips for cassette toilet users:
Perform a Leak Test
Double-check that there are no leaks in the toilet by doing a test run outside the van. There’s nothing worse than embarking on an exciting, long road trip, only to discover soon after that you’ve got a faulty toilet.
Practice Makes Perfect
Knowing exactly how your model works — like how the waste tank separates from the unit and how the release valve works — before you have to do the process for real. It will make your time at a dump station much smoother.
Set Some Ground Rules
Make sure that your travel party has agreed on the rules for the toilet — we recommend, especially for larger groups, that #2 be saved for public restrooms. If the toilet is only used for #1, you’re likely to encounter no problems.
Throw Away Toilet Paper
To save space in the waste tank and to make the cleaning process easier — consider designating a trash bag or bin for toilet paper. It’s not pleasant to deal with rogue pieces of TP when you’re trying to dump the tank. If toilet paper must be flushed, single-ply tends to prove less disruptive.
Secure the Lid
Securing the lid on the toilet will help to combat any odors that may be coming from the unit.
Use Anti-Odor Tablets
Anti-odor tablets and other air-freshening products can also help in the fight against any unwanted smells in your van.
We’d all love to be able to live the van life without having to worry about bathroom needs. Still, it’s ultimately out of our control and something that just comes with the territory.
Fortunately, there are many good products out there on the market today to help us live a little more comfortably on the road. Although there is a little bit of a learning curve with cassette toilets, and they’re not completely flawless, they’re a great and affordable option for many weekend warriors.
There are a lot of models to choose from, but you can use this guide as a starting point to find a cassette toilet that will best fit your adventure vehicle and will best suit your adventuring needs.
And, if you are in need of any other van essentials, rely on the high-quality collection of Flatline Van Co. accessories.