If you are a full-time traveler and hang out with other full-timers, all conversations eventually lead to poop. It’s true. Today on the blog, I will be talking all about our portable toilet. These are the toilet topics I will be covering:

    • What Toilet Do We Own
    • How It Works
    • How We Make the Toilet Work for a Family of 5
    • How To Maintain the Toilet for Long-Term Use
    • Does It Smell
    • Privacy Issues
    • Conclusion

Vanlife with Kids

What Toilet Do We Own

Even though we don’t have a proper bathroom in our self-built Sprinter van, we do have a toilet in our van. Actually, we have two. We kept our cat’s litter box next to our toilet which sits in a cabinet under our fridge. After she passed away, we had an empty spot so we filled it with a second toilet which now allows us to wild camp/boondock longer. The type of toilet we have is a Dometic 301097606 Portable Toilet. Each toilet holds 5 gallons of black water. When we need to use it during the day, we pull it out from the cabinet into our little hallway and put it away when done. During the night, we leave it out to make things easier.

How It Works

The top part is a combined flush-water tank and toilet bowl with a detachable seat and cover.  The bottom part is the waste holding (black) tank. To use the toilet, you fill the bowl with water using the flush-water tank, do your business and then flush by using the pull-out handle and have your waste enter the black tank. When you need to empty the black tank, the top and bottom parts of the toilet detach from each other. This allows you to carry the bottom part via a handle and empty it at a proper discharge location, like at a campground waste station.

Since we do international travel, waste stations are sometimes difficult to come by so in those situations having a portable toilet is super handy because it allows for us to empty it down a normal toilet or into a stand-alone porta-potty if we don’t have dump station options. AND that is an option for us because we DO NOT add any chemicals to our toilet. More on that below.

How We Make the Toilet Work for a Family of 5

Our top priority for our toilet, besides the obvious reason, is to get as much use out of it time-wise as possible. When we are out of range wild camping (boondocking), we can stock up on food and water for a week easily but our weakest link is our toilet. If it fills up, we have to leave our camp spot right away. So to help with that, we use our toilet a little differently than what it recommended. (These tips are in addition to having the boys pee outside when appropriate. The girls need a little more convincing to do so.)

Chemicals

In order to keep your toilet smelling fresh, you need to add chemicals to it. Chemicals require water in the waste tank for it to work properly and if we add water to an empty tank for the chemicals, it makes our toilet last us less time. So, we don’t add any chemicals and that makes emptying our toilet into other toilets connected to a regular sewer system an option for us. You do NOT want to empty a chemical toilet into anything but a dump station that can handle chemicals.

Flush-water tank

We don’t utilize the flush-water tank for two reasons. First, it makes the toilet top-heavy and more difficult to move from our cabinet onto the floor. Second, it is to save space in the black tank as well. When we have to pee, we pee in a toilet and flush it without adding additional water. When we have to poop, we pour water into the toilet bowl from the water we have onboard, do our business, and add additional water if needed to help flush.

Toilet Paper

All RV toilets require you use easy dissolvable toilet paper which is usually a one-ply. If we really want to save space in our toilet tank, we could put our used paper into a trash bag instead of the bowl. I’ve also heard of some people, lining the bowl with toilet paper in a flower-like pattern and then flushing without any water. We haven’t tried this method yet but it sounds interesting.

Extreme Situations

We have found ourselves in extreme situations where emptying our toilet is impossible and peeing outside is also. This happened to us at a locked-down border while we were in Morocco. So to save space in our toilet, we had the boys pee in special pee bottles. The girls pee’d in a separate plastic bowl we placed into the toilet bowl. We then poured it into the boys’ pee bottle. That pee bottle was then deposited into a sewer drain. And if things get more extreme, we could have lined the toilet bowl with a plastic bag to poop in but we never got to that point.

Peloponnese, Greece blog 1

How To Maintain the Toilet for Long-Term Use

If you use your toilet full-time or want to keep it in tip-top shape, you need to take care of the seals. There will be hard water build-up in your toilet from all the different types of water you use to flush it. You need to make sure it does not build up too much. If it does, it will push on your seal and change its shape. And then when you clean the hard water deposit, the seal will be deformed and not make a tight seal. So, to prevent this issue, make it a habit to clean the hard water deposit and lubricate your seals. To maintain those seals, we lubricate them with petroleum jelly. It’s going to be a little gross so put on your disposable gloves and get it done. We also lubricate the seal on the flush handle as well.

Does It Smell

If the toilet is newish, no it doesn’t smell. After some months of use, the toilet does start to smell for us but it is our fault. In order to keep your toilet smelling fresh, you need to add chemicals to it. Chemicals require water in the waste tank for it to work properly and if we add water to an empty tank for the chemicals, it makes our toilet last us less time.

When the toilet lid is closed, it does not smell at all. It only smells when the lid is open. To minimize the smell when the lid is open, we clean the bowl regularly and use a spray bottle with vinegar or soapy water.

Privacy Issues

Because we don’t have a dedicated bathroom in our van, we take care of our business in the middle of the floor. It was a little bit of an adjustment to use a portable toilet in this manner but we got over it pretty quickly. If someone needs to poop, the rest of us exit the van for some private time. If for some reason we can’t go outside, we crank on the roof fans to help with the smell. Once you open the sliding van door, it airs out pretty quickly. It ends up being not a big deal. Just part of living in a small space.

Conclusion

When we started living on the road in 2008, we had an Airstream trailer with a separate bathroom. Then when we decided to down-size even further, we had to give up having a bathroom in order for our family of five to do so. Was it a good choice? Yes! It allowed us to travel further and easier to so many new places that were previously out of reach.

We dig a little deeper into using a portable toilet in this video as well.

Hope this helps some of you and let us know if you have any questions 🙂


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