Thousands of families go travelling every week in a caravan. The caravan and camper market is booming as many so many people are discovering the joys of exploring the country by road. One of the major benefits of travelling with a caravan is the ability to have a bathroom – no more public toilets! As someone who has done countless trips taking a child to the toilet only to have the other one decide they now need to go too, this is a big deal.
There are two main options for caravan toilets; A traditional cassette toilet, or a composting toilet. A cassette toilet breaks down all the waste in one tank using chemicals which are then emptied when full at a dump point. A composting toilet has two tanks, one for liquid and one for solid waste. The solid waste is composted using an agent such as peat moss or wood shavings. The liquid goes in another tank that needs to be periodically emptied.
So which should you choose for your van? Composting toilet or cassette toilet? Lets go over the design, functionality, benefits and drawbacks of both a composting vs cassette toilet to help you decide which would be better for you.
What is a cassette caravan toilet?
A cassette toilet is installed into your caravan bathroom as a permanent fixture. It looks similar to your house toilet with a flushing mechanism at the back and a regular (although usually more compact) toilet seat with lid. They are installed onto the outside wall of your caravan.
Cassette toilets work by flushing the waste, using your caravans water system, into a holding tank, or cassette. You put chemicals into the cassette which helps break down any solid waste and toilet paper into liquid form. Most cassette toilets have a flap between the cassette and toilet bowl which needs to be opened before use (and then closed after flushing) to keep any smells from coming back through the toilet.
The cassette part is accessed from outside your caravan through a hatch. When the cassette is full, you open the access hatch and remove the cassette to empty. Cassettes can be emptied into dump points, available at most caravan parks as well as some camping grounds and towns.
What is a composting caravan toilet?
Composting toilets aren’t permanently mounted. This is because they need to be removed to be emptied. They are usually attached to the caravan floor with brackets. They do look slightly different to a regular toilet as they don’t have a flushing mechanism, and they also have two tanks, one for liquid waste at the front and a separate one for solid waste, which is the bit that get composted.
For composting toilets to work correctly, you need to be sitting down – yes, you too men. This allows the liquid (pee) to go into the two holes at the front of the toilet and into the liquid tank. Solids then go directly into the composting tank by opening a flap. You only need to open the flap if you are going to poo, however even if you are not, it is still recommended to be sitting to allow the liquid into the correct tank and not the solids tank – this leads to smells.
The liquid tank needs to be emptied every few days and most people who have composting toilets in their caravan say that the limit is about 2 before you start to notice a smell. To empty the tank, you lift up the top part of the toilet, lift out the tank and then find somewhere to empty it.
The solid waste composting section is at the back directly below the toilet seat. This section doesn’t need to be emptied for up to 2-3 months depending on how much you use it. Most composting toilets come with a handle at the back that allows you to spin and mix the waste through the peat moss, and there is also an exhaust fan that allows air and oxygen to get into the mixture and dry it out, allowing it to compost quicker. This fan has a hose from the tank to the outside of the caravan and also needs a 12V power source.
To empty a composting toilet you need to remove the top toilet section, detach the exhaust hose and also detach it from the floor. You can then lift the bottom section out and use the compost or dispose of it. It can be used anywhere normal compost is used, although it is not recommended for fruits and vegetables, and may need to be composted further before use.
Benefits and drawbacks of a caravan cassette toilet
The benefit of a cassette toilet is that is works the same as a regular toilet. A lot of them these days even have a ceramic toilet bowl. The difference is that instead of going to the sewer after flushing, everything is held in a tank to be emptied. Another plus is that the cassette can be accessed easily from a hatch on the outside of the van and there is no dismantling of the toilet to empty it like there is in a composting toilet.
The system of emptying the toilet is simple. Once full (or even if not entirely full) find a dump point, remove the cassette from the side of the van and empty into the dump point. Most dump points have a hose you can use to help clean out any residual slurry. Then when empty and rinsed, connect it back into the toilet.
You do need to empty the cassette frequently. How frequently really does depend on how many people are using the toilet (and how often). A couple travelling is going to need to empty their cassette a lot less than a family of 5. This time frame between dump trips can be extended by having an extra cassette (or 2) with you. The cassette can also get quite heavy when full, although most have wheels and a handle for easy transport (and most dump points are on the ground).
The other drawback for some people is the use of chemicals that aid in the breakdown of waste into slurry that can be dumped. There are a lot of eco-friendlier versions of the chemicals coming out now. A good rule of thumb for anything you are going to purchase is to make sure that it can be used in a septic tank. Not all caravan parks and dump points are on a sewage system, especially if you are going more remote.
|Works like a traditional toilet
|Needs to be emptied frequently
|Access the tank from outside the caravan
|Cassette can get heavy
|Easy to clean
|Requires chemicals to break down waste
|Can carry extra cassettes for extra time between dumping
Benefits and drawbacks of a caravan composting toilet
The biggest benefit to a composting toilet in your caravan is the fact that they need no water. This is great if you are going off grid for a long time and won’t have access to a regular water source. You won’t be wasting precious water storage on flushing your toilet.
They are a much more eco-friendly version of the caravan toilet, not only not needing water, but no chemicals and the compost biodegrades rather than being put into a dump tank. However, the liquid tank needs to be emptied very frequently to prevent overflowing and smell. Because the waste is separated, each tank is smaller than most cassettes, which is not necessarily an issue, but something to be aware of when deciding.
One drawback is that needing to separate liquid and solids is a more complex system, and kids might struggle to get the hang of it, especially younger ones. Males also need to sit, even when only weeing, to ensure no liquid gets into the composting tank, and that can annoy a few.
Composting toilet don’t need the purchase of ongoing chemicals for the system to work, but you will need to have a composting agent such as peat moss in the solids tank to get everything started. However that purchase will most likely be much less frequent than the chemicals needed for a cassette toilet.
Emptying a composting toilet is also a bit more complicated than just pulling out a box from the side of your van. The liquid tank can be fairly simple to remove and empty, but to remove the solid composting tank, you do essentially have to pull apart the whole toilet which may be a hassle if you are tight on space.
|No water needed
|Liquid tank needs to be emptied frequently
|More expensive to initially purchase
|Composting tank doesn’t need emptying
for 2-3 months
|Needs a 12V power source for fan
|Eco friendly option
|Kids might struggle with operation
|Less ongoing cost
Other caravan toilet options
In Australia, the cassette toilet still reigns supreme, with the composting toilet becoming more popular, however there are a couple of other options.
Otherwise know as a port-a-potty, a portable toilet is a fantastic idea if your caravan or camper trailer (or any other camping setup) doesn’t come with a bathroom. Put on of these into your camper or a pop up ensuite tent and instant bathroom!
These are very similar to cassette toilets but are all built into one compact unit. There is a toilet and flushing part as the tope section and the waste tank in the bottom section. You will need to fill up the top tank with water to flush it, and the bottom tank with chemicals and a bit of water to start the breakdown process. When its full, just remove the bottom part and empty into a dump point just like a cassette.
They are lightweight, can be put anywhere and are reasonably affordable, costing a couple of hundred dollars. However they are small, so if there are a lot of people using it, be prepared to empty it frequently.
Black tank toilet
Not as popular in Australia, but very common in the USA is a black tank toilet. This is essentially the closest you’ll get to a toilet like the one you have at home. The waste gets flushed into a water tank mounted under your caravan called a black tank. These toilets can obviously go for much longer than a simple cassette toilet before needing to be emptied as the tank is so much bigger however they still need to be emptied into a dump point when the black tank is getting full. You do this buy attaching a waste hose from the tank to the dump point and let gravity do its job.
The upside is that you get to go much longer in between dump point visits however the downside is that you will be carrying a lot of weight with you in the black tank.
What toilet paper do I use in a caravan toilet?
No matter which caravan toilet you decide to go with, you will need to use toilet paper. With cassette toilets you can flush the toilet paper as you would normally do. With composting toilets, the toilet paper can go into the solid tank to compost, but may not compost as quickly. The best thing to do for both types of toilets is to look for toilet paper that will break down easily, but luckily for you this is usually the cheapest version in the supermarket. Forget the 27 ply soft as a flower toilet paper, go for cheap and thin, this will break down much more quickly.
If you really can’t do the thin stuff, another option is to have a bin next to the toilet and put toilet paper in there. Then you don’t have to worry if it is going to break down enough. Just remember to empty it every day or so to prevent smells.
You can get caravan toilet specific paper designed to break down, but that can get very expensive very quick.
Is a cassette or composting caravan toilet better?
One isn’t really better than the other. There is no clear ‘best toilet’. Whichever toilet you choose will do the job it’s designed to do – work as a toilet. What you need to figure out is which one is going to work the best for how you like to camp. Ask yourself a few questions.
- Do you want to go off-grid for a month without visiting a dump point?
- Do you have young children and need something easy to use?
- How much water do you have available?
- Do you want it to work like a traditional toilet?
- Do you want to be able to empty it from outside your van?
- How much space do you have?
Once you start thinking about how you are going to use your van and toilet, you can make a more clear decision about what would be the best for your situation. For example cassette toilets look better from inside the van (no urine tank at the front) but composting toilets use no water. Work out what’s important to you. Its all about your needs and which one will suit them more.