Personally, I chose to install a plumbed RV toilet in my first van, and a portable cassette toilet in my second van as I wasn’t quite ready to make the transition from a plumbed water solution.
However! During my research, I couldn’t help but notice that the composting toilet is becoming more and more popular in the vanlife community.
To help you make the best decision for your van conversion, I’ve pulled together my findings on why composting toilets are becoming all the rage.
Composting toilets do not require water, a plumbing system, or the need for a black water tank.
As the name suggests, this toilet works by composting human waste, rather than using water and plumbing to flush it away into a holding tank. It’s an entirely organic alternative to other toilets, which is why they’re so popular.
In short, waste drops down into the lower tank area. When you “flush” (i.e. turn the crank), a trapdoor will open and drop what’s in the bowl to where it will turn into compost. Most composting toilets are designed to separate liquids and solids into 2 different tanks as a way to combat odor.
With the help of bulking materials such as peat moss, sawdust, or coco coir, the solids will break down. By the time you empty the tank, the solids will likely (hopefully) resemble dirt.
Typically, you will need to fix the toilet to your floor and hook it up to a 12v power source and run the ventilation hose to the outside of your van.
Campervans can only carry so much water. In fact, water levels are a constant concern for those traveling in their van for long periods of time. So the idea of not having to worry about water when it comes to your toilet is appealing to many.
Having to dump your waste is a chore you will just need to get used to. However, handling a tank of composted dirt isn’t as horrible as some of the other solutions.
Like anything, there are a few downsides to having a composting toilet.
Composting toilets will typically draw a bit of 12v power for ventilation.
A lot of the toilets on the market right now are large and bulky. (Compo Closet seem to have made it their mission to solve this problem)
Composting toilets are one of the more expensive solutions if you’re looking to add a toilet to your van.
According to all the composting toilet retailers, no… never…
But after talking with some fellow vanlifers who have experience using them? Yes, sometimes.
If you don’t empty the containers frequently enough, or if your liquids accidentally mix with your solids, you will certainly experience some odors.
Just like chemical toilets, composting toilets also need to be emptied frequently. In theory, it should be much less unpleasant since the solids should resemble dirt.
In terms of frequency, this really depends on how many people are using it and how often…
Solids from composting toilets can be put in a biodegradable bag and disposed of in a regular garbage bin.
Liquids from composting toilets can be poured down a regular toilet.
This isn’t recommended as it can attract insects.
In general, the waste will not likely be fully composted by the time you need to empty the tank and will need to be thrown in the garbage instead of the garden since it will still be full of bacteria.
Composting toilets begin the composting process and help reduce the volume of waste. However, the material needs more time to kill off any bacteria and parasites. You wouldn’t want to use it in your garden until it has fully finished composting, and this process can take several months.
You’ll notice there are quite a few composting toilet options available on the market. I’ve curated a list of the 3 most popular composting toilets for vanlife, known for their ease of use and stellar customer reviews.
The Nature’s Head self-contained composting toilet is one of the top-rated options in the market. This toilet has a stellar waste capacity which means it doesn’t need emptying very often. To give a rough estimate, you can use it 90-100 times before there’s a need to empty the solid tank.
Cleanup is also fairly easy, requiring just toilet paper and a spray bottle of vinegar.
Although on the pricier side, it’s not as expensive as other options widely available. It comes with a 5-year warranty and super responsive customer service.
Weighing in at 28 pounds, it’s fairly heavy but is certainly not the heaviest composting toilet on the market.
Nature’s head composting toilet is built using stainless steel hardware. So, if you travel on rough terrain often, be sure that the toilet is gonna remain firm, making it easy to use on bumpy tracks.
The toilet is mainly available in 2 different types. The main difference between the 2 types is the crank handles. One comes with a spider crank handle (a preferred option for vanlifers), and the other comes with a standard handle.
The highly compact design and ease of use make this product another customer favorite. This toilet comes with a small, low-powered electrical fan that helps dry the waste out and compost it. The fan draws 1.44 amp hours per 24 hours.
Although some might consider the capacity of this toilet a little on the lower side, especially when you compare it to Nature’s head composting toilet, it’s important to note that this toilet also weighs less.
It comes with handles on the side that makes the process of emptying the waste easy. You just need to crank a few times, and the job is well done!
It also comes with two liquid bottle size options: 2 gallons and 1 gallon.
The Air head’s composting toilet is built using stainless steel, so it remains firm and doesn’t move even if you’re traveling on bumpy roads.
The company basically offers all components you need to use the toilet, which includes a vent hose, a 12 Volts inverter cable, a power adapter, a 12 Volts outlet adapter, a toilet seat and a spider-style stirring handle.
All in all, this toilet is an ideal option for vanlifers who want a decent-capacity toilet that isn’t very heavy.
The Cuddy composting toilet is specifically made for vanlifers. It’s relatively much smaller than the Nature’s head and Airhead composting toilets. However, that doesn’t come at a very high difference in capacity, which is why this composting toilet is so popular.
It comes with an internal carbon filter which functions very efficiently when it comes to odor stoppage. The smart LED function lets you know when it’s time to empty the liquids.
The two-sided handle design makes this toilet super easy to carry around. It has an internal fan as well (amperage: 1-1.5w).
If you travel around in your van alone, you can expect to use the toilet for about 25-30 days without needing to empty it…awesome, isn’t it?
Composting toilets are a great option for vanlife, especially if eco-friendliness is at the top of your priority list. Just keep in mind that they are currently the most expensive toilet option for your van and do require frequent dumping.
The top composting toilets for vanlife are: Cuddy, Nature’s Head, and AirHead.
Are you on the hunt for the best portable toilet for your campervan? Thankfully there are many campervan toilet options for every budget.
Thinking of building a bathroom in your self-converted van? Read this first!
Did you know using a cassette toilet can eliminate the need for a larger black water tank or any RV plumbing? Read on to learn why cassette toilets are a good option for vanlife.