Everything You Need to Know About Composting Toilets

By: Scott Adamson
/ February 3, 2023
Composting toilets are quickly becoming one of the more popular choices for van conversions.

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 Toilet 101

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.

How do composting toilets work?

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.

How to install a composting toilet in your van

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.

Benefits of using a composting toilet

1. Save Water

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.

2. Easy to dump

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.

The downsides of composting toilets

Like anything, there are a few downsides to having a composting toilet.

1. Power

Composting toilets will typically draw a bit of 12v power for ventilation.

2. Space

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)

3. Expensive

Composting toilets are one of the more expensive solutions if you’re looking to add a toilet to your van.

Cuddy – Compo Closet

Composting Toilet FAQs

Do composting toilets smell?

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.

Do I need to empty my composting toilet?

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…

Where can I empty my composting toilet?

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.

Can I throw food scraps in my composting toilet?

This isn’t recommended as it can attract insects.

Can I use my composting toilet waste in my garden?

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.

Cuddy – Compo Closet

Best Composting Toilets For Vanlife

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.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

Best Overall 

Price: $1,030.00

  • Weight: 28 Pounds
  • Dimensions: 20.98 x 19.02 x 20.98 inches
  • Capacity: 6.5 gallons (solid tank), 2.2 gallons (urine tank)

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. 


  • Easy to clean
  • Durable
  • Good waste capacity 
  • Cheaper than Air Head
  • Firm on bumpy tracks 
  • 5-year warranty 


  • Users have complained about the uncomfortable seat
  • If the solid tank is too full, waste can be hard to crank 
  • You can see through the urine container, which can be awkward to carry in public

Buy Now

Air Head Composting Toilet

Best Design

Price: $1,095.00

  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Dimensions: 18.9 x 15.35 x 20.08 inches
  • Capacity: 5 gallons 9solid tank), 1 or 2 gallons (urine tank) 

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. 


  • Extremely comfortable, residential-style toilet seat with rubber seal
  • Compact design, smaller than Nature’s head 
  • It has handles on the side, making emptying easier
  • Opaque urine container 
  • Great ventilation system
  • 5-year warranty 


  • Temperature-dependent: can lose function in extremely cold or humid conditions
  • The fan can get a little noisy 

Buy Now

Cuddy Composting Toilet

Most Compact

Price: $720 

  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Dimensions: 16.3 x 15.1 x 16.8in
  • Capacity: 4.8-gallon (solids tank), 1.8-gallon (urine container)

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? 


  • Compact and truly portable 
  • LED indicator to signal when the urine tank is full
  • Cheaper than the other 2 options on this list 
  • Comes with an internal fan


  • Manufacturers are still experimenting with it
  • Fewer reviews available on the internet 

Buy Now


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.

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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