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As I have traveled around in my camper van, I have gotten a lot of usage out of my portable cassette toilet. It has been a good friend to me and has always been there when I needed it. I’m not one to settle for public options so having a toilet like this in my van when I travel makes a huge difference. It’s perfect for the small space that I have in my van.
These types of toilets are perfect for small-sized RVs and they give you the option of having a usable toilet anywhere you go. They tend to be popular with van lifers and those utilizing other small RVs. For the most part, they work great and offer many benefits for those who use them. However, there are some negatives to using these types of toilets that you may not have thought of.
First, a distinction needs to be made about what a cassette toilet is.
A cassette toilet is a fixed toilet in an RV that utilizes a “cassette” or waste tank in which the waste is stored in. To empty, you will usually access this cassette from outside of the RV via an access door. All the dirty work is done outside of the living area.
However, there are also portable toilets that utilize the same cassette type of waste tank. They work the same way and the only difference is the portability. I have always referred to these portable toilets as cassette toilets since they have the same functionality as the fixed type. This article will be mostly about these portable toilets rather than fixed ones but many of the pros and cons apply to both.
All of these are based on my own experience so your results may vary.
1) They Are Cheap
The best thing about a cassette toilet is that it is a cheap solution for being able to include a toilet in your RV or another camping setup. It can easily be stored anywhere and either used for a temporary situation or as a permanent solution. You can get a good cassette toilet for less than $100. When you compare this to alternative options, you will see yourself spending much less than you would otherwise.
In comparison, a good composting toilet will cost nearly $1000 and will also need to be installed with ventilation. A compostable option is going to be the better choice in the long run but if you are trying to save money, a cassette toilet will get the job done. There is nothing special to do with one of these units. You don’t need to vent it or set it up in a particular space. It can be moved from place to place as needed.
A toilet that is completely plumbed as you find in many larger RVs is usually not an option in a smaller RV. While these make great choices and will work almost identically to a home toilet, they are not a feasible solution for small camping enclosures. On the other hand, a can be used in any type of rig that you are traveling in.
I have used a cassette toilet in my van for the entire time that I have owned it and, for the price I paid for it, it has been a great solution.
2) They Are Small
The size of a cassette toilet allows it to be set up nearly anywhere. There are many different sizes depending on the brand and model you choose so the choice is yours. You aren’t limited to a large size that may not fit in your living space. Instead, you can choose the perfect one for your living space and one that will fit well in the space you have for it.
Of course, the smaller the toilet that you choose, the less comfortable it is likely to be. A full-sized model will give you the feeling of sitting on your home toilet. A smaller one will be easier to find a place for but may not be as comfortable as the larger one would be.
Whether you have a camper van, truck camper, travel trailer, or a tent, a cassette toilet can tag along and not use up a large amount of space.
3) Easy To Maintain
A cassette toilet is easy to maintain and only requires that you dump them regularly, clean them as you would your home toilet, and utilize deodorizing chemicals while in use. There are plenty of products on the market that make it a simple process when maintaining them.
I typically use Cassette Tank Cleaner from Thetford and water to rinse out my waste holding tank and regularly use deodorizing packets when the toilet is in use. It keeps the smells to a minimum and I can use it for a few days without dumping it.
4) Easy To Dump
When a cassette toilet is ready to be dumped, it’s just a matter of unscrewing the cap of the drain and dumping it into an approved dumping site. Each toilet is different but the Thetford cassette toilet that I own has a simple arm that unfolds, a screw cap that unscrews, and a button that you hold to increase airflow while dumping. You simply turn the toilet upside down and allow the waste to drain from the tank.
If you have used deodorizing products, there is usually not a smell other than the smell of the product unless you allow it to go too long between dumpings.
5) Easy To Hide
Whether you have a dedicated bathroom area or just a pull out drawer, a cassette toilet can hide away nicely in nearly any space. I have a dedicated space for mine in my van but many people hide them away when not in use. Since they are so compact, they can usually go in a cabinet or under a bed or seating area. When ready to use, you can easily take them out and set them up for use.
While you can find other options that may be easy to hide, it’d be hard to find such a solution that is so close to the standard toilets we are used to using. A Luggable Loo or a Cleanwaste GO Anywhere Toilet are also easy to hide but they don’t give you that toilet feel. They have more of a temporary feel to them. It’s nice to have a more substantial solution like a cassette toilet that is still small enough to hide away when not in use.
6) They Are Mobile
A cassette toilet can be removed from your RV and used anywhere else you please. If you happen to be going on a tent camping trip, just pull it out and put it in your vehicle. Now you have a portable toilet to use while out in the woods. These can have multiple uses and can also be used for children or in remote cabins or other areas where plumbing may not be available.
The beauty of a toilet like this is that it isn’t attached to anything. It need not be vented, plugged-in, or plumbed. It’s all self-contained and you can pick it up and go at a moment’s notice if needed. This makes it great for people who rent RVs. It’s nice to have your own little toilet that you can bring along. Whether you use the toilet provided in the rented RV or not, having a spare one that only you and your family have used is a nice bonus.
1) They Can Get Nasty if Not Maintained Properly
Although typically not a problem, a cassette toilet can get downright rank if you don’t tend to it very well. If you choose not to use deodorizing chemicals while using it for liquids and solids, you are in for a real treat. If you choose to use only water, it’s best to dump it daily as soon as possible after using it, especially if you allow solids into the waste holding tank. On the other hand, using chemicals will allow you to use it longer and not experience the horrible smells.
I use mine for liquids only so it hasn’t been an issue for me. The seals, when working correctly, keep the smells away from the living area. However, if you allow a cassette toilet to fill up too far and leave waste in it for too long, it could be a nasty experience when you finally do dump it.
2) They Can Be Awkward to Dump
Besides the smells, dumping the toilet may present some awkward situations. Many people dump these in public restrooms which can feel weird as you are carrying the toilet into the restroom with you. You may get some looks and people turning up their noses. It can be a constant search for a place to dump if you are not in a campground that has a dumping station.
It’s best to dump these at a dumpsite as you would any other RV. You can simply dump it down the sewage pipe at the campground and not have to worry about anything being awkward. However, if you are a boondocker or someone who doesn’t frequent campgrounds, you may have to be creative with your dumping techniques.
Whatever you do, don’t dump it out onto the ground! It’s best to find a suitable place to dump it using proper sewage rather than spread it onto the ground for others to walk over. It’s not sanitary and just plain rude!
3) Some Are Not Comfortable To Sit On
One of my biggest gripes about this type of toilet has been how uncomfortable the seat is. I usually don’t spend much time on it but if you sit on it, you will instantly notice the difference between it and a standard home toilet seat. Some models do have a full-sized seat but the small model I have does not.
The seat on my Thetford 365 is not a full-sized one and can be quite uncomfortable after a few minutes. Consider this as you shop for one.
4) Seals and Parts Wear out
While cheap, a cassette toilet is just a plastic box that has a couple of different compartments; one for freshwater, one for wastewater. They also have moving parts that allow you to pump water and flush. My Thetford 365 lasted a little over a year before the lip seal needed to be replaced.
After a year of minimal use, the lip seal on mine began to leak so the freshwater bowl would no longer hold water. The seal had shriveled up and become useless.
As you can see from the picture above, the seal in my toilet is completely shriveled and will not hold water in the bowl. This makes it useless for containing water the way it should and then allowing you to flush that water into the waste tank when finished.
It also provides no seal from the wastewater contained in the bottom of the toilet. I am currently in the process of replacing this seal in hopes of making it brand new again. This happened to my toilet with minimal usage and it being kept in my house when not in use. It has always been kept in a temperature-controlled environment and always cleaned properly before storage.
Perhaps I just got a dud or maybe I did something wrong. I always used approved chemicals so not sure what happened. Whatever the case, parts wear out on these types of toilets and will need to be addressed.
Best Portable Cassette Toilets for Van or RV
Luxury Option – Thetford 565e
The Thetford 565e is the King of all the Porta Potti models of cassette toilets made by Thetford. This toilet provides you with a standard-sized seat that has the same look and feel as what you may be used to in your home bathroom. It is also a similar height so it will feel as though you are sitting on your throne at home. This toilet is also the most expensive version of the Porta Potti models.
Features of this toilet include:
- Electric flush
- Holds 4.5 gallons of freshwater, 5.5 gallons of wastewater
- Integrated toilet paper holder
- Waste tank level meter to keep you from overflowing
- Comfortable seat with a height of 17.6 inches which is about an inch taller than my toilet in my home bathroom
- Battery-powered electric flush
Space Saving Option – Thetford 365
The Thetford 365 is a bit smaller than the 565e mentioned above. Although it contains the same size as the wastewater holding tank at 5.5 gallons, the freshwater tank only holds 4 gallons. It is also smaller in size and the small footprint of this option is why I chose it for my van. It sits perfectly in the location that I built for it. The only problem with this model is that the seat is not as comfortable.
Features of this toilet include:
- Comfortable height of 16 inches which is nearly exactly the height of my home toilet
- Water level indicator for the wastewater tank
- Piston pump flush which makes it easy to flush the toilet with good pressure
- No electric parts – great for those who prefer manual operation
Budget Option – Camco Travel Toilet
The Camco Premium Portable Travel Toilet provides a usable toilet that is small and has minimal features with less holding capacity. If you have a small space, this will work well but the best thing about this toilet is that it will be lower in price than the other ones mentioned above. If you are looking to add a cassette toilet to your camper, this one will allow you to do it without breaking the bank.
Features of this toilet include:
- Comfortable seat height at 16 inches high
- 2.6-gallon holding tank which isn’t as big as the ones mentioned above but big enough for most people’s usage.
- Lower cost than the toilets above
I have gotten a lot of usage out of my cassette toilet and it has been a great addition to my van. These types of toilets come in handy for situations where you need something small. Small RVs and those utilizing tents in more primitive settings will be happy with this type of toilet. For the most part, the benefits outweigh the negative aspects of them but as you have seen from above there are some things that you should watch out for and know before deciding on purchasing one.
No matter what toilet you have, there are always going to be cons associated with it. Mobile toilets do not offer the same out-of-sight and out-of-mind feature that our home plumbing does. These are often disgusting and messy to deal with.
A cassette toilet makes the job as easy as possible and as clean as possible. They only hold a small amount of waste so it forces you to dump them often. While this may be inconvenient, it ensures that it will not reach a level that is hard to manage.
If you are on the fence about using a cassette toilet, know that these toilets work great for what they are intended for. Just keep them clean, dump them often and you shouldn’t have any problems at all other than the occasional part that goes bad, as I have had.