Everything You Need to Know About Portable Toilets

So, you are off camping in an area where you’re not sure whether there are public or pit toilets. If you’re unlucky, then you will have to either empty the bowels in the bushes or drive to the nearest public toilets (which might be kilometers away depending on your campsite). Having your own toilet is a lifesaver in these situations

There are several portable toilets available in the market like the Nature Bio-Toilet, Porta Potty, and the built-in cassette toilet in some RV models. Chemical agents can also help to clean and remove odour.

So, are you ready to learn more? Read on to find out more about portable toilets and how they will help in your camping trips.

Should I Use Portable Toilets?

Yes, you should because of the added convenience. Portable toilets come in various shapes and sizes as well as tank holding capacities. It can also be easily concealed under the bed of a caravan or travel trailer. However, you need to measure the space or hatch before you go shopping so that it will fit. Another thing to bear in mind when choosing is the waste or holding tank section can be quite heavy when full and you may need to carry it some distance to empty it. If you want to be spared from the effort, look for one that has a permanently mounted pouring spout and a push-button air release valve. This makes it easier for you to clean the tank.

What Is an Internal Cassette Toilet?

The toilet consists of two parts: a permanently installed toilet seat and a waste cassette tank that you can access and easily remove from the outside hatch. The various models, with either rotating or fixed toilet bowls, blend in seamlessly with your bathroom, making the best use of the limited space.

To prepare the toilet for use, you simply add the toilet fluid and water mix to the cassette waste tank. The flush water tank also requires filling although there are models that draw the flush water from the RV’s main water tank supply.

The timing of emptying the toilet cassette varies due to the capacity/size of the cassette and the amount of usage. Toilet cassette sizes range from 17 L to around 20 L and can be quite heavy to lift when full of waste, so we recommend obtaining a toilet cassette with wheels for easy transportation from your RV to the Dump-Ezy black water waste dump.

What Is A Porta Potty?

Want to take a porta potty camping? Because these toilets are compact, lightweight and easy to use, the porta potty is often used to take camping, in caravans, motorhomes, boats and camper trailers. The porta potty is simple to transport and really can be placed anywhere. It is small enough to pull out from under your caravan bed and slides neatly away again when not in use.

How Do Porta Potties Work?

A flushing portable toilet consists of two sections: 

  • the upper section is a combined flush water tank and toilet bowl with detachable seat and cover; 
  • the lower section is the waste holding tank. 

These two parts are easy to attach and detach using a lever at the rear of the toilet. In this way, the waste holding tank can be simply and hygienically emptied and cleaned. Most porta potty type toilets are equipped with a level indicator. In this way, you are warned in good time that the waste holding tank must be emptied.

What Kind of Porta Potty Should I Get?

Some of our favorite brands include:

  • Thetford Electra Magic Recirculating Toilet;
  • Thetford 465E Portable Toilet; 
  • Thetford 585 Electric Porta Potty;
  • SeaLand’s SaniPottie;
  • Coleman Portable Toilet;
  • Fiamma Bi-Pots, Century Portable Toilet;
  •  Dometic Sani Porty;
  • Visa Potty;
  • Companion Eziloo; and
  • Primus Deluxe Portable Loo.

There are portable toilets such as Nature Bio-Toilet that comprise simply of a seat, with legs, from which hangs a plastic bag to collect the waste. Aside from these, some also need the pail or drum to flush. The Hassock Portable Toilet and Coleman Non-Flush Portable Toilet come with a bucket which you remove to dispose of the waste.

Portable toilets for camping are available from RV outlets, camping stores, online camping distributors, and eBay.

Do I Need to Use Special Toilet Paper in A Cassette Toilet?

You need to do a simple test first. Place a couple of sheets of the paper you wish to test in a screw-top jar half filled with water. Replace the lid and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. If the paper seems to fall apart then it is suitable for your portable toilet. You can also use fast dissolving and clog resistant biodegradable toilet paper which is available for RV and Marine portable toilets.

How Do I Get Rid of The Toilet Waste?

If you need to defecate in the bush or bury toilet waste, you should do so at least 100 m away from creeks, lakes, walking tracks and campsites. The hole should be at least 15 cm (6 inches) deep or more. There is a human bacterial parasite, Giardia lamblia, that can live in mountain streams contaminated by faecal waste. G. lamblia can cause chronic diarrhoea and other conditions, so please bury well away from any waterway.

Believe it or not, Dr. Kerry Bridle has done a study of the breakdown of ‘poo’ buried near walking trails in the state of Tasmania. Her studies showed it takes longer for the faeces to break down in colder climates and it broke down more efficiently where urine had been mixed in. Her studies showed toilet paper had not broken down even after 12 months so, if possible, any toilet paper should be burnt. For the ladies, tampons should be taken out with you as they don’t decompose easily.

Can I Empty My Porta Potty/Cassette Toilet in Septic Toilets?

Before disposing of the toilet waste ensure the chemicals you have used can be deposited in septic toilets, recirculating toilets and holding tank models. Read the label on the product carefully.

What Chemicals Should I Use for My Porta Potty/Portable Toilet?

There are many things to consider when assessing many of the different chemicals available for your portable toilet. Does it:

  • suppress unpleasant smells;
  • promote the breakdown of solids and toilet paper;
  • protect moving parts and extend the life span of your portable toilet/porta potty;
  • reduce the formation of gas;
  • keep your waste tank hygienic and clean; and
  • meet environmentally free standards (i.e. is it formaldehyde free). 

Some regional towns have CMCA/KEA sponsored ‘dump’ points. However, “black water” waste with formaldehyde should not be disposed of in these facilities as it can denature the waste breakdown. It can also be expensive for local shire councils to remedy the problem as they often lack water to dilute the waste.

Why Should I Choose Formaldehyde Free Toilet Chemicals?

What is formaldehyde? It is defined as ‘a chemical used in manufacturing and chemical industries, and as a preservative by anatomists, embalmers, and pathologists. Being exposed to formaldehyde may increase the risk of developing leukemia and brain cancer.’

Formaldehyde is toxic to animals, plants, and humans. In addition, exposure may cause irritation to the eyes, throat, and nose. It can also cause lung and skin allergies. The chemical is often used as an active ingredient in toilet chemicals to break down and sterilize the ‘black water’ or toilet waste.

Toilet waste containing formaldehyde is only suitable for disposal in sewerage systems in the city where there are enough water and other wastes to break down or dilute the formaldehyde. However, when travelling in regional or remote areas it is not suitable to dispose of in drop toilets, country town septic toilets or even buried in the bush.

Some toilet products may also be formaldehyde-free but are unsuitable for recirculating toilets and holding tank models.

What Is A Vacuum Toilet?

A vacuum toilet is a toilet system developed for caravans and motor homes. It comprises a toilet bowl from which extends a pipe to the cassette. It operates like a toilet on an aircraft so when you flush, the vacuum in the line sucks the contents in the toilet bowl, using very little water, to the tank.

One manufacturer, Dometic, supplies ceramic toilet bowls with a vacuum toilet for caravan, motorhomes, motorboats, and power craft. The manufacturer claims the action of the vacuum breaks the waste down which doesn’t require chemicals. As a result, the toilet bowls are odour-free, uses less energy, consumes a smaller amount of water, and allows for greater design flexibility due to the remote cassette installation. However, the vacuum pump requires power to operate and if by chance your battery is flat it will not operate.

One point to consider though would be not to locate the remote cassette under your bed as the pump runs for about 60 seconds to reset the vacuum and this may be inconvenient, for your companion, if it is used during the night.

Another of the model by the same manufacturer has a holding tank system suitable for coaches and motorhomes. These holding tanks are available, depending on the model of your vehicle, in 35, 60 and 90 L capacity. Moreover, you can empty the tank at the push of a button with a small-bore hose to a nearby dumping station. 

What Are Composting Toilets?

A composting toilet is a portable toilet that has a vent to the outside of the RV, has no holding tank, and does not use water. A 12V fan is the only power required by the unit and an agitator’s hand is attached for manual use. The liquid (urine) and solid waste (faeces) are kept separated and it is necessary to add compost material (such as pre-moistened peat moss or coconut fibre) to the base of the unit. After each solid waste addition, the compost material must be agitated by 2-3 revolutions with the handle to mix the waste into the compost. Published material indicates about 80 uses for solids before emptying. An 8-litre sterile liquid waste canister can be emptied every few days into any public toilet bowl.

Two brand names are ‘Natures Head’ and ‘Air Head’ and Natures Head comes with a five-year warranty. 

What Is A SOG Toilet Ventilator?

The SOG toilet ventilation system is a 12V fan kit system that can be connected to the cassette toilet holding tanks. There are 4 kit types, the three of which are worth recommending:

  • Type A kit system is for the C2, C3 and C4 models; 
  • Type B for C200, Type D for C400; and
  • Type F for C250/C620 cassette model. Installation instructions are included with the SOG kit and it comes with a 2-year warranty.

The SOG toilet ventilation system comprises a 90-degree connecting elbow. This is inserted into a 35 mm hole drilled into the elbow of the pour out spout of the cassette toilet. It also has an exhaust hose that connects from the elbow of the pour out spout to a 36mm hole in the cassette door. In addition, the air exit hole is covered by a filter housing containing a carbon filter. You can easily replace carbon filters and it is recommended the carbon filter to be changed once a year depending upon use.

Cables are connected to the 12V caravan supply and once the blade valve is opened the ventilator will run. The unit will stop as soon as you close the blade valve. The current consumption is stated at 0.43 Watts and it only uses power while the toilet is active.

The SOG toilet ventilation system uses no toilet chemicals as decomposition is maintained at its optimum level due to the increased oxygen flow. It is also odour-free as the fresh air acts as a seal and prevents smells from rising through the carbon filter. A normal toilet paper can also be used in this system and it can be fully decomposed. In addition, the toilet cassette can be emptied every 5 days or so (or when it is full).

To empty the toilet cassette, the hose from the connecting elbow needs to be removed and a stopper is provided to plug the elbow. If you have difficulties in removing the hose, spray the stopper and plastic parts with silicone spray.

SOG Toilet Ventilators are available from Aussie Traveller, caravan accessory stores and online caravan, motorhome & RV accessory stores.

How Do I Maintain A Portable Toilet?

There are a wide variety of sanitation or toilet chemical products available for portable toilets used in caravans, motorhomes and camper trailers. But it is better if you choose environmentally friendly biodegradable chemicals and avoid products containing formaldehyde. 

Caution should always be exercised in handling any toilet chemicals as their ingredients may cause eye and skin irritation and other side effects if inhaled.

Essentially, there are two applications for toilet chemicals, one is for the flush or fresh water top tank and the other is for the holding or waste tank/waste cassette. The chemical used for the flush tank is mainly to deodorize. There are also chemicals that reduce gas build-up and break down solid waste into a slurry for easy disposal.

How Would I Know If My Cleaning Products Are Environmentally Friendly?

It is often difficult to find information on biodegradable chemical products from manufacturers or distributors websites, so make sure you read the product labels. Some toilet chemical manufacturers will supply Material Safety Data Sheets (now called Safety Data Sheets or SDS) upon request, while others are available for viewing on their websites. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) detail the chemical ingredients and list any hazardous substances as well as any likely physical reactions if spilled on the skin or inhaled.

Notwithstanding a lot of claims about the efficiency of sanitation products, we find the portable toilet cassette requires emptying after 3-4 days, depending on usage, particularly if the portable toilet is exposed to sunlight and heat.

The sanitation product or chemicals for portable toilets can come in the form of a liquid, tablet, sachet or dry powder. Some products that we recommend are:

  • Odour-B-Gonehas fast and slow release discs which can be used in cassette and black-water holding tanks. The discs or tablets release oxygen that kills odour causing bacteria. Their website states their product contains no harmful chemicals and is environmentally friendly. Odour-B-Gone claims it is safe to discharge the waste into septic systems and long-drop toilets. In addition, an MSDS is available on their website.
  • Thetford Aqua Rinse – is a liquid concentrate product for the freshwater flush tank. It has a pleasant lavender smell and has lubricating qualities to assist opening and closing the blade to the waste tank. 
  • Thetford Safe AquaKem Green – does not contain formaldehyde. It is also safe for septic tanks. However, it is not designed for use in recirculating toilets and holding tank models.
  • Thetford Aqua Kem Dri – a concentrated, dry, and granular holding tank deodorant for use in RV and marine portable toilets. Thetford states that the Aqua Kem Dri is biodegradable and environmentally safe when disposed of in a waste treatment system.
  • Coleman also has a biodegradable deodoriser which they claim is septic tank safe, and formaldehyde-free. It also comes with mint fragrance and breaks down waste and tissue paper.
  • Portasol by Chemtech is an antibacterial sanitiser. It contains 10g/L Glutaraldehyde which is often used to disinfect medical and dental equipment and as a chemical preservative and embalming fluid. However, their advertising material states it is ‘Biodegradable, meets Australian sewerage disposal requirements’ and ‘The resultant solution can be tipped into sewerage or septic systems, no disposal problems ‘.
  • BioMagic – a non-toxic, non-hazardous, and 100% environmentally friendly product. It is also safe on the skin and harmless to animals. BioMagic has product containers from 500ml – 20L for any waste tank sizes. BioMagic Loo Drops are made for small portable toilet cassettes or holding tanks. The LooDrops can also be used for grey water treatment to repress odours. Feedback on various caravan forums are mixed but the trick seems to be to ensure the waste cassette has been cleaned well prior to using BioMagic.

Are There Other Alternative Toilet Chemical Brands?

Over time, and as a cheaper alternative, there has been a move to the usage of washing or laundry soaker products containing sodium percarbonate. For laundry soaker products to be effective, they must contain 32% to 35% sodium percarbonate. In addition, a ‘cap full’ is dissolved in about 1-2 L (depending on the size of the cassette tank) of water. Sodium percarbonate products are safe to empty into septic tank systems and most pit toilets.

Brand names like Coles Ultra Booster Advanced Oxy, Supreme Oxy Active from The Reject Shop and Di San Oxy Laundry Soaker & In-Wash Booster from Aldi are popular. As with any chemical, care should be taken when handling these products not to inhale the dust and avoid contact with the skin and eyes.

Although some homemade toilet chemicals may be cheaper to mix up, feedback on some caravan forums suggests that some caravan parks have banned the deposit of the chemical into their septic system. The reason behind the ban is that most of these homemade toilet chemicals contain Pine-O-Clean or bleach. These products kill the bacteria needed for the natural breakdown of the waste solids.

How Can I Remove Algae from The Top Tank of My Portable Toilet/Porta Potty? 

Algae usually develop in your flushing tank. Any sediment build-up, including algae, in your toilet system, will eventually cause the slides to jam. Even if you have used the correct concentration of chemicals, algae build-up may still occur, but it is quite easy to eradicate.

How Do I Remove and Clean the Tank?

Cleaning your toilet tank maybe cumbersome, Here are some easy tips to clean your tank. Try following these steps:

  1. Empty the bottom tank and rinse until clean.
  2. Empty the top tank and operate the pump several times to expel any top tank mix that may still be in the pump suction and pressure lines.
  3. Add a mixture of bleach and water to the top tank. (Usually 1/2 cup of bleach to 1L water). Put the cap back on the top tank and shake/swirl so that all sides, top, and bottom have been coated with the bleach/water.
  4. Refit the top tank to the bottom tank and operate the pump so that the bleach mix is drawn into the pump and lines. Continue pumping all the mix from the top tank is in the bottom tank. Ensure all the mix is cleared from the pump.
  5. Remove the top tank and invert it so that any excess mix can drain away.
  6. Shake/swirl the bottom tank so that all sides, top and bottom and drain tube have been coated with the bleach mix. Drain and invert to dry.
  7. The unit is now ready for use or storage. All traces of algae should be removed. If storing for a length of time, store in a dark environment. This will also be beneficial as algae need light to thrive.

How Do I Clean the Toilette Cassette?

Hopefully, your caravan, motorhome or 5th wheeler supplier provided you with a manual for the type of toilet cassette you have installed. The manual will have instructions for your model portable toilet cassette. If not, some supplier websites may have an instruction manual you can download.

The Thetford Cassette manual recommends the waste tank seal, the automatic pressure release vent seal and the cap seal to be cleaned regularly. Monthly cleaning should be done if you are regular travellers or living full time in your RV. The manufacturer also discourages the use of household cleaners (bleach, solvents or other powerful cleaning agents) as they may cause permanent damage to the seals and other toilet components.

Another tip is rubbing the seals and valve blade with olive oil and then wiping them over with a piece of cloth or toilet paper. However, you should never use Vaseline or any vegetable oil. If the toilet cassette is not be used for some time, after emptying, clean and coat the seals lightly with olive oil before storing away. And last, but not least, wash your hands properly after emptying or maintaining the toilette cassette.

Related Questions

How Much Does It Cost to Hire A Portable Toilet?

On average, the cost to rent a portable toilet for one day runs from $105 to 142 (AUD). If you will need to keep the porta potty on site for an extended period, the price comes down significantly to $ 250 to $570 per month depending on how often the unit needs to be cleaned. 

How Many Portable Toilets Do I Need Per Person?

The ANSI standard for the portable restroom industry is 1 portable toilet per 10 workers per 40-hour week when serviced one time per week. Although some regulators require a minimum of one separate toilet facility for 20 employees or fraction thereof of each sex.

Can Porta Potties Be Used in Winter?

Regardless of the weather, people still need to use the restroom. There are many people who enjoy the cold and having a porta potty can be especially useful during winter construction, winter sports, and even camping in the winter weather.

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