Living on the road, you have to be accountable for the daily management of your toilet, waste, and water. Whilst this sounds tedious - you’re taking off to get away from everyday responsibilites, right? - these don’t have to be dreaded tasks. Motorhome toilets can be surprisingly low-fuss, if you install them, hook them up and maintain them properly. With this guide, you’ll find out how to do all that, so that your time on the road is a convenient, comfy breeze!
Types of Toilet
The classic European motorhome toilet is a cassette, either Dometic or Thetford. These, also sometimes known as a chemical toilet or elsan toilet, require chemicals to break down waste and eliminate odours. Whilst there are many models, ranging in price, the mechanism is generally that your waste is held in the cassette until you empty it. VanlifeTV has made a really helpful video on how to empty a cassette.
Campervans and older, or smaller, motorhomes might have portable chemical toilets. The bowl and cassette are separated for emptying, like with the Thetford Porta Potti.
If you buy a used motorhome with a toilet cassette, you might want to consider buying a ‘fresh-up set’ – a new cassette and loo seat – so you can put your own, new, personal touch on the sanitary facilities in your space.
Installing a Toilet
Before installing a toilet in a new conversion, take plenty of time to think about where it might go best. Some toilets now swivel, fold or slide away to save space. There are plenty of resources out there to inspire you about doing your own installation! For example, this motorhome owner went for a Thetford swivel bowl toilet and fitted it alongside the wheel arch.
Managing the waste from your motorhome toilets all depends on where you’re going with your vehicle, and what services you’ll find when you pitch up. Chemical waste points come in many forms at different campsites and pitches. Be prepared to find everything from a shiny purpose-built service area with automatic flushing, to an open sewer in the ground! Carrying an additional cassette for your toilet is definitely worth considering if you have space and intend to go wild camping. You find out more about managing black waste when wild camping on the Wild Decader’s useful blog.
Motorhome toilet chemicals for the cassette are widely available in most large supermarkets and in all camping shops. There are the original Thetford colours, but usually, other brands have mirrored them for ease. Blue goes into the toilet cassette, helping to mask the smell. Green is the same as blue, but environmentally friendly, and can go down a normal loo. Pink goes in the flush water tank, keeping the bowl clean and smelling nice.
Make sure you use a toilet paper brand that will break down easily - triple quilted fancy ranges may not help the chemicals in your cassette do their job!
SOG kits are an eco-friendly, cost-saving addition for cassette toilets (not portable ones, unfortunately). They remove the need for any motorhome toilet chemicals to go into your cassette, instead, a 12v fan vents it whenever you flush. This vent can either come out the side or top of your motorhome, depending on cassette and layout. Just ensure it isn’t under your awning or anywhere you regularly walk past at head height!
If a SOG kit isn’t practical for you and you really want to keep your toilet fresh, you can get bags that line the bowl to poo in!
Managing grey waste is a little different. This is the used water that comes from your shower or washing up bowl, which contains everything from toothpaste to washing up liquid and shower gel, and travels through your motorhome waste pipe into the grey water tank. This stuff needs careful management because it really starts to smell once it begins breaking down. This might become noticeable if you have been parked up somewhere for a while, then move off and disturb the water.
Here are some top tips for reducing the likelihood of a nasty-smelling campervan waste water tank: scrape your dirty dishes before washing them up, use the washing facilities on the site where you’re pitched, use eco-friendly soaps and liquids manufactured without chemicals, put a strainer basket on your plugholes, and, where possible, empty your grey waste tank daily.
Finally, deep-clean your campervan waste water tank every so often. It’s not a nice job, but it will pay off! Here’s how:
- Empty the tank, find a hose with good pressure, and reach as far in with your arm as you can, and spray the hose around as best you can.
- Drain this water, then re-fill the tank to just under a quarter full.
- Add heavy duty tank cleaner before driving to your next destination. This lets it all slosh around.
- Empty it on arrival. Adding tank freshener to your campervan waste water tank regularly also helps to prevent bad odours till the next big clean.
Remember to clean your motorhome waste pipe and any accessories (such as a hose or jerry can) that you collect wastewater in, at the same time as the tank to avoid contamination and spreading smelly bacteria from one vessel to another.
Your motorhome waste pipe may allow easy dumping of greywater on a campsite pitch. If not, carrying a flexible hose may help, especially if you can’t park directly over a waste drain. A portable waste tank is probably the easiest solution.
In a modern motorhome or caravan, the flush is linked to your motorhome water system and so flushing water may from your freshwater tank. Remember this when thinking about how much water you have and how to conserve it! The portable toilets require you to manually fill their flush-water tank.
Ensure you also avoid cross-contamination between fresh and wastewater tanks, pipes and accessories when tasked with emptying and refilling at your pitch or at home. As a rule, start with collecting your fresh water supply with clean hands, then move to dispose of the greywater and, subsequently, emptying the cassette. There are lots of steps you can take to ensure you have safe, fresh drinking water on board, from sterilising, descaling, and using additives or filters. This website offers a great checklist.
Campervan loos: Crucial for post-lockdown camping!
As campsites across the UK re-open after lockdown, most are, for now, limiting access to onsite facilities. Motorhome drivers are being encouraged to use their sanitary facilities onboard, including their motorhome toilets. So, it’s worth getting familiar with all the mechanisms and tips for maintaining a hygienic and sweet-smelling space in your camper!
If you decide to hire out your motorhome, you can share this post with travellers to ensure your motorhome is returned with the toilet cleaned exactly as you'd like it!