So, you’ve decided to build a bathroom in your van?
What a daunting decision that is. Not only are there plenty of pros and cons, but there are also so many choices. Water heaters, toilet options, plumbing, vanbuild design…
Deciding whether you should have a toilet and/or shower in your van is a very personal decision. Bathrooms take space, require plumbing, and are another thing to design during your van build process. They’re also incredibly convenient and make your van feel more liveable.
Even if you’re on the fence about designing a van bathroom, you’ll find some vanlife bathroom inspiration in this article. You can learn about bathroom and toilet advantages and disadvantages as well as some of the coolest van bathroom ideas on Instagram.
Do you need a bathroom?
It can be difficult to imagine living without a toilet or shower in your home on wheels when you don’t live in a van. Where will you go to the bathroom? Where will you clean off?
While these are valid concerns, adding a bathroom, especially a shower, is one of the most complicated features you can build into a van. Plumbing and waterproofing are just the beginning of designing the bathroom.
Don’t get us wrong, a real bathroom is nice.
Especially with lockdowns, campground closures, quarantines, and bad weather, having a full bathroom means you don’t need to go outside or search for places to go.
You’ll have privacy, but you’ll also have less space for other van “necessities.”
Combining a shower (and toilet) into the infrastructure in your van (meaning fitting it into the build without making a separate room) is an excellent way to have the best of both worlds. Hidden showers and toilets don’t take up atrocious amounts of room. You are sacrificing privacy, however.
We will discuss further down in the article the specific pros and cons of having a shower or toilet, as well as vanbuild ideas.
- No searching for public bathrooms.
- Your van feels complete.
- You can live off-grid and/or stealth camp more easily.
- Requires lots of space.
- Special plumbing needs.
- Careful maintenance is required.
We will have a list of bathroom inspiration at the end of this article, but here are the main bathroom builds in the van community.
While these designs are far from a typical full bathroom, these refer to a designated room in your van for showing and pooping. These “rooms” are small. But they do provide you with privacy and a more homey feel. Often times the shower is just above the toilet. If you’re using a composting toilet, you can move it out when you shower. Or you can use a showerhead that sprays beyond the toilet.
- Great for cold weather climates where you can’t shower outside.
- Takes up precious space
- Adds to the overall weight load of the van.
As a van dweller or future one, you know that taking advantage of all the nooks and crannies in your van is critical. That’s why hidden bathrooms are so ideal. Tuck your toilet into your seating area or hide it under your bed. Sneak a shower area into a drawer or at the back of your van. Hidden bathrooms take up less space than “full” bathrooms, but you’ll still have your necessary amenities.
- Doesn’t take up much space.
- Requires less planning.
- Requires setup whenever you want to use it.
- Lack of privacy.
- Cleanliness is paramount for smell control.
Another popular option is to forgo building a bathroom in your van altogether. While this obviously has its drawbacks, many other van dwellers have made this design decision before. We will list further down the many options you have to clean off and go to the bathroom without building a bathroom in your van.
- No special skills.
- Easier van design.
- Must find places to shower.
- Impractical during covid.
- Sacrifice of comfort.
The type of showerhead and toilet you choose is also going to have an effect on your experience. Some toilets are moveable. Showerheads can be handheld to reduce overspray and limit water waste.
Ah, water. A water-efficient in-home showerhead uses around 9 litres of water per minute. No matter how fancy you build your shower, chances are shower times will still be limited by your water tank.
Most water tanks hold between 25 to 85 litres of water. Once you account for drinking, cooking, and cleaning over a few days, you are not leftover with enough water for showers very often. While you can get a bigger water tank, the weight costs for your van payload is not likely worth it.
Keeping your expectations in check also helps in deciding a van build. The reality is your showers are going to be super short and more of a quick rinse off even if you have a nice shower.
Outdoor showers mean that you do not need any exceptional plumbing or fancy design in your van build.
There is also a lot less clean-up when you’re done.
But, we know what you’re thinking. Won’t people see me?
There are a few different things to consider when planning outdoor showering. If you’re in a highly remote area, you can get away with taking a shower without any covering. You can also station yourself in such a way that you’re “protected” by the van doors. Your other option is to shower in a swimsuit. Remember, it’s not going to be a long relaxing shower, but it will get the job done.
If you’ve decided to build a shower into your van, you probably want to have the option of a hot shower. You’re going to have to look into water heaters in this case. Here are a few options.
- Diesel water heater. These heaters are often efficient uses of battery power, and some will heat up your air too. They’re often decently large, though.
- Propane water heater. Many propane water heaters provide on-demand hot water. As long as you have propane and water, you can have hot water. Some require a water pump, and others do not.
- Solar showers. Harness the energy of the sun with a rooftop solar shower. Attach a water pump for a pressurized outdoor shower using one of the most affordable energy sources: the sun.
Benefits of a Campervan Shower
- You can rinse off whenever you want. You’re not tied to a particular place because there are showers.
- If you’re living in a van during covid, you don’t need to be mingling with people and business. Also, many campgrounds and gyms are closed so you can’t shower there.
- If you’re in a remote area, you can still get clean.
Cons of a Campervan Shower
- It takes up lots of space that could be used otherwise. You only have 100 square feet, after all.
- You might need to hire a plumber. Shower plumbing is complicated, and you want to do it right. Especially if you live in a colder climate, where pipes are at risk for freezing.
- You can’t take long showers. Chances are you won’t be able to have a long relaxing shower. You simply don’t have the water capacity.
Where to Shower
If you decide to not build a shower in your van, it does not mean you won’t be able to clean off ever. Here are the most popular places to get a shower while you’re on the road.
- Campgrounds and RV Parks. If you’re spending the night at an RV park or campground, choose one with showers. Many places have pay-per-minute hot water. Fancier places may even have it included in the cost of staying the night.
- Gyms. You won’t be the first van dweller taking advantage of showers in gyms and other recreation facilities. If you can find a gym with facilities on your journey, you can have a nice hot shower and fit a workout in while you’re at it.
- Truck stops. You aren’t the only one on the road looking to wash off. Many truck stops have shower facilities. Scope them out before you head on your way, so you can get clean along the way.
Now that we’ve covered the rather complicated issue of installing a shower in your campervan, let’s move on to toilets in your van build bathroom.
Toilets are, arguably, more important than showers. They are less difficult to install and do not necessarily require complicated plumbing or oodles of space.
But, before we get into lists of pros and cons of having a toilet in your van, let’s talk about your options.
The most straightforward toilet to use in a campervan is a composting toilet. What’s that, you ask? A composting toilet is a dry toilet that composts human waste in a biological process. They often use no water, thus saving your precious water supply. It also does not need to be connected to a water supply or septic tank like flush toilets.
Waste is turned into a soil-like by-product that can be used as fertilizer or thrown out. Most composting toilets have a system to remove liquid and control smell. When appropriately used, composting toilets are clean and smell free.
Just don’t forget to clean out liquid waste every few days and dry waste every couple of weeks.
Compostable toilets are highly recommended in the van world, but if that’s not your alley, here are a couple other choices.
RV Plumbed Toilet
If you want something very similar to a house toilet, consider the plumbed toilet. Although the toilet requires much more maintenance than an in-home one, it’s always available and easy to use.
Popular in RVs, the toilet needs both a fresh water and a backwater system. Tanks need to be emptied and refilled regularly, enzymes and chemicals need to be added to the tank to ensure cleanliness, and you will need special toilet paper that breaks down fast. You’ll also have to be on the lookout for RV parks to dispose of the backwater.
Cassette toilets are popular in RVs, and for a good reason. Sort of a mix between the benefits of a composting toilet and a plumbed toilet. A cassette toilet does not require exterior plumbing but needs a backwater tank that must be emptied. The problem is that cassette toilets do not have as much capacity as a plumbed toilet and need to be dumped more often. If they are not cleaned out regularly, they will smell. They’re also not as “homey” as an RV Plumbed toilet. We recently reviewed our Porta Potti 365 – check it out here.
Where to pee
If you’ve decided a toilet in a van isn’t for you, here are some of your options.
- Public bathrooms. Stop for bathroom breaks when you find a toilet on your way. Truck stops, in-town, out-houses, national parks, etc. There are bathrooms for you to use.
- Outside. You, whether you’re a man or woman, can do number one and two in the wilderness. But especially if you’re doing number two, be considerate. Dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and avoid all rivers, lakes, and streams. Never dispose of toilet paper in the woods. Toilet paper needs to be packed out.
- In a jar. Yep, if you get the urge and there is no public bathrooms or private outdoor spaces to go, go pee the old-fashioned way: in a jar. If you use a jar with a lid, it won’t be smelly, and you can empty it into an actual toilet when you find one.
Vanlife Inspo and Tips for Bathroom Builds
Now here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. The actual van dwellers and van builds with bathrooms in them. Some of these accounts feature vans with only a toilet. Others include a toilet and shower. Either way, you’ll find there are many ways to build a bathroom into your van.
1. Outdoor showers and hot water
Don’t forget that you’ll need a water heater for your shower (probably). There are many available on the market. These van dwellers attached theirs to the van door. One of the easiest showers to build is outside your van, where you don’t need to worry about taking up valuable van space.
2. Handheld showerheads
A moveable shower head is the best pick for a van build because of its versatility. These van builders snuck in the shower right beside the kitchen and across from the seating area.
3. Tiny places
Showers/bathrooms don’t need to be huge. You really don’t have the space. As long as it’s large enough for you, you’re good.
4. Water that moves
Once again, outside showers are the easiest showers to build and create. They make a great backup if you’re planning to take advantage of camp showers or gym showers on the road. These van dwellers can take a shower outside their van or really anywhere with their moveable shower setup.
5. Quarantine bathroom
Combine your shower and toilet so that you truly can have it all. This couple has been incredibly thankful for their shower and toilet duo while living in their van during the pandemic. There is no need to leave the van in search of public bathrooms or showers. And, if they do need to quarantine in their van, they’re ready to go.
6. Make it pretty
How cute is this shower and toilet room? You’d never guess that it was in a van. It’s snuck into the entranceway right by the passenger seat.
7. Use the drawers
Shower in a drawer. Have you ever thought of that? With a handheld showerhead, you can keep the water all in one place in your drawer and cover it up with a shower curtain that you can tuck away when not in use.
8. Combine toilet and shower space
This toilet and shower combo looks like it belongs right here, nestled between the cubbies and seating area. If you purchase a compostable toilet, you can move it out of the shower area when you want to clean it off. Once again, the moveable shower head means that you can quickly and efficiently rinse off without using up all your water.
9. Keep the light coming in
You don’t need to build a door to your shower if you know the water isn’t going to be splashing everywhere. Especially because van showers can feel claustrophobic with their TINY size. This white shower curtain feels homey and lets the light in when you’re cleaning off or going to the bathroom.
Another outdoor shower head with its own location. If you’ve read our article about garage storage, here is another idea to use the back of the van. You can move this shower away from the van, so you don’t ruin the plywood when you’re showering. And you have a location for your shower equipment when you’re done.
11.All the corners
Another back door shower idea sneaks into the corner when you’re done. When you’re planning your shower in their van, keep in mind that you won’t have endless water: hot or otherwise. It’s best to think your shower is a quick rinse off unless you’re hooked to a water supply.
12.Make it feel like home
A break from the normal. This custom-built 148″ Ford Transit van had a typical shower head with a clear glass door. You’ll feel like you’re in a nice hotel while cleaning off with this setup.
Another shower/bathroom design that you don’t see as much is using the back. You can shower with the back door open or closed. You can also see the drain for water in this image. The door leading to the main van area is an easy to pull door.
14.Toilets that move with you
Compostable toilets move! They’re not stuck in one area of your van, which means you can use your bathroom space in a way that suits you. Keep it in a drawer when you’re not using it. Put it in the bottom of the shower. There are endless possibilities.
A sneaky toilet that doubles as a seating area when you’re not using it. Although it doesn’t provide privacy, this toilet doesn’t take up space by needing its own room. It’s also a multipurpose space.
Another dual-purpose toilet. If you scroll through these van dweller’s Instagram, you’ll see them eating, working, and lounging on this seat that doubles up as a toilet! They use a composting toilet and clean it out every few days.
17.Toilet on wheels
Another helpful way to take advantage of your under-bed space. This couple put their compostable toilet on wheels for easy access and storage. For more information about how to use the under-the-bed area, read our article here.
Adding a toilet to your van gives you more freedom. You don’t need to park in parking lots of stores with bathrooms. You don’t need to scope out campgrounds when you’re on the road. You also don’t need to go outside. This cute little toilet area fits the bill and doesn’t take up a massive amount of space. It also gives you privacy.