It’s truly got to be one of the most asked questions we get asked by people when they find out we lived in a van. Before they ask where we travelled, what we saw, or even what kind of van we had, it was nearly always something along the lines of…
“You lived in a van?! How do you go to the toilet in a van?”.
My favourite response was to tell them about the trap door we had cut into the floor, that we simply opened up to do our business. The looks on peoples faces was priceless.
But, seriously, knowing where to do your ones and twos in a van is a massive part of the planning and design phase of your van. It’s a big decision, and one that is worth getting right first go.
In this article, we are going to give you our no-holds-barred, warts and all review of our choice of van toilet, the Thetford Porta Potti 335. It was our pick when planning our van build. In our review you’ll find out whether we still think it was the best option, or if, in hindsight, we should have chosen another option.
We’ll also briefly discuss what our second option was and why, as well as cast an eye over the competition. With our knowledge from the road, we will give you our opinion on what works best when evaluating toilets for your van or rv project.
- The benefits of having a toilet in your van or rv
- The different types of toilets available for portable toilets in a van or rv
- Our review of the Thetford Porta Potti 335
- Tips and tricks for portable toilet use
- How to dump and clean a portable toilet
- Our runner up – what portable toilet nearly bought and why we didn’t
- The competition – other RV toilet options
Benefits of having a toilet in your van or rv
The number one benefit of having your own toilet in your van is without a doubt – convenience.
When you are on the road full time, it is absolutely necessary to have your own toilet at your disposal. Otherwise you are reliant on such things as the route you are taking, and the campsites and locations you are staying. If you stray too far off the beaten track, your options for handling your “business” will run out fast. And, after all, isn’t the point of van life to not be constrained, to have all the options the open road can deliver!
Privacy and Safety.
Vanlife toilets give you so much more privacy and comfort than going without a toilet. For instance, they stop you needing to rely on dirty, grubby public restrooms and truck stop toilets. It’s also worth noting that in the age of Covid 19, the less time you spend in public places such as restrooms, the better.
Plus, when you are on your own toilet, in the safety of your van, you don’t have to worry about any of the unsavoury characters that may be around. Especially as, a lot of the time when travelling you can find yourself in some pretty interesting places, to say the least.
The comfort factor is also a big positive. With your own rv style portable toilet, you can make your experience as comfortable as possible. You can choose a toilet option that ticks all your boxes when it comes to comfort, or consider the layout of your van and install a cubicle to make your toilet experience the most pleasing and enjoyable. Or do as we did, and create an inside / outside toilet option that gives you the choice to do your business in the van, or set up a pop-up portable toilet tent for longer stays. Whatever you end up going with, one thing is for sure – you’ll never want to stop over somewhere for a public restroom again.
There are so many different options for your van toilet, which means that, no matter the size of your van, there is a toilet out there that will most definitely suit your needs. For instance, the best RV portable toilets will be made of porcelain, similar to the toilets found in most family homes. Many toilets available are full sized and have large, comfy seats. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are the cheap and cheery options, that are really just a glorified trash can and plastic bag bin liner. These aren’t as classy, but they sure do come in a lot cheaper.
Ideally you will determine what you need, but also features you would want, and then find something that answers your needs, wants, and importantly- within your space availability and price point.
Earth friendly options.
Some toilets have composting features that are incredibly earth friendly, that turn your waste into fertilizer. This allows you to have a smaller waste footprint.
The different types of toilets available for vans or rvs
There are so many different types of toilets available for your van conversion, boat or RV. The choices can actually be quite staggering.
Before you dive into the different types of toilets below, first consider the following –
- Why do you need a toilet?
- This may seem like a really silly question at first, but really, it’s worth spending the time to think about it seriously. Take the time to consider the places you will be visiting, and the kind of travel you will be doing.
For instance – Someone who will only be using their van to take them and their partner away for the weekend, and usually staying at a caravan or RV park, where there are always amenities to use, could get by without having a toilet at all.
Whereas, a family of 5 travelling off the beaten track in a big RV, would not only need a toilet, but need it to be able to have the capacity to hold a lot of waste.
- How much internal space do you have in your vehicle?
- If you are going with the portable toilet option, where do you plan on storing the toilet? Hint: It should be somewhere easily accessible!
- How squeamish are you about poo and wee. If you are squeamish, then portable toilets and bucket style toilets will be off your list. This means other more expensive options.
Here are the most common style of toilets available for vanlife.
Trash can / bucket style van toilet.
At their most basic, your van toilet could essentially be just a trash can or plastic bucket with a plastic bag in it. Not very stylish, but they do get the job done. What you lack in looks, you certainly gain in money saved.
There are an array of these basic toilets available, ranging in affordability and quality. From the simple to the slightly more sophisticated.
The bags mean that once you’ve done your business, there is no cleaning of the toilet necessary. Simply tie the bag up and you’re done. Obviously, the downside to this is that you have to hang out with your poo in bags, until you find yourself somewhere where you can dispose of them. Plus, this isn’t the greenest solution as you will go through quite a lot of plastic bags, which goes against a lot of van lifers wishes.
A cassette toilet is probably the most common type of toilet found in a rv or a van conversion. It is much like a portable camping toilet, except that it is fixed in place. Unlike an rv portable toilet, where the toilet waste storage tank is built into the toilet, the cassette toilet’s waste tank is usually accessible from the outside of the van or rv.
Because it is still a waste storage tank, you will both smell and see the sewage as you discard it. Best not to do so right before lunch, you might lose your appetite.
Unlike cassette toilets, composting toilets (or dry toilets, as they are also known) work without water or chemicals, so, because of this, they have a much smaller environmental impact. Where a cassette toilet relies on chemicals to break down the waste matter, a composting toilet relies on a natural process of decomposition which is driven by aerobic bacteria.
Composting toilets work by utilising two different receptacles to separate the urine and poo.
The poo pot then contains composting fertilizer such as coco coir, which will naturally start doing its work. An exhaust fan runs 24/7 to vent any of the smells to the outside of the van or rv. The exhaust van also helps to remove moisture from the compartment. Allowing the composting process to happen at a faster rate.
The main advantages of composting toilets are water conservation, not needing to use, often filthy, black tanks, less stinky smells, thanks to the urine and poo being in separate compartments, and the fan ventilating the poo pot.
The disadvantages are that emptying out the urine pot can be a stinky job. Also, the van needs a constant 12 volt energy source. It uses next to no power though – a reported 0.1 amps per hour.
The main disadvantage against composting toilets is the price. They are a significant investment, typically about 5-10x the price of a cassette toilet. Especially when you consider that it isn’t really that much of a technical marvel. It’s a plastic moulded seat, a couple of pots and a 12v fan.
Ongoing costs are fairly priced though.
Vacuum Flush Toilets
If you have ever been on a passenger airplane, there is a good chance you have used a Vacuum Flush Toilet. You see, just like the toilets on modern passenger airplanes, vacuum flush toilets, are toilets that remove the urine and poo from the toilet bowl by use of suction.
The result of this is minimal water use (0.5 to 1.5 litres/quarts).
Another great feature of Vacuum flush toilets for van life or your RV, is the fact that the Toilet does not need to be positioned above the waste holding tank. This makes it a great option, if you are looking to use your space more effectively.
Gravity Flush Toilets
Along with cassette toilets, the most common types of toilets used by the larger van builds, as well as rv’s, would be gravity flush systems. They work through the use of gravity to flush away the sewage.
These toilets work by being connected to a water source that is pressurised. This pressurised water enables you to flush the toilet in a similar fashion to how you would be used to in any family home in the western world.
It is worth noting, that the contents of the gravity flush toilet still travel to a black waste storage unit, and then need to be transferred to a dump site.
Now we are starting to get to the top of the line. A macerator toilet grinds the waste contents to make it a more manageable ‘shit smoothie’. This then is stored until it can be disposed of at a dump site (much like cassette, gravity and rv portable toilets).
The other major benefit of a Macerator toilet over a cassette or gravity flush toilet, aside from it being able to break down the waste without the use of harsh chemicals, is that a macerator toilet can defy gravity. Well, the toilet can’t defy gravity, but the system to deliver the waste from the receptacle to the holding tank definitely can. It does so by using electricity. This means that the holding tank doesn’t always need to be positioned directly below the toilet bowl -so you have more options in planning your waste tank area, which will allow you more options to save space.
And in a van – space is king!
The main detraction to the macerator toilet is simply the cost. They cost a darn sight more than a traditional cassette or gravity flush toilet. This is due to the fact they have a lot more moving parts.
Portable Camping Toilets
And now we arrive, finally, at the portable toilet. This is the category that our little beloved Thetford Porta Potti 335 fits in.
A portable toilet is, aside from the trash can style toilet, the cheapest option when considering portable toilets for your van or rv (aside from the bucket option we mentioned earlier. This kind of toilet doesn’t have separate compartments for urine and poo. This means it produces raw sewage.
Also, they come in many sizes, but typically, most of them are pretty small. This means more stops to the RV waste dump. And, because they don’t connect to a hose, when you empty the compartment, you will likely see and smell the sewage. Read on to find out how we dealt with this, and what our overall thoughts are on the Thetford Porta Potti portable toilet.
Our review of Thetford Porta Potti 335
When thinking about portable toilets for your RV or van conversion, it is worth mentioning that there really are only 2 brands that we think sit above the rest. We have found, in our research, that Dometic and Thetford make the best portable toilets and have the best reviews.
The reason we decided to go with the Thetford Porta Potti was actually to do with it’s aesthetics, more than anything else. Simply put, we like the way it looks. The Porta Potti has a much cleaner appearance from the front, so as we knew the location we would store it would be visible in the van, that was one of the biggest drivers for us.
Thetford have many different options when it comes to their porta potti range. They have the Porta Potti 145, 165, 335, 345, 365, 565e, 565p.
It’s pretty straight forward, the higher the number, the better the toilet. Our 335 toilet was a mid level offering from Thetford. It’s big difference from the 145 or 165 was that the waste tank had a handy indicator to show us how full it was. Also, the waste tank had a handy carry handle that allowed easy transportation to the RV waste dump site.
The X65 series have double the storage capacity of the other models. Which, in hindsight, may have been a better option. We will go into more detail about the pros and cons, and reflections on our choice a bit further on in this review.
Another reason that led to our decision to purchase the Thetford Porta Potti 335 was the fact that I was going to custom build a storage cupboard around it. It had to be of a certain size, to allow me to get the necessary number of rows in the cupboard. If the Porta Potti was too tall, I would have had to sacrifice how much storage we could have.
Another consideration we made before purchasing is that we determined that this would not be our main toilet for poos and wees. We really only wanted to rely on it as a last resort, when no other options were available. Or, in the middle of the night when we didn’t want to walk to the amenities building in the campsites we were staying. If we were looking to use this toilet for every poo and wee we did, we would be looking at bigger capacity options.
THETFORD PORTA POTTI 335 SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions: H313 x W342 x D382 mm
Holding tank capacity: 10L
Flush-water capacity: 10L
Flushing system: Manual, Piston Pump
Holding Tank Level Indicator: Yes
Weight Rating: 120Kg
THETFORD PORTA POTTI 335 WARRANTY
The Thetford Porta Potti 335 Portable Toilet is covered by Thetford’s 3 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty
Looks and Design.
We love the look of the Thetford 335. It’s very square, compact, and easy to tuck out of the way. Which is what most van lifers will be looking to do with their toilets. The forward facing part of the Porta Potti is pretty streamlined too, which made it feel more in line with our van aesthetic (compared to the Dometic, whose forward facing side looks a bit bulky).
We found the toilet’s flush function was simple but totally enough to get the job done. It’s just a small hand pump, piston flush, on the top back of the toilet. It requires very little pressure. It’s very easy to use. A couple of pumps and 100-200ml of water was enough to get the poo and wee into the waste compartment
Handy tank gauge
The 335 model comes with a handy waste tank gauge. This is brilliant. Without it you would constantly be suffering anxiety about whether your next poo will fit in the tank!
The shape of the Thetford, and the fact that the seat is so low to the ground makes this one very sturdy. Because it is not very high off the ground, it can kind of feel like a child’s toilet when using. And since we were travelling with our toddler son, this was actually a bonus for us!
The seat was comfortable for us. The only thing worth noting is that it is noticeably closer to the ground than a typical toilet in a family home. This means your knees will bend toward you more. This is actually a good thing for bowel movement apparently. But, if you have issues with mobility then the fact that it is low to the ground may be a deal breaker for you.
I think this is an often overlooked positive for van lifers. Typically vans don’t have a lot of space, which means every square inch has to be used effectively. A porta potti gives you so many more options. You could have the porta potti under one of your seats. It could be tucked in the cupboard, or stored in the ‘garage’ compartment of the van (read: under the bed!)
Also, when you find a place to stay for a few days, you can actually set the toilet up outside. We often did this. We’d bought a shower tent for $25 and would set this up to give us privacy when using our Thetford.
The Thetford 335 is only 3.5kg when empty, so light that a child could lift it.
Also, each of the two compartments – the toilet bowl & and the waste tank – come with a handy carry handle. This makes transport easy and comfortable, especially when carrying the waste tank to the RV dump site.
Compared to most other options, this pota potti is on the cheap side. I think it’s reasonably priced for the build quality, and is many multiples cheaper than most other options.
Hold down kit
The Thetford 335 Porta Potti comes with a hold down kit. This hold down kit is essentially justs a few brackets you can screw to your floor, and then the porta potti quick connects to it.
Rotating pour out spout.
This rotating spout makes emptying the waste holding tank and absolute breeze. You can rotate the spout away from you, therefore increasing the distance from the exit of the waste tank to you. This is a significant feature, as the further away the waste exit point is from you, the less likely of any spillage or splashback landing on you.
This is a feature that is expected out of the top of line portable toilet models, and not necessarily at this price point. Read more about how to empty a portable toilet a little further on in this article.
Thetford offer a 3 year warranty across all of their Porta Potti portable toilets. This is true reflection about how much confidence Theford have in the durability of their toilets.
Also, you can purchase individual spare parts. This means, if the piston flusher breaks then you can simply replace the one part and not have to worry about replacing the whole toilet.
This portable chemical toilet also comes with a three-year warranty. This speaks volumes about Thetford’s confidence in its durability.
Finally, it’s possible to purchase spare parts for this toilet. This offers some peace of mind for those who worry about their toilet breaking down while they’re camping. Plus, it means you may not have to shell out for a new toilet if something goes wrong.
Fully self contained.
The two compartments are really well engineered. They come apart and connect together seamlessly. When connected there is no loose movement. There is a sliding valve (think trap door) that separates the toilet bowl from the waste tank. And, there is also a top lid that secures tightly. All of these features mean that we never experienced any type of splashback or leak when travelling. Our big fear was that one day we would pull up after a full day of driving and open the van door, only to find the toilet had leaked or splashed everywhere. After using the Thetford Porta Potti 335 for a little while, we realised how well it had been designed and that we needn’t worry.
Small waste compartment.
The Thetford 335 only has enough room for holding 10 litres of waste. Which isn’t that much really. We found that for the two of us, it would be full in 2 days on average, if we were using it as our primary toilet. This became a major pain, and we would always be determining whether we should use the porta potti or finding a public toilet. On the upside, when used infrequently, it could last about 3-5 days – though in the back of our minds that also meant we had some old poo and wee sitting in the waste compartment. Luckily though, when not actively in use, the smell was pretty much non-existent when using the chemical additives in the waste compartment.
Smells can escape when in use.
We found that the waste compartment valve held the smells quite well, but when actually using the toilet, and sliding open the plastic that guards the entry to the tank, some smell would escape. The smell wasn’t as bad as you’d think. This is due to the fact that there is a liquid you add to the waste compartment which helps break down all the poo and urine.
Requires chemical additives.
In order for the waste to be broken down effectively in the waste compartment, a liquid chemical has to be added into the waste compartment. We used Thetford’s own product “Aqua Kem”. It’s no great hassle to use, but it is an added expense that some other toilet options don’t have.
Note that you can purchase Aqua Kem Blue or Aqua Kem Green. Both are toilet fluids that break down waste in the waste tank. The difference is that Aqua Kem Green is more eco friendly and 1005 safe for the septic tank. It does come with drawbacks though, in that it lasts about 4 days before it loses its efficiency. Aqua Kem Blue has a more powerful performance and lasts a little longer (about 4-5 days). There’s also slight variations in smell (AKB is pine whereas AKG is citrus), but we didn’t really notice the scent at all.
The Porta Potti 335 is most definitely shorter off the ground. This takes a little bit to get used to. It’s not too low that it is uncomfortable, it’s just a little bit…different.
Let’s cut to the chase – emptying the darn thing can get tiresome quickly. It’s not that the Thetford is hard to empty, it’s just that some RV dump sites can be down right nasty! This is really our biggest negative. If we were to purchase again, we would definitely purchase the 365 model. The 365 is a lot bigger, but I think that extra waste compartment capacity is priceless considering you don’t have to empty it as much.
Our thoughts on the Thetford Porta Potti 335
After travelling with this toilet in our van full time, we can now look back in hindsight and give you our thoughts on this model and what we really thought of it.
Overall, we think it is a great buy for the price. But, the trade off of the cheap price is that this toilet is inconvenient in one massive way. This model really only holds enough waste to last 2 adults 2 or 3 day max. And, for the last day you would have serious waste capacity anxiety!
To empty it isn’t that hard, and it’s not dirty. The thetford has been well designed so that emptying and cleaning is easy. But… to have to leave your camp and find an RV dump every 2 or 3 days can be a royal pain in the backside.
To be fair to Thetford. This model (335) is only meant to be used for short term camping. Overnight or multiday stuff. It is not built for full time van life. We were most definitely using it outside of it’s area of competence.
Price – 4.5/5
Build Quality – 4.5/5
If you have a small van, or are not going to be relying on this as your sole means of using a toilet, then we believe this is a great little unit.
If you are looking for a toilet to use for every ablution you do, then you may want to consider a cassette toilet, or composting toilet, or simply the Thetford model up from this, which was the 365. These will have a higher storage capacity and therefore will be less of a hindrance in the long run.
If we had to do it again, what kind of toilet would we buy next time.
Now that we have travelled full time with the Thetford 335, would we buy it again?
The short answer is… it’s complicated.
When we were travelling, we were not relying on the Thetford for all of our poos and wees. We would usually find a public toilet, or campsite with showers and do all our business there. We determined to use the porta potty only when there was no other option, or for emergencies.
When we travel again, we will have three toilet users. This will be a big difference as on our last adventure our son was in nappies.
So, If we were to buy a toilet again for a van conversion like our previous one (Ford Transit Jumbo) then we would now go for a higher capacity – the Thetford 365 has double the capacity at 21L. We loved the fact that this portable toilet was, in fact, portable! We loved that we could set up a tent outside the van for our toilet time. It gave us individually so much more privacy when we did decide to use the Porta Potti.
If we were to upscale to an RV or caravan, we would have a serious look at a compostable toilet. They just have too many positives going for them. They are earth friendly as they don’t use harsh chemicals and they don’t emit any smells due to the composting tank being vented to the outside of the van.
We would likely go to the “Nature’s Head” toilet as it seems to be the best reviewed option out there.
Decided to go down the portable toilet route for your van or RV? Here are some must know Tips & Tricks when using a portable toilet for vanlife.
There are a few tips and tricks that are really worth knowing if you decide to purchase and use a portable toilet in your van conversion or RV.
Use toilet treatment chemical additive fluid.
Make sure to treat your waste holding tank with toilet chemical fluid. This fluid turbocharges the breakdown process of the waste and also helps to reduce any odours. Using this chemical additive also means that when you go to empty your waste compartment, everything has been broken down nicely and you are simply just pouring out the broken down waste as fluid. It makes it waaay less disgusting, and is worth the cost for this fact alone.
There are many different options out there. We personally used the Thetford Aqua-Kem range. They worked a treat for us and didn’t break the bank.
Some vanlifers also recommend using a scented laundry detergent in the clean water compartment so when you flush you get a nice scent. While this is a nice idea, we didn’t need it and it also reduces the eco friendliness of it, unless you use an environmentally friendly laundry detergent.
Pump before you poo!
It’s always worth pumping a little bit of water (using the toilet’s hand pump) into the bowl before you do your private business. This will just help keep the poo from sticking to the bowl walls. You can then pump a little bit more water down after your poo, and everything should move down into the waste holding tank easily and quickly.
Only use your portable toilet when you absolutely need to.
Try to use your portable toilet only when you have no other options. By using it infrequently, you can extend the use to 4-5 days (that’s how long the Thetford Aqua Green lasts). Dumping the toilet more frequently can impede your plans dramatically, especially if there is not a dump site anywhere close to you. It could even cause you to have to suffer the inconvenience of rerouting your trip, just so you can go through a town that has an RV dump site.
If you are out bush, then the old fashioned hole in the ground will suffice (pending 100m away from any water streams, and take your toilet paper away with you!). Or if you are planning to do a grocery shop, try to do your business there at the shopping centres facilities.
Don’t dispose of toilet paper in the portable toilet!
Seriously, if you do, you are asking for a poo covered nightmare to come your way.
These portable toilets work by being able to, with the help of chemical aids, break down your excrement quickly. Toilet paper will break down, but it will take so much longer than human waste. If you do put toilet paper in the portable toilet, it could lead to the exit pipe that you use to pour out the waste at dump sites, clogging up. Trust us, it’s a nightmare to try and get toilet paper out of the waste department, and even when using a hose to flush it out, you risk splashback.
We would simply dispose of our toilet paper into a small plastic bag and then tie that plastic bag up and add it to our normal waste bin, which would be emptied every second day.
Buy a portable shower tent to make a private toilet out of .
This tip is for people travelling as a couple, or in a group. Buy yourself a cheap, portable shower tent. These are like a traditional camping tent, except they are tall enough to allow an adult to stand comfortably.
Whenever we knew we were going to stay somewhere for more than 2 nights, we would throw up the “toilet” tent, and make a private room for our toilet. This means that if someone wants to poo or wee, the other people in the travelling party don’t have to leave the van.
How to properly dump an RV portable Toilet
- Double check that the toilet bowl is completely empty. If there is anything in the bowl, flush it through to the waste holding tank.
- Separate the waste compartment from the toilet. In the case of the Thetford 335 Porta Potti, this part is grey. Typically there will be a little latch you depress that allows the top of the toilet to disengage from the waste tank.
- Transfer the waste tank from your van or RV to your RV dump.
- At the RV dump, rotate the spout away from you. This is beneficial because it positions the exit to the waste tank further away from you, thus saving you from unwanted splashback.
- Start to empty the waste tank by tipping the contents out. You’ll get to see all of your poos and wees. But, because of the chemical additives you’ve used, all of your waste will be broken down into a liquid and won’t be too gross to watch go out the spout.
Really make sure you take this step slowly, otherwise you may end up cleaning more than the waste tank.
- Now that you’ve gotten everything out, simply hose the waste container out (there is typically a hose and water at most RV dumps for this exact purpose). I would spray water into the spout and then rinse it around and tip it out again to make sure all waste has left the tank. Do this as many times as you need.
- Take the waste tank back to your van or RV.
- Fill up your flushing water tank with water. This involves simply unscrewing the cap and pouring clean water in.
- Dry the toilet and waste tank, then reconnect and store your portable toilet.
- Crack a beer, you deserve it.
- Now just wait a few days until you see the tank indicator say it is nearly full again, and repeat the process…yay!