Living or travelling in a van does come with some downsides, with a huge one being the cassette toilet. There is no way around it, emptying a toilet is never going to be a pleasant process, but if you want a loo in your van, there is no alternative.

So, today we’re going to answer all the frequently asked toilet questions that you want to know about a cassette toilet, but are too scared to ask.

Cassette Toilet: What You Should Know

Cassette toilet
© Thetford/Amazon

What Is A Cassette Toilet?

A cassette toilet, also known as a chemical toilet is the most common form of portable camping loo. It consists of two chambers, one where the waste is stored and one you fill with a flushing solution.

You need to fill the waste chamber with one type of chemical and the flushing section with another. These chemicals are designed to make the emptying process as easy as possible and to keep to loo a smell-free zone. 

But, Is It Really Smell Free?

The first question everyone always wants the answer to about a chemical toilet is ‘does it smell?’. The short answer is no; once you’ve done your business and flushed it away, there is no smell. The waste chamber is tightly sealed to ensure that not even the slightest whiff can escape. 

How Long Does It Last?

How long your cassette toilet will last depends on the size you go for, and how many people there are using it. We have a 21L model that lasts for roughly 50-60 flushes, which works out as about four days. 

Can I Make It Last Longer?

Finding a dumping station every four days can be limiting when you’re on the road full time. It’s a tedious task and not where you want to be when you could be enjoying the coals or the mountains.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to increase the length of time in between dumping your chemical toilet.

Dispose of Your Toilet Paper In The Bin

Binning toilet paper may feel unnatural at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly, and it saves so much space in the waste cassette. As public bins are much easier to find compared to dump stations, doing this makes sense. 

Not Clogging your waste chamber with toilet paper also makes the emptying process much easier as it won’t cause any blockages. If you do decide to put your paper in the loo then definitely don’t use fancy four-ply stuff, the cheaper and thinner, the better!

Don’t Use The Flush

I know what you’re thinking; the flush is the one thing there to take the smell away. You may be right, but it also fills up the waste container really quickly. It just isn’t necessary to flush that much clean water and chemical solution every time you have a wee.

Save the flush for ‘special occasions’…

Use Public Bathrooms When You Can

Just because you have a cassette toilet, doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time. If you are somewhere that has public restrooms, then make use of them. Many beaches, towns and tourist hot spots will have public toilets free (or cheap) to use. 

Save The Toilet For Number Twos 

If you enjoy spending a lot of time in the wilderness, then you won’t be a stranger to the nature wee. When you are somewhere remote, then peeing outside is an excellent way to save space in your cassette toilet, meaning you can stay away from the dump station for longer. 

If you are going to wee outside do make sure you are somewhere private, for your own sake as well as others. Also, make sure that you are at least 30 metres form water, that’s about 40 steps.

Finally, do not leave any toilet roll on the ground!! Take it back to your van with you or dispose of it in a bin. 

Where Do I Empty It?

Motorhome services
© Park4Night

Even if you follow all of the above tips, you are still going to need to empty your cassette toilet at some point. There are several places that you can dump your waste, and once you know where to look, they are not hard to find. 

Campsites

If you use campsites regularly, then this is a good option for disposing of your waste. Obviously, this means that you are paying for the service, but if you’re paying for a campsite anyway, it isn’t usually extra on top of the nightly fee.

You should expect a dump station at a campsite to be clean, well maintained and easy to use. All of this makes emptying your cassette toilet as pleasant as possible.

Some motorhome campsites will also stock the chemicals needed to refill your cassette if you have run out while on the road. 

Motorhome Stopovers 

Throughout Europe, you will find many motorhome stopovers. These are car parks designated for campervans and often have facilities for dumping your cassette toilet, as well as refilling your clean water. These car parks are completely free and are available at the discretion of the local council. 

While it’s brilliant that these facilities are available for free, it does mean to quality (and cleanliness) will vary.

Most are a pleasure to use, but now and then you will come across one that is not so pleasant. Some will also cost a couple of euros, which is fine but just make sure you have some coins with you!

Finding the motorhome spots is easiest by using a camping app, such as Park4Night. By using an app, you can often see pictures of the services available, as well as reviews from other people.

This allows you to have a good idea of what is on offer and how good you can expect the services to be. Remember to leave the services as you would wish to find them!

Petrol Stations/ Truck Stops  

Many petrol stations will have a motorhome service point, for use by campers and long haul truck drivers. These will usually be paid services, either by paying at the machine or by speaking to a staff member. Much the same as motorhome stopovers, the quality and cleanliness vary. 

Supermarkets

Cassette toilet - motorhome services at a intermarche supermarket
© Park4Night

Some European countries will have motorhome services in supermarket car parks. For example, in Portugal, Intermarché often has a dump station as does Carrefour in France. As these are connected to a supermarket, you can expect these services to be clean and well kept.

It is generally assumed that you will purchase something in the store. However, this isn’t usually monitored. 

Down A Regualr Toilet

You can also empty a cassette toilet down a regualr toilet, once you get home for example. I wouldn’t suggest doing this in a public toilet as it is not very pleasant for other users.

How Do I Empty A Cassette Toilet?

Emptying a cassette toilet is really easy. Unclip the waste tank from the fresh flushing tank (slightly different on each model but evident once you see one).

Unscrew the lid from the drainage pipe on the toilet and empty waste into the drain at the service point. Then rinse the cassette by filling it with water, replacing the lid and giving it a shake. Rinse until the water runs clear and then rinse once more with some detergent. Add water and chemicals to clean the toilet as per the manufacturer’s instructions. 

What’s The Alternative?

No Toilet 

There are a few alternative options to a cassette toilet. The first one being no toilet at all. If you don’t plan on travelling full time in your campervan, then you might decide that you don’t need a toilet at all. T

his will work if you plan on always staying at campsites or in the wilderness and are comfortable and responsible in the great outdoors. 

Basic Camping Toilet 

The second option is a more basic portable camping toilet. This option will work if you plan on not needing a toilet in your van but would like a backup, just in case. Basic camping toilets consist of a bag to catch the waste that you hang from a toilet seat stand.

Not very pleasant, but does the job. You then dispose of the bag in a bin. 

Composting Toilet 

The final alternative option is to install a composting toilet. Composting toilets are more eco-friendly and, in some models, the solid waste does not need to be emptied so frequently, although the urine does. 

There is also some ambiguity on where to empty your waste in an environmentally friendly way. In a static situation, you would add it to your compost heap to eventually fertilise plants, but if you’re always on the move, this is more tricky.

Check out our composting toilets article to find out more. 

Can I Make My Cassette Toilet More Eco-Friendly?

If you decide that a composting toilet isn’t for you but want to be more eco-conscious when using your cassette toilet, then there are a few things you can do. 

Use Eco-Friendly Products 

The easiest way to be conscious of the environment when using a cassette toilet is to switch to using eco-friendly products. A cassette toilet relies on chemicals to break down your waste and keep it smell free.

Switching the harsh chemicals for green products is an excellent first step. Also, consider opting for eco-friendly cleaning products. 

If you can’t find any toilet chemical when you are on the road, a good alternative that can also be more eco-friendly is washing powder. The enzymes found in washing powder do a great job at breaking down the solid waste, and it smells nice too. 

Use Less Water

Saving water is another excellent way to help the environment when using a cassette toilet. Just like a regular toilet, this comes in the form of flushing less frequently. After all, if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down! 

Is It Heavy?

A full cassette toilet is pretty heavy, around 40lbs for a regular-sized 20-litre model. Usually, they are designed with this in mind, as they need to be carried and lifted to be emptied. However, if you’re petit or don’t consider yourself to be very strong, then the weight is worth considering before you choose which chemical toilet to buy. 

The capacity will be in the product details, so if you are unsure whether you will be able to lift it or not try finding something with a similar weight to be sure. You want to be able to lift it reasonably easily; otherwise emptying will be difficult, and you definitely do not want to spill the contents. 

Where Can I Store It?

You will probably want to hide your cassette toilet as they’re pretty ugly. If you don’t have a full bathroom in your campervan then here are some popular options as to where you can store it.

Under A Bench Seat

Storing your cassette toilet under a bench seat is an excellent solution as it means the toilet doesn’t take up any more space than necessary. It’s also easy to build a suitable seat, the only thing to think about is installing a flip-up lid for easy access as well as a door to remove the cassette for emptying. 

Under The Bed

Cassette Toilet stored under the bed

Another popular place for the toilet in a campervan is under the bed. The best way to do this is to position the toilet on a platform with drawer runners so that it easily slides out for use.

Just make sure that the runners have a load capacity high enough to take the weight of a full toilet plus yourself!

How Much Is A Cassette Toilet?

A cassette toilet is generally pretty cheap. Most models range from £50-£100. You can but a fancy version with a proper flush but at the end of the day you still need to remove the cassette cane empty it. I don’t think it’s worth the extra £500. 

Final Thoughts… 

I hope I have managed to answer all of your awkward toilet-related questions. While it isn’t a pleasant topic, it is essential to life and essential to get right in your campervan.

In my opinion, a cassette toilet is the best option for travelling in a van; they’re easy to use, cheap, do the job and work well. To be honest, not much can go wrong, and they’re not as scary as they may seem to first-time campers!

If you’re looking for a list of good cassette toilets, then check out our article on the best campervan toilets. For more content from the Van Clan team follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter