How Portable Camping Toilets Work – And How to Use Them
Last Updated on January 13, 2022 by toilethaven
Most camping grounds have restrooms but often these facilities are located far away from the camping site. The need to have a personal portable camping toilet therefore becomes vital.
Walking for 3-5 minutes in the dead of the night to use a restroom is far from ideal for most people. Porta potties also come in handy when you are road tripping, fishing or hunting and you have no other form of toilets .
So, how does a portable camping toilet work? To answer these question, you will need to specify the type of camping toilet you are referring to.
There are 4 main types of portable camping toilets. These are:
- Flushable camping toilets
- Portable composting toilets
- Bucket camping toilets
- Collapsible camping toilets
Let us look at how each of the above porta potties work.
1. How a Flushable Camping Toilet Works
Flushable portable camping toilets are the most sophisticated camping toilets. They are designed to function and feel as similar as residential flush toilets.
These toilets have 3 main parts which are the bowl, the fresh water tank and the waste water tank also known as a holding tank. The holding tank is located at the bottom to enable the waste to flow from the bowl downwards through gravity.
Their bowls comes with a seat and lid. Some of the best flushable porta potties have an elongated toilet bowl and seat which are more comfortable than a round ones.
They also try to as much as possible make sure that the seat height is as close as possible to that of a standard toilet so you don’t have to bend your knees too much. These toilet’s seat lid normally snaps on the bowl to minimize vibrations during transportation.
There is a sliding valve which separates the bowl and the holding tank. This valve serves 2 functions. The first one is to prevent the waste from leaking/spilling and the second one is contain unpleasant gases inside the holding tank
Prior to using the toilet, a little chemical (blue in color) is added in the holding tank. This helps to break down the waste into a slurry and also take care of bad odors.
The fresh water tank is normally smaller than the holding tank. It however has a removable cup at the top that allows you to add more water when the level in the tank goes down.
To use the toilet, look for the sliding valve handle which is mostly located at the front of the toilet. Pull it out to expose the holding tank to the bowl. Sit on the toilet and proceed to do your business.
Most of these toilets use a manual pump mounted at the top of the fresh water tank for flushing. You will need to pump it a few times in order to flush. An exception to this is the Thetford Porta Potti which uses a battery-powered flushing system.
The best flushable camping toilets have a level indicator to show you the level of the waste in the holding tank. This helps you to accurately know when to dump the waste.
Most flushable porta potties have a detachable holding tank normally connected to the rest of the toilet using side latches. Disconnecting the holding tank for dumping takes under a minute.
Flushable camping toilet’s holding tanks are easy to carry and can be emptied in any flush toilet. A pour-out spout at the top of the tank allows you to safely dump the waste without it splashing back at you. Decent toilets have a pivoting spout.
As soon as all the waste has been poured out, rinse the holding tank with clean water 2 or 3 times. Attach it back to the rest of the toilet.
If you would like to see a few of the best Flushable portable camping toilets check out this post I wrote a while ago.
2. How a Portable Composting Toilet Works
A composting toilet is a dry/non-flush toilet that biologically breaks downs human waste into dry compost matter that can be later used a garden fertilizer. Some composting toilets are installed permanently like regular toilets but the best ones for camping are lightweight and easily portable.
They have 3 main parts. The first one is the bowl which is at the top of the toilet, a liquids/urine bin at the front and a solids bin directly under the bowl.
Composting toilets are designed in such a way that liquid waste (urine) is separated from solid waste. For effective decomposition to happen, the solid matter needs to have as little moisture as possible.
Urine is also responsible for most of the bad odors hence separating it from the solid waste eliminates the potential for an awful smelling toilet. You should empty the urine bin everyday preferably in the morning.
Some composting toilets may look slightly different from what I have described but basically that is how the main parts are organized. Cheap composting toilets do not have a means of separating liquid waste from solid waste and tend to smell a lot.
The solids bin can be used for a long time before the need to empty it. The waste also needs time in order for decomposition to happen and this is another reason why you need to make sure that urine does not go inside the solids bin.
Before using a composting toilet you should first add a carbon-based substance inside the solids bin. These are substances like peat moss, saw dust and coconut coir. They help to create air pockets inside the bin which speed up decomposition as well as prevent bad odors.
Composting toilets have an agitator on the side that helps you mix the waste and the peat moss after every use. A valve at the bottom of the bowl keeps the bin air-tight unless when it is being used.
To prevent leaving streaks of waste on the bowl, you should have a water spray bottle on the side. Wet the bowl with a little water them proceed to use the toilet.
You should also have a brush to clean the bowl in case some waste embeds on the bowl. Use the spray bottle and brush to clean the bowl. This way you will avoid using too much water which would affect the overall efficiency of the toilet.
To further prevent bad odors accumulating in the bin, most decent composting toilets will also have a fan, which can run on both AC and DC. Apart from just removing the awful smell, the fan keeps the bin’s contents dry to fasten the decomposition process.
A while ago I wrote a detailed article reviewing the best composting toilets in the market. Check it out here.
3. How Bucket Portable Camping Toilets Work
Bucket portable camping toilets as their name imply are simple 5-gallon bucket toilets with a snap lid that is used as a seat. They are the simplest and least expensive camping toilets.
You can either make your own bucket toilet or buy an already made one. Just like ordinary buckets, they came with a metal handle to help you easily carry them around.
To use a bucket toilet you will need to have compostable garbage bags and poo powder. You can also buy bags with a gel at the bottom that helps to break down the waste and prevent bad odors.
If you don’t want to buy any of those products, ordinary garbage bags and kitty litter works just fine. You should however double on the garbage bags to prevent any leakage.
To make sure that you don’t come into contact with the waste at any time, make sure that the garbage bags goes under the toilet seat and not over. You should therefore remove the seat, put the bag, make sure that its edges are hanging outside the rim of the bucket then put the seat and lid back.
By so doing, you will only need to grab the edges of the garbage bags during dumping, eliminating any chances of touching human waste.
I like the fact that the seat lids are designed in such a way that they snap tightly on the rim of the bucket. The waste is therefore restricted within the buckets and will not fly off even during transportation.
The main advantages of bucket portable camping toilets is that they are inexpensive and do not need any water to function. Another thing is they are extremely lightweight which makes them easy to carry around.
Since bucket toilets do not have a way of separating liquid waste from solid waste, they will need to be emptied frequently lest they start smelling. The seat opening is also smaller than most people would like. These are 2 of the main disadvantages of bucket camping toilets.
If you would like to check out some of the best bucket portable toilets in the market check out this post I wrote some time back.
4. How Collapsible Portable Camping Toilets Work
A collapsible portable camping toilet is toilet with collapsible or foldable legs. They are very compact and will easily fit in a tight spot which is really helpful especially during transportation.
Just like bucket toilets, collapsible camping toilets are also dry toilets. They are therefore a great option if you are camping deep in the forest or high in the mountains where running water does not exist.
The only difference between bucket toilets and collapsible portable toilets is that collapsible porta potties look more stylish and can also fit in tight spots. Other than that both of these toilets works in pretty much the same way.
To use a collapsible toilet, unfold its legs fully. Most of them have 3 legs. It is important to make sure that each leg has fully extended out to avoid breaking them or even falling off. Often, a leg will let out a click sound as confirmation that it is fully extended.
Once that is done, insert a garbage bag inside the bowl and add some poo powder. Go ahead and do your business. Whenever possible and especially for gentlemen, do the number 1 outside (if it is not prohibited) and reserve the toilet for the number 2.
The one thing I like the most about collapsible camping toilets is that they are very sturdy. You will notice that the legs spread outwards increasing the overall stability of the toilet. You are therefore not likely to fall off from these toilets.
Most collapsible toilets are however very short compared to regular home toilets. You will therefore need to squat way too much that you may find comfortable. They are therefore very ideal for people with bad knees.
To see 5 of the best collapsible portable camping toilets in the market checkout this post
Portable camping toilets are easy to use, inexpensive and a must-have when camping in an area without restrooms. They are especially helpful for use during the night when most people would not prefer walking alone outside to the public restroom.
Depending on your needs and preference you can opt to buy one of the 4 types of porta potties. Flushable and composting portable toilets are a bit pricier while collapsible and bucket toilets are easily affordable.
Portable camping toilets can also be used as RV toilets. Most them come with a hold-down kit (sold separately) to fix them on the floor of the RV.
Having a portable toilet in your home can also be very useful especially for emergencies. Sometimes you have no running water in your pipes or you could be remodeling your bathroom and a porta potty would therefore come in handy.
- Can you poop in a portable toilet?
Yes you can and you should. If you can’t poop in it then it is hardly a toilet. Portable toilets are designed to help you do the number 1 and the number 2.
If it is a flushable portable toilet you will have to dump the waste after the holding tank is full but if it is a dry portable toilet you will need to dispose of the waste at an appropriate dumping area.
2. How do you empty a portable toilet?
A portable toilet’s holding tank is connected to the bowl and fresh water tank using side latches. Unlatch the holding tank and empty its contents in a flush toilet.
You will see a pour-out spout with a cap at the top of the holding tank. Remove the cap and rotate the spout to face away from yourself. Aim inside the toilet bowl and proceed to dump.
To empty a dry portable/bucket toilet just fold the garbage bag and dump the waste at an appropriate garbage disposal point. Do not just throw waste anywhere. That is environmental pollution and the waste could also spread waterborne diseases.
3. How often do you need to empty a portable toilet?
Most portable toilets have a level indicator which shows the level of the waste in the holding tank. You are then able to know precisely when to empty it. Bucket portable toilets should be emptied as often as possible, most preferably daily.
4. Can you put toilet paper in a portable toilet?
Yes you can but you should only use a small amount of it, and only use one which will break down easily. Choose a toilet papers which is specially designed for RV toilets or septic systems since they disintegrate faster without clogging up the holding tank.
5. What chemicals do you put in a portable toilet?
The chemicals added n a portable toilets are dyes, biocides, surfactants and fragrances. The dye (normally blue) helps to conceal the waste while the biocides inhibit the growth of bacteria in the holding tank.
Surfactants/detergents lowers the surface tension between the waste and the chemical liquid increasing the effectiveness of the biocides while the fragrances are responsible for odor elimination.
6. How do I stop my portable toilet from smelling?
Dropping a cleaning tablet inside the holding tank once a month will help reduce the bad odor. Letting out air from the holding tank will also help. Pull out the sliding valve and place the porta potty in an area with natural flow of air to expel out the unpleasant gases.
This is how regular toilets are vented. Choose a time when the toilet is less likely to be used and give it a few minutes/hours to “breath”
7. Why do portable toilets stink?
This is because portable toilets do not have a vent unlike regular toilets hence sewage gases accumulate inside. Observing proper hygiene and regularly opening the holding tank valve for a few minutes to expel the trapped gasses can help in reducing the awful smells.