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What’s So Great About RV Composting Toilets?

What’s So Great About RV Composting Toilets?

There are tons of positives to RVing. You get to see the country, meet new people, have the freedom to go when and where you want. But then there are some parts of RVing that no one likes to talk about. One of those is dealing with the black tank. It is a dreaded but inevitable task of RV life. Or it used to be! But that was before RV composting toilets became more widely available. 

If you hate dealing with – or being limited by – the black tank, you’re going to want to keep reading.

What Is a Composting Toilet?

An RV composting toilet is a great alternative to a traditional RV toilet and is frequently used on boats and in off-grid cabins as well. In short, a composting toilet composts waste rather than flushing it with water and plumbing. The result of composting is waste turns into soil/fertilizer, and you can simply toss it out in the trash or a compost pile. 

Using a composting toilet in an RV means no more dumping the dreaded black tank. It also means that the previous limitations of your black tank capacity – especially when it comes to off-grid RVing or boondocking – no longer apply. 

How Does an RV Composting Toilet Work? 

A composting toilet works with absolutely no water. It is designed to separate liquids and solids and send each to its own small tank or bucket. This is key because when liquid and solid waste mix, sewage is created. By keeping them separate, the solid waste is allowed to be decomposed by bacteria and enzymes in a natural composting manner.

Airhead composting toilet in an RV

The solid waste bucket is filled with dry peat moss or coco coir compost starter that looks like dirt. This organic material dries out the solid waste and aids in decomposing. Eventually, your solid waste becomes compost. Most composting toilet models have a crank that can turn the compost and keep it well mixed. 

Coco-coir or peat moss is used as the base in the solid waste bucket.

The liquid waste or urine is captured in either a separate bucket or plumbed into a larger holding tank to be dumped at a dump station. The bucket option is removable so it can be dumped in an appropriate place outside or into a sewer receptacle. 

Used toilet paper can be but is usually not places in the solids bucket, as it takes up space. Instead, it is placed in a trash can to be thrown out separately.

Do Composting Toilets Smell?

Generally speaking, no. Not like a black tank anyway. Let us explain:

Composting toilets do not smell as bad for two primary reasons. First, because there is no liquid mixed with the solid waste, it doesn’t turn into sewage and give off that odor all RVers dread. The smell of the solid waste in the bucket isn’t pleasant – like a manure smell – but not nearly as strong and pungent as black water. Also, the only time you smell it is because of reason #2.

Reason #2 is that there is a small 12V electric fan attached to a vent hose that pulls the air out of the solid waste bucket and to the outside. The fan keeps any smell from rising up and out of the bucket into the RV. The only time you whiff the solid waste manure smell is when you are changing the compost. 

Dealing With the Liquid Waste

The only “bad” smelling part of the toilet is dealing with the urine bucket. As mentioned, the urine is typically either captured in a bucket or jug. This bucket needs to be emptied when filled into a traditional toilet or in an appropriate spot on the ground after diluting. 

One way to avoid having to use buckets is to plumb a line from your composting toilet into an RV “yellow” tank to allow for more capacity. You would then need to dump this tank at a typical dump station. 

Dealing With the Solid Waste

Usually, filling your RV compost bin takes a few weeks. Once it is full, the bucket is removable, so you can do the dirty work outside. Just dump the bucket into a trash bag (preferably also compostable) and toss it out.  

Solid waste may be dumped and composted outside if done so properly on your own property (or you have permission). The compost created from human waste must not be used on any plants that will be consumed by humans. Please research proper handling instructions of solid waste compost before dumping.

Advantages of Using a Composting Toilet in Your RV

There are lots of benefits to upgrading your RV toilet to a composting toilet. Here are a few:

Great for Boondocking Off-Grid

First and foremost, it is an excellent choice for boondocking or RVing without hookups. This is because an RV composting toilet 1) doesn’t use any freshwater, 2) it doesn’t use or require a black tank, and 3) it uses minimal electricity. All perfect for off-grid living! 

Not only do you not have to worry about filling your black tank, but you also use so much less fresh water than with a standard toilet. This means your fresh water tank will last you longer as well. It’s a win-win!

Opportunity to Combine Black & Grey Tank Capacities

Adding a composting toilet means you’ll have no use for your black tank. If you’re lucky enough to have your grey and black tanks installed at the same level, you can actually combine these tanks to make your grey water capacity even larger! 

To do this, you will need to add a gate valve that you connect to the outlet pipe. You then pull your other valves so your grey water can flow into your now unused black tank.

Valterra Twist-On Waste Valve, Mess-Free Waste...
  • No more mess with an old valve problem
  • Twists onto your current waste valve
  • Eliminates expensive service work

PS: If your RV is like ours and you can’t combine your tanks, you can always rip out your black tank and use the space for something else, like 8 Battle Born Lithium-Ion Batteries like we did! ?

Great for RVs With Small Tanks

Because of the first two reasons stated above, the composting toilet is really amazing for RVs with smaller tank capacities. Suddenly, an RV with small freshwater, grey, and black tanks will be able to extend their freshwater and increase their grey water capacity. This means they will be able to majorly extend their off-grid boondocking stretches and go longer in between dump station visits. 

Never Dump Your Black Tank Again

While you still need to deal with your waste, it won’t be as frequent or nearly as smelly. You’re also not in danger of an awful sewage accident at the dump station! While everyone has their own opinion, we think that dealing with the composting toilet is much more preferable than dumping a black tank or a cassette toilet. 

Dumping a cassette toilet.

Save Water & Be Eco-Friendly

Since using our composting toilet, we’ve become extremely aware of the amount of water used in ever flush of a residential toilet. If you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll definitely feel the satisfaction of doing your part to save water and be eco-friendly!

Disadvantages of RV Composting Toilets

Although we love and highly recommend our composting toilet, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also share the few disadvantages. We understand that an RV composting toilet isn’t for everyone. And if you’re hooked up to water and sewer all the time, the water-saving advantages listed above might not be as valuable to you.

First, RV composting toilets are more expensive than a regular RV toilet. Second, it would require an installation as few RVs come with composting toilets already installed. Additionally, some composting toilets have strange shapes and sizes that might not work with the layout of your RV bathroom.

RV bathrooms come in creative shapes and layouts. Consider your bathroom shape when planning your composting toilet upgrade.

You’ll also need to think about where the vent is going to run to. Pro Tip: try not to vent to the door-side wall of your RV. 

Another disadvantage of an RV composting toilet, and by far the biggest one, is that you need to empty liquids almost daily for most models. Although this varies depending on use, having a daily chore associated with the toilet is a drag. We recommend getting either a second urine bucket to swap in when the other is full or looking into plumbing-in a “yellow” tank.

It also takes a bit to get used to using and emptying an RV composting toilet. There is a learning curve, but if you figured out how to dump your tanks, we know you can figure this out too.

Who Is A Composting Toilet For?

Now, just like most features of RVs, the composting toilet isn’t going to be for everyone. As a traveling couple who loves boondocking, this was an awesome upgrade. If you’re preference is to stay in RV parks with full hookups, the convenience of attaching your sewer and not dumping a liquid bucket every day might very well win out.

RV families with more than 2 people might also find that changing the liquids and the solids portions have to happen much more frequently. Monitoring the bucket levels, while easily done with a glance, might induce some anxiety if you’re having to take care of liquids multiple times per day.

Enjoy Extensive Off-Grid RVing With a Composting Toilet

Upgrading to an RV composting toilet is an easy choice if you love boondocking and/or really hate dumping your black tank! It is a simple way to take one of the worst parts of RVing and make it much less painful (and smelly). 

Whats so great about RV composting Toilets? | What You Should Consider Before You Buy

We personally installed an Air-Head Composting toilet in 2018 for full-time RV use and haven’t looked back. That upgrade took our boondocking to the next level: reducing our water consumption and increasing our flexibility. 

What do you think? Is a composting toilet right for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jodi Werhanowicz

Thursday 30th of December 2021

We are in the research stage before getting our composting toilet. I have some questions. 1) What is the amp hour draw of your fan? We boondock only and have a 190 watt solar panel with two golf cart batteries (to be replaced with lithium when they die). 2) also fan related, I read on a website that the fan wasn't really necessary if you are turning the handle enough and have a "lid/cap" on the solids tank when not in use. What is your thought on that? 3) Do you have a thought on plumbing the urine tank into the grey tank (which we will hopefully combine with the black tank for greater capacity)? I also saw where someone said they just pour the urine down the shower drain. What do you think of that?

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

on the fan i never actuall measured it because it was so small it never made an impact on our system. I think it runs about 5 watts so about 10 amp-hours per 24 hours. If the fan is off we have noticed smell build pretty quick, if you seal the lid when not in use yes you can shut the fan off for sure. I think pluming the urine that way is a great idea, shouldn't be a problem, as for dumping down the shower, i wouldent, it will smell and you will need alot of water to get it flushed through the trap. Hope this helps.

Dalton Bourne

Sunday 25th of July 2021

I bought this nature’s head RV self contained composting toilet to be installed in my RV. It's an appropriate option. This product has durable construction with stainless steel hardware, simple to disassemble for easy dumping, features a low volume fan inside the toilet’s head to dissipate odor effectively. I was also thrilled to see how well it did, keeping my bathroom odor-free.

Dalton Bourne

Monday 26th of July 2021

I was also thrilled to see how well it did, keeping my bathroom odor-free. The device can offer this benefit because it has a low volume fan embedded inside the toilet’s head. It’ll recycle the air inside your RV bathroom and keep everything odor-free.

Dalton Bourne

Monday 26th of July 2021

Overall, the tropical climate performance issues seem a little overblown to me. It shouldn’t be something to make you wary of purchasing this Nature’s Head composting toilet. The product shouldn’t have any problems meeting all your expectations.

Mark Allen

Monday 8th of February 2021

It sure gives a new meaning to, I'm not dealing with your s**t.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Lol! :)

Dennis

Sunday 10th of January 2021

What is a yellow tank? Can the urine be funneled into the black tank? That is where it would have gone anyways.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 11th of January 2021

Yes! Its kind of a joke that if the black tank is used only for urine that it becomes a "yellow" tank. That's a great way to make a composting toilet much easier to manage.

David Bybee

Saturday 9th of January 2021

I’ve had a natures head composting toilet for the last six years. I wouldn’t go back to a regular toilet. I love Boondocking and this is the best way to do it. The urine is definitely a in issue. The potential for smell with a urine bucket is greatly reduced by putting in a half a cup or a cup of vinegar each time after you dump it out. It really reduces the smell. The installation in my trailer was quite easy. I kept all the original plumbing in case it needs to be moved back to original for somebody else. Put in a three-quarter inch plywood spacer to raise it up enough to allow me to put a compression plug in the old toilet hole. Putting in the vent pipe can be the most tricky part of the installation. Where are my black tech vent was I put in a T connection and ran the vent from the toilet to that connection.

Pamela

Tuesday 19th of July 2022

@David Bybee, question... How did you prep your black tank for non- use. We are installing our composting toilet today and are unsure of exactly what to do with the black tank as we wont be using it again until such time that we might sell the travel trailer and re-install the flush toilet. We are somewhat new to the whole RV thing and wonder if we should leave a full fresh water in the black tank with the tank chemicals until we winterize- then dump and fill with some antifreeze for winter storage? Advice? Thanks!

Mortons on the Move

Monday 11th of January 2021

Thank you for the vinegar tip!

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