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Portable Camping Toilets: What They Are and How They Work

There are many different kinds of camping toilets on the market today. A portable camping toilet is an increasingly popular choice for many campers, RVers, and van dwellers. 

Portable camping toilets are compact, budget-friendly, and easy to use. So what exactly are they, and how do they work? This article breaks it all down, so let’s get into it!

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What is a Portable Camping Toilet? 

A portable camping toilet is an all-in-one style toilet that includes an attached waste tank and freshwater tank, with a toilet seat and bowl.

Portable camping toilets are popular camping toilets and used in smaller RVs, like Class Bs. They are also a popular option for DIY camper vans, boats, tents, and even for the occasional road trip. They come in various shapes, colors, and sizes.

line up of portable toilets of various shapes sizes and colors

How Do Portable Camping Toilets Work? 

Portable camping toilets can be powered electrically or manually with a hand pump. There is a freshwater tank, a toilet bowl, a mechanism to add water to the bowl, and a small waste tank. 

Before You Use

Before you use your portable toilet, be sure to buy and use the appropriate toilet chemicals recommended by the toilet manufacturer. These will help reduce odor and prevent build-up inside your waste tank for easy dumping and cleaning later.

How To Use

To use the toilet, you add fresh water to the bowl, do your business, close the lid, and “flush” the toilet. The flushing action opens the gate valve, and gravity does the work to send everything to the waste tank. 

Using “camp tissue” may help with dumping later, so is recommended. However, because of frequent dumping, you may be able to use regular toilet paper.

How To Dump

Portable camping toilets come apart for easy dumping. The bottom part of the toilet is the waste tank. The waste tanks can range in size between 2 gallons to 5 gallons or more in a larger toilet. The tank can be dumped at an appropriate RV dump station, rinsed out, and reassembled. 

Carefully disassemble the top and bottom sections. You may choose to move the entire toilet outside for this task to ensure no spillage inside, your choice. Next, securely screw on the waste tank cap. Carry the waste tank to the dump station. Some models have easy-pour non-spilling spouts to help with aiming into the drain, but others may not. Carefully pour the waste into the receptical.

disassembled portable toilet waste tank with open cap

When you dump your waste tank, you also add water to your fresh tank. When using a portable camping toilet, you want to use as much water as possible with each flush. This is similar to an RV black tank. This helps prevent build-up and makes it easier to clean out.

Pro Tip: When you gotta go, you gotta go. But what do you do if your RV doesn’t have a porcelain throne? Find out Does Your Camper Really Need a Toilet?

Pros and Cons of Portable Camping Toilets for RVs

Just like with all toilet styles, there are pros and cons to portable camping toilets. These types of camping toilets may be very suited to some lifestyles and not for others. Let’s go over the pros and cons here. 


Low Cost – Portable camping toilets are some of the lowest-priced camping toilets on the market. This makes them a very attractive option for those on a budget who want a practical bathroom solution.

All-in-One – Since portable camping toilets are all-in-one systems, there is no installation required. These toilets can be taken car camping, put in an RV, in a camper van, a boat, and more. 

Small – Most portable camping toilets are pretty small, so they can fit just about anywhere. In fact, many DIY camper vans will slide their toilet under the bed or in a cabinet when not in use. 

portable toilet in camping tent


Sewage – With a portable camping toilet, all your waste goes into one tank. This creates sewage, and it means you’re hauling raw sewage around everywhere you go. 

Have to Dump at Dump Stations – Since you’re dealing with sewage, you can’t dump your portable camping toilet just anywhere. You need to dump at an approved RV dump station or down a toilet. The latter option is just about as unpleasant as you can imagine. Often you will have to pay for access to a dump station if you’re not a guest of the campground. 

Needs to Be Dumped Frequently – Whether you have a 2-gallon or 5-gallon waste tank, you’ll want to dump this toilet every couple of days. Dumping often will prevent smells and make it easier to carry. This can be an issue if you like to boondock for weeks on end!

Pressure – If you’re traveling through different elevations, pressure can build up in the waste tank. This can cause a seriously unpleasant explosive surprise when you go to flush the toilet. Most portable camping toilets are equipped with a pressure relief button – the key is remembering to use it!

Shopping for a porta potty might seem unpleasant at first, but it is an important piece to your camping experience. We’ve identified the top 4 recommended portable toilets for camping to help make it a little easier!

Thetford 92820 Porta Potti

Porta Potti Thetford Porta Potti 365 Portable...
  • [Versatility]: award-winning, top-of-the-line portable toilet,...
  • [Design]: ergonomic handle makes it easy to maneuver. The compact...
  • [Sanitary]: sealed valve prevents odors escaping the holding tank

The Thetford Porta Potti 365 is one of the most popular portable camping toilets on the market today. With 621 ratings on Amazon giving it a 4.7 out of 5 stars, you can guess that this is a solid choice.

This toilet has a 5-gallon waste tank, 4.0 gallons of fresh water capacity, a full indicator and is completely manual. No electricity or batteries required. It has a carrying handle on the waste tank and a rotating spout for easy dumping.

thetford porta potti brand portable camping toilet

Dometic Portable Toilet

Dometic 976 Portable Toilet - Camping Porta Potty...
  • PORTABLE AND POWERFUL FLUSHING: Dometic Portable Toilet is an...
  • HIGH-STRENGTH CONSTRUCTION: Made with high-density polyethylene,...
  • COMFORTABLE AND SECURE: With an adult-size seat and lid, this...

Dometic has their own line of toilets – and this is their popular portable camping toilet option. Similar to the Thetford 365, the Dometic Portable Toilet toilet has a full indicator, a carrying handle, and is manually operated. You can choose gray or tan, and this toilet comes in a 2.6-gallon capacity, and 5 gallons. 

Thetford 565E Curve Porta Potti

No products found.

The Thetford 565E Curve toilet is popular because of its resemblance to a residential toilet. Unlike most portable camping toilets that are square and boxy, the Thetford 565E Curve is…well, curvy.

This toilet has a full indicator, a 5-gallon waste tank, and even features a drawer for toilet paper. The flushing system on this toilet is electric (hence the “E” in the model name), requiring four AAA batteries. 

thetford porta potti 565E toilet

SereneLife Outdoor Portable Toilet

SereneLife Portable Toilet with Carry Bag –...
  • CONVENIENT, COMPACT, AND PORTABLE – The SereneLife portable...
  • LARGE CAPACITY OF UP TO 120 FLUSHES – Our extra-large tank of...
  • LEAK-PROOF AND ODORLESS DESIGN – To prevent unnecessary messes...

The SereneLife Outddor Portable Toilet has over 2000 reviews giving it an impressive 4.6 out of 5 stars. It has a 5.3 gallon large waste tank – holding a bit more than the other 3 contenders and therefore allowing you to go longer between dumps.

This model also has a easy dumping spout and a carrying case – which we think is a nice touch!

How To Clean A Portable Camping Toilet

Every now and then, your portable toilet will need to be more thoroughly cleaned. This means disassembling it, hosing it out, and scrubbing away any built-up debris. Even if you do small rinse-outs after each dump to dislodge any material and flush the tank at the sanitation dump station, you may experience grime build up.

washing a portable camping toilet

Using the right toilet additive and chemicals also helps tremendously. Not only will these keep your toilet cleaner, but help your portable toilet last longer.


Portable camping toilets are a great budget option for the tent camper, van lifer, or RVer. The ability to become self-sufficient with your own toilet is a game-changer for any traveler! 

Where will you go with your Porta Potti? ?

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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