Ethical Toilet Ideas for Camping | How do Camping Toilets Work?
Countless new products and methods have been designed to provide a more hygienic and efficient camping trip. Shower tents combined with portable showers or toilet tents combined with portable camping toilets, to name a few. The list is endless and I’ve often pondered how do chemical toilets work, along with bucket and commode toilets. If i actually bought one, how do i maintain it, empty it and clean it.
After some thorough research and in-depth conversations with some outdoor pros, I’ve been able to compile a list. Chemical toilets utilize 2 tanks, a waste tank and a water tank. One to collect the waste, the other to store fresh water for flushing. Generally ranging between 3-5 gallons. Bucket toilets have a manual method using waste bags to collect the waste and do not have any flush function. Commodes are similar to bucket toilets but offer a much more comfortable and stable seat.
Even with this information there are numerous questions left unanswered.
More extensive research was done, resulting in a full guide explaining everything you need to know about camping toilets before you buy. From what to look for when purchasing, to ethical practice when using and maintain.
How do Chemical Toilets work?
They may look complex at first sight, like the mother ship of toilets, but they are in fact very simple to use. You can break them down into 4 sections to get a clearer insight to the functionality. The waste tank, fresh water tank, flush system and the seat. These are the 4 key areas of a chemical toilet.
They operate similarly to a standard toilet you would find at home, you poop, flush and the waste is taken away into the sewer system. It’s the same principal however after flushing the waste is then stored in the waste tank. Within the waste tank, the incoming waste will be met by some chemicals that are designed to break down the waste and suppressing any odors.
The flush however comes from the fresh water tank, which normally comes in 2.5 and 5 gallon options. When the flush is pressed the pressured water will start its circulation from fresh water tank to waste tank, carrying the waste along through with the flush. The better models are generally resourceful in their flushes, giving you around 33-50 flushes per 5 gallon tank, on average. The desirable models will have a piston flush which clears the pan with ease and will erode any stubborn stains.
The pressure is created in various ways depending on the model and system. Some will have a hand pump or a foot pump. Others will generate the pressure automatically when filled from the faucet, by way of an air tight seal.
Seat and Seal
Lastly the seat. The seat is usually integrated onto the portable toilet and has a lifting mechanism allowing easy opening and closing of the hub. Seats vary in size and shape, some more compact models have a narrower diameter, while the larger ones are wider with more depth. Shape also differs, some are more straight and flat while others have a curved and contoured seat shape. Some also have a seat cover which seals the whole toilet in, which is useful while in transit in your RV or boat.
How do Bucket Toilets work?
These are very simple and fast to set up, the pop up tent of toilets if you will. We won’t make this harder to understand than it needs to be. They use waste bags, usually ranging from 3-8 gallon sizes that attach around the rim of the bucket and then rest and drop inside the bucket. They have an integrated or attached seat on the rim, you sit, drop your waste and the waste bag below will collect it.
Then when it’s ready for emptying, you pull the waste bag out, tie a knot and dispose of accordingly. You can rinse and clean out the bucket after each trip to prevent buildup of stains or odors. Although the waste won’t penetrate the waste bag lining, it’s a safety and hygiene precaution only.
How do Camping Commodes work?
The commode is very similar to the toilet bucket, the only difference is the strength of the framework. Commodes are designed to hold heavier weights, securely. Normally in the form of a seat, the legs will extend or fold outwards. There will be a large, oval or rounded seat on top, much like a normal chair.
You then attach the waste bag around the seat, either over the top or underneath the rim, depending on model. You drop your waste and the bag will collect just as before. The one bonus with the commode is the bottom isn’t sealed like a bucket toilet. So this allows you to dig a whole beneath, allowing more depth and easy disposal after.
How to Empty a Chemical Toilet?
Firstly we want to start off on the right foot, with hygiene. You don’t have to, but wearing some protective gloves would be a good idea. Especially if you’re going to be doing regular waste tank runs.
Okay so the waste tank is filling up and you think it’s time to empty.
Detach the tank accordingly and ensure it’s not too full, as you don’t want any spillages on your way to the disposal area, around 3/4 would be fine. Even less if it’s a 5 gallon tank and you struggle with heavier weights or you have a long distance to travel.
The next step is to take the filled waste tank to the correct waste disposal area. These are commonly found on all campsites and campgrounds alike and can be easily identified with signs and markers usually when you enter the site. It’s a good idea to identify where it is and perhaps pitch in relation to this, if you will be doing a lot of back and forth trips.
When you arrive, if your portable toilet has a rotating spout this will show itself to be very useful, allowing you to rotate the drainage away from your body, with an added bit of length. If it doesn’t have this feature, don’t worry, you will just need to bend over slightly more and aim it away from your body, to avoid any unwanted splash backs and things of this nature.
After it’s been fully drained, there should be a nearby hose or faucet. Give it a good rinse out 1-2 times, if your fresh water tank is also running low it may be a good idea to take both cassettes together at the same time. Two birds with one stone and all of that!
So now you’re waste tank has been emptied and cleaned thoroughly, you’re ready to take it back to basecamp and reattach it. Reattach both waste and water tanks back the same way you took them apart and it will be ready for use again immediately.
Here’s a nice little clip showing how it’s done briefly.
Also we want to mention in regards to bucket toilets. Many people use 2 buckets, 1 for urine and 1 for feces. This is because sometimes if you just want to pee alone, the waste bag will soon fill up if it’s all going into the same bag. This applies more to group camping rather than solo camping, where that wouldn’t be an issue. If you do this, put a few inches of water into the bottom of the bucket or waste bag to capture the urine and dilute it instantly, causing less odor issues.
As for disposal of waste bags. Our main choice would be to bury the waste bags after you’ve finished using them. Remember again, this is for biodegradable waste bags, so they don’t have an effect on the environment when buried.
As a rule of thumb we tend to start our digs at least 50 feet from any trails or public footpaths for obvious reasons. Also campsites and water sources are just as important to steer clear of as mentioned in various wild camping etiquette guides.
The depth of the hole should be around 6-8 inches deep, don’t dig it too deep as this reaches a new level of soil which actually doesn’t help in breaking down the waste. The soil between 6-8 inches is perfect for breaking down waste and the biodegradable waste bags. The holes should be filled back in properly and also disguised if possible, this is to not draw any attention from animals and campers alike and digging up your buried treasure.
Note that you should not try to bury more than 1 waste bag in the same hole, try to keep 1 bag per hole. You don’t need to create holes miles away from each other but a few feet at least will be a good idea.
Try to avoid burying toilet paper if possible, but if it’s absolutely necessary try to use the paper that is perfume and dye free. This will break down at the correct soil level along with human waste.
How to Clean a Chemical Toilet?
Generally speaking they are very simple to clean, just follow a few easy steps to keep your camping toilet clean and germ free.
So while preparing to use your portable toilet you can use a chemical deodorant to prep the tanks for use. There are many brands out there to choose from but Aqua Kem and Eco Smart are 2 of the more well-known ones in this area.
To clean the actual units and exterior of the tanks you can use a cleaning liquid or spray. You need to be careful of a few things while doing this.
Avoid any scouring pads as these will scratch the hell out of the plastic units. Also don’t use any scouring powders or acids and definitely try not to use any concentrated cleaners. These will also have a bad effect on the toilets material and wear down any plastic parts and seals.
You can go with a non abrasive, safe cleaner like Aqua Clean and also just use a standard soft sponge to wipe and rub away any dirt and grime.
You can wipe dry with a cloth or towel and that’s pretty much it, it’s ready to be used again.
How to Maintain a Chemical Toilet?
There are many little hints and tips to maintain your portable toilet giving it more longevity and durability.
If you are planning to be using it in near freezing temperatures, near winter time, winter camping or traveling to cold areas. It’s a good idea to put a small amount of anti-freeze in the tanks to keep the water liquidated, keeping the water system running freely.
When storing you can use a storage deodorant in the waste tank compartment to stop any odors building up over time. We all now know how to clean our portable toilets, however we can’t turn them inside out like a pillow case. Chances are a tiny bit of grime might be stuck and accumulate in the far corners that are unreachable. Even microscopic accumulation will develop an odor in time, so this is a good way to counter that.
Buying a Camping Toilet| What To Look For
If you’re forking out for one of the chemical toilets, you want to make sure there is a functioning and effective waste disposal method. Bucket toilets, commodes and the like all have a manual method by way of waste bags. So decide if you want to get your hands dirty so to speak, or have a smoother disposal process with a chemical potty.
This is dependent on the purpose of use and how many people you intend on using it. For your own personal a 2.5 gallon tank would suffice. However if you will be sharing I strongly suggest the 5 gallon. This will cover numerous uses and flushes before needing to empty. The same goes for bucket toilets, they have the same gallon sizes and as for commodes, waste bags also have a volume size, they range from 3-8 gallons generally speaking.
We want to make this task as simple as possible, go in, do your thing, flush then get out. Then when it comes to disposal time, we want a smooth process in the same fashion. Detach the tank, empty away, reattach and start again. Likewise with bucket toilets and commodes that use bags. Detach the filled waste bag, tie a knot, dispose and attach another bag. Job done.
This is surprisingly useful although people may be unaware of its importance. For example depth allows for a longer drop or fall, which is good for large wastes and keeps the odor far below. The shape or contour of the bowl can also prevent things like splash backs. A good height will provide a comfortable experience, but too low will bring discomfort and cramps.
For a chemical toilet, a strong, resourceful flush is best. A good water flow with a powerful flush, like a piston flush for example. This will clear the bowl of waste and odors efficiently. Secondly, how resourceful the water system is with the water is important. The same 5 gallon tank for one model may only offer 20 flushes with an overuse of water, whereas a well-made resourceful flush system will give you upwards of 35-50 flushes per tank.
For example a piston flush is a powerful feature in the water system, which is not evident in all camping toilets. Secondly a tank level indicator is very useful, without it you need to judge or keep checking the tanks level. The level indicator avoids these issues and keeps you on track with the fresh water tank and waste tank alike. Lastly, a toilet paper holder is very cool. Some models have incorporated additional features like a hidden paper holder within a splash back seat.
A simple one but one that offers the most comfort along with the height. A contoured seat will do wonders if you’re squatting for a long duration and will avoid any sores or pinches. A snap back lid seat is also a nice feature for the bucket toilets, to keep the odors firmly trapped inside and the lid sealed. There are attachable toilet seats available, especially for bucket toilets, so if you’re using one without, you can replace it with a contoured one.
Another important feature as all camping toilets are made with variable levels of durability, is the weight capacity. The robust portable toilets with 2 tanks always do a very good job with weight capacities, usually offering 250+ lbs. and upwards. The commodes are also designed to carry excessive weights and can reach 300 lbs. in weight capacity. A fixed leg or leg locking system is also useful for commodes so look out for that.
Camping Toilet Ideas
Now you don’t have to buy anything extra with your toilet at all. You can buy them as they come and they will definitely be fit for use. But feel free to check out this section to find some really great additional ideas that makes toilet time even easier.
Even after emptying the waste tank, many people believe it’s a good idea to re-fill the waste tank with a small amount of water. This creates a low level water line that can trap and hold existing waste that didn’t escape, controlling odors and also collecting new waste better. It makes sense logically, if new waste hits the dry base, you’re giving it time to stick and become stubborn. Having a low level of water ready and waiting to collect the waste is a good idea.
Biodegradable Waste Bags
We strongly recommended the use of biodegradable waste bags for environmental reasons. The last thing we want to be doing is burying bags upon bags of plastic into Mother Earth, right folks? So let’s do it the right way.
These bags are designed by Reliance and are a best seller in many areas. They are environmentally sound and come with a free bio gel waste gelation to solidify any waste, prior to disposal. They are sealable and leak proof making these a good option as a waste bag.
These aren’t for use with your camping toilet, but rather as in support of them. Perfect for emergency uses primarily on the road and when en route to destination.
They are great little things and economically priced also, you can use them for quick relief, tie up and dispose of accordingly. They are fully biodegradable as well and have unisex options, so can be used by all the family.
An important procedure is to use toilet deodorants. These are specially designed for camping toilets and are a good choice to cover this task.
Used to deodorize the toilet and neutralize any odors. Just place them in the waste tank or bucket prior or post use.
They also come in gel form just drop them in the holding tank and it will break down any waste and paper into a liquidated mass.
Bucket Toilet Seat
A good idea also for your bucket toilet is to have a spare seat available and ready to use. It may happen on some cheaper models that the seat may get damaged, the locking mechanism may break or any other manner of accidents that tend to occur. We break the ones at home often enough, so it’s bound to happen from time to time in the outdoors as well.
This one fits on to most bucket toilets with 3, 5 and 6 gallon volumes respectively. Which widely covers most on the market. A lot also don’t come with seats and if you are making one by way of DIY this would be a great asset to your build.
Toilet Tissue Covers
An economical way to avoid those grimy seats in the campsite or campground facilities. Simply lay the tissue cover over the seat and sit down comfortably without fear of hygienic and contamination issues.
They often come in a travel size portable bag which is reseal-able and the paper itself is dissolvable and environmentally friendly. So you’re not going to be damaging the environment or clogging any pipes when using them.
Protective Cleaning Gloves
Like in the maintenance and cleaning guide we discussed, a pair of gloves would be an excellent addition to the cleaning process. These are a good choice to wear while cleaning out the bucket or waste tank.
Latex and powder free and also most importantly, disposable. They have an enchanted grip when wet due to the material it’s made with Nitrile. This is a nice feature as we will probably be blasting our camping toilets with a hose at this point. Nitrile is also more elasticated than the vinyl gloves and has a stronger resilience to puncturing than the latex gloves. For the puncture resistance is key as we are dealing with waste.
Again not crucial but if you don’t have one and are thinking of getting one for your next trip, consider this. Especially if you are using a bucket toilet or camping commode and you are camping off the beaten track. You may need to dig your own holes to store your waste bags.
We love this one due to the way it folds up into a small and compact size. Keeping our gear volume to a minimum is important and this does a good job of integrating its way into our main gear. A camping shovel has numerous uses which we will not cover here completely. However, for the reason of digging catholes to bury your waste bags, it’s key.
We hope this read was insightful and offered a few ethical practices to remember when camping with portable toilets.
Do not be put off by the requirements, it’s a very simple practice to get used to and the benefits cannot be overlooked in my opinion. Our last trip with a large group in a 3 room instant cabin tent. was made o much easier with a nearby portable toilet set up.
Consider it for your next trip!
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