Cassette Toilet Guide for Camping, Overlanding, and Van Life
Cassette toilets are a type of camping and RV toilet that includes a “cassette” waste tank that is removed for dumping and cleaning.
The reason people go for a cassette toilet over a typical RV toilet tends to be the flexibility to dump the waste tank in places other than established RV dump stations (in regular campground bathrooms, for instance).
For this reason, are some of the best overlanding toilets and are typically used by people with truck campers, trailer campers, RVs, or van conversions who like to camp off the grid. These aren’t as expensive as composting toilets – another popular choice among boondocking enthusiasts – but they aren’t cheap either.
What are the benefits of a cassette toilet?
There are a few benefits to using cassette toilets. Some people find that they are more comfortable to use than the average RV toilet, and they don’t take up as much space. They also tend to be more affordable than composting toilets.
Another big benefit is that you can dump the waste tank in places other than RV dump stations. This is a big deal for people who like to camp off the grid or travel to remote areas.
Compared to bucket and tripod toilets, cassette toilets have less odor and you don’t have to haul around waste-filled bags.
What are the drawbacks of a cassette toilet?
The biggest drawback to cassette toilets is that they require more maintenance than the average RV toilet. The tanks need to be emptied and cleaned on a regular basis, and this can be a bit of a hassle.
Also, because you have to remove the cassette and dump it by hand, it is definitely grosser than connecting to an RV dump station to empty the waste holding tank. Cassette toilets’ holding tanks are also smaller, which means they need to be emptied more often.
How does a cassette toilet work?
In general, the cassette toilet will have a small tank that stores the waste, and then there is a cassette or dump tank that sits below it. This dump tank can be removed from the vehicle and dumped in an appropriate place – like a regular toilet – for disposal.
When you’re ready to use the toilet, the small tank is filled with water from a freshwater supply. This water flushes the waste down and out of the toilet.
After use, a small amount of fresh water is used to rinse the bowl and tank. Most people will use a deodorizing chemical of some sort to add to the waste tank in the cassette toilet, which helps to reduce the odor.
There are a few different chemicals that people use in cassette toilets to help reduce the smell. One popular choice is called “Thetford Aqua Kem Green” which is a biodegradable and environmentally friendly chemical. It can be found at most RV stores.
Since a cassette toilet requires water, it’s important to include this in your water planning for overlanding trips. For example, if your cassette toilet has a freshwater tank that holds around 2 gallons of water and you are going through that every two days, you’d need 6-8 gallons of water a week of water for toilet use.
How do you dump a cassette toilet?
To dump a cassette toilet, you will need to remove the dump tank from the vehicle. This tank can be quite heavy, so you may want to have a friend help you with this. Some models come with wheels that will help you transport the tank to the dump area. Once it is emptied, you can replace it in the vehicle and close up the drain.
If you are traveling somewhere where there is not an RV dump station available, you will need to find a suitable place to dump the tank. This could be a campground or park restroom or an RV dump station. Be sure to check local regulations before dumping your tank.
You can also empty a cassette toilet at home in your toilet. I have a sewer port in front of my house in the driveway and use that to empty the cassette straight into the sewer, which prevents making an accidental mess and stinking up the house.
Don’t dump your cassette toilet on the ground, as dumping wastewater on the ground is not environmentally friendly and should be avoided.
How often you will need to empty the cassette depends on how often you use the toilet and how much waste is being produced. It’s a good practice to try to empty a cassette toilet every couple of days.
How do you clean a cassette toilet?
To clean a cassette toilet, you will need to remove the waste tank and dump it in an appropriate place. You can then use a hose to clean out the tank and the bowl.
Be sure to rinse everything thoroughly, and allow everything to dry before putting it all back together.
It is a good idea to clean your cassette toilet on a regular basis – at least every few weeks – to keep it in good working order.
Cassette toilet compared to other types of camping and RV toilets
To understand where cassette toilets fit in in the overlapping, conversion van, and RV potty landscape — is that a thing? — here are some quick comparisons:
Cassette toilet vs regular RV toilet
Classic RV toilets use a freshwater tank that is used for flushing the toilet (as well as cooking and cleaning) and a large black water holding tank that captures waste. The freshwater tank is filled via a garden house at a house or RV water station in a campground. The blackwater (and greywater) tanks, which typically have a capacity of 15 – 90 gallons, are emptied at an RV dump station.
In contrast, a cassette toilet uses a cassette that is closer to 5 gallons and is removed and dumped by hand via a spout into a toilet or dump station hole.
Cassette toilet vs portable camping toilet
Some small portable camping toilets have cassettes to catch waste. While it’s mostly semantics, the distinction between a cassette toilet and a portable toilet is that a true cassette toilet is installed in a fixed location, often with the cassette being removed via a hatch on the outside of the camper.
The cassettes typically have wheels on them to make them easier to transport while dumping. The tanks are often larger than those on a portable toilet, allowing you to go for longer before needing to empty the tank.
Most of the information in this article applies to both portable camping toilets that use a cassette-style waste tank and cassette toilets that are permanently mounted inside RVs, camper trailers, conversion vans, or other rigs.
Cassette toilet vs composting toilet
Composting toilets, as the name suggests, turn human waste into compost. They don’t use water (although some use a small amount of liquid such as dish soap to help break down the material) and can handle both solid and liquid waste.
They come in different shapes and sizes, but all have a chamber where the waste is stored and allowed to decompose. This compost can then be used in the garden or disposed of safely.
The main drawback of a composting toilet is that they require more maintenance than a cassette toilet, as you need to regularly remove the compost and dump it. They also tend to be quite a bit more expensive.
Who makes the best cassette toilets?
Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the company Thetford makes several models of permanently installed cassette toilets, all of which are good choices.
The C220 is the narrowest of the Thetford cassette toilets, and fits and can fit in many campers. One really cool feature is the rotating seat, which saves space and provides some flexibility in configuration. The waste tank holds 4.75 gallons.
The C220 can either use the camper’s main freshwater tank for flushing or be wired into the camper for an electric flush. Or you can get a model with a manual flush and its own freshwater tank.
There are a number of companies that make portable cassette toilets–as opposed to permanent toilets. Thetford, SereneLife, and Camco all make popular models.
If you’re looking for a portable toilet that allows you to explore areas where RV dump stations aren’t available, a cassette toilet can be a great option. They also avoid the hassle and smell of dealing with waste bags, that are used for bucket and tripod-style toilets. They’re easy to use and don’t have much of an odor if maintained properly. Plus, they come in both portable and permanent varieties. So if you’re considering upgrading your camping setup, or are in the market for a new RV, be sure to check out cassette toilets.
For more information on toilets for use in the backcountry, check out our guide to overlanding and camping toilets.