Vanlife has become a popular lifestyle choice for many people. It offers the freedom to travel & the ability to be self-sufficient. However, If you’re planning on hitting the road in a van, you’ll need to consider how you’ll take care of your bathroom needs. This means finding a suitable off-grid toilet solution that you will be comfortable with. While some people opt to have no toilet at all in their van and to rely solely on public bathrooms. Others go for a chemical toilet, such as a porta potti, while others choose a composting toilet.
As someone who has been a full-time vanlifer since 2020, I’ve (Julie) come to appreciate the importance of having the right amenities in my vehicle.
Our Experience using a Porta Potti – Chemical Toilet
Firstly, I want to remind you that this article is based on a very personal experience with a specific set of circumstances. Your vanlife and bathroom experience might be very different from ours due to your location, external factors such as climate, the type of adventuring you do & obviously, your setup. So I’ll set the tone as to what our circumstances were.
Dan & I travelled all around Australia (55,000km) from 2020 to 2022 in a 1983 Australian School Bus. We spent minimal time in cities or populated places and experienced rural Australia more than anything. We also followed the sun for two years, so the weather was either hot or absolutely scorching! Also, we had no insulation in Pumbaa (our bus), which did not help with internal heat and, as a consequence, unpleasant smells! Perhaps, our experience using a chemical toilet (porta potty) would have been different had we kept remote travel to a minimum & stayed in a more temperate climate or even had, had insulation.
Why we would never go back to a Porta Potti :
- The smell !!
- The need to empty 2/3 times a week.
- Water is needed to flush.
- Harmful chemicals !!
- Plastic bottles !!
- High ongoing cost !!
- Extensive planning to source chemicals & locate dump point (s).
- The need to visit dump point facilities & the disgusting emptying process !!
- Messy cleaning process !!
7 Reasons why Porta Potti SUCK !
Let’s unpack all of these reasons!
1# The Smell
Firstly, the smell was unbearable! No matter the quality of the chemicals we have used in our porta-potti, we were always left with an unpleasant odour within 24 hours of emptying & resetting our toilet! The smell was obviously more & more noticeable with time and/or due to the hot weather!
2# Small tank: The need to empty 2/3 times a week
Secondly, the frequency of emptying is extremely high, about two times a week! Of course, this is such a pain when travelling through remote places where dump point facilities are not always easily accessible! This means that before going free camping, we would make sure to empty our toilet, pee in the bushes as often as possible during our stay, try not to over flush after a N2 & also plan where we could empty it when on our way out!
So honestly, we thought about our toilet & its content a lot more than we hoped!
Note: Over the years, we have witnessed many people dump their chemical waste in wild nature. This truly fires me up, as I’m sure most were using harmful chemicals! But if you are a family of four or five, you’ll need to empty your chemical toilet a lot more than us, making a chemical toilet inadequate for your vanlife toilet solution! So instead of “making it work” by dumping your waste & chemicals in the wild, please consider other off-grid toilet options!
3# Waste of clean water: Water is needed to flush
Additionally, any chemical toilet ( even a porta-potti ) requires a bit of water to flush to prevent bacteria buildup. And nowadays, this seems like a total waste of resources! Plus, of course, this fills up your black water tank with something that was initially not waste!
4# Detrimental impacts on the planet: Harmful chemicals
Firstly, the chemicals used in these toilets are often toxic to both humans and the environment. Usually, they contain formaldehyde which is used to preserve the dead! They can contaminate the soil and water sources, posing a risk to wildlife and human health.
Additionally, the waste from chemical toilets is improperly treated and can end up in landfills, where decomposing takes years. This contributes to the buildup of waste and pollution on our planet. There are non-harmful chemical alternatives on the market. However, they are challenging to find, especially in rural areas. You can not really stock up on a few of them in your van as if they did break or leak, it would stain everything it touches in blue or green & again, it is a harmful chemical, so you really do not want to take the risk of having them spill in your van.
Additionally, these chemicals often come in plastic bottles, They can be recycled, but not every recycling facility takes them & when they do, they need to be thoroughly rinsed before disposal, so most of the time, they end up in landfills.
5# High ongoing cost
What’s more, chemical toilets as portta potty, do have a high ongoing cost!
While they may seem a cheaper option upfront, the cost of chemicals and maintenance can quickly add up.
Chemical bottles in Australia are about $30.00AUD a piece; with such a bottle, you get 13 uses. This means that if you empty your Porta Potti twice a week, then you pretty much need to spend $30 every six weeks. So over a year time, you will easily spend $260 on chemicals.
Additionally, suppose you are travelling in areas with few facilities for disposing of chemical waste. In that case, you may need to pay an RV park to use their dump point & dispose of your waste correctly ($5-10 AUD). This can be an added expense that many vanlifers may not have anticipated & does add up rather quickly.
6# Extensive planning
Additionally, chemical toilets ( porta potty ) involve a lot of planning. About twice a week, you will wonder where the closest dump point is that you can use, whether it is on your way, or even if you can make it there on time. You’ll also need to buy chemicals once every six weeks on average, and you’ll quickly realise that you can’t purchase these chemicals everywhere. We have had times when all the camping shops in town were sold out due to the peak season in a rural area & had to make detours to get our hands on a chemical bottle or powder pods. Definitely, not the best way to be spending your holidays!
7# The need to visit the dump point facilities & the emptying process
Nevertheless, The worst thing about a Porta Potti is the emptying process, clean up & having to use dump point (s) !
It is seriously so bad that I have never been able to complete the whole process myself! I’m not exaggerating this whatsoever, but every time I’d try to do my part of the process, I’d dry reach & was physically unable to complete it! Honestly, between the smell, the visual, the mess, and the risk of spillage & splashing … I simply could not do it!
Thank goodness I have a fantastic husband who took over this duty for me for years! Even though, I was never able to accomplish this myself, I have been to many dump points & I don’t even want to think about some of the horrors we have seen there. Having to use such a facility & be exposed to folks’ shit you don’t know is definitely way out of my comfort zone! But unfortunately, with a chemical toilet ( porta potty ), you don’t have a choice! And that reason alone was enough for me to never wanna use a chemical toilet ever again in my life & set up our newest van build with a composting toilet!
Porta Potty Summary
Long story short, I hope this article will not cause you any nightmares and/or panic attacks. But I hope that sharing our experience with a Porta Potti will help you figure out what off-grid toilet solution is in your comfort zone and adequate to your needs!
We have gone with a Cuddy Composting Toilet by Compo Closet in our latest van build purely for every reasons we have listed above!
Here are some other popular Composting Toilet:
- Separate Tiny Toilet Most Normal Looking!
- OGO composting toilet Electric Agitator!
We may receive a Kickback from the use of external links in this blog by Amazon and Compo Closet respectively.
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