When you are living in a campervan or an RV, you may not want to go into the woods for a bathroom break. Composting toilets can be used for both #1 and #2 in the comfort of your campervan.
Composting toilets are an eco-friendly and convenient solution for people who live in small spaces. Instead of flushing your waste away, it is converted to a nutrient-rich soil that can be used as fertilizer.
One major advantage of composting toilets over other types of units is the lack of odor if used correctly. They don’t require water or a septic system and cut out the need for a black tank.
In this article, we’ll go over the top composting toilets for campervans and RVs, pros and cons of using a composting toilet in such a small space, how to use a composting toilet and where to dump your composting waste.
The 3 Best Composting Toilets for Van Life
The composting toilets we most often see in campervans are either Nature’s Head or Air Head toilets. These have many similarities and a few key differences.
First, we’ll go over each composting toilet individually, then do a Nature’s Head vs Air Head comparison.
There’s also a new composting toilet on the block called the Cuddy.
Here’s a quick comparison chart showing the top three.
AirHead composting toilets are the oldest portable composting toilets on the market. They were developed back in 2001 by sailor Geoff Trott, who wanted a robust, odorless toilet without the need for a holding tank.
The AirHead composting toilet quickly became popular amongst ocean-goers, and is now a top choice for van lifers and RVers.
What makes AirHead stand out is its design. This best composting toilet for a campervan or RV features a rounded frame perfect for small spaces. Built with rugged stainless steel parts for tough, salty seas, this toilet holds up just as well going down bumpy dirt roads.
The AirHead is also the only portable composting toilet that offers an easy-to-remove urine bottle so you can dump #1 without opening the solids tank.
These composting toilets are easy to get used to as they mimic a toilet you’d find in a house. You’ll enjoy the real toilet seat, the flush lever location and toilet size. AirHead’s main competitor, Nature’s Head, uses a molded seat.
AirHead has a top-notch ventilation system that helps accelerate composting and also features a crank handle. If you’re squeezing your composting toilet into a really tight spot in your van, you can use an optional socket/wrench adaptor to stir your poo.
The wrench adaptor saves space side to side. The unit would normally use about 19″ of space side-to-side. With the socket wrench, it only uses 16.5″ side to side.
With an AirHead composting toilet, you have the option of using paper liners in the bowl for when you go #2. That helps keep the bowl clean. Or you can forfeit the paper and just open the trap door when it’s time to go. Either way works well, it’s just a personal preference.
AirHead also offers a smooth, round solids tank that is easier to empty and clean than the competitors. Another huge plus is that there’s a lid for the solids tank for emptying or storing so you don’t have to remove the entire toilet from the vent line.
The AirHead Composting Toilet comes with everything you need, including the vent hose, power adapter, 12V inverter cable, 12V outlet adapter, toilet seat and a spider-style stirring handle.
“We chose the compact marine version, and the Airhead fit nicely in our van’s small space. We chose Airhead for a few reasons: The opening of the compartment for #2 waste is narrower so it makes dumping waste easier. Pee jar was not see-through like Nature’s Head. With the AirHead the urine jar can be just lifted on its own, so you don’t have to look at the #2 bin.”
Here’s what you get when you order an AirHead Composting toilet for your campervan:
- Solids tank lid
- Fan housing
- Detachable crank handle
- Floor mounting brackets
- Mounting hardware
- Hose 5′ length
- Hose connectors
- Liquid bottle cap
- Bowl liners (50)
- Peat brick (USA only)
- Enzyme (USA only)
- Smaller than competitor Nature’s Head
- Hardy design and robust stainless steel parts
- Quick & easy installation
- Can be connected to a 12-volt system for mobile/offgrid use or with an additional 110-volt transformer for household current
- You don’t have to open the solids tank to remove the urine container for dumping
- Urine container is opaque making for easier transport
- Viewing window allows you to see when urine container is full
- Looks and feels the most like a regular toilet; easier for guests to use
- Has socket wrench adaptor handle for really tight space to stir the compost
- Excellent ventilation system
- 5-year warranty
- Pricier than Nature’s Head
- Long lead time
Nature’s Head is an eco-friendly composting toilet for van life that uses no water. It has an odorless design with a self-contained ventilation system that makes it easy to use anywhere. This device also comes with a 5-year warranty the parts to install it in your van build.
These composting toilets for a campervan use stainless steel hardware and can take the jostling and vibration of life on the road. They’re also small enough to fit in the tiniest space.
They are self-contained and have separate containers for pee and poop. Plus, there’s a trap door design that opens when you sit on the toilet, which eliminates the need to buy separate liners for the bowl. However, if you prefer, you can buy paper liners to make cleanup easier.
There are two types of Nature’s Head Composting Toilets. The real difference between the two is the type of handle used for stirring the compost. One has a space-saving spider handle that’s preferred for van life, and one has a standard crank handle.
The spider handle adds 2″ to the width of the toilet, while the crank adds 5″. The crank is easier to use, though, so you’ll have to pick which design is right for your van’s space.
Keep in mind you’ll need to purchase the exterior vent separately. Nature’s Head sells mushroom vents, shell vents and a PVC vent assembly kit.
“We like how convenient it has made living in a van. Yes, public restrooms exist, but especially during a pandemic, nothing beats having your own private toilet. It is easy to clean and maintain with full-time usage for the last 9 months, and we really, truly haven’t noticed any smells (apart from when you are emptying everything). The only downside is the price tag.”
Here’s what you get when you order a Nature’s Head toilet:
- Liquids bottle with cap
- Inside vent flange
- Spider Agitator handle
- Allen wrench to install spider handle
- 2 mounting brackets with knobs and screws
- 18″ single pin cable for 12-volt fan hookup (fan is mounted onto toilet at time of assembly)
- Fuse and fuse holder for the 12-volt application
- 5 feet of 1 ½” hose
- Spray Bottle
- Installation and User Guide
- Warranty Card
Nature’s Head Pros:
- Cheaper than AirHead
- Hardy design and stainless steel parts
- Connects to a 12-volt system for mobile use
- Quick and easy installation
- Good customer service
- 5-year warranty
Nature’s Head Cons:
- Some reviewers say the urine tank doesn’t work well
- The spider handle can be hard to crank if the solids bin is too full
- There are complaints that the fan isn’t quite strong enough
- You have to open the main tank to empty the urine container
- The urine container is not opaque, which can make it awkward to carry to a public restroom
The Cuddy composting toilet is specifically made for campervans, and features a much smaller design than AirHead and Nature’s Head without losing too much capacity in the solids container (4.8 gallons compared to 6.5 and 5).
Cuddy is also the only composting toilet on our list that’s truly portable, meaning you can move it around in your campervan or even put it outside!
With the addition of a simple privacy tent, you can have an outdoor composting toilet anywhere you are.
Cuddy is also different from the other two manufacturers listed here in that it does NOT have to be vented outside. Cuddy comes with an odor-reducing carbon filter and an internal fan. However, if you still want to vent Cuddy outside, you can. A standard diameter fitting will be available if you choose.
Another main difference is that Cuddy’s design allows it to be mounted flush against a wall. All you have to do is secure Cuddy’s base to your campervan’s floor and never move it again if you choose not to.
Cuddy is the first portable composting toilet with a telescoping handle on the front, making stirring your poo even easier!
The Cuddy Composting Toilet is also the most affordable of the three, at just $650 US. It includes a locking liquid bottle for #1’s and solids tank for dumping.
On top of all that, it’s designed to be easy to use–even if you don’t have much experience with composting toilets.
Richard Peter, who’s developing Cuddy, just used it for 28-days off-grid without needing to empty the solids bin once.
“Cuddy was awesome,” Richard wrote us in an email. “In comparison to my previous composting toilet (one of the market leaders), it’s a much more comfortable height and let’s say not having to aim thanks to the large ‘drop zone’ is a huge… er… relief.
“A key element of the testing was the carbon filter. Being in a confined space with a smelly toilet wouldn’t be fun, so needless to say I’m grateful to say the testing was a success!”
Cuddy is available on Indiegogo and shipping is estimated for early fall.
- Compact design is perfect for tight spaces like a campervan or van life
- Lowest price
- No external venting required
- Truly portable
- Comes with an indicator for when the urine compartment is full
- Can mount flush against a wall
- Less customer reviews than Nature’s Head or AirHead Composting Toilet
- Still in experimental stages
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AirHead vs Nature’s Head Composting Toilets
AirHead and Nature’s Head are the two main contenders on the block for the best composting toilet. Cuddy might soon be a top contender, but since it’s a new product, it doesn’t have as many ratings or reviews out there.
Here are the differences when looking at Airhead vs Nature’s Head:
- Airhead is smaller and easier to fit
- AirHead comes with an easy-to-remove urine bottle for dumping without opening the solids container.
- You can choose from a one- or two-gallon pee bottle for AirHead, where Nature’s Head comes with one size, 2.2 gallons
- Airhead is more expensive than Nature’s Head, however, it includes more parts
- Airhead is a bit more customizable; you you can choose the size for both the seat and the tanks, which side the crank handle is on, as well as whether you want a right angel or straight fan housing
- The Nature’s Head spider handle takes up a little less space than AirHead’s handle, but Air Head offers a wrench adapter for tinier spaces
- The Airhead toilet has a similar look and feel to a household toilet, where Nature’s Head feels more like a marine application
- Airhead has a paper liner for the toilet bowl, making the entire contraption easier to clean, but it’s optional and can be used in a Nature’s Head too. These are normal commercial coffee filters.
- The smooth, round solids container on the Airhead is easier to dump and clean
- The urine compartment in AirHead is opaque with a sight glass, making it a little less awkward to carry around than the Nature’s Head, which has a clear urine compartment
- AirHead is easier to install against a wall as you don’t have to open up the top part of the toilet to access the urine compartment
- Nature’s Head has a bigger solids container at 6.5 gallons rather than 5. However, the emptying rate is the same as the Air Head has a more efficient venting design than Nature’s Head.
- It seems easier to get a Nature’s Head toilet than an AirHead. If they’re in stock on Amazon, sometimes you get them within a few days. Airhead is not available on Amazon
- The toilet seat on the Nature’s Head is molded into the unit, rather than a normal separate toilet seat like AirHead
Where to Put a Composting Toilet in a Campervan
When dealing with a small space like a camper van, you’ll have to get creative with where you install your composting toilet.
Here are some ideas on where to put a van toilet.
In a Wall Compartment Using Slides
We love this innovative approach by Off Grid Adventure Vans. They put a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet in a wall compartment of a van, which keeps it hidden when not in use.
When you’re ready to go, you just open the compartment and pull the toilet out. It’s super easy since the toilet is on sliders.
We love this approach as it keeps the toilet stowed away, out of sight and out of mind.
Give the Toilet It’s Own Cabinet
Another common design we’ve seen in van builds is to give the toilet a dedicated cabinet in your van.
Another out of sight out-of mind approach.
Under the Bed
Some van lifers choose to install a portable composting toilet under their bed platform. This is what Bryce and Katie did in their campervan conversion. Then, they roll the toilet out when they need to use it. The Nature’s Head composting toilet is vented out the bottom of their van.
“Ours is pretty high off the ground given we have it on top of a wheeled platform,” they said. “We usually pull up a step stool four our feet if we’re going to be sitting there for awhile, otherwise our feet just dangle.”
The couple chose Nature’s Head over AirHead simply because the lead time on the AirHead was much longer.
In the back
In a dedicated bathroom space
You can also create a bathroom around your composting toilet. The toilet can be mounted in either a half bath or full bath with a showerhead above. This is called a “wet bath” and is an efficient use of space in a campervan.
According to Nature’s Head: “You should make sure the mounting brackets are well sealed. You will also need to drill a hole in the urine tank holder to drain any water from or, or cover it when you shower.”
Installing your composting toilet
We aren’t going to go in-depth on installation in this post. Make sure to read the installation instructions carefully for whatever toilet you use.
In a nutshell, Nature’s Head and AirHead composting toilets will require an external vent line. That means cutting a small hole in your van so the toilet can vent properly; some people choose to do this through the floor of the van.
The Cuddy composting toilet doesn’t have to be vented outdoors thanks to a carbon filter, making that toilet easier to install.
You typically secure composting toilets to the floor or a platform using brackets. If you’re putting it directly on your van’s floor, you’ll need to drill holes.
Composting toilets will also need a connection to your van’s 12-volt system to run the exhaust fan.
How to Use a Composting Toilet in Your Campervan
Here are some steps to follow if you’re using a composting toilet in your van.
#1 Add bulking agent to your composting toilet solids bin.
According to Nature’s Head website: “To fill your toilet or refill it after emptying, pour two one-gallon bags of pre-moistened sphagnum peat moss or coconut fiber into the base of the toilet. The sphagnum peat moss should rise to the level of, or cover, the agitator bar in a horizontal position.”
The bulking agents should be damp and crumbly rather than wet and soupy.
You don’t need to add bulking materials after every poo use. This just makes the toilet fill faster. When you empty the toilet, add more bulking agents before using it again.
Gene and Kaitlyn from @travelswithkevan found the coconut coir to be easier to agitate as time went by.
“We use 1 cup warm water per block of coconut 🥥 coir. Seal in double ziplock bags for 1-2 days and voila❗️the coir is nice and hydrated. Just fluff up with your hand. Add half to the toilet and leave the other half to cover your waste with small scoop of coconut coir after each #2 use,” they wrote to TheWaywardHome on Instagram.
#2 Use the toilet’s trap door correctly
If you’re just going pee, you’ll need to close the trap door to the poop bin so liquids don’t get in there. If pee comingles with poop it can create a foul odor.
Composting toilets are set up to divert your urine into the liquids container. It’s recommended you sit to pee, whether you’re a man or woman. This reduces splatter all over the toilet.
When it’s time to go #2, you’ll open the trap door and it funnels your waste to the solids bin.
#3 Empty your composting toilet
You’ll need to remove the urine container every few days and dump it in a public restroom or pour it far from campsites or water.
The solids bin has to be emptied every few weeks – either into a trash bin or buried. More on this later in the post.
How and Where to Empty a Composting Toilet
While emptying a composting toilet may seem gross, it’s way less gross than a cassette toilet. With cassette toilets, you use harsh chemicals to mask the scent of pee and poo coming in the tank. Then, you remove the tank and dump the liquidy contents into a toilet.
With a composting toilet, you’ll need to empty the pee container every couple days. Simply remove the liquids bottle and dump it into any public restroom. If you’re boondocking, pour the urine far away from camp or a water source.
Emptying the poo bin depends on which composting toilet you’re using in your camper.
With Nature’s Head or AirHead, you’ll need to remove the toilet from the brackets and invert it with a garbage bag over the solids bin to catch the contents. If you’re using a compostable bag, you can bury it deep in the ground far from people. With a regular garbage bag, you simply put it into a dumpster.
“Yes, you need to take the whole toilet out, just unplug the fan cable and vent tube, pick it up and then there are clips on each side that you just unlatch and the whole top/seat portion comes off,” said @travelswithkevan. “For us, it is easiest to just take the whole toilet out of the van, empty it, refill it with some bulking agents, and then put it back, so that you don’t get it everywhere.”
With Cuddy, you don’t have to completely invert the unit to dump human waste. You just remove the solids bin independently and dump the waste into a compostable garbage bag, regular garbage bag, or on your composting pile at home.
“It’s important to understand that composting to kill pathogens takes time that won’t be possible within any self-contained composting toilet,” said Richard Peter, inventor of Cuddy. “Because of this, don’t spread the contents in the woods while you’re on the road, but instead empty them in a compostable bag and place them in an appropriate garbage bin.”
Keep in mind you don’t have to clean the poo container after emptying. The leftovers will just keep composting.
Composting Toilet Pros:
Here are some of the reasons why you might want a composting toilet in your camper:
Composting Toilet Cons
Yes, even though there are many positives about using a composting toilet in your RV or campervan, there are also negatives to be aware of before you buy.
Here are some of the key negatives to be aware of, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Frequently Asked Questions about Composting Toilets for Van Life
Can you put toilet paper in a composting toilet?
You can put toilet paper in composting toilets, but be aware that the toilet paper will be visible longer than solid waste products. Some people choose to use RV or marine toilet paper, which is thinner and dissolves faster.
Don’t put anything else in your toilet, such as tampons.
How do I keep the composting toilet odor-free?
One important part of keeping your toilet from smelling bad is to make sure the liquids and solids DON’T MIX. If you don’t empty your urine container frequently or don’t use the toilet’s trap doors correctly, urine could get into the solids container. That makes for a foul smell.
Some users also keep a spray bottle nearby with water and 2oz vinegar to spray out the toilet bowl after use.
If the urine container stinks, add a few ounces of white vinegar or Dawn’s dish soap.
Will my composting toilet smell if I don’t empty it often?
Yes, if you don’t empty your urine container frequently or use the trap doors correctly. As long as liquids and solids stay in their own containers, they won’t mix which will prevent a bad odor
How do I keep bugs from coming into my composting toilet?
Check your ventilation system. If there isn’t enough airflow, bugs and insects could come in through the vent holes that are meant for fresh air to enter.
If you’re using a composting toilet in a camper with limited space, make sure there’s good airflow around it.
How do I know when to empty my composting toilet?
It’s best to let the solids sit in the bin as long as possible before emptying your toilet. This gives the compost a better chance to decompose.
Composting toilets are designed for 1-2 people to use full time. Two people will generally require emptying every 3 week or so.
Can I pee in a composting toilet standing up?
Even though it might seem weird if you’re a guy, it’s recommended that you sit down when using a composting toilet. You want to make sure your urine goes down the right trap door and doesn’t go all over the place.
“You have to be more intentional about going to the bathroom. By that I mean being able to separate bathroom activities so that urine doesn’t get into the open composting compartment if you have to do both at the same time.” – @travelswithkevan
Composting Toilet Tips
There are several things to keep in mind if you’re just starting out using a composting toilet in a camper.
- This single-ply toilet paper works best as it breaks down faster
- Don’t spread your compost on edible plants just in case there are still pathogens in the poo
- Check your state or local regulations before dumping your compost – they vary
- Check out the Humanure Handbook: A guide to Composting Humane Manure if you want to learn even more about turning poop into compost
- Put a little vinegar in the urine tank if that pee smell is too strong
- Remember to prepare your bulking agent by getting it damp and breaking it apart.
Conclusion on the Best Composting Toilets for Campers
Composting toilets are a great way to have some conveniences of home while living full time in your campervan.
They are environmentally friendly in that they don’t use harsh chemicals or excess water. You’ll just have to get used to the process of using and emptying these toilets as they are different than what you’re used to.
“We like how convenient it has made living in a van. Yes, public restrooms exist, but especially during a pandemic, nothing beats having your own private toilet. It is easy to clean and maintain with full-time usage for the last 9 months, and we really, truly haven’t noticed any smells (apart from when you are emptying everything). The only downside is the price tag,” said @travelswithkevan.
Let us know if you have any questions and which composting toilet you chose.
- Related: The 7 Best Cassette Toilets for Camping
- Related: The best portable toilet options for a camper van
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