Talking about toilets isn’t the most glamorous thing in the world, but it sure is practical. It’s also essential to an enjoyable and stench-free RV living experience. As a new or experienced RVer, whether you’re traveling in a new motorhome or used motorhome, you must know how to operate and maintain your RV toilet.
While most campers contain holding tanks that are emptied using a sewer hose extension, there’s another type of RV toilet–a cassette toilet–that’s popular for smaller coaches and off-grid camping. Today, you’ll learn whether an RV with a cassette toilet or a portable toilet could be right for you.
What Is an RV Cassette Toilet?
The cassette toilet is really pretty simple. It’s a permanent toilet in your RV with a portable black water tank underneath. They are primarily found in camper vans and Class B motorhomes.
Most campers include a large built-in black water tank to hold waste. When that tank fills up, you connect a sewer hose to an outlet in your RV’s underbelly and extend the other end to an inlet at a campground or dump station. If you have a regular RV septic system, you’ll need to know more about how to empty your RV holding tanks.
How Does a Cassette Toilet Work?
A cassette toilet functions in much the same manner as a traditional RV toilet. Unlike a portable toilet like the Thetford Porta Potti, cassette toilets are permanently secured in your RV bathroom.
With a cassette toilet, you’ll need to physically remove the small black water tank from the RV and carry it somewhere to empty it. Fortunately, the portable tanks on cassette toilets are relatively easy to transport and empty. They are usually about the size of a suitcase and many come with rollers. These tanks can be emptied virtually anywhere—public restrooms, dump stations, campground hookups, etc.
Is a Cassette Toilet a Portable RV Toilet?
It’s important to note that a true cassette toilet is a replacement for a regular RV toilet. The toilet itself permanently stays in your RV, but it does have a portable tank that is accessed via a panel underneath the toilet or from an exterior storage compartment on some RVs.
There are also portable porta-potty toilets that don’t permanently attach anywhere. They also have portable tanks on the bottom that detach from the upper half of the toilet when you need to empty them. These portable camping toilets are great for things like truck camping if your rig doesn’t have a bathroom facility. And they can also supplement your RV’s existing toilet if you’re camping with a large group.
For our purposes, a cassette toilet refers to a model that permanently attaches to your RV and includes a removable holding tank. We’ll refer to portable toilets as those that remain mobile and can be used inside or outside of your camper.
Benefits of an RV Cassette Toilet
The major advantage of this type of RV toilet is its compact size. This is why they are a better solution for class B RVs and small campers because they are easier to clean and they come with less potential for nasty odors because they must be emptied more frequently.
The small size of cassette toilets also makes them highly portable. If, for example, you were camping off-grid, you’d need to move a traditional RV to dump when your onboard holding tanks are full. With a cassette toilet, you’ll be able to drive your portable tank to the nearest restroom or dump station instead of moving your entire motorhome.
Cassette toilets also eliminate the need for a larger black water holding tank and RV plumbing. This means less stuff to worry about breaking or degrading over the life of your camper. It also means you’ll have less to clean up to prevent clogs and an easier time remedying clogs if they do occur.
Finally, cassette toilets are a great option for building out a van or renovating a trailer to create a mobile living space. If the initial vehicle you’re renovating didn’t have holding tanks, installing a cassette toilet is much easier than installing all the plumbing found on regular campers.
How Much Waste Does a Cassette Toilet Hold?
Thinking about waste in terms of gallons isn’t the most pleasant idea. But it’s important when considering the difference between cassette toilets and traditional RV septic systems. Most cassette toilets have smaller capacities than RV holding tanks.
A cassette toilet with a five-gallon holding tank is pretty common. Compared to RV holding tanks that can carry anywhere from 15 up to 90 gallons of waste, you can begin to understand how using a cassette toilet will be different.
Let’s consider a quick example. If you empty your 20-gallon RV holding tank every 7-8 days at your normal usage rate, you can expect to empty a five-gallon cassette toilet holding tank nearly every other day.
While the tendency is to want a toilet with a larger holding tank so you have to empty it less frequently, consider the fact that you’ll need to physically handle the weight of your waste when emptying a cassette toilet. A five-gallon portable holding tank could weigh as much as 50 pounds when full. So you’ll need to choose whether you want to handle a heavier tank less often or a lighter tank more frequently.
How To Empty Cassette Toilets and Portable Toilets
Most motorhomes have built-in sensors inside the waste tanks to tell you when they are nearing their maximum capacity. The LEDs linked to these sensors are usually displayed on your RV’s control panel, along with indicators for things like freshwater capacity and battery life.
With cassette toilets and portable toilets, the level indicator is usually on the toilet itself. Because they have a smaller capacity than a traditional RV toilet system, you will need to physically check this indicator on a daily basis to avoid overfilling the holding tank.
When the indicator tells you your tank is full, here’s how to dump cassette toilets and portable RV toilets:
1. Clear the toilet bowl
2. Close the valve blade handle
3. Open the panel to access the holding tank
On cassette toilets, this will either be on the side or front of the toilet. On some campers, the tank is accessed through an exterior storage compartment. On portable toilets, the top section detaches from the holding tank.
4. Remove the portable toilet tank
5. Carry or roll to a dump location
If your holding tank has wheels, we highly recommend using them to more easily transport your waste to a dump location. Again, acceptable dump locations include the hookups at an RV park, an actual RV dump station, or even a stall at a public restroom.
6. Open the dump spout
Some models have a spout that swivels away from the tank, making it easier (and cleaner) to dump the contents.
7. Empty the contents
Position the spout over the toilet or dump station hole and let gravity do the rest. If your tank comes with a pressure release valve, depress it while emptying the contents to release pressure and allow the contents to clear the tank more completely
8. Clean and rinse the tank
When your cassette toilet’s holding tank is empty, it’s time to clean it out. Place it down on a level surface and pour some water into the tank. Then close up the spout and shake or tip the tank back and forth to swish the water around inside before emptying it again.
You may need to rinse your tank several times before the water you’re emptying appears clear. Over time, holding tanks can accumulate buildup if you don’t take this step each time you empty its contents. If that happens, you’ll need to use a tank cleaner to remove old residue and neutralize odors.
Which Toilet is Right For You?
Don’t get me wrong. Cassette toilets are not necessarily better than regular camper toilets. They just give you a different option when it comes to disposing of your sewage waste.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to camp anywhere and you don’t always have access to a dump station (van life comes to mind), then a cassette toilet’s versatility might be right for you.
Cassette toilets also tend to be better for solo travelers or couples. If you have more than two people using a cassette toilet regularly, you are probably going to have to dispose of its contents daily.
If you camp in campgrounds and have no issues finding a dump station, then you might be better off with a toilet with a more traditional black tank. And you’ll definitely want more waste storage capacity if you’re camping with a larger group.
Either way, you still have to deal with the waste. Either you use a sewer connection to empty your tanks or you pull out your portable black tank and wave to your neighbors as you roll it over to a public restroom or dump station.
Before you jump on the cassette toilet bandwagon, really think about if you want to deal with the portable tank. Some people have no problem doing that, but others find it far easier to go the traditional route. The choice is yours, just make sure to think about it ahead of time and discuss it with the person or people who will be camping with you.
RV Cassette Toilet Use and Maintenance Tips
If you do decide that a cassette toilet is right for your RV lifestyle, here are a few tips to help you use and care for it:
- Minimize use for solid waste disposal. Use a restroom for your #2 needs when possible.
- Avoid flushing toilet paper. Dispose of TP in a small, dedicated waste bin.
- Close the lid before flushing or opening the valve blade
- Empty it on a regular schedule, even if it’s not full.
- Every 2-3 days if camping with a group
- Every 4-5 days if camping solo or with a partner
- Clean it with water and a splash of distilled white vinegar after each use.
- Deep clean the holding tank with approved holding tank chemicals between trips.
Best Portable RV Toilets and Cassette Toilets
If you’re interested in upgrading your camper’s bathroom facility, here are a few models to consider:
Thetford Porta Potti Curve
The Thetford Porta Potti Curve is one of the more popular portable RV toilet options for van life, truck camping, and RVs that don’t have bathroom facilities. It boasts a 5.5-gallon waste capacity and also includes a 4.2-gallon freshwater tank that provides an average of 56 flushes per fill.
This portable toilet includes a battery-powered pump flush mechanism (it comes with six AA batteries) and an integrated holder for your RV-friendly toilet paper. It also features a level indicator for both internal holding tanks and user-friendly levers to make operation a breeze.
Camco RV Portable Toilet
This is one of the more affordable portable toilets out there. The holding tank on this model holds 2.6 gallons and it features a pump-action flush mechanism to keep the bowl clean. The tank easily detaches from the top section when it’s time to dump waste and the spout elbow rotates away from you so can stay as far away as possible when you’re cleaning it out.
Aqua Magic V High Profile RV Toilet
Okay, so this one isn’t a portable toilet or a cassette toilet, but if you need to upgrade your regular toilet, it’s a great option This is an especially nice model for taller RVers that are sick of squatting uncomfortably to get onto a normal RV toilet.
It’s a high-profile version with a full height of 18.5 inches from the base to its highest point. It also features a deeper bowl that’s closer to the toilet you enjoy at home and full bowl coverage on the flush mechanism helps to keep the Aqua Magic V cleaner than other models.
In the right circumstances, a cassette toilet can be a great substitute for a regular RV toilet. You just need to be aware of the pros and cons to make sure you enjoy a comfortable restroom experience wherever you go!
If a cassette toilet sounds right for you, consider checking out a Class B motorhome. Camping World has a full selection!