5 Myths About RV Composting Toilets


RV composting toilets

5 Myths About RV Composting Toilets

Let’s talk about RV toilets!  It’s not the most appealing conversation, but every RVer has one (maybe even two) in their self-contained rig.  Part of being an RV owner includes maintaining the waste system (i.e., flushing out the black tank).  It’s not the most glamorous aspect of RVing, and sometimes it can be downright unsanitary.  

For this reason and many others, some RVers have opted to forgo the traditional toilet that comes pre-installed in every RV and instead invest in an RV composting toilet.  Other RVers avoid this possibility like the plague, mainly due to misconceptions and falsities they believe.  To truly decide if a composting toilet is for you and your RVing bunch, it doesn’t hurt to take a closer look at what’s really under the lid.

What are RV composting toilets?

An RV composting toilet is an organic, environmentally-safe alternative to the typical RV toilet that utilizes water and plumbing to operate and dispose of waste. It looks and is used just like any RV toilet, but the liquid and solid waste is stored and processed in a different manner.  

With most RV composting toilets on the market, liquid waste is separated from the solids, bottled up, and later dumped. Solid waste is composted.  This is in comparison to a pre-installed RV toilet where both waste products are rinsed down into a black tank with water and later flushed out into a sewage system.

How do RV composting toilets work?

A central theme among all composting toilets is that liquids are separated from solids.  The bowl design of an RV composting toilet complements human anatomy.  Number 1 occurs at the front of the bowl.  Number two occurs towards the rear of the bowl.

When you “flush,” one trap door drains liquid waste into a removable bottle and a rear trap door deposits solid wastes into a composting chamber at the base of the toilet. Some models include a crank on the side of the toilet.  This crank mixes the solid waste with the composting material.

For optimal composting conditions, three factors come into play: moisture level, carbon-nitrogen balance, and temperature.  Representatives at letsgogreen.com explain,

“Composting toilets use the natural processes of decomposition and evaporation to recycle human waste. Waste entering the toilets is over 90% water, which is evaporated and carried back to the atmosphere through the (unit’s) vent system. 

The correct balance between oxygen, moisture, heat and organic material is needed to ensure a rich environment for the aerobic bacteria that transform the waste into fertilizing soil. This ensures odor-free operation and complete decomposition of waste.”

Debunking myths of RV composting toilets

RV composting toilets are not a new concept. Yet, as mentioned before, many RVers shy away from the idea of switching to one of these eco-friendly models because of preconceived notions and misinformation.  The following are common myths shared about RV composting toilets.  Knowing the facts behind each misconception might just flush away the fear and doubt of installing one in your own RV.

Myth #1: RV composting toilets are stinky.

There are three main reasons why RV composting toilets DO NOT have unpleasant odors.

  • One of the key reasons composting toilets do not smell is due to the initial separation of liquid and solid wastes. The elimination of these combined fumes halts the “sewage smell.” 
  • More obvious in the effort to kill smelly odors is the material utilized in the composting chamber. Bulking materials like sawdust, peat mix and coconut fiber aids in a swifter breakdown of solids.  Oftentimes, RVers report smelling dirt, if anything, from their toilet. 
  • RV composting toilets are free of unpleasant odors when they are properly installed and maintained. The composting toilet’s ventilation system is designed to pull oxygen into the chamber and odors and moisture outside. Additionally tightly enclosed chambers help contain the stinky odors and help maintain optimal temperatures.  If the toilet begins to smell, the reason could be a maintenance issue with the fan, a defect in the chamber sealing, or perhaps fresh composting material needs to be added.

Myth #2: I can’t use toilet paper in a composting toilet.

Toilet paper can certainly be dispensed and composted in the solids chamber of an RV composting toilet.  However, there are a few caveats to that truth.  

  • First, adding toilet paper will fill up the solid chamber quicker.  For this reason, some RVers will throw away their toilet paper in a separate trash bin, making sure to dispose of the toilet paper daily to avoid unpleasant smells. 
  • Second, using single-ply toilet paper is better than using thicker toilet paper for the simple reason that it can decompose quicker.  
  • Finally, toilet paper should be the only product besides human waste that should be dispensed in the RV composting toilet.  Just like with a traditional water and plumbing toilet, feminine products should not be “flushed.”

Myth #3: Gross! I’ll have to deal with cleaning and handling my waste.

According to the popular composting toilet manufacturer, Nature’s Head,

“The time frame to empty the solids bin varies with the number of people and the time period. The toilet is designed for 1 to 4 people full-time. Generally, two people full-time people’s usage will require emptying approximately every 3 weeks; additional people will shorten the time.”  The company adds, “The urine bottle holds 2.2 gallons and will require more frequent emptying; two people might need to empty after 3-4 days.”

Generally, most RV composting toilets have a liquid container that can be poured out into a regular flushing toilet at a rest stop or gas station or dumped down a sewer hook-up at an RV park.  Some composting toilets have an evaporating system that eliminates some or all dumping of liquid waste.

Solids are usually dumped into a trash bag directly from the chamber.  The solids mixed with the appropriate combination of compost mixture create a fertilizer that looks and smells like dirt.  This can be thrown away in a dumpster, just like your household trash.  As a general rule, it’s always a good idea to double check with your state and local guidelines on the disposal of composting material.

Now compare this method of handling a container of composted dirt to the traditional black tank debacle.  This experience usually involves dealing with dump stations or sewer hook-ups that may or may not be maintained. The odor is quite potent and the waste coming out (if an owner has a see-thru attachment) is unsightly.  

Myth #4: RV composting toilets are bulky and difficult to install.

Before purchasing an RV composting toilet, it’s a good idea to measure the space that the composting toilet will be installed. With these measurements in mind, select a toilet that can easily fit in these parameters.  

Most RV composting toilets can be set up and installed by the RV owner.  This do-it-yourself project can be as easy as screwing the unit to the floor.  The only tricky part for some can be connecting the ventilation hose to an external outlet.  Specific instructions come with every unit and some prior research is involved before deciding upon and purchasing one.

Myth #5: RV composting toilets are expensive.

Stephen Henry, major products and hardware manager at Lehman’s in Dalton, Ohio agrees that the units are more expensive but also notes, “Composting toilets are a specialty item. Supply and demand plays a role.”

At face value, this myth is true, but if you delve more into the costs of maintenance and upkeep of a composting toilet as opposed to a traditional toilet, the lines become blurry.  Consider the costs that are cut if you own an RV composting toilet: 

  • Installation and set-up is free if you are installing the unit.
  • Zero need for water in the toilet means water can be used for other essential purposes.  This means fewer times to pay to dump and fill up at campgrounds or dump stations.
  • Repairing any damages to a composting toilet may involve purchasing a part of the unit like a fan or seal.  Repairing any damages to a toilet with an entire plumbing and sewer system pre-installed in an RV can be a rather costly repair especially if it involves internal plumbing.

Meet full-time RVers that have firsthand experience

Full-time RVers, Brian and Shawnna of Lyf Interrupted, explain many aspects of owning an RV composting toilet in their beginner’s video below.  They show how they installed the unit, how to use the toilet, maintenance tips, and things to avoid doing if you decide to purchase one.

Take a look at some popular RV composting toilets 

If your perception of RV composting toilets has changed for the better after a bit of clarification, you may be interested in investigating the subject further.  There are a number of popular RV composting toilets on the market. Some well-known companies mentioned among RV influencers include Nature’s Head, Sun-Mar, and Air Head. You can also learn more about composting toilets in this RV LIFE article.

Natalie Henley

Natalie Flores-Henley and her husband, Levi Henley, workamp around the country in their 26-foot motorhome. Along with writing for RV magazines, they recently published their first book together, Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It. They share their experiences and RV-related tips on their own blog henleyshappytrails.com as well as videos on their YouTube Channel, also called Henley's Happy Trails.

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