Dometic Portable Toilet Review: The Doos and Don’ts of Using a Camper Van Toilet
One question any full time vanlifer will get asked a lot: Where do you go to the bathroom?
Imagine everyone’s surprise when we tell them we have a toilet in our van. If we’re in the middle of giving someone a van tour, we can predictably watch them take a second look around the van, looking for this magical, secret toilet.
We didn’t find the solution right away. We actually did a lot of research into camper van toilet ideas before deciding on one. Our research led us to first to contemplating a composting toilet for our van, but due to logistical and space constraints, we eventually decided the best camper van toilet for our specific needs was a simple portable toilet.
Portable toilets are frequently used in RVs and boats, and they function just like a regular toilet… except you have to manually dump out the waste tank. In an RV, this means simply connecting a hose to a sewer. In a van or boat, it means manually removing your toilet and dumping the tank by hand.
In looking up the van life toilet options out there, we contemplated several different brands of portable toilets before settling on Dometic. In fact, it’s pretty surprising how many companies make some version of a portable toilet for camper van, RV, or boat use. Dometic aside, the best camper van toilet manufacturers are Camco and Thetford Corp. Camco’s portable RV toilets didn’t quite have the sleek appearance that we were looking for. Thetford Corp’s Porta Potti toilets, on the other hand, probably look the nicest of all the van toilet options, but they’re a little taller with a smaller base (i.e. more unstable if you sit on them) and cost a little more than both Camco and Dometic.
We were drawn to Dometic because they tend to water specifically to van life while the other are geared more for RV life. In fact, Dometic’s company motto is “Mobile Living Made Easy” and our portable toilet isn’t the only Dometic product we have in the van. In fact, we’ll be doing another review on our Dometic CFX compressor fridge and accompanying Dometic Fridge Slide Mount in the very near future. Hint: We LOVE it.
Even after picking Dometic, we had to pick the specific toilet for our van conversion. They actually make lots of toilets, both portable and not.
In the end we chose the Dometic 970 Series 5-gallon Portable Toilet for our van conversion. Check out a full video demonstration of this portable poo powerhouse in action. Keep in mind that Dometic also makes a 2.6 gallon Portable Toilet on that could be great for smaller vans or solo vanlifers- but keep in mind it will need more frequent dumping. Frankly, the 5-gallon model takes up so little space and costs only marginally more that it’s worth it.
5 gallon waste tank
2.3 gallon self-contained freshwater flush tank
Low resistance hand pump pressurized flushing mechanism triggered by soft flush button
Full size seat
Tank level indicator window
Front handle for easy grip when carrying and moving
Odor blocking and liquid tight valve sealed bowl/tank separator
Constructed out of high-strength ABS designed to withstand extreme temperatures, vibration, and impact
Smooth, easy to clean finish
Secure latching toilet lid
Splash free dump arm
Dimensions: 12.5” x 15.5” x 16.5”
Weight: 14 pounds
The Flush Function: The super easy flush button and hand pump is revolutionary in the world of portable toilets. It requires zero power and hardly any effort to use. The pressure generated is actually surprisingly vigorous, too (provided you pump it enough).
The Compact Size: The Dometic 970 series is specially designed for “smaller vehicles and tents” so it’s super compact! At just over 1 ft. tall and barely over 1ft. x 1 ft., we can store our van toilet neatly under the “bathroom” counter. And not just under the counter itself, but under a shelf under the counter, so that we can maximize storage space. When we want (or rather, need) to use it, we just slide it out via the handy handle right on the front and sit down. We placed felt pads on each corner of the toilet to make sliding it out easier and less damaging on the floor.
The Smell Seal: While the tank itself can omit some super foul odors when open, the flush side has a tight, gasket sealed side track that totally blocks odors when the closed. Our toilet doesn’t smelling the slightest unless we’re actively flushing something!
The Sleek Look: Who would have thought a portable toilet for your camper van could be stylish? Unlike other off-white matte portable toilets, this pristine white and gray toilet had a glossy finish that both makes it pleasant to use and look at!
Easy to Clean: With a sleek, glossy finish, the toilet is super easy to wipe down. This is especially nice since the bowl tends to stain over time. This happens in any good old fashioned toilet, but when you always have a full bowl of water flowing through, the stains lift easier. In an often dry bowl (because you can’t be driving around with a whole bowl of water), the poop stains can get pretty gnar. WE do let residue soak in water to help alleviate them but even then, the bowl starts to look a little brown. It looks gross but it’s easy to fix with a simply Lysol wipe-down. This also just helps keep the bowl sanitary.
Solid Waste Sticks: Sometimes, solid waste doesn’t go down seamlessly. Especially if you’re parked on a slide angle, it can get stuck in the bowl. Adding water to bowl prior to going helps as does jiggling the toilet around a bit or tilting it back so whatever’s in the bowl hits the hole. But in worst case scenarios (and I’m not too proud to admit I’ve done it multiple times), you may need to use a stick to prod your poo down into the hole.
The Smell of the Tank: While one fo the best things about this toilet is that the flush door reliably blocks smell, it only works when closed. When you open the door to flush, hold your breath if it’s been a few days because P. F*cking. U. If it gets really bad, add Camco TST RV Toilet Treatment to help reduce the smell a bit.
Tank Pressure Buildup: Pressure builds up in the tank with extreme elevation change or heat. If you have a little water in the bowl (like if you’re letting some stains soak out) and you open the flush, the pressure release will spit the poopy water right at you. We’ve gotten in the habit of cracking the flush door BEFORE even opening the lid, though I didn’t learn this lesson until I got an unfortunate fecal facial. I obsessively flushed my eyes out with saline solution every hour for the next three days until I was sure I has contracted some horrific bacterial eye infection.
Pulling Off the Flush Slide: One thing to be cautious about is how far you pull out the flush slide. One time, we pulled it a little too aggressively and popped it off the runner. Because this runs is designed to be tight to seal in the smell, let’s just say it wasn’t much fun trying to get the plastic back on track. A plastic bag over the hand was involved.
GIOVANNI’S VERDICT: 4/5 stars
Overall, we love our Dometic Portable toilet (at least as much as one can love a receptacle of their own waste). Most the shortcomings with this toilet are not actually a product of this particular toilet, but rather an unfortunately element of the portable toilet in general. Dealing with your own human waste is arguable one of the hardest things to get used to in your transition to van life. The bottom line is simply that manually dumping your own waste isn’t much fun, no matter how nice the process of generating it is.
While dumping our portable van toilet may be our least favorite van chore, the Dometic 970 Series Portable RV Toilet makes it as pain-free as possible. Because of its handy flush function, compact size, and well-thought-out design, we definitely thing this is easily one of the best campervan toilet options on the market. It gets a strong recommendation from us.
If you’re on the fence about even getting toilet for your van conversion, think of it this way: You can always opt to not use your toilet if you don’t have to, but it’s really nice to have the option to use one if you do. Especially for urban van life, where you can’t just throw open the door and drop your drawers where you please, a portable van toilet is a huge luxury. Considering the low cost and space efficiency, we’re strong believers that it’s a worthy investment even if only for those “just in case” situations.
HOW TO DUMP A DOMETIC PORTABLE TOILET:
Make sure the toilet bowl is completely empty of both waste and water. You’ll be in for a mess if not when you get to the next step.
Separate the top and bottom parts (the white from the gray). There’s a small latch on the back to release them, then just pull.
On the top of the grey colored bottom half, rotate the tank arm so it points outward. Remove the cap and rinse it.
Tip the arm downward to dump. Enjoy the disgusting show of seeing all your own poop plop out of the tank. Be careful of where you place your feet and try not to go too crazy, or you’ll be cleaning off more than the toilet in the end.
Once you’ve gotten everything you can out that way, add a bit of water directly to the tank and swish it around to dislodge anything that’s stuck. You may need to rotate the tank around and change the orientation of the tank to really get everything out. To check and see how empty it is, open the flush slide door to check. Repeat this step as many times as necessary until the tank is clean. Note that after a couple months of use, the tank walls will never be truly clean. They’ll blacken a bit even when the tank is totally empty and that’s totally normal.
Once you’ve finished dumping, add a bit of water to the tank (just enough to coat the bottom and set the bottom part aside. Mix in a treatment of Camco TST RV Toilet Treatment (or something akin to it).
Take the top white part and rinse out the bowl. Since toilet bowl cleaner is bulky and overly specific to carry in the van, we use antibacterial wipes to disinfect the bowl and seat.
Unscrew the cap on the back right of the toilet seat and fill the upper tank with clean “flush” water.
Dry both parts of your toilet and snap it back together. Boom! Now it’s clean enough to be made filthy again. We usually go 6-7 days between dumplings, and we rarely do it because the tank is full, but rather because we’re filling sink water anyway and might as well empty the toilet while we’re at it.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VAN TOILET USE:
While the Dometic RV toilet makes the daily doo pretty easy, we’ve also discovered some tips and tricks that make the dirty work of having a van toilet just a little less so.
Treat the tank with RV toilet treatment. This helps waste break down faster and reduces the odor a little bit. We personally used Camco TST Ultra-Concentrate Orange Scent toilet treatment. It’s fairly inexpensive to buy and considering we typically only use 1 treatment per week, one small container lasts us about 2 months. If it starts to get extra stinky in between dumps, you can always add an extra treatment.
Pump a little water into the bowl before pooping. This really helps combat the whole “poop not going down the hole” issue. If you put just enough water in the bowl to fill the hole and flow a bit onto the upper platform, it really helps pull everything down when you open the flush door.
Use it as infrequently as you can. If you’re in a rural area, dig a cat hole or use a bush. It’s a great workout for the glutes! Or maybe you’re about to go in to a store for groceries. Hold the urge another 5 minutes and wait to use the toilet there. Hopefully you’ve already gotten over your fear of public restrooms when preparing for vanlife. Be strategic about toilet use, because every time you use it is just a little closer to the next time you have to dump it.
Avoid peeing in it. Liquids fill up the tank fast and pee actually magnifies the scent of other waste in the tank. Simply not peeing in it is a great way to reduce the use of your toilet, especially since peeing outside is pretty much effortless in rural locations (especially for men!). I still use the toilet to pee in urban areas but pretty much never do if I have even an ounce of privacy.
Don’t put toilet paper in it. Toilet paper is an absolute nightmare to get out of the tank and will take far longer to break down than any human waste will. If you accidentally and habitually throw a wad in there every once in a while, it’s not the end of the world, but a large amount of it can be a real pain in the pooper. Instead, we throw our toilet paper in a small compostable trash bag separate from our actual trash. That way we can dispose of it right away by either throwing it away or, ideally, burying it deep if we’re in an appropriate location to do so.