How Does a Camper Toilet Work

How Does a Camper Toilet Work

Using an RV toilet for the first time may be a little bit scary, especially when you look down a see a toilet that doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen before- no handle, no tank, and some foot valve.

But there’s no need to worry; I’ll provide some family-friendly tips on operating a camper toilet and explain how an RV toilet works.

Generally, camper toilets are like regular home toilets.  However, instead of a handle on a tank, they’ve a pedal underneath the toilet bowl.  A simple press of the foot pedal triggers the flushing mechanism, allowing the contents of the bowl to go into a blank tank.

But there’s more to a motorhome toilet.

As with home toilets, things can get pretty nasty down there

Knowing the basics of my trailer toilet has saved me countless times from situations that would have been a complete mess.

And in the guide below, I’ll share everything you need to know about motorhome toilet types of RV toilets and share how an RV toilet works.  Hopefully, my guide will save you from the embarrassing moments in your motorhome and stank smell.

Do I Need a Camper Toilet

Before we even look at how RV toilets operate, the big question we first need to answer is whether we need a motorhome toilet in the first place.

Now, this is usually a huge debate, with several camps getting torn in between the middle.

Personally, RV toilets are a necessary amenity and, in my opinion, one of the non-negotiable features for any camper.  I don’t imagine living in an RV without a camper.

Of course, everyone has their opinion on the need for a camper toilet, but mine revolve mostly around physical abilities, convenience and comfort.

See, I’m a senior and don’t like the idea of squatting when going for number 2 in the bush.  So, having some kind of home toilet setup is welcome to my feeble legs and cranky knees.

Most of the time, I’m usually accompanied by my grandkids.  And with their tiny bladders, having a toilet close by saves them from the need of holding their pee for too long.

Finally, it’s all about the convenience of having everything under my roof.  My camper toilet has saved me from having to find or use the campground toilets or even using wag bags during nature calls.

In addition, I no longer have to go through the trouble of waking up in the middle of the night and trying to find a way through the darkness to empty my bladder.

Of course, I must admit there’re several challenges of having a camper toilet.

Having a toilet gobbles up a huge chunk of my living space in the ever-so-crammed RV.

Using the toilet is also quite a hassle because, unlike the traditional toilet, you’ll have to find a way to dump waste from your black tank to the dump station.

Dumping waste on a dump station may present an additional cost, especially if you’ll be off-grid for quite some time.

Either way, I feel the pros of having a camper toilet outweigh the cons of not having one.

But depending on circumstances, I sometimes choose to travel without one.

For example, if my campground has adequate and clean washroom amenities, I may choose to forego the camper toilet.

I also know some RV users who aren’t averse to dumping their shit in open-air, so they’re perfect without a toilet.

Types of RV Toilets

Types of RV Toilets

Regardless of how you feel about an RV toilet, it would help if you know your options.

See, RV toilets come in different designs and forms.

As you’ll find out, some of these options are better suited for different conditions than others.

The different types of RV toilets also have different ways of handling waste, so we’ll also go through how they operate.

Traditional Camper Toilets/ Full Camper Toilets/Gravity Flush Toilets

The full camper toilets are probably the closest design you could get to your regular home toilet.

Another resemblance between the gravity flush RV toilet and the regular toilets is the choice of materials.  As with traditional home toilets, most full RV toilets are made out of ceramic and hard plastic on the toilet seat.

But there’re a couple of differences separating these two toilet designs.

An obvious difference is the absence of a fresh water tank at the back.  The tank is purposefully omitted from the design because it was to be integrated, it would cause sloshing of the water, creating a complete mess in your RV.

Instead, they’ve a large water holding tank, which is why they’re popular with the larger campers or rather campers with a dedicated RV bathroom such as RV, 5th wheelers and motorhomes.

But you can also connect the gravity toilet to an external water source if you don’t have space for a water tank.

The absence of a backwater tank also means the full RV toilets lacks an operating hand lever.  Instead, the flushing mechanism is initiated through a foot pedal at the bottom.

However, quite a few design elements exist between the full camper tanks, which mostly depends on the price.

For example, on some higher-end options, you’ll find electric flush RV toilets (Aria Deluxe II), which use buttons in place of levers.  Some even have a kitchen-style sprayer attached next to the toilet bowl.

But either way, the flushing mechanism on the full camper toilet is similar.

How Full Camper Toilets Operate

Before I share the important tips of using a full camper toilet, let’s first look at the basics of operation.

Once you stand and pee over the camper toilet, you’ll realize it has a sealed drain section.

Once you depress the foot pump, water gushes into the toilet bowl from the fresh water tank, and the drain seal opens to let to content get flushed into the black tank.

Simply put, it has a similar flushing mechanism to a regular toilet, only that it has a toilet seal, which is unlocked when flushing.

Handy Tips of Using a Full Camper Toilet

1)      The first step is confirming you’ve sufficient water in your water tank.

2)      It’s always a good idea to have the toiler filled a quarter way before use.  The presence of water helps with proper flushing.

To partially fill your bowl, slightly press the foot pump, but don’t do it all the way down, because that will instead open the seal and trigger the flushing mechanism.

3)      Do your deed

4)      Flush.  Flushing simply involves depressing your foot water pump all the way down and quickly.  It’ll allow more water to gush into the bowl from the water tank and open the sealed section to allow your contents t drain into the black tank.

5)      Repeat step 2 so it’s ready for the next user.

6)      Wash your hands


  •         Efficient water use
  •         Clean and convenient to use
  •         Inexpensive


  •         It’s easy for the black tank to clog

Macerating RV Toilet

Macerating RV Toilet

The macerating RV toilet is a more luxurious wastewater system and a step up to the full camper toilet.

See, the big problem with camper toilets is they lack flexibility in positioning.  Usually, they’re placed directly above the blank water tank/gray tank, or at least in close proximity.

The macerating RV toilet solves all of the positioning flexibility because they don’t need to be positioned directly above your tank.  They can be placed literally in any position in your RV.

How so?

Macerating RV Toilets have a grinder in a series of blades and a pumping mechanism.  The blades turn your compost into a slurry sludge, which can then be pumped to any location your black water tank is.

The Macerating RV Toilets are a waste disposal option, perfect for when you want to add another toilet in your RV.  They’re also great if your RV can’t accommodate the traditional full camper toilet.  Or when you simply want to rearrange the existing floorplan.

How Macerating RV Toilet Operate

Using this type of toilet is quite easy and possibly the closest you can get to your regular home toilet.

Tips of using a Macerating Camper Toilet

1)      Press the flush button as you would on a regular household toilet.  The water in the bowl drains away from your content, while the Macerating blades liquify your waste.

2)      Run the pump.  This will push the liquified waste into the black tank.

An added benefit of the entire flushing system is there’s no wide-open connection between the bowl and the sewer connection (RV sewer hose) as with the gravity toilet.  So, there’s no chance of the odor getting back from the black tank.

On the flip side, however, the macerating and liquifying process requires a lot of water.


  •         Flexible positioning; can be placed anywhere
  •         No odors- no connection with sewer drain
  •         Simple button use


  •         It uses lots of water

Portable Toilet

Portable toilets are also known as bucket-style toilets.

They’re aptly named as their name and can be used literally anywhere from the RV, tent to outside.

Portable camper toilet’s strongest suit, however, is their self-sufficiency.

Unlike the previous options, a portable toilet doesn’t require water, so there is no need for a freshwater tank or black tank.  The toilet itself handles everything.

Generally, a camper toilet is found in smaller trailers and vans, where space is premium.

Camper toilet mode of operation is also quite simple, but it differs greatly depending on the design.

The two popular designs for portable toilets are water-based porta-potties and dry bag-based potties.

Water-Based Potties

The water-based porta potties consist of a two-part design.

At the top section, we’ve a water holding tank, while the bottom section is the collection section.

This design is pretty simple and not any different from the traditional toilet.  You only need to press a button at the top, and the water from the top section flows into the bowl and flushes your contents into the bottom collection center.

When the bottom section gets filled, you can detach it from the upper section and empty its content.

Dry Bag Potties

As its name suggests, the dry bag potty consists of a dry bag instead of water.

However, the trash can is lined with a special kind of formulation, mostly a liquid absorbent material.

Once you use the toilet, you can add another layer of the bag or simply remove it.

Whatever you choose, emptying the bag is as simple as removing the bag, typing the top section and trashing the waste.


  •         Dry-bag design doesn’t require water
  •         Can be used anywhere
  •         Inexpensive
  •         Portable toilet- has a self-sufficient holding tank


  •         A bit of a hassle to get rid of the waste

Cassette RV Toilet

Cassette RV Toilet

Cassette toilet isn’t any different from a traditional camper toilet.

But the main difference is they’ve a portable black tank.  Or rather, their waste tank is separate and not in-built as with other designs.

With the waste tank separated, the cassette toilet has an element of positioning flexibility in the sense that it can be mounted anywhere in your RV.

However, it’s not portable because the toilet is usually fixed.  The fixed cassette toilets are usually attached to a water tank for water supply.

But other cassette RV designs lack an attachment to the water tank and have a self-sufficient water system.

Either way, we love these camper designs because of how effortless they make dumping waste.

The waste cassette is usually four to five gallons, which is enough to hold a multi-day waste for two.

On top of that, this type of toilet is highly portable and convenient to use.  Some even come with an extendable handle and wheels for easy rolling.

How to Use a Cassette Camper Toilet

As we mentioned earlier, cassette RV toilets aren’t different from household toilets.

Typical options have a button that you simply press for the waste content to get flushed.

Once the cassette waste tank gets filled, you simply need to remove it for dumping at the dump station.


  •         Easy to use
  •         Convenient emptying


  •         Can’t hold waste for long-needs regular emptying

Composting Toilets

A composting toilet is one of the most eco-friendly and efficient camper toilet designs.

As with the portable campers we discussed earlier, the composting toilet doesn’t require water to operate.

It’s a helpful water conservation feature, especially for those boondocking because it saves their precious water supply.

But that’s not even the selling point with a composting toilet, at least in my opinion.

Aptly named composting toilets, this type of toilet composts your solid waste so it can be used as fertilizer.

How Composting RV Toilet Work

Composting toilets have a chamber at the backend, further segmented into two sections.

After finishing your business, your waste goes into the main chambers, then segregated into solid and liquid waste.

The solid waste goes into a composting toilet chamber.  The solids tank chamber is filled with composting material like peat moss or coconut fiber.

On the other hand, the liquid waste goes to a separate chamber.  The liquids tank chamber is detachable, so you can remove it for disposal once it gets filled.

There’s a handle on the composting toilet chamber, which you can turn to mix the solid waste contents and the composting material.

As with the liquid chamber, once it gets filled, you simply empty the solid waste in a waste bag for disposal or use it as manure.

The isolation of the different matter helps prevent odor from emanating from the toilet.

The only potential issue with the composting toilet is the failure to renew the composting material or overuse it.

If you don’t change the composting material (peat moss) in time, the solid waste will turn into sludge, eventually liquefying.  It starts to smell.


  •         Composting toilets don’t require water
  •         Ideal for longer boondocking days
  •         No smell
  •         Never clog


  •         Frequent emptying the waste contents

Do I Need a Special Toilet Paper for my Camper Toilet?

Do I Need a Special Toilet Paper for my Camper Toilet

A big question with camper toilet use is whether you can use the regular toilet paper on your motorhome toilet.

It depends, but I would advise using an RV-safe toilet paper.

Some regular toilet papers don’t disintegrate as easily as RV toilet papers do, so they’re likely to clog your black tank/grey tank.

Therefore, my advice is to only stick to toilet papers specifically labeled for use on travel trailers.

However, the big problem is that some of the RV toilet papers might be nice for your toilet, but not so much on your back.  You know what I mean.

So, ultimately, you might be forced to use regular toilet paper.  And this is why I earlier mentioned that you’re not strictly limited to RV toilet paper.

But not all regular toilet papers are suitable for your RV.  Some of the papers will break down much faster than others, and they’re what I would generally recommend.

And the good thing is identifying a regular toilet paper ideal for RV use is pretty simple.

Here’s how to go about it;

How to Identify Whether a Normal Toilet Paper is Good for my Travel Trailers


  •         Different brands of tissue paper
  •         Jar of water

Testing Method

Step 1

Fill your jar with water

Step 2

Tear off a sheet or two of your preferred brand tissue paper and dip it in the jar of water.

Step 3

Shake and twirl the jar with the sheet of toilet paper inside.

Step 4

Wait for the water to settle, and let it sit for an hour or so.

Step 5

Observe whether the toilet paper has been shredded on not.

If it has completely shredded, then it might be a great option to use on your RV  toilet.  If it hasn’t, then it’s likely to clog your travel trailer toilet.

Step 6

Repeat the process with the different brands available, and positively identify the options that would go with your RV.

Cleaning a Travel Trailer Toilet

Cleaning a Travel Trailer Toilet

You should also regularly clean your RV toilet as with your home toilet.

But I wouldn’t advise the use of regular sanitary products.  I know it’s tempting, and most RVers have a habit of using regular household cleaners.

But because most of the RV toilets are designed from plastic and ceramic, I would be less inclined to use the regular material because they can be harsh on the surface.

Instead, I’d recommend RV-specific cleaning products.

Cleaning an RV toilet isn’t any different from that of regular toilets.  It uses the same cleaning technique and tools (brushes, spray bottles and sticks).

Toilet odors are yet another important thing you need to care for in your RV cleaning process.

With composting toilets, renewing the compost material regularly so that the solid waste doesn’t liquefy and start giving off a strong odor.

Also, a typical motorhome toilet comes with a seal inside the bowl.  Special care should be taken on the seal to prevent breakage or damage because it provides the gateway to the black water tank.  Consider using a plumber’s grease to prevent it from drying out.

Damage to the seal means the odor may get from the black water tank to your living space.

After use, consider leaving a small amount of water, roughly a quarter of the bowl.  It helps manage the unpleasant odors.

But the most fool-proof way, at least in my opinion, of keeping your black tank free from the odors and clean is the toilet drop-ins.

Toilet-drop ins are simply tablets inserted at the drain section and are handy in digesting the solid waste while maintaining your black tank in a pristine state.

Vinegar can also be a great alternative.

Travel Trailers Toilet Maintenance Tips

Here’re some toilet RV maintenance tips to keep in mind;

1)  Always have the blank tank’s valves closed to avoid your waste flowing back to the toilet bowl.  Take care of your bowl seal and avoid damaging or cracking it in the same breath.

2)  Use products that can control the odor

3)  Always have some water in the porcelain bowl

4)  Avoiding stuffing your toilet with toilet paper, chemical treatments or other substances to avoid a clogged toilet

5)  Keep your motorhome toilet clean

*Be sure to wear gloves when cleaning your new toilet.

How Does Motorhome Toilets Work Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Does Motorhome Toilets Work Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: I’m I allowed to poop in an RV toilet?

A: Yes, consider an RV toiler like your home toilet.

You can poop and pee in the toilet.

Q: My motorhome toilet is clogged; what next?

A: There’re several ways of unclogging your RV toilet, including using boiled water or septic de-cloggers.

Wrap Up

Wrap Up

There you have it; everything you need to know about camper toilets and how to operate them.

And as you’ve seen, there’re several designs and classes of camper toilets to select.  So, it’s pretty hard not to find an option that suits your needs.

The most important thing to know when using the RV toilet is how to take care of them and clean them regularly.  It should save you from the unpleasant odor, unwelcome mess, and everything else in between.

Hopefully, this guide will enhance your RV lifestyle!

Sharing is caring!

Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

Subscribe To Our NewsLetter!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x