In my humble opinion, the caravan toilet is one of life’s great inventions!
There was a recent poll that found only half of caravanners use their onboard facilities. I’m in the half that does. I always use mine – and yes that includes doing a number ‘2’!
So if you’re like me, and prefer the privacy of using your own toilet facilities, you’ll be wanting to make sure you know how To use a caravan cassette toilet properly.
Today I cover how to properly prepare, use, empty, and maintain your caravan, motorhome or campervan toilet cassette to ensure it remains hygienic and will last the lifetime of your van.
Who Invented the Caravan Cassette Toilet? A Brief History!
It might seem hard to imagine now, but the first caravan toilets comprised of a tall plastic bucket with a seat – and a lid if you were lucky!
The Sargent family from Thetford, Michigan changed this primitive method of using the loo when they invented one that had both a holding tank and flushing system. This became known as the ‘Cassette’ that was able to contain odours and removable for easy emptying. This was named the ‘Porta Potti’.
Over time, these ‘porta-potties’ evolved to include a float and indicator to show when the cassette was full.
Nowadays, today’s cassette toilets come as a single unit, with the seating area above, and removable lower half (the cassette/waste box) with external access for removal – this is lavatorial luxury at its finest!
There are other brands of chemical toilet cassettes, but you will more often than not find yours is the ‘Thetford’ brand.
Preparing Your Caravan Cassette For Use
Which are the Best Caravan Toilet Cassette Chemicals?
When using a toilet cassette in a caravan or motorhome, you’ll probably find that there are several chemicals to choose from. Some are essential (Blue) and others (pink) are optional. The most popular brands you may have heard of are Aqua Kem, Thetford and Elsan.
The Blue chemicals break down poo and tissue so that when you empty into an elsan point, there aren’t (quite so many) nasty surprises. The liquid also helps in masking any unpleasant odours and keeps the tank hygienic.
The pink chemicals go in the top flush tank and is purely to provide a pleasant smell when flushing. I don’t recommend using pink as it can cause black algae to grow in the tank, which then flushes through into the bowl. You can read more about that here.
I highly recommend Thetford Aqua Rinse Spray for your ‘freshening needs’. It gives a long-lasting smell, without risking any horrible black stuff in your toilet bowl.
There is now also a Green Liquid. This is an organic, or ‘bio’ liquid that doesn’t contain any formaldehyde so it’s better for the environment.
It’s important when touring to check the sites’ preference on Blue or Green as some are now making it mandatory to use bioliquids.
Does Green Toilet Chemical Work as Well as Blue?
Well, I haven’t personally used the green liquid – but I have heard from fellow vanners that it isn’t as effective in breaking down the tissue or hiding smells, which is probably because there is no formaldehyde to do it effectively.
You can even now buy sachets, that are pre-measured so that all you need to do is simply drop one into the waste holding tank – easy peasy!
Whether you choose blue, or green liquid – go for the best you can afford as it really does make a difference!
- Each caravan toilet chemical will have its own instructions and guidance on the strength and dilution of the liquid.
- Simply remove the toilet cassette from the housing and unscrew the cap. Inside the cap, there will be markings for measuring out the blue or green chemical. Next, just pour in and add the correct amount of water to dilute.
- Thetford has graduated caps to help you measure the right amount. Some chemicals can damage the rubber seal of the slider flap, so make sure to add it via the spout rather than the bowl.
- Finally, replace the cap, and reinsert it into the caravan. And that’s it!
Looking After your Toilet Cassette
It’s pretty straightforward to keep your toilet in tip-top condition with a few simple tips:
Don’t pee in the toilet when the blade is closed as this causes pressure on the seal, which may cause it to leak – not to mention unwanted splash-back!
- Don’t overfill the cassette – if your caravan toilet has an indicator light, make sure you empty it straight away. It’s not pretty hoiking an over-full cassette to an Elsan point!
- Try to use thin toilet paper to allow the chemicals to break down more efficiently.
- If you’ve got kids, consider using toilet bowl liners – these will prevent a lot of mess and clean up and break down pretty well in the tank.
- Never use any bleach in or around the toilet or cassette – it can break down the sealant ring, and perish the plastics.
- Don’t dispose of wet wipes in the waste tank – even the toilet-specific ones. The chemicals don’t break the wipes down and end up clogging up the tank and spout. Been there, done that!!
It also adds to the increasing problem of clogging up sewerage systems – don’t do it!
To Poo, or Not to Poo in the Caravan Toilet??
Well, I’ll put it out there and admit I poo in my caravan toilet! I don’t want to start my day sitting next to and smelling the person in the cubicle next to me!
Cassette toilets are made to be poo’d and pee’d in! And that’s why we have the chemicals available. It’s not that scary emptying the cassette when you’ve got the right chemicals – I promise!
At worst, it’s like a greeny liquid that comes out and not at all like you probably imagine.
Should you decide to do your number two in the caravan loo – my tip is to use the ‘Cris-Cross’ method.
- Basically, you make sure your blade is closed and flush a bit of water on the blade. Get yourself four sheets of toilet paper and place one on top of the other to make a cross.
- The cross should be positioned to contact the pan. Now take a seat!
- When done, open the blade and the solids will fall into the tank below, with the paper enclosing them like a small parcel.
The result? No marks on the bowl, blade or seal. It really does work!
How to Empty Your Caravan Toilette Cassette
As I’ve said above, if your caravan has a full indicator light – make sure you empty it as soon as it comes on.
We do have a light, but it can be hit and miss, but we find emptying every day and a half is more than adequate with two adults and a child.
10 steps to emptying your caravan or motorhome toilet…
- Always make sure the hatch, or blade is fully closed. You won’t be able to open it unless it’s fully closed. If partially closed you will end up damaging the blade.
- Remove the cassette carefully from the external box – it’s probably a good idea to use some rubber gloves for this.
- Find the nearest elsan point and take it over for emptying
- Extend and turn the spout and undo the cap – make sure you place the cap out of the way so you don’t lose it!
- There should be a small button – either green or orange. Press this to release the trapped air inside.
- Tip the spout into the elsan and gently shake until all the toilet waste has been removed.
- Fill with water and repeat until the water is running clear.
- You can also open the blade slider by twisting the knob and giving it a good rinse if anything is trapped inside – just make sure you put it back correctly, otherwise it won’t open once back in the caravan external box.
- Put the cap back on, and check the blade is correctly positioned.
- Carefully slide the cassette back into its storage and make sure the pull handle is tucked away.
A Word of Caution!
When rinsing – don’t make the mistake of shaking vigorously before emptying, this can damage the float inside that operates the tank level gauge. Add water, but remember to swirl it around gently.
Cassette toilets will be coated with various deposits, over time, which will make it hard to get rid of odours. You can buy ‘renovation fluids’ that can be left to sit in the tank for a short period, as part of your maintenance routine that will shift stubborn odours and coatings.
If you’ve opened the slider flap to hose the interior and check that it is free from caught paper, make sure to close the flap before returning the cassette to its housing. If it’s left open, the operating knob won’t align when entering the housing.
Looking after your Toilette Cassette – Top Tips
The differences between household and caravan toilets are what also affect their maintenance. For example, some harsher cleaning products such as bleach that are designed for use on porcelain toilet bowls at home should never be used on plastic caravan bowls.
Always follow the instructions for your brand of toilet. Thetford recommends using its own cleaning products on plastic surfaces. The spray foam is easy to apply and leaves a shiny finish.
It can be tempting to use cheaper, household cleaning products, but please don’t as it could cause permanent damage, leading to an expensive replacement!
Electric flush mechanisms draw power either from a leisure battery or dry cell batteries that will need replacing. In storage, flush tanks should be emptied (see the specific manufacturer’s handbook for the procedure).
Make sure to use a lubricant spray for the lip seal of the cassette to prevent deterioration, and when in storage leave the blade open to prevent sticking.
What to do if your Caravan Cassette Toilet Breaks
Like most things ‘mechanical’ toilet cassettes can break. Luckily most replacement parts are easy to find – even on my trusty Amazon!
If you can manage a bit of DIY, you should be able to manage simpler repairs, but on older (pre-2008) cassettes you will more than likely need an engineer to take a look as they are near impossible to fix on your own.
I have a separate post here that covers some of the more common toilet issues and fixes, which might help you out!
One of the most common issues with Thetford toilets is leaking and the usual fix is the replacement of the lip seal. Again, Amazon offers most sizes – just make sure you buy the correct one for your model. Also, be sure to fit it the correct way up and finish off with a bit of seal lubricant.
Another common issue can be when the ‘O’ rings perish – these thin little rubber rings are what prevent seepage when you’re wheeling it along. You can buy replacements but they can be a bit of a nightmare to fit. Consult the model handbook for more info on this.
Swapping an Old Toilet Cassette for a New One
If you’ve bought a second-hand caravan or motorhome and you really can’t bear the thought of using the existing cassette, or if the current one isn’t working and can’t be repaired you can buy a brand new ‘fresh-up’ set.
Just make sure you buy the correct model for your van – which will be located in your handbook.
Caravan Cassette Toilet FAQs
Do you have to use chemicals in a cassette toilet?
You should always use the Blue chemical in your waste tank to prevent bacteria growth, eliminate odours and break down the toilet paper and contents, however, you do not need to use the Pink chemical – in fact, I don’t recommend it.
Can you empty a cassette toilet into a normal toilet?
You should only ever empty cassette toilets in the designated Elsan points on site as they are specifically designed to handle the chemicals and waste.
How much does a caravan toilet cassette hold?
The most popular caravan cassette toilet (the Thetford C402) has a 19.319.3-litre tank capacity.
Can you use Zoflora in a caravan toilet?
Whilst Zoflora is very popular to use in and around the caravan – it should not be used as a replacement for the Blue chemical as it cannot break down human waste and tissue. You can swill some diluted Zoflora to freshen up the bowl.
Do you need special toilet paper for a cassette toilet?
You can buy special caravan toilet paper that breaks down easier, but it’s not necessary – just try to use a thinner, cheaper quality brand.
How long does a caravan toilet cassette last?
With proper care and maintenance – the cassette should last as long as the van. They will usually need emptying every one and a half days on average.
I hope this post covers the majority of questions (and concerns) you might have about using and looking after your cassette toilet. Like most things caravanning – they just need some regular maintenance and use of the correct products and you’re good to go…literally!
Till next time, happy caravanning x