Portable Toilets

Portable toilets seem to invoke mixed e-motions (sorry about the potty humour) among the various campers and caravaners we’ve met. I’ve never been keen on portable toilets because I simply don’t like the smell of the chemicals that camping shops sell and I could not think of a worse combination of smells – poo and chemicals – that confronts you when you empty them. I’ve even seen people dry reaching when emptying their’s which was very off putting.

But I’ve changed my thinking in recent times!

When bush camping, a portable toilet can be considered indispensable particularly when your camp is on hard to dig ground, you’ve had to do an overnight stop in a parking bay/road verge, the caretaker demands you have a toilet on board or if you are the sort of person that is uncomfortable squatting behind a bush. In these circumstance having the portable toilet is simply a blessing.

For us, we specifically purchased a caravan without an indoor toilet. There’s the added cost and weight but our choice was more about preferring a toilet tent outside the van (out of hearing and smell range). Great if your camp is set up but what if you are on the road far from a public convenience or a ‘servo’ and need an ’emergency’ toilet stop? Well, you can still get some privacy by pulling over and putting the portable toilet in the van!

But what about the nasty smell? The key change for us was when we learned about Napisan, which is a laundry product that started life years ago as a product used to clean cloth nappies. Parents these days tend not to use cloth nappies and the products have been re-branded and marketed as stain removal laundry products. This confused us the first time we wanted to buy a suitable product because we didn’t know if we was buying a stain remover of actual Napisan!

So what product should you buy? The ingredient that does the work is sodium percarbonate. Not only is it good for ‘Oxy-Action stain removal’ but it sorts out the smell too. So, head to your supermarket’s laundry section and look for the stain removal type products. It doesn’t really matter whether you use a generic or name brand product as long as it has around 250-300 grams of sodium percarbonate per kilo as the active ingredient.

So how much do you use? The mix ratio we use is 1/3 of a cup per litre. The product we use has 270 grams of sodium percarbonate per kilo and comes with a cap that holds 1/3 of a cup. We pour a litre into the bottom tank and a litre in a plastic squeeze bottle like looks like an oversized sauce bottle. A sauce bottle?!!?  Yup. We find the sauce bottle much better than the flusher on the portable toilet, which tend to be fairly ineffective.

For the price conscious, is an alternative? Generic brands can be cheaper but you can also buy pure sodium percarbonate. The branded laundry products are about $8-$10 per kilo and the pure product is around $10 per kilo.  You can buy the pure product from a brewing shop or online and you’ll need a heaped tablespoon of the pure product per litre. This makes the pure product about 1/4 to 1/2 the price when compared to buying a laundry product.  Admittedly, we have not tried pure sodium percarbonate but have read about it.  If you have tried this, we would be interested to hear your experience, so please leave a comment.

Probably the last question that you may have is how long does the mix last? I’m not aware of any standards or recommendations and can only share our experiences. Probably the longest time we’ve used the toilet before having to empty it is about 7 days (one person using it in coldish weather conditions). After this length of time there was still no smell!  Because there is Napisan in the flush bottle and you are effectively adding more to the bottom tank each time you ‘flush’.  If there is any smell, just add more product to the bottom tank.  I have read alot of other posts that suggest 3 to 4 days is the right amount of time to empty and this would be influenced by how many people are using the toilet and also heat will have an effect.

One warning: if you have been using chemicals in your portable toilet and want to convert to a laundry sanitiser then you need to soak your bottom tank with the solution for at least 24 hours prior to use.  We’ve read that the chemicals can impact how the sodium percarbonate works and want you to be disappointed when you try it for the first time.

So I’ve become a bit of a convert. Finding a product that gets rid of virtually all the smell and was more environmentally friendly than some products was what initially influenced us. Couple this with a few tips like using the over sized sauce bottle, flush-able bowl liners (we use ‘Happy Bowl’ liners) and a growing number of well equipped dump points have all contributed to a change in my thinking.

Cleaning your port-a-loo

The first time you use the dump point can be a little intimidating.  So here is some handy information.

  •  I wear safety glasses as you want to protect your eyes from any splashes.
  • I have a big T-Shirt that I put over whatever I am wearing, again in case of splashes.
  • I have bought some disinfectant wipes that I take with me to wipe over the outside of the toilet.
  • I wear disposable gloves.
  • Most dump points provide a hose, but if not you can use your own, just make sure you are using a hose that does not go into your water tank in your van.
  • I bring some soap, paper towel and disinfectant gel, as there is often no where to wash your hands or no soap in the public toilet blocks.
  • There is often no bin at the dump points, so a zip lock bag is handy to put the used gloves, disinfectant wipes, paper towel etc until you get to a bin.
  • This is a typical dump point, but sometimes at caravan parks they look more like a toilet.
Dump Point, Coffin Bay SA
Dump Point, Coffin Bay SA
  • Lift the lid, remove the cap from the holding container but do this away from the drain as you do not want this dropping down there!!!
  • Tip the contents of the holding container into the drain, but be aware that it can splash, so make sure you are behind it and not over it.
  • Once emptied, grab the hose and put some clean water into your holding tank, replace the cap and shake the holding tank to ensure the inside is rinsed.  Empty and repeat until the water is clear.
  • Use the hose to rinse the dump point down.
  • Clean the outside of the port-a-loo with the disinfectant wipes.
  • Wash your hands and you are done.

I have found that this job is so much better using Napisan rather than the chemicals.  Generally there is no smell.

The other aversion to using a port-a-loo is packing up the toilet tent.  We have found a new technique to use for this that saves us so much time and frustration.


Author: Col

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