What to look for when buying a portable toilet

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Last updated on June 29 2021

In this article, we will show you how to find the best portable toilet for your needs. Portable toilets are not all built the same, so knowing how they operate, their features and their benefits in certain situations will help you make the decision. Overall, you need to have a very good understanding of the way in which you plan to use your portable toilet so that you can match the features and benefits.

With so many portable camping toilets on the market, it’s easy to get confused with all the options.  Whilst many of them offer similar functions or features, there are always some slight differences that you need to consider. 

Ultimately, the buying decision has to be about your purpose for buying the portable toilet and your specific set of requirements.  Afterall, you want to be able to buy the best portable toilet, or the best camping toilet, or the best toilet for your RV that you can possibly afford.

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of best portable toilet features, allowing you to decide which ones apply to you and your needs.

How a portable toilet is built

Most of the portable toilets (apart from the bucket and bag varieties) consist of two parts: the freshwater tank and the waste tank.

These join together to form one compact unit. The top of the toilet (complete with lid) operates as a normal toilet, whilst the waste tank collects the waste until it’s time to empty it.

Portable toilets are perfect for camping, road trips in smaller vehicles, campervans without in-built toilet facilities, boats and even as spares in a home.

Types of toilets you can buy

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Chemical toilets form the majority of the more compact toilets used for more of a long-term situation.  They more closely resemble a domestic toilet and operate in a similar way also.  Hygiene is also significantly better both in terms of use and treatment/disposal of waste.


There’s not much of an explanation required here.  People sometimes use their own or they can buy products like the

Biffy Bag

.  They are a one-time, one-use product.


A lot of these can fall into the DIY category, with bins and buckets of all shapes and sizes being re-purposed as toilets.  Placing a bag inside and sometimes even a plastic toilet seat over the top can be used.  These are the basic variety and not exactly hygienic.

There are however some commercial ones like the 

Luggable Loo

however these are still quite basic and are effectively just a bucket with a bag in them.

Overall weight and size

Getting the right dimensions is very important, especially if you have a tight space to fit it in to or limited storage areas.  It’s also important that you think about who is going to use the toilet.  If it is adults only, the portable toilet with the greatest height would be the best, especially if they are tall adults.

The gender of the users can also make a difference.  It’s a fact that men stand up to use the toilet for number ones, so if it is really low to the ground, there’s probably going to be splash back.

If you have shorter adults or lots of children using it, perhaps you might be able to get by with a portable toilet that is closer to the ground.

The opening in the centre of the toilet seat should be examined as well.  These are not regular toilets!  They are portable, camping or RV toilets so they will be smaller and be structured slightly differently to a household domestic toilet.  Not by much, but there is definitely a difference.

Some of the apertures in the seats are quite small, so once again, if larger adults are using this toilet, you will need to look at these dimensions.

Most of the portable toilets that are on the market today are quite robust.  The ones that simulate a normal toilet anyway.  They are made out of a variety of heavy wearing, high density polyethylene or ABS plastic that means adults can sit on them without fear of them collapsing.  Some are made to handle people up to 300 pounds.

Be very careful when checking dimensions.  Oftentimes, websites selling them can have different dimensions listed, sometimes even conflicting on their own page.  I’ve seen websites with two different sets of dimensions, sometimes three.

Also be aware that weight can be measured by the pure weight of the unit and also a shipping weight (which includes packaging etc).  Always remember too that the weight of the unit is when the unit is empty.  When the portable toilet is full of freshwater, waste or both, it becomes much heavier.

If the toilet has to fit within the confines of an already existing piece of equipment, the size becomes important.  Eg to fit into a specific part of your car, an RV or even inside a privacy tent.

This will need to be taken into account when considering whether having a rotating waste spout is a necessity or not.  Heavy units with no rotating spout could get very messy if not handled in the correct way, or if it is not given enough clearance.  Similarly, if you expect that you might have to carry the units long distances for emptying or refilling this would also need to be considered.

Watch out for the way in which dimensions are spoken about.  We always spell our dimensions out and do them in the order of length/depth x width x height.  Other sites seem to have different ways of recording dimensions (with no visible uniformity on their sites) and quite often have them written incorrectly.

When in doubt, it’s always best to check with the manufacturer.


This is closely aligned with the size of the portable toilet.  For example, if you are a larger person, there is no point getting a very small toilet.  There are some toilets available that have larger seats and larger openings that assist with added comfort.

Capacity of tanks

This is key to determining which is the best camping toilet for you to purchase.  Smaller tanks are easier to carry and handle but will require more filling and emptying.   Larger tanks also mean the toilet is going to be larger in terms of its total size.

Waste tank

The larger the better is most people’s opinion when it comes to the size of waste tanks.  Regardless of how easy the unit might be to carry or use, no-one really wants to have to empty the waste tank more often than necessary.  A larger tank can usually keep you going for a few days at least, making it a minimum requirement for weekend trips.

Freshwater tank

Since filling up with fresh water is quite possibly easier to do than regular emptying, it is possible to have a toilet with a smaller freshwater tank and still have it work ok.  If the toilet is going to be used often, getting a toilet with a larger freshwater tank would be optimal.

When reviewing what portable toilets are available, having a freshwater and waste tank that can be separated would be a key buying feature.

Type of flush

Surprisingly, there are many different flushing systems for portable toilets.  Once again, your intended use and your hygiene preferences will dictate the type of flush you go for.  Budget will also assist with this decision as the manual flushing toilets are at the budget level whilst the fancier piston and battery operated and usually more expensive.

Manual bellows flush

This flushing system can be found in the majority of portable toilets.  The flushing mechanism looks like a piece of concertina tubing where you push your hand (or palm) on the top and push up and down to release the water via the nozzle into the toilet bowl.  Usually, more pushes are required with a manual system to build enough pressure to flush the bowl.

Push button

For toilets with a push button, you use the piston pump to get pressure into the tank and then press a button which releases the water via the water nozzle into the bowl.


With a piston pump, the user pulls the pump upwards which sucks in water from the freshwater tank and then when the pump in pushed back down, pushes water out quickly into the bowl.  Depending on the level of flush you require to clean the bowl depends on the number of times you will need to pull up and push down.

Battery operated

These are the most luxurious of toilets you can buy for life on the move. Known as battery operated or sometimes electric, a simple push of a button is all that is required.

Waste tank indicators

Found on some of the more higher priced units, the indicators are responsible for giving you advance notice of the levels of the waste tank.  Some give an indication in various stages, whilst others will just light up when it is full.  Without indicators, a manual observation is required to check for levels.


Think about how often you will need to move the portable toilet.  Does it need to be lifted in and out of a vehicle? Will it be used in a tent or on a boat?  Will you need to carry it long distances?  Where might the dumping and refilling areas be?   Who will be having to carry or move the toilet?  Are the people strong enough to carry it when full?

Perhaps you plan on having your portable toilet a permanent fixture in a campervan or RV.  If this is the case then, space permitting, the option might be best to get something larger, with larger tanks and height.

These are all important questions that could make some types of portable toilets too difficult to manage.


The last thing anyone should want is a smelly toilet or one that leaks.  All of the portable camping toilets we have reviewed have strong valves that can close off the toilet from the waste tank whenever it is not in use.  Some of them also have double seals in this area.

This assists with keeping odors away and stops the waste product from escaping, especially if the toilet is in transit and contains waste.  We wouldn’t recommend buying any portable toilet that don’t have these valves to separate the tanks.

Deoderisors specific to portable toilets can also be purchased to help keep the smells away.  Each time the waste tank is emptied, a chemical is added to the tank to assist with the breakdown of waste and elimination of odors.

Cleaners can be purchased to assist with cleaners and we like to wipe over ours regularly with anti-bacterial wipes.

Cleaning and maintenance

This is a critical feature but luckily, the really good toilets of today have been designed with this in mind.  Sleek, modern, minimalistic designs that lack sharp corners and lots of mitred edges makes cleaning a simple task.  The more advanced three-way flushing systems on some toilets contribute to keeping the toilets even cleaner.  Here the flush covers all of the bowl, meaning it gets less dirty in the first place.

Using the appropriate cleaning materials that are not abrasive (and therefore less likely to create ridges and grooves for toilet waste and bacteria to grow in) are highly recommended.


Check whether the portable toilet comes fully assembled or whether you need to assemble it yourself.  If it’s a self-assembly, ensure it is easy to do so.

Spare parts and warranty

Are spare parts available and does it have a warranty?  These are very important questions, especially if you are buying from the top of the line.  Well-known companies like Thetford provide access to spare parts and usually come with a one year warranty.

Personally, we would never spend the money on a toilet without a warranty.

Type of usage and duration

Is it to be truly portable or going into a camper or RV where it will have a dedicated spot and be permanently attached?  How long is the unit to be used for eg over a weekend, for a week, a month or continuously?

Does it need to be carried into a campground or on a hike?  Is it for internal use in a house or apartment or in an external environment.  Who will be using it the most?

These are just some of the questions you will need to ask yourself before deciding on the best unit for your situation.


Depending on where you plan to use the toilet might mean you require additional accessories for it like a privacy screen, or a wooden stand to place the toilet on to give it more height perhaps.


Price is always one of the key factors when buying, but we placed it last here, simply because the price is not always the determining factor.  For some, the price is number one and will forego possible features in order to get the cheapest available.  For others, the premium features are of more importance.

Quality and price go hand in hand, as do the features.  For the top of the range portable toilet, with great features, warranty and product support it’s hard to go past the Thetford Curve 550E Porta Potti.  It’s the leader in its field but is the most expensive as well.

Fortunately, there are many that sit well in the middle of the pack, with enough features to keep people happy, without the higher price tag.

The budget range usually comes with a less-modern look, manual flush and very basic features.

Summary  – Best portable toilet features

The above features of a portable toilet are all important factors to consider when looking to buy one for your camping, RV, boating, trucking or indoor needs.  Every situation is different and requires a different thought process to ensure you buy the right toilet for you.

You might also like to read

Portable toilet chemicals

How to use and care for a chemical toilet

The top 11 reasons why you should buy a portable camping toilet

About the Author
Carrie has loved camping and being outdoors since she was a small child. After travelling extensively throughout the world, Carrie and her husband Chad really found their love of exploring by RV. Even though this is their preferred mode of travel these days, you can still find them in a tent too. Wherever they are, you can be sure they are also enjoying good food and wine.

Author: Carrie