Travelling around in a caravan and being fully self-sufficient offers so much freedom. You can pull up and camp in some of the most amazing places around the country and pack up and move on whenever you feel like it.
Having an onboard ensuite with a toilet is one of the key items in being able to camp for longer periods of time without the need for external resources.
However, with that self-sufficiency comes a few jobs that we wouldn’t otherwise have to deal with in a house. Included in those jobs is the inevitable task of storing and emptying your own toilet contents.
As much as people will say, “As long as you use the right chemicals, your caravan toilet shouldn’t smell,” caravanners who are being honest will tell you that that’s just not true.
Sometimes you can be doing all of the right things and yet, still find yourself dealing with a smelly caravan toilet.
If you find yourself in that unpleasant situation, here are some ways to eliminate caravan toilet smells and keep your van nice and fresh.
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What Causes a Smelly Caravan Toilet?
All types of caravan toilets are prone to smelling due to the contents being stored in a holding tank, unlike household toilets, where the contents are immediately flushed away.
But, that doesn’t mean that your caravan toilet needs to smell. Here are some common causes of caravan toilets smelling.
Common causes of caravan toilet smells:
- Tank or cassette not being emptied frequently enough
- Toilet not being cleaned often enough
- Flap not being closed properly
- Hot weather
- Not using any or enough chemical
- Not using enough water
- Using too much toilet paper
- Not enough agitation
- Not enough ventilation
- Dried out seal causing liquid to leak into the cassette hatch or compartment
If you’ve never used a cassette toilet before, check out the article below.
How to Eliminate Caravan Toilet Smells
Okay, so now we know the things that are most likely to be causing the caravan toilet to be smelling, let’s work through the ways to eliminate it.
Empty the Cassette or Black Tank Frequently
It’s obvious that the longer you store a container of human waste, the more chance it has of smelling.
A good practice is to make sure that the toilet cassette is being emptied every 3 – 5 days at most. For a cassette toilet, that’s about all you’ll fit in there anyway. However, if you’ve got a large Black Water Tank, then you will be able to go much longer between empties.
Use our free Dump Point Finder to locate your nearest place for emptying.
If you’re emptying your toilet regularly, keeping it clean and using enough chemicals, then the toilet shouldn’t really smell between empties unless there’s something else going on.
Rinse the Cassette with Detergent
After you’ve emptied out the cassette contents at the Dump Point, give it a good rinse a few times with water.
Then, add a dash of washing-up detergent into the cassette with some more water and give it a really thorough shake for an extra deep clean. Empty out the detergent and water, then add in your chemical as normal.
Use Enough Toilet Chemical
Using an appropriate chemical in the caravan toilet is essential for preventing smells.
There are plenty of specifically designed RV toilet chemicals on the market, from liquids and powders to capsule pods. They can end up being quite expensive if you’re using your caravan toilet a lot, plus they can only be purchased online or from RV and camping stores, making them harder to access on the road.
I’ve always used the cheap home brand Napisan from the supermarket, which is a popular choice for many caravanners.
Napisan contains sodium percarbonate, which is the same active ingredient that’s found in commercial RV toilet chemicals. Essentially, it’s a mixture of sodium carbonate (washing soda) with hydrogen peroxide (an antimicrobial agent naturally occurring in the human body).
The purpose of hydrogen peroxide is to oxidise the smelly compounds and nitrogen-containing compounds like skatole, which is found in human waste.
Napisan-type products in Australia have printed on the labelling that they’re safe to use in septic systems, which means they’re also safe to empty into Dump Points.
Clean the Toilet Frequently
Sometimes caravan toilets can get smelly if the toilet itself isn’t being cleaned often enough. A little bit of pee under the toilet seat can quickly become smelly in the tiny space of a caravan.
As a rule of thumb, every time I emptied the toilet cassette, which was generally every 3 days, I’d also give the toilet a good wipe over and scrub with the brush.
Use Plenty of Water
The overarching cause of pungent caravan toilet smells is a build-up of methane gas. The gas is created and released from the dried-out waste, which will be much worse in hot conditions.
“Wetter is better” when dealing with caravan toilet contents!
To counteract the rapid production of smelly methane gas, make sure the waste and paper stay wet enough inside the cassette or holding tank. Water also helps to break everything down as well.
I know it seems a little contradictory because you don’t want to fill the cassette up too quickly with water when you need that precious space for extra days at camp. However, water is an ingredient that is just as essential as the chemical that you use.
For a good space-saving tip, check out the next tip for eliminating caravan toilet smells.
Limit the Use of Toilet Paper
One of the main items that fill up the caravan toilet cassette or tank quicker than you’d like is the addition of toilet paper. Plus, the more toilet paper that’s in there, the more water you will need to keep the contents wet and breaking down.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you skip the toilet paper. But, there is an easy solution to this problem.
The trick is to have a small lidded bucket beside the caravan toilet, with a plastic bag inside. You can either put just #1 paper in the bag, or you can put both the #1 and #2 toilet paper in the bag, then pop the lid back on the bucket. This comes down to personal choice.
As long as the bag is being locked away in a bucket with a sealed lid, then tied off and replaced every other day, it shouldn’t raise any hygiene issues.
This is the number one caravanning trick for making the toilet space last longer while Free Camping!
Ensure the Flap is Closed Properly
Before you sit down to use the caravan toilet, you will need to open the flap so that the contents can go directly down into the holding tank or cassette below. If that flap hasn’t been closed properly between uses, some of the internal smell can drift out into the caravan.
It pays to be sure that the flap is fully closed after use, especially if you’ve got kids using the toilet who aren’t quite as fussy as us adults.
Keep in mind that the smell in the caravan from the toilet can worsen if that flap hasn’t been closed properly and then you hit the road to drive to the next camp.
Be Aware of Hot Weather
It’s pretty gross to think about, but yes, the toilet contents can really fester in extremely hot weather. The methane gas, which is created from dried-out waste, will intensify during hot conditions.
I even had one incident where there were maggots in the cassette, which I noticed as I was emptying it at a dump point. The cassette hadn’t been emptied more than 3 – 4 days prior, but the weather was very hot and humid (North Queensland in summer).
The only thing I can surmise is that a fly somehow got trapped in the cassette. And when you mix a fly with extreme heat and the toilet cassette contents… let’s just say it’s prime breeding conditions for a maggot.
But, beyond having undesirables move in, hot weather can really increase the smell factor if caravan toilets aren’t cleaned and emptied frequently enough for the surrounding environment.
Agitate the Contents Frequently
Unless you’re driving from camp to camp, the contents inside the caravan cassette can become quite stagnant and smelly. The main ingredient for breaking down the contents is movement.
It’s important to manually agitate the toilet cassette yourself if you’re parked up at camp for more than a few days without the movement of towing, which is what usually does the job for you.
Keep the Bathroom Ventilated
Just like when someone uses the bathroom at home and the window needs to be opened, the same goes for the caravan toilet.
However, I will note that if you only have the window open in the bathroom while the toilet is in use, but no other windows or hatches, the smell tends to be ‘pushed’ into the van. The trick is to open the roof vent in the bathroom and switch the exhaust fan on as well if you have one in there.
Even between uses, it’s helpful to have the roof vent in the bathroom open (even just a little if it’s cold) to keep the area well-ventilated.
Keep the Seal Oiled
On the caravan toilet cassettes, there’s usually a rubber seal (or o-ring) around where the flap opens and closes for use. This seal will dry out over time, which can result in small amounts of liquid from inside the cassette dripping down into the cassette hatch.
If you notice any liquid or wee around the outside of the cassette seal or sitting inside the hatch where the cassette lives, then it’s time to re-grease the seal.
It’s actually a really simple job. All you need are two rags that can be discarded after use, plus some olive oil.
How to Re-grease a Caravan Toilet Cassette Seal:
- Remove the slide cover
- Clean around the seal with a damp rag, then discard that rag
- Use a fresh rag to rub olive oil onto the clean seal
- Discard the rag
- Replace the slide cover
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Smelly Caravan Toilet FAQs
The ensure your caravan toilet doesn’t smell, empty it every few days and give the cassette, plus the toilet a good clean at the same time. Always keep the contents wet, use plenty of toilet chemicals and agitate between empties.
If there’s not enough water in the toilet holding tank, the dry contents will cause methane gas to build up, which causes the rotten egg smell. Always make sure plenty of water is being used to keep the contents wet.
Yes, you can use white vinegar to clean both the toilet and the cassette. For a deep clean, Add 1 – 2 cups of vinegar to the cassette and agitate. Leave it to sit for 20 minutes (or longer), then rinse out.
Sometimes a little urine can get trapped in a crevice, which can quickly cause an overbearing urine smell in the caravan bathroom. Give the toilet itself a very thorough clean (inside and out). Then empty the cassette and give the hatch where the cassette lives a very thorough clean. Sometimes a little bit of urine can drip down into the hatch and sit unnoticed, causing it to smell. It’s also important to clean & oil the cassette o-ring so that leaks don’t occur.