How to Empty a Portable Toilet While Camping (2022)

how to empty a portable toilet while camping
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    Camping isn’t all that its made out to be. It’s isn’t all sitting around the campfire, roasting smores and telling stories under a clear starry sky. There’s also the dirty work. Cleaning mud from the tent, drying soaking clothes, and yes, disposing of your human waste. Yes, mother nature tends to call a few times a day and she also prefers if after you’ve responded to her call to get rid of your waste in a way that doesn’t harm her. So, let’s have the dirty talk and learn how we get rid of our human garbage while camping.

    Some of you guys may go for the traditional method when you’re out in the sticks. Shovel in hand you dig a small hole behind a tree and cower down, hoping no one sees you getting up to your private business. This method tends to work in forest camping spots as you have the cover of trees.

    The ground also needs to be soft enough to dig it without putting further strain on your stomach muscles, hastening the call to nature – good luck desert campers! Those of you who like a few of your home comforts when you’re in nature may wish to invest in a portable travel toilet in order to conduct your business in a manner that is somewhat similar to how you would do it at home. 


    A view of the mountains daytime.

    You can poo with a view once you learn how to you a portable camping toilet.


    So what is a portable toilet? 

    Portable toilets come in various shapes and sizes. When choosing your camping toilet you should consider it’s weight, storage capacity, and how to dispose of the waste. There are three main types of portable toilets.


    Bucket toilet 

    This is the most basic type of portable toilet and it comprises of what it says it does – a bucket. To use one of these you put a plastic bag inside and line it up just as you would for a garbage can. This means that the bag collects all of the waste and you don’t have to deep clean it wearing a hazard suit every time you go to empty it. One disadvantage of the bucket toilet is the lack of comfort. A separate detachable toilet seat can be purchased separately so you don’t have to practice squats before your trip.  

    Another disadvantage of the bucket toilet is that it doesn’t have the ability to separate waste form solids and liquids, so its best to save it for only number twos unless you want to have a  liquid-filled bag, prone to bursting open at any moment.

    Additionally, the bucket does not have an odor removing capacity meaning you’ll need to empty it regularly if you cannot handle the stench. Although it is not the best portable camping toilet, the main advantage of the bucket is that it is a low-cost option so it is ideal if you’re a budget or an infrequent camper. As well as this, it is light and simple to carry and set up, freeing up space in your car when traveling to your campsite.


    The compost toilet

    Compost toilets are fairly similar to a standard toilet due to it having a flush and they can be among the best portable toilets. The pedestal sits in a higher position than a bucket toilet does, meaning you have less strain on your thighs. Many of them also come along with a toilet seat meaning that they offer a great deal more comfort than a bucket toilet. Toilet paper holders come with some models meaning that you will avoid the potential problem of forgetting when walking from your tent during the night. 

    Often they have smell erasing components and your waste gets flushed away, meaning that you aren’t faced with everyone else’s waste when you go to do your business. The disadvantage of these toilets is that they are bulky so they take up a lot of space in your car. This can be problematic if your campsite is a long distance from where you parked your car. Compost toilets use substances such as ash and sawdust in order to bond the waste together and allow it to compost. 


    Chemical toilet

    The portable chemical toilet is fairly similar to a compost toilet. Most models have the same features as the compost toilets with the main difference being that chemical toilets contain substances to eliminate the smell. These are the same type of toilet as the porta-potty toilets that you’ll come across at festivals and big public events. Chemical toilets are not as environmentally friendly and the waste collected needs to be disposed of in a suitable manner


    What you should look for when buying a portable camping toilet


    Disposal of waste: Perhaps most importantly, and being the ultimate purpose of this article is how the waste is disposed of. Chemical toilets normally have substances that turn your urine into a solid. This is practical as it makes the waste a lot lighter and it means that you have less chance of spilling it. Because the waste is hardened and bonded together by the chemicals it makes it easier to clean after you have emptied it.


    The tank capacity: When you are selecting which toilet to purchase you should consider how long your camping trips are and how many people you tend to go with. If you normally go with a large group then its best to invest in a toilet that can hold a greater capacity in order for you not to have to empty it out once a day. If you tend to go on a short trip with maybe just or two more people then a smaller toilet is likely to be suitable. It may even be worth investing in more than one toilet if your group size tends to be big because believe me no one wants to have to do the worst task of camping twice in a day!


    The size: The size of the toilet is also an important aspect to consider. If you are an RV camper extra consideration should be taken at this point as the dimensions of the RV toilet must be suitable to fit into your camper van. Make sure that it is the correct height if you want it to be a more comfortable experience.


    It is also worth checking out whether or not it has a sturdy platform. One of the big dangers of doing your business outside is the ground is not always flat or stable meaning that you could be put in the misfortunate position of the toilet falling over when you’re using it! As aforementioned, make sure the toilet is not too heavy or bulky if you need to carry it over a long distance.


    Privacy: Not all of us are like Tarzan and like to have a bit of peace and quiet when unloading our bowels. Maybe there are fellow campers pitched up nearby or there is not a wooded area to give you some privacy from your friends. Nobody wants to be the butt of all the jokes around the campfire later on! If you’re prepared to spend a little bit extra then you can purchase a toilet that comes with a shelter or you can buy one separately, making it almost like a home toilet.


    How to empty the toilet

    So, you’ve been elected by your camping buddies to get wid of your collective waste, let’s see how you get rid of it with minimum exposure to it and to do the job with your dignity intact. 

    We should all strive to be responsible campers and dispose of our waste and garbage so we can protect the natural spots we enjoy and also out of respect to our fellow campers. Human waste will decompose over time but it also contains toxins that can be harmful to other campers and for nature.

    If you simply empty it onto the ground it will be hazardous for an amount of time, leaving a great stench and a poor fellow camper may have the misfortune of stepping on it. If you are camping without a toilet, then make sure that you bury it under the soil. If you are using a portable toilet then follow these steps to make sure you’re a responsible camper. 


    Step 1: Find the disposal sight

    Most campsites should have a designated area where you can empty your toilets and clean them afterward. These are often discreet spots and a small distance away from the campsite. Once you’ve pitched up your tent take a small wander around the campsite in order to locate it for when you need to use it. It’s not advisable to save this until you’ve removed the cassette or waste tank as no one wants to be searching for where the disposal point is whilst carrying a heavy tub of excrement. 

    Make sure that you work out a stable path between the authorized disposal area and your tent to avoid slipping or getting stuck while you are carrying your waste as that is the last thing that you want. Also, consider emptying your portable toilet early in the morning or just before the sunset. These times should be quieter meaning you shouldn’t have to queue up to empty and clean your portable toilet. 


    Step 2: Preparing your portable toilet for unloading

    The majority of portable toilets come with two tanks. A freshwater tank and a waste tank. It is best to opt for a two-tanked toilet as these are the easiest to empty. First of all, take off the catch that holds the water tank and holding tank together. When dealing with hazardous substances it is always best to use disposable gloves to minimize the chance of collecting bacteria. The tanks tend to lightweight as they are designed to be emptied when you’re in the backcountry but you may have to walk a far distance with them. If so, the best option could be to empty the tank on a more regular basis. 


    Step 3: Take your tank to the disposal area

    Carefully take your tank over to the designated disposal area, taking your time to avoid any mishaps. Disposal areas can vary in differences. Some of them have open grids that you pour your waste onto and others come in a format that is like a trash dispenser with a lid on.

    Remove the cap from the top of the spout of your waste holding tank and hold it carefully preparing it for emptying. Some waste tanks come with a rotating spout. The rotating spout pours the waste further away from your hands and standing position, minimizing the risk of getting splashed. If your waste tank does not have a spout then make sure to a further step back as to not risk getting splashed. Simply pour out the waste onto the grid or disposal tank until the waste has subsided. 


    Step 4: Washing your waste tank

    Close to the waste disposal area, there should be a tap or hose to clear out your tank. Refill the tank with clean water, put the lid back on, and shake it a little to remove any bits that have stuck to the side. Empty the water back into the disposal area and keep repeating the process until the water starts to run clear. 


    Step 5: Return the tank

    If you are still in the middle of your camping trip leave a little bit of freshwater inside and mix in the disinfectant toilet chemicals so it is ready to be used again. If it is a cleanup at the end of your trip then don’t follow this step. Carry the waste holding tank back to your portable toilet and replace it as it was before. If your water tank needs to be refilled then now is the ideal time to take it over to the tank or hose to do so. Dispose of your gloves and wash your hands thoroughly to ensure you haven’t picked up any harmful bacteria.


    A person washing their hands under a sink.

    Keep your waste disposal a clean and hygienic process.


    Emptying a compost toilet

    Compost toilets are different from chemical toilets as no substances are used. If you were to empty a chemical toilet into nature, not only the excrement but the chemicals inside can be environmentally harmful. Compost toilets use substances such as sawdust and ash to break down the harmful toxins found in human waste. This makes it appropriate to be disposed of in nature

    Your compost toilet normally has a biodegradable bag installed to catch your solids. Once this is full, remove and tie the waste bag carefully. From this point, you have two options. It is legal to dispose of human waste in the general trash – for example, diapers and dog poo are disposed of in this manner – so feel free to use the campsites trash bins for this. 

    If no bins are available and you’re out in the wilderness then your second option is to bury it. Make sure that you bury it at least 10 inches deep. The deeper the better. The bag is biodegradable so it will dissolve fairly quickly once buried.  Take note that because these bags are biodegradable they are made of thinner material. Don’t wait too long before emptying them or they could split if they are too heavy!

    Composting toilets have a dry flush and there is no water tank. Instead, the waste is split into two different sections, solid waste, and liquid waste. The liquid section can be disposed of in the same manner as we mentioned for the chemical toilets, at the designated disposable area. If you are in the wilderness then you can also carefully empty this out into the ground as urine is safe to dispose of and won’t be a threat to the environment and future campers. 


    Final Verdict: 

    Emptying your portable toilet when camping tends to be the most stressful and least pleasant part of a camping trip, yet it is necessary. There is no worse camper than those who are not responsible when clearing their mess and ruining great camping spots for other people and for nature.

    It is important to know how to dispose of your waste correctly and safely and to get into a good practice of doing it. Campsite restrooms are not always pleasant and are often poorly maintained, meaning that many of us put our reliance on portable toilets. We hope you don’t have too much fun doing this job, but we certainly wish you the best in your toilet emptying endeavors!


    Bonus tip: Check out this useful video to get an idea of how simple emptying a portable toilet can be!



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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.