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The Best Composting Toilet, According to RV Owners and Van Lifers

Just imagine a Nature’s Head toilet in the back of the camper. Photo: Found Image Holdings Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

If you want to get the RV community talking, ask them about poop. What sort of toilet setup they have, why they chose it, how they’ve altered it, where they empty it — the conversation can go on for hours. I discovered this firsthand while asking around about which composting toilet to buy.

Hang on, you say. Does the toilet turn into compost? Do you mean people are fertilizing gardens with their toilets? No is the short answer. A composting toilet processes your waste via the natural decay process rather than with chemicals or flushing (they actually don’t use water at all). These toilets work by separating your liquid and solid waste into two separate receptacles, with methods varying a bit depending on your toilet model of choice. Many toilets will mix the solid waste with composting agents kept in the tank, like peat moss or coconut coir. Some users also recommend squirting cleansing liquid like vinegar or Dr. Bronner’s soap down the liquid tank after every use.

Once full, the liquids jug can be dumped into any toilet or into urine bags. (“The best investment you can possibly make is getting a second urine bottle,” says Kevin Miller of the VeganRV blog. “It will save you in the middle of the night when the toilet is about to overflow.”) What happens to the solids compartment is more complicated — and suffice it to say, there are restrictions on where users can empty it — but many people use biodegradable bags and put that waste in compost bins or the regular garbage.

The best composting toilet

Among RV and compost toilet owners, one product comes up again and again: Nature’s Head is the favorite, with fans praising its build quality and ease of use, so much so that the name is nearly synonymous with “composting toilet.” It uses a simple trap-door system to separate waste. Keep the trap door closed for liquids, and when it’s time for solids, you just open the trap door, and it will divert to the other tank. Other than that, the experience is basically the same as using a regular toilet.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet With Close Quarters Spider Handle
$960 at Amazon

There are two nearly identical models, differing only in the style of handle used to mix the solids bin. The spider-head model is closer in to the body of the toilet to conserve space.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet With Standard Crank Handle
$960 at Amazon

The standard handle sticks out farther.

Jason Epperson, who writes the blog RV Miles, has been living in a converted school bus with his wife and their three children for two years with a Nature’s Head toilet, and if their 5-year-old can easily use it, they believe anyone can. “At first it seems like a plastic bucket, but when you start using it, you realize it’s really intuitively designed,” he says. The dense plastic is comparable to the materials used in park benches or playground equipment, with stainless-steel hardware. “We love it as much as you can love a toilet,” he says.

Miller, of the VeganRV blog, bought a Nature’s Head based on glowing peer reviews, and recommends it, especially for people who want to stay in the wild and not worry about crowded state parks. “Once you sat on it, it just felt like a normal everyday toilet,” he says. “It does not smell as much as a regular RV toilet, and it really extends the amount of time we can spend off-hook. It’s just so crazy how much water we waste in toilets, it really opens up your eyes.”

And if that’s not endorsement enough, one well-known couple in the RV community even devoted an entire series of videos to their Nature’s Head toilet on their travel blog.

A few more composting toilets

Sun-Mar Compact Self-Contained Composting Toilet
$1,875 at Amazon

There are a few other composting toilets on the market that receive positive reviews, of which Sun-Mar is one. This toilet is considerably more expensive than a Nature’s Head, but the design is more compact, for those worrying about aesthetics or saving a few inches of space.

Besides those two companies — the world of composting toilets is a small one — C-Head and Air Head (those are two different companies) also make composting toilets for boats that can be adapted for mobile living. The strongest competitor, though, for people who have already committed to the composting toilet lifestyle, is going DIY.

But that’s best left to the technically skilled and to the brave: “I wanted my wife to be comfortable and not have a situation where we felt like we were going back to the 1800s,” says Epperson of their decision to get a Nature’s Head instead of building their own toilet. “You don’t really want to experiment with it — you want to get it right the first time.”

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The Best Composting Toilet Is by Nature’s Head