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What Is a Cassette Toilet & How Does It Work?

What Is a Cassette Toilet & How Does It Work?

We’ve had RVs equipped with cassette toilets on every single one of our five international RV adventures. Some of those trips lasted over a month. And to be honest… after those experiences, we’re not the biggest fans of cassette toilets in RVs.

But cassette toilets do have some advantages. And in certain situations, they may be the best option for an RV toilet.

In today’s post, we’re looking at cassette toilets and how they work. We’ll share our own experience with them and the pros and cons of this type of RV/camping toilet.

What Is a Cassette Toilet?

An RV cassette toilet is a toilet bowl attached to a portable holding tank. That removable tank is known as a cassette, which is where this type of toilet gets its name… even though the toilet itself sits above the cassette.

When the valve at the bottom of the toilet bowl is opened, liquid and solid waste drop into the cassette, which serves as a small waste holding tank.

The difference between a cassette and a traditional RV black water tank is that the cassette is removable, and therefore portable. So you don’t need to find a dump station to drive your RV to like you do when you need to empty a traditional black tank.

You can simply remove the cassette and take it to the dump point. (That’s what they call a dump station in many countries.)

How Do You Dump a Cassette Toilet?

When the cassette tank is full, it’s removed from the RV and taken to a public restroom or dump station for emptying. NOTE: “Public restrooms” at campgrounds in many foreign countries includes a special spot for dumping cassettes, which is the proper place to empty them.

The best way to demonstrate the process is to show you our video of Peter emptying the cassette holding tank from one of our European rental RVs. This video was filmed during our second international RV trip, to England.

What Are the Advantages of a Cassette Toilet?

As much as we don’t personally like cassette toilets (more about why we feel that way below), there are some advantages to this type of toilet.

No Need for a Black Tank

Some RVs simply don’t have room for waste tanks. In these situations, a cassette toilet has the advantage of not requiring a black tank mounted to the underside of the rig to hold waste.

This size and space consideration is especially important in most European countries, where roads, campsites… and of course RVs… are smaller than we’re used to in North America.

But that also goes for smaller rigs in the US and Canada. Class B RVs are a good example of the need for being especially space and weight conscious in design. That why the most common place you’ll find cassette toiletas on RVs in North America is on smaller rigs.

The full hook-ups we’re used to here don’t even exist in most countries. There’s no such thing as a sewer hook-up at the vast majority of campeggios or pitches (That’s Italian for “campground” and English for “campsite” respectively).

And the dump points are designed specifically for emptying cassettes. So even if you had a traditional US-style RV black tank and sewer outlet on an RV in Europe, you’d have pretty much nowhere to dump it.

No Need for a Sewer Hose

With a cassette toilet, there’s no need to carry an RV sewer hose or any accessories used with a traditional black tank, like a clear elbow, sewer adapters, or an RV sewer hose support.

No Need to Move the RV to a Dump Station

To empty a cassette toilet, remove it from the RV and walk or roll it to a restroom or dump station.

This means that there’s no need to move the entire RV when the waste holding tank needs to be emptied. That’s an especially good thing in countries where cassette toilets are the norm, since, as we mentioned, full hook-up sites don’t exist.

Peter rolling a cassette toilet's detachable waste tank to the dump station

Here’s Peter rolling a toilet cassette to the dump point during one of our 5 overseas RV trips.

Gives a Toilet Option to a Small RV

The greatest advantage of a cassette toilet is that it offers the option for having a toilet on board some smaller RVs and camper vans that would otherwise only be able to use a portable camping toilet or have no toilet at all.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Cassette Toilet?

We’ve already mentioned we don’t like cassette toilets. So, as you might imagine, they have disadvantages, especially when compared with a “traditional” RV toilet system.

Small Tanks Require Frequent Emptying

Due to the need for portability, a cassette toilet’s holding tank capacity is pretty small. Otherwise, it would be too large and heavy when full to carry or move. That small size means it needs to be emptied frequently.

Compared to a cassette toilet’s holding tank size, a regular toilet with a traditional black tank is often HUGE. Just compare the 45-gallon black tank on our 43′ motorhome with the meager few gallons a cassette can hold and… well, you can do the math on frequency of emptying.

We rarely went more than two full days… three at the most… before seeking out a dump. The capacity, combined with the smell after just a couple of days (keep reading), is a major drawback for dedicated boondockers like us.

They’re Gross to Empty

There’s no getting around it – dumping a cassette toilet is pretty gross. Unlike a full hook-up where the sewer hose is securely connected to the sewer outlet, there’s no such thing here.

Emptying a cassette requires getting more up close and personal with the contents that we’d prefer. There are exceptions — in a few countries there are some automated cassette-dumping machines that miraculously do it all for you. But they’re rare enough that it’s hardly a help overall.

Barring those machines, when you open the cap of the cassette and pour the contents into a dump point, the odor from the contents can be pretty disgustingvile… pungent.

Yes, you can still get a nasty whiff using a dump station in North America. But at least you can be standing 10 or 15 feet away from the opening. And there’s the option of a secure sewer connection at a full hook-up campsite, with no smell at all.

Unless your arms are 10 feet long, there’s not much you can do to keep you nose completely clear when dumping a cassette.

They Stink

So we’re not talking about the dumping here. We’re talking about the using.

In our experience, (again 5 trips totalling about 5 months) cassette toilets stink the minute you put anything in them (especially when doing “higher math”). That’s with or without the use of recommended toilet chemicals.

The greatest thing about dumping a toilet cassette? The RV smells good until you need to use the toilet again. It’s not like the place stinks all the time. But more than a couple of days use? Pepé Le Pew is in da house.

Are There Portable Cassette Toilets?

True “cassette toilets” generally have cassette holding tanks that are built into the RV.

However, there are portable toilets with cassette holding tanks for use in cars, vans, and campers that don’t have built-in toilets.

These work in very much the same way as the built-in versions do. They have a detachable holding tank that sits under the bowl.

When the small holding tank is full (or close), you remove the cassette and bring it to an approved dump point for emptying.

While they’re not really true “cassette toilets” like the ones we’ve had in our rental RVs, we’ll link to a few popular portable toilets with cassette holding tanks. This will give you a good idea of this type of portable toilet in case it might be right for your travel needs.

Dometic Portable Toilets

Dometic makes portable toilets with cassette holding tanks. You can see them on the Dometic website.

Below are two portable toilets, one with a 2.6-gallon removable cassette/holding tank and another with a 5-gallon tank.

Both are made of high-strength ABS and have tank-level indicators to let you know when they’re getting full.

They both have push-button flush mechanisms that allow the contents of the bowl to drop into the detachable cassette below, and both have full-size seats and lids that latch closed.

They can be purchased with or without hold-down brackets.

Dometic 1223.0154 301097206 970-Series Portable Toilet - 2.6 Gallon, Gray
  • DURABLE: High-strength ABS construction withstands harsh environments; smooth, easy-to-clean finish
  • EASY TO USE: Prismatic tank level indicator allows easy tank level monitoring
DOMETIC 301097606 Portable Toilet 5.0 Gallon, Gray
  • DURABLE: High-strength ABS construction withstands harsh environments; smooth, easy-to-clean finish
  • EASY TO USE: Prismatic tank level indicator allows easy tank level monitoring

Thetford Porta Potti

Thetford also makes a number of different-sized portable toilets that use cassette holding tanks that attach to the bowl portion.

Like the Dometic units above, the Thetford units have a rotating pour-out spout for use in dumping the contents of the holding tank/cassette.

Thetford Porta Potti toilets have tank level indicators, and piston pump flushes.

This model has a 4-gallon fresh water tank containing the water for flushing and a 3.2-gallon waste holding tank.

Thetford 92814 Porta Potti 345 , White , 13 x 16.8 x 15"
  • Versatility: award-winning, top-of-the-line portable toilet, suited for RVs, boats, trucks, vans, healthcare, camping and even off-the-grid lifestyle
  • Design: ergonomic handle makes it easy to maneuver. The compact toilet comes with an easy-to-use piston flush

Camco Portable Toilets

Camco offers portable toilets with 2.6-gallon or 5.3-gallon detachable “cassette” holding tanks.

These units use a pull slide flush to open the valve to allow the contents of the bowl to drop into the holding tank below.

They’re made of lightweight polyethylene, and are often used in van builds, cars, or on boats.

Camco Portable Travel Toilet | Features Bellow-Type Flush and Sealing Slide Valve to Lock-in Odors and Protect against Leakage | Lightweight and Compact, 2.6 Gallon (41531)
  • Portable Travel Toilet: Provides a convenient bathroom spot while on-the-go; Ideal for camping, RVing, boating, road trips and other recreational...
  • Stops Leaks and Odors: The locking lid helps stop spills and the sealing slide valve locks in odors/protects against leakage; Side latches fasten the...
Camco Portable Toilet | Ideal for Camping, RVing, Boating, Road Trips and Other Recreational Activities | 5.3 Gallons, Gray (41541)
  • Portable Travel Toilet: Provides a convenient bathroom spot while on-the-go; Ideal for camping, RVing, boating, road trips and other recreational...
  • Stops Leaks and Odors: The locking lid helps stop spills and the sealing slide valve locks in odors/protects against leakage; Side latches fasten the...

The Bottom Line on Cassette Toilets

So they’re not our favorite RV toilets. But they can be a worthwhile option to consider if you have no other toilet system in your RV, vehicle, or boat.

We certainly haven’t enjoyed the ones we’ve used, but they were far better than having no toilet on board at all. For us, it’s been the price of international RV travel — worth enduring, but not our raison d’être for visiting France!

We’ll also note that the portable toilets with detachable holding tanks shown above get lots of great reviews, especially from road trippers who travel with children.

The bottom line is that a toilet with a detachable holding tank gives you an alternative to stopping at public restrooms. Or a way to go camping off the grid, even if you don’t have a vehicle with a built-in toilet.

For some, using public restrooms may be the preferable option. For others, however, a mobile toilet of any type can be a traveling game changer!

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Warren Gress

Sunday 29th of January 2023

I’ve never used a cassette toilet, but see these being used in a number of Class B’s and even the Winnebago EKKO. The video was very good and answered my questions about them. I still think I’d prefer the traditional black tank, but the process isn’t as bad as I imagined.

The propane refilling was surprising to me, after being used to having someone always fill my portable tanks. I am curious if there is some system being used to only fill the tanks to the 80% full level that is done here in the US?

Great video, one of the best I’ve seen in a while!

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