When you’re planning your van conversion layout, it can be a major decision whether to include a bathroom or not!
Your choice can really come down to a few things;
- What level of travel are you doing? Is this for full-time van life, or just weekend getaways?
- How much space are you working with in your layout?
- Can you fit extra water/power into your plans to account for showering and hot water?
Having a separate bathroom stall can afford you a few benefits off the bat;
- It’s more private than just a pull out porta potty
- No need to rely on campsites or gyms to clean up
- You can store wet gear in your waterproof bathroom (from a rainy hike, snowboard, or surfing adventure!)
The drawbacks of installing one though are that you’ll have less space in your van, you’ll really need to make sure it’s water-tight, and you’ll need bigger water tanks with a way to heat the water.
There are ways to include a bathroom and still save space though, like creating a fold-away bed that opens up the layout more, or using the bathroom stall as a way to semi-separate the bedroom and the rest of the living space.
Some people also opt for a fold-out shower which is essentially just a small pull-out basin and a shower curtain to keep the water in one spot. You can also opt for an outdoor shower, which works great too in the warmer months! You can attach an extendable faucet to your kitchen that can go out the window to double as a shower, or install one in the back garage.
We would suggest having an outdoor shower of some sort if you’re planning to travel with a pet - dogs can get pretty dirty out there! They’re also great if you need to wash off your feet or shoes at the end of your adventure.
Having a shower option is definitely a recommendation for families that like privacy, full-time vanlifers, and adventure enthusiasts who want to clean off after a long day.
When it comes time to decide whether to put in a toilet, there’s a few things to consider.
The first thing we like to ask, is do you really need a toilet at all? Depending on what you’re using your van for in terms of travel, you’ll probably find that there are tons of accessible places to do your business - that are not in the van.
If your goal is to live in your van however, having a toilet can be a really great feature. That way you’re not driving around every day looking for a place to go - especially in the colder months!
Some other things you should consider are what size toilet you want - which can vary depending on how many people are in the van and how often you think you’ll be using it.
If it’s just 1 or 2, you can get away with a small porta potti toilet that can be tucked away somewhere incognito, like hidden in a lower drawer or turned into a little bench seat like we love to do in our conversions.
Some people have small pop-up tents to put around the portable toilets so you can use it discreetly outside of your van.
Whatever you decide to do, you will want to factor in your toilet/bathroom situation in your initial planning, and not as an afterthought!
There’s a few different types you can consider using - composting toilets, portable toilets, and cassette toilets.
As far as composting toilets go, the Nature’s Head is a very popular choice. It separates the liquids from the solids, which is why they promise a completely odorless toilet. It’s easy to put together, and it comes with a 12v powered fan that can vent out any odors from your vehicle. This will mean you need to install a vent for it however.
Another great option is the Kildwick, which also has a separating system and you can choose if you want a fan included or not. The structure is made from birch plywood as well, which gives it a bit of a different look and feel.
Pros of using a composting toilet is that they are eco-friendly, non-toxic, easy to assemble, and can be relatively odorless. They also weigh less since you don’t have to use water, which is an excellent feature for anything going into your van.
Cons can be that there is a learning curve with using them. Adding new waste to dry waste can create different levels of composition which can make the process more difficult. There’s also a variety of ways people recommend to dispose of your waste. A lot of people recommend just dumping it in your household garbage, but realistically that defeats the point of composting in the first place.
Portable toilets are useful because they can be easily stored and taken out of the van when you need to empty it, which can be a pretty easy process for waste management. They’re great as an emergency toilet if you feel like you don’t need to be using it every day, but you want something handy to have around just incase.
They come in a variety of sizes and flushing options, so pay attention to that when you’re looking at purchasing any particular model. The Thetford and Dometic toilets are very popular choices for this style.
While they are easy to use, affordable, and portable - these toilets also come with the drawback of being pretty smelly unless you use the right amount of chemicals, especially if it’s hot outside. They are also heavier than composting toilets.
If composting or portable toilets don’t work for you, there are also cassette toilets you can use. These flush a lot like portable toilets, since they use chemicals and water, except they are permanently fixed to your van. A lot of them will have external access points to empty your waste contents, and a separate seat/flush unit from the holding tank. These features make cassette toilets probably the closest thing to a household toilet you can get for a van. If you’re using this option, you should absolutely decide that before you start your build since it needs to be factored into the design.
They are the most comfortable and easy to use of each style of toilet, but that comes with the price of it being the most expensive option that takes up a lot of real-estate permanently in your van. You’ll also go through a higher level of installation with these.
If you need to use chemicals for your toilet, you can usually find blue, green, and pink options. Pink is for flushing and it disinfects and deodorizes the toilet bowl. Blue and green are used for the same thing, but they go in the waste tank and help break the waste down. The green option has less harsh chemicals and doesn’t have any toxic formaldehyde.
So, there you have it! There’s quite a few ways to put together a bathroom in your van and to be (almost) as comfortable as you would be in a house. Take the time and consideration to decide how you want to clean up after yourself before you build, so you can plan accordingly.