If you remember last time I embarked on an experiment to get to the bottom of whether cassette-style porta potties smell really bad. It all started with this video and a couple complaining that emptying a porta potty in their bathroom contaminated their entire house. I almost made a decision about the type of bathroom going in our new camper based on that video.
After doing some more reading in camping and boating forums about portable toilets, most of which were positive, I decided the only fair test would be getting a porta potty and trying it out under some fairly extreme conditions. Instead of trying it out in the camper, I decided to set it up in our house.
This house has the worst air exchange in the history of construction. I made a batch of lavender-scented soap and the house smelled like lavender for three days. If I make fish, you can still tell the next day. That’s how bad it is. But, even that wasn’t enough of a smell test, so I moved our Thetford 550P into my office, which is 140 square feet. I used the porta potty as my exclusive toilet for four and half days, including the Wednesday after Taco Tuesday which gives rise to some pretty epic bathroom smells.
I did use chemical and followed the manufacturer’s label directions mixing 2 oz of chemical with 4 oz of water and pouring that into the waste container. One thing about chemical, more is not necessarily better. I can tell you that we could smell chemical in the kitchen the next day. That was partly the result of washing out the mixing jar in the sink. The undiluted chemical is powerful mojo.
On the afternoon of the fourth day I emptied the toilet’s waste tank into our home toilet. Our guest bath has the same approximate air space as a van. So, I closed the door and shut myself in with the waste tank, deliberately concentrating any smell that would result from the process. After dumping, I rinsed out the waste tank three times. After the third rinse I stuck my nose in the opening.
First off, daily use generated little to no odor. Every so often I’d get a faint whiff of chemical when I was actually using it but nothing in between. That was true even when I was outside and went directly into my office. I would agree with people who use these type toilets in small tents, pop-up campers, and boats without fear. Now that we know how well it works, I’d even use them in guest rooms and anywhere I needed a temporary bathroom. I sat and worked less than three feet from a toilet in active use for most of a week and it did not smell up my office.
We will definitely use our camp toilet in the camper. It was a good choice and will work fine, even for long-term living, a month or more at a time, I’d still go with a porta potty.
Okay, now for the money shot, the actual emptying of several days of waste in a tiny bathroom. Yes, there was a definite odor when I emptied it and it was not a pleasant smell. I would put the smell on par with the worst nuclear dump I’ve ever personally unleashed. On the flip side of that coin, the odor wasn’t any worse than the smell I have generated in a bathroom all by myself. It did not drive me out of the bathroom.
I rinsed the waste tank three times until the dump water was running clear, then stuck my nose in the opening. After three rinsings all I could smell was a faint trace of chemical.
A bit of odor did permeate the house, albeit briefly. As I mentioned in the first part of this article, our bathrooms have no vent fans. Consequently, any smell from the bathroom will spread through the rest of the house. It did take a couple shots of Febreeze and several minutes for the odor to clear. While mildly unpleasant, it did not drive us out of the house. It did not necessitate calling in a cleaning specialist or any extraordinary odor control measures.
I don’t know what those people in the video did but I don’t believe their experience is typical if you’re using commercial porta potty chemical. Their video should definitely not be used to make a purchasing decision. If you’re deciding between a cassette-style camp toilet or a composting toilet, you should choose the one that’s the best fit for your budget and circumstances. I would not hesitate to use a chemical porta potty, even in a van.
Most definitely, whenever possible, I will be emptying our porta potty outside at a dump station. I’m certainly not going to go out of the way to empty our porta potty in the confines of a tiny, unvented bathroom with the door closed. All the same, I will empty it in the house if there’s no other option. As always, read the directions and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. And don’t be afraid to experiment.