How Does An RV Toilet Work? (5 Different Types)

Are you wondering how the toilet works in an RV? 

If so, you’re in the right place!

In this guide, you’ll learn: 

  • The different types of RV or camper toilets and how each type works
  • How to properly drain your black tank
  • FAQs about RV toilets
  • And much more!
how does an rv toilet work

One of the most important amenities of your RV or camper is the toilet. Indeed, it is not nearly as glamorous as other amenities like your camper’s television or refrigerator.

Be that as it may, without a toilet, your camping trip will seem like a trip back to the stone age.

How an RV toilet works is surprisingly quite straightforward. For us campers, how RV toilets work vary based on the type.

That’s right — not all RV toilets are created equal. Some have their pros and cons. The best one will ultimately depend on you.

Want to know more? Sit back (not on your toilet) and read more about RV toilets and what makes each tick!  

Table of Contents

What Are the Different Types of RV Toilets?

So, how does a camper trailer work? It depends; different types of RV or camper toilets hold your waste in different ways. Some will allow you to empty all your waste into a sewer or a black tank. Others will allow you to dispose of the toilet altogether!

In short, figuring out how RV toilets work will depend on the type of toilet you have. Here are the most common types of RV toilets:

  • Gravity flush toilets
  • Cassette toilets
  • Macerator toilets
  • Composting toilets
  • Portable camping toilets

How a Gravity Flush Toilet Works

Gravity flush toilets are arguably one of the most common RV toilets around. You can find one in nearly all RVs or campers you take a look at. In fact, most camper toilets will likely be a gravity flush toilet.

A gravity flush toilet functions in nearly the same way as a regular home toilet. Water pressure from an externally located water tank flushes the contents of your toilet into a tank. This tank is commonly known as the black tank. Like a home’s septic tank or septic sewage system, the black tank acts as a storage area for your toilet’s contents.

The black tank is where everything you flush goes. Depending on your RV or camper, the capacity will vary. In any case, you can drain all of the contents into certain RV waste disposal facilities. These facilities are in:

  • RV parks or campgrounds
  • Most gas stations
  • RV dealerships
  • RV stations

If your home septic tank is open-access, you may drain the contents here as well. Overall, the gravity flush toilet may be the most common due to its resemblance to a home toilet.

How an RV Cassette Toilet Works

An RV cassette toilet functions in a very similar way to a gravity flush toilet. Like a gravity flush toilet, you will be able to eliminate the toilet’s contents into a tank. Also, like in the case of a gravity flush toilet, you flush using a foot pedal located somewhere on the toilet.

The part that distinguishes a cassette toilet from a gravity flush toilet is the black tank. In most cases, gravity flush toilets drain into a tank that you cannot dislodge from the RV. On the other hand, most cassette toilet systems drain into a tank that you can disconnect from your RV.

Because the tank is removable, you can imagine that the capacity of the tank is much less than that of a gravity flush tank. Nonetheless, its capacity is higher than that of portable or compost toilets. This makes a cassette toilet a more popular option for families and larger groups of campers.

What is a Macerator Toilet and How Does It Work?

Before you read further, you may want to curb your imagination for just a second. Macerator toilets grind whatever you flush into mush. What results is a slurry of waste that drains into a black tank located somewhere outside or under your RV.

Macerator toilets are electric. While it makes draining your black tank easy, the most obvious drawback is that it can drain your battery if used too often.

Macerator toilets are also electrically demanding due to how water must be pumped and how drainage occurs. Water is electrically pumped through the flushing system as soon as you press the flushing knob or pedal. This is why the black tank of a macerator toilet can be located elsewhere on the RV.

Compost Toilets

If you are looking for the simplest toilet for an RV, look no further than compost toilets. Compost toilets consist of nothing more than the toilet itself. As for a draining tank, there is none.

So, how do compost toilets work? Usually, the solid and liquid waste go into separate areas. This is to prevent the nefarious odor that comes from waste. For solid waste, there is composting material you can use to break down waste.

This results in an earthy odor — not something you may look forward to smelling all the time, but it is much less offensive than the smell of the waste by itself. Because there is no draining tank, you need to empty a composting toilet often.

Portable Camping Toilets

Here is another type of toilet that doesn’t require an instruction manual.

Portable camping toilets consist of a commode and a holding tank for your waste. Due to its portability, there is no flushing mechanism. This makes it one of the simplest types of toilets for RVs or camping for that matter.

Related >> The Best RV Toilets

how to empty black tank

How To Drain Your Black Tank

Indeed, compost and portable toilets are popular for any camper looking to “rough it.” These toilets have no learning curve to them whatsoever. With these types of RV toilets, you do your business, empty the toilet, and leave. It’s that simple.

When it comes to gravity flush, macerator, and cassette toilets, something needs to be said of how to empty their tanks. So, here are the steps to safely and sanitarily emptying your black tank:

  1. Locate the gate valves for the tank
  2. Hook your sewer hose to the black tank lid
  3. Empty your black tank
  4. Clean the tank

Step 1: Locate the Gate Valves for the Tank

Different RVs have different locations for the black tank. Locating yours may not be as tough as you think. If you have a traditional gravity flush toilet, it will be under the toilet. This is where you will find the gate valve.

Step 2: Hook the Sewer Hose to the Black Tank Lid

The site of the gate valve will be where you will see the black tank lid. This tank lid is where you need to hook up your sewer hose. Often, sewer hoses come with connecting attachments. Use these to connect your sewer hose to the black tank lid.

Step 3: Empty Your Black Tank

Once your hose is connected, you may now open the gate valve. This will allow all the wastewater to drain.

Step 4: Clean the Tank

Of course, nobody wants a dirty black tank despite what it is for. All you need to do is run water through it. Remove your sewer hose and connect a hose. Then, turn on the water to rinse your black tank.


Here are some of the most commonly asked questions along with our responses:

“What is the Best Composting Material for Compost Toilets?”

There are so many composting materials on the market today. Our picks are:

  • Coconut coir
  • Sphagnum peat moss

Of course, feel free to experiment with whatever you feel is a good choice.

“What is the Best Type of RV Toilet?”

It really depends on how you want your camping trip to be like. Are you planning on living comfortably? Maybe you would want a macerator toilet, cassette, or gravity flush toilet.

On the other hand, a compost or portable toilet may be for you if you’re looking to live minimalistically whilst camping.

“Can I Throw Toilet Paper into an RV Toilet?

The quick answer is that you are better off not doing so unless you want your RV toilet to clog. However, there are special types of toilet paper available for RV toilet systems. If you happen to find these, you can throw these into your RV toilet.

Final Thoughts

RV toilets are some of the most crucial amenities in your RV or camper. Different types of toilets work in different ways. The best type of toilet depends mainly on what you want your camping trip to be like.



Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

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Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

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