Build your own expedition truck: Dry toilet

Dry toilet, also known as a separating toilet or compost toilet, is gaining popularity in the overland travel world. We built ours over a year ago.

The commercial ones on the market are expensive (e.g. Separett Villa 9010 =  840€), and we wanted to make sure we liked this type of toilet before opening our wallets.

Nature’s Head

After our first tour with it, we were sold. And we haven’t changed our mind since. We even like the one we built ourselves so much, that we kept it. No need to upgrade it to a commercial one or even built a nicer version of it.  So since that first trip it has joined us already on many more adventures (Romania – Serbia – Slovenia – Italy – Germany – Belgium – Poland – UK – …) .

Although there are different versions of dry toilets, we built one that separates the liquids from the solids (also called urine diversion systems). Since it’s the mixture of these two that creates the foul odor (due to a chemical reaction).

“Doesn’t it smell?”

No, 95% of the time it doesn’t. Not convinced? What if you knew that when the toilet is stowed away I sleep right above it. And we haven’t installed any ventilation to the toilet. 🙂

So what about the 5% time it does generate an odor (not extremely bad, but not the most pleasant either). Well, we think this is largely due to a change in our nutrition (food or drinking habits), resulting in a different smell of either the urine or the solids.

But we found a solution to this problem. We now always add a small layer of vegetable oil to the urine tank. This creates a natural seal between the urine and air. In the solids tank, when necessary, we add a little bit of coffee grounds. This is what people also do with regular garden composting piles. The coffee grounds don’t make your camper unit smell like coffee. It doesn’t mask the smell. It seems to really neutralize the odor.

What are the benefits of a dry toilet? Why should I have one?

In contrast to the chemical toilets:

  • Absolutely no mess, no fuss emptying the dry toilet!!!
    • Since the liquids and solids don’t mix, you don’t have that nauseating slush.
    • You don’t waste time or money finding or paying for a waste station. It so easy to empty. The bag with solids you simply close and throw in a trash container (yes, you can do this. That’s what people also do with diapers). The urine tank you can empty in nature (not within 10 metres of any watercourse or within 50 metres of any well or borehole or spring)
    • No need to clean up after emptying everything. You only put a new bag in the solids bin/bucket & now a then you rinse the urine tank (but not necessarily to do this every time you empty it).
  • No need for chemicals to mask the smell or any harsh cleaning material!!!
  • No water usage!!!
    • You don’t waste your precious water supply on flushing and cleaning your toilet. Using perfectly good drinking water for our toilets is honestly an absurd thing.
    • You can travel much longer before needing to fill up your water supply.
  • An excellent solution for wild campers.
  • You can customize it completely to your needs and camper.
    • We wanted ours to look like a regular toilet and to be as compact as possible. That’s why ours is D-shaped (not a square box as you often see), and has a white urine diverter (not a strange blue color like those of Separett).
    • The urine tank had to be big enough, since we don’t want to empty it every day. For the two of us that meant that it had to be bigger than 5l; knowing that an average person produces around 1.5-2l urine/day and that Elmer uses the toilet less than I – he picks sometimes a tree :-).

The only extra supply your dry toilet requires is a covering material for the solids. It soaks up any extra moisture still present in the solids and keeps the view pleasant for the next person. We use sawdust/wood chips that is used in small animal cages (like rabbits or hamsters).

Building your own separating toilet

Since pictures can sometimes say more than a 1000 words:

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7 thoughts on “Build your own expedition truck: Dry toilet
  1. Hmmm, like that, a modern “loo” on these vast nature’s planes…

    when a men has to go, a men has to go!

  2. Dank je wel voor dit zeer informatieve artikel. Zet ons zeker weer aan het denken. Veel plezier verder in Schotland(?)

    Groeten Erik & Patty

    1. Leuk om te horen! Ja nog steeds in Schotland (isle of Lewis). Berg opgelopen om genoeg ontvangst te hebben om jullie een berichtje te kunnen sturen ?
      Nicole & Elmer

  3. Thanks for the offer of a kit from your store. I realise you have to fund yourselves,so you have a shop, and that is good.

    Yet for something like this, freely publishing plans or a step-by-step build guide would be a very nice thing to do for the larger community of travellers.


    1. Hi Mark,

      In this day and age when so much is freely accessible online we tend to forget that there is always someone behind the information who had to put in a lot of time to research and then write(film) about the topic. This requires time and energy that otherwise could have been put in other things like family, travel or actually earning money. This kind of voluntarily service we don’t expect from someone who isn’t crazy enough to work online.
      Our website asks between 5hrs to 15hrs (or even more) of unpaid work per week (already for the last 2.5 years); this to support the traveling community (the few coins we do earn this way don’t cover 1% of the work). There is always more information that can be added -so we will not stop you from setting up your own website with all that information to further help the community – but we can’t do it all (we also still want to live and travel) and hope (and know) that people appreciate all what we have already provided for free.

      Nicole & Elmer

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