Sanitation-A Touchy Subject and maybe Too Much Information for some people.

Feel free to NOT read this blog post.

I'm somewhat reluctant to post this information, but on the other hand, I feel it is vital to share what I have learned and how I do things.  There may be others out there who can't afford a portable toilet, don't like the idea of hauling a jug of ??? into a public bathroom to dump it, or can't afford a composting toilet, or have other issues with this topic.  My way has been working for me now for over four years... so I will share it publicly (no offense meant to any one's sensibilities... if you think this might offend you, stop reading now, because I won't apologize for this post).

There is even a book titled "How to Shit in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art" available from my Amazon Store right now for $9.98.  It's a great read, even though some of it is even gross for me.

I couldn't afford a portable toilet or composting toilet and didn't like the idea of having a container full of stuff to have to empty at some point, so I began to see what I could do with what I had on hand.  I've been told by some people, that it doesn't bother them at all to do so.  So, I had to find another affordable and sanitary way to manage my waste.   (Think about kitty litter boxes and baby diapers.)


A five gallon bucket (originally orange but spray painted green/black so it's not so noticeable if someone is looking in) and lined with multiple tall kitchen trash bags. All my trash goes into this trash bucket.  I also have a small trash container in the front of the van for items I may have to get rid of while driving.  Usually I dump that container into the tall kitchen trash bag before I tie the bag up to get rid of it.  Or you could buy six Double-Doodie bags from Amazon for $22.80.

Note kitty litter box and dish pan next to it (the dish pan has nothing to do with topic, if just fits nicely there without taking up extra room).  Also, I don't use it for washing dishes.  My bed is in background. This is especially handy, as if I have to get up in the night, I roll off the bed and land on the bucket (now there's a visual for you). Line bucket with multiple tall kitchen trash bags. I used to put a sprinkling of kitty litter in each bag as I lined the bucket, in case anything leaked, but never had that happen, so stopped doing that.  It might happen with cheaper tall kitchen trash bags, but I use the good Glad bags... this isn't something I want to be cheap about.

First I taped pipe insulation to rim of bucket, but it compressed over time. So then I cut shorter sections of a pink pool noodle and taped them on, you have to cut them in sections or notch them or they won't bend. That is holding up pretty well. All I can say is experiment. But it is pretty comfortable to sit-upon and no loose toilet seat in the van.  Some people invest in the Luggable Loo toilet seats covers, but I didn't like the idea of a loose toilet seat rattling around.

Note: kitty little nearby, dishpan under kitty litter (not for dishes) and empty water and drink bottles.


Close-up of lid rim, yes, I could have done a neater job and will probably one day re-do it.

In the bottom of the bucket there is a little kitty litter and some baking soda. No odors.  That's just in case there is a leak and in four years there hasn't been a leak.

Kitty litter, dish pan, and empty plastic bottles. See trash bag in background, it is full of plastic bottles.   Well, I've used up the stock-pile of empty bottles, so am picking up those I see, and trying to drink more water, and use other's bathrooms where ever I can. Usually, it evens out.

Red funnel is used to transfer fluids from large drink cups to empty drink bottles. Funnel usually stands inside the left cup, along with a partially filled bottle (lid left off). There is no odor until the lid closes the bottle. There is no spillage. During the night I might have to use two coke cups, and don't funnel it until morning. There is no odor.  Mainly a method for women, we need to capture liquids (I use the large 32 or 44 oz coke cups, then funnel it into my empty bottles. The funnel is kept in the empty cups. There is also extra baking soda, Fabriz, and sanitary wipes in this cubby. There is a little curtain to drop in front of this space, if I think there will be company.  Not all visitors need all these details.

I had this small space left between my bed and my desk (both securely fastened down) and just happened to have this plant stand that fit right there. On top is one of those 3-drawer plastic things that serves as a nite stand. Under is a box lined with plastic, inside it is a plastic tray/caddy thingy? lined with plastic and some baking soda sprinkled inside. The caddy keeps other supplies neatly in place. Nothing tips over or moves. Note the Sanitary wipes, some Fabriz (just in case something is a little stinky - seldom), and other such items. Also note, underneath is a kitty litter tray, also sprinkled with baking soda, just because I had one for a project. The space was there and it just fit, so double or triple protection against leakage. And again note, plastic bag tied to leg of plant stand, is full of empty plastic bottles. It tucks nicely under my bed.

In case there is a number 2 event, I put a smaller grocery bag (Walmart bags seem to work the best as they stretch over the bucket easier) over the edges of the bucket, sprinkle a little kitty litter in it, deposit #2, sprinkle more kitty litter on top of that and tie the grocery bag up.  I usually put this bag inside another grocery bag and tie it up.  As soon as I possible can, I get this out of the van.  If it's the middle of the night, I open the side door, and set it on my roof between roof and cargo rack.  Then in the morning, I might put it back in my trash (5-gal bucket) and drive to the nearest trash can and get rid of it all.
Someone asked why I use kitty litter.  I want to keep the odors down as much as possible, for my own comfort, and so as not to stink up my home, or draw attention to my vehicle.  My home is very clean even after four years on the road and I want it to stay that way (and I'm no clean freak or anything either).

Close-up. Important in a van that nothing can shift around and become flying missiles, especially this stuff.
Note larger funnel. I found that to be overkill and un-needed and prefer the plastic cups. Holding the funnel in place over a plastic bottle or jug, while peeing... not so handy or trust-worthy. Sitting on the bucket, holding the cup with one hand, much safer.
Bag full of empty bottles.
Generally, I don't accumulate more than a grocery bag full of trash, which you can easily drop off at any gas station without anyone paying any attention to you.  I NEVER collect a whole five gallon bag full of trash.
Some people frown on my method and think it is terrible. I have a sister who nearly hurls at the thought.  I use public restrooms whenever I can, but during the night, I don't get out of my van.  And is what I am doing any more terrible than kitty litter from cats being thrown in the trash, or dirty baby diapers?  My goal is to keep sanitary and not impact the environment.  If I am far out in the wilderness (as I've been a couple days this week), I will use wilderness "leave no trace" backpacking techniques/principles.  But if I am camped with other van dwellers... I will NOT use this technique, because after a few days things can get pretty unpleasant in camp if everyone is peeing behind the nearest bush. I know at least one person who left one of our group camps because of this reason. It is unpleasant enough to have a large number of dogs, going wherever they please.
There are many backpacking ideas and survival techniques which van dwellers can benefit by studying... have a look at to learn more.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  Thank you.
Other sources:
Romana S. (Australia) - Toilets


  1. Awesome. Great pictures too. You GO GIRL! I think we are probably the same age and I want to do this too. Have lived in many a "alternative abode" - tiny is my cup of tea. Your kayaking goal was brilliant and brava for accomplishing what you have! I don't kayak, at least not yet... I'm looking for a goal that will keep me pushing like this. Looks like Andrew Waits has already done what I've been thinking about doing. Right now in college again (Grandma goes to school) and will be done in a few months. Then... headin' for the sun and stars!

    1. Just found this comment. Congrads on going back to school. I didn't begin work on my Masters until I was 40. And I have now completed the 50 states and my new goal is to hike the AZ Trail, 820 miles. You are right, we need goals to keep pushing us, otherwise only thing I would be pushing right now, would be daisies.

  2. Thanks for the details on this subject! I am also about your age and want to get out there - probably by myself. I've been collecting ideas from online sources such as yours until I'm ready to go... can't do it yet, but it's my favorite hobby - reading about how others have done the van camping thing.

    1. I am glad you found the information useful. Recently I have been criticized by a large nationally know RVing group I wanted to join. I had asked that my blog be listed on their Members' Blogs page, but was told I would have to remove this page first and any other references to sanitation in order to have it listed. I considered such a revision for a couple hours and then decided to withdraw my application for membership in that group. I KNOW this page has value to some people, especially people seeking the freedom of the open road who can't afford large RVs, rigs with holding tanks, or even portable toilets. I mean, think about it, what is the ickier (is that a word) idea... driving around with gallons of waste in a holding tank, or driving around with NO waste in your vehicle. I think I like my way better.

  3. I think your solution is brilliant! I think the WINS reaction is absurd.
    I used a similar solution when my toilet started leaking and I had to wait several days to get a new one. I used a Luggable Loo w/ bags and cat litter. The seat fastened very securely on the standard 5-gal bucket I had on hand from an old paining project (not going to rattle around in a van) PLUS the seat lid sealed well enough to contain all odor. Also, during those days of "awareness" I practiced using a stand-up pee gadget I'd bought months before (the second style I've investigated). Now all I need is a van and I'm good to go anywhere! ;)

    1. Thank you Karen L. I am glad you found solutions that work. We will be the survivors if SHTF, not the people who are too sensitive to discuss toilet techniques. Again, thank you.

  4. Hi Swankiewheels, Dawn in Tahoe here. Your candor on this subject is greatly appreciated. I am boning up on all levels of subsistence, including living out of my car if it comes down to that. Having been a camper and backpacker all my life, I know it's doo-able ;). Ideally I will save enough money in the next year to buy a decent used pickup truck and small TT...but should that lofty plan fail, it's good to know it can be done in a smaller rig. Love your blog!

    1. Thank you, Dawn. My friends and I are still laughing about the WINS reaction to my blog, in particular this blog post. Guess their S H _ T don't stink? Still after more than 6 years I've not no spills or accidents. It's fool proof. Just think what a big improvement this sanitation is over the days of the pioneers. Glad you appreciate the post.

  5. I joined WINS early this year, but had some sneaking suspicions. This confirmed one and was sufficient to prompt removal from my blog's "Other Interests." Thanks for all the practical advice...and disclosure.

  6. Better late than never... Joining the conversation that is talking about something kinda vital to know if you are a fulltimer. I PREFER the primitive way of disposing of body wastes. At least our pee and poop is adding some organic composting value to the tons of waste that the city disposal collects. I have perfectly functioning holding tanks, but I am nauseated at the thought of carrying gallons and gallons of crap and pee! Sometimes, I use the sink in the bathroom and then when gray water accumulates, just dump it in a field or someplace where I'm not offending anyone! Even if there is someone around, I'm not embarrassed to toss my dish pan of water out the door! Good for the environment, makes sense to me. Dumping black water tanks is disgusting. Especially if you're the last in the line of amateurs who wear face masks and rubber gloves to protect themselves from the horrible mess they leave behind. I feel like telling all of them, "Throw the toilet paper in the trash NOT THE TOILET!" Then it is added to the local sewage treatment and possibly overloading it. Yukky.

    1. Welcome. Glad to have your input. I am repulsed by the idea of carrying around gallons and gallons of waste and also agree with you on how disgusting dump stations are. I like my system, and in over six years I have had no spills or accidents. I keep no waste in the camper very long at all. I don't, however, agree with dumping any grey water unless I can help water some plants, and it contains no urine. I will use the great outdoors when it is necessary and have no qualms about that.

  7. Hi, I love everything about what you're doing. I'm 63 right now...just had a birthday May 21 (I noticed that you're a Taurus too) and I sooo want to do this. I feel like we have a lot in common. I have my van and it is already a camper complete with sink, stove, and toilet with a tank alas I must use it that way but if it ever goes out I will be doing it your way. I can't go live this way yet as I'm taking care of my 91 year old mother. But maybe someday soon I'll be out there and I will most certainly want to look you up. I've signed up for your email blogs and I look forward to reading all about what you do. I want to go Kayaking too so I'll have to get one soon. Do you make that jewelry that I saw in you photos? I make jewelry and figure I can sell a lot of it on the road for extra money. My van is a 1990 GMC Vandura and I really love it. I hope it gives me many years of use. It seems to be in great running shape. By for now.

    1. I do make jewelry but mostly I have been learning how to cut and polish rock to be used for jewelry. I want to learn more about silver-smithing and would also like to learn rock carving. There is so much to learn at the Rock Club in Quartzsite, I'm not sure I can do it all in my lifetime. Good luck with your planning and in getting through this phase of your life. You got to do what you got to do.

    2. Thanks for the encouragement. Looking forward to my freedom!!!

  8. You inspire me! I just found a buyer for my mobile home and will be trading in my car for a van in a bit...I only have 6 weeks to pack up and leave here. I'm excited and scared at the same time....58, widowed, and ready for whatever life throws at me!


Who is Swankie?

My photo
Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.