What Is A Vault Toilet?

Do you love camping in the peaking mountains and amidst the lush green forests? If yes, you know there’s nothing more calming than a quiet place away from the bustling world. However, you may also know that this serenity comes with a price!

More than often, camping sites do not have proper water and sanitation facilities, making it really difficult to take a dump. Finding the perfect location, that is both safe and private, and having the necessary water and sanitation facilities is no piece of cake.

This is where the vault toilets come in! The US government is taking steps to better facilitate the tourists that visit such scenic locations. And apart from other facilities, they have placed vault toilets in areas that have remote access to water.

What is a vault toilet? It is a toilet facility that does not require water. 

A vault toilet is a water-less toilet facility with an underground vault that collects excreta. They are generally available in areas that do not have a proper sewage system.

Vault toilets are also known as camping toilets as they are generally available in camping areas, parks, and other public recreational spots.

Although by definition, a vault toilet sounds unattractive, it is not as bad as it seems. Vault toilets, if properly maintained are user-friendly, odorless, and save you the hassle of finding a proper place in the woods.

To know more about surviving a vault toilet during a camping trip, keep reading!

What is a Vault Toilet?

A vault toilet is a unisex toilet that does not use electricity or water and therefore you can’t flush it. Instead, the waste material is collected in an underground, airtight container that is connected to the toilet seat.

vault toilet seat

Vault toilets are generally guarded by service men that dump the waste container as soon as it fills up. How soon a vault fills up depends upon its size.

Generally, the underground tanks vary between 750 to 13,000 gallons.

What are Vault Toilets Made Up Of?

A vault toilet can be made up of wooden planks, concrete, plastic, or cross-linked polyethylene. 

Although concrete is more durable, you will notice that most vault toilets are made up of cross-linked polyethylene as they are leakage-proof and therefore reduce pollution.

Plastic vault toilets are portable and can be moved from palace to place.

How does a Vault Toilet Work?

The working of a vault toilet is easy to understand. These toilets consist of two parts: an underground vault and a toilet seat.

The underground vault is dug along a slope to move the waste easily. It is then covered with a concrete slab to secure it in place. The toilet seat is then placed on the concrete slab. This seat is attached to the vent pipe that goes all the way out of the roof.

The underground vault can hold up to thousands of gallons of waste. As soon as it gets filled, the waste management company pumps it into the waste truck from where it is carried to a water treatment facility.

Most of the time vault toilets are efficiently maintained, and if a toilet is filled it is closed until cleaned.

Where Can I Find a Vault Toilet?

Vault toilets are available in public places, such as parks and other recreational spots. You will find them while trekking in a forest or at a camping site.

vault toilet in a forest

Generally, these toilets are placed in an area that has easy road access to facilitate waste management trucks.

Are Vault Toilets Smelly?

A properly built and well-maintained vault toilet will not smell bad. However, if the toilet is filled it can be foul-smelling.

To avoid vault toilets from smelling bad, it is necessary that we:

  • Close the lid after using the toilet.
  • Disinfect the vault toilet when not in use.
  • Do not clog the toilet by throwing garbage into it.

For a vault toilet to be odorless it should be built keeping in mind the following points:

  • The vent pipe should be longer than the booth’s roof.
  • A long underground pipe can carry the odor away.
  • The toilet should be well-ventilated. Wind disperses the smells.
  • The toilet should be in direct sunlight as the heat allows the smelly air to rise through the vent leaving the toilet odor-free.
  • Activated charcoal can be kept in the toilet to absorb any foul-smelling gasses in the air.

What are the Pros. and Cons. of a Vault Toilet?

a man cleaning the vault toilet

Like every other facility, Vault toilets have their pros. and cons., some of which are listed below:


  • Easy to maintain
  • Easy to construct
  • Cost-effective 
  • Can be portable
  • Single units ensure privacy
  • Convenient to use and available in remote places.
  • Some of them may have advanced features like battery lights, for when it’s dark outside and sanitary dispensers.
  • If maintained properly, they are odorless.
  • Eco-friendly as it conserves water.


  • In the absence of proper heat and air, the toilet can smell bad.
  • Throwing garbage and other waste into the toilet can clog it.
  • In case of improper ventilation, the toilet can smell foul.
  • Not all vault toilets are portable. Most concrete toilets are permanently fixed.
  • Due to being water-less vault toilets need to be cleaned and sanitized regularly. Proper sanitation facilities might not be available in remote and rural areas.

Tips for Using a Vault Toilet:

Follow the given tips to have a pleasant vault toilet experience:

  1. Look out for insects or cobwebs. Vault toilets are often home to creepy crawlies. Make sure to close the lid behind you to avoid attracting bugs and spiders. 
  2. Carry a toilet roll with you. Most vaults are located in remote areas and do not have toilet paper. To avoid any inconvenience it is better to carry yours along.
  3. Have a sanitizer with you. Because there is no water you might need a sanitizer to clean afterward.
  4. Do not throw napkins, tampons, or other garbage in the vault toilet. It is really hard to pump out and can clog the system.


Next time you are in the middle of the woods and need to take a dump, find a vault toilet, nearby. Just make sure to take your toilet paper and sanitizer with you and follow the tips mentioned above to help yourself and those coming after you.

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