Vault Toilets — A successful Invention?

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“Our need will be the real creator”. This pearl of wisdom was stated over two millennia ago by the great Philosopher of Athens, Plato. Whether it is the invention of wheels to facilitate the transportation of materials from one point to another, or the creation of nests by the birds for shelter, history is filled with needs-induced inventions. Most successful start-ups of today preach the aspiring entrepreneurs to begin their journeys by identifying a need around them.

As food for thought, scratch your head and think of the need behind the invention of condoms!

What qualifies more as a need, than the very punctual ‘Nature's Call'? It would not wait for you to reach your very welcoming and comfortable toilet seat at home and there's only so much you can do while attempting to ‘hold it'. As they say, “when you gotta go, you gotta go”.

While in common daily-life scenarios, you can expect to have access to a decent public toilet in your surroundings, however, who doesn't like to break the routine every now and then and go on an adventure to remote places?

Well, for such adventures, like camping, or visiting certain parks where access to water is not an easy job, the ‘need’ for relief gave birth to water-less toilets known as the pit toilet or vault toilet. The vault toilet has earned its name because of its design.

Vault Toilet vs Pit Toilet

The key difference between the two is that in pit latrines, the pit toilet is situated over a mere pit, unlike vault toilets. In the case of the vault toilets, this pit is lined with a water-impermeable container such as a vault or an underground tank.

In both cases, the waste is collected underneath and is pumped out on a regular basis with the help of trucks, before being taken away to a water treatment facility. Vault toilets are highly cost-efficient too.


This article will mostly talk about the upgraded version, i.e. the vault toilet. How does a vault toilet work? The vault or the tank is generally large in size and can accommodate around 1,000 gallons of, well, human waste. However, in some spots with a higher frequency of visits, these tanks can go up to the capacity of 13,000 gallons.

The main aim of having a vault instead of a pit latrine is to not let the water leak into the ground, therefore, the material for these containers is mostly cross-linked polyethylene, while sometimes it could also be made of concrete or become plastic vaults. Plastic vault toilets and concrete vault toilets can also provide a good base for composting toilets.

The setup of these cost-effective vault toilets is such that a concrete slab is placed over the vault and the toilet building structure is constructed or installed over this reinforced concrete slab, with openings left for the toilet and a large vent pipe that erects out of the roof. This is so that most vault toilets keep constant ventilation, thus keeping the vault toilets odor free.

Sweet Smelling Toilet?

These portable toilets or camping toilets, however, still depend on the warmth of the sun, through which the hot air rises, and strong winds that facilitate the odor to leave the place. Their efficient ventilation system is what earned them the name of sweet-smelling toilets (SST) by the Forest Service department because it is basically a non-flush toilet with a large airtight underground container.

Well, it's actually not sweet, but it's definitely capable to reduce the odors that it richly deserves to hold, considering the number of waste humans flush down into the vaults.


Possible Unpleasant Vault Toilet Experiences

If you have already had an experience with the vault toilet, you would definitely know that you can never truly rely on them.

While some places and their park services may ensure regular maintenance and offer clean and hygienic toilets, you may also come across some portable vault toilets that are disgusting for all of your basic senses.

Vault Toilets – Sight:

Vault toilets are designed to store waste and these pit toilets are not pretty to look at.

Vault Toilets – Smell:

Since vault toilets are tankless, vault toilet odors are disgusting. More often than not, these waterless toilets have permanent structures where the waste sits in its natural environment and the hole fills over time.

Unlike flushing toilets, pit latrines are not designed with a complicated vault ventilation system and can smell like your typical porta potties.

Vault Toilets – Touch:

While it is not recommended, vault toilets require you to touch them in order to use them. Even with your wet wipes and hand sanitizer, vault toilets are not the cleanest waterless toilet out there.

Vault Toilets – Hearing:

Vault toilets are also called camping toilets because they are quite common on camping grounds. Don't be surprised that the vault toilets are situated outdoors and you have the entire forest as your background.

In conclusion, vault toilets should be used with caution. Keep the list above in mind when you come across pit toilets. However, if you come across vault toilets and nature calls, this guide on pit toilets should help!

Preparing for Vault Toilets

So, how can we plan efficiently to overcome this sickening challenge? Giving up on exciting adventures is surely not the ideal solution. One must be able to prepare for all sorts of challenges that come along the way, while not compromising on the experience.

Below are 5 tips that you can keep in mind when embarking on a thrilling journey or exploring a remotely located park.

Empty when full

The first solution is to of course make sure that you have visited a restroom while you still have access to a clean one before you enter the zones of challenge. Ensuring this can potentially take care of relatively shorter adventures.

However, if you are planning to take a long hike and have no choice but to use the vault toilets

Take along your Toilet Paper

In case of longer journeys, perhaps the most important thing is to carry your own toilet paper roll with you. When you're not sure what to expect, it is definitely a good choice to go prepared for the worst.

The toilet papers, apart from serving their key purpose, can also act as disposable toilet seat covers for when the vault toilets really not in their best shape.


Maintain basic hygiene and best pit toilets practices

Keeping in mind that these portable vault toilets are waterless, it is (almost) a must to carry your own hand sanitizer with you. Vault toilets are not equipped with the same parts as flush toilets so bring what your need in case you encounter these waterless toilets.

Watch out for what's moving

When you encounter unclean vault toilets, you are quite likely to find bees and other insects there. Some of them, are even dangerous. The trick to minimizing their harm is to BE QUICK, and also, close the lid as soon as you're done.

Since you have already carried your toilet paper with you, you may use them to wipe some of those organisms off the seat in case it's pre-inhabited.

Keep your stuff safe and clean

Make sure to take care of your belongings. During such adventures, you're basically in survival mode. Unless you have someone to take care of your stuff outside, it is wise (and important) to take your belongings with you; remember, you may not always find hooks or racks installed to help you put down your stuff, nor will be the floor clean enough to utilize.

Taking care of the above-mentioned measures will at least ensure that you do not have a disastrous, surprising experience at one such portable toilet.

Do not litter

However, do not forget that you too have a responsibility towards these public toilets. Make sure to use the vault toilet as instructed (if instructed), and the most important thing to always keep in mind is to NEVER throw your trash into the toilet bowl; not even the micro-trash. These things hinder the pumping-out process of the waste and can potentially block it, thus, causing the whole system to choke and eventually shut down.

After using a vault toilet, throw trash in its respective trash can or avail of your area's trash services.

Finally, Vault Toilet — Discomfort or a Blessing?

To conclude, we must look at vault toilets or pit toilets as fantastic inventions in the form of economical and environmentally friendly solutions to our most basic human needs. Those who install, must most certainly also ensure maintaining them. A good way to afford the maintenance could be by charging for it.

The creative designs of vault toilets now allow us to broaden our possibilities by going on exciting adventures to places we earlier could not, without worrying about the basics. It's time to explore beyond and to come up with newer challenges to overcome. Don't forget to read about how do tankless toilets work? It's beyond one can imagine.


Jim Spencer

Jim Spencer

Jim has been in the construction business for over 12 years with plenty of experience working on client projects, from start to finish. From kitchens to bathrooms and backyard spaces, he writes on a wide variety of topics surrounding home improvement.

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