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Old 05-05-2020, 07:02 PM   #1
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2004 22' Interstate
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Composting Toilets in AI

Hi everyone,
So I drove 16 hrs from WA to CA and bought me a 2004 AI and I love it! Towing my Volvo behind on the way home and the Merc diesel 2.7L 5cyl just purrs up those giant hills in 3rd at 2k RPM and doesn’t even break a sweat! Only 100k m on her too!
Only problem - the bathroom STINKS now! I peed a few times and OUCH!!!! I stopped and emptied the black water tank and rinsed with a gallon of water and baking soda but it didn’t get rid of the odor. There are chemicals to add that say “poison” but yuk! Now I just want to drop the black water tank all together and install a composting toilet. Anyone have experience with these? Any brands recommended? Issues with removing the BW tank? I thought I could just add a second fresh water tank instead. Thoughts and musings welcome.
Thanks in advance!
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Old 05-05-2020, 07:42 PM   #2
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We have a 22FB Bambi.

Is your Fantastic Fan running? I've found that when the fan is running, when the toilet is flushed, air comes up from the black tank filling the bathroom with perfume!
Cracking the bathroom window helps.
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Old 05-05-2020, 08:27 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Free Pony View Post
Hi everyone,
So I drove 16 hrs from WA to CA and bought me a 2004 AI and I love it! Towing my Volvo behind on the way home and the Merc diesel 2.7L 5cyl just purrs up those giant hills in 3rd at 2k RPM and doesn’t even break a sweat! Only 100k m on her too!
Only problem - the bathroom STINKS now! I peed a few times and OUCH!!!! I stopped and emptied the black water tank and rinsed with a gallon of water and baking soda but it didn’t get rid of the odor. There are chemicals to add that say “poison” but yuk! Now I just want to drop the black water tank all together and install a composting toilet. Anyone have experience with these? Any brands recommended? Issues with removing the BW tank? I thought I could just add a second fresh water tank instead. Thoughts and musings welcome.
Thanks in advance!
My recommendation is that you get to know the van for a couple of months inside and out before you decide you need to modify it; particularly in such a dramatic way. You don't HAVE a "black water tank" and a "gray water tank." You have a combined single waste tank in your coach. Your '04 is a little different from most RVs today.

Normally, the waste water tank doesn't smell in the cabin unless there are other issues, including potentially, the vent being blocked. And yes, there are chemicals and enzymes that may help as well... dawn dishwashing soap in the waste tank with a full tank of fresh water poured in and left to sit for a couple of days before you dump it may help too.
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Old 05-06-2020, 08:11 AM   #4
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... You don't HAVE a "black water tank" and a "gray water tank." You have a combined single waste tank in your coach. .....
There's not enough information provided to make this determination. The first-gen Interstates did tankage both ways, depending on model. Ours has separate black and gray tanks (black tank is inside under the wet bath and fridge; gray tank is underslung, both amidships). TMK, mid-sleepers have a combined black and gray tank in the rear.

Free Pony, your issue is not the mere presence of your tank. It's either or both of the following, and I've linked information resources for fixing them:

(1) One or more of your tank plumbing lines has split, which is a common (if not inevitable) flaw in the first-generation Interstates (multiple posts in that link - some apply to the gray water side of the system, but the black water was built the same way, as were combo systems).

and/or

(2) Your OEM Thetford toilet is leaking.

If you post more information about what you find relative to those two issues, we should be able to advise you further.
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Old 05-06-2020, 09:35 AM   #5
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There's not enough information provided to make this determination. The first-gen Interstates did tankage both ways, depending on model. Ours has separate black and gray tanks (black tank is inside under the wet bath and fridge; gray tank is underslung, both amidships). TMK, mid-sleepers have a combined black and gray tank in the rear.
Thanks IB. Your counsel for him is wise.

He has an '04 mid-sleeper like mine, except with the side-dinette instead of both couches. He should have the combined tank like mine as well.
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Old 05-06-2020, 12:51 PM   #6
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All the more reason not to get rid of the waste tank, then, if there really is only one. Better to isolate and correct the problem.
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Old 05-06-2020, 04:48 PM   #7
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If the odor is caused by a vent problem that needs to be corrected. If it is a toilet problem an AirHead compost toilet will eliminate all odors if installed correctly and used properly. Mine has been flawless for two years now. Also, it doubles the grey water capacity. You can simplify urine emptying if you plumb the urine directly to the holding tank(s).
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Old 05-06-2020, 04:59 PM   #8
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A composting toilet is the most disgusting thing I can think of installing in a camper....Why would a person do that? It is a fairly expensive mod and creates an ongoing maintenance issue, of the nastiest kind....
The key to making sure your camper does not smell like sh** is not to sh** in your camper.....problem solved......THere are chemicals to clean and disinfect a stinky tank.....
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Old 05-06-2020, 07:13 PM   #9
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Try filling your black water tank with warm water from the shower head and a generous amount of dish soap to clean out the tank as a first step - then see if the smell persists, or returns once the tank has been emptied. May have to repeat a few times, there could be smelly residue stuck on the walls that needs to be washed down. An enzyme dishwasher tablet dissolved in hot water added to the tank would not hurt. Once you are certain the tank is good and clean, a capful of scented laundry softener helps keep it fresh. I add the softener mixed into a cup of warm water to the empty tank every time I empty it.
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Old 05-06-2020, 09:40 PM   #10
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We have a composting toilet(Natures Head) in our Caravel. We did a 3000 mile trip late last year. Spending a lot of time on sail boats doing long distance races I hated going to head as it always stank regardless. Our composting toilet has never omitted any odors. I'm surprised how quickly the pee bucket fills up but that's a beer issue. After 3 weeks on the road and a few after
never an odor. I took out the peat bucket and it does not stink at all. Just smells like dirt.
The ticket is that you have to turn the the compost daily and after each time you use it at least 3 or more revolutions and don't pee in it.
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Old 05-07-2020, 09:27 PM   #11
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Thank you Vanster!
I'm going to get the Nature's Head!
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Old 05-08-2020, 11:16 AM   #12
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Thank you Vanster!
I'm going to get the Nature's Head!
That's an unfortunate decision. It's the fastest way to turn your $40k coach into a $20k coach. That's not a big deal of course if you plan to own your coach until it's scrapped or of little value anyway... but if you ever plan on selling it for any reason, anything you do to it that changes major systems like that will likely limit your potential pool of interested buyers... and drive the price down dramatically.
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Old 05-13-2020, 02:26 PM   #13
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I've had a Nature's Head for 5 years. Never a smell. The only issue is that the toilet sits very high on top of the black tank. I keep a folding step stool on the floor for footrest.

We had the line leak Interblog refers to and her blog provides detailed instructions on how to repair. My husband didn't think he could take it on and the local Airstream dealer was clueless. So, the Nature's Head was our fix and it was probably cheaper than going to the factory for repair. Plus, I think it just would've happened again.

Husband was against it but now he's a fan. Some people think it's putting an outhouse in the van and he was one of those. He's sold because he doesn't have to empty tanks. And, it doesn't smell. At all. It's the odor of peat moss which we prefer over coir.

He did not change anything to the structure of the bathroom and we saved the marine toilet for resale. But I'm never selling it. When we can't use it, we'll give to a child. The only thing he did was put a block of wood over the hole into the black tank. And I think he also put wood down to put the mounting bracket screws in so he didn't have to screw into fiberglass. Of course, look up how to get a black tank as clean as you can before you put the cover on the drain hole. He vented the compost toilet into the black tank vent.

Best of luck with your new van. Sounds like you're already in love. I still am after 7 years.
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Old 05-13-2020, 03:36 PM   #14
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I tend to agree with those who suspect a mechanical/seal issue as it shouldn't be as you describe so soon and you probably need to check for leaks. Pressure tests to identify if there is a leak and smoke tests to locate the leak are effective.

It's possible but not likely you are very sensitive to the smell of H2S and the system is fine too.

In the mean time use Happy Camper Natural to chemically react with and eliminate the odorants. It is gentle on everything including the environment and it works. This stuff is very effective.
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Old 05-13-2020, 05:46 PM   #15
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If you decide to install a composting toilet, give some consideration to leaving the toilet water supply in place so a subsequent owner can reinstall a conventional RV toilet if desired.

Like others have said, it seems like you have a systems problem somewhere. We have a trailer and an Interstate and sometimes experience a minor odor but nothing objectionable and it usually means we forgot to use a dose of Happy Campers (or similar) in the tank.

I did a fair amount of research on composting toilets a few years ago and came away from that investigation with a positive impression of the concept. Some are better than others and Nature's Head is one of the best.

My understanding is the installation requires a small 12V exhaust fan to ensure any unwanted odors are expelled from the RV. No big deal but the fan runs 24 hours a day so be sure to include that power consumption in any calculations you perform to determine battery size, solar panels, etc.

RV's are intended to suit the owner so installing a composting toilet may be just the ticket for your use. As others have commented, be sure to consider any modifications that make the RV unusable for future owners - so the idea of leaving the water supply in place, simply capping the waste tank inlet and installing your composting toilet may be the proverbial win-win.
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Old 05-13-2020, 05:55 PM   #16
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Air Head is my choice

We have lived over a year now with our Air Head. I am always suprised by how little odor there is particularly the solids. The liquids reek but you can't smell them until you empty the bucket. We add a Olaf teaspoon Vitamin C because we have the powder and it help keep the liquid odor manageable.

As long as the vent works well you may never smell the toilet. The first time I dumped the solids, i wore gloves, took it outside, kept it a arms length, I never smelled anything. I finally got brave enough to stick my head almost in the mouth of the trash bag. Still nothing. The closest smell for me was that of clean compost, kind of a sweet dirt. Maybe that has to do with the coconut.

Anyway I just do everything in the bathroom now. Yes I take the liquid outside and dump it in the sewer connect or toilet. the solids are considered like dirty diapers, they just go in the trash.

We like the Air Head over Nature's.

One last thing, you are free from the sewer. I see people at the dump station handling the hoses and am so happy to be able to just toss a garbage bag.

No way would we go back. Would consider it for a cabin or any other sewer challenged site. Yes the liquids bucket is small and needs monitoring to ensure it does not get too full. Some have simply piped the liquid into the gray tank particularly if you get rid of the black tank. We got rid of our for space reasons but that is a different story.
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Old 05-13-2020, 05:59 PM   #17
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Just a little more about Happy Camper, (full disclosure, I don't own stock, I'm just a chemistry and biology geek), I did a test. My wife likes to hang out in our trailer while stored onsite, and likes to use the lav from time to time so its been out there for 2 months now and about 50% full. Put some fresh water in and some Happy Camper 2 months ago. Went out there an hour ago and opened the toilet valve for 20 minutes. Went back and did a smell test. Wasn't exceptional, was a slight scent of outhouse like smell (no H2S but some other stale smells) but was not so bad I yuck!. Did I mention I love this Happy Camper!
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Old 05-13-2020, 06:17 PM   #18
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I installed a Nature's Head in my 23 ft safari airstream 3 years ago and it's the best decision I've made. No smell, pee portion does fill up quickly, but I plan on plumbing the urine part directly into the old black tank which sits below it unused and empty. The number 2 container smells like dirt, it's when you mix urine and fecal matter together and you get the sewage smell. Little pricey but well worth it!!!! I also believe this will only increase your airstream/rv/van in value, its pretty easy to switch back to a regular toilet and this will give future buyers 2 choices instead of 1. IMO!
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Old 05-13-2020, 06:22 PM   #19
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Indeed the bacteria from number two starts munching on the sulfates and sulfides from number one and boom! very unfortunate combination.
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Old 05-14-2020, 08:52 AM   #20
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Air Head was the first composting unit that Natures Head copied. I suspect that they are both as good. One thing to remember is you need a fan with the exhaust running out the roof. It's a small very very quiet computer type fan and never pee in the poop. If you do this the entire system is compromised. Also it has a large handle that requires turning once used. Yes the pee bucket fills up quickly and it's easy to dump and they supply an extra container. Nothing worse that putting your hazmat suit when going to a dump station. Some people miss the hole all together. Also I think since we are much more aware of infections not having to deal with others at dump stations will be the sign of the times.
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