All you need to know about motorhome bathroom types

Author: Malcolm Street   Date Posted: 27 August 2019

There are a surprising amount of bathroom or ensuite types available for motorhomes these days. Of course some motorhomes do not come with a toilet or shower at all, but for larger models that can accommodate them, there are a variety of layouts to choose from.

Bathrooms in a motorhome, and in caravans for that matter, are definitely something that has evolved in the last 20 years or so. The biggest change has been in size, but they have also become more common in recent years. And, of course, there is also the disposal of waste water that has become more refined.

Here’s a bit of a rundown of definitions, types and variations to help demystify the motorhome bathroom.

Motorhome bathroom definitions

Let’s start with a couple of basic definitions – wet, dry, grey and black. A ‘wet’ bathroom means that it’s highly likely that if the shower has been used, the floor area around the toilet and even the toilet itself may have to be dried off before use.

In a ’dry’ bathroom, the shower and toilet are somehow separated. Grey water refers to the drainage water from a wash basin, shower or sink whereas black water refers to toilet waste.

Grey and black water can sometimes be disposed of in different ways, so it’s helpful to understand the difference.

Bathroom styles

Early bathroom layouts were generally combo models. That is, the shower, toilet and maybe a wash basin are all in the one cubicle and are usually a wet-style bathroom.
Later designs were more spacious with the shower and toilet cubicle separated and therefore dry. Some designs might have the toilet and shower cubicle as one unit whilst others will be split with the toilet cubicle on one side of the motorhome and the shower cubicle on the other.

There is no doubt having separate toilet and shower cubicles is definitely more user-friendly but it does take up a fair bit of space and a combo unit is still used frequently in smaller motorhomes.

In recent times some European motorhomes have appeared with swinging wall. Swung one way, there’s the toilet and swung the other, there’s the shower cubicle. It’s a space saver but still a dry bathroom.


Extra features

In addition to a shower and toilet, bathrooms will often have a vanity unit. The most basic will just have a wash basin but the more sophisticated will have a cupboard or two and a wall mirror.

A more recent addition since the advent of LPG or diesel-fired space heaters will be a heater outlet of some sort. Depending on the design of the bathroom, sometimes having a space heater means it can also be used as a drying room for wet clothing.


Bathroom drainage

A bathroom generally has two water systems: the grey water from the shower and sink goes to a grey water tank and the toilet waste goes to a black tank.
The latter is something that has evolved over the years. Earlier designs had a fixed tank that required draining at a dump point from time to time. These days, except for larger units, most motorhomes have what is known as a cassette tank toilet. The cassette tank sits under the toilet bowl and can be emptied by removing the cassette tank and wheeling it away to a dump point.

Two manufacturers seem to dominate the cassette toilet scene, Thetford and Dometic. Both types operate on the gravity principle but for several years Dometic produced a vacuum unit (similar to that used on planes) and that may still be seen on older motorhomes.

The advantage of a cassette tank toilet is the ease of emptying (no need to move the motorhome) and the disadvantage is the tank capacity which is around 19L and can limit time in remote locations.

rv toilet  rv toilet

Bathroom usage

A question that potential buyers might ask is, what layout of bathroom do I need? Some motorhome travellers stay frequently in holiday parks or other types of camping grounds where there are amenities blocks. They only use their motorhome bathrooms overnight to avoid a late night walk.

A combo bathroom is ideal for that purpose – it takes up minimal space, yet is fully functional. Folk who spend most of the time freedom camping and use their bathroom much more may well appreciate a split toilet and shower cubicle setup. It’s really your choice in larger motorhomes but in smaller motorhomes it might be more restricted.

For this writer, I am generally happy with a combo bathroom – just how much time do you spend there anyway? However, I’ve used quite a few and some with built-in shower screens in particular, are a bit more fiddly than others.

Before purchase, it’s good to spend a bit of time going through the motions (not literally!) of using a bathroom to make sure something a bit finicky doesn’t become a constant annoyance. All that said, most motorhome bathrooms are relatively user-friendly, it’s really a question of what is right for you and how it fits into the overall layout of your prospective motorhome.

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