Air Head Composting Toilet – Long Term Review
When we first moved aboard Tumbleweed No5, one of my first posts was a review of the Air Head composting toilet (I seem to have been calling it Airhead) and since then it has been my most viewed post. Now that we have lived with it for nearly 2 years I thought it worthwhile to do a long term review. I’m not going to go in to details of how it all works and our reasons for buying one as this is all detailed in my original post.
When boaters get together, it doesn’t usually take long for the conversation to turn to the subject of toilets. For you non boaters this may seem strange – what is there to talk about? You go to the toilet and then you flush it – job done.
However for us boaters a toilet is a big part of our life. If you have never manhandled a heavy cassette off a boat and then walked hundreds of yards along a muddy towpath on a wet day with it. Then encountered the terror of trying to empty it down an Elsan point without getting splashed you have never lived !
For boats with a pump out, it’s a bit easier but what about when you are frozen in or the locks are closed for maintenance and you can’t get to the pump out point ? Then when you do get to the pump out someone has moored their boat in the way ! Even when you do get to pump out you can easily pay over £15 each time you use it.
Maybe now you see that a toilet is more than just a toilet to us.
So when boaters start talking toilets, it’s usually Cassette V Pump Out. However in recent years a new upstart has entered into the fray … The Composting Toilet. The early composting toilets had a pretty poor reputation for being smelly and attracting flies and not surprisingly this put people off buying them. Since then though they have changed and the big difference is the solids and liquids being kept separate. Slowly, boaters are starting to realise the advantages that the composting toilet has to offer and when we mention that we have one, many boaters are interested to know more.
After plenty of research we opted for the Air Head composting toilet. The other options were the Nature’s Head which was similar but we could not find a dealer at the time or the Separett Villa but the problem with this was the pee tank, which was separate and much larger, something we didn’t have the space for in our bathroom.
Was a composting toilet the right decision ?
We are happy to say YES and if we were to get a new boat we would definitely fit one again.
After nearly 2 years of daily usage the only major equipment issue we have had to deal with was replacing the original solar fan which stopped working. As this is a generic item purchased separately we can not blame Air Head for this.
In reality there isn’t that much that can go wrong. The only moving parts are the handle to open and close the solids tank flap and the rotator handle for stirring up the solids tank contents.
Day to day usage
The best thing I can say is that we just use it and don’t need to think about it. Visitors often seem to have some trepidation at first and we need to give them an explanation of how to use it.
We have only forgotten once to empty the pee tank and this caused an overflow and a puddle on the floor. You do get used to the sound and can usually gauge quite accurately how full it is !
We usually need to empty the tank every couple of days, though its daily for many people. The tank isn’t very big but this does mean its easy to carry and I have often walked several hundred yards to the Elsan carrying it one handed. Our neighbours with cassette toilets have to resort to a trolley or driving to the Elsan. Out on the water if there is no convenient Elsan we usually empty the pee tank into a field. Urine is sterile and our tank is probably less than a cow does in one go. We prefer not to use the canal or river, though on The Great Ouse and its tributaries you can use a sea toilet if you are away from the marina.
The most awkward part for cleaning is the area between the pan and the pee tank. It can get a bit crusted up if not cleaned regularly but a toothbrush seems to be the best tool (not one you are using !) Blocking the exit hole and putting white vinegar in is another option.
For the bowl we just use an anti-bacterial spray and cloth as required.
Emptying the solids tank
Not the most glamorous job and I have to admit that Angela does it far more often than me. In the solids tank we used cocoa shells to mix in with our waste and help the drying process and to stop smells. However this became very hard to get hold of. You could purchase it at garden centres, as it was used as a weed suppressant but dogs seemed to like it and sadly several were poisoned by it, so it has been withdrawn. We now get wood shavings from pet stores, that is sold as bedding for hamsters and guinea pigs. Ordinary saw dust can be quite damp. A bag costing about £10 has lasted us for several months.
We empty our tank every 3 to 4 weeks (when it becomes hard to turn the rotator handle is a good indication) and it’s not as bad as it sounds. The contents are pretty much dry and there is hardly any smell. Its worth spending time making sure the floor is covered in newspaper and as it’s a confined space make sure you have cleared the area of things like towels.
The toilet is in 2 main parts. The solids tank is fastened to the floor with two brackets and can be released with 2 wing nuts. At the top of the solids tank 4 more wing nuts attach it to the pan. We used to empty the tanks with a trowel but we now just split the units and empty the solids tank straight into two layers of bin bags. This seems to work better with the chippings as it doesn’t stick to the sides as much. Any remaining residue on the sides or on the rotator arm can be cleaned off with newspaper and then a final wipe around with anti-bacterial wipes completes the job. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for the whole process.
If we had a garden we would make manure from the waste but for us this is not an option.
This has never been an issue. You need to run a small fan (about the size of a computer fan) 24 hours a day to help the drying process and remove any possible smells. The fan can either be run from the 12V system and uses less than 2 amps a day or you can do what we opted for. Our solar fan is about 6 inches in diameter and also has a rechargeable battery. The solar panel runs the fan and charges the battery for usage at night. When the fan stopped working it took me a few days to get a new one but during this period there was still no discernible smell. When you open the trap door to the solids tank the only smell you get is faint and similar to that of potting compost. When the toilet is not in use the trap is closed and the seat has a rubber seal so any smell is contained.
Since we purchased ours there seem to have been a couple of small alterations. The rotator handle is a different shape and the pee tank fastens to the floor with wing nuts.
We hope that this long term review has been helpful and that if you are already thinking of buying one it helps satisfy you of the long term viability of a composting toilet.
I want to point out that although our site appears on the Air Head website we have never received anything from them and that this review is here to help fellow boaters and not for any personal gain from me. The UK distributor is WooWoo WaterelessToilets