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RV Sanitation Tips

As an RVer, you need some plumbing skills—or at least some good plumbing sense. You have to properly maintain hoses as well as valves, sinks, toilets, shower drains, and their associated piping. You also have to attend to fluid holding tanks—the fresh, the gray, and the black.

Although your owner’s manual is the best resource for using and maintaining these systems—including how to prep them before and after seasonal RV storage—here are some tips to keep your freshwater potable and everything else back-up, build-up, and bacteria- and odor-free.

Freshwater Systems

Mind your freshwater fill hose.

An RV supply store is the best place to buy a fill hose that won’t affect the water’s taste and won’t kink. Be sure to use this hose only for freshwater and keep it free from contamination. Connect it only to a potable-water campsite spigot. Flush the spigot before connecting to it, and flush the hose before filling your tank. Stow your freshwater hose away from the dump service bay, coil it using a hose-carrying strap, and seal it with end caps.

Use a water filter.

In-line or exterior-line (installed in the hose, upstream of the tank-fill port) water filters remove particles and unwanted tastes that lurk in freshwater sources; just be sure to change filter cartridges at scheduled intervals. You can also keep your water system fresh by adding sanitizing powders, liquids, or tablets, found in RV supply stores, to your freshwater tank via the water-fill cap. Check filter and sanitizer product packaging for directions.

Keep a lid on things.

To prevent your water supply from being tampered with, use a locking cap on the water-fill port. Also, keep the service bay (where the public water hookups go) locked.

Waste-Water Systems

Know your waste-system terms.

The gray-water tank holds non-sewage waste water (from the shower and bathroom and galley sinks). The black-water tank holds sewage. Dump stations are authorized locations where, sometimes for a fee, you empty waste into a septic system. Use only authorized dump stations at RV campgrounds; local, regional, state, and national parks; and some RV dealers and service centers. Query your RV navigation device for locations.

Dump the black-water tank before the gray-water tank.

A single dump hose services both tanks, so dumping in this order lets water from the gray tank to flush away sewage deposits. Dumping in the reverse order leads to black-tank debris and bacteria build up in the hose.

Prep before dumping.

In case you need to extend the length of the dump hose, have a spare one on hand. Put on a pair of latex gloves, and check the dump hose for holes. Close the black- and gray-water dump valves. Remove the cap, and ensure that the dump-hose bayonet fitting is securely locked onto the drain pipe and that the dump hose that extends to the septic tank opening.

Mind your hose.

When hooking up, be sure to angle the dump hose evenly down and well into the septic-tank opening. This ensures that the hose stays in place when dumping begins. Be sure to close the dump valves after flushing the tanks.

Know when to dump the black-water tank.

The fuller the back tank is, the more completely it will empty, so wait as long as you can before dumping—ideally when it’s 2/3 or more full. If, however, you plan to leave your RV parked and unused for a long period of time, flush whatever is in the black tank. After dumping, fill the tank with water, and flush it again.

Take steps to prevent black-tank odors.

When you’ve finished flushing your black-tank with water, close the dump valve, and fill the bottom of the tank with water and chemical additives designed to prevent odor and dissolve solids. After every toilet flush, add water to the bowl to create a one-inch seal over the ball valve and prevent odors from traveling up through the toilet.

Take steps to prevent gray-tank odors.

Never intentionally pour oil, grease, or paint thinner down drains. They clog lines, cause odors, and degrade fittings and seals. Use gray-water tank odor-eliminating additives sold at RV stores. Although you don’t need to flush your gray-water tank with water after dumping it, doing so will help prevent the accumulation of dishwashing and other crud. Such debris can get moldy and, over time, become hard to remove.

Know your waste-tank additives.

There are two types of additives—formaldehyde-based and the more environmentally friendly enzymatic—and they come in powder, liquid, and tab form. Follow all packaging instructions regarding how and when to use them. Never mix them, and only switch from one type to another after thoroughly flushing your waste-holding tanks.

Clean up after dumping.

Replace caps on dump-valve piping, flush dump hoses with water, and rinse service-bay and septic-tank areas. Stow dump hoses so they won’t be damaged (RV bumpers are often designed to hold them). Carefully remove and dispose of latex gloves, and wash your hands immediately and thoroughly.

Take proper care of things between dumps.

Make sure objects don’t fall into the toilet or down sink drains. Use only RV toilet tissue, which is formulated to dissolve; doesn’t stick on valves causing dumping and valve-seating problems; and doesn’t stick to tank sensors, which can lead to erroneous level readings.