HomeWaste Management

So many words, so little time

Keeping your waste controlled makes you healthy and a good neighbor.  There is a lot to learn here.

You have to learn to maintain everything from sinks to toilets to sewer connections.  You have to have special equipment, keep it clean, and know how to use it.  It takes practice.  You do not want to make a mess or to get sick.

I have recently received comments on this area and have updated the chapter as a result.  In general the comments are agreeable: never use toxic chemicals and if you use chemicals at all, they should be ecologically friendly.  The measure of efficiency is not the price tag on the package.

See the Dump Stations Section for location of  publicly available dump stations.

Waste and Sanitation

Water comes in and it goes out.  The Water section describes the water coming in.  This section describes the water going out, its components, and its care.

There are four main components here:

I list them this way because these are the 4 primary areas of maintenance.  In smaller RVs the black and grey water tanks are the same tank.  In smaller RVs, the toilet folds up to save space.

You may not use the standard household chemicals on the RV waste system.  No.  Not any of them!

Black Water Tank

This is a plastic tank at the bottom of the toilet on the underside of the RV.  It has a valve and outlet on the driver’s side of the RV.  There is a vent tube to the roof of the RV to reduce odors coming into the RV itself.  The sole purpose of the black water tank is to hold excrement and urine: the black water tank is an obvious health hazard.  This tank is what will stink if not properly maintained.  You will need chemicals for this.

Chemicals

There are a large variety of chemicals.  To a great extent it is personal preference.  The most popular brand has at least 10 different chemicals, dry and liquid.  Even a couple with formaldehyde.  I am sure the published literature tells you how things work better than I can get into here.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a chemical used to preserve dead bodies from bacterial erosion.  Formaldehyde will kill almost anything alive.  For this reason it is not friendly to septic tanks and other places which require enzymes and other friendly bacteria to break down waste.

Do not use the formaldehyde chemicals.  These chemicals are cheaper but are banned in many parks.  These are always blue.  One use of formaldehyde in your tank will kill the enzymes introduced by the other types of chemicals.   I keep a bottle of the formaldehyde for the case where I cannot dump for a week while boondocking in the desert.  This is rare but I always stock sundry helpful supplies.

Enzymes

These sort-of friendly bacteria break down waste and the chemicals that produce smells.  These friendly little fellows can be overrun or killed – they must be replaced regularly.  Very few parks ban these and those that do are primarily protecting themselves against formaldehyde.  The enzyme-containing chemicals come in all colors, usually white, clear, or yellow.  Not ever blue.

Vinegar

Some people use vinegar instead of commercial toilet chemicals.  Sam's Club has quart bottles of chemicals at a good price.  Sam’s has gallon bottles of vinegar at a better price.  In AZ in the summer the black water must be emptied every few days no matter how many chemicals you add.

Perfumes

Some chemicals just add smell to the tank.  Maybe they have some positive effect.  I do not think so.  Killing bacteria is serious business.  Either you have germs on your side to fight the bad ones or you put chemicals to kill germs or you cover the smell.  Any chemical capable of killing germs is dangerous to your own health.

Toilet paper

You can buy the special paper.  Some RV parks require it.  This paper claims to break it down better than normal paper with toilet chemicals.  Since RV paper is much more expensive, I use it when only when required.

I have been told that Scott and Kirkland toilet papers dissolve faster than others.  I would not know: these are the two brands that I use.  I know these brands dissolve just fine.

I read in a current magazine that Consumer Reports states that Charmin and Angel Soft are the fastest dissolving.  Since I did not read it, this is also hearsay.  In any case, for those who have septic tanks and similar systems, quickly dissolving is valuable and name brands want these customers.

As far as I can see, the primary reason RV toilet paper breaks down faster (if it does) is that it is substantially less paper than the normal paper.  In my case, this is not a plus.  And you may solve the issue easily by being frugal with your regular paper.

Sensor Electrodes

On the side of the black water tank (on the inside) are electrodes to measure the tank level.  These electrodes are connected to a gauge visible inside the RV.  These electrodes are easily fouled.  It is difficult to clean off the electrodes: you have a water wand for this.  Once fouled, it may be difficult to keep the electrodes clean.

What fouls the electrodes?

Plain water will dissolve plain paper.  Urine will dissolve almost anything.  Urine will etch your toilet if it is not kept clean:  it will certainly dissolve toilet paper. 

Excrement fouls the electrodes; either directly or attached to paper permitted to dry.  If you have a problem, it may be because you keep your tank too dry -- not giving the water a chance to keep the electrodes clean.

Ice Cubes

I just read in one of the magazines that one way to clean you electrodes is to place a bag of ice cubes in the tank just before driving.  This sounds like a good idea.  On the other hand this same article suggested laundry soap or Pine-Sol.  I would never put either chemical into my black water tank as I valuable the good little enzymes that work so hard to keep it clean.

Tank Care

The black water tank requires a good amount of care.  It must be kept clean or it will smell or foul your sensor electrodes.

See the Dumping process to empty the tank.  When the dumping is completed, fill the tank ¼ to ½ full with new water.  Then add your chemicals.  Never travel with an empty tank.  Never add your chemicals later.

You want a hose wand to spray your black tank occasionally.  You want to do this when the level sensors get clogged or you have permanent sludge in the tank.  In general, the ¼ full rule, regular travel, and a monthly wand wash will eliminate the sludge problem.  You will want to periodically use the water wand inserted through the toilet to wash the bottom and sides and top of the black water tank.  Make sure you have good water pressure when you do this

You have additional care requirements if you park for extended periods.

When parked, keep the black water tank valve closed and dump periodically.  If you keep the valve open, the smell will be overwhelming to you and your neighbors, the tank will be impossible to clean, and you will waste considerable chemicals and effort to no avail.

Grey Water Tank

The grey water tank is similar to the black water tank except that it receives the drain from the shower and sinks.  The primary contents of this tank are soap, water, hair, and cooking waste.  This tank is less critical than the black water tank but still requires care.  This tank is also larger since shower water goes in here.

Care

This tank will stink if not cared for.  You can get a feeling for this when you drain the tank.  If you see a lot of fat or grease at the end of the draining, add some tank cleaner.  There are special cleaners for grey water tanks.  These are unnecessary as you can use the same cleaner here as for black water.  Never use cleaner containing formaldehyde.

Be generous with soap in the dishwater.  The gray water tank can clog and stink from excess grease.

Keep hair out of the tank by placing steel or plastic sieves in the bathroom drains.  Hair dissolves very slowly and retains crud until it does dissolve.

A little story here.  Not about RVs.  I had a woman friend who thought that automatic dishwashers were a waste of water and electricity.  She washed all of her dishes and pots and pans by hand.  She was very frugal and kept a spotless kitchen.  Being Pakistani, she cooked continuously.  Periodically the apartment manager had to come to her apartment and root out her drains.  We lived in identical neighboring apartments.  We never needed to have our drains rooted.  There are very few things in your kitchen more caustic than dishwasher soap: it will certainly keep your drains clear.  When I drain my grey water tank, I watch the final drainings.  If I see too much grease, I make sure that I increase my soap usage.

Toilet

The similarity of the RV to the home toilet ends with the toilet seat.

There is no flush tank.  There is no water trap.  The mechanics of the RV toilet are more like those of an airplane.  The RV toilet requires more attention to cleaning than the home toilet.

The trap in your home toilet is the part from the drain, up and around, and back down to the bottom exit.  On some models you can see this routing from the outside by the extra contours at the back of the toilet.

Your RV toilet does not have a trap.  Your RV toilet is in a small room and probably has carpet around it.  Cleanliness is critical here.

You cannot use any of the chemicals you use at home.  No little blocks hanging from the rim.  No Drano.  No harsh cleaners.  Any of these will kill the bacteria on the holding (black-water) tank.  These bacteria are quietly breaking down the waste so that it will exit easily when you dump the tank.  Killing these will also assure that your tank smells like evil things.

If you are a man, make sure your aim is good.  Missing the toilet will cause the carpet to smell.  Cleaning the outside of the toilet should be done with a damp cloth, as anything running down the side of the toilet will ruin the carpet.

Care

Always make sure the toilet is clean before you walk away.

In the less expensive RVs the toilet is plastic and not ceramic.  The plastic must be kept clean, as uric acid will etch the plastic bowl.  Once this happens, the bowl will never be clean again.

In the RV, the toilet has a 4” tube to the black water tank.  This tube must also be kept clean or it will smell regardless of how many chemicals you add.  To clean this, get a toilet brush with the longest handle you can find.  I take a 2 ft. extension of 3/4” PVC, slide it over the brush handle, and push a cotter pin through it.  Then I can clean all the way into the tank.

Keeping the seat down is not just for keeping the girls happy.  When you flush, use more water than you think necessary.  Leave a couple of inches of clean water in the bowl and leave the seat down.  This reduces bad odor leaks and keeps the valve gasket wet.  A dry gasket or one filled with excrement will smell.

Dump Area

The dump area may be anything from a couple of fittings hanging off the rear underside of the RV to a compartment not visibly discernable from other side compartments.

My area is typical.  The outside area is covered with a typical popup door.  It has a key lock.  The bottom of the area is plastic, not covered with carpet or floor tile.  There are vent holes with covers on the floor of this area.  At the rear of the area is a black plastic valve mechanism in a T-shape:

Also in this area in my RV are connections for:

If you have a more expensive RV, these items are in a separate compartment from the sanitary connections.  If you have a less expensive RV, these things may not exist or are just ports on the side of the RV.

My storage area is sufficiently large to hold all my supplies:

  • Dump hose
  • Electric cord
  • Water hose
  • Adaptors
  • TV cable
  • Hose support system
  • Spare dump hose.
  • Knee Pad

Care

There is a small divider hump to separate the sanitary area from the others.  Wash this area out when you dump.  Periodically wash it well with soap.  Your valves will drip and other bad things can happen.  Keeping this area clean makes for good mental health.

Do not let your water hose or other drinking water equipment contact your sewage equipment.

Processes

The order of the processes is critical so be careful here.

You need a fully equipped sewer hose.  The Inventory section contains the same necessary equipment as specified above.

Dumping is reasonably the same whether you are using a dump station or a park connection.  There are some special considerations for each but the process is primarily the same.

Setup the Connection:

The sewer drain connection must be firm either with threads or the donut.  The RV end must be fully twisted into the slots.

Normally the park sewer connection is near the rear of the driver’s side of the site.  This is near the connector of the RV.  Some parks place the sewer connector too far to the rear or to the front of the site.  Some trailers and some 5th Wheels have the connector too far to the front.  In these cases, you need an extended hose.  This is two hoses connected with a tube connector and wire clamps.  If you have an extended hose, you really need to install a hose support system.  If you permit the connection to the park sewer drain to be higher than some point in your hose to the RV, you are making your hose an extension of your black water tank.  You really do not want to do this.

Empty the Tanks

Cleaning Up

Clean up when you leave camp or are at a public dump:

Never contaminate the park drinking water bib.  Never drink water from a hose at the dump station.

In general, keep everything clean and rinse your connection area frequently.  See the Care Section.

Always wash your hands after dealing with the black water tank.

Equipment

Sewer Hose

I always buy the super-heavy-duty 20-foot.sewer hose.  I also carry an in-the-box, spare hose.  If I do not need the spare, someone else in the park will.  The hose needs 2 plastic connectors: one at each end.

Hints:

Never use a broken hose.

Carry extra spare 4” strap connectors.

Always.  Always.  Have a strap connector at each hose end and a secure connection to the sewer drain.  You would be surprised at the force of water exiting your tank.  A loose hose end will make a mess that you never want to clean up.

Extended Hose

If you buy two hoses and a straight, tubular connector, you can create an extended hose.  Make sure that you have a strap connector on each end of the connector.  In general, this length of hose is not to your advantage.  You do this only if necessary.

Connector -- RV End

The RV slotted end connector fits inside the hose end and is affixed with a 4” spring clamp on the outside of the hose and tightened by a screw or a plastic twist block.  The connector end has two plastic prongs, which match the two pegs on the RV valve.

Connector -- Sewer Drain End

This connector can be a simple elbow or it may have threads on the external end.

A simple elbow will always require a donut.  Some states or other governments require threaded connectors.

If the park has a threaded connection, your threaded end of the hose should fit.  Make sure that your threaded end has many size threads.  You will be surprised at how big and how small the parks connections will be.  I find the red connector at Camping World has the full range of threads.  The cheaper grey ones are limited.

I find that generally the western states use a larger diameter sewer drain than the eastern states.

Transparent Sewer Extension

Buy a transparent sewer extension: 45º, 90º, or straight.  You attach this semi-permanently to your RV valve drain.  You place the plastic safety cap on this.

When dumping, you attach the sewer hose to this rather than the valve connector.  You buy the angle that makes the dump process most convenient.

When dumping with the transparent section in place, you can see when the sewage stops and the clear water begins.

Donut

A donut is a firmly soft plastic sleeve used to seal the sewer hose connector into the sewer pipe.  When either or both sewer ends are unthreaded, a donut is necessary.

To use the donut, remove the park sewer cover, and place the small end of the donut into it or over it as is necessary to form a firm seal.

Then place the hose connector into the large end of the donut – also forming a firm seal.  The result should be a freestanding hose connection not susceptible to falling over or otherwise releasing when the tank is dumped.

A threaded connection is preferable to a donut.

You must have a donut because you never know when a park rules require it or if the park has no threads.

Hose Support System

Some parks require the hose not lay on the ground.  It costs $30 for a breakable/flimsy device at the store.  I have tried several of the store things from expanding aluminum braces to expanding plastic things.  I have had several of them and am not impressed.

I have seen people with PVC pipe and rain gutters make something more to their satisfaction.  Everyone seems to have a gimmick here.  See Chuck’s Favorite for construction details of my system.

Dump Stations

Most states have closed their public dump stations because of abuse.  You will want to locate a dump station close to home, if you have a home, so that you can empty your tanks before storing your RV.

There is a web site having locations of many dump stations.  The web site is free:  www.rvdumps.com

You can buy a book with a list of dump stations and various state laws regarding dumping.  Some atlas and camping guides have a section for this.  They are never complete.  You learn to look for these if you need them.  Flying J is a good bet.  Some atlases and campground directories have such lists.

Most RV parks will let you dump for a fee.  I hate fees so that I look for free stations.

Always leave the dump station clean.

At Home

At one house, I added an extension to the sewer line to the street with a threaded connection like a park sewer connection.  Since the RV was next to the house and the hose ran under it, no one noticed.  I kept it hidden, as I have no idea what building codes have to say about this.  I do have an idea about the neighbors concerns about smell.

States

Most states have dump stations at their rest areas.  Many states are closing these due to abuse.  Buy a book for rest station rules and dump station availability.

Arizona

Arizona does not have dump station in its rest areas.

Mr. T’s (East of Tucson)

Like many dump stations, it is poorly maintained and the trucks like to park around it.  You have to ask for potable water (by the restaurant).  They have good breakfasts.

Giant (35th Avenue and Glendale)
Gila Bend Texaco truck stop.

California

Some California rest stops have dump stations.  Not too many.

Many California Rest Stops have hour-limited maximum stays.  Some warn against staying overnight.  I worry about the impending danger implied by these signs.

Washington

Most, maybe all, Washington rest stops have public dump stations.  Many Washington rest areas have special parking for RVs.  This is great.

Truck Stops

Some truck stops have dump stations.  Some want a fee unless you produce their favorite membership card.  Try the Good Sam card first.

Many permit RVs to spend the night.  I have found no consistency here.

Flying J

Flying J has a card good for a penny/gallon gasoline discount.  Usually have a dump station.

Loves

I hear they are giving discounts or something for some membership card.  Randomly they have dump stations

Chuck’s Favorite System

I have found that rain gutter varies between stores.  The gutter I use is symmetric and the cheapest that Home Depot has to offer.  The more expensive varieties are not symmetric: they have one vertical side and one angled side.  The more expensive gutters will not work very well.

You need to be able to extend the hose to 20 feet.  This means you also need 20 feet of rain gutter.  I cut the gutter into 5 and 3-foot lengths.  Since these support your sanitary hose, make sure that the lengths will fit in your storage area separate from clean things.  Longer lengths will bend under the weight of the hose causing serious embarrassment and cleanup problems.

You now have 5 units each with a square base, each topped with a crossbar, each with vertical risers of increasing heights, and each with holes in the T-Connectors at the very top of the unit.

Notes:

The diagram shows yellow lines at the joints to be glued.

Home Depot sells packages of these connectors.  You need 4 elbows and 4 T-Connectors for each unit.

There is nothing magic about being exactly 7” or 6”.  You could use all 6” units.  You could even use 5” but you lose all stability.  7”-6” works for me.  The 7” dimension gives you flexibility in places where the hose is not permitted to be absolutely straight and gives a good-sized base for uneven surfaces.  This is almost necessary for the taller unit.

The 6” base holds the drain end more securely and gives more control when the drain is on a concrete block with limited space.

If the crosspieces or vertical risers stick in the base or cross-connector insert a lever in the hole and twist the ends free.

You could use ¾” PVC in place of ½” but your price will double and there will be no increase in stability.

Precision is necessary for the cut pieces to be exactly the same length or your units will look like a crazy quilt and the sections will not be interchangeable.

The purpose of the ¼” holes in the T-sections is to hold the bungee cord.  The bungee cord keeps the hose from escaping.  The hose will squirm unpredictably when the drain valve is opened.

The purpose of the ¼” hole in the risers and cross pieces is to insert a bar to twist the piece when they get stuck.

Setup

This may take some practice and you may find a better order of connecting.  The primary goal is to have a straight, descending gutter supporting the length of the hose from the RV to the sewer drain.

Questions?  Comments?  Push Home/eMail above.
Written:  2003          Updated:  April 20, 2004          Back To Top