RV Septic Tank Maintenance: Essential Tips 

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RVs offer a great way to get into nature and see the world, but they also require a lot of work and upkeep to maintain. Because your RV is essentially a tiny house on wheels, it has most of the components of a typical residential dwelling, including a septic system

Unfortunately, RV septic systems and tanks are prone to a number of problems that can quickly ruin your camping experience. Therefore, it’s important to know what these problems are and how your septic system works so that you can prevent potential mishaps–mishaps that can throw a wrench in your family’s bi-annual RV camping trip

Understanding How an RV Septic System Works (And the Parts That Make Up a Septic System)

In order to avoid potential septic system issues, every RV owner should know how their system works. While there may be slight differences from one RV type to another, all RV septic systems are very similar and feature the following components: 

Drain and Vent Pipes 

As with any type of plumbing system, waste and water reach your septic tanks via a series of drain pipes. RVs typically have 2″ drain pipes for sinks and showers and 3″ pipes for toilets. These pipes attach to the bottom of each plumbing fixture and to the top or side of their respective holding tanks. 

The Three Tanks: Black, Grey, and Freshwater

RV black tank: Courtesy of Amazon

Speaking of holding tanks, RVs typically have three types – black, grey, and freshwater. Technically, freshwater tanks are more part of your water supply system than your septic system, so we’ll move on to the black and grey tanks. 

Your black tank collects all water and waste from your toilet (and your toilet alone). All other wastewater, be it from your sinks, showers, or washing machine, goes to your grey tanks. Typically, if you have a washer and dryer hookup, you’ll have two grey tanks—one for your washer and one for all other wastewater aside from your toilet. 

RV gray tank: Courtesy of Amazon

Proper Use and Maintenance of RV Holding Tanks

Now that you have a better understanding of the different components of your RV septic system, let’s look at how to properly maintain them. Doing so significantly reduces the chances of potential problems and issues.  

Toilet Usage and Waste Management

One of the biggest mistakes that RVers make is how they use their RV toilet. You see, when you flush your RV toilet, the sewage that goes down the drain sits in your black tank. 

To ensure that it doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the tank and solidify, you should always have a small amount of water sitting in the bottom of the tank. This means flushing your toilet and letting one to two gallons of water enter the black tank following every tank dump. 

It’s also important to use RV-safe toilet paper. This type of toilet paper is slightly thinner and is designed to decompose when it comes in contact with water. As such, it’s less likely to create clogs or get stuck to the bottom of the black tank. 

Sink and Shower Usage

In addition to your toilet, it’s also important to use your sinks and showers properly. You should never let anything go down your sink and shower drains except for water. Letting things like grease, food particles, and other debris into your drains can result in drain clogs or blockages in your gray tank. 

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Regular Maintenance Tips

In addition to proper usage, it’s also important to perform regular maintenance on your black and gray tanks. Here’s the rundown of what you need to know. 

Dumping and Flushing Your RV Septic Tanks

Whether you camp long-term at a single location or move frequently, it’s important to dump and flush your septic tanks on a regular basis. To prevent odor buildup, it’s best to dump your tanks every two to three days. You can dump your tanks directly at your campsite if you have a sewer hookup, at the campground dump station, or at other designated dump stations.   

How to Properly Dump and Flush Your Tanks

Courtesy of Camping World

Regardless of where you dump and flush your tanks, you can always follow the same procedure. 

  1. Empty the RV’s black water tank first to help flush out solid waste and toilet paper remnants. Continue draining the black tank until no water or residue is running out of your sewer hose. 
  2. Follow with the grey water tank or tanks so its contents rinse any remaining debris through the system.
  3. After emptying the tanks, close the exit port valve for the gray tanks and reopen the port for the black tank. 
  4. Perform a black tank flush using the Black Tank Flush port on the side of your RV. Most recreational vehicles outfitted with a black tank will have a black tank flush port. 
  5. Continue flushing the black tank until clear water runs out of your sewer hose. 
  6. Terminate the flow of water to the flush port, but wait to close the exit port for the black tank until water stops running out of the sewer hose. 
  7. Refill the black tank halfway with fresh water and dump the recommended amount of black tank odor control and cleaning solution into the tank. 
  8. Dump a gray tank odor control and cleaning solution down each of your sink and shower drains to help with gray tank odors. 

Troubleshooting Common RV Septic Tank Issues

No matter how well you maintain your RV septic system, problems will eventually pop up. You can either fix them yourself or pay someone else thousands of dollars to do the job for you. If you decide to be your own repairman, here are the most common septic tank issues and how to fix them. 

Issue #1: Clogs and Blockages

Clogs and blockages are among the most common septic issues you’ll ever run into with your RV. They can occur for several reasons, such as using the wrong type of toilet paper, not flushing your tank often enough, or simple wear and tear. 

You’ll know that your septic tank has a clog or blockage if you dump the tank and waste drains very slowly or not at all. Another telltale sign of a clog is that your RV will reek every time you flush the toilet. 

If you suspect you have a blockage, here’s what you need to do: 

  1. Dump an RV-safe black tank clearer into your toilet. 
  2. RV black tank unclogger liquids work the same way that Drano does in a residential septic system. 
  3. The liquid will help break up any clogs that are present and keep things moving through your tank. 
  4. If the declogging liquid doesn’t work, you will have to disassemble your septic tank, starting at the black tank and working your way up to the drain pipes until you find the clog. 
  5. This is much more in-depth than simply dumping an unclogger liquid into your toilet and may require the services of a professional plumber. 

The best way to deal with RV septic system problems is to prevent them. Whoever coined the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was likely talking about RV septic tanks. 

Consider these quick prevention tips: 

  • Use RV-safe toilet paper
  • Never put anything besides toilet paper in your toilet
  • Flush your tank at least once per week. 

Issue #2: Leaking Components

As with all plumbing systems, your RV septic system isn’t immune to leaks and other forms of damage. Leaks can happen in your drain pipes or in the holding tanks themselves. It’s important to be on the lookout for leaks so that you can repair them as soon as possible or replace the damaged component. 

Issue #3: Odor Control

Foul odors are another extremely common problem with RV septic systems. Foul odors happen because your tank is too full and needs to be dumped, there’s a clog, or you haven’t flushed your tank in a while. 

To resolve odor problems, here’s what you need to do: 

  1. Start by dumping and flushing your black tank. 
  2. Flush the tank until clear water is running out of the end of your sewer hose
  3. Dump the recommended amount of RV black tank odor control into the toilet and flush it down. 
  4. Be more vigilante in the future about dumping and flushing your tank on time.  

It’s also a good idea to have essential RV accessories on hand. That way, you don’t have to call up a professional every time you run into the most minor septic tank complication. A good start is to stock up on a tool kit, which will include a drill, socket set, wrenches, replacement parts, and more. 

Final Thoughts

Proper maintenance can help you avert a range of septic tank issues. However, if you don’t store your RV in a safe and secure location, things with your septic system can go wrong even when you aren’t using your RV. 

If you don’t have the right setup to store your RV at home, consider searching for RV storage through Neighbor. Neighbor is a peer-to-peer storage marketplace offering covered, climate-controlled, and even indoor RV storage options. Depending on where you live, Neighbor may have storage options in your own neighborhood!  

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Prevent Clogs in My RV Septic System?

To prevent clogs in your RV septic system, ensure regular maintenance, use septic-safe toilet paper, and avoid flushing unsuitable materials down the toilet.

How Can I Control Foul Odors From My RV Septic System?

The key to preventing foul odors in your RV septic system is to dump and flush your tanks regularly and dump an odor-control solution into them once per week.

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