Holding tanks, certainly not the glitz and glamour of hitting the open road, are a fact of life when RVing. Most RVs have a black tank, one or two gray tanks and a freshwater tank. There’s no getting around it – without holding tanks we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the “home-style” plumbing features in our rigs. But holding tanks present mystery and perhaps even a bit of confusion to a new RVer. What, when, how…read on for answers.
An RV’s freshwater tank holds water a camper may use when no outside water hook-up is available – whether in a campground, at a rest stop or during travel. The water is pumped to your plumbing system via a 12-volt water pump – usually operated by a switch in the kitchen or bathroom. The most common freshwater tank maintenance task is sanitization. Remember, this is simply a tank full of water – infrequent use can cause bacteria buildup resulting in bad tasting or smelling water or even a bug that may make you ill.
Eliminate this unpleasantness by sanitizing with a bleach water solution. Drain your tank, fill half way with fresh water, add ¼ cup of bleach for every 15 gallons your tank holds, fill tank, run “cold” water through your faucets, run the “hot” water to get the bleach water solution in your hot water tank. Let stand for four to six hours. Drain the tank (including hot water tank via faucets) completely. Mix a ½ cup of baking soda with a gallon of water, pour into tank and refill tank. Open all faucets to allow the fresh water to pump throughout the system – this step removes the bleach odor. Drain tank once again and refill – ready to use. Even sanitized, it is a good idea to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
One more fresh water tank tip – water weighs eight pounds per gallon – factor that weight in when traveling. I typically travel with only five or six gallons for rest stop needs. Most camps that do not have water hook-ups at the sites do have a water station to fill up prior to parking.
The gray water system is the holding area for waste water from showers, the bathroom and kitchen sinks, etc. Be careful when washing dishes not to let many solids – like rice grains, etc. – down the drain. It’s okay to leave the tank valves open when connected to a sewer system. Occasional odors can be treated with the same holding tank solution used for your black tank – nothing fancy required.
Black water is the boogieman of an RV’s holding tank system. This is where the “solids” reside. Plainly said, this is your toilet waste. Tip number one – DO NOT leave your tank open – even when you are connected to the campground’s sewer system. Your black water tank should be ½ to ¾ full before dumping. This little technique allows the suction of the sewer dump to force the solids out. That’s a good thing, no one wants stinky left behinds (no pun intended) to solidify on the bottom of your tank. Once that happens it is almost impossible to loosen it up and flush it out completely. It’s never a bad idea to run a few cycles of fresh water through the system when flushing the tank with a wand or other nifty tool meant for the job.
Black tanks need a chemical “holding tank treatment” and a few gallons of water added after dumping. Look for an environmentally safe, formaldehyde-free solution. These treatments come in liquid form (which I like the best), tablets (never sure if they dissolve) or granules. These treatments may also contain a tank conditioner to lubricate the valves and seals.
You don’t have to purchase camping store TP, either. Look for a one-ply product like Scott’s and your black tank will be fine. To test a TP put a sheet or two in a tall glass of water, allow to sit five minutes and stir. RV acceptable TP will disintegrate upon stirring. Lastly, nothing exotic should go down the toilet – waste and TP only, please.
A few more thoughts on holding tanks that you may find useful:
➢ The tank meters inside your rig rarely work. Use another system to determine when to dump your tanks.
➢ Use a sturdy sewer hose with several end connectors on board and carry a rubber donut – required at more and more campgrounds.
➢ You may run into a law that prohibits the sewer hose from touching the ground. Be prepared by carrying a few pre-cut gutters and a wood block or two.
➢ And lastly, you know the old saying…it doesn’t run uphill…much to the surprise of many campground engineers (especially in government parks).
So, there’s the fact of camping life that can’t be ignored. Just do it…