It’s not the most glamourous part of your outdoor adventures, but it’s among the most crucial: maintaining RV black tanks properly when you’re on the road.

What Makes an RV Toilet Different From One in a House?

RV plumbing looks quite different from that of ordinary homes, and as such, it requires a different type of maintenance. In brick-and-mortar homes and apartments, toilets are hooked up to a constant supply of fresh water–and they constantly empty their waste into a sewer line or septic system, which seamlessly channels waste out of the building. In an RV, water for the toilet is supplied by a freshwater hookup at an RV park or by a freshwater tank in the RV. Waste is flushed into a black tank, separated from the toilet by a single airtight seal. That blank tank requires the regular addition of chemicals to break down solids and toilet paper, mitigate odours, and maintain a level of hygiene. It also has to be emptied regularly. How regularly, exactly, depends of the size of the black tank on your rig.

The Nitty Gritty: How Should You Maintain Your Black Water Tank?

Black water tank maintenance isn’t difficult–but it is crucial. Be religious about emptying your black tank properly every time, and you’ll (hopefully) be in for a odour and clog-free RV experience.

Black Tank Maintenance Step 1: Empty the Black Tank Regularly

The frequency at which you’ll need to empty your black tank will vary depending on its size and how often it’s used. Your rig’s manual should give you a general idea. If boondocking is your style, you’ll be less able to empty your black tank frequently, and you might have to limit the amount you use your RV’s toilet. But in general, frequently emptying and flushing your black tank is the best way to avoid clogs, odours, and other issues. Every time you empty your black tank, you’ll need to add fresh water and the black tank chemicals of your choice. A dry black tank isn’t a good thing. If your rig has a black tank flush feature, use it–this invaluable addition will save you a huge amount of trouble in the long run.

Black Tank Maintenance Step 2: Check and Double-Check Your RV’s Toilet Seal

Because that toilet seal is the only thing separating your RV’s interior from the inside of the black tank, you’ll need to perform regular checks to make sure that rubber seal is still in tip-top condition. Double-check that the seal is lubricated well, and that it holds water in your toilet bowl basin. Stick to using RV-friendly cleaning products when you clean your toilet, as well; many standard toilet bowl cleaners contain highly caustic chemicals that expedite the breakdown of that toilet seal. When the seal starts to appear dried-out, apply a fresh coat of RV toilet seal lubricant or plumber’s grease to extend its life span (or, if you’d prefer not to DIY it, take your rig to an RV service tech to do the job for you).

Black Tank Maintenance Step 3: Choose Your Toilet Paper Carefully

Not all toilet paper is created equal. And while die-hard RVers across the country will forever argue about this topic, our take is this: toilet paper made particularly for RV toilets is the least likely to cause nasty clogs further down the line. Some RVers use toilet paper made for septic systems, but even among these options, the dissolvability of the paper can vary widely. When in doubt, try this test: stick a few sheets of toilet paper in a jar with some water, put on the lid, and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. If the toilet paper doesn’t readily dissolve in that amount of time, you’ll probably want to keep looking. RV toilet paper is guaranteed to dissolve completely in the black tank, so although it’s a bit more expensive, it’s generally worth the added expense.

Crowds Have Shrunk Considerably

In a normal year, more than 30 million people travel to Niagara Falls to peer across its great expanse and marvel at its stunning geological formations. With the US borders locked down tight, a fraction of the people will visit this year, as only 1/3 come from Canada. The same situation is playing out at all the major attractions across the country along with the campgrounds at every corner. This leaves plenty of room for your group to stretch their legs and check out the sights.

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

Some of these might seem like a no-brainer; others might seem downright weird. But for new RV owners, it’s absolutely critical to keep these tips in mind.

  • Never leave your black tank open when hooked up to a sewer connection. It can be tempting to leave it open so everything just drains automatically, but that’s not actually how it works. If you don’t have a significant amount of liquid accumulated when you open the valve to empty everything out, you’ll end up with a pyramid of poop that’s not fun to get rid of. Not a rookie mistake you want to make.
  • When choosing chemicals to use in your black tank, read up on options before opting for a DIY solution. Some RVers use a concoction including beach, borax, Calgon water softener, and other chemicals, but keep in mind that many of these can also speed up the breakdown of seals and valves. Read up on your options and choose wisely. Thetford’s Aqua-Kem-Toss and Happy Camper’s powders are both popular options that come in scent-free varieties (our preference).

Of course, the single best step you can take toward keeping your RV in good shape is to make sure it’s well-insured, both in season and out. If you have any questions about insuring your RV, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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