One of the biggest questions people have when first thinking about buying or renting a recreational vehicle is how to dump RV waste.
Otherwise known as the black and gray water tanks, no one enjoys the thought of having to dispose of sewage or trying to figure out how to do it.
In the movies, the protagonist traveling in the RV always seems to have a mess when at the RV dump station, and let’s just say, if something goes wrong, it definitely doesn’t look or smell like fun.
However, after doing it once you realize the actual experience of dumping your waste tanks isn’t actually that bad if you follow a few simple rules. Let’s first look at a few terms.
RV Waste Dump Terms
Before we get into the tips, let’s first familiarize ourselves with some terms for getting rid of waste from an RV, camper, or travel trailer. No matter what you have, the terminology is the same.
- Black Water is raw sewage, this contains waste that is disposed of in the toilet.
- Grey Water comes from your shower, kitchen sink, and washing machines.
- Dumping Station is an area dedicated to discharging both your black and grey water tanks. These can be found at campgrounds, RV parks, national and state parks, gas stations, truck stops, and marinas.
- Holding tanks are underneath your RV and hold both black water and grey water until you’re able to get to a dump station. These are two different tanks.
- Non-potable water is not made for drinking, it can be anything from reclaimed water to water pumped out of a creek. It is safe to wash surfaces with non-potable water but not to drink.
- Potable water is made for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
- RV Sewer hose is usually 10 to 20 feet long and bridges the gap between your camper’s discharge value and the dumping station.
- Access port is where you will find the tank outlet, along with the black and gray tank valve. It is usually located on the utility side of the camper or RV. Depending on the unit and the bathroom, the location can vary.
1. Treat Your Dump Tank
This is sort of like “treat yo self,” but for your dump tanks. The first and important thing to do before emptying your black water tank is to treat the water with sanitizer and microorganisms that break down solids and turn the contents into a slurry, which will make it pass through the pipes, valves, and hoses easily.
There are a number of products which you can buy on Amazon, some come in liquid form and others in small packets. These products not only treat the water but also help keep the smell to a minimum.
Make sure to add plenty of water, at least a gallon, when adding water treatment products to your tanks. This will make the process easier once you have plenty of treated water in both the black and gray water tanks.
For my travel trailer, I use a product called Camco TST Cirus Scent RV Treatment Drop-Ins. These particular ones come in pods (like washing machine detergent) and I drop one in after every dump. There are many different ones on the market to use.
PRO TIP: Fecal matter will eventually petrify if not broken down correctly. So much to the point that if it stays untreated, even water can’t break it down. If it’s left long enough, the RV dealer will have to replace your tank, costing you an extra few hundred dollars, plus labor.
2. Dump The Black Water Tank First, Then Gray Water
The black water tank contains whatever goes into the toilet, and we all know that the contents aren’t pretty. All other water from your RV gets channeled into the gray water tank, including water from sinks and showers, which is commonly soapy.
For that exact reason, you need to dump the gray water tank last, that way you’ll have extra water to help flush any solids stuck in the hose, as well as just simply flushing out the sewer hose.
A recap on how to dump RV waste: always dump your black water (toilet) first, and then your grey water (sink and shower).
Make sure the RV waste hose is securely locked onto both the value on your unit and inserted into the drain pit. The hose will lock into your RV’s drain pipe.
PRO TIP: On the dump station end, the waste hose has a tendency to shoot out of the septic tank because of the water pressure discharging. If you see a giant rock or brick near the dump station, consider learning it against the hose to prevent an accident. I carry a red brick with me to avoid that issue.
3. Use Lots Of Water
Since the tank is gravity-fed, it’s best to let 3/4 of your tank fill up before discharging it. You want gravity to take over and wash all the solids out of your tank with one big swoosh.
Most campers and RV’s have a control panel with sensors in the tanks that tell you how full they are. Unless you are going to store it for the season, you shouldn’t even think about dumping waste until the tanks are three-fourths (three-quarters) full.
That way it gives the chemicals time to work, slosh around in the tanks, and break things up. Think of driving down the road with the constant stopping and going as a way of breaking up the waste that’s sticking to the black tank walls.
Fill your tank at least once with clear water before you complete the RV dump process. There are sensors in the RV black water tank that let you know how full the tank is at any given time. Those tank sensors are known to get toilet paper and debris caught on them which could lead to an inaccurate reading.
The grey water tank should only have shower and sink water, along with small food particles (coffee grounds) that the drain doesn’t catch from the sink, so it’s advised to give it an extra fill with fresh water and dump it to make sure everything is cleaned.
PRO TIP: Just because your unit may have a sewer connection does not mean that you should leave the line open. Remember, you need to let it build up and let the solids turn to sludge. Keeping it open can cause solids to get stuck where you do not want them to. Plus, you do not want fumes from the campground’s septic system seeping through your lines. It could cause even more of an unpleasant smell when flushing the toilet.
4. Clean The Black Water Tank
At all campgrounds, you’ll see there’s a place for you to hook up a hose that will continue to clean out the black water tank with jets of water. You should run this until the water is clear and if it takes longer than five minutes, you waited too long to do this.
You can also invest in different nozzles and wands that claim to clean your tank by channeling jets of water back into the tank.
I’ve used two different tank flushers as a test but after watching detailed reviews on YouTube where people construct RV black water tanks out of plexiglass and show you what each one does, it seems that they all do about the same thing.
You can see one of those RV tank flusher videos here.
An alternate way to do this is to fill your black tank up with several gallons of water and open the valve one more time. If I’m at a campground and have the time, I always fill mine up three times just to make sure.
PRO TIP: Invest in a clear elbow attachment that goes on the outside of either the black tank valve or the sewer drain entry so you can see when the water turns from murky to clear. Once the water is clear, you’ve done all you can do.
Under no circumstances should you ever dump your black water tank into a storm drain or public area. Use approved locations that are hooked to a septic tank or a municipal sewer line.
5. Wear Gloves
This one is common sense, but in my travels across America I’ve seen a lot. Always wear professional or disposable rubber gloves when touching anything around both your unit’s dump tank and a public facility.
Aside from the obvious, black water can carry E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, and Vibrio, and those can cause severe health issues.
Even after you dispose of your gloves in the proper bin (preferably at the dump station), wash your hands.
I carry Lysol antibacterial wipes in my camper to wipe the surfaces I come in contact with for good measure — even the value handles.
PRO TIP: You can also use plastic gloves, and some places will have those as a courtesy, but they tear very easily. Latex disposable gloves are the best with the amount of twisting and carrying you’ll be doing with them.
6. Have A Dedicated Water Hose
Always have a dedicated water or garden hose to use for your dump tanks. If you are worried about having two large hoses, you can always buy a shorter marine hose. You should NEVER use your potable water hose.
Buy two different color hoses so you know one is for drinking water that connects from the hookup to your camper, and the other is dedicated to RV waste dumping.
Use the water hose to wash the sewer line completely, even if you have emptied the blackwater tank first, followed by the gray water. Debris that was not broken down can still get caught in the line. It is good to use a surge of freshwater to make sure it’s cleaned completely.
PRO TIP: To avoid confusion, consider purchasing two different brands of hoses. My freshwater tank hose is durable, thicker, and the color blue for water. My non-potable wash hose is a grey marine hose for the color of gray water — this way there is no confusion at all.
7. Spray down the RV Dump Waste Station Area
Common courtesy to both the environment and the next traveler is to wash the area down with your wash hose. This should not be your fresh water hose, but the grey water hose.
Some stations are set up as a pit where you can wash the walls and everything will fall into the drain. Others are just flat surfaces like a storm drain. Regardless, make sure you wash the area, if nothing else, to ensure you don’t leave any waste on the ground for the next person or critter that may pass through.
PRO TIP: While at a dump station, be considerate of other people’s time. Be prepared and do things that can save time. While you are dumping your waste, start attaching your wash hose and filling a bucket to have water ready to go to start refilling your tank again for the rinse cycle.
Do not, under any circumstances, fill up your freshwater tank with the water from the dump station.
8. Make an RV Dump Kit
Taking the time to put together an RV dump kit has proven to be a time-saver at both ends of the dumping station. My dump kit has the clear elbows that I hook to the camper, a box of latex gloves that I keep in a ziplock bag, the dedicated RV dumping station water hose, a red brick (to put on the end of the sewer hose), and Lysol wipes.
I keep the tank pods under the bathroom sink for convenience. I also have a five-gallon bucket that I keep with me to expedite filling the black water tank up with fresh water when dumping. This is called the bucket method.
Every kit should also include hose support. The plastic sewer support hose will keep it off the ground and provide a slight downhill grade if you’re not on level land. Some campgrounds require hose support so the sewer hose isn’t laying directly on the ground.
PRO TIP: Look into a hose carrier that fits over the bumper of your unit. This way you don’t have to worry about the sewer hose leaking in your bin.
9. Ask For Help If Needed
Don’t be afraid to ask other RV or camper owners if you’re not sure about something. They’ve all been through the process and chances are they’ve all at some point needed to ask for help.
The one thing about the RV and camping community is that they’re always willing to lend a helping hand, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Also, no one wants to have a bunch of black water discharged improperly into the space they are living, even if it’s just a little bit.
PRO TIP: For the sake of public health and leaving things how you found (or may not have found) them, wipe down the surface areas of the dump station that you touch with antibacterial wipes. This includes the key and lock if one is required for using the dumping station.
Learning how to dump an RV waste tank is a crucial part of your over-the-road journey. If you are renting an RV or camper and do not dump the tanks, they could charge you a dumping fee of $250.
Though the cleanout isn’t fun for RVers, it’s a necessity for weight distribution, sanitation, and making sure that the onboard sewer system stays clean.