I couldn’t begin to count the number of times per year we get calls for a stopped up RV black tank. Typically the call includes things like;
I don’t know what my (insert noun here) put in the toilet but now it won’t drain.
My gate valve won’t open all the way, I just get a trickle then it stops.
My toilet is overflowing!!! It made a strange gurgle noise just before it did!
This is always an unpleasant issue for everyone involved, it can also be quite costly! Let’s spend a bit of time going over how we can prevent this from happening. A little extra time and money in the beginning can save a lot of frustration, time and money in the future!
Black tank valve open or closed when using?
Don’t leave your camper black tank valve open! This is probably the biggest issue we run into. There is no quick fix and it can take several hours to flush the tank out and get it flowing enough to begin a several week process of use, empty and flush. I call this the brownie….we never want a brownie in the bottom of our tank!
I just push the pedal to flush right?
What I have found over the years is that the toilets in our houses have spoiled us! We push the handle once and everything runs out of the house. What we don’t see is that every flush we make sends between 1.6 and 3.4 gallons to flush everything down stream. In the average camper toilet I would be willing to bet that each flush only sends a cup or two of water to our holding tank. My recommendation on this, and the rule in our camper, is one bowl of water for #1, 2 bowls of water for #2. We just fill our commode up to about an inch from the top and then flush. The more water the better. Sometimes this can get tricky when boon docking and will increase the number of times your tank needs to be emptied, this said it will save you the poo t-p under your toilet or worse yet the brownie in the bottom of your black tank!
The guy at the camper store said to just drop the pod in.
The next very important tid-bit is on digestive aids. I always recommend Piranha holding tank treatment. This is a micro-organism based waste digestive agent. The key to remember with any organic based agent is that it needs time to work. The microorganisms breed and you will need 24-48 hours for the product to work effectively. If you are looking for the convenience of a dry or pod product be sure to dissolve the product prior to putting it in the tank. Looking at the picture below you will note that the tank is sloped, every tank is sloped toward the discharge. What can happen with the pods or tablets is that they fall under the commode and never fully dissolve as it takes so long to get the water up the tank to where they are laying. A few extra seconds will get the product into the tank and ready to go! Also, do not be afraid to close up your gray tanks now and again and treat them with the same treatment you are using in the black tank. We do dishes and wash our bodies into the gray tanks so this will help break down that organic material in those tanks and keep them cleaner too!
I can still use my soft toilet paper…right?!
We need to treat our onboard holding tanks as if they are septic systems. We all secretly know that the fluffy, soft, aloe packed toilet paper feels great on our bums! It does not do great in our holding tanks! Products like these, baby wipes, sanitizing wipes and any other similar product should not be used. These products either take too long to break down or do not break down at all and can cause major problems in your RV waste system. This said it begs the question of do I have to use camper toilet paper? The answer is not necessarily. The next question may be, so what can I use in my camper? I recommend taking a sheet of the product you normally use and placing it in a quart mason jar full of water. If the sheet is either dissolved all the way or at least over 50% broken down after sitting over night you should be good to go! In our camper we generally stick with septic safe tissue products and have no issues.
All I do is pull the black tank, let it drain and then hit the road.
Flushing your tanks is becoming easier and easier with the manufacturers placing black tank flush systems on the majority of new RVs. Although we have these on our camper I use a Valterra Flush King. This allows me to flush each tank. You could get extremely technical and figure out your gallons per minute at the campground when using this but normally I just run it 5-7 minutes on each tank then let them drain out.
Any maintenance on my cable valves?
As we move and improve in the RV industry more and more campers have cable valve systems. This allows the valve handles to be in one place and the tank to be placed virtually any way the factory needs to place them. A simple maintenance point is to get a can of spray silicone and every time you operate the valve spray some onto the metal rod and into the sleeve as best you can. Over time this will help keep moisture from rusting the cable and causing problems.
Bill’s take away list
In conclusion of using the sewer system onboard your RV;
Keep your black water tank gate valve closed.
Water is your friend.
Use a good holding tank treatment.
Be mindful of what you are putting in your tank.
Remember we do not want to work on your black tank anymore than you do!