Dumping RV waste is one of the challenging but necessary parts of RV ownership. If you have or are staying on a property with a septic tank, this may be a convenient option for dumping.
Yes, you can use a residential septic tank to dump your RV waste, but there are some challenges and essential steps that must be taken to prevent major issues.
Before dumping into a septic system, you need to do your research, learn about your septic tank and RV, and gather the right supplies.
You also need to check into the legalities, and may want to consider if this is the best option for you.
Here is a guide with all you need to know to use your septic tank safe and efficiently when dumping RV waste into residential sewer system.
RV Holding Tanks
Prior to dumping your RV waste anywhere, you should know about your RV holding tanks and plumbing system.
Most RV’s have three holding tanks- freshwater, blackwater, and greywater. Freshwater is the “clean” water that is used within the RV, for cooking, showering, etc.
This provides water even when the RV is not hooked up to a water source. Blackwater is wastewater (think, toilet), and greywater is “used” water from all other activities (other than waste), including showering, cooking, running the sinks, etc.
These three tanks are key features of your RV and come with their own complications for plumbing.
In particular, cleaning out the tanks and preventing them from freezing are important tasks with RV ownership and maintenance.
You also need to take special steps to winterize these tanks (and the RV in general) if you live in a cold environment, Luckily there are many easy methods to cleaning out your tanks and heaters that can be installed to prevent freezing. Here’s a great guide to cleaning and sanitizing your tanks.
While this may seem like common sense, it’s important to note that you should never mix up your hoses between the different tanks (particularly freshwater and blackwater)! This is not only unsanitary but it can cause major diseases and compromise your RV plumbing system.
How Does A Septic System Work?
Before using a septic tank, it’s important to know how a septic system works! A septic system is a private sewage system located underground.
Septic tanks are usually shaped like a large box and made of a sturdy material such as plastic, concrete, or fiberglass.
People primarily have septic tanks on their property if they are too far from a central sewage system, or a central system is not feasible or practical.
Septic systems provide basic treatment and breakdown of sewage, using natural bacteria.
In addition to the tank itself, the system includes pipes, a baffle to prevent clogs and to designate solid and liquid waste areas in the tank, and a drain field, where waste is drained back into the environment.
The drain field usually is sloped away from properties and is comprised of rocks or similar natural materials.
Chemicals are rarely used in a septic tank; instead, the tank creates a natural environment for waste breakdown and utilizes bacteria.
This is an important point to note, especially when considering dumping chemicals in your tank (see “A word about chemicals..”).
Septic systems do have to be regularly emptied, to remove solid waste that does not drain out into the drain field.
Emptying is usually done with a truck with an outside company. Luckily, septic tanks only have to be emptied every few years (depending on the system).
Homeowners have to be careful with what is dumped into the system, particularly with certain cooking and cleaning materials and solids.
In addition, care has to be taken with the planting of certain trees and shrubs near the tank (roots can damage the tank and pipes), and septic tank owners must avoid putting anything too heavy on the ground where the tank is.
Now that you know the ins and outs of a septic system, here are some considerations when thinking about dumping your RV waste into a septic tank.
Is it Legal to Dump your RV Tanks in your Home?
Laws regarding dumping RV waste in your septic system vary by state and local municipality. Some states/municipalities will not allow you to have a “home dumping station.”
Double check if the issue is just terminology, or if there are larger complications.
The legalities may vary based on this terminology or type of tank you’re dumping (black or graywater). The best thing to do is to contact your local municipal/town office for regulations.
If you don’t follow the guidelines set by your town you may face severe consequences.
In addition to possibly damaging the environment and/or introducing diseases to an area, you could also be fined for dumping. Fines can cost as much as $1,000, so be warned!
A Word About Chemicals….
Septic tanks largely operate without chemicals. They rely on aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and a delicate balance within the tank.
For this reason, it’s not a good idea to dump chemicals into your septic tank.
This can completely alter the environment within the tank and cause costly problems down the road. If you compromise your system you may have to completely replace it- a MAJOR expense and headache.
Many campers use toilet cleaning and deodorizing chemicals in the toilet and blackwater tank of their RVs.
You must avoid toilet/tank cleaning products when dumping blackwater into a septic tank. Luckily there are eco friendly alternatives.
If you are also dumping your greywater tank, then you need to use products (dish soap, cleaning products, shampoo, etc.) that are septic-friendly and will not alter the environment in your tank.
You can do your research before purchasing or using a product. There is a lot of information on the internet about what products are safe for septic systems. Here is one helpful article on this topic.
How To Dump Your RV In The Septic Tank
There are several items you’ll need to purchase before dumping your RV tanks into a septic tank. You’ll definitely want some gloves, as well as a hose and a waste pump.
A pump isn’t an absolute necessity but it is preferable. You may also want a clear elbow pipe attachment.
It’s good to have a water source (such as a garden hose) so you can flush out the system when you’re finished.
2. Finding The Cleanout Pipe And Attaching Your RV Tanks
Before you dump your RV waste into your septic tank, you need to find your “cleanout” pipe or access port to the septic system.
The cleanout pipe is on your property, usually made out of PVC. It is extremely important that you find the right pipe, and it may be best to consult a professional prior to dumping.
Attach your waste pump to your RV, then connect a hose which will attach or flow into the septic tank cleanout pipe.
You can unscrew the cap and hook up your RV sewer hose to this pipe. If the hose can’t be securely attached to the cleanout pipe, use something heavy to put pressure (and prevent the hose from coming loose in the process).
Please note, you may want to use blocks or other props to position the hose so the waste is running downhill into the cleanout pipe (especially if you don’t have a pump).
3. Pumping Waste
Put on your gloves and open your blackwater tank. Turn on the waste pump/macerator, and it should dump into the tank.
When finished, turn off the pipe and attach and open your greywater tank. Repeat the process. Lastly, attach a clean water source and run it through the process to clean out the tanks and hoses.
This is the best option for dumping, however you can also use an access port if you don’t have a cleanout pipe.
Alternative Option: Septic Tank Access Port
If the cleanout pipe is not an option, you can follow the same process but with an access port. The access port leads directly to the septic tank.
You need to take off the lid of the access port (but be careful- the gasses that are emitted are DANGEROUS).
Check to make sure you’re dumping on the side of the baffle that keeps solids in the septic tank. Dumping on the wrong side could create a major issue and leakage.
Also, make sure not to keep the hose attached and lid open for too long, this can damage the environment in the tank by allowing in too much oxygen. With either option make sure to check your connections to avoid leaks!
Installing Waste Dump Into An Existing Septic System
Creating a permanent dump system from your RV to a septic tank is complicated. This idea may be preferable for people who camp (or who have visitors who camp) regularly on their property.
One of the biggest potential issues with this methods is that providing access to your septic tank may compromise the environment of the tank by allowing in oxygen.
Check with your septic tank manufacturer before attempting this. Another factor to consider is elevation and drop.
Position the line with a half-inch drop for every 100 feet. This will help prevent back up.You can have an RV dump professionally installed into your septic system.
However, you must check the legalities first, and use a reputable company, preferably the one that originally installed and/or maintains your septic tank.
You can add the elbow feature in order to help you see when your tanks are clean (because it is a clear piece of pipe).
If you’re thinking of dumping your RV into your septic regularly, make sure to schedule maintenance (particularly tank emptying) more regularly.
It’s useful to know how many gallons your septic tank holds, this will provide you a better idea of volume and if you are filling it to capacity.
Finally, you should wait until your RV tanks are at least half full before dumping. Most RVs come with a sensor of one can be installed, which tells you how full the tanks are.
Why Use A Septic Tank Dumping An RV?
The main benefit of using a septic tank to dump RV waste is convenience. This is a good option for people who are not staying at a campground and don’t have access to a communal dumping area.
If you’re staying on someone’s property (or have someone camping on your property) this can be the best method.
Dumping directly in a septic system is also simpler that trying to dump RV waste into your indoor home plumbing.
When you shouldn’t use a septic tank to dump RV or camper tank
As mentioned above, you will have issues dumping in a septic tank if you use chemicals in your RV. You also should not dump in a septic tank if it is illegal in your area (see “legal complications”). T
here are other scenarios where dumping into a septic system is not a good option.
If you need to dump your RV regularly, then this could overwhelm your septic system and cause blockages and leaks. If you have a smaller septic tank, you may also run into this issue.
Alternative Options To Dumping In A Septic System
If you aren’t able to dump your RV waste into a septic tank, there are other options!
Holding Tank Dump Station
Once of the best and most convenient ways to dump is using a dump station at a campground.
By doing this, you don’t have to worry about any complications or compromising your home system.
If you do this at the campground you don’t have to avoid using any chemicals.
Another option is to locate a dumping station near you (or where you’ll be camping). This is a good idea if you’re campground doesn’t have a dump station, or if you’re not staying in a campground.
You can find RV dump stations online, and on this website.
Dump Into A Municipal Sewer
You can also dump into a municipal sewer or directly into your toilet usine a bucket, tote, and/or the macerator method (grinding and pumping through a hose directly into the toilet).
Macerators are a type of grinder that can be installed which breaks down waste so it can then be flushed down the toilet.
The bucket method will only work if you have a small amount of wastewater. If you’re putting waste down the toilet of a home with a septic tank then you’ll still have to avoid chemicals.
Dumping Into A Residential Sewer
Dumping into a residential sewer is done just like dumping into a septic tank. You will use the “cleanout” pipe on your property that runs into the municipal sewer system.
The benefits of this option are that you don’t need to worry as much about chemicals (like with a septic tank). Please note, you must check local laws regarding this procedure.
Added Tips And Suggested Items
Once again it’s important to stress that if you’re dumping into your septic system you may need to get it emptied more frequently.
If you have a clogged or overused septic tank you might notice a bad odor, sewage coming back up pipes, water pooling, or spongy grass/moss near the tank/drain field.
If your RV does not come with a macerator pump, you may want to buy one to make dumping easier (this is helpful regardless of where or how you dump).
These cost around $200, and can be found at RV stores or online. The Flojet is one good option, and this pump from Shurflo is slightly cheaper. Newer and more expensive RVs usually come with this feature.
As mentioned, clear elbow pipe connections can be helpful for determining when your tanks are empty and when they’re clean. These are cheap and can be purchased from places like Home Depot. Here is one cheap option.
Your RV sewer hose is also an important feature for the dumping process. Consider purchasing a long, thick hose, which will be more durable and give you more flexibility.
Also, make sure your hose will fit to you your tank(s). Sewer hose supports are also a good idea to keep your hose in place and running downhill.
If you need to use a tote to transport your RV waste, you can purchase a heavy duty one, such as this option from Walmart. This is a good backup idea if you’re not using any of the direct connection methods.
Dumping your RV waste into a septic system is one of the many options available for this dirty job.
Using a septic can be convenient, especially when you’re not staying in a campground with a dumping station. It is also a good choice if you don’t have a municipal sewage system available.
There are several factors to consider when choosing to dump in a septic system. You need to find out the laws for your state and town, figure out if you’re using septic friendly chemicals, and find access to the septic tank.
Once you’ve completed these steps, dumping in the septic system should be relatively easy!
Although dumping RV waste is one of the worst parts of RV ownership,there are many options to make this fast and efficient, providing you with the best camping experience possible!
Cristy Howitt is a long time RV owner. She and her husband began their RV adventures after graduating University at a time when all their friends were opting to backpack overseas. They chose to hit the road and travel through the US, Mexico and Canada instead in a classic 1974 Class A Centurion. Today, many years later, they continue to use RV’s to escape the Canadian winters and enjoy summer time trips in Canada. Next on the bucket list is touring the northern States and seeing Mount Rushmore in their restored Country Coach.