Owning an RV can be a thrilling experience. Something that you may not find as thrilling? Dumping your black water tanks! After going about it all the wrong way, we have learned our lesson.
And, we are ready to pass along the valuable information that helped us get it right.
The following will help you be prepared on how (and where) to approach what may be a daunting task, which is necessary to successfully keep your tanks empty.
Can I Dump RV Tanks at Home? Black water tanks (also known as waste tanks, and holding tanks) collect both liquid and solids from RV’s. To abide by dumping laws, and prevent the spread of disease your tanks must be dumped properly, and in the proper place. Home septic systems may be the answer you are looking for.
Though it may not be glamorous, it is absolutely necessary to empty your black water tank.
There are many things you need to know before dumping rv tanks at home, and the rules (written and unwritten) that surround dumping black & grey tanks.
Why Dump RV Tanks At Home?
Some RV owners choose to avoid this issue completely by never ever using their toilet, sink, or shower. They would rather use public restrooms, than dump, clean, and maintain tanks.
For most people, that way of life is just not realistic. We’re practically (sometimes literally) living in these homes on wheels, so it’s only natural that we would need to use the facilities.
Unfortunately the waste tanks will not dump themselves. And, the waste water fairy will not be coming by to help you out, either.
Unlike a sticks & bricks home, where you flush, and it all magically goes away. (Ok, maybe it’s not magic. But, it is uber convenient!)
So, it’s up to you to learn how to keep up on your tank maintenance, and follow all of the rules!
How often should I empty my black water tank?
Doing something for the first time can naturally bring about nerves, especially if you don’t have confidence in yourself to execute the task at hand.
Set yourself up for success by learning the basics, before you even think about attempting to “pull the plug.”
How often should you empty your tanks? There is obviously no exact answer, here. That all depends on how many people you are traveling with, and how much is getting flushed down into the tanks.
The general rule is waiting until your tanks are at least ⅔ of the way full. Flushing them out before then will not allow enough time for the solids to start breaking down.
Keep an eye on your tank indicators, this will let you know what your levels are. And, give you a good idea of when you will need to dump the contents.
Don’t Have Tank Level Indicators?
Neither do I! Estimation is your best bet, in this case. Approximately 2-3 days use, for each person using the toilet, shower & sinks will give you a good insight as to how full the tanks are.
If you must dump before you hit the ⅔ full mark, it is recommended to add enough water to bring it up to the desired level.
What Is Black Water?
There can be some confusion as to what the differences are between black water & grey water. The two categories of wastewater:
- Black Water: Black water is waste water from your toilet that contains fecal matter, urine, and toilet paper. Also the water used to flush your toilet. (Assuming you aren’t flushing anything else down the hopper!) Black water is also referred to as “brown water,” or “sewage.” It contains bacteria and possibly diseases.
It is possible to recycle your black water tank waste into fertilizer for non edible plants.
But, it must be handled in a very specific manner of processing and decomposing to kill any harmful bacteria.
What Is Grey Water?
- Grey Water: Grey water is waste water that comes from your sinks and shower. Also, dishwashers and washing machines. (Should you be lucky enough to have either of those appliances in your RV!)
Grey water gets its name from the soap residue and dirt which gives it a grey color.
It has not come into contact with bacteria causing feces, BUT if dumped directly on the ground will turn into black water within 48-72 hours!
Where To Dump RV Waste?
A common question from new RV owners wanting to dump their tanks is where do I go to dump?
There are a few options when it comes to where to drain your tanks. Keep in mind there are laws against dumping black or grey tanks directly onto the ground.
Dumping bacteria laden water on the ground can harm the ecosystem, and spread disease. Please don’t be an irresponsible RV owner...
Dumping Black Water Tank At Home
Can you dump your RV tanks at home? Yes, but there are things you need to know, first.
While dumping at home may be the most convenient option for you, it may not be the best solution for everyone.
For those lucky enough to have access to a residential septic system, saving money spent at a dump station may be a tempting option.
Taking advantage of dumping at home does have its own set of rules, that most dump stations do not follow.
How To Dump RV Waste At Home?
First of all, no chemicals allowed! They will kill off the good bacteria in your septic system! If bacteria is destroyed, the balance will be thrown off.
Home Dumping Method #1:
Locate your septic system’s “cleanout,” a pvc pipe with a screw cap. If you do not have one, then you will need to find the lid to your “access port.”
Double check that you are on the solid waste side of your system’s “baffle.” The last thing you want is to dump in the wrong side & cause major (and expensive) problems for yourself!
Also, take your time when removing sewer caps, as harmful fumes may billow out!
Home Dumping Method #2:
If you can not dump directly into your septic system, don’t worry, there is another method available. It may not be the easiest, just warning you.
Using what’s called a macerator, you can grind up the contents of your waste holding.
Using a pump, flush it through a garden hose directly into your home toilet.
Home Dumping Method #3:
Last, but not least is perhaps the most physically demanding, and potentially the messiest (if you’re not careful) is the bucket method.
This entails emptying your tank, one bucketful at a time, and carrying it to your home toilet to dispose of.
This method is not recommended if your tank is completely full.
Is It Legal To Dump At Home?
While it may be the most convenient for you, your city or neighborhood may have rules (or laws) against dumping your RV waste into a residential sewer system.
So, it’s best to check before you dump! No one wants to end up with a hefty fine, or pissed off neighbors!
Staying at a campground or RV park? Chances are, they probably have an on site dump station.
Most times there will be a small fee to dump, but you may not have any other alternative than to pay.
Fees can range anywhere from $10-$25. If you frequent the same campground or RV park, they may offer an annual dump membership to save you some cash.
The nice thing about dump sites are that they are specifically designed for this purpose.
Giving you the appropriate space and ground covering needed for easy dumping & clean up.
You can also find places to empty your tanks along the highway at truck stops, gas stations and rest areas. I even found one at “South of the Border!”
What You’ll Need
The difference between a good tank dumping experience, and a bad one can come down to the tools (or the quality of the tools) that you are using.
Arming yourself with the right tools is half the battle.
- Disposable gloves (rubber or latex)
- Clear elbow
- Sewer hose (long enough to reach, or with added extensions)
- A hose designated for cleaning your tank (important not to use your drinking water hose)
- Antibacterial cleaning & disinfectant spray
- Disposable bleach wipes
Dumping RV Holding Tank Step By Step Guide
Dumping and cleaning your black & grey water tanks must be done in a certain order.
And, when you are all done, be sure to clean and sanitize your hands, and any other areas waste water may have touched.
Spreading bacteria and pathogens around your rig will make you and your passengers sick!
- Pull your rig into the dump station, as close to the drain as you can get.
- Glove up! Remember disposables are the safest.
- Unlock & open your tanks access compartments.
- Check to make sure your grey & black valves are both closed.
- Remove hoses, connectors & elbows from storage.
- Attach hose connectors to dump site drain hole FIRST.
- Remove grey & black water tanks caps.
- Attach hose securely to RV tank drain outlet.
- Double check both ends of your hose are secure & clamped tight.
- Pull black tank release.
- Run your RV’s black tank rinse, or connect your designated tank cleaning hose and rinse.
- Pull grey tank release.
- After tanks have finished draining completely, remove the hose from RV connection & rinse it out down the dump station.
- Thoroughly disinfect everything & return items into storage compartments.
- Sanitize your hands & lock compartments. You’re all done!
Congratulations, you have successfully conquered your fear of emptying your RV’s black & grey waste water tanks!
See? It wasn’t that bad, although it seems like a lot of steps. And, with practice, it’ll go much quicker.
Be mindful of the folks lining up behind you, waiting to dump, as well.
Don’t let them rush you, but don’t make them wait any longer than you absolutely have to. Common courtesy goes a long way in the RV world!
Dump station etiquette
You may find a posted list of rules for each individual dump station, but here are some staple rules to follow:
- Do not dump anything into the dump station drains, other than what’s in your tanks.
- Clean up any and all messes that might have occurred while emptying your tanks.
- Dispose of any garbage, don’t leave it behind for the next person!
- Empty & clean up as quickly as possible, when there are people waiting.
How To Keep RV Black Tank Clean
Keeping your tanks in tip top shape can be easy, if you follow the guidelines of which products to use, and which ones not to use.
When dealing with RV holding tanks vs residential sewers, you’ll want to be aware of how your toilet tissue affects the overall health of your tanks.
Special RV TP is manufactured in such a way that it dissolves quicker than traditional papers.
Using the tissue designed especially for RV tanks will help prevent clogs, and will allow your draining to flow more smoothly.
If you are facing clogging issues, you can use what is called a closet auger.
A closet auger is a long thin wire that is inserted into your drain. It has bars or hooks that will assist in breaking up clogs and help to separate the paper so that is can dissolve better.
The last thing you want is for your tiny home on wheels to smell like a porta-potty that has been sitting in the sun for weeks!
One way to keep the bad smells at bay is by using the proper chemicals, additives, treatments & cleaners.
For those that plan on using dump sites vs home septic tanks receptacles for your waste waters, your chemicals & treatments will differ.
For dump stations, there are no real chemical restrictions on what type of RV specific chemicals you can use.
Besides avoiding formaldehyde based chemicals, which are typically not manufactured or labeled for RV use.
Which brand of toilet treatments & tank treatments are up to your personal preferences. Chemicals typically range from $10-$20 for a 3 month supply.
For home dumping, you will need to be more careful of what you’re putting into your tanks.
No chemicals should be drained into your septic system. This will kill off helpful bacteria that live there, disrupting the efficiency of your septic.
You may use vinegar to clean, or dump bags of ice down your toilet, and take a drive around the neighborhood to loosen any stuck debris.
Composting Toilets- Waste Tank Alternatives
Still not convinced that holding tanks are for you? Or, perhaps you are trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible?
Composting toilets (aka Dry Toilets) can offer sustainable alternatives to using traditional recreational vehicle black water holding tanks.
Instead of plumbing lines, you will most likely have a detachable solid waste holding container that is typically lined & filled with biodegradable materials such as:
- Peat moss
- Sawdust or wood shavings
You can also create your own combination of any of these materials. Whatever works best for you and yours.
In addition to the solid waste holding, most modern composting toilets are designed with a separate liquid holding tank. Which can be removed & easily dumped into a toilet or dump station.
However you choose to store your waste, please be responsible about how you get rid of it!!