The Village Square: Sharing RV Black Tank Mishaps—So You Don’t Have to

Jun 22, 2022 | The Village Square

The Village Square: Sharing RV Black Tank Mishaps—So You Don’t Have to

By RVillage

Welcome to The Village Square, the series that answers common RVing questions with tips, tricks, and camping hacks from RVillage community members just like you. 

From the dreaded “poop pyramid” to stinky smells, these RVers bravely share their sh*tty situations. Read on for newbie black tank mistakes to commiserate and learn what to avoid when it comes to emptying your tanks—just don’t dump all your problems at once. 

Related What to Do When Your Bathroom Smells Like Sewage

RVillagers Share Their Newbie Black Tank Mishaps

I’ve been set up full-time in an RV park for 2 months. I’m a total newbie. I’ve learned how to empty both black and gray tanks and how to backwash both black tanks. I haven’t had any problems with odor until these past few days and haven’t been feeling well inside my RV. I’ve been noticing that the inside of my camper smells like Campa Clean and am going to flush that out. Has anybody else ever had this problem? —Karen W.  

And some solutions… 

You may have an allergy or sensitivity to the chemicals in the treatment that you’re using. There are some out there that are fragrance-free, I believe one of them is called Happy Camper. —Donald P.

Check the stink pipe on the roof to be sure it is not blocked? How often are you emptying? Look into an air vent for the stink pipe. Is your black tank or roof getting hot? —Paul W.

What’s the best way to get rid of nasty sewer flies in the black tank and how do I keep my bathroom smelling clean? There is a nasty odor, and yes we use blue toilet chemicals for the black tank. —Janet W.

And some solutions… 

Be sure that the gasket in the toilet bowl isn’t cracked. Never leave the valves open except to drain the tanks. I also add a rotating sewer plumbing vent on the roof. It’s very easy to do and costs about $25 on Amazon. —Georgette W.

Use a fine mesh screen, cut about a 3-inch circle, and clamp it to your sewer vents to keep them out of the gray and black tanks; use the “Geo method” for tanks (equal parts Borax, fabric softener, and dish soap) with a little water to dissolve the Borax and pour down all drains. —Doug S.

Related Everything You Need to Know About RV Toilets and Black Tanks

What product do you use for cleaning a porcelain toilet? Some say vinegar, some say Scrubbing Bubbles or dish soap. Don’t want to cause a problem in the black water tank. —Kathy S.

And some solutions… 

Same stuff as home. Dump and flush tank after. —Rick H.

I have a spray bottle of 50 percent water, 50 percent dish soap that I spray in the toilet after use. We also don’t flush paper, we use a diaper genie for the paper. —Carlee C.K.

For those of you who’ve had the experience of backing up the black tank up through the toilet and into your rig, what steps did you take in terms of sanitization after the event? —W.B.

And some solutions… 

Immediately open all windows and doors. Go buy big fans, heavy rubber gloves, buckets, several packs of cotton towels and a gallon of PineSol, and bleach or rubbing alcohol for the next day. Wear layers of bandannas or masks and get a tetanus shot as soon after as possible, if you’re not up to date. After sweeping and squeegeeing out what you can, pull out any carpet and use a wet vac to clean up what remains. Scrub floors and bottom of cabinets with a mix of hot water and PineSol at the highest ratio—I believe it was 2 cups to 1 gallon. Do small areas at a time. Scrub, wet vac, dry with towels, and use a small heater with fans to dry the wood quickly. After it’s totally dry, wipe down with the alcohol or bleach—I used bleach and wore a snorkel and mask with an extension. We recarpeted, then lived and worked on the road full-time for 2 more years and never had any residual smell. —S.R.

Use essential oil for the bacteria and smell; alcohol helps clean and dry. I bought a small shop vac to suck up the liquid. Set a 5-minute timer and focus only on the job. Later, I put rubber trim down around the bathroom in case there’s a next time. —K.L.

We were in an RV campground all summer on full hookups and flushed the black and gray tanks before leaving the campground. On the drive home, a foul smell permeated the interior of the couch. Could there be a dead animal somewhere in the rig? Is our propane leaking? Could the freshwater tank cause this type of odor? We’re scratching our heads on this one. At this point, we’re going to sanitize all tanks, clean the fridge, and hope for the best. —T.M.

And some solutions… 

After so many fill-ups on a gray tank and especially a black tank, there’s a mineral buildup called “struvite” that forms a crust on the inside of the holding tank walls in the gray and black tanks. This crust will contribute to a very bad smell even when the tanks are empty and have been flushed and can also cause false readings on the monitor panel—this requires a pressure wash stronger than what is available with the regular wands that are available to attach to a water hose. There are YouTube videos that show pressure washing struvite on holding tanks and it’s amazing what comes out of the tanks after they’ve been dumped. Regular RV tank chemicals will not clean struvite—the video says that the gray tank can smell as bad or worse than the black tank if the buildup is there. —RV M.T.

Look under the sinks to see if you have an air admittance valve that has gone bad, it’s a one-way valve on the sewer pipe that allows air into the system to drain the water, ours went bad in a previous camper and had the same bad odors… thought it was propane. —S.D.

Thanks to the RVillage community for providing these helpful, but certainly not enjoyable, experiences for others to learn from. If you want to see your advice featured on “The Village Square,” be sure to share your favorite RVing hacks, tips, and tricks with the community, and keep an eye out for questions from RVillage Camp Hosts. 

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Editor’s note: Some quotes have been slightly edited for clarity. 

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