RV Black Tank

The black tank. YUK!  Do you know of anyone who likes to take care of the black tank, much less talk about it? I can say, I definitely do not. However, I do find myself having to talk to people all the time about it. It is almost always first time RV owner’s. Over the last few years, I have found that I do not have “the talk” with what I will call, “seasoned RV owner’s.”  I think most of them have learned the hard way how to take care of a RV Black Tank.

Cleaning Out Black Tank

What Exactly is the Black Tank?

The black tank is the tank under the travel trailer that only holds toilet water. That’s right, the toilet water, and only the toilet water. On some larger 5th wheels that have 2 toilets, there will probably be 2 separate black tanks, one for each toilet.

Unlike at our homes, taking care of the RV black tank, is a lot more in detail that just cleaning the toilets in our home. What we put into our RV black tanks is crucial to the tank reading and emptying/cleaning properly.

Few things that are the UTMOST importance:

  • ONLY use toilet paper that says “for RV use.” Just because it says it is safe for a septic system does not mean it is OK for the black tank of our RV. Septic systems in this case refer to household septic systems only.An RV black tank is not a septic system. It really isn’t much more then a pipe connected to the bottom of the toilet that empties in to large tank. ((There are probes in it that measures the level))
  • Wet wipes that are safe for all toilet systems/septic tanks is NOT OK for a RV black tank.
  • Ladies — absolutely NO feminine products OR diapers down the toilet

Treating The Black TankCleaning Black Tank

Even if the camper is hooked straight to a dumping tank, it is NEVER OK to keep the valve open. If the tank dries up, then so does everything in it. Bodily waste will turn to almost a concrete. Extremely difficult and can be very expensive to get out.

There are plenty of products/chemicals to treat the black tank. I recommend the one’s that are a deodorizer and a digest agent. The digest helps to break down the toilet paper and bodily waste. Definitely makes cleaning it out easier. I have heard of people putting a cup or so of bleach down the toilet along with all kinds of other house hold chemicals, this is something I do not recommend. When the black tank is taken care of correctly, even if hooked up full time, I do not believe you will have any issues with it.,

What If We Smell Raw Sewage?

The main reason for being able to smell the raw sewage is that the tank is too full.

I have recently seen/smelled a tank that showed empty releasing a horrible odor. As it turns out, although the tank appeared to be empty, it wasn’t. There was a lot of old “stuff” in the tank. After hours of treating and flushing the tank, (and a lot of unnecessary expensive)) we were able to get the horrid smell out of the camper.

On a rare occasion, the toilet seal may not be closing all the way and letting gasses back up. Even so, it’s telling me the tank probably needs to be treated and emptied.

Black Tank Flush Or Not?

Black tank flushes can really make cleaning the tank easier. Plenty of RV’s come with them from the factory. Sometimes they can be added to a travel trailer. Be sure to check with the dealership the RV was purchased from to see if yours has one. If not, that is OK. There are usually tricks to help clean it out. I have seen a garden hose put down the toilet to flush the tank out. Be careful if doing this – we do not want the tank over filling into the bathroom or the water from the garden hose going all the inside of the camper. If going this route, having 2 people would be wise.

Either way, I highly check with the dealer/manufacture before tackling it either way.

It’s Clean! I Am Finished, Right?

The answer to that is NO, not just yet. After flushing is complete and the water coming from it is clear, clean water does need to be added into tank. Enough water to cover the bottom of the tank should be fine. Some black tank chemicals may need to be put into the toilet at this point. Make sure to read the directions of what you are using.

An old trick: immediately before leaving the campground, after the travel trailer is hooked to the truck and everything & everyone is loaded up, add a 20# bag of ice down the toilet. This does a couple of things: as the trailer is being pulled down the road, the ice bounces all over the place and helps in cleaning anything that may be stuck on the probes, AND once the ice has melted, it has left enough water in the bottom of the tank, so you do not have to add any. Be careful, on a really hot day, make sure you are ready to pull the trailer, the ice will melt really fast! (Emptying the ice chest down the toilet may work too- make sure there is nothing other then water and ice in it))

Storage And Sanitary Ideas:

I do recommend having and using disposal gloves for this entire cleaning. Having a separate plastic container to keep the sewer hose stored when not in use is also a great idea.

Be careful where the tank is being emptied. One can get into a lot of trouble emptying tank in an undesignated area. Most campgrounds have them, but, it may be good idea to find out before heading over there, especially if the family will be camping there for a few days or longer.

The more people using the toilet, the more frequent it will need to be emptied.

Keep in mind, although the tanks are usually pretty large, they are not designed to travel with a tank that is full tank. Water itself is extremely heavy and that is before people using it. I always recommend emptying/cleaning it once it shows 3/4 full, if not sooner. I do not recommend waiting until the level shows full. I have seen too many unexpected accidents occur from this. And, no one wants to have to deal with that.

On a side note that most people do not think of: Make sure the termination pipe cap is always in place/closed tightly. If it is seen that the RV is in transport with the cap off, you can definitely be pulled over and given a citation for “dumping” There is no way for law enforcement to truly know – so of course, they are not usually going to ask questions. Better be safe then sorry.

Finally, The Talk Is Almost Over

If you have continued to read this post then I truly appreciate you time and willingness to read & learn. We all know this isn’t a conversation that anyone likes to have, however, it is an extremely important one. I have had to break bad financial news and send too many yukky pictures to too many RV owners then I can I count. Issues from a black tank not being taken care of correctly is NOT factory warranty, extended warranty or an insurance claim. The camper is less then 30 days old? Once can try to get the factory to cover it, but it does not usually work. The factory, along with a trained technician can tell, sorry.

Still, not comfortable with the entire process – You Tube can become you best friend. LOL Make sure the video is reputable, there is also a lot of poor information on the web. There is plenty of information online and on you tube. When in doubt, please always call the dealership or even the factory where the camper was made. RV Digest is also a great place to find information.

Of course, if you leave me a question and I do not know the answer, I will get it from certified sources.

Even though this wasn’t necessarily a fun read, it is an important one. Understanding the black tank completely will help save a lot of money and time in the long run.

I hope you have found some good general information in the blog. And as always, please feel free to leave me a question or comment below. I can also be reached by email at:


Happy Camping!


Happy Camping!

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