Tech > Waste management
Ew, ew ew.
It's an unsavoury topic, but a necessary one. Campers produce waste and it needs to be stored and disposed of properly. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it. In this family, John's the lucky one. Apparently sewage is men's work!
Aside from the fresh water tank and the water heater, larger trailers typically have two holding tanks - grey water (from the sinks and shower) and black water (from the toilet). Managing and draining the holding tanks may seem like an unpleasant job, but that doesn't have to be the case. We follow a few simple steps to keep it as clean and trouble-free as possible. And bear in mind that these are holding tanks, not septic tanks. The approach is not the same.
- Use RV-friendly toilet paper. Note that it doesn't have to be branded RV-specific as long as it breaks down in water. To test this, put a couple of sheets in a container about half full of water. Let it sit for a minute or so, then shake the container a few times. Check the contents... if the paper is in shreds it'll be fine. If it doesn't, keep it for home use and try another brand.
- Dump from dirtiest to cleanest. Draining the black tank first has a couple of benefits. Firstly, the grey water can be used to help flush the near-empty black tank - just leave the valve open when you open the grey valve. Secondly, finishing with the relatively clean grey water rinses out the drain hose(s) and attachment(s).
- Dump a full tank. Having more content in the tank helps flush out the solids. This applies especially to campsites with sewer hookups... don't leave the drain valves open just because you can. All of the liquids will drain out immediately, leaving the solids behind. The end result is a black tank with a poopcrete liner in the bottom.
- Drive with some content in the tanks. The sloshing action in the tanks helps to break down solids, including toilet paper.
- Keep the tanks clean. We use The Geo Method. In short, it involves adding water softener to both grey and black tanks a few times a season, with the inclusion of laundry soap for the black tank. We use powdered water softener - Calgon in particular. It can be hard to find, but for my fellow Canadians I suggest talking to your local Home Hardware dealer... ours will order it for us. The water softener helps keep stuff from sticking to the sides of the tank and may even get those pesky and unreliable tank sensors working again! We don't use any other chemicals or additives in our waste tanks. You can pre-mix the doses and keep them in the RV in any handy container.
- Prime the black tank with water. It's a good idea to add a few gallons of water to the just-emptied black tank... it keeps the tank from drying out and getting stinky, and it means that the first solids to enter the tank will start to break down right away.
One more tip - grey water can smell as bad as black - or worse. Many RV showers have a small P-trap in the drain, but the water can evaporate or slosh out during travel. Since discovering these facts we keep the shower drain plugged when not in use, making the trailer a more pleasant place for everyone.
Waste Tote Tank
Sometimes we camp in one spot for a week or more. If there's no on-site sewer connection, that meant hooking up the trailer mid-stay and towing it to the dump station... until we picked up this portable waste tank.
Larger tanks like this 120L (32 gallon) unit are wheeled and can be towed (at a walking pace) to the dump station to be emptied. This gives us enough capacity to completely drain one tank and part of another in a single go.
They're rather expensive new. If your sensibilities are not offended by the idea of a used one (plumbers and nurses, you may have an edge here), watch your local classifieds. We haunted Kijiji for several months before the right one turned up. A thorough cleaning and it was ready for use.
Flojet Portable RV Waste Pump
A familar sight at when departing from a park at trip's end is the lineup at the dump station. And after waiting patiently for a kick at the can (so to speak), one may feel too pressured to do a proper job of cleaning the tanks... especially the black water tank.
Enter the Flojet Portable RV Waste Pump:
This handy device (coloquially known as the Poop Cannon) allows the RV owner to drain the grey and black water tanks at home. Waste particles are macerated (read: chopped) and pumped through a common garden hose into a home toilet (which we started with) or, even better, a sewer cleanout (which we had installed in July of 2009).
Besides the trailer itself, four things are required to use it: power, a drain hose, a drain point, and a source of fresh water for flushing.
I got the idea for the power connection from a camping friend. It involves a 7-pin connector to draw power from the trailer's battery and a cable long enough to reach the Poop Cannon when it's attached to the trailer's waste outlet:
I picked up a 50', 3/4" diameter commercial grade hose and put it into dedicated service. On the output side I attached a 4' length of hose with no coupler on the end so as not to damage the toilet during discharge. When we converted to a cleanout the 4' length was removed.
For the first several uses we drained into the toilet. Unfortunately the faint smell of sewage still worked its way into the bathroom and, to a lesser degree, the house. A sealed system was what we needed, and that's what we got. Behold the cleanout:
When dumping the tanks it's a simple matter of undoing the cleanout's maintenance cap, installing the hose attachment cap and connecting the hose:
Voila... sealed system! The hose lives on a reel next to the cleanout and stays connected full-time.
Fresh water in the form of a tap and garden hose is used with a tank wand to rinse out the black water tank once it's undergone an initial draining. The hose can also be connected to the Poop Cannon to flush it and the drain hose clean. We use lots of fresh water.
No more dump station lines for us! Our tanks get emptied at home at our leisure, with plenty of time to do a thorough job.