How RV Plumbing Works: A Quick Guide
Many people who love the idea of the freedom of movement and flexibility offered by owning an RV camper get turned off by one aspect: the issue of plumbing. After all, there’s something a little bit daunting about the plumbing at home, so when you combine it with the fact that RVs are always on the go, doesn’t it make the plumbing system even more difficult and complicated? However, when you do learn how RV plumbing works, you’ll realize that it’s not as complicated or gross as you may think.
RV plumbing systems – the shower, sink, and toilet – work in the same way as the plumbing system in your home. The main difference is that the plumbing in your home is already connected to your city or town's sewage system. Unless you have a leak in your home, you don't think about where the dirty water goes once you've flushed it, or it has gone down the drain.
With RV plumbing, however, the system is self-contained inside your RV. This means that you would need to empty it out on a regular basis manually. While this might sound disgusting and difficult, RVs come with an efficient disposal system that you can easily learn.
What You Need to Know about Gray Water and Black Water
The first thing that you need to learn about RV plumbing is the difference between gray water and black water. Gray water refers to the used, dirty water that comes from your shower and sink, with the gray color of the water coming from being mixed with dirt and soap residue. The gray water goes down the drain and becomes stored in a tank specially designed for gray water. While gray water isn't particularly "clean," it's not overly gross and can be disposed of more easily compared to black water. In some cases, you can even dispose gray water directly on the ground as long as you can hose it off with clean water to prevent the residue from becoming hardened scum.
Black water, on the other hand, comes from the solid and liquid waste from your toilet. Black water is much more gross compared to gray water and poses a health and environmental hazard. Thus, you can only dispose of black water at designated areas, and you must connect the hose directly to the sewer line.
Emptying Your Tanks
If you are going to empty your tanks, the black tank must be emptied before the gray tank. This prevents solid waste from being left behind in your hose lines. First, you must find a location where the disposal of black water is allowed. Connect the end of the sewer hose to the connection on the side of your RV. Open up the valve for the black water tank first and allow it to drain completely. Once your black tank is empty, close the valve. You can now open up the valve for your gray water tank. The gray water will help remove any remaining residue from your black water tank. After the gray water tank has been drained, close the valve. Disconnect the sewer hose and store it back in your RV.
Gray Water Tank Maintenance
After draining your gray water tank, you must also treat it to ensure that it remains as clean as possible. Gray water tanks typically fill up faster compared to black water tanks, and it's a good idea to flush them out every week or so, especially if you're traveling with a large group of people. Whenever you empty out your gray water tank, you can flush it out with clean water to remove any residue inside the tank. If you have tank treatment solution, you can add it to the clean water to help prevent odors from building up.
Black Water Tank Maintenance
Maintaining your black water tank is somewhat trickier compared to the gray water tank, but if you do it on a regular basis, it will eventually become an easy part of your RV cleaning and maintenance. After you empty out your black water tank, always flush it with clean water to remove any residue inside. After it has been flushed out, make sure to add biodegradable enzymes to the water reservoir inside your black water tank. This helps break down any organic material that comes into your black water tank for easier removal later on.
Take note that you should only empty your black water tank when it is at least ¾ full to allow the contents to flow out much easier.
Where Does the Fresh Water on My Tank Come From?
Now that you know how RV plumbing works when it comes to disposing of your dirty water, you should also know where your clean water comes from. Underneath your RV carriage, there is a special tank that contains clean water called the freshwater tank. This tank contains the water that comes out from your shower and taps when you turn them on.
This tank has a specific inlet connection that allows you to hook it up to potable water sources. Make sure that you get water from sources that are specifically marked for use in RV freshwater tanks. If you use regular tap water from your garden use, it could add unpleasant and unwanted tastes and odors to your water because the water might not be food-grade.
The Plumbing on my RV is Broken. What do I Do?
When you have a plumbing issue in your home, you typically decide whether it’s something that you can do yourself or if you need to call in a professional. You can apply the same thinking to the plumbing system in your RV.
Is the problem largely superficial like a leaky hose? If it is, you can just buy a replacement and even connect the hose yourself with some help from your RV manual. However, if the problem is something that needs professional training and tools to solve, such as a cracked tank, you should consider hiring a professional plumber who is experienced in working on RV plumbing systems.
Now that you know how RV plumbing works, it’s safe to say that it’s a lot simpler than you might have feared it would be! No need to be worried about where the dirty water goes once you flush it down as long as you regularly empty and maintain your tanks properly. What’s more, you can buy basic maintenance tools so that you can troubleshoot simple plumbing problems while you’re on the road!
Owning an RV is the only hobby where you should openly talk about proper waste disposal, and one of the things that you need to be familiar with is what is black water tank for RV and what it is used for.