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Quick Tips For Keeping Your RV Holding Tanks Clean

Published on September 1st, 2023 by Carl Sumerix
This post was updated on September 18th, 2023

RV sewer hose goes into a sewer fitting at a campsite.

Managing Your RV Holding Tanks Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

During my 50 years as an RV tech repairing and replacing thousands of holding tanks and toilets, I have found that an RV owner’s knowledge about the maintenance of RV holding tanks is mainly based on hearsay, or trial and error. I can honestly say that I only started to understand the issues myself when I became a camper decades ago. I was in the same boat of not knowing exactly what should be done, and relied on what I read or what I was told.

RV holding tanks aren’t always the most pleasant part of RVing, but they are a necessary part of owning an RV, and a little maintenance can make camping far more enjoyable. Here are a few tips I have compiled that should help you on your journey to successful holding tank management.

RV holding tank tips

Proper maintenance of your RV’s black tank (where the waste from the toilet is stored) is essential for preventing leaks, odors, and damage to your RV. Here are some techniques and tips:

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1. Use RV-specific toilet paper

Regular toilet paper doesn’t break down as quickly or as completely as RV-specific toilet paper. This can lead to clogs in your tank, which are both unpleasant and difficult to remove.

2. Use a high-quality tank chemical

Tank chemicals help to break down waste and prevent odors. There are many types to choose from, including those that are environmentally friendly. The Blue Streak Automatic Dispenser System is a prime example.

3. Use adequate amounts of water

When flushing, use a good amount of water. It helps to dilute waste and prevent clogs. Too little water can lead to the buildup of solid waste, also known as “pyramiding.”

4. Rinse the tank regularly 

After you empty your black tank, rinse it thoroughly. Some RVs come with built-in black tank rinse systems. If yours doesn’t, you can use a tank rinser or a wand designed to spray water inside the tank.

5. Keep the valve closed 

Until it’s time to dump, keep the black tank valve closed on your RV holding tank. This will prevent the liquid waste from draining out, leaving solid waste behind.

Close up of valve handle on an rv holding tank.
Keep your black tank closed until you are ready to dump. Photo: Rene Agredano

6. Empty the tank when it’s mostly full 

It’s best to empty the tank when it’s at least two-thirds full. This way, the weight of the contents will help to push everything out of the tank.

7. Don’t dump grease or food in the toilet

These materials can clog the tank and sensors.

8. Use a clear elbow connector when dumping

This allows you to see when the water runs clear after you’ve emptied and rinsed the black tank, which means the tank is clean.

9. Regularly inspect and maintain seals and valves

Regularly check the health of seals and valves to avoid leaks or stuck valves, which can be a messy problem. Toilet manufacturers suggest lubricating the bowl seal once a month. Some call for adding their lubricant and allowing it to sit in the bowl for eight hours (hopefully no one has to go!). Normally you can just replace the gate valve if the seal goes bad. 

10. Empty the black tank before the gray

By doing this, the gray water will flush out any remaining waste from the sewer hose.

11. Winterizing your RV holding tank

Usually just dumping the tanks and leaving the valves open works just fine.

12. Watch your gauges 

Holding tank level gauges are notorious for inaccurate readings. Most systems utilize tank probes that are mounted through the side of the tank. These probes use an electric current that detects how full the tank is. However, this system is not foolproof.

For example, after a tank has recently been dumped, the side of the tank may still be wet, or a paper product may be hung up on the probe. Both can cause a false reading. Always allow ample time for the tank to dry after dumping before checking the gauge if you have any accuracy concerns. Probe cleaner can also help if used on a regular basis.

Remember, different RVs might have different types of systems or processes, so it’s always a good idea to read the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations for your particular RV model.

Fighting odor in RV holding tanks

One of the first issues that comes up in conversation is odor, and trying to find the best solution. You have a few options:

Do nothing

As you might guess, this isn’t a particularly popular choice. Simply deciding “that’s just the way RVs are,” won’t earn you any friends or family members with noses inside or outside the camper.

Empty your RV holding tanks frequently 

While this sounds good on paper, it’s not always convenient and can require a lot more time and water to flush your system if the solids haven’t had time to break down yet.

Add chemical deodorants

You can add a chemical deodorant to your RV holding tank. They come in liquid, dry powder, packets, enzymes, and home brews found on the internet. With liquid deodorants, most RV dealers have shelves of many different brands. Choosing the right one can be daunting and still might not provide you what you are looking for in the end result.

Dry powders are used for chemical recycling in toilets like those found on a plane, and they are not too pleasant. Some drop-in packets are convenient but may not be very effective, as they tend to end up at the bottom of the tank and do not mix well. Homebrews are usually very expensive to make, not to mention you shouldn’t mix chemicals unless you are a chemist.

Enzymes by themselves may not really do the job for holding tanks as they were intended. After all, it is a holding tank, not a septic tank. If the waste isn’t left in long enough to break down, enzymes may not work. You can also kill the enzymes by adding a deodorant or other type of drop-in or liquid to the tank.

There are a variety of good liquid options that factor all of these solutions into a single cohesive solution that actually works and is effective on RV holding tanks. One such solution is Blue Streak. By itself, it is enormously effective, but when paired with the Automatic Dispenser, it adds another level of reassurance and gives you one less thing to remember.

Previous RV holding tank solutions 

To circle back to when I started camping and trying to decide what method of odor control to use, the “Tidy Bowl” came to mind, but I wondered, how could I add a chemical to the flush water? The RV toilet doesn’t have a water closet tank as a toilet in the home does.

The only solution would be to inject it into the flush line. By adding the chemical with each flush, you would no longer have to remember when or how much chemical to add, making it convenient and easy to use.

Deodorizing the bowl with each flush also did a much better job of odor control. By metering the amount used each time, it eliminated the overuse and wasting of the chemical. This not only saves money, but it is also good for the environment.

We also didn’t want to use formaldehyde with our product, so we formulated it to maximize the efficiency of our overall system. With all of these thoughts and ideas in mind, Blue Streak Chemical and the RV holding tank Automatic Dispenser System was born.

“How many times have you passed up a dumping opportunity because you had just added treatment to the black tank? Blue Streak Automatic Chemical Dispenser Eliminates that concern.”

Carl Sumerix, Owner, Blue Streak LLC
Blue stream bottle and dispenser.
The Blue Streak Automatic Dispenser solution

The Blue Streak solution

Blue Streak Chemical is biodegradable and septic system safe. We added detergent to help clean, along with a lubricant for the seals. Therefore, with each flush, it deodorizes, cleans, and lubricates, making it not only convenient but very easy to use.

Best of all, you can dump your holding tanks when it is convenient without wasting chemicals you may have added. The Blue Streak Chemical Dispenser solves all your RV holding tank issues, as well as saving money.

Visit bluestreakchem.com for more information.

About the Author

Carl Sumerix has been in the RV, marine, and camping industry for over 50 years. He is an RV technician, entrepreneur, camper, and inventor. Carl initially created the Blue Streak auto dispensing system to improve his camping experience.

Track your RV maintenance

Make sure you keep track of all your RV maintenance and repairs with an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance. Not only can you keep all of your documents in one place, but you’ll also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents. 

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14 thoughts on “Quick Tips For Keeping Your RV Holding Tanks Clean”

  1. Dawn dish liquid 1cup,1cup borax,a pack of solid waste breakdown stuff after emptying tank,gauges stay clean grease broken up everything slids out good,one flush and it’s running clear

    Reply
  2. Hello I am new to RVing. I live in mine full-time. I am living in an RV park. Is it ok to leave the black tank open all of the time?
    Thanks Lynn

    Reply
    • Don’t do it Lynn. You could get noxious odors sweeping back into your tanks and then RV. Additionally you will increase the likelihood of creating the dreaded poo pyramid by allowing most of the liquid waste to drain away while solids remain in the tank leading to clogs.

      Reply
    • One of the problems with leaving the valve open is , as the article states, all the liquid runs off and may leave the solids behind. Another issue is the flies that are in the septic system come up into your toilet and into your rv when you flush.

      Reply
  3. Chemicals do not work only if u are laying up your RV. Not enough time for chemicals to work. What works the best is ice. Put a bag of ice in tank before you travel and dump when u arrive. Ice will break up solids and melt to water then dump. Very simple logical and cheap.

    Reply
  4. I’m just getting ready to start temporarily living in my fifth wheel best suggestions for the easiest way to deal with the black water waste. It’s not a lot of work dealing with the black water.

    Reply
  5. I recently got my mhome…the black tank is “full”, and likely has been for a at least almost 2 yrs. It’s been outside, without cover in high temps in summer(s) and cccold winter(s)…any comments/suggestions to clean it effectively? Thx!

    Reply
    • No pro here but this site gave a couple early on in the read; if it will take some water, put as much in as you can, get some of their liquid to put in the tank to help break down the muck and put that in too, and if you have a clean-out port use that to keep water going onto the leftover gunk until it’s cleaned out fully

      Reply
  6. We do most of this and have the added observations: 1) as much as possible we use campground toilets for solid waste use to reduce the buildup in the RV tank; 2) when emptying and cleaning the the tank I will fill the toilet with fresh water to the maximum level then flush, which allows a volume “gush” to push solids out.

    Reply
  7. If you suspect the black Holding tank level gauge are showing inaccurate readings, use a dip stick to reveal the true tank level.
    It is as simple as that.

    Reply

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