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How Do RV Showers Work?

On long trips in your RV, you are going to want to keep yourself clean. It’s also comforting to soak off in a hot shower after a long day on the road. RV showers are on the smaller side, but can still get the job done when you’re feeling grimy. 

But how does an RV shower work? What allows it to heat up, and what keeps the water pressure going? How does the grey tank work? It is easy to be left mystified by your RV’s shower, but it is much simpler than it seems. 

An RV shower works via the vehicle’s plumbing system, wherein fresh water is supplied by a campground hookup or from the tank. Heating is supplied by the water heater and delivered to faucets and showerheads. Water pumps supply the pressure, and water from the shower drain ends up in the grey tank. 

How Does An RV Shower Work? 

You might be new to the RV scene, or you might be interested in the plumbing system in your vehicle. It’s not unusual to want to know how your RV works; it is your home away from home, after all. Knowing what pipes lead where and how everything functions can help you diagnose problems down the line. 

Holding Tanks

In a home bathroom, water is flushed down the toilet or sent through drains in sinks and showers. The water is sent directly to the sewer systems, out of sight and out of mind. RV plumbing systems require that process to be on the go. 

That’s where the holding tanks come in. Specifically, your RV shower is supplied water from the fresh water tank and drains into the grey. The grey tank has a specific valve for dumping when it comes time to drain. You can also clean your holding tank by dumping a solution down the shower drain. 

If your RV is not hooked up to the sewer system, you will need to keep your grey water tank closed. After showering, your grey tank may end up close to capacity, as showers use more water than the sinks do. This is especially true if the tank was already partially full. 

Ventilation System

From the grey and black tanks, a plumbing vent pipe runs up to the roof of the RV. This positioning allows odors to be vented out instead of lingering and growing worse. These vents are typically made of 1 ½” ABS plastic piping. 

An oft-forgotten component of the RV plumbing system, the plumbing vent cap has a tough job. This small cap sits at the head of the vent and keeps rainwater and dirt from slipping down the pipes. 

Water from your shower isn’t as much of an issue, but the grey tank still utilizes this vent system. Your shower water will be carrying any dirt that is washed off your body into the drains, and the scent can build. 

Water Pumps

The water pump is fairly straightforward; it pumps your water from the tanks and into the shower. That pumping action is why your showerhead will have any pressure to it, leaving you feeling cleaner. 

RVs usually use diaphragm pumps with 3-5 chambers, powered by an electric motor. There are valves on either side of the chambers that open to allow the water to move. As the diaphragm expands, creating volume and low pressure, the valve on the inlet opens, and the outlet closes. 

When the diaphragm contracts, the opposite happens; there is more pressure and less volume. The reaction causes the valve on the outlet to open and the inlet to close. That is how the water gets forced out of the chambers. 

Water Heaters 

There’s nothing like the satisfaction and comfort of a hot shower. It not only cleans your body, but it feels wonderfully relaxing after a rugged hike or heavy physical activity. That is where the water heater comes in. 

Most RV water heaters are propane-powered, unless you have a luxury RV or motorhome, and use a pilot light. Water heaters without pilot lights use direct spark ignition, or DSI. You’ll be able to tell if your water heater uses DSI if there is a switch inside the trailer to turn it on. 

The way that your conventional water heater works is via a storage tank. The tank fills with water, heats it up, and then holds the water there. The hot water is dispensed when you use the taps in your sink or shower and will remain hot until the tank is empty. 

The water heater has internal mechanisms to ensure that the water does not get too hot, and to manage pressure. If something has gone wrong with your water heater, it is best to consult a professional technician. 

Tankless Water Heaters 

There is an alternative to the struggle of the usual water heater in your RV. This is also sometimes referred to as “on-demand” hot water, and is relatively new to the RV scene. They were only brought into popularity about ten years ago. 

Tankless water heaters have a coiled chamber that heats water as it passes through. As long as your vehicle is fueled, you can have as much hot water as you need on tap. 

The Showerhead 

The showerhead in your RV is mostly similar to the ones you’d find in a home shower. If you aren’t satisfied with the pressure provided by the existing water pump, a pressurized showerhead can improve it. 

Commonly, your RV will have a showerhead equipped with a shut-off valve. The valve will make it easier to conserve your water. It is much more convenient to use the shut-off valve for your water than to turn the water pump off entirely. 

There are also water-saving showerheads available for purchase that can make a shower in your RV last much longer. Since they reduce the total amount of water used, that means your freshwater tank will stay full longer, and your grey tank won’t fill up as rapidly. 

The Shower Pan

If your RV isn’t big enough to have a bathtub, you will instead find a shower pan at your feet. This usually has shallow walls to collect water and direct it toward the drain. The walls also keep the water from sloshing about. 

These pans are non-slip and made of acrylic or fiberglass. Though they’re small in size, they’re rather durable; they’ll last quite a while without needing to be replaced. The pan is attached to the walls of your shower, and to the floor itself. 

If you notice any holes in your shower pan, repair them right away. This isn’t a difficult fix, and most with a sense of DIY know-how will be able to patch it up with a repair kit. It’s important to mend these holes, as they can lead to water getting into the shower floor itself. 

The Skylight 

Though it’s not in every RV shower, a skylight is a typical feature in modern RV showers. It can illuminate the space when it’s sunny on top of being aesthetically pleasing. 

As an added bonus, a skylight can lend a hand in keeping your shower time warm. If you’re showering when the sun is still out, the warmth the skylight provides will make the experience toastier. This is especially helpful if you’re turning off the water to soap up before turning it back on again. 

How To Take A Shower In an RV 

The idea of taking a shower in a moving vehicle can, reasonably, lead to some apprehension. You may wonder what the risks are, and how similar or dissimilar it is to a shower you’d take in a house. 

While there are a few obvious similarities, it is not the same experience. Your RV holding tanks cannot hold enough water to support a long, thoughtful shower. Additionally, there is far less space. 

On average, an RV’s water tank holds 6-8 gallons of water. Even small tanks in houses are 40-50 gallons; a considerable difference in capacity. You will not be able to take as long a shower in your RV as you could in a house or hotel.

Water-Saving RV Shower Method

To avoid a cold rinse, a well-supported method for RV showering is to shower in three parts. 

  1. First, get your hair and body wet. Efficiency is key; you will want to be entirely wet, but you shouldn’t take too long doing it. If you shampoo and condition your hair, massage in your shampoo and rinse it out before the next step. 
  2. Turn the water off. Now you’ll want to apply your soap, scrubbing down and lathering up. If you are using conditioner, you can add it to your wet hair now. 
  3. Turn the water back on again, and rinse off all of the soap and hair products. If your shower has a removable head, you can use this to ensure full coverage. 

While this style of showering is not luxurious by any means, it will get you clean. If you do it in sections as outlined above, you can be sure that the water in your shower will stay hot the entire time. 

If you’re not the only person who is in line to use the shower, be considerate. You’re working with a finite resource, and you don’t want to leave the next bather with cold water. Or worse: no water. 


  1. Try using shower gel instead of bar soap in your shower. Shower gel breaks down faster and leaves less residue. That means that the soap will drain without needing to run the showerhead excessively. 
  2. Ventilation is your friend in an RV shower. Because the space is so tightly enclosed, moisture and humidity accumulate rapidly, leading to mold and mildew. Pop open a window if you can, or use a small dehumidifier shortly before, during, and for a few minutes after your shower. 
  3. Keep your towels nearby. As obvious as it sounds, it is fundamental to keeping excess moisture from spreading all over your RV. If your towels are an arm’s-length away, you’ll circumvent to need to drip onto the floors in search of them. 
  4. If you need help timing yourself, listen to music. Propping up your phone, or using a Bluetooth speaker, find a song you love that is 3-4 minutes long. When the song is over, you know it’s time to wrap up. This isn’t just helpful for timekeeping, but it can make your bathing time more enjoyable. 

How Long Does An RV Shower Last? 

How long an RV shower lasts depends on your current water setup. If you are parked at a campground that’s decked out with full hookups, you can shower as long as needed. Be sure, in this scenario, that you have your grey water valve open. 

If you’re only relying on your water heater and water tanks, you’ll need to work quickly. The maximum shower time you should aim for is 10 minutes. However, you’re sure to run out of hot water by then; hot water tanks will last an average of 3-5 minutes. 

If you have a tankless water heater, you won’t have to worry about running out of hot water, but you do want to conserve the water you’re drawing from your freshwater tank. 

The showerhead is also a factor in your shower time. Water limiting heads, as mentioned above, will make a shower last longer, since it won’t deplete your water as fast. 

Can You Shower While An RV Is In Motion? 

From a bare-bones, technical standpoint: yes. As long as the seatbelt laws in your state do not dictate that passengers need to be seated and belted in at all times while the coach is in motion, you can shower. You’ll also want to be sure that the grey tank is not close to full capacity, and that the water pump and water heater are on. 

Just because you can do something, though, doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. If you’ve ever walked in an RV, you can attest to the fact that it isn’t always smooth sailing. That, combined with getting slippery and wet in the shower, makes for a dangerous situation. 

Falling in an RV while you’re showering could lead to serious injury, or even death. That doesn’t just mean a wreck or fender-bender; even a sudden stop could send you toppling. 

If you absolutely must shower in an RV, crouch down as much as you can in the space, or sit if possible. This is easier with a detachable shower head; you can clean yourself off and reach every nook and cranny while staying relatively secure. 

Even this method is not 100% secure. In the interest of safety, it is best to wait until the vehicle has stopped before you take a shower. 


The shower is one of the components in your RV that make it truly liveable. Having a place to get clean can make you feel human again after hours of hiking, camping, or just driving. It may be a small space, but it is an essential one. 

Most RV showers work by pumping water from the freshwater tank or water heater into the showerhead. The showerhead and pump together provide water pressure. When the water drains, it heads into the grey tank. 

Some alternatives and time-savers will make showering in an RV easier. You can use a tankless water heater to have an unlimited supply of warm water. Showering in sections is a good idea to ensure that, if you aren’t tankless, you won’t have to end your shower freezing cold. 

You can expect a shower to last as long as you need it to if you’re hooked up to a campground or city water source. When relying on your own tanks, showers shouldn’t run more than 10 minutes. It’s best to make your shower as speedy as possible. 

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