One of the biggest advantages of taking an RV on the road is having your own shower and bathroom to use whenever you want. You don’t need to worry about finding clean public restrooms – though of course you probably have to clean your own shower and toilet!
An RV does use a fairly unique septic system. They tend to use holding tanks versus a pipe system that takes waste into the sewer system. The holding tank does require routine maintenance. But how often?
Based on average use, an RV holding tank should be emptied every 3-5 days. There are a variety of reasons for this frequency in emptying. These most often involve wear and tear on the tank – and as you would expect for a tank that holds waste – smell. Here we go!
Preventing odors in your RV waste tank
One of the biggest reasons to empty the tank on a regular basis is preventing smells. Having waste water sit on your tank will gradually start to smell. You should be especially careful to add enough regular water to your waste tank when emptying it out.
The regular water in your tank also helps balance out the waste water and prevent the smell from leaking into your RV. If you have enough water in your waste tank, you should need to empty it every 3-5 days to keep it from getting full.
Most RVs have a “trap” in the pipes, similar to a residential bathroom. This trap can also help keep odors from flowing into your RV and your nose.
Sludge and emptying your RV tank often
There is another reason to keep water in your tank! Water and waste removal on a regular basis keeps the waste from building the bacteria that causes odorous and hard to remove sludge from forming. While products are made to help remove and dissolve waste water sludge from your tank, it’s not a process many people like.
In order to prevent having to squirt fluid into your waste water tank and generally keeping your RV smelling good, empty the tanks out. Emptying the tank out when it’s not quite full is way better than dealing with the complications of a full tank.
Sensors in your tank
Many tanks do have sensors to tell you how full they are. You can also add sensors to your tank to check their levels.
If these sensors are left in an overly full tank, they can wear out faster. One thing you certainly don’t want is the experience of learning your sensors have failed and you have a packed full waste water tank. You’ll probably start to notice the smell though.
What if I travel alone? How often should I empty?
The 3-5 day guideline assumes that you are traveling with a few people. If you and a travel partner are on the road, you can probably empty out the tank less often.
While one advantage to RVs is having your own bathroom, using a public restroom when you can will reduce your need to empty the tank.
How about a big group?
You can hopefully rely on the sensors themselves and your sense of smell, but you may want to empty the tank out more often if more people are traveling with you.
Be mindful of having guests who are not traveling with on the RV too, of course. Every waste producing person adds up. Just know how to find an RV park narby and you’ll be able to handle crowds.
When do I empty the tanks in an RV?
While 3-5 days is a good guideline, you can also check the tanks levels. Tank levels should be about ⅔ full when you empty. ⅔ full is a good balance between having a tank that is getting full without starting to produce odors, and not spending more time emptying the tank.
As mentioned above, you can use build in sensors to read tank levels – but they do wear out. If your sensors are more than a few years old, consider checking the tank or emptying it anyway.
Whenever you can
You won’t always be near an RV park or maintenance place that allows you to drain your waste water tank. While it’s possible to empty your waste water tank without direct access to a sewer or designed place, it’s not an especially pleasant process.
If you are traveling from RV park to RV park, empty it when you can. Just be sure to put enough fresh water to combat the bacteria buildup. Using a predesigned system, usually involving a sturdy hose, is the easiest and most convenient way to empty your waste water tank on a regular basis.
We do have a couple of suggestions for you if you are able to empty your tank on the basis needed. Wear latex gloves in case something spills. Also, park a bit downhill to make the waste water flow faster out of the tank. You might save some time and effort.
Emptying the waste water, or black tank, on your RV can be dirty business. You will want to balance out preventing smell and bacteria build up with conveniently emptying the tank. One of the most important things to remember is to use enough fresh water to keep bacteria and ordor from being an issue in the first place.
While tanks often do have sensors, they can also be wrong. Be watchful for any signs that the holding tank is backed up. The signs are usually pretty obvious with smell.
So go on your adventure and use these tips to keep your RV safe, smelling nice, and well maintained.