Snowbirding 101

Feeling down in the dumps?

Here's Snowbirding 101 on holding tank basics


Question: I'm confused about whether or not I should leave the dump valve open when I'm already hooked up, sewer-wise. What do I need to know about this aspect of living in a motorhome?

Answer: When the water/sewer system works well, it make our lives so much more comfortable. But when it stops doing what it is supposed to or starts to stink, it becomes the bane of our existence. The best way to fix sewer problems is to prevent them in the first place and knowing how to maintain the tanks and work the valves is a good place to start.

To close or not to close

There is some disagreement about whether or not to leave the grey water tank valve open when you are hooked up to the sewer. But there is overwhelming agreement that the black water tank valve needs to be closed until there is a significant amount of waste in the tank--at least half full.

What happens if you leave the valve open on the black water tank?

Leaving the black water valve open can have dire consequences. Just picture the sight when you shovel dirt into a pile--especially if it is damp. It starts to pile up in a type of pyramid. Now what happens if the water evaporates? Usually the pile becomes solid. Uh-oh! You do not want mounds of "stuff" to pile up in the tank and harden. This makes it almost impossible to get everything out.

Use plenty of water and as little paper as possible. Our rule of thumb is to flush for a count of five for pee and ten for poop). Flushing with plenty of water can also keep the odor down. We also put the tissue in the garbage whenever possible. A small garbage container beside the toilet is a good reminder.

Flushing out the black tank

The black water tank does not need to get flushed out every time you dump, but an occasional flush helps control odors, especially during the hot summer months. Before we had the back flush for the black water tank, we would pour three or four bucketsful of water into the toilet with the valve closed. We have a clear section in the drain hose and can tell when the water comes out clean.

How about the grey water tank valve?

The grey water tank usually holds the waste from the kitchen sink, the shower and the bathroom sink. That makes it less critical to keep the valve closed but waste and gases from the kitchen can easily cause odors. We often leave the valve of the grey water tank open when we are connected to a sewer outlet and using lots of water, but do fill and flush occasionally to keep the odor under control.

Preventing sewer problems

•  Don’t depend on the gauges to know how full your tanks are; they seldom give an accurate reading. You will know when it is time to dump!
•  Dump a bag of ice cubes down the toilet just before starting the day's drive. The cubes stay solid long enough to scour the inside of the tank while you drive.
•  Drain the black water tank first, then the gray water tank, thus flushing the black water completely through and rinsing the sewer hose.
•  Use a rinse wand that attaches to the utility hose and goes down through the toilet into the black water tank.
•  After the black water tank is drained and flushed, close the valve and add enough water to cover the bottom of the tank and then (if you use chemicals) add the tank chemical.
•  Many RVers swear by the Geo Method developed by Charles Bruni. It uses water softener, detergent and chlorine bleach to maintain the tanks. Dissolve two cups of water softener in a gallon of hot water. Add the softener and cup of laundry detergent to an empty black water tank with the drain valve closed. Use the tanks and dump as you usually do. Initially use this formula a couple of times and then every so often. You do not have to use the detergent in the grey water, but do use the water softener. Use liquid bleach ever so often to sanitize your tanks.
•  There is a clear hose extension to connect the sewer drain line and the water waste output on your RV so you can monitor what is coming out of the tanks and see when they are clean.

Clean, sweet-smelling holding tanks make for happy campers!

Do you have questions about RV snowbirding? Send them to us at [email protected]

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