3 Easy Ways to Clean a Black Water Tank


Everything You Need to Know About Your Black Water Tank

Travel trailer owners know that this form of camping can bring lots of wonderful experiences and adventures. However, there are parts to owning an RV that can be not so alluring. While it might not be the most glamorous part of owning a trailer, owners need to know and understand what their black water tank is and how to keep it clean. Cleaning the black water tank prevents bacteria build up and unpleasant odors from interrupting your traveling experiences.

How to clean a black water tank? Due to the nature of black water tanks, they need to be regularly maintained with chemicals, and deep cleaned fairly often. This is best accomplished through regular cleaning a black water flush if installed, or by throwing a bucket of ice and filling your tank half up and driving it around.

This job is not hard to do and takes very little time overall to complete. All it requires is a few specific materials that can be purchased at your local RV store or even online. Doing this is an important step for keeping your travel trailer clean and smelling fresh while it is in use.

What is a Black Water Tank?

When a travel trailer is parked at the campground, it can be hooked up to a sewage line in order to release any waste from inside the trailer, such as from the sink, toilet or shower. But where does this waste go whenever an RV is not hooked up? Typically, there are two types of waste holding tanks aboard a travel trailer: a gray water tank and a black water tank. The gray water tank holds onto all of the waste that comes from the sink or shower after using it. The blackwater tank holds onto all of the waste that comes from the toilet. These tanks hold on to all of the waste until it can be dumped into a designated waste area.

The black water tank on a travel trailer needs to be regularly cleaned out to prevent bacteria build up and unpleasant odors from entering the trailer. Since it is positioned underneath the trailer, it is a bit trickier to clean out than some of the other facilities in your trailer. With the proper materials and tools, it is very easy to clean out your tank to prevent these things from happening.

Using Your Black Water Tank

As long as your travel trailer has a fully operational black water tank, you will be able to use the toilet. Waste water will all be collected in the tank that is located underneath the trailer itself. Check your owner’s manual in order to determine how big your tank is before you go on a trip so you are aware of just how much you are going to be able to use it before it gets full.

You will know when it is time to dump your black water tank based on the readings from the sensors inside the tank that are aboard your model. These sensors let the owner know how full the tanks are at any given moment, and when the tanks reach their full capacity before dumping is required.

Travel trailer owners can not simply dump out all of their waste on the ground. This is actually illegal in most parts of the United States. This will need to be done at a designated waste area. Almost all campgrounds will have the means to help you dispose of the natural waste kept in these tanks, as well as a lot of gas stations and RV dealerships.

Maintaining the Black Water Tank

The tank needs to be regularly sanitized to ensure that there is not a bacteria build up or any unpleasant smells that could make their way into your travel trailer. Regular maintenance of your black water tank should take place after every use. Below are the steps that a travel trailer owner should take after every trip in their rig to prevent this bacteria and smell.

  1. Drain the Tank – Before you start cleaning the black water tank, make sure that it is completely empty. This will need to be done at one of the designated waste areas that can be found at a campground.
  2. Add Water – You will need to pour about a gallon of water into the tank. This can also be accomplished by rinsing and flushing the toilet a few times, using a hose that has been brought in to the trailer, or by emptying cups or cartons of water. You want the bottom of the tank to be covered in water before you add anything else into the system. If you have a black water flush connection, you can use this to fill your tank with water.
  3. Add Chemicals – Next, you will need to add the correct dosage of RV black water tank treatment. There are many different options of substances to use to clean the tank which can be easily found at a variety of RV stores or even online. Some are a liquid substance that will be poured, while some come in tablet form that will be dropped into the tank. Follow the directions on your specific substance when it comes to using the chemicals in the tank.
  4. Let Sit Before Dumping – Let the mixture stand in the tank in order for it to do its job cleaning and removing any unnecessary bacteria or particles from the sides of the tank. After about an hour of letting it sit, dump the remaining liquid from the tank into the same designated waste area as before.
  5. Use the tank as normal – Now that you have done this, you can throw another tab or another dose of chemical in and use the tank as normal. The tabs you buy are designed to help contain odors as well as break down material within your black tank.

There are also a variety of homemade cleaners that many RV owners will swear by. These substances may be easier to obtain and even possibly less expensive. Conduct the right amount of research before choosing to go with a homemade method. You want to make sure that you are doing this properly, and not just for ease or cost. There are definitely some things that you should not put in your black tank as it can damage the integrity of the tank by rotting seals or worsen the bacteria’s condition inside. Do not use bleach as this will kill all of the bacteria, even the good, and degrade your seals on your tank.

3 Ways to Clean a Black Water Tank

While regular cleanings and placing chemicals in the tank will help to keep the black water tank clean and sanitized after each trip, it will be necessary to deep clean and scrub out the inside of the tank as well to ensure that there is no build up of bacteria or other gunk inside the tank that you can not see.

Disgusted by the idea of cleaning out your black water tank? Many RV shops will complete the task for you. This will, of course, come at an extra cost to the trailer owner. So consider this when deciding how to clean your black water tank.

However, if you are willing and able to complete the task yourself, it is very possible and does not take very long. You will need a few specific tools in order to complete the job. If you have a black water flush installed on your RV, start here. If not, skip ahead.

1. Black Water Flush Method

If your travel trailer came preinstalled with a black water flush, this will put you one step ahead of the rest. It is a smart idea to use this every time you dump your tank to keep it maintained. To use it, follow these steps:

  • Hook up to a sewer station – You will want to make sure you are hooked up to sewer while you do this. If you are not, you can risk overflowing your tank and spilling sewage everywhere.
  • Hook up a Hose – You will want to use a hose that is not your fresh water hose as you could get cross-contamination with your black water tank. Hook up your hose, but don’t turn the water on yet.
  • Open your Black Tank Valve – Now open your valve and let your tank dump all the way.
  • Turn on the water – Turn on your water so it starts cleaning your tank. Our trailer has basically a sprinkler head that spins around to clean the tank. You will want to do this until you see clear liquid running out. Sometimes I close the dump and let it fill up to get the chunks out. This becomes almost an art after you do it once and you will figure out the best method of open-close, off and on with the water.
  • Finish – Now that you are rinsed, put your hose and all of your items away. Make sure your black tank valve is closed and you are done.

2. Wand Cleaning Method

  • A Magic Cleaning Wand – not literally, but this is the tool that will be used to clean out the tank. It is a long “stick” that attaches to the water hose. There are a variety of options for this tool either online or at an RV store. Consider getting a flexible model if your black water tank has a curved pipe to get to it from the toilet. A stiff model will not be able to get into the black water tank easily if there is this sort of piping involved.
  • A Water Hose – You will want to use a hose that is compatible with the type of cleaning wand you purchased from the store. You will also want to make sure that it is long enough to reach from the water source to the toilet inside of the RV.
  • A Water Source for the Hose – This could be a spigot at a campground or even at home. Just make sure that the hose will be a proper fit and that the water source is putting out enough water for this to be successful in cleaning the inside of the black water tank.

Once you have all of the materials you will need for the job, you are ready to get cleaning. It would be ideal to have your tank hooked up to a waste disposal station while completing this entire process. If this is not possible, you will need to be aware of how much space you have inside of your tank as to not fill it too much before you are able to get it to a dumping station. 

Before you begin deep cleaning your tank, make sure that you have dumped out all of the remains that could be inside and flushed it out by running water through it. This way, there will be nothing to obstruct the cleaning unit from being able to reach and clean all parts of the black water tank.

Attach the hose to a water source and snake the hose inside of the trailer to where it will be near the RV toilet. Next, connect the correct end of the cleaning stick to the hose end that is inside of the trailer. At this point, you can turn on the water to the hose from the outside water source as long as the valve for the cleaning unit is turned to the off position. You will feed the end of the cleaning unit that is not attached to the hose down inside the black water tank through the toilet pipes.

When you are ready to get started cleaning, turn the valve on the cleaning unit to the on position in order to begin the flow of water through the cleaning unit and into the tank. You will be able to hear the water coming out of the other end and begin to clean the walls of the tank.

Move the unit up and down and in a circular motion to make sure that the other end is able to clean in as many positions as it can during the cleaning process. Continue this for about five to ten minutes in order to get a proper amount of clean inside the tank.

When you are done, make sure to turn the valve on the cleaning unit to the off position before removing the unit from the toilet. At this point, your black water tank will be cleaned and ready to go for another month or two.

3. Ice Method

If you have a large build up in your tank, you may need to bring out the big guns. This especially works for stuck on items on the side of your tank.

  • Buy about 20-50 pounds of ice – The ice should not be all stuck together as you want it to be free flowing around. If it is an old crusty bag of ice, you may want to find some better ice. The amount of ice you buy will depend on the size of your black water tank.
  • Fill your black tank – Fill your black tank about 1/3 full. This will help slosh the ice around.
  • Pour the ice down your toilet – Just as the step says, pour all of the ice down your toilet.
  • Drive – You will now want to drive your RV around and take some corners. This will slosh the ice mixture around and help clean items stuck on the side of your black tank.
  • Dump – After you are done, dump your RV or trailer’s black tank at a designated black tank dump area and it should be much cleaner than before. Here are our best practices while using an RV dump station.

This method will usually cure any faulty sensors misreading the level on your black tank.

How Often to Clean Your Black Water Tank

It is highly suggested that you complete this deep clean of your black water tank every month or every other month, even if you do not see any signs that make you think that it is needed. However, if you do notice any signs, like a bad smell coming from your toilet, you may want to complete this step as soon as you can.

Another sign that your black water tank may need to be deep cleaned is when your tank sensors begin to read incorrect information. If you know that you have just dumped out all of the contents of the black water tank, but it is still reading that there is debris in there, this would be an example.

If a tank has not been properly cleaned out, grime can begin to build on the sides of the tank and start to affect the monitors. If the sensors are in any way obstructed, the sensors will believe there is more in the tank than there actually is.

Minimizing Issues with Your Black Water Tank

There are many things that an RV owner can do on a daily basis to limit the problems that could occur with the black water tank. Making these steps a part of your routine will help to keep your tank and your pipes in good condition and without a problem.

  • Only Use an RV approved toilet paper – Since RVs do not have a complex plumbing system like a regular bathroom or house, it is important to use a toilet paper that will be gentle on the black water tank by dissolving easily. This will prevent blockages in your RV tank or piping. Travel trailer approved toilet paper can be purchased in the store or online. Another option is to use one-ply toilet paper so as to put less amounts of toilet paper in the tank.
  • Flush the Toilet Regularly – Nothing is grosser than a clogged toilet pipe. Flushing the toilet more regularly will prevent massive build ups of natural waste when the toilet is flushed, and allow the waste to move smoothly into the black water tank and through the pipes to the dumping station.
  • Be Careful What You Flush Down the Toilet– While you may be able to flush a lot of things in a home toilet, it is better to not flush it in a travel trailer toilet. Try to only put the natural waste and decomposing toilet paper into the toilet and the black water tank. Everything else will need to be disposed of elsewhere.
  • Use Plenty of Water When Flushing – The more water that is present in the tank will help to prevent clogs in the pipes and prevent items from drying out and getting stuck to the sides. Having more water will allow for more of a steady flow to carry all of the unwanted things out of the tank and through the pipes so that nothing gets stuck. It will also break down compostable materials faster and easier if they are in water than if not.

Doing these things will greatly decrease your chances of having any issues with build up or blockages while using your black water tank when camping. They are simple and easy methods to ensure that your plumbing system stays in full working condition for the lifetime of your trailer.

What are the Benefits of Regularly Maintaining Your Black Water Tank in your RV?

Cleaning the black water tank may be the last thing that you want to do because of what is involved. But you will not regret that it is a step you took due to the benefits that come with doing this process regularly.

Cleaning the black water tank regularly will allow your trailer to smell fresh and pleasant every time that you use it. When there is a build up of natural waste or clogging in the plumbing, the smell from this can easily sneak into the trailer since everything is so close together. The last thing you want to be doing is smelling that when you are trying to relax!

It will also extend the life of your black water tank, and possibly all of your plumbing. Washing out the tank will keep it clean and not let anything damage the interior of the tank or the lines.

It will also prevent the possibility of costly repairs that could come if something were to break either in the tank or in the pipings. Clogs and other things could lead to expensive repairs that have to be made to fix something that is seemingly avoidable if done correctly and often.

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Eric

I have been camping most of my adult life and am passionate about having the best camping equipment as well as writing. Combine these two items and you have our site.

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