Your RV, your responsibility: Taking care of your water tanks

Whether you own your RV, rent for the season, or are looking to purchase an RV, understanding the basics of the onboard water system will save you time and money on the road. When water tanks, especially the fresh water tank, are left uncared for, they can be a breeding ground for bacteria, mold and mildew. Unclean water can lead to contamination or illness, and it is your responsibility to protect your clean water through proper maintenance and preventative measures. To help you prepare for what lies ahead this camping season, we want to help you understand how your water system works, and what you can do this summer to keep your tanks clean and ready for anything.

Understanding the basics

Every RV is equipped with three types of water tanks: freshwater, greywater, and blackwater. While the tanks’ location and size vary depending on your RV, their purpose is universal. The freshwater tank acts as a holding tank for off-the-grid camping. Alongside a water pressure regulator and pump system, your freshwater tank holds clean water for sinks, the shower and the toilet. On average, it is designed to hold around 75 – 380 litres of water and can be hooked up to onsite water supplies in your campground. 

The grey water tank collects the used water from your sink and shower drains and can hold up to 190 litres of water. It is important to remember that the grey tank never collects wastewater from the toilet. The black water tank’s sole purpose is to collect wastewater from the toilet bowl, which can hold 150 – 260 litres of water. Disposal differs from grey and black water tanks, as some campgrounds allow grey water tanks to be emptied on the grass or designated areas, whereas black water tanks can only be emptied at certified dumping areas in the campground.

Some RVs are equipped with water tank sensors that will alert you when they are getting close to full, but you should always be prepared to empty once every week or two depending on the length of the trip.

Why is sanitizing fresh water tanks so important?

When it comes to your freshwater tank, your number one priority should be to keep it clean. As we touched on before, the cleaning water that is directed to your shower, toilet, and sink comes from the fresh water tank, including your drinking water. Over time, if a water tank is left untouched, it can develop residue and impurities in the tank, which then becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. Additionally, your freshwater tank is vented, so mold and mildew growths are possible during hot weather. Your freshwater tank should be sanitized at the beginning and the end of the camping season, and should be part of your winterizing process. As a rule of thumb, to keep the water lines clean, periodically sanitizing the tank and lines will ensure that your faucets and shower are safe from residue buildup.

To sanitize your tanks, you will need a pitcher, measuring cup, and liquid bleach. To protect your RV’s plumbing system, you should NEVER add undiluted bleach to the system. If bleach is undiluted, you run the risk of damaging seals, gaskets, and plumbing fittings that can cause leaks throughout the RV.

Forming preventative habits

Where will you camp this season? Whether you are travelling to familiar campgrounds or checking out a new destination, there are a few tips and tricks that will help you make the most of your trip and stay safe.

  • Ask where the water comes from: At your campground office, they will be able to clarify if it is from a municipality or well water. Depending on the season, boil water advisories may be in place, so know before you go. When you are hooking up to a water supply, ensure that the freshwater hose is kept off the ground.
  • Install a water filter: An inline water filter in your kitchen faucet or showerhead can give you peace of mind when it comes to possible water contamination or bacteria in the water supply. Please note that a water filter does not mean that your tank should not be sanitized.
  • When in doubt, boil: If you are unsure about the water quality in your area, keep bottled water on hand in case of emergencies and boil any water that will be used for cooking or drinking.
  • Sanitize all three tanks: Every tank requires a bit of maintenance to ensure it is functioning properly and is properly sanitized. The black water holding tank should be cleaned at least every 1 to 2 months.

Safety tips: How to maintain the lifespan of your water tanks

We want to leave you with a few tips to keep your tanks working properly and avoid any unforeseen challenges on the road. Here are a few tips for maintaining your RV’s water tanks.

  • Always sanitize your black water tank after dumping to clear out any bacteria or odour that may have formed
  • Avoid putting food down the sink as this can create blockages in the line
  • During your cleaning process, place a hose in the toilet to flush any build-up in the lines
  • To avoid build-up or clogging, find a single-ply toilet paper and add water to the toilet bowl before flushing

If your freshwater tank is having issues while filling, you may find that it does not have enough slope between the fill line and the tank or does not have the proper intake design. You may encounter is that air is not able to vent out of the tank. Your water pump should be checked periodically to ensure that it is in working order, and regular checks should be performed on your tanks to avoid leaks.
If you are looking to replace your freshwater, grey, or black water tanks, we are here to help! We are proud to offer a wide variety of parts and maintenance recommendations specific to your RV. Stop by today to check out our new inventory, request a part order, or book an inspection. As part of the Grove RV family, we want to help you be prepared for the camping season and be ready for whatever comes your way!