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Readers Write — Managing the Wastewater Holding Tanks in your RV

Reader Doug writes:

Since you boondock more in a year than most of us would do in a lifetime, I value your opinions and recommendations about that subject but I was surprised when you said that you put bleach in your black water tank.   (referring to THIS POST)

Another guy that I consider an expert in this area is (name deleted). (Name deleted) has led me to believe that the black water tank is indeed a septic system, albeit on a small scale, and he has said, “…enzyme and bacterial tank treatments on the market are designed to stimulate aerobic bacterial action and break down the waste and kill the odors… kind of like having a miniature sewage treatment plant onboard.” If that were true, wouldn’t bleach kill those bacteria?

For my first six years of RVing, I followed (that guy’s) advice and never put anything in my sewage tanks and had no odor. Now, after six months in my new Hitchhiker fifthwheel, I am beginning to get wiffs of odor when I flush. I began to suspect that my black tank vent pipe had somehow gotten clogged but I don’t know how I would troubleshoot something like that.

I am definitely going to follow your advice and put water softener and Dawn dish detergent in my black tank. You use Calgon liquid water softener. How much do you use for each application?

Also, thanks for all that good information about how to pull in those weak signals from the cell phone towers.


Hi Doug!
Surprised by the bleach?? How many households use bleach in the laundry or different cleaning products on a daily basis? And where does all that bleach end up?

I am afraid I disagree completely with (your expert). A septic system is a dynamic environment with a more or less constant flux in progress. I have installed plenty 🙂 The inlet pipe is usually 2″ higher than the outlet. Once the tank fills, “clear” water will flow from the outlet whenever additional volume is introduced…. and it smells. The smell is just the different gasses given off by the aerobic process…. the clear water in a healthy system will be relatively odor free but not completely. That is why we bury the suckers underground and make sure that the leach lines provide adequate area so none of the effluent reaches the surface.

An RV holding tank is just that– nothing more and it never will be. I never put anything in my holding tank that would not be introduced into a septic tank. Bleach- in moderation- causes no problems. And it damned sure kills that odor which seems to be worse by far during hot weather. As an FYI, I think I have added bleach only twice this summer. It only goes in when there is an odor problem. One of the contributors to my holding tank issues is the fact that we have to truck all the water in to this location. I have not rinsed my black tank since 1/29/09. My brother has a 34′ Heartland Fiver and they had an odor problem back in August even though they are at an RV park a few miles away and rinse their black tank religiously. A quart of bleach solved the problem — once and done.

The Calgon is SO important. I add about two cap fulls of liquid each time. The stuff is expensive and I am cheap. What can I say??? It is funny that in areas with very soft natural water, you can’t find Calgon in the stores. There is no demand for it. I went through a few week period last year with no Calgon and my darned dump valves got so hard to pull I thought they were going bad on me. Once I started putting the Calgon back in they slicked right up.

The property owners here have a 35′ Jayco Bunkhouse parked next to me at this job and they are new RVers. The wife confessed a few weeks ago that the sewage smell inside the RV was just nauseating all of them. She said they had dumped a copious amount of the blue stuff in there with no success. I went in and mixed up some Calgon and Dawn in a container and took it back to them along with a quart of bleach. I told her to dump her tanks, put this stuff in there along with three gallons of water and walked off. The next day she was all smiles and asked me what the “magic” stuff was besides the bleach. I told her it would cost her a cold beer to find out. 🙂

One thing to think about with your whiffs of bad smell. If you open your toilet valve to negative pressure inside the RV, the smell will come up into the bathroom. It’ll happen every time. I have found an open vent in the bathroom with one of those itty bitty fans running exacerbate the problem as does running the A/C at times. I know the A/C is not doing anything but recirculating the inside air but sometimes it seems to contribute.

I am a bachelor here in the Fish Bus so the bathroom door just stays open. I certainly cannot and will not deal with any sewer smells inside the Old Girl.

Hope this helps out Doug and I appreciate you reading MyOldRv!

Best Regards,


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3 comments to Readers Write — Managing the Wastewater Holding Tanks in your RV

  • TC

    I am intriged,by you being a bachelor.I have been reading your comments and blogs for some time.If you are ever in the Salt Lake City area,give me a call,I’d be happy to buy you a beer,just to say “thank you ” for the information you have givn me.As a single female rv’er, your comments make it a lot easier on a women like me,who enjoys traveling in my rv,but doesn’t always have the courage to ask someone for help.I try to take care of it the best I can.That sir ,is how I came across your articles in the first place.And have been reading them since.Thank you, Single Rv’er Tracy

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  • Andrew,

    I only used chemicals once, the stink my black tank provided during that trip was not to be believed. Also, figured out the fan part myself, turn the fantastic fan on and make sure it’s pulling air into the RV and you will never have stink come out of the toilet when you flush. Have it on exhaust and you will get a faceful of stink every time.

    It would be nice if the dealer during the newbie walk through would mention these things but alas they either don’t know or don’t care.

    Thanks for the great blog!


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  • Anne S

    We are avid travelers in our 35′ RV and SLWAYS dump bleach in holding tanks. Black and grey, down sinks and in clean potable water tank. Every 20 gallons we add a of bleach, 200 tank. It’s not a septic system, simply a holding tank. Ride and the packets work great for breakdown, bit little to nothing for odor.

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