Proper care and maintenance of your RV is the best way to keep it in good running order, save you money in the long run and prevent an untimely breakdown from spoiling a trip. These are some helpful hints that any RVer, regardless of mechanical ability, can do to help maintain the vehicle and ensure that each trip starts out on the right note.
Fluids, Filters, and Battery
A primary element of RV maintenance is regularly checking fluid levels. Fluids and filters should be regularly changed. Make it part of your pre-trip routine to check these important fluids. It’s also a good idea to check these fluids on a monthly basis if you haven’t used your RV lately or if it is in storage. Check your RV owner’s manual for its maintenance requirements and schedule.
Check engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid and top off any that are low.
Many motor home manufacturers recommend that in addition to regularly scheduled oil changes, you should change the engine oil and filter prior to storage and in the spring. During storage, the oil can separate causing a condensation buildup that may harm your engine.
Check the cooling system. You may need to flush and replace the old antifreeze with a proper coolant. Be sure to check for cracks in all hoses and fan belts and replace them if necessary.
Check the fuel filter and examine the fuel lines and fittings for cracks and leaks.
Check the spark plugs. Be sure to set the gaps to the recommended manufacturer’s setting using a gap setting tool.
Check and clean the carburetor or service the fuel injection system.
Check the air filter and replace it if dirty.
Check the battery. Clean the cables and terminals with a wire brush, grease, and reconnect. Depending on your battery, you may have to fill the cells with distilled water.
Check the air filter to make sure it’s clean.
As part of your pre-trip routine, it is also important to examine the RV’s exterior.
Remove any protective covers and wash the exterior. Air out the interior by opening all roof vents and windows. Remove any pest control items you may have placed to protect the interior and exterior compartments during winter storage. Clean or replace air conditioner filters.
Check the exterior. Inspect the roof and body for signs of damage. Look for deterioration of seals around the doors, roof vents, and windows, reseal if necessary. Remember, the old sealant must be removed before the new sealant can be applied. Now is also a good time to lubricate hinges, locks, and other moving parts. If you have an awning, roll it out and check for damage, mildew, and insects. Inspect the headlights, including high and low beams, the taillights, brake lights, and turn signals. If you have a towable RV, be sure to examine the hitch system for wear, loose bolts, and cracks.
Check the tire pressure while also looking for cracks, uneven or excessive wear, and any objects stuck in the tire that could create a leak. Don’t forget to check the spare tire as well! Inspect the tires. Check the tires for cracks, worn treads, and correct tire pressure. Tighten the lug nuts to manufacturer specifications. Make sure the lug nuts are tight on both outer and inner wheels.
Look underneath the RV, taking a deep breath to see if you smell gasoline, diesel, or LP gas. If you do, shut down all pilot lights and get professional help.
Check the liquid propane (LP) system. Connect the tank, open the valve, and check the system for leaks by brushing soapy water on all connections. If any leaks are detected, close the valve and take your recreation vehicle to a professional repair facility.
Check for leaking fluids. If you discover a leak, move the RV and check again, noting the color and location of the leak in relationship to the RV. Have a certified RV technician at a dealer or service center inspect the vehicle if there is a leak. Be sure to relay the information about the color of the leaking fluid and the location of the leak.
Flush the water system. Close all faucets, including the showerhead. Drain and flush the nontoxic antifreeze you used in storing your recreation vehicle from your entire water system. You may have to flush the system several times to remove the chlorine taste.
Prepare for a safe season. Even after all the mechanical components have been checked, you should never set out on a trip without proper safety equipment. Install new batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check the expiration dates on fire extinguishers. Restock the supplies in the first aid kit.
The vehicle’s owner’s manual should provide more detailed information and maintenance schedules. RVIA also has a number of enthusiast publications that provide more in-depth information on a wide range of RV topics, including maintenance.
RV owners should follow the maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer and have regularly scheduled maintenance and repairs done at an RV dealership or service center — no one understands RVs better.
Servicing Your RV
Here are some tips to help select an RV dealership or service center and ensure that you have a quality service experience.
No matter how good future technology becomes, periodic inspection of your vehicle by a professional will never be obsolete. A checkup by an experienced RV service technician can be a real lifesaver and money saver.
Read your owner’s manual and warranty so you’ll know what to expect from your RV, what your responsibilities are, and what systems and components are covered by whom.
Look for the red, white, and blue Certified RV Technician sign, which indicates the dealership or service center employs RV technicians certified through an industry-sponsored program conducted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA), who are committed to customer satisfaction.
Research the dealer or service center by talking to current customers to determine the quality of work and record of customer satisfaction. It’s also a good idea to look for the state, local, or industry certifications, like the Certified RV Technician sign, throughout the shop.
It’s important that you feel comfortable with the professionals you entrust to service your RV. With confidence comes the ability to communicate openly about your concerns and needs.
Request written estimates for all service work and ask for written notification for any additional repairs not covered in the original estimate. Also, request that replaced parts be given to you for inspection.
Let the service manager know immediately if you’re not satisfied with the repair or maintenance work performed on your RV.
34 Fire Facts That Can Save Your Life
At best, a fire in your RV can delay or ruin a vacation. At worst, it can mean injury, financial loss, and even death. Unfortunately, RV fires are one of the largest causes of motorcoach loss in America today. The following tips can help you recognize the most common fire hazards and protect yourself from the damage and injury fires are notorious for causing.
A pinhole-size leak in a radiator or heater hose can spray antifreeze on hot engine parts. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol concentrate and water. When the water boils off, the remaining ethylene glycol can self-ignite at 782 degrees F. During your monthly fire inspection, check all hoses for firmness, clamp tightness, and signs of leaking.
Rubber fuel lines are commonly used to connect metal lines to the electronic fuel injection system, or to the carburetor in older coaches. Check all the lines and connections between the fuel tank and the engine on a monthly basis. If there is any sign of a leak, have the lines replaced and the entire system inspected by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
A hard-working engine manifold can get as hot as 900 degrees F. The heavy insulation in the compartment reflects the heat back to the top of the engine, and a fire can easily break out. Inspect your radiator and have any problems repaired by a qualified person as soon as possible.
Grease, oil, and road dust build-up on the engine and transmission, making them run hotter. The grime itself usually doesn’t burn, but if combined with a fuel leak or short-circuited wire, a fire could start. Keep your coach’s underpinnings clean, and it will run cooler, more economically, and longer.
A dragging brake can create enough friction to ignite a tire or brake fluid. Some of the worst fires are those caused when one tire of a dual or tandem pair goes flat, scuffs, and ignites long before the driver feels any change in handling. At each stop, give tires at least an eyeball check. When tires are cool, tap your duals with a club and listen for a difference in sound from one tire to the next. You can often tell if one is going soft.
Spontaneous combustion can occur in damp charcoal. Buy charcoal fresh, keep it dry, and store it in a covered metal container. Rags soiled with auto wax or cleaners that contain petroleum products or other oil-based cleaning materials can also spontaneously combust if disposed of in a combustible container. Put dirty cleaning rags in a metal container with a lid.
A hot exhaust pipe or catalytic converter can ignite dry grass.
Driving with propane turned on can add to the danger if you are involved in an accident or have a fire. Most refrigerators will keep food cold or frozen for eight hours without running while you travel. Shut the propane off at the tank.
If you store your coach, be sure to check the flue before starting your refrigerator on propane. Birds and inspects can build nests and clog the flue, causing a fire or excess carbon monoxide to enter your coach.
Batteries produce explosive gases. Keep flame, cigarettes, and sparks away. Be sure your battery compartment is properly vented. Keep vent caps tight and level. Check your battery monthly. Replace swollen batteries immediately. Use extreme care when handling batteries—they can explode.
Have any wiring in your coach done by a capable electrician, and use common sense in using any electrical aid. Check all 12-volt connections before and after every trip. Most coach fires are caused by a 12-volt short.
Gasoline and propane can pose an immediate, explosive danger. Though diesel fuel is less volatile, it dissipates more slowly, so it remains a danger longer. Deal at once with any leaks or spills, and use all fuels in adequately vented areas.
Even if the flame on your galley stove goes out, gas continues to flow and could result in an explosion. A stove should never be left unattended or used to heat your coach. Open propane flames release high levels of carbon monoxide.
In a compact galley, all combustibles—from paper towels to curtains—are apt to be closer to the stove, so use even more caution in your coach than you do at home. A box of baking soda—the ingredient in powder extinguishers—can be used in lieu of a fire extinguisher for minor galley flare-ups.
Develop a plan of action before a fire occurs.
Make sure all travelers know what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it. Test your smoke detector regularly.
Have at least two escape routes—one in the front and one in the rear of the coach. As soon as they’re old enough, teach children to open hatches and emergency exits.
Review with everyone the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” rule so they know what to do when clothing is on fire.
Make sure visitors can open the front door. Not all manufacturers use the same lock and latch assembly.
Choose a rallying point where everyone will meet immediately after escaping, so everyone can be accounted for.
Show travelers how to unhook electricity (screw-on cords can be tricky) and how to close propane valves, in case either of these measures is called for.
Practice unhooking your tow vehicle as quickly as possible to avoid spreading the fire to other vehicles.
Re-emphasize to everyone aboard that objects can be replaced, people can’t. Never stay behind or re-enter a burning coach to retrieve anything.
There are plenty of fire and life safety tools that can save lives, but for them to be effective, they must be in working condition and you must know how to use them properly.
You should have three fire extinguishers for your coach—one in the galley, one in the bedroom, and one outside of the coach in an unlocked compartment or in your tow vehicle. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguishers and understand which extinguishers are effective on various fires.
During your monthly inspection, check the fire extinguisher gauge to determine if there is pressure in the extinguisher. If the gauge indicates empty or needs charging, replace or recharge the extinguisher immediately. To test non-gauged extinguishers, push the plunger indicator (usually green or black) down. If it does not come back up, the extinguisher has no pressure to expel its contents. If you need help testing your fire extinguishers, check with your local fire department.
Do not pull the pin and expel the contents to test your powder extinguisher. If you use a portion of the powder extinguisher, have it refilled or replaced immediately. When you have a fire extinguisher refilled, ask to shoot off the charge first (most refill stations have a special place where this can be done safely). This lets you see how far it shoots and how long a charge lasts.
Invert and shake your dry-powder or dry-chemical extinguisher monthly to loosen the powder. The jarring of the coach does not loosen the powder; in fact, it packs the powder, which may make your extinguisher ineffective.
Deadly, invisible, odorless CO usually results from exhaust leaks or misuse of heating devices. Be sure to put your CO detector in the bedroom. The proper location is on the ceiling or on an inside wall at least eight inches from the ceiling and at least four feet from the floor.
Liquid petroleum gas, like gasoline fumes, tends to pool in low spots in the coach until a spark sets it off. Newer motorhomes are equipped with an automatic shut-off for when its sensor detects an LPG leak. If you have a leak, be sure to shut the propane off at the tank.
The first rule of RV firefighting is to save lives first and property second. Get yourself and your family to safety before attempting to extinguish a fire. Only if you can do so without endangering yourself or others should you use firefighting aids on hand.
Get help. Adults and older children should know how to dial 911 or 0, and how to get emergency help on any CB, VHF, or ham radio available.
It’s crucial to know your location so firefighters can find you.
If you have a quick-disconnect fitting on your water hookup, these hoses can be unhooked instantly to fight a fire. If a nearby coach is burning and you cannot move your coach but can safely stay close enough to keep it hosed down, you may be able to save it.
Of interest to RVers:
Texas has over 3,700 streams, 15 rivers, and over 3000 miles of shoreline along the Gulf Coast. Texas offers many opportunities for paddling adventures of all types.
Texas Paddling Trails is a new program to develop public paddling trails throughout the state to provide well-mapped accessible day trips for novice to experienced paddlers.
Coastal Paddling Trails
Lighthouse Lakes Trail
The Lighthouse Lakes Trail meanders through a black mangrove estuary into sloughs and back lakes near the historic Lydia Ann Lighthouse on North Harbor Island, west of Port Aransas and north of Hwy 361 causeway.
Trails to Texas Tranquility: Kayak Fishing shines at the Lighthouse Lakes Trail by Robert Sloan is a wonderful article about kayak fishing on the Lighthouse Lakes Trail.
There is a wondrous wetland of Mangroves hiding fish darting in crystal waters under the watchful eyes of the majestic mavens of the coast: heron, spoonbill, and crane.
These sites below might be helpful to you if you want to paddle the Lighthouse Lakes Trail.
Order a map of the Lighthouse Lake Trails from Shoreline Publishing (713-973-1627). The Lighthouse Lake Trails are an incredible experience for fisherman, kayaker, or naturalist.
Download a free GPS map of Lighthouse Lake Trails from the Travel by GPS site. Evidently, you NEED a guide or GPS to find your way out of the maze that is the Lighthouse Lakes Trail.
TexMaps has wonderful aerial photographs of the Texas coast, in which the coast and barrier islands in the photographs appear as exotic jewels. View this trail from above.
View a close-up map of the Lighthouse Lakes Trail at the Sea Kayak Texas webpage.
Safety Notes: Pack hat, sunblock, water, map and life jacket, camera, and GPS optional. Check wind speed and tide while planning your trip. You do not want to paddle in high wind or to be left behind when the tide goes out. Access the trail from the north side of the causeway and paddle across Aransas Pass. Follow the trail markers.
South Bay Paddling Trail
South Bay Paddling Trail is an eight-mile loop through shallow, tropical water at the very tip of Texas. The trail is bounded by the Rio Grande River, the Brownsville Ship Channel, spoil banks, and Brazos Island.
Christmas Bay Paddling Trail
Christmas Bay Paddling Trail offers outstanding coastal angling and bird watching opportunities within an easy commute of Houston. Paddle loops of 3.8, 10.3, and 19.1 miles through the largest stand of seagrass on the upper Texas coast.
Galveston Island State Park Paddling Trail
Galveston Island State Park hosts three paddling trails. Dana Cove (Lake Como) Trail begins at the end of the main park and continues 2.6-miles through the seagrass beds. Jenkins Bayou trail begins at the western end of Clapper Rail Road and takes paddlers 2.8 miles along the bayou and out to the marsh restoration terrace field. The 4.8 mile Oak Bayou Trail, accessed from the park road, covers areas of natural high marsh.
Mustang Island Paddling Trail
The Mustang Island Paddling Trail consists of the North Trail (8.5 miles), the Shamrock Loop (5.24 miles), and the Ashum Trail (6.8 miles). All of the trails follow the western shoreline of Mustang Island in Corpus Christi Bay and cover some of the best shallow-water fishing areas in Texas.
Armand Bayou Paddling Trail
The Armand Bayou Coastal Preserve hosts the Armand Bayou Paddling Trail, which wanders through the Armand Bayou Nature Center. Where coastal flatwoods forest and a coastal tallgrass prairie meet. View 220 species of birds and alligators up to 10 feet long.
Port O’Connor Paddling Trail
The Port O’Connor Paddling Trail consists of three trails (25+ miles). The Fishpond trail (12.3 miles) travels the edge of Espiritu Santo Bay to Saluria Bayou, where it joins South Loop Trail (8.28 miles). From Mule Slough, the Fish Pond and North Loop (4.82 miles) trails continue east toward the Gulf of Mexico and Lighthouse Cove, near the historic Matagorda Island Lighthouse.
Inland Paddling Trails
Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail
The Luling Zedler Mill paddling trail the first inland paddling trail. Parking is available at the entry and take out points and a shuttle vehicle can be left free of charge at either site.
Great place in Texas to visit in your RV:
We drove the leisurely Texas Hill Country back roads ramble through Wimberley to Blanco to Fredericksburg. We sidetracked so that we could see Luckenbach. The town, really just a dancehall, post office, and a creek, was made famous by the song Luckenbach, Texas, sung by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
Fredericksburg is a town built by German immigrants in the mid-1800s. The town is laid out with precision: Main Street will accommodate a U-turn by a wagon pulled by a team of 16 horses; from the center of town toward the west, the first letter of each street spells out COME BACK; to the east from downtown, the first letter of each street spells WELCOME.
The center of Fredericksburg is the Marketplatz, and the heart of MarketPlatz is the Vereins Kirche (community church). The Vereins Kirche is now a museum with exhibits focusing on the history of the area and rotating photographic exhibits.
The historic part of Fredericksburg is anchored by The Admiral Nimitz Museum. There are many historic buildings in the downtown area. Surrounding neighborhoods sport log cabins and homes with gingerbread trim, shake shingles, and huge trees. Fredericksburg is a very clean and beautiful town.
Willow City Loop
You can drive the 13-mile long serpentine Willow City Loop, one of the wildest roads in Texas. As you descend into the canyon, you can see huge gray and pink granite boulders tossed around like the building blocks of some giant petulant child.
There are smooth stones scattered about the landscape. Legend has it that the smooth rocks are stars that fell into this valley.
Tall cliffs shade the dense undergrowth, natural grasses, and pools of water left by the rain. Cattle guards rattle your undercarriage but protected the horses, sheep, and deer that wander freely in this protected valley.
There is a millennia of geologic history, including a serpentine quarry, before the road ended at Highway 16. Where Willow City Loop ends is a short drive to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Enchanted Rock is the most famous of the formations in the Enchanted Rock batholith (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion), and the second-largest rock mountain in the US.
Take a Ride on the F&N RR
You can follow the route of The Fredericksburg and Northern Railroad (F&N RR). This railroad reduced the commute from San Antonio to Fredericksburg from two weeks by wagon to one day by train. Expensive to build and maintain, the railroad was shut down as soon as highways made train travel obsolete.
As you leave Fredericksburg on 290E, turn right on Old San Antonio Road to retrace the path of the F&N RR.
Many farm homes, log cabins, and rock walls that predate the railroad remain today.
You pass ghost towns that were once thriving railroad towns: Cain City, Grapetown, and Bankersmith, to name the ones whose remains you may still view today. After Bankersmith you will notice you are steadily climbing. This is the divide between the watersheds of the Pedernales and Guadalupe Rivers. Once past Bankersmith, you will see the raised roadbed of the railroad. For the next ten miles, the road and the rail bed will cross many times.
Stop at the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, about four miles past Bankersmith. Rather than climb the divide, the railroad engineers decided they must pass through this hill. The tunnel is now home to over 3000 Brazilian Free-Tail Bats.
Bridge to Nowhere
As you continue, you will come to a junction with FM 473. Continue straight ahead towards Comfort. Turn left at the first small road, River Bend Road. Continue on as the road narrows and sweeps toward the Guadalupe River. Soon you will see a railroad bridge, still standing proud after 100 years.
Continue on this River Bend Road and you will come to a low water crossing over the Guadalupe. From this vantage point, you may appreciate the size of this bridge.
Notice there is not a rail bed nor road leading to or from this bridge. The bridge leads to nowhere. It is but a phantom of the Fredericksburg and Northern Railroad, left behind when the tracks were pulled up in 1944 and shipped to Australia and Alaska.
To return to civilization you may continue on River Bend Road until it ends at a T. Go to the left and you will return to FM 473.
River Authority Parks
There are many parks and sites to see that are not affiliated with the government. Some places are quasi-agencies, like the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA).
The Lower Colorado River Authority is charged with storing and selling water, generating electricity, preventing floods, and implementing reforestation and soil-conservation programs on the Colorado River. The drainage basin spans more than 42,000 square miles-about 16 percent of the total area of Texas. The Colorado River is the largest river entirely within the state of Texas.
Impounding water has the added benefit of providing lake and riverfront recreational opportunities.
The Matagorda Bay Nature Park is destined to become a world-class birding destination! The unique river channel, the wetlands of the bays and estuaries, and the Gulf Coast are home to thousands of shorebirds, and many migrating birds, ducks, and geese are enticed to spend a season here. Where there are birds, there are fish and shellfish.
This area is already known as an incredible fishing spot and a wonderful environment in which to study wetland soils, vegetation, and hydrology, bays and estuaries, aquatic organisms, coastal dunes and flora, organisms of the salt marsh, and shoreline shells.
The nearby town of Matagorda has restaurants, lodging, shopping, fishing guides, boat rentals and many other attractions. For area information, please view the Visit Matagorda County website.
Guided kayak trips
Scouting and other youth development programs
Teacher workshops and grade-appropriate educational programs
Natural science center with classrooms and exhibits
Fishing along the shore and from four free public piers – three on the river channel and one on the Gulf
Tent camping on the beach
22-mile beach with vehicle access
Trails and shaded wildlife viewing areas
Group pavilion and covered picnic shelters
Half-mile pedestrian beach
Restrooms and outdoor showers
Facilities meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
This park will fill a void in coastal parklands created when Matagorda Island changed from a State Park to a State Wildlife Management Area due to budgetary concerns. While the Matagorda Bay Nature Park is not as remote as Matagorda Island, this park does have facilities such as potable water, showers and toilets, and road access that was lacking on the Island.
A new 70-site RV Park with full hookups is open. The RV Park is located along the Colorado River channel, within walking distance of the beach, the hiking trail, and the fishing pier; close to the natural science center, the group pavilion, and the picnic facilities.
Coleto Creek Park
The Coleto Creek Park and Reservoir, located midway between Victoria and Goliad, is a joint project between Coleto Creek Power and the GBRA.
At normal pool elevation, it covers 3,100 surface acres with 61 miles of shoreline. The Coleto Creek Reservoir is clear and there are oyster and mussel shells on the sand bottom.
Lots of fishermen are at this lake in February and March because the warmth of the water moves up the date for fish spawning.
Driving down a blacktop country road in the Texas Hill Country, you come upon a private road, marked only with a pile of native stone and the words, Westcave Preserve. Westcave Preserve is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system and one of the premier sites for viewing the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Journey down the dusty road, past the picnic area and into the parking area for the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center (ELC). The ELC functions as a visitor center and also offers classroom space for educational programs that are part of the mission of Westcave Preserve. The ELC is a sustainable building that uses geothermal heating and cooling, solar energy, and rainwater harvesting, and features an aperture in the ceiling through which sunlight crosses a meridian at noon each day.
From the ELC you follow a crushed gravel trail along a limestone bluff, past grasslands scattered with wildflowers, ash junipers, oaks and the cacti typical of the Hill Country. Stop to view the Pedernales River from the wooden deck. Continue on the path to the head of the stairs that will lead you down to another time and place…
…full of Indian legends about a spiritual place, with prehistoric blind fish and a bottomless spring-fed pool. When you finally made your way to the cenote-type opening, you leave behind the merciless summer heat for the magical coolness of delicate ferns and waterfall mist. Sneaking through the speckled shadows, you slip quietly over the mossy rocks down to the alluring blue-green pool. Huge stalactites and stalagmites formed a toothy opening in the mouth like the main grotto, a believable place for legends… Once you reach the bottom of the stairs, you will notice that the temperature is dropping and the humidity is increasing as you enter the lush, almost tropical canyon. This unique microenvironment permits the growth of lush vegetation, including cypress, sycamores, mosses, ferns, columbine, and wild orchids. The golden-cheeked warbler, cedar waxwing, nutria, and ring-tailed cat also find refuge here. Journey to the collapsed grotto with twin waterfalls tumbling over a fern-covered travertine formation into a deep pool. You may walk behind the waterfall and view the enclosure formed when mineral deposits left by eons of water capped a limestone overhang.
Location of Westcave Preserve
Westcave Preserve perches above the Pedernales River in the Hill Country, close to Hamilton Pool, 11 miles from Pedernales Falls State Park, 20 miles from Krause Springs, and 30 miles west of Austin.
Tours of Westcave Preserve
Visitation to the Westcave Preserve canyon trail is by guided tour only to minimize the impact on this beautiful and fragile natural site.
The trail is accessible by wheelchair until you reach the stairs to the canyon floor. Visitors who are unable to make the trip to the bottom should return to the ELC, from which there is a self-guided tour to the picnic area.
Care and Maintenance of RV Holding Tanks
RV holding tanks include the freshwater tank (drinking water), the black water tank (toilet waste), and the gray water tank (wastewater). This is one area of RVing that we usually do not worry about until it is too late! However, the fun is over if your RV stinks like sewage, your gray water is black, and your drinking water tastes nasty. Do not let this happen to you!
Black Water Tank
This is the septic tank, which holds the solid and liquid waste from the toilet. You may add commercially produced additives that assist the natural process of organic decomposition and cut down odors, you may just dump your tanks and rinse the tanks at every opportunity, or you may explore other methods. Read your owner’s manual for suggestions from the manufacturer of your RV.
The freshwater tank holds your tap water which you use to bathe, clean dishes, flush your toilet, and drink. Some locales have water high in sulfur, which tastes and smells bad, or calcium, which may eventually clog your water pipes. Campgrounds may have a break in the water service line that allows groundwater to contaminate the fresh water. You should use a filter, an inexpensive way to keep your water healthy and clean.
Empty and clean the fresh water tank when you store your RV for the winter (or summer for you snowbirds). Next time you add water, you may want to add a few drops of bleach to the first tank. You may want to bring drinking water with you until this first tank is emptied.
Gray Water Tank
No matter how you spell it, your gray water tank holds wastewater from all drains in the RV except the toilet. Although not as aromatic as black water, gray water has a smell. We suggest emptying your gray water tank before you leave the campground. First, you do not need the added weight of over eight pounds per gallon; secondly, gnats and mosquitoes can breed in the water. After you empty the tank, put a gallon or so of fresh water and a few drops of bleach in the tank. This will move around while you drive. Flush this mixture out with water pressure when you arrive at the next campground before you fill your tank.
Venting Waste Water Tanks
The bacteria breaking down the organic material in the holding tanks naturally produce gases. Ensure these gases vent to the outside and not up through your drains. Keep your drains closed when not in use. In addition, you may buy a special vent or use this T-vent that you may build yourself.
Note: I have permission to print this method. This man swears by it and he has taken heat on forums to defend it. I thought it might be worthwhile for you to read.
Black and Gray Water Holding Tank Maintenance
Using Water Softener, Laundry Detergent, and Chlorine Bleach
RV owners should be concerned with maintaining its wastewater tanks. Problems with wastewater tanks can and should be avoided. Wastewater tank repair is expensive. Due to health concerns, many service facilities will not work on wastewater tanks and lines until the tanks have been completely emptied and sanitized. This may be quite difficult when the tank(s) is in need of repair. So, common sense dictates that the tanks should be kept relatively clean at all times. Additionally, improper use of the wastewater tanks can lead to a build-up of solid wastes, which in itself may cause the system to fail.
I’ve discovered very simple, effective, and inexpensive methods of maintaining my wastewater tanks in a relatively clean condition at all times. I developed these methods myself through my understanding of chemistry, physics, and biology with a smidgen of common sense thrown in for good measure. I also read my RV owner’s manual. Although we are not full-time RVers we use our fifth wheel camper for at least one weekend a month. We never use public bathing and toilet facilities. In other words, our wastewater tanks are fairly heavily used. Since I’ve met a number of RVers who don’t seem to know how to maintain their wastewater tanks I thought many RVers would find my tips useful. If you have not been maintaining your tanks I believe you will be pleasantly surprised the first time you employ these tips. I do these things and they work.
RVs are equipped with wastewater HOLDING tanks; NOT septic tanks. Those holding tanks are nothing more than chamber pots. Chamber pots should be cleaned and sanitized after their contents are disposed of. The Geo Method is based on this fact.
1. DUMP A FULL TANK
When you are camping and your RV is connected to a sewer/septic intake, leave the drain valves closed until the tank is full and ready to dump. Dumping a full tank provides a sufficient quantity of water to flush solids from the tank. Leaving the drain valves open allows the water to drain off without flushing out solid waste. That solid waste will collect in the tank(s) and cause problems over time. If your tanks are not full when you are ready to dump them, fill them with fresh water first, and then dump them.
2. DUMP TANKS IN ORDER FROM DIRTIEST TO CLEANEST
In other words, dump the black (commode) water tank first, then dump the galley tank, then dump the bathroom tank. This way you will be flushing out the dirtiest water with progressively cleaner water.
3. USE WATER SOFTENER, DETERGENT, and CHLORINE BLEACH
This stuff is amazing and it works. Buy a couple of boxes of powdered water softener at the grocery store. You’ll find it located with or near the laundry detergent products. I prefer Calgon Water Softener because it dissolves quickly in water. Cheaper water softeners work just as well but dissolve more slowly. Dissolve two (2) cups of the water softener in a gallon of hot water. Then, pour the solution down the drain into the empty tank. Use two cups of softener for each wastewater tank in your RV. The tank’s drain valve should be closed otherwise the softened water will just drain out. Then use the tank(s) normally until it is full and drain it normally. Add a cup of laundry detergent to the black (commode) water tank at the same time you add the water softener. This will help clean the tank. The gray water tanks should already contain soap through normal use.
Water softener makes the solid waste let go from the sides of the tanks. If you’ve ever taken a shower in softened water you know that after rinsing the soap from your body your skin will feel slick. That’s because all the soap rinses away with soft water. Softened water also prevents soap scum from sticking in the tub. Get the connection? With softened water, gunk washes away instead of sticking. The same thing applies to your RV’s wastewater tanks.
I use a clear plastic elbow connector to attach my sewer drain line to the wastewater outlet on my RV. It allows me to see how well things are progressing during a wastewater dump. Before I began using water softener regularly the black water tank’s water was brown, the galley tank’s water was brownish, and the bathroom tank’s water was white. The first time I added water softener to the tanks the water coming from the black water tank was actually black (not brown) and the kitchen tank’s water was also black (not brownish). The bathroom tank’s water remained white. That told me that the water softener had actually done what I had intended for it to do and made solid waste, which had been stuck to the interior of the tanks, let go and drain away. I added water softener (and laundry detergent to the black tank) to all the wastewater tanks for the next few dumps to be certain all the solid waste possible had been cleaned away. The wastewater only appeared black on the initial treatment. I now add water softener and detergent to each tank once after every few dumps to maintain the system.
Too little water softener may not be of sufficient concentration to work effectively. Too much water softener will NOT hurt the tanks. So, if the amount you used didn’t quite do the job, then use more the next time. Don’t forget the laundry detergent.
Occasionally, I pour a half-gallon of liquid bleach into each tank to deodorize, sanitize and disinfect them. I add the bleach when the tank is about half full, and then continue to use the tank normally until it is full and ready to dump. I no longer use the blue toilet chemical because it isn’t necessary. I have no odors coming from my black water tank. The chlorine bleach kills the bacteria, which is primarily responsible for wastewater tank odor. Generic brand liquid bleach is cheap and very effective.
4. USE A WATER FILTER ON YOUR FRESHWATER INTAKE LINE
Most freshwater contains sediment. Sediment will accumulate in your wastewater tanks and your freshwater lines. It also tends to discolor your sinks, tub/shower, and commode. I use the disposable type and have found that they eventually fill up and begin restricting the freshwater flow resulting in low pressure. That’s how I know it’s time to get a new filter. It works, it’s cheap, it avoids problems, do it. When I fill my freshwater tank I attach the filter to the end of the hose and fill the tank with filtered water.
SOME OTHER THOUGHTS
WATER, WATER, WATER – and more water! The Geo Method assumes you are hooked up to a plentiful clean water supply, and that you have access to a sewer. The water softener will make the gunk let go. That’s only half the battle. After the gunk lets go it must then be flushed through the relatively small drain opening in the bottom of the tank. That takes water. Lots of water. I use a Flush King (Google it) to make rinsing more effective and faster.
CAUTION should be used when mixing chemicals. All I did when I came up with The Geo Method was use normal laundry products (water softener, laundry detergent, and chlorine bleach) and put them in the holding tanks which already contain water. I was NOT experimenting with chemicals. I simply applied laundry chemicals in normal combination to the wastewater tanks. There are chemical products under your kitchen sink, in your laundry room, and in your garage that can injure or kill you when mixed. If you can do your laundry without harming yourself you can successfully employ The Geo Method. Don’t go playing around with novel chemical combinations concocted from household products.
What was novel about The Geo Method was not in the combination of chemicals (all household laundry products intended to be used in combination) but in their application in cleaning RV wastewater tanks. Common experience, if you’ve done laundry, tells you The Geo Method is safe. Doing laundry doesn’t damage your washing machine, rot out your plumbing, or destroy wastewater treatment systems. The Geo Method won’t either. However, substituting other cleaning agents may not be safe.
There’s nothing special or fragile about the materials used in RV plumbing. RV plumbing materials are made from the same stuff that household plumbing is made from. The problem arises in figuring out how to clean and sanitize the inaccessible interior of a holding tank. Water softener prevents gunk from adhering to the inside of the tanks, detergent removes the dirt, and chlorine bleach kills germs/odors. Soaking gives the chemicals time to work. Agitating the mix by driving down the road helps the process. Think of it this way; you can put some really nasty stuff in your washing machine, yet the inside of the washing machine doesn’t get dirty. It stays clean – right? The same goes for your automatic dishwasher. The same thing applies to RV holding tanks.
Those people who claim The Geo Method is somehow harmful just plain don’t know what they’re talking about. Their objections defy common sense and common experience. Anyone who thinks The Geo Method is harmful has a simple solution available to their simple-minded concerns – don’t use it. At one time, daily bathing was thought by some to be harmful to one’s health, and they argued against it advising others to remain dirty. Those who object to The Geo Method fall into the same category of enlightened thought.
Will The Geo Method work even if most of the time I’m NOT hooked up to water and sewer? YES! Just use common sense. If you dry camp ninety percent of the time just keep water softener and detergent in your tanks (especially the black tank) while you’re dry camping. This will keep gunk from sticking to the tanks. When you are hooked up to sewer and water take the opportunity to fill the tanks with fresh water and flush the tanks. Keep flushing them until the water runs clear. I know it works because I’ve done it.
Never put regular toilet tissue in your RV’s black tank. Only use toilet tissue that is approved for RV and/or septic tank use. Regular toilet tissue may eventually dissolve, but not before causing a clog in your black tank.
Occasionally traveling with partially filled wastewater tanks containing softened water and detergent promotes cleaning by agitating the water. The same goes for chlorine bleach.
I believe this process works faster and more efficiently during warm weather. However, I know it works well even during cool/cold weather.
The process works best the longer the water softener and detergent remains in the tanks. So, I don’t add water softener during periods of heavy wastewater generation. I wait until I know we won’t be generating wastewater quickly so that the softened water remains in the tanks for several days before dumping.
If you have an older RV you may have to use water softener and detergent several times initially to completely clean the tanks of residue.
I add a small amount of chlorine bleach to the freshwater tank twice a year to disinfect and sanitize the fresh water tank and freshwater lines. A weak chlorine bleach solution will not hurt you. However, it certainly makes the water taste bad. When we have chlorine in the freshwater system we use bottled water for drinking and cooking until the chlorine is gone. YES, we drink the filtered water that we have in the freshwater tank. NO, it has never tasted funny or caused any problems.
No, I do NOT do the ice cube thing. The Geo Method works just fine without ice cubes.
My tanks are plastic and my pipes are PVC.
Don’t be afraid to use your tanks. Just use common sense about their care and maintenance.
These tips are inexpensive to do. Some of them don’t cost anything. You have nothing to lose in trying them and I encourage you to do so. I actually feel a certain amount of pride in the condition and cleanliness of both my waste and freshwater systems. Naturally, these tips make dumping a much more pleasant and sanitary procedure.
If you have odors in any of your water systems these procedures should eliminate them. Odors indicate a sanitary problem and degrade the enjoyment you derive from your RV.
When my RV is parked and not in use I place stoppers in the sink and tub drains. This forces the wastewater tanks to vent through the vent pipes to the outside instead of through the drains into the RV. Water evaporates. Once the drain traps dry out during periods of non-use, nothing is there to prevent gasses (odor) from venting into the camper. Use stoppers when your RV is stored.