RV Black Tank: Comprehensive Guide For Upkeep and Maintenance

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Introduction: RV Black Tank

If you are an owner of a recreational vehicle, then you know that there are many different components to your RV. One of these is the dreaded black tank. It may seem like a curse word. It doesn’t have to be that way. 

With proper knowledge, how-to, and maintenance, you too, can keep your black tank from being problematic in your RV. This post will provide information on how to maintain your black tank and keep it in good condition. This will allow your black tank to serve its ultimate purpose and you can be free to enjoy your travels!

RV Black Tank: Upkeep and Maintenance
RV Black Tank: Upkeep and Maintenance

What is an RV Black Tank? 

The RV Black tank is a holding tank for human waste. All that is flushed down the toilet in your recreational vehicle will end up in the black holding tank. 

The tank is located on the underbelly of your rig. It is a long cylindrical tank that contains layers of liquid and solid material which separate as they decompose.

What Does Your RV Black Tank Do? 

Your black tank does all the dirty work for you while out on your adventures in an RV! It holds any waste until it can be disposed of in an appropriate and designated dumping area. 

What Is The Difference Between Gray and Black Water Tanks? 

The difference between an RV’s gray tank and a black tank is simple. The gray tank is for the water that you use in your rig, like showering or washing dishes. The black tank is used to store human waste. 

How often should I empty my RV’s Black Tank? 

It is important to dump your RV black tank regularly. Many of the newer recreational vehicles have a monitoring system that alerts the owner to the fullness of the tank. 

You should empty the black tank when it reaches at least halfway full. Many people suggest waiting until the tank is two-thirds full. Waiting until the tank is more than half full allows the waste to start breaking down. It also is to ensure that there is enough weight and water to create a proper flush when emptying. 

If you are nearing the end of a trip and need to empty a tank that is less than half full, it is good practice to add more water to the tank prior to dumping. 

How Do I Hook Up My Black Tank to the Sewer Hookup?

RV Black Tank Hookup
RV Black Tank Hookup

When you arrive at your new campsite, it is important to make sure that you hook up your black tank properly. Hooking up your black tank to the sewer connection can seem tricky at first. Here are some general tips for hooking it up:

  1. Wear gloves when touching or moving any equipment used for black tank use. 
  2. Connect sewer hose to RV tank. 
  3. The elbow-shaped end of the sewer hose gets connected to the sewer dump pipe at the campsite. 
  4. Set up a hose support system if you are using one. 
  5. Open the tanks and drain if you had water or anything inside. Be sure to open slowly. 
  6. Make sure to close the tank valve after emptying. 
  7. You are ready done and ready to finish camp set up!!

How to Dump an RV Black Tank

RV Dump Station
RV Dump Station

If you are at a full hookup site and have already connected the sewer hose, you already did half the work for dumping your black tank. In order to empty out your RV black tank, you need to open the tank valve and keep open until the tank is empty. 

A backflush is recommended after emptying holding tanks. 

What is A Black Tank Flush? 

To flush black holding tanks, you must attach the sewer hose to the RV’s inlet water valve (some older models won’t have this). Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular recreational vehicle to ensure that backflushing is done correctly. 

Back tank flushing, when done right, will assist in keeping your black tank clean in between dumping times. This will assist with odor buildup and clog prevention. 

How Do I Clean and Maintain My RV’s Black Tank? 


The ice method helps to break down any stuck-on materials and gunk in your tank. Simply add ice and salt into your tank prior to driving to your next location. 

Another method of cleaning the tank involves filling the tank with some water and a mild dishwashing detergent into the tank. The liquids and soap will swish around as you drive to create a cleaner tank. 

The best way to prevent build-up is to use the proper materials and chemicals for your RV. See the tips and tricks section for more on this!!

Items to Purchase for Black Tank Use and Maintenance

Portable Black Waste Tank: 

If you are dry camping or boondocking, you won’t have sewer hookups. In these cases, you will need to drive your RV to the nearest dump station to perform dumping tasks. Another option, instead of driving, is a portable black waste tank. These can be hooked up to the sewer hose and carry the waste to the dump station on wheels. 

Happy Camper: 

Happy camper treatment scoops are great at eliminating odors. This product is designed specifically to work in black tanks and won’t cause any harm or damage while in use. It uses specific chemicals and enzymes to break down waste. This helps with clogs and odors. Use these tabs in between dumping. 

Sewer Hose: 

As mentioned previously, a good sewer hose is a must-have item for any recreational vehicle with a black tank. Buying a quality hose will prevent breaks or any potential spills. 

Hose Supports: 

Sewer hose supports to keep your sewer hose off of the ground. This potentially protects it from any damage or punctures. The supports also keep the hose in place. Some come with an angle to assist with dumping. 


You will need a separate hose (in a different color) from your regular water or drinking water hose. This can be used to backflush your RV black tank. 

How Accurate are Tank Monitors? 

selective focus photography of gauge
Tank Gauges

This is a question that has been hotly debated among the RV community for years. Some say they are accurate, and others say not so much. The truth is tank monitors work but will only give you an estimate of your black tank capacity because it doesn’t know how full individual tanks are inside your rig. 

The more you use and empty your tanks, the more you will get a feel for how often you will need to empty the tanks. This is true whether or not your gauge is working properly. Be sure to empty the black tank in between each trip no matter what. 

What If I Get A Clog? 

Clogs happen. It is an unpleasant side effect of having an RV black tank. Being prepared and having a plan is the best option for tackling such a troublesome situation. 

One way to deal with a black tank clog is to boil several pots of water. Pour the water down your RV toilet into your black tank and let the water sit overnight. Sometimes the hot water is enough to break up a stubborn clog. 

If that doesn’t do the trick, you may have what is called a “pyramid clog.” What is a pyramid clog? This is when the solid waste in your black tank has hardened into a pyramid and created a clog that won’t drain normally. 

When this happens, it requires a little bit more hands-on work. You may need to get a bit dirty. Use GLOVES!! A snake or toilet wand with a motor can assist with this. Search how-to videos on YouTube. There are plenty of videos on the internet to help with this task. 

Basically, you will want to use the tools and break up the pyramid. Use lots of water until the waste breaks up and freely empties the tank. 


Preventative maintenance. Stop the clog before it happens!!! You may ask yourself, “How can I do that???”

How Do Black Tank Clogs Happen? 

pink and white ceramic toilet bowl
RV Toilet Clog
  1. Wrong Materials: Flushing the wrong types of toilet paper. Toilet paper that doesn’t break down. Make sure to use toilet paper made for RV toilets. 
  2. DO NOT FLUSH feminine products or any item other than RV toilet paper down an RV toilet. 
  3. Do NOT FLUSH bathroom wipes. “Flushable” bathroom wipes have become a staple item in many homes over the past decade. If you plan to use them, have an alternate disposal system in place for them. They do not break down appropriately in a black tank. They can cause clogs and should not be flushed down an RV toilet. 
  4. Using Too Much toilet paper: Only use the amount of toilet paper that you need. Use plenty of water in the tank for each flush. When in doubt, use more water. 
  5. Emptying the Black Tank Too Often: You should let the black tank fill up past the 1/2 way point or if you can wait, to the 2/3 point. If you must empty it before, make sure to add water to aid in emptying. 

How To Deal With a Smelly Black Tank

fix it
fix it
  1. Do not leave the city sewer tank valve open!
  2. Use Happy Camper
  3. Empty Tank Regularly
  4. Use Plenty of Water with each Toilet Flush
  5. Back Flush tank to deal with built-up gunk.
  6. Use ice or detergent method to clean the tank when traveling.
  7. Avoid Clogs using the methods above.

Storage: Should I Leave Water in My Tank? 

We recommend that you thoroughly dump and rinse your tank using the above-mentioned methods prior to storing your RV. After dumping and backflushing, leave the tank empty to avoid any freezing or other possible damage to the tank. 

What Types of Toilet Paper Should I Use? 

RV Toilet Paper
RV Toilet Paper

As mentioned previously, only use RV-approved toilet paper. It is designed to easily break down and prevent sticking and clogging. RV toilet paper is biodegradable. Look for labels that safe “septic safe”, “made for RV’s”, or “safe for RV use.” 

You can find this type of toilet paper online on Amazon, Target, or Walmart. You can also find it at Camping World and other specialty outdoor stores. It is generally One-ply which is a bit disappointing. But, it is always better to be safe than sorry. 

Tips and Tricks for your RV Black Tank

  1. Be sure to add water after flushing the tank. 
  2. Flush with extra water. 
  3. Keep Different lengths and adapters for sewer hook-ups. 
  4. Keep the tank closed until you are emptying it. 
  5. Always drain tanks in designated areas. 
  6. To clean build-up in the tank, fill it with ice and salt prior to driving your RV on a trip. 
  7. Make sure that you have a separate drinking water hose and a hose for flushing the black tank. Clearly mark them so as not to mix them up. 

Conclusion: RV Black Water Tank

RV Black Tank Conclusion
RV Black Tank Conclusion

No one likes to talk about it, but the reality is that every RV owner needs a little information on black tank management. The best way to avoid problems with your black tank system and ensure you get clean water in your toilet tanks is by following these simple tips. 

We hope that this article helped. If you have any tips that you would like to share, we would love to hear from you. 

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