The RV Lifestyle: Dumping Your Black and Gray Water Tanks

Camping and road trip season are here in earnest now that school is out for the summer and families are taking those long-anticipated vacations. One of the great things about traveling with an RV is having your own bathroom—no more hoping the kids can hold it until you make it to the next public restroom, no more having to get the key from the gas station attendant or make a trek across a dark campground, no more wondering when the last time a toilet was cleaned. And of course, having easy access to your own bathroom makes RVing extra nice for parents with small children, RVers with disabilities, anyone with age-related infirmities, etc. The only downside of having your own bathroom rolling along with you, is the necessity of dumping your black and gray water holding tanks. Aside from the actual getting out the hoses and doing the work of emptying the tanks, there’s the issue of finding RV dump stations on the road, figuring out when to dump your tanks, doing it in a sanitary manner, and other details that can make the process a small inconvenience or a big pain in the neck. In this blog we’re going to give you some tips and ideas for finding dump stations on the road, how to know when to dump your tanks and how to dump them safely. We also have some thoughts about everything from etiquette at the dump station to how to choose toilet paper. Dumping your RV tanks isn’t the best part of RVing, but you can make it a lot easier by planning ahead and following some basic steps.

We’re going to give you some pointers for finding RV dump stations when you’re out on that epic road trip, and some advice for good RV dump station etiquette and safety. We’ll get down to the nitty gritty of when to dump your tanks and tips for going about it, and we’ll take a look at RV macerators. We even have some advice on toilet paper.

First and foremost: Never, ever dump your holding tanks anywhere other than an authorized dump station. Otherwise, you’re creating a health hazard for people and wildlife.

Finding an RV Dump Station When You’re on the Road

It used to be that RVers could readily find free dump stations to empty their holding tanks at rest areas and other spots along the Interstates, and usually at campgrounds or nearby towns. This is getting to be a trickier proposal however as many county and state parks, campgrounds and Interstate rest areas have removed their dump stations. Sadly, this is mostly the fault of irresponsible RVers who disregard posted rules, who put things into dump drains that didn’t belong there, and who created health hazards for others by leaving a mess. When states, counties and campground owners weigh the cost of cleaning out the drains and doing all the work to maintain a healthy, safe dumping area, it’s no wonder so many of them have decided to close those once free dump stations—they just can’t afford the upkeep.

With this in mind, we suggest mapping out your route ahead of time and taking note of the dump stations available along the way. Our RVing friends over at have made this easy for you by providing an online RV Dump Station Directory. You can search for RV “dump stations” or “sani dump stations” or “dump points” by region, ZIP code, city or state. Heading out to see the United States? Mark this URL for the U.S. dump station directory.

Practice Good RVer Etiquette at the Dump Station

If you’re not sure how to use the dump stations, ask for some help to learn proper dumping methods. Check out our free RV seminars schedule or give us a call; we’ll be glad to help. In general however, here are the basics of good dump station etiquette:

Don’t put anything other than the contents of your holding tanks into the dump station. This includes the rubber gloves you wore while dumping your tanks; they’re not biodegradable.
Don’t dump directly onto the disposal station’s apron. Remember what we said about health hazards.
Use plenty of water in the black water holding tank (water should cover the solids).
Use only the amount of holding tank chemicals recommended for the size holding tank you have, and don’t use formaldehyde-based chemicals.
If you make a mess emptying your tanks, clean it up! Don’t leave it for the next RVer.
Don’t leave your garbage at the dump station unless there are marked trash bins.
Be polite if other RVs are waiting in line. Do the tasks you need to do, and skip the ones that can wait so other RVers can have their turn.
If we all want to have convenient, free dump stations for our RVs, it’s our responsibility to respect the stations, the people who maintain them and the other RVers who use them.

Speaking of Health Hazards… Practice Good Safety Measures When Dumping Your Tanks!
We all know that sewage contains bacteria and other infectious agents that can cause disease if ingested or when exposed to the skin. Even if it doesn’t affect you, you can unknowingly carry it to your family. Therefore, it’s imperative that you take precautions when dumping your black and gray water tanks.

Before you head out camping for the first time in the season, sanitize all the tools you used last year for dumping your tanks. Soaking them in a bleach solution will do the trick.
Always use disposable gloves when you’re handling the sewer hose, avoid touching the outside of the gloves, and throw them in a garbage can afterwards.
Keep bleach or bleach wipes close by for sanitizing. In a pinch, you can use hand sanitizer.
When you’re done, thoroughly clean your hands, clothes, shoes, tools and any door handles or steering wheels you might have touched.
Store sewer hoses and connectors in a separate, enclosed place where they can’t touch other items, especially your drinking water hose.
Don’t leave waste on the ground that could create a hazard for others.
Never use your fresh water hose for rinsing your sewer hose or the dump station area. Carry a separate garden hose to use for this purpose in case the dump station doesn’t have one.

By following basic safety practices, you’ll not only protect yourself and your family, but you also help out the next RVer coming to the dump station after you.

How and When to Dump Your RV Holding Tanks
Plan to dump your black water tank when it’s at least â…” full. If you need to dump it sooner, add water to the tank so that you reach that â…” full mark. This helps all the solids, toilet paper, etc. float, making it possible for them to efficiently drain out of the tank. If you’ve unloaded your gear after a camping trip and you’re heading over to the dump station, one trick is to add a little liquid dish soap to your black water tank for the ride over—not much, or you’ll end up with a foamy mess: ¼ cup or so will do. It will slosh around while you’re driving to the dump station and help clean those solids from the sides of your tank. There are other similar methods you can try as well; check out RV forums like this one for ideas.

Although we could give you the step-by-step directions here for how to dump your tanks, other RVers before us have already done an excellent job of putting together a great how-to guide. Check out these Instructions on How to Empty Your RV Holding Tanks, complete with handy photos, from
Here’s a couple of helpful tips for making the process easier:

Close your black water tank valve when you’re hooked up at a campsite. Otherwise, liquids can drain out, leaving behind solids that will harden in the tank, making it that much harder to dump.
When you’re emptying both your black and gray water tanks, dump the gray tank last. Gray water tends to be soapy from showers, dish washing, etc. This soap helps to clean any residue from your hose, which means less cleanup for you later.

RV Toilet Paper: Some are Better than Others
The toilet paper you use in your home can be a real problem in your RV black water tank. You need T.P. that is going to break down easily and as completely as possible, so that it doesn’t create a build-up in your tank or block the outlet when you try to dump it.

Some of our favorite lifestyle RVers/bloggers, Jason and Nikki Wynn of the blog Gone With the Wynns, did a test on toilet paper for RVs. Check out the test results in their blog, RV Toilet Paper – It’s About More than Your Butt. Also, Nikki and Jason met up with the good folks at Sanidump at an RV show in 2013, and asked them to test Seventh Generation toilet paper, a 100% recycled toilet paper that is reasonably priced and which is readily available in many grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada (and online). Sanidump concluded that Seventh Generation is an excellent choice for RVers; it breaks down quickly and doesn’t stick to the sides of your tank the way some other papers do. So there’s your RV T.P. tip from the folks who know best!

If you have a favorite toilet paper, test it for yourself with the RV TPT (toilet paper test). Just follow the steps in the Gone With the Wynns how-to video.

What About Those RV Macerators?

A macerator is essentially a garbage disposal for black water tank waste. It liquefies and pressurizes the contents of the tank so that it can be pumped out more thoroughly, through a smaller hose, and over greater distances, all of which can make dumping your tanks so much easier when you’re at the dump station. It also minimizes the risk of exposure to potential pathogens.

A lot of newer motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers now come standard with a macerator pump installed, but if your RV doesn’t have a macerator, having one installed might be an excellent investment for you. Some models come with a gray water bypass that RVers find to be a very useful feature, but it may not matter that much to you; without the bypass you just need to run the macerator a little more often.

Macerator pumps do require some upkeep and you need to be careful about what you flush down the toilet because odd items can break the pump. For a little more insight into this, check out the blog “ Strange Things in Your Macerator Pump”, on But with some good old fashioned common sense and a little diligence, an RV macerator can make the whole business of dumping your black and gray water tanks much nicer. To learn more about macerators, give our service department a call.

Now that the camping and road trip season is in full swing, having a good understanding of how to dump your black water and gray water tanks, along with good practices for etiquette and safety at the dump station, will make your camping experience in 2016 all the better. Be sure to stop in and see us when you’re passing through the Junction City area, or contact us if we can be of assistance.

Photo: Margaret Hill

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