Perhaps you’re organizing a long trip and plan to stay in your RV for an extended period of time? Maybe you have two trips that just so happen to be very close to each other?
Whatever the reason, planning how you are going to store and use your supplies will be at the very forefront of your mind for your trip. And, water is more than likely going to be at the very top of the list. As one of the most valuable of all your supplies and the one you use for a number of tasks, keeping water fresh and drinkable is of the most paramount importance.
The key question on everyone’s lips in this situation is, how long can I keep freshwater in an RV tank? Well, the answer to this can vary considerably, and it depends on a huge variety of factors.
As a general rule of thumb, untreated water should not be kept in an RV tank for any longer than two weeks. This is for several reasons: bacteria can grow, the healthiness of the water is compromised, and put simply, the water will no longer taste or smell very good.
There are, however, several ways you can keep the water from going bad and becoming undrinkable. Throughout this blog, we will address these issues and attempt to answer the myriad of questions that surround RV water storage and good practice when you’re on the road.
How a freshwater tank actually works
Understanding the inner workings of your freshwater tank is the best way to get to grips with how the whole process works and what you can do to aid and manage the device.
At a basic level, the fresh water tank is essentially a storage tank built into the structure of the RV underbelly. Most storage tanks are crafted out of fiberglass, though, nowadays, a number are also made from a form of heavy-duty plastic.
However you use this water, to turn on a tap, or to flush the RV toilet, a small pump will draw the water from the freshwater tank and disperse it through the RV via a pressure release valve. Dirty water from the shower or sink is sent to a grey water tank, and wastewater from a toilet is sent to a black water tank.
Cleaning and sanitizing your freshwater tank
Alongside maintaining a good and reliable water source, keeping a clean and sterilized freshwater tank is paramount to storing water, whatever you choose to use it for. Even the smallest amount of lingering water left in your tank can be a breeding ground for microbes and bacteria. This being said, it is a good idea to sanitize your tank regularly, ensuring that no harmful germs remain in the system.
The easiest way to sanitize the tank is with simple household bleach, and the general ratio rule is around one gallon of bleach to every 12 to 15 gallons of water. Once the tank is full of this mixture, take a little drive – the motion and time are enough to sanitize the tank and leave it heavenly sterile.
Safely dump this mixture and fill the tank with fresh water again, repeat this process until that unpleasant lingering bleach smell no longer remains. This will ensure that the tank is bleach-free and safe for human use.
Many RV manufacturers have now introduced oxidizing compounds that are specially designed to clean freshwater tanks. The cleaning process is pretty much the same and is often preferable if you are traveling with young children, and want to avoid the complications that bleach can bring.
Understanding your other RV tanks and how they affect the entire system
As mentioned above, alongside the fresh water tank, your RV is home to two other tanks both of which can affect the health and condition of your freshwater tank. Understanding these two tanks is pivotal to the greater understanding of the fresh water tank and your RV as a whole.
Gray water tank
Your gray water tank contains the runoff from both the shower and washing water, along with the water from any sinks inside the RV. In larger RVs, fifth wheels or travel trailers, there may even be two gray water tanks.
One of the prevailing things to remember with your gray water tank is the size of the drain is extremely small and is very easily blocked by trespassing waste.
For this reason, it is important to take every precaution to ensure food waste does not enter the tank. Even the smallest of food items can block this drain, and or even worse, organic materials can contribute to the growth of mold.
Black water tank
The dreaded black tank is the most unglamorous of the three, as it holds the contents of the RV toilet waste. Though the most intimidating of tanks, it is arguably the most important tank to manage when it comes to the general cleanliness and hygiene of the RV water and waste systems. A fault here could affect the whole system, and in the worst cases, bring serious health issues to the occupiers of the RV.
There are few good rules to follow when it comes to the RVs black water tank, and practicing these can save a lot of trouble in the future:
- Use single-ply toilet paper; anything lager will clog the tank and create a whole mess of trouble, even to the point of backing up your toilet.
- Always use water when flushing any waste; this will liquify any waste and keep the whole process flowing smoothly.
- Do not forget to sanitize your tank after dumping; this will stop any transaction of germs or bacteria.
Good flushing practices with your freshwater tank
Though cleaning and sanitizing your tank can be a long and tiresome procedure, simply flushing it every two weeks will maintain a high level of hygiene. The flushing process can be as simple as running fresh water through the system, running the water in the shower, or putting a secondary hose down the toilet.
This general hygienic practice will save you a lot of time and effort when it comes to the cleaning and sanitizing stage. This will also be a great time to purge out the gray and black tanks, adding to the overall cleanliness of your RV systems.
Dealing with mold and/or algae in your freshwater RV tank
Mold and mildew are a natural part of life and unfortunately, moisture, heat, and low sunlight are the perfect conditions to encourage growth. These are just the types of conditions that exist inside a water tank.
How will you know if mold has got a firm foothold in your water tank, you might ask? Well, there are a number of telltale signs, and trusting your senses is the best way to know.
Water that has been contaminated with mold will often take on a certain unpleasant taste and odor. Certain discolorations can also occur in moldy water but fear not, the procedure for fixing the issue is often a simple one.
Generally, bleach and your generic cleaning regime should be enough to flush the mold from your tank, but if it is a more serious case, this may not work. A large colony of mold on a porous surface can secure microscopic roots and take a firm hold. General bleach will destroy the surface mold and to the naked eye, your problem is solved. However, after a short while, the mold will return – apparently out of nowhere, and your problem remains.
To spare yourself from going through this bleaching process time after time, use a specifically designed and formulated chemical that utilizes oxygen. These are chemicals such as Sodium Hypochlorite, Chlorine Dioxide, or even granulated Hydrogen Peroxide.
Though the majority of us would squirm at the thought of bathing in mold-infested water, it would not compromise our health by doing so.
There is a small percentage of the population that may receive minor skin irritations from such water, but the chances of this are extremely low. If you have a history of rashes or similar irritations, then bathing in moldy water is not advisable, and extra steps should be taken to ensure mold is not present inside your freshwater tank.
Algae inside your freshwater tank is seen as a less biologically harmful substance compared to mold. This being said, no one is likely to be happy with drinking or bathing in algae infested water. Like mold, the alga is an organism that thrives in sunlight, heat, and humidity, yet it can easily survive in the sunless cavities of your freshwater tank as well.
The longer your water tank has sat in the heat of warm summer’s day, the more likely it is to develop an algae problem. Another way algae can develop is if your RV tank is fitted with a heater, as artificial warming will have a similar effect to the natural sun. This is more prevalent if your heater spends extended periods of time off, or you use camping generators as your main source of power.
Again, a common practice for dealing with an algae problem is to flush it out with bleach, similar to how you would deal with mold. Although using bleach may get you by for a short time, it is much more effective to use an algicide. These are specifically formulated algicides that are designed for freshwater tanks and can be purchased from a number of camping supply shops.
Correct procedures for filling up your freshwater RV tank
If you are new to the world of RVs or simply unaware of the correct procedure for filling up your fresh water tank, you may be unintentionally contaminating it, leaving it prone to bacteria and, in turn, marking it with a shorter life.
With some freshwater tanks, you may be able to simply pop the garden hose inside and fill it up that way. Although this may work, it is considered poor practice in the RV world. Doing this allows tainted flavors and possible bacteria to seep into your water tank, forcing you to empty it sooner than you would normally.
It is better to practice to use a purpose-built white filling hose. These are not only designed to fit snugly, not allowing any contaminated tastes or smells to enter your tank, but they can also be broken down into smaller sections that are easy to clean and sanitize.
Drinking from your freshwater tank
One of the most common questions asked by RV users is, ‘can I drink from my freshwater tank?’. As is generally the case with RVs, it all depends on a number of factors.
The general cleanliness of your tank will greatly affect the quality of your freshwater. If you have neglected to treat or clean your tank regularly, then it may be prone to all kinds of bacteria. In this case, boiling the water before you drink it is a must.
Another factor is where you get your water from to fill your tank. If you are randomly filling up your fresh water tank from an unknown source, then caution is needed before you pour it into your drinking glass. If, however, you fill your tank from a trusted source, such as your home tap, then you should be ok to drink it as you wish.
Even with a clean tank and a reliable source, many RV campers still choose to boil all of their water before consuming it or simply buy bottled water to take on board. This approach assures that you are 100% free from any contaminated water, and more water can be saved for washing and bathing.
Timescales for washing and bathing in tank water
As noted before, drinking water from your freshwater RV tank after a two week period is not recommended. But don’t throw away that water from the tank just yet. There are other ways to use the water after this two week period has lapsed. After the two weeks, water from the tank is still perfect for washing clothes, cleaning the dishes, and can even be used to shower in.
You may notice that the water takes on an unpleasant odor after these two weeks, yet when it comes to using it along with cleaning products this should not be an issue. If it takes on a slight plastic smell, this could just be the heavy-duty plastic tank itself – something that can happen faster in high temperatures.
Knowing how long to keep freshwater in an RV tank all comes down to your hygienic practices and your own personal preferences when it comes to bathing and drinking water.
Using the two-week margin as a general rule of thumb, we can safely assume that anything before this two week period, the water is its cleanest and safest state.
Any water remaining after this two week period can be seen as second-class and is only good for washing. If you and your family are in any doubt about the quality of this water, we would advise a process of boiling before drinking or replacing the contents after this golden two week period.