The RV and Poop

Alan Heymann Alan Heymann  |  10.02.2016

Driving around your second home on wheels means you always have a bathroom nearby. Sooner or later, everyone wants to know: how do you deal with the poop? Today, I’ll explain.

From friends to family members, unless the person has used an RV in the last 10 years, the question almost always comes up. And I don’t mind. I work more than occasionally at a wastewater treatment plant. I have a 7-year-old. The poop jokes were pretty universal even before we bought an RV.

Bottom line? If the idea of spending another minute thinking about what happens when you flush is a distasteful one, you’re not going to want an RV. You’re probably also not going to want to read this blog post.

Centralized sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants are nearly invisible, yet so incredibly vital to modern society. (I recommend this book if you’re interested in learning more.) At the same time, think of the cost and environmental consequence of soiling 1.6 gallons of drinking water every time every person relieves him or herself. With an RV, the impact is much smaller and more direct. I’d even call it a minimalist approach.

When you step on the pedal to flush an RV toilet, a hatch opens like in an airplane toilet, to let the waste drop below. A small amount of water jets out, mostly to clean the bowl. Our RV also has a sprayer nozzle nearby for rinsing. So it’s gravity and a small amount of water that aids in flushing, instead of the volume of water that sits in the bowl of a home toilet. You should only ever flush the 3 Ps at home, and that’s especially important in an RV toilet. No paper towels, no feminine hygiene products, no toilet paper that isn’t marked “septic safe.”

So how do things get out of the RV once you’ve flushed them? Let’s take a step back.

Roxanne, a Winnebago Travato, has three tanks that hold water. The first is the fresh water tank, inside the cabin, which holds clean water for drinking, washing, brushing teeth and flushing. The second is the gray water tank, which holds everything that drains from the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and shower. And the third is the black water tank, which holds everything you flush down the toilet. The gray and black tanks together hold slightly more than the fresh tank, to account for everything that gets added to the dirty water.

Our experience as a trio who have never used the shower in the van: you’re pretty good for at least two, maybe three days without hookups before your fresh tank empties and your dirty tanks fill. So this post will cover how to refresh those tanks and get back to having fun on the road. Allow about a half hour to get this done, or longer if you have to wait in line at a sanitation (dump) station.

First, remember to keep your clean business and your dirty business separate. To me, that means separate hoses for drinking water and anything having to do with sewage. It also means filling up the clean water first before dumping the tanks.

The Travato has two ports to fill up water on the driver’s side. The first is “City Fill,” which is designed for use at campsites with a water connection. I never use this. I like to keep the water in the tank fresh, so I fill it up even at sites with full hookups. That’s the job of the “Tank Fill” port. Typically, if I’m staying at a site that has only electric or no hookups, I’ll fill up the fresh water tank at a central spigot or at the dump station — as long as the water is clearly marked that it’s safe for drinking.

20160821_101126Two ports for filling water.


20160821_101130Clean water connection (note blue handle).

With our setup, you grab the water filter and pressure regulator, which are already connected. Attach these to the water hookup. Then connect the clean water hose (it’s the big one hanging on the wall) to the filter on one end and the “Tank Fill” port on the other. Turn on the water. Anywhere from a few to many minutes later, you’ll start to notice water pouring out of the bottom of the passenger side of the van. That’s the overflow. It tells you when the tank is full.
20160821_095416-e1473023358676Roxanne’s service wall. Clean water hose is hanging at center. Water filter and pressure regulator are behind it.

20160821_101226Filter with pressure regulator.

20160821_101327Connected, with clean water hose.

Disconnect all the things in reverse order. Give the hose and the filter each a good shake to get any extra water out of there. Hang them up on the wall, and you’re done with the clean part.

Now the dirty part.

Begin by driving into the dump station (or positioning yourself in a campsite with a sewer connection) so the van’s tailpipe is roughly lined up with the sewer opening.

On the driver’s side, the Travato’s only outside storage is a small cubby for the sewer hose. It has a square door. Don’t touch it yet, but know where it is. Go to the back wall of the van where you found the clean water hose, and grab three things: two blue disposable gloves and the orange box marked “Sewer Accessories.” Find a trash bag or a nearby trash can. Put on your gloves.

20160821_095517Large square door: the sewer hose lives here.

20160821_095444Orange “Sewer Accessories” box and gloves

Open the orange box and lay out the three items inside: short rinse hose, rinse attachment and clear elbow. Go grab the sewer hose from the outside cubby on the van. You now have everything you need to dump the tanks.

20160821_095643Three sewer accessories, laid out.

The drain port is near the tailpipe and is marked “Valterra” on its cap. Take off the cap. A small amount of water dribbling out is normal. Open whatever is covering the sewer opening and put the non-threaded (blue) end of the sewer hose in there, along with a few inches of hose. There should be a brick, a rock or a cover handy to keep the hose in place. If not, you’ll need to improvise.

20160821_095827Sewer connection with hose inside.

Connect the clear elbow to the drain port on the van. Then connect the threaded (black) end of the sewer hose to the other side of the clear elbow. You should now have a watertight link between your van and the sewer opening. Check all the connections to make sure they’re tight and secure.

20160821_095906Clear elbow with hose.

There are two valves next to the drain port, one marked for the black tank and one marked for the gray. Pull the black tank valve open. The contents of the black tank will immediately dump into the sewer. This will be fast. You’ll know when it’s over because you’ll see when the flow stops — this is why we use the clear elbow.

When the black tank is done, you’re going to do the gray tank. We do it in this order because the cleaner water in the gray tank helps rinse out the hose. So close the valve for the black tank and open the gray. You’ll notice nothing happens.

This is because the Travato uses a pump to empty the gray tank. So, make sure everything is still well connected. Go around to the back of the van. Press and hold the switch marked “Drain Pump” and watch the flow begin. You can still see the clear elbow from this vantage point if you look under the van. You’re going to be sitting or squatting in this position for a number of minutes, so get comfortable.

20160821_100120Drain pump button.

Eventually, the flow will slow to a trickle and the noise from the pump will change noticeably. This means you’re done! Stop holding the switch and walk around to the drain port. Be sure to close the gray tank valve. With the sewer hose (hopefully) still in the sewer opening, disconnect the clear elbow from the RV’s drain port.

Connect the rinse hose (marked “SEWER ONLY”) to the rinse attachment, and the rinse attachment to the clear elbow that was connected to the RV. Connect the other end of the rinse hose to a water source. Most dump stations provide a connection for rinsing. Check to make sure everything is connected tightly. Turn on the water, then turn on the rinse attachment for a few seconds.

20160821_100518Now rinse.  The rinse hose, connected to clear elbow after disconnecting from RV.

Now that you’ve rinsed the hose with gray water and clean water, you can put everything away. Disconnect the sewer accessories first, and put them in the orange box. Then give your sewer hose a few shakes while it’s still in the sewer, and place it back in the van’s outside storage cubby. The threaded (black) end should go in last.

Finally, dispose of your gloves. You’re almost done. The last step is to grab a deodorizing tablet from the box above the toilet inside the van, and flush it with about 20 seconds of water. That will keep odors down now that the tank is empty, and help everything break down until next time you dump it.

Wash your hands, and you’re through.

Done correctly, this is an easy, sanitary and relatively odorless process. I’ll admit doing it the first time was a little terrifying, but it gets easier every time. And it really is just part of life with an RV, just like little plastic bags of poop are part of life with a dog.


Lucky us: we get to do both.

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  1. Rick Filcoff Posted on 01.26.2019

    Response to question from Elizabeth Smith: For RV tank maintenance without using strong chemicals, recommend that you search Internet for “geo method RV”

  2. Rick Filcoff Posted on 01.24.2019

    Very nice procedure: Some additional suggestions:
    1. Use a right-angle elbow at the end of your dump hose that fits into the sewer opening. This will keep you dump hose cleaner and may prevent damage to it.
    2. You may want to periodically lift the dump hose along its length to assist with draining, especially when the draining appears to be complete.
    3 Recommend that if you are going to use the water source at the dump station that you adhere to the following: If the water source that you are going to use is also used for potable water, insert a backflow preventer between your hose and the water source. I would install the backflow preventer even if the water source is not used for potable water.
    4. Keep an extra pair or two of disposable gloves in your pocket. Seems that I always manage to tear a hole in my disposable gloves when dumping.
    5. Include antibacterial wipes and a disposable trash bag (plastic shopping bag from Walmart) in the items that you gather prior to dumping. I place my used disposable gloves and the used antibacterial wipes into the trash bag
    6. If you are going to be kneeling (hard to prevent), wear kneepads ($5 for foam kneepads at Walmart).
    7. I actually had the rinse hose pop off the dump tube and spray me in the face. I now wear safety glasses when rinsing the dump tube.
    8. If it is dark outside when you are dumping, wear a headlamp.
    9. Be careful where you kneel and step, as you don’t want to being any fluids on your shoes or kneepads back with you into the RV after dumping. (I actually have a special pair of rubber shoes, that I keep in an outside carrier, for use at questionable dump stations.)

  3. Alisa Penninger Posted on 12.13.2018

    Thanks for the info!

  4. Elizabeth Smith Posted on 12.04.2018

    I Enjoyed this. I know it sounds silly. I live I my motorhome. I’m a newby RVer and it doesn’t seen like there are a lot of places to ask these kind of questions. The weather’s been unusually cold for here. We’ve been in the teens for a week. So I have winter preventative maintenance questions. My focus now is simply for my water, gray and black tanks to not freeze. I’m very sensitive to chemicals and would like some assistance finding information on Organic, Natural ways to have an Awesome Experience with all my tanks. For very obvious reasons ( :

  5. Monica Tempson Posted on 09.30.2018

    You made a great guideline. The lessons are great. It seems like the pressurized water could be convenient when to be had. Thanks for sharing your tips.

  6. Sue Posted on 09.02.2018

    Love Penny!!!

  7. Sharon Reams Posted on 06.07.2017

    Thanks for the lessons. I have one class b RV and faced problem with the toilet few days ago. I tried to fix the issue but failure to do that and replace the toilet with new one. I searched for the rv toilet reviews and got:

  8. Faith Posted on 11.23.2016

    For Sally — we have found that most campgrounds that have water connections have lousy water pressure that’s less than what we get with the pump in the Travato. So, like the author, we tend to only use the internal tank, and just top it off from the water connection in the campground before we leave.

  9. JOAN HELM Posted on 11.12.2016


  10. Sally Posted on 10.29.2016

    I am wondering why you only use the fresh water tank and not the “city fill” pressurized water? It seems like the pressurized water would be convenient when available. We are trying to figure out if we should move up to a Travato from our super simple tent trailer.

  11. Gar Salzgeber Posted on 10.29.2016

    When filling fresh water from a source used by other people we spray the threads with bleach and run the faucet 5 or 10 seconds. Can never be sure if the person ahead of you used their sewer hose instead of water hose on the faucet…