When we think of dirty tanks, it’s easy to think of black and gray. But nothing can make you sick faster than an unsanitary fresh water tank. After all, you’re drinking that water, and bathing in it, however briefly.
And although you see the connection at the fresh water station in a camp, you really have no exact answer to the question, “Where does that water come from?” Sure, it’s from a well or a city water system, but you don’t know what shape they’re in.
So let’s review how to clean the fresh water tank and lines in your RV.
Frequency of Cleaning
You should sanitize the fresh water system:
- At least twice a year.
- Before storing your RV.
- After removing your RV from storage.
- If you find out the source of your water was cited for a health risk.
- If an accident would splash unsanitary water against the fresh water intake.
- If the water filling the tank exhibits signs of uncleanliness, such as sediment or a bad odor. You may want to sanitize it after driving through highly dusty areas.
- After buying and before camping in a used RV.
- After lending out your RV.
What You Need
Sanitizing the fresh water system isn’t particularly difficult. It is a bit tedious. You need only a handful of items:
- Chlorine bleach—bleach only, never a cleaner that contains bleach and/or other chemicals.
- 1-cup measuring cup.
- 1-gallon pitcher.
- Funnel—one you don’t use for anything else and bag to keep clean.
- White hose with which to fill the tank from a water source you know is safe.
A plastic cup and pitcher are ideal here; nothing will break. If you have a pitcher that catches shower water before it heats, use that. You’ll waiting between some steps, sometimes for hours. Plan accordingly.
Where To Do It
If you drain your tank onto the ground after sanitizing, don’t let water pool in areas of vegetative growth, even though the solution is weak enough that damage should not occur. Bleach in strong concentrations can harm plants.
What To Clean
First, decide whether to sanitize the cold water lines only, along with the tank, or the hot water system as well. Some folks sanitize the cold water lines only, reasoning that the hot water will discourage the growth of germs, and to keep chlorine from the water heater. It’s up to you.
What To Do
Here’s how to sanitize your RV fresh water system:
- Put on old clothes and shoes. (Even tiny splashes will spot clothing.)
- Refer to your owner’s manual to find out how many gallons your fresh water tank holds.
- Turn off the water pump.
- Turn off the ice maker if so equipped.
- If you don’t want to sanitize the hot water lines, turn off the water heater.
- Drain the fresh water tank by opening the drain valve, then tighten the valve again.
- Using the measuring cup and pitcher, add a quarter-cup of household bleach for each 15 gallons of tank capacity. Fill the rest of the pitcher with clean, potable water. (Take care: Too much bleach can damage the tank and seals.)
- Hook up a hose to a source of clan water and fill your tank until you see overflow beneath the tank. Turn off the fill line.
- Open the gray water tank drain valve. (As an alternative, you can start with an empty grey tank, drain the bleach solution into it, then empty it at a grey water dumping station.)
- If you have a water filter, bypass it so bleach doesn’t run through.
- If you are cleaning the hot water system, bypass the heater, too.
- Turn the water pump back on. One at a time, open each faucet and your shower (don’t forget exterior faucets or showers!) until you smell bleach at each, then turn each off. (Open cold faucets only if you’re cleansing only the cold-water lines; turn the heater back on and open the hot water faucets too if you’re also cleansing the hot water system.)
- Allow the bleach solution to sit in the lines and tank for at least 4 and up to 12 hours. If you fill late in the day, you’ll be ready to drain in the morning.
- Optional: Drive your RV a few miles to get the solution to splash around and reach every part of the tank, or simply drive to your next RV park, emptying and refilling there.
- After the solution sits, open each faucet and let the water drain.
- Refill your fresh water tank.
- Turn on each faucet again and run water until you don’t smell bleach.
- If the bleach odor persists, refill the tank and drain again until the bleach smell is gone, then refill.
- Turn the heater lines and filter lines back on.
- Tighten the drain on your gray water tank, or dump it at a fill station.
Sanitize your tank again if you smell an odor or store your RV.
Image Credits: Stikeseff (Wikimedia Commons), Jose Manuel Suarez (Wikimedia Commons)