RV Toilet Quick Guide: Tips, Tricks, and How To Empty Black and Grey Tanks

“Do you use your R-Pod RV toilet?”

It’s one of the most common questions we get from our friends, family, and even other RVers. Followed up with all sorts of questions about emptying the tanks (how to, where to, how often, etc.).

Well, the answer is a loud and enthusiastic, “YES!”

There’s nothing like using your own toilet, and that goes double during the time of COVID (we don’t use public restrooms when traveling). We use our toilet as intended — for #1, #2, AND we flush our toilet paper. (Yeah, we were really surprised to hear many RVers don’t flush their TP).

In this post, I’ll walk you through what works for us when it comes to the toilet in our R-Pod 192, how to empty the tanks, black tank flush, and a few tricks we’ve learned along the way.

If you hate reading, I have a video that explains most of what’s in my blog post. I actually dump the tanks in a dress, because apparently that’s what I was wearing that day, and that’s really how easy it is to do.

If you (like me) enjoy reading, scroll on…

Black Tank vs. Grey Tank

If you’re new to RVing, you may be asking what the heck I’m talking about? So, here’s a crash course. Your black tank is your toilet tank waste. Black is, um, really stinky. It also must be disposed of properly. Your grey tank is the waste from your showers and sinks. Grey is stinky, but not as stinky as the black. And in some cases, can be used to water lawns, etc. I’ll explain that in a bit.

Both tanks need to be emptied often in our R-Pod, as our tanks are small. We can go about 7-9 days on our 30-gallon black tank and about 3 days on our 30-gallon grey (or more if we’re very conservative).

Tools and Accessories Needed for Emptying Tanks

When you pick up your new RV, be it new or used, you’re going to need a few accessories before you’re ready to dump your tanks. Here’s what we use, why we like these specific items, and why you need them.

Sewer Hose

The first thing you’ll need to purchase is a sewer hose. The sewer hose connects directly to your RV, then to the elbow, then to sewer drain. There are different types of hoses, sewer adapters, and elbows, depending on your needs.

Hoses come in different forms. You can get a soft flexible hose or a hose that is still flexible, but a bit more rigid (and compacts into itself).

For our R-Pod, we use two 20 foot flexible hoses, and an elbow. We use the Valterra hose and clear elbow/sewer adapter. The R-Pod sits a bit low, so we often have to lift the hose to get the water into the sewer. We do have a RhinoFlex hose that compacts into itself, because we had a site where 20 feet of hose would not work and we needed an extra 5 feet. Both of the hoses work well, but I personally prefer the Valterra.

Our R-Pod 192 has hose storage in the bumper, and we can fit all three hoses in the bumper. The elbow goes in a plastic bag and lives in the pass through when not in use.

Sewer Elbows

You’ll need a connection from the hose to the sewer drain, and I’d highly suggest a clear elbow (we use the Valterra that came with our hose). You can get less expensive elbows that are not clear, but then you can’t see if TP, water, gunk, etc. is actually going through the hose.

You can also choose flexible sewer hose add on that screws into a septic drain hole, like this one. These are especially good if your hook up is non-standard, or if you’re looking to dump into an external RV waste holding tank.

Sewer Hose Support

A sewer hose support supports your hose so it doesn’t lay on the ground. It can be helpful to ease draining and increase the longevity of your sewer hose. We carried one across the county and did not use it until we rented a long-term spot, and mostly to protect our hose against rain issues, our neighbor’s dogs, etc. It’s an inexpensive purchase that will probably come in handy, and it’s so lightweight that you won’t even notice you’re carrying it in your storage area.

Black Tank Flush Hose

If you’re RV has a black tank flush (as our R-Pod 192 does), you may want a second hose for black tank flushing. Many dump stations have water to flush, but it’s non-potable. You don’t want to put that through the same hose you use to bring potable water into your RV.

We suggest a hose that is a different color than your main hose, an at least 10 feet long (though ours is 25ft, and we’ve needed to use all 25 feet before). Also, we highly recommend no kink, expandable hoses. For our main hose we use a Zero-G 50ft.

If you don’t have a blank tank, or it doesn’t work as well as you’d like you can also look into a reverse flush attachment, which essentially cleans the tank or clogs by blasting water into your black tank via the hose connection.

RV Macerator Pump

So, I’m adding this just because it’s interesting. We don’t have a macerator pump, and frankly our R-Pod’s tank is so small we don’t need it. But if you have a larger RV a macerator could be interesting. Essentially, the pump grinds the black tank contents up into a watery substance that can pass through a small hose. It’s worth at least knowing what it is, in case you ever want one.

How to Empty your RV Black and Grey Tanks

Different RVs have different type of sewers configurations. Our 2020 R-Pod 192 has a separate drain for each tank, while some RVs (including 192s) have one drain for the black and grey tanks. Other larger RVs may have multiple tanks for multiple restrooms. However, the principals are the same.

Emptying your tanks is easier than one may think. But, like anything with an RV, there’s a process and steps you’ll need to follow. Emptying your black tank first is highly recommended (then the grey water can help flush your hose).

To empty, make sure your hose is secured to your black tank drain and the septic drain. Then pull the handle to open your tank. Wait a few seconds and you’ll hear water gushing. Watch your elbow to make sure clumps of TP and other matter are, in fact, moving. You may need to lift the hose a few times to get the materials moving faster.

Here’s where you can choose to black tank flush, or not. If not, you can continue on. After you’re 100% positive the black tank is done (nothing else comes out), close the black handle. Remove the hose carefully, and lift it up so gunk can go down the hose. If you’re black and grey share a drain, leave the hose attached.

Attach the sewer hose to your grey drain (if you just have one, skip this step), and pull the grey handle to open the drain. The grey usually flushes way faster for us. Be patient, let it flow. For us, it’s generally 5-6 minutes to drain our 30 gallon tank. Once done, close the grey handle, remove the hose carefully (lift it up in the air to drain water down). Now detach your elbow, put your hose away, and make sure to close your drain caps.

That’s it. Wasn’t that easy? And yes, I do all this in my video above.

How to Know When to Empty RV Tanks

Newer RVs have sensors to alert you when tanks are full, right? Well, yes, technically this is true. However, any RVer will tell you the sensors often lie. Our black sensor perpetually shows 3/4 full even after we just dumped and black tank flushed. Every once in a while we’ll get lucky and the gunk will come off the sensor. Our grey tank sensor is a bit more accurate, but still over exaggerates.

Since the sensors are rarely accurate, there are other manual ways to check your levels. For the black tank, just look down the tank (a flashlight helps). You can see how close the gunk is to the top of the tank. For the grey tank, if it’s extra full, water will come up the shower or sink, or it just won’t drain.

After awhile, you’ll get to know your tanks. For example, in our R-Pod 192 we have a 30 gallon fresh, 30 gallon grey, 30 gallon black. So, if we’re boondocking, we know it’s impossible to fill the grey if we only have one tank of fresh. If we’re hooked up, we know 30 gallons is about 4 showers (for us) and daily use (handwashing, teeth brushing). We know our black tank can go about 7 days (or it could go more if we didn’t put TP in it, but yeah, I’d rather just go to the dump a few days earlier).

Where to Dump Your Black and Grey Tanks

If you’re staying at a campground or RV park, chances are the park has hook ups at your site or a dump station on site. But when you’re boondocking, moochdocking, or hitting Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lots for the night — it can get tricky.

We suggest checking our favorite RV dump resource, RV Dumps, for the most up-to-date RV septic locations and pricing.

Campgrounds/RV Parks

Many RV parks will let non-guests empty tanks for a small fee. We’ve found the fee to be $3 on the low end and $20 on the high end. This is our favorite place to empty because generally the dump station is well-equipped.

Rest Areas

We found a few rest areas (mostly on the west coast) with free dump stations.

Truck Stops/Travel Centers

Trucks often need to empty tanks, too. Loves and Flying J have been a great resource for all things RV (dumping, fresh water, propane), and well as an easy-in, easy-out for RVs.

Sanitation Stations/Waste Water Treatment Plants

Many cities or counties have a free or low-cost dump station at their local sanitation or water treatment plant.

Grey Water Reuse

If your grey water tank is full, it’s not illegal to dump your grey on dispersed land, land you own, etc. Most campgrounds will not let you dump it, however. One caveat to this, many soaps and shampoos are not great for the local environment — so if you do this, make sure you’re filtering your water or using biodegradable soap and shampoo only.

Tips and Tricks for RV Toilets

How to Avoid RV Toilet Clogs

If you have a traditional RV flush toilet, clogs can happen. But there are some ways to avoid them. First and foremost, keep your black tank valve closed unless you’re actually dumping the tanks. Second, keep a lot of water in your tanks. As soon as we dump, we immediately add about 2 gallons of water into the black tank before we use it again. Be liberal with water when you’re flushing (tip: if you’re boondocking, collect extra shower water, your A/C run-off, or keep a couple gallons in a jug to help flush).

If you do get a clog, try poking it with a broom handle or long stick. If that doesn’t work, try ice cubes and drive a bit. We’ve also heard a little Calgon down the toilet will loosen clumps (though we’ve not had to use this method).

Use RV Toilet Treatments

We also use RV toilet treatments to help break down the materials in the tank. Treatments also help keep the scent fresh. Our favorite brand is Happy Camper, but we’ve had good luck using drop in tabs, too. We highly recommend treatments, especially if you’re full-time living in your RV.

Use RV-friendly TP

Any toilet paper that is safe for septic tanks is also safe to use in your RV. When using TP, be conservative or do multiple flushes.

We recently switched to bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, and have not had any issues. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s soft and three-ply. If you want to be extra-careful, you can check out paper that’s made specifically for RVs and Boats.

Deep Clean Your RV Toilet

The space between your toilet flush and your tank can get pretty nasty. There are a few ways to clean this area. One is your old school toilet brush. I just grab a few at Dollar Tree so I can toss it when I’m done. Occasionally, we run our hose through our back window and I use the power of the hose to clean the bowl. If you want to get fancy, pick up a swivel stick cleaner. It connects to your hose and power washes it clean.

Check Your Toilet Seal

Make sure your toilet seal doesn’t have any leaks. You’ll know because the smell will permeate from the seal. You can use plumber grease to keep the seal moist, and make sure to reseal it if needed.

Do you have any tips or tricks to dumping your RV tanks? We’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, or shoot us a message on Twitter.

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I have some affiliate links on this post, so I can make (literally) a few pennies of this post to offset my hosting fees. All opinions are genuine and the products I endorse are actually products we use while living full-time in our R-Pod 192.