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Knowing how to operate and maintain an RV toilet might sound like common sense, but it’s a little different than the modus operandi for your household toilet. And if you neglect it, you open yourself up to the possibility of RV bathroom issues that require not-so-rosy solutions.
Most of these issues can be avoided by operating your RV toilet correctly and knowing what can and can’t be flushed. Regular toilet maintenance will also keep your black water system working as it should and minimize the likelihood of more expensive repairs down the road.
How to Operate an RV Toilet
If you’ve never used a motorhome toilet, here are some quick tips to keep in mind:
1. Understand the Controls
The toilet in your RV won’t flush unless your water system is under pressure. When boondocking, this means your water pump is turned on and your freshwater tank is filled. Or, you might be connected to city water at a campsite or in a driveway. Just make sure you protect your plumbing with a water pressure regulator when connecting to city water. Learn more about pressure regulators and why they’re important.
If you’re not familiar with the process of how to get running water in your RV, check out this quick video on how to hook up power and water to your RV.
Now, most RV toilets have a pedal located either at the front or the side of the toilet’s base. This pedal controls the flushing and filling mechanisms. Partially depressing the pedal will dispense water to fill the bowl. Fully depressing the pedal will dispense water and open the ball valve to flush the toilet’s contents straight down into your black water holding tank.
Some RV toilets also have a spray nozzle that is connected to the toilet’s water supply hose. For most models, the pedal still needs to be depressed partially to use the spray nozzle, but this is an effective method for clearing toilet bowl residue.
2. Pre-Fill The Bowl
It is recommended to pre-fill the toilet bowl with water to at least one-quarter of its capacity before each use. This is more important for solid waste as opposed to liquid waste and reduces the likelihood of clogs. When you add water before using a camper toilet, it also helps RV toilet paper start to break down before you flush.
3. Use Only RV-Friendly Toilet Paper
The type of toilet paper you are using can greatly influence the behavior of your RV septic system. By making sure that the toilet paper you are flushing down your toilet is RV safe, you are greatly lowering the chances of having a clogged or broken system.
Improper toilet paper can also stick around on your holding tank sensor, causing false readings. Simply purchase RV-friendly toilet paper or check to make sure the toilet paper you are using is dissolving properly.
Nothing aside from toilet paper should be flushed into your RV’s septic system. Some examples of products that should NEVER go down your RV toilet include:
- Paper towels
- Baby wipes
- Feminine hygiene products
- ANYTHING THAT’S NOT RV-FRIENDLY TOILET PAPER!
If you don’t have regular access to a dump station, you can also consider upgrading to an RV cassette toilet. Check out this article to see if an RV Cassette toilet is right for you.
4. Or Don’t Flush Toilet Paper At All!
It might sound gross at first, but one of the best ways to reduce RV toilet clogs is to dispose of used toilet paper in a dedicated trash can. Avoiding flushing toilet paper is also good for your holding tank sensors. The most common cause of inaccurate sensor readings is toilet paper!
By placing toilet paper in a trash receptacle, you’ll experience fewer clogs and maximize the chances of your sensor readings remaining accurate. That being said, the best way to do this is to get a covered or sealed trash receptacle to minimize odors.
While we get it if you don’t want to go this far, keeping toilet tissue out of your RV’s black water tank also saves tank space so you can stay out longer before you have and find a dump station. You’ll also worry less about your kids or RV guests flushing too much TP, use less water to flush each time, and have the freedom to use any brand of TP you prefer.
How to Maintain an RV Toilet
Follow these guidelines to keep your RV toilet in tip-top shape:
1. Make Sure Your Toilet Bowl Stays Clean
As we mentioned, many camper toilets come with an attached sprayer to use when the flush alone isn’t powerful enough for your toilet cleaning needs. If you have one, use this sprayer as often as necessary to keep the toilet bowl clean. If your toilet is older or doesn’t have a sprayer, keep a small plastic cup beside your toilet and use a toilet cleaner to remove residue after each use.
Simply fill the cup with a small amount of water and pour it around your toilet bowl as you flush. Some RVers have even mentioned keeping a small plastic water gun beside their toilet to help with this issue, but keeping your toilet bowl clean after each use reduces unsightly stains to maintain your RV toilet in the best visual condition possible.
2. Lubricate the Ball Valve Seal
Over time, the seal around the ball valve at the bottom of your toilet bowl can dry out. If it dries out too much, it can even crack. This seal is important for keeping water in your toilet bowl and creating the barrier that keeps odors from wafting up out of your black water holding tank.
Therefore, it is recommended to lubricate this seal at least once a year. It’s a great thing to work into your process of winterizing your RV, as the cold temperatures of winter can dry this seal out faster than in other months.
Empty the tank of blackwater and clear the bowl to reduce odors while performing this toilet maintenance task. Pop on your rubber gloves, depress the flush valve pedal with your foot and clean the seal with warm water and a mild detergent. Then apply vaseline or plumber’s grease (not to be confused with plumber’s putty!) to the top of the seal.
To test your work, fill the bowl with a little bit of water and observe whether it leaks or remains. If it’s still leaking, you may need to replace the seal. If you conclude that this is the case, consult your RV owner’s manual for toilet removal and replacement procedures.
You may also benefit from these tutorials on how to replace the ball valve seals on Dometic and Thetford RV toilets, respectively. If you find them useful, subscribe to the Camping World YouTube channel to receive notifications for future content!
How To Maintain and Replace a Dometic Flush Ball Seal
How To Maintain and Replace a Thetford Flush Ball Seal
3. Treat Your Tank
Tank treatments are a must when it comes to RV bathroom maintenance and they should be done regularly. If you’re living in an RV full-time, it’s a good idea to treat your black water tank once a month. Otherwise, you can use a tank treatment at the end of each RV outing when you’re prepping your coach for storage.
These treatments break down waste and toilet paper and allow for a cleaner rinse when you empty your holding tanks. Anyone who owns an RV should routinely use treatments and deodorizers to lengthen the life of their system. Coming in both liquid and drop-in form, this maintenance tip is hassle-free, but it’s also a smart idea to find environmentally-friendly toilet treatments whenever possible.
4. Clearing Your Holding Tank Sensors
A common issue that many RVers experience is a false reading on the sensors in their waste tanks. Those sensors can be sensitive. So if the sensor for your black water tank reads full even after you’ve just emptied it, you likely have a bit of residue stuck to the sensor.
The best way to clear these sensors is to use a strong cleaning agent designed for RV toilets. While some folks swear by the “ice method,” aka dropping a few trays of ice into your RV toilet in hopes they move around and remove anything blocking your sensors, that method has been effectively debunked in this video.
As an alternative, you may find success by dumping hot water into your black water holding tank and allowing it to soak for 5-10 minutes before flushing its contents. Even if you don’t completely fill your tank with hot water, the steam created inside the tank can loosen up debris stuck to the sensors.
Finally, another method is to fill your holding tanks with water and a cleaning agent. Then, take your motorhome or travel trailer for a short drive. The sloshing created from the motion of your vehicle can remove additional residue that’s still stuck.
Knowing how to operate and maintain an RV toilet is critical to fresh-scented RV adventures. Share these simple tips, like pre-filling and using RV-friendly toilet products, with any guests you host so that they know how to operate your RV toilet with care too!
Have any tips for taking care of your septic system? Share them with us!