How Do RV Showers Work?

Contributor

Tucker Ballister

Favorite Trip

5 Months Solo on the Road

Home Base

Hendersonville, NC

Favorite RV

2008 Fleetwood Bounder

About Contributor

Tucker Ballister is our Technical Content Writer. He’s a lover of the open road and the proud owner of a 2021 Sunlite Classic travel trailer (his 3rd RV to date). Check out more of his RV adventures, gear reviews, and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

You may be surprised to learn how often  people ask, “How do RV showers work?” While similar to your shower at home in many ways, RV showers include some key differences that new and curious RVers must know. 

In addition to understanding the operation of RV showers, we’ll provide useful tips for water conservation, maintenance, and troubleshooting so you can continue to enjoy comfortable showers in your RV. Let’s begin with a quick operational overview. 

How To Use RV Showers

RV Shower with cute 'Camp' sign on the wall next to it
Photo by Camping World

The shower in your RV is connected to the water system, allowing it to work when connected to city water or when using your water pump to pull from your freshwater tank. Either way, you must switch on your water heater before turning the shower on. 

With a traditional water heater, you’ll usually wait 5-10 minutes before the water is heated in the tank. With a gas/electric model, you can turn on both heating sources for quicker results. Although the more modern tankless water heaters are often marketed as “instantaneous” water heaters, many still require a waiting period. Still, that period is almost always shorter than that of traditional water heaters. 

Once your water heater is running, it’s time to turn on your shower and adjust the temperature. Most RV showers have hot and cold water handles. Before you enter, adjust those handles until the water is at your desired temperature. Then, locate the On/Off control on the showerhead. Doing so allows you to cut off the flow of water while you enter and cut it back on when you’re ready to conserve water. 

How To Save Water When Using An RV Shower

RV shower inside Keystone Cougar travel trailer
Photo by Camping World

With the rise in boondocking, all RVers should know how to conserve water when showering off-grid. In these scenarios, you’ll only have the water in your holding tank – and anything else you’ve packed in water containers or a rooftop accessory like a RoadShower. 

If you’re connected to city water and a sewer outlet, saving water is less of a concern. But there’s no reason to take 15-minute showers when you’re camping. Get in, get out, and get back to your outdoor adventures. 

Growing up, here’s what my parents demanded of us when showering in our RV: 

  1. Turn on the water heater and wait 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Adjust the temperature using the hot and cold handles, then turn the water off at the showerhead. 
  3. Enter the shower, turn on the water, and rinse. 
  4. Turn off the water and lather with soap/shampoo (hair, body, face, etc., all at once).
  5. Turn on the water, rinse effectively, and turn off the water at the hot/cold handles.

That’s it! Our goal was two-minute showers, but I’ve gotten lenient in my adult RV camping life and extended my personal rule to five minutes. To be fair, this might be on the strict side, but I hope you can use these RV shower principles to conserve water on your next RV trip.  

Tips for Maintaining RV Showers

RV technician checking showerhead - how do rv showers work
Photo by Camping World

Even if you use a water filtration system or an RV water softener, water from different campground sources can leave residue on the walls and floor of your shower. Besides that, you’ll need to clean it regularly to get rid of dirt and grime, just like in your residential shower. In fact, some campers recommend wiping down the walls and showerhead after each use.  

Most RV shower pans and surrounds are made of ABS plastic material that is very easy to clean. You can use a soft sponge and an RV-approved bath cleaner to remove residue and then rinse with the showerhead. Most RV showerheads are built with an extended hose, which makes cleaning the pan and surround easier than most residential showers. 

In addition, consider replacing your RV shower curtain and liner annually. The bottom of the liner and curtain can invite mold and mildew growth if you don’t stay ahead of it. Explore our selection of shower curtains and liners if yours needs replacement. 

How To Make RV Showers More Comfortable

Couple having fun in RV bathroom learning how do rv showers worki
Photo by Camping World

Compared to tent camping, having your own private shower is one of the biggest benefits of RVing. Some people like campsite facilities, but I’ve seen too many in questionable condition to prefer them over my RV’s shower. Still, you can do a few things to make your RV showers more comfortable. 

  • Upgrade the showerhead
  • Install a shower caddy or organizer
  • Switch out your shower curtain and liner
  • Get a new bathmat
  • Freshen up your bath towels
  • Add more towel hooks and hangers

Explore additional tips for upgrading your RV shower.

Why Is There Water Coming Up My Shower Drain?

I remember the first time I went to use an RV bathroom and noticed water in the shower pan when it shouldn’t be there. Of course, the smell was noticeable as well, but the visual confirmed the suspicion that something was off. 

If there’s water backing up and into your RV shower pan, it’s the first sign that your gray water tank is full. In an RV plumbing system, the shower pan is the lowest point where you’ll first notice a backup if it’s time to empty the tank. 

Because of that, we recommend emptying your gray (and black) tanks regularly to prevent backups. When it comes to your RV shower, your cleaning routine will be much easier without dealing with gray water backing up into the shower pan. 

Here’s a visual to help you understand that point: 

How To Unclog an RV Shower Drain

Before addressing unclogging techniques, let’s talk about prevention. Installing a drain strainer is the best way to catch hair (the main culprit for drain clogs) before it enters your RV’s plumbing. 

If you neglected that easy prevention piece, all is not lost. The best way to unclog an RV shower drain is to utilize the same RV tank treatments and drain cleaners you should regularly apply to maintain your RV’s holding tanks. 

If that doesn’t work, try a combination of baking soda and vinegar. Pour baking soda directly into the drain and follow immediately with vinegar. Repeat this process until your drain is no longer clogged. 

These chemicals shouldn’t harm your holding tanks, especially once water is added and diluted. But to be safe, you’ll want to find a dump station and empty your holding tanks ASAP after removing the clog. 

Can I use Drano in my RV Shower?

We strongly recommend avoiding cleaning solutions with caustic chemicals (like Drano) in your RV’s plumbing and holding tanks. These chemicals can damage rubber seals, valves, gaskets, and plumbing lines. 

Explore Camping World’s selection of cleaners and tank treatments that are safe for RV use.

Can You Use a Regular Showerhead in an RV?

Regular residential showerhead at Buffalo Ridge RV Resort
Photo by Camping World

Not necessarily, but it will need to be compatible with your RV’s plumbing, meaning it will need a flexible hose that can screw onto the camper shower faucet fixture. It also helps to choose handheld showerheads that are compatible with the mount on your shower wall. 

Finally, many overlook an essential feature of all the best RV shower heads: the flow control lever. This is a shut-off valve you won’t find on all non-RV showerheads, but it’s vital to shut off the water as quickly as needed to conserve water while dry camping without losing your preferred temperature adjustment.


For new and aspiring RVers, learning how the systems in RVs work is critical. Here are a few other resources: 

What questions do you have about how RV showers work? Let us know in the comments below.

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