We’ve been RVing for about a decade now, and believe it or not, we’ve always been able to drink the water that has come through our RV’s plumbing system. At first, this may have been just through ignorance. As a new RVer, I simply wasn’t aware of all the ins and outs of RVing, and drinking water from the tap seemed completely “normal”. Fortunately, nobody ever got sick. These days, I pay more attention. Our water is better for it, and we drink our RV’s water with complete confidence.
I know many RVers who choose to bring along bottled water for drinking. They use the water from their fixtures mainly for showering and washing dishes. There’s no one right answer here, and this is a completely valid way to go about it. But for Stef and I, being into fitness and cycling… we tend to go through a lot of water. We’d have to bring along a lot of bottled water to make that work. And we’re not that crazy about the cost, the storage requirements, or the plastic waste that comes with bottled water. So for us, drinking the water from our RV makes good sense.
I’ve been known to go “over the top” on a lot of things. But I don’t think there’s any harm in overdoing “clean drinking water.” The more we know about our health, the better. So I’ll share with you what we do, as full-time RVers, to drink our RV’s water with confidence and safety.
Basic Clean Drinking Water Equipment
If you’re new to RVing, there are a few basic items you’re going to need. The first are drinking water hoses. RV fresh water hoses are either white or blue. You might be tempted to save a few bucks by using extra hoses you may have around, but don’t. Just…don’t. Here’s why.
You never know when some well-meaning friend or neighbor may decide to help you with your hookups, or with rinsing out your sewer hose. By keeping your hose colors on the same page as everyone else, you avoid any unintentional mistakes in this area. Besides the potential mistakes, the freshwater hoses are also guaranteed not to leach any unwanted chemicals into your water. So please, stick with white or blue.
There are a lot of features to water hoses: never kinking, super flexible, expanding, etc. As long as you’re getting a white or blue drinking-safe hose, feel free to choose those features as you see fit. The one feature I won’t do without anymore is well-made, machined, stainless steel fittings on the hose end. I like these because it’s much less common to have them leak (leaks drive me crazy).
Pro Tip: Even brass that’s labeled “lead-free” can contain up to 0.25% lead (Who knew?), The stainless steel fittings stand up to the abuse a lot better. Since you’ll probably be dropping them and banging them about, that’s a good thing.
Our main water hose is a Camco EvoFlex hose. We travel with a 25-foot hose, which has never been too short at a campsite. When I’m filling up at home (where I have to park some distance away from a hose bib), I have a Camco TastePure 50-foot hose. Both are used only for RV fresh water, and they’re stored separately from our other household hoses. We also travel with a short 4-foot hose that I use when hooking up our water filter (more on filters later).
When your hoses aren’t in use, you’ll want to store them so that dirt, bugs, and other contaminants don’t find their way inside them. I use a few sets of hose caps from Valterra for this. What I like about these is that they have small holes in the ends to keep the water inside the hose from getting stagnant and “funky”.
Depending on your RV’s plumbing system – and whether or not it has a gravity fill – you may also need things like a water pressure regulator (here again, I use stainless steel), a spout with a shutoff, a funnel, and various other connectors and fittings.
You’ll also want a bag to keep all these fittings, adapters, and regulators within. I’ve been using this hose storage bag for these items. I’m very particular about what gets to go into the bag. I’ll store extra hose washers, but not wheel chocks in the bag, for example. The general rule of thumb is, it doesn’t need to be “operating room” clean, but you do want to keep your hoses and fittings clean enough that you wouldn’t hesitate to drink from them.
Finally, if you’re going to be drinking the water from your RV, then you’re going to need filters. That’s a big enough topic though that we’ll have a whole section on that later.
Getting Your Drinking Water System Clean
It’s just not possible to get clean water out of dirty plumbing. So the first step in your journey toward drinking your RV’s water is to get your water system clean, and free of any contaminants. Sanitizing your RV’s freshwater system is something you should do at the beginning of camping season at a minimum – even if you don’t plan to drink the water. It’s also a good idea to sanitize the water system on a brand new RV, when you take your RV out of storage, after de-winterizing, and any time you think there may have been some contamination of the system.
The good news here is that it’s possible to sanitize your RV’s water system without a big budget for equipment and chemicals. The most basic, and time-tested method for sanitizing your RV’s water system requires no more than household bleach, water, and time. There are several recipes and instructional videos for this online, but here’s the procedure I use.
- First, prepare a chlorine solution using a quarter cup of *unscented* household bleach and a gallon of water. You’ll need one gallon of this solution for every 15 gallons of water system capacity.
- Then, you’ll need to get this solution into your freshwater holding tank. If your rig is equipped with a gravity fill option, this is pretty easy: just get a funnel and dump it in. But if your rig doesn’t have a gravity fill, you’ll need to find another way. One thing I’ve tried lately is this RV inline sanitizer. Basically, it’s a small tank with hose fittings on each end.
- You attach this little tank into your water hoses, pour a (more concentrated) bleach solution into the small tank, and run the water to fill the tank. It’s just as simple as it looks. Once you’ve got the chlorine solution into your fresh holding tank, you need to fill the tank the rest of the way with clean water using whatever method works on your rig. Then you’ll need to run your pump to move this chlorinated water through your system and out each fixture until the distinct odor of chlorine can be detected at each one.
- When you’re doing this, be sure to run the solution through ALL of your fixtures. This includes exterior hoses, the toilet, the shower, anything your RV is equipped with that uses water. You’ll also want to pay attention to the water heater. Some water heater manufacturers don’t recommend that you put a bleach solution through their heater, so you may need to bypass them. The specific instructions for that will be found in your owner’s manual.
- When you’ve got the solution everywhere it needs to go, let it sit for about four hours. After the four hours, drain the water tank and the water lines, using the procedure laid out in your owner’s manual. When the draining stops, then fill the freshwater holding tank again with plain fresh water. Then you run the pump again to rinse water through your system until you can no longer detect the chlorine odor at any of your fixtures. Again, make sure to run the water through each fixture: every faucet, hose, toilet, and shower. It may take more than one tank full of rinse water to get the job done.
- When you’ve gotten rid of the last of the chlorine odor, you’re done. And that’s the most “classic” way to sanitize your water system. But there are several other products out there that try to do the same job. I’ve tested most of them over the years.
Some of them, like this Camco TastePure Spring Fresh, did the same job as the bleach solution. But I found the taste of this product more difficult to get out of the water system than plain old bleach. After a lot more rinsing though, it seemed fine. If you don’t like the idea of using bleach and don’t mind the extra rinsing to get the taste out, this may work out for you.
This one, Camco Drinking Water Freshener, seemed positioned as a way to “revive” a water supply that had gone sour. Honestly, I think the best way to go about this is to not let the water get bad in the first place, but sometimes things happen. But since its main ingredient is sodium hypochlorite (which is… uh… bleach), I’ve opted to just use the bleach instead.
This Thetford Fresh Water Tank Sanitizer is what I use when I want to bring out the big guns. We recently purchased a new RV, and this is the product I used to sanitize the water system for the first time. It’s a two-step process, with the first step being a detergent solution (to clean the system) and the second step is a sanitizing agent. The sanitizer in this kit is NOT bleach. It’s benzalkonium chloride, which is a broad-spectrum anti-microbial. You use both stages of this product in the same way as you would good old-fashioned bleach: you mix up a solution, put it in your freshwater holding tank, fill the tank, and then pump the solution through each of your fixtures.
When I’m done using this system, I have complete confidence that my water system is sanitized. At that point, I’ve also rinsed out my freshwater holding tank and lines about 5 times, because the lingering taste and odor of this solution are distinct, and not something you want hanging around (But again, SUPER clean water). Since this solution is not bleach, it may be safe to use in your water heater. You’ll want to check with your water heater manufacturer to make sure before you use it, though.
In my opinion, the water in your RV should be three things:
- The water should be “clean”—Meaning, there’s no junk, dirt, rust, or sediment in it.
- The water should taste good—so that you’ll actually drink it.
- The water shouldn’t make you sick when you drink it—chemically or biologically.
The easiest way to accomplish these things in an RV setting is with water filters. So if you’re serious about wanting to drink the water in your RV, you’re going to want a filter of some sort. How much of one is up to you.
We actually travel with a variety of filters. Some of them are permanently installed, some of them are super portable, and some of them are simply awe-inspiring. I’ll run through the different types here.
Inline Hose Filters
These are the ubiquitous small, disposable cartridge filters that you hook up directly to your freshwater hose for filling your tank or hooking up to city water. These are really the “entry-level” RV water filters. Right now, there are two kinds of them readily available: Blue and Green. The two kinds have differences besides just the color.
The blue filter has been around a while. It’s the Camco Tastepure RV/Marine Blue Inline Water Filter. There are three things to know about this filter:
- First, it’s made with granular activated carbon. Carbon is well known for its ability to remove unpleasant odors and tastes, as well as excess chlorine and lead. The granular aspect of the carbon is significant. It means water will find its way through little pathways in the granules.
- Second, this filter is made with KDF. KDF is something that prevents bacteria growth while the filter is in storage – that’s a very good thing!
- Finally, these filters have a 20-micron filtration rating—meaning they will filter anything larger than 20 microns out of your water.
The green filters are newer—the Clear2O inline water filter. It’s more expensive than the traditional blue filter. These are made with activated carbon in block form. This is different from the granular carbon in the blue ones. Imagine a solid block of carbon that the water has to seep through. I find a couple advantages with this.
- First, there’s less chance of any water “bypassing” the carbon.
- The second advantage is that carbon block filters will eventually clog up and slow the flow as they build up with filtered-out contaminants. While that might be annoying if you were taking a shower, I find that to be an advantage because the reduced flow reminds me that it’s time to change the filter!
- Finally, the filters have a one-micron filter rating.
The one negative with these filters is that they are NOT KDF filters. So you’re missing that extra protection against bacterial growth while the filters are in storage.
We travel with one of the green Clear2O filters in our water arsenal. Since it isn’t made with KDF, I just make sure to thoroughly drain the filter (both directions) before putting it away and covering the ends with the included dust caps.
Other Portable Water Filters
A quick search will turn up lots of options for portable RV water filters. The one pictured here, the Clearsource Ultra, is the one we’re traveling with now. We use it outside the RV to filter water on the way in. We’ve taken to calling it “The Beast” for obvious reasons. This is what we use when we’re serious about filtering the water. It contains three filter elements, each of which has a specific function.
- The first element is a sediment filter. This gets the water “clean”, and by filtering out the bulk of the larger gunk, it helps the other two filters last longer.
- The second is a carbon block filter. This makes the water taste good and removes things like chlorine and other contaminants.
- The final filter is a Virusguard filter, which claims to remove viruses and bacteria from the water (which satisfies the third “doesn’t make you sick” water criteria).
Ours isn’t the only canister filter available. There are scores of others. The good thing about *most* of them, including our Clearsource, is that they accept 10-inch cartridges. These 10-inch cartridges are sort of an industry standard, and if you’re looking for a water filter, I recommend you look for one that uses 10-inch cartridges.
Being able to swap cartridges means you’re not locked into any one filter brand or replacement, you’re free to pick and choose any filter element you prefer. So you could choose a filter with only two cartridges and select a carbon block filter and the Virusguard filter, for example. I haven’t gone so far yet as to change my water filter setup depending on what area I’m traveling to, but it’s nice to know that I can. Just remember the three things you’re trying to achieve with your water: clean, tasty, and safe, and you should be fine.
Permanently Installed Filters
It’s also possible to install a water filter in your RV so that it’s just there all the time. This has the advantage that you’ll never have to remember to hook it up. Many of the permanently installed filters look and function the same as the portable ones.
There are two basic ways to install these filters
- Install them as a “whole house” filter, so it will clean all incoming water
- Or install the filter only on certain fixtures (so that you’re not filtering the water that goes to your toilet, for example).
This is the permanently installed filter we’re traveling with, it’s from Guzzle H2O, and we have it just feeding one dedicated drinking water faucet. We went with this single faucet approach because we also use a filter on the water before it gets into our rig.
Like the Clearsource, our dedicated drinking water filter has two 10 inch cartridges, and those contain a sediment filter and a 0.5-micron carbon block filter. Just with those two, the water would be clean and tasty. But the Guzzle H2O also contains a third element, a UV LED light to biologically sanitize the water running through it. This satisfies the “doesn’t make you sick” criteria.
It’s not necessary to have a dedicated filter and faucet just for drinking water, but we’ve certainly appreciated it, and I would highly recommend it. We never have any worries about the water from our drinking tap. The water coming from it is always consistent and pleasant.
Other Clean Water Technologies
Besides filters, there are other technologies to satisfy the three water criteria of clean, tasty, and safe. In our home, we have a reverse osmosis (RO) system.
Our home RO system produces exceptional drinking water, but I decided against one in our RV because there are pump and wastewater issues to consider with it. There are also more traditional UV lights (which are more like a fluorescent tube light) for sanitizing that you could install in an RV. Some of those use significantly more power than our LED-based sanitizer.
The good news is that none of these technologies are “wrong”. As long as you remember the three criteria of clean, tasty, and safe, and get a water filter that can accomplish all three, you should be fine.
Putting It All into Practice
When it comes to clean drinking water in your RV, it’s not ALL about the equipment. It would be possible to have the right equipment, and still use it in the wrong way and have a drinking water issue. I need to point out that there are two rather different ways you can use your RV’s water system.
The first way to use your RV’s water system is by connecting it to “city water”. This is water that’s provided at an RV park or campground through a typical hose spigot. Hooking up your RV in this way provides you with an endless supply of water, and you don’t have to run the pump to get it. The pressure, and to a large extent the sanitation, are taken care of for you by whatever municipality provides the water.
The second way to use your water system is in a “dry camping” mode—where you have no hookups to any outside source of water. You run your RV’s pump to get pressure in the system, and your water comes from the freshwater holding tank. This is the way you’ll use your RV water when you’re boondocking, or far from civilization. In this scenario, you’re responsible for the safety and cleanliness of your water supply.
Keep It Fresh
There are a few best practices you’ll need to know to keep your drinking water safe. I’ll discuss some of these practices here, and share what we do.
I’ll spill the beans here and let you know that we always use our water system in dry camping mode. Even if we park directly next to a spigot, we rarely hook our RV directly up to city water or campground water. In fact, apart from testing something, I can’t remember the last time we hooked up that way. There are a few reasons for this.
The first reason is that I’m lazy, and we don’t stay in one place for very long. Hooking up a water hose at the campground just doesn’t make sense for us, since I’d be unhooking it so soon. The second reason is that it’s just about impossible to overfill our grey tank and create a dump crisis if the only water source I have is our own fresh tank. The third reason is that if (heaven forbid) there’s ever a leak somewhere, the amount of water that can drain out and fill the rig is limited (we try to leave the pump off as well if we’re not using it). The fourth reason is that by only hooking up occasionally to fill our tank, I reduce the number of other systems I connect to and therefore the opportunities to pick up contaminants in our RV’s water.
But the biggest reason we never hook up to campground water is that it keeps the water in our holding tank turning over and fresh. Even if you prefer to hook up to campground water, this is something you need to pay attention to if you ever use the water from your holding tank. It’s very difficult for a freshwater tank to become stagnant and go bad if the water is replaced every few days with a clean fresh supply.
So that’s our first best practice: Stuff” doesn’t like to grow in moving water – it prefers stagnant water. So keep the water in your holding tank refreshed—either by using the water or by draining it and filling it with known good water. Doing this prevents nasty stuff from growing in your freshwater system.
Practice Safe Hookups
The next best practice sounds risqué, but it isn’t. What I mean here is to be very mindful of the water source you’re hooking up to, and take appropriate precautions depending on the situation.
I’ve been offered RV water before and turned it down because I wasn’t too sure of the source. Well-water that you’re not familiar with would be a good example of this. Some well water is fantastic… some is suspect. If I don’t know, I’ll take a pass and get water later.
If you do decide to hook up or fill up from a water source, match your level of protection to the situation.* For example, if I fill up in my in-law’s driveway, I’ll still filter the incoming water, but I’ll use our simple inline hose filter (the Clear2O). If I’m filling up at a dump station where the potable water is directly next to the dump, I’ll fill up by using “The Beast”, our Clearsource Ultra.
*By the way… who designs these dump stations with the potable water right there?!?! What are they thinking? I mean… the water from the city or town is probably safe, sure. But how much do I trust that the last person to dump there didn’t rinse out their sewer hose directly on that spigot?!
Other fillups fall somewhere between those two scenarios, and I use whatever information I have available to determine if and how to get the water into our RV. In a truly worst-case situation, we’ll buy jugs of bottled water and use those to fill our holding tank enough to get us by. It’s expensive and creates waste and we don’t like to do it, but it’s better than contaminating our water supply.
The good news here is that if you’re following our lead from the first best practice, and only using water from your onboard storage tank, you don’t necessarily have to hook up every time you land.
Don’t Cry Over Spilt Water
I’m not here to tell you to wastewater. But there are a couple scenarios where that’s the best and proper course of action.
The first of these is when hooking up or filling up from a water source. It’s always a good idea to hook up all your hoses, filters, and regulators first… right up to the point where you’ll hook that to your RV. But then before you make that last connection, run some water through things for a few seconds – long enough for water to make it all the way through. Doing this will allow you to flush anything out of the hoses that may have gotten in there or started growing in there: bugs, dirt, mold, what have you.
It’s also OK to dump the water, as I mentioned before, to keep the water in your holding tank fresh. If you realize it’s been a while since you’ve tapped into your freshwater tank, it might be tempting (because it would be easier), to add some sanitizer to it and move forward. But this is a blog about drinking water, and I wouldn’t recommend drinking water in that case. It’s better and safer to just dump the water and start over with fresh.
And naturally, you’ll need to dump quite a bit of water when you’re cleaning, disinfecting, or sanitizing your freshwater system. Depending on the size of your system, be prepared to go through quite a bit of water to do that.
Keep it Clean
I almost think this last best practice should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Keep your freshwater hoses, fittings, filters, and anything you use during the hookup or fill-up process clean and protected from contamination. I’ve touched on this a little bit previously, but here’s a partial list of things to keep in mind as far as keeping your water setup clean:
- Remember the rule about keeping the freshwater hoses either white or blue in color.
- Keep your water accessories separate in a bag of some kind.
- Keep hose caps on the ends of your hoses when in storage.
- Don’t store your drinking water hoses with your sewer hose. (I really hope nobody does that.)
- Drain the water out of each of your hoses by coiling them up from one end to the other, allowing the water to flow out. Water in your hoses cannot get stagnant if it isn’t there.
- When you’re coiling up your hoses be mindful that you don’t let the free end drag through the mud.
- When putting away any of your water accessories or hoses, take a few seconds to wipe them down and dry them off as you do. This will allow you to inspect them for damage or signs of contamination.
- If your filter has replaceable filter elements, keep them changed out regularly.
The Last Drop
Well, there you have it. Everything you need to know to get drinking water in your RV. If you’re new to this, you’ve got some decisions to make:
- What kind of filters do I need?
- Will I be hooking up to campground water, or using water from my holding tank?
I can’t make those decisions for you, but hopefully, now you’re armed with enough information that you can make them for yourself.
Just remember the goal is to keep your water supply 1 – clean, 2 – tasty, and 3 – safe. It is possible. And if we meet out on the road sometime, let’s have a toast…with water from our RVs.
That was a very interesting article. Potable water has been one of our concerns, so in the past we’ve stocked up on bottled drinking water for our trips. We got tired of that inconvenience. I just got finished with the installation of an under-sink RO system which should give us deionized (more-or-less equivalent to distilled) water. The output then goes through an ultraviolet sterilizer. The water tastes good, and it should be safe to drink. Time will tell if this system is a success. It may be over-kill, but it’s a cure for our drinking water paranoia. It’s reassuring to here others have the same concern.
Hi Stef and James,
GREAT article (well-written, too)! I semi-retired two years ago, bought a 23 ft. Keystone Bullet camper, and started pulling it from AZ to PA every summer and back in the fall. I have an in-line cartridge filter that I put on my white water hose when hooking to ‘city’ water, but don’t drink the water, so I’m always buying bottled water. I will now check out a two stage filter that I can put under my kitchen sink for making drinking water. Thanks for the excellent product suggestions and tips.
I have been told to use the RV sanitizers only. Supposedly using bleach in any part of your water system can damage seals and o-rings within the system. Marketing or fact?
Thank you for posting a comprehensive article on the basics of keeping your water system clean. Well done!
However, I have read many articles on this subject and none of them have addressed a big concern of mine. What to do with the bleach solution you’re dumping! That bleach solution will kill not only the bugs in your water system, but also the bugs in the soil and in the grass in your yard. Those bugs are necessary for a healthy soil and lawn. And you certainly don’t want to dump bleach into your septic tank. I could be talked into dumping it into a storm drain, but that’s arguably not a eco friendly thing to do either. Most people don’t have access to a dump to a sewage system. Comments?
Yes, you went quite a bit over the top. I don’t disagree with most of your article but remember when, as kids, we drank right from the hose – a green one yet. I’m not saying that was a good thing but we did survive and we cannot live without some “bugs”.
James: Thanks for yet another extremely thorough and helpful article. You are the best!
One question: How (and where) do you drain the bleached water out of your system? Pump it all into the grey water tank and dump it? Open the fresh water drain and drive on the highway? Thanks!
Great article! We drain the water out, then roll our hoses up and screw the ends together loosely to keep stuff out of the hoses! We do use the caps on our water softener and filters. Thanks for all the info, Phil
Thank you for the reference to our RV Inline Sanitizer in Sundays issue of Camping World, yes, it works very good and is trouble free, just add bleach and turn on the water but let me tell you what we have learned. We have traveled for 11 years full time and our Monaco’s have 100 gallon fresh water tanks, but as all RV fresh water holding tanks, they have a “OVERFLOW” valve about 2 inches from the top of the tank so that one does not burst the tank when its full, so when you think your filling the tank, your not filling the top 2 inches, so what we do is have about 20 gallons or so in the fresh water tank, then we add only enough water to add our bleach, maybe another 4 gallons and drive around, the splish/splash of the water inside of the tank does it all, the 4 sides and the top/bottom, then after we have run our coach pumps to clean out our lines we drop our bleach water, this way we are not wasting a full tank of water but only about 1/3rd of the water but we are doing a 100 percent job, top ,bottom, and all 4 sides, no need for us to waste a full tank of water. Just thought we would share this with you because filling the tank and not driving around does not do the top part of the tank. Thank you for the great article.