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Managing the various tanks of an RV water system can be confounding at times, and dumping the black tank is often the most intimidating. Newer RVers in particular are likely to benefit from a short overview of how the water systems in motorhomes and trailers work, including how, when, and where to flush their RV black water tanks. This seemed like a good follow-up to our previous post about keeping tank sensors working properly.
What is RV Black Water?
The water system in most RVs is divided into three different areas:
- The fresh water tank: this tank carries clean water that supplies all of the faucets, shower, and toilet in a recreational vehicle. It is the ‘feeder’ tank for the entire water system when not hooked up to an external water source. This tank is a supply tank.
- The gray water tank: this tank receives water that has been used by everything except the toilet(s). If you use water in the kitchen sink or take a shower, the water ends up in the gray tank. This tank is a wastewater tank. Be aware that your RV may have more than one gray water tank (sometimes one for the shower & bathroom, and one for the kitchen).
- The black tank: this tank receives liquids and solids that pass through the toilet. This tank is also a wastewater tank.
This post will focus on the black tank, in the hope that we might help folks become more comfortable with the mechanisms by which it functions, as well as the process of dumping the tank when it’s full.
Black tank disposal must be handled differently than the dumping of liquids from the gray tank or fresh water supply. The waste in the black tank is considered hazardous, with the potential to cause health and environmental issues.
Of course, the black tank contains fecal matter, infamous for carrying bacteria that spread disease and illness. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at the options for safely handling the dumping of a black tank.
5 Places to Dump Your RV Black Water
If you have a septic clean-out on your property, you can dump your black tank while your rig is at home. This also becomes the perfect location for flushing your black water tank as you get your RV ready for a road trip. However, most RVers don’t have this luxury.
Listed below are several places where you can find approved dump stations. Please note that dumping black water in any other area is illegal because of the hazards it can carry!
1. Campgrounds and RV Parks
Many campgrounds have sites with full hookups, including sewer. Alternatively, they may have separate dump stations for their customers to use. Even national forest campgrounds may have dump points for their campers. Some campgrounds allow RVers to drive in for the purpose of utilizing their dump station. If you’re not staying at the campground, you’ll usually pay a one-time fee to use the dump station.
2. Gas Stations
Not all gas stations have an RV dump station, but many large truck stops and some independently-owned gas stations have dump points onsite. There’s usually a fee to use them, but the easy access is well worth the cost when your waste tanks are full and need dumping.
3. Rest Stops / Rest Areas
Many rest stops are state-owned and maintained, and some offer dump stations. You’ll need to locate them in advance of your arrival, as not all rest areas provide them. We’ll delve into the subject of how to find rest stops with dump stations below.
4. RV Dealerships
Because RV dealerships often do repairs that may include work on the wastewater system, some may have a dump station on site. These dealerships may include Camping World and Lazy Days RV sales locations, as well as many others. If you can’t find a dump station and are in a pinch, give the local RV dealership a call and ask if they have one onsite.
5. An Approved Municipal Sewer System or Septic Tank
Many sanitation district headquarters have dump points that travelers can use. As with many of the other options, there’s usually a small fee required.
Keep in mind that dumping the RV black water is just the first step in keeping your tanks clean and sanitary. The RV dump station you use may have a water spigot available to clean out your sewer hose after dumping, allowing you to flush out your black tank with clean water.
If your RV is equipped with a black tank flush system, and the spigot at the dump station is equipped with a threaded connection, you can use a short length of garden hose to connect and flush your black tank. Be sure to use a backflow preventer to avoid any possibility of waste water backflowing into the water system you’re connecting to.
Flushing out the black tank may take some additional time, so using it at a full hookup campsite, or when no other RVs are waiting to use the dump station, is best if possible. Always dump your gray tank after you dump your black tank so that the rush of gray water will flush the black water out of the sewer hose.
How To Find Legal RV Black Water Dumping Stations
The Sanidumps website and smartphone app is an easy & reliable way to locate dump stations. You simply look up a location by county, state, city, or zip code, and you’ll be given a list of areas where dump points are available. Each site is well described, with GPS coordinates, a map, and contact info, including a phone number, price, and dates in service.
RVdumps.com is another website that’s maintained by those who handle interstate rest areas. It’s a great way to search for rest stops with dump stations available for travelers, in any state.
Allstays Pro is a service that will show independent dump points and any dump stations located at service stations, campgrounds, rest areas, etc. It’s an excellent tool for an overall view of service locations and all things having to do with RVing.
RV traveling offers many amenities to keep us comfortable on the road, but some of those amenities require regular maintenance tasks. Dumping the RV black water is one that no one looks forward to, but it has to be done. However, it can become a relatively simple job if you plan ahead so that you know where to find a convenient location to accomplish the job!
If you’re interested in more on related topics, you may want to check out:
- RV Holding Tank Dumping 1-2-3
- Our detailed tutorial on how to dump and clean your RV’s black tank
- 5 Reliable Places to Fill Your RV Fresh Water Tank
- 4 Ways to Clean Your RV Tank Sensors (after all, it IS important to know WHEN to dump!)
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Even though we're handy RVers, we're not professional technicians. So although we're happy with the techniques and products we use, you should be sure to confirm that all methods and materials are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.