RV Black Tank Maintenance

Black tanks are something that most beginner RVers don’t want to think about, yet talk about. But black tanks are an essential and important part of RVing. Like most RV components, they also require maintenance. Even experienced RVers can overlook some crucial steps for taking care of and maintaining these tanks. Harvest Hosts has you covered. Follow along as we provide some of the best tips and tricks for black tank maintenance.

Cleaning Basics and Materials for Black Tank Maintenance

Before actually cleaning out your RV’s black tank, it’s important to have the correct materials on-hand to do so. One of the important steps in cleaning your tank is flushing it out. This process will look different for almost every RV, depending on what yours is equipped with. Some RVs have a built-in flush valve. This is a water inlet connection usually found near your sewer system connection. When a hose is connected to this valve, it flushes water straight into the black tank like a pressure washer to help remove build-up or residual debris. If your RV does not have a built-in flush valve, you can consider adding in an aftermarket one or purchasing a tool similar to a Camco Swivel Stick. This tool allows you to clean your black tank from the toilet itself by inserting the tool down and spraying directly into your black tank. You will need to utilize one of these methods to completely and effectively clean out your tank. 

Treatments and Cleaners

In order to properly clean out your RV’s tank, you will also need a treatment of some sort. Many stores have an RV section that has several options for black tank cleaning solutions. The liquid and powder choices are among the most popular. These solutions not only assist with the cleaning process, but also assist with breaking down toilet paper and solids to better empty your tank. Most of these cleaning solutions do not contain strong chemicals to ensure no damage is done to your pipes and to minimize the negative environmental impact. 

Some RVers prefer to use their own homemade cleaning solutions in place of store-bought. This can be cost-saving and also give RVers complete control over what they are putting in their tanks. Some RVers use borax and Dawn dish soap, while others use baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Whether or not bleach is safe to use is a very debated topic. In concentrated quantities, bleach can have a corrosive effect, which could be harmful to your RV’s plastic piping. The choice is yours whether or not to use this chemical in your RV’s drains. 

Another highly-debated topic is the “ice method”. This involves filling your black tank with water, adding about twenty pounds of ice, and then going for a drive. The idea behind it is that the ice will move around and rub away the build-up on the walls of your black tank. This method is not technically proven, but many RVers swear by this all-natural method.

Steps for Cleaning

Now that you have your materials all ready to go, it’s time to begin cleaning out your RV’s black tank. Complete the following steps for best results.

1) Dump Your Tank

Believe it or not, the best time to clean your tank is when your tank is nearly full. This is also the best time to dump your tank. If your tank is full or nearly full, gravity will assist in removing as much of the waste as possible from your tank. 

2) Remove Buildup by Flushing Your Tank

The next step is to flush out your tank using one of the methods we described above. Toilet paper can oftentimes stick to the walls of your RV, which can create clogs later on. Take care to spray all sides of your black tank if possible. 

3) Add Water

Depending on your tank size, flush your toilet about four or five times to add an adequate amount of water to cover the bottom. 

4) Add Treatment or Solution

The next step is to add in your treatment or cleaning solution. The amount will vary depending on which treatment you selected and how large your black tank is. Remember, more is not always better. Some solutions need a few hours to work their magic, and others require an overnight soak. 

5) Rinse

After your treatment is complete, you can rinse out your black tank one additional time to ensure all the debris is removed. Congratulations, you’re finished! 

Other Black Tank Maintenance Tips and Tricks

Knowing the Time and the Place

The best place to clean your RV’s black tank is in a campground site or at an empty dump station. Be considerate of other RVers if you’re stopping at a well-frequented dump station because this process can be time-consuming. We strongly recommend performing this cleaning at a campsite so you can let your treatment sit for as long as directed on the bottle. Additionally, if you have access to a septic tank on your own property, this is also an excellent solution. Please be mindful and abide by the law when dumping your black tank due to the hazardous contents.

Toilet Paper

RVs require special parts and products, and toilet paper is no different. There are usually a few options for RV toilet paper on the shelves at your local store, but there are many more options online. It used to be recommended to only use one-ply toilet paper to ensure it dissolves, but there are many safe choices that come in two-ply now. Do some research to find out what your preference is. Please remember, that wipes (even “flushable” ones) cannot be flushed in an RV, nor can any sanitary products.


Your black tank should be cleaned out every time your tank is filled, or when you’re ready to dump. Additionally, you should always follow this process if you intend on storing your RV to reduce odors and have your tank ready-to-go for your next adventure.

Cleaning out your RV’s black tank may seem like a scary or intimidating task, but it’s fairly easy. With some practice, you’ll be a pro in no time. Black tank maintenance isn’t that difficult of a task, and it pays off in the long run.

Did we miss anything? What are your favorite tips and tricks to cleaning out your tank? Let us know in the comments below!


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  1. Tom Wirch
    21st August, 2022

    It seems to me that at the beginning of step #3, you should add a line about CLOSING the tank drain valve, and then a line about OPENING the valve when you are finished.

    Thank you!

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  2. Ann
    3rd September, 2021

    So how do you clean your sensors because ours are empty and our gray tank is still showing 3/4 even when it’s empty

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  3. Sam Leash
    15th June, 2021

    Glad this helped!

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  4. Pauline Segar
    31st May, 2021

    Thanks so much.

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  5. Sam Leash
    4th May, 2021

    Great suggestion for those having this issue. Glad it was an easy fix!

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  6. Mel Bee
    11th April, 2021

    Our Micropulse monitor showed our black tank as full, we knew it was empty. We cleaned everything. We then purchased a replacement sensor, $50, and now it works perfectly.

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  7. Sam Leash
    16th February, 2021

    I have used a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet in my RV before and liked it, as well. Thanks for mentioning this here!

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  8. Sam Leash
    16th February, 2021

    I’m glad you found it helpful!

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  9. Sam Leash
    16th February, 2021

    I’m glad you found it helpful!

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  10. Frederick Cook
    2nd February, 2021

    I realize that this is trolling a bit, but the other alternative is to remove the black tank and use a composting toilet.

    We had a Nature’s Head in our previous truck and now use, and prefer, a C-Head.

    None of this is required with a composting toilet. And no smell, either.


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  11. Tom Stevenson
    18th January, 2021

    I have always followed the above steps for cleaning out the black tank, yet I have recently encountered ‘faulty’ sensor lights on the monitor panel. The lights no longer revert back to empty and rarely below 2/3, yet there is no clogging, the combination of dumping the black tank, dumping the gray tank and then letting the black tank sprayer run for a considerable time results in clear water flowing freely, yet the monitor no longer reverts to empty. Do you have any tips on cleaning the sensors, which is what the manufacturer has suggested (they even suggested the ‘ice treatment’). I do have a macerator.

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  12. Gary
    17th January, 2021

    One thing to note is that you cannot insert any cleaning tool down through your toilet directly into the black tank if you have a macerator toilet.

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  13. John Bannister
    16th January, 2021

    When “on the road” and travelling…after we rinse out our black tank….we put about a gallon on water mixed with Downey fabric softener and let it swish around in the tank while travelling down the road….this really cleans out the system!!

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  14. Jim Duffield
    16th January, 2021

    Good article. Thanks for the tips.

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  15. BG19
    15th January, 2021

    Sam Leash, great article on black tank maintenance… lots of good info. Thx

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