How to Use Water in Your RV

How Tos & Tips

Having running water is one of the many luxuries of camping in an RV. With your RV water tank, you have the ability to rinse off vegetables, boil a pot of water, take a shower, and flush the toilet — all without leaving the comfort of your camper.

If you’ve never traveled in an RV before, you might think getting water is as easy as turning on the faucet. But in reality, it takes a little more work behind the scenes to hook up your RV’s plumbing. Read on to learn more about how to use the water inside an RV.

RV tanks

Before we get started, it’s important to know the difference between all of your camper’s water tanks. In general, there are three kinds of tanks in most RVs:

  • The fresh water tank is what holds the clean, potable water that comes out of your RV sink and shower.
  • The semi-dirty water that washes down the drain then filters into the RV gray water tank.
  • Finally, there’s the RV septic tank, also known as the black water tank. This RV holding tank contains the waste from your toilet.

Using the water hookup

If you’ll be staying at a campground with full or partial hookups, getting access to water is as easy as connecting to the water hookup. The process is fairly intuitive and only involves a few steps:

  1. Locate your camper’s fresh water drinking hose. If you’ll be using a water filter or water pressure regulator, attach them to the hose now.
  2. Screw the loose end of your hose into the campground’s water supply hookup.
  3. Set your RV water system to connect to city water instead of your own RV water tank.

On the other hand, if you’re planning on camping somewhere without hookups (also known as boondocking or dry camping), you’ll need to fill up your RV fresh water tank before you get to your campsite using either a hose or several gallons of water.

An RV toilet shower combo

RV plumbing

An RV water pump is crucial in order to make sure the water comes out of your sinks and RV shower with enough water pressure.  Make sure you locate the pump’s switch so you can flip it in the on position for the duration of your trip. For more tips, check out this article: RV Water Pump Troubleshooting – What You Need To Know.

Likewise, an RV water heater will ensure you have hot water for showering and cooking. The switch for your hot water heater should be located near the water pump, so be sure to turn that on as well.

Emptying your RV water tank

Finally, at the end of your trip, you’ll need to empty out your tanks. Most RV parks and campgrounds have a dumping station where you can get rid of any waste or wastewater. Emptying your tanks involves just a few steps:

  1. Put on a pair of rubber gloves and grab your sewer hose.
  2. Connect the hose to the sewer hookup.
  3. Secure the other end to the black water tank.
  4. Open the valve and let the contents of the tank drain.
  5. Close the valve completely.
  6. Empty the gray water tank and let the wastewater drain.
  7. Close the gray tank valve.
  8. Flush and rinse the tanks to clean.
an RV sewer pipe

Cleaning RV Water System

Perhaps the most important part of your RV water system maintenance regimen is cleaning and disinfecting the tanks. Cleaning out the wastewater tanks is important for ensuring you get an accurate read on your water level meters — here’s our quick guide on how to do it.

In this post, we’ll focus on how to clean your RV’s fresh water tank, because this is one of the most vital parts of the system. If you let your tank go too long without a sanitation treatment, you may notice a foul odor or taste in the fresh water coming through your faucets.

Fortunately, it couldn’t be simpler to disinfect your RV’s potable water tank — which is all the more reason you should do so regularly. All you need is a little bit of household bleach!

Here’s how to do it.

1. Drain any water in your freshwater holding tanks completely.

Be sure to remember your hot water tank if you have one, which may require separate draining. However, be sure not to attempt to drain it while it’s hot or under pressure, which might result in injury!

You can turn the water pump on to force any remaining water out, but turn it off as soon as the water stops draining in order to avoid damage to the system.

2. Create the bleach mixture.

To sanitize your water tank, we’ll be using a simple mixture of bleach and regular fresh water. Simply mix a quarter cup of bleach for every 15 gallons of your RV’s fresh water tank capacity into regular tap water in a one-gallon bucket. For instance, if you have a 45-gallon fresh water tank, you would simply place 3/4 cup of bleach into the bucket and then top the rest with city water. A little goes a long way!

3. Introduce the bleach mixture into your water system and fill the tanks.

Next, you’ll need to introduce the bleach into the water system. This part’s easy: simply pour the mixture into the tank! Warning: never put straight bleach directly into your RV’s fresh water tank. Doing so could cause damage since bleach is so powerful.

4. Ensure the bleach mixture has thoroughly treated the tank and plumbing lines.

Once you’ve poured the mixture into the tank, continue to fill the tank to capacity with regular, fresh water. After it’s filled, turn on your water pump and run all your interior taps, including your shower, just until you smell the bleach in the water. This ensures that the sanitation will include those inbound pipes.

Now, turn off the taps and the water pump and allow the bleach mixture to sit in your water tank for at least twelve hours. It may also be helpful to drive around to help distribute the mixture evenly around the holding tank walls.

5. Drain the bleachy water.

After you’ve given the system time to get clean and disinfected, drain the tank completely to get rid of the sanitation liquid.

6. Refill the tanks with fresh water.

Next, put in another batch of totally new clean water, filling your tank completely once again.

7. Drain the second batch of water — and now your tanks are clean and ready to go!

Drain the second batch of water, ensuring that you can no longer smell bleach in the drainage liquid. You may need to repeat this step a few times to ensure all the bleach is out of the system — which is very important, since you’ll soon be using this tank to hold water you’ll drink!

After you’re sure the bleach is 100% evacuated, your tank is ready to be filled with potable water for you to use on your next camping trip!

an RV driving in the snow

RV Water System Winterization

As a final note, keep in mind that you may need to winterize your water system if you plan on camping in extremely cold temperatures. Otherwise, just as with your regular home’s plumbing system, your pipes may freeze.

There are many ways go to about this, from heating your plumbing system to using special, RV- and marine-safe antifreeze. Since every rig is different, we recommend simply asking your dealer, “How do I winterize my RV water system?” — as taking the wrong approach might necessitate later troubleshooting and repair work.

How to Replace Faucets in Your RV

Now that you know how the water system in your RV works, you’re better equipped to replaces faucets and do other light plumbing tasks.

Here’s how to replace a faucet in your RV.

First, you’ll want to head to your local hardware store to pick out a replacement faucet. Instead of simply choosing based on looks, think about what you really want from your RV shower valve or camper faucet. Do you need a handheld showerhead or sink faucet to spray down dishes or give your dog a bath? Do you prefer separate hot and cold water taps?

Next, consider your price range and aesthetic preferences. Metal faucets tend to last longer than plastic ones, and a nickel or chrome finish is likely to stand the test of time.

Connecting to your RV plumbing

Now it’s time to get started with the replacement process:

  1. First, shut off the water supply and water pump, and clear out any clutter from beneath your RV sink or shower.
  2. Using a wrench, disconnect the hot and cold water lines from the old faucet.
  3. Take off the nuts or screws that connect the faucet to the sink or shower.
  4. Remove the existing RV shower faucet or sink faucet.
  5. Using the nuts or screws from your new faucet, attach the replacement faucet to your sink or shower.
  6. Connect the hot and cold water lines to the new RV sink faucet or shower fixture.
  7. Turn on your water supply and run the water to ensure everything is working properly.
  8. Once you’ve made sure there are no leaks, run the water for a few minutes to flush out any debris from your RV faucets.
an RV faucet

Keeping up with RV maintenance

To keep your faucet and faucet parts in tip-top shape, regular maintenance should be a part of your routine. Clean your faucets and shower heads at least weekly with soap and warm water or a gentle cleaning product. If your RV uses hard water, you may also need to use a window cleaning product to clear away any hard water deposits.

Once a year, consider removing the aerator from your RV kitchen faucets or bathroom faucets. Using an old toothbrush, scrub them clean to remove any debris or deposits.

What to do if you need a faucet repair

Even after you’ve replaced your RV faucets, from time to time, you may find that it starts leaking. Don’t panic — in most cases, this is a simple fix that can be accomplished in less than an hour’s time.

To repair a leaky faucet, first turn off the water and plug the drain. If the handles are the culprit, remove them and replace the O-ring. If the problem lies with the faucet, the seat washer is most likely the part that needs to be replaced. For more detailed instructions, check out this do-it-yourself tutorial.

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