After experiencing horrid RV odors in our 6 months of full time RV living, these 8 holding tank solutions kept our tiny home smelling oh-so-fresh! Learn from our mistakes and prevent that black tank sewer smell in your own camper or RV.
I don’t have any life changing DIY to share today, nor do I have any pretty pics of home decor or flower arrangements. Nope. This topic is neither pretty or flowery.
Truth is . . . it stinks. RV odors are no joke!
But after experiencing this major problem that can occur with RV living and finding actual solutions and prevention methods, I feel I have a duty to share and hopefully help just one person who might be feeling the smelly despair I once felt. The one thing that almost caused me to call this RV life quits and to never EVER return.
I knew I could do tiny. I knew I could do hard. But I knew I couldn’t do stinky RV odors.
While not everyone was affected as much by that looming stench, I’m convinced once a mother, you have the blessing and curse of heightened olfactory senses – which in most cases does not serve us well. The smells we were experiencing in our tiny home were unbearable, disheartening and unlivable for me.
Thank heavens for our local RV pros and the help of the experts from Dyers Online to offer advice and practical solutions to solve our stinky tank problems and RV odors.
I purchased our toilet, tub surround, and backsplash from Dyers Online and they became a huge help in navigating many of our problems.
And thank heavens for my mother allowing us to move in while we sorted these problems out for good. I’m so glad I can say there are practical solutions and RV hacks for getting rid of RV black and gray tank odors for good. I truly hope this helps you on your own RV journey!
Every situation will be different, but if you are experiencing that horrid smell, try these solutions first. They just might work for you too!
8 RV Black Tank Odor Solutions and Smell Prevention Methods
After living in our RV we discovered a few lessons along the way that worked as an RV odor eliminator. Try these methods to prevent RV odors!
1 – Professional Black and Gray Tank Flush
When an RV toilet smells when flushed, it might be time for a professional black and gray tank flush.
Sure, you could YouTube it and try a tank flush on your own. All power to you. But I HIGHLY recommend calling in the professionals to handle this stinky job. They will have the tools and experience and know just how to get your black and gray tanks flushed and ready for a “fresh start”.
This was the turning point for us. I called every RV shop in our valley until I heard the same RV tech name recommended to me a few times. I called and begged for his help and he came to my rescue many times.
The flush revealed mega back up of years of toilet paper, and evidence of other can’t-even-mention clogs of who-knows-what. We bought a major fixer upper mind you, and should have worked from the inside-out before we made it all pretty. Lesson learned.
He also flushed the gray tank where the sink and faucets water drains, which is often a overlooked place for poor odors. We believe this was also causing some of our issues and the flush did wonders.
I was near the point of paying hundreds/thousands for a new black tank and installation, when he assured me a good flush and a few preventative measures would do the trick.
He also had the tools to clean out the vent pipe to assure there was nothing clogging that.
While this service solved most of the initial issues, after further use we were still experiencing smells. That’s when we dug a little deeper and worked on keeping that smell far away from the RV interior with the following methods.
2 – Invest in a Really Good RV Vent Fan
A good vent fan is a MUST! We could have spent a few hundred more for an even better one with more features, but after reading many recommendations for the Fan-tastic RV vent fan, we decided to give it a try.
I keep this fan on 24/7. It never gets turned off because it does THAT good of a job. You can feel it suck and remove all air from the RV – yes – all those RV odors too.
At first, we accidentally mixed up the wires when installing, and it ended up being reversed and blew stinky air in that was coming out the vent pipe. Once we realized our mistake, the quick fix did a great job.
However, all was not completely right with our tiny world, and I begged the pro to come take a look again.
3 – Re-direct Vent Pipe Air Flow
After inspecting every possible place where air could be leaking in from the black tank, and doing crazy things like forcing air in with a leaf blower to see if we could find air leaks – the RV guy attempted his final RV vent pipe hack.
Not sure why the manufacturers place the RV bathroom fan right next to the black tank vent pipe, but it came down to the fact that the smells exiting the vent pipe were just seeping back in because it was so close to the bathroom fan.
He configured an interesting PVC pipe re-direct from the vent pipe to blow out farther away from the fan.
It was amazing and such a relief that this helped exponentially!
We now needed to consider all the preventative measures to ensure the smell never return.
4 – Empty Black Tank Frequently
Sure, you need sufficient (cough) um . . . stuff . . . (cough) in your black tank before emptying, but be sure to empty it frequently. Don’t let it overflow (trust me) and get it as empty as possible. We have to empty the tank into a mobile holding tank every other day with our family of 6 living here. This is THE WORST part of RV parked life, and you MUST consider if you are up to the challenge before embarking on a parked lifestyle. Additionally, ensure you are near an RV dump and can get there frequently.
It’s a “crappy” job, my friend. Pun, entirely intended. Mr. TIDBITS gets a free pass to sainthood for handling this job day in and day out.
I might add, do not leave it full if you are out of the RV for awhile. We made this mistake for a few weeks while we were out and had to work hard to get rid of the smell again.
5 – Enzyme Based Tank Treatments
After every dump, you need to add plenty of water to the black tank and a new treatment. Our RV tech highly recommended an Enzyme based treatment – and nothing but.
There are plenty of products out there that I’m sure do the job, but this product has been a successful treatment for us.
6 – Lots and LOTS of Water
I have to continually remind my children of this, but you need to start your tank off with water and flush with lots and lots of water. That’s why we fill ours so fast, but it is worth it. Our RV tech was so kind to have us imagine what happens when you put peanut butter in a dry jar.
I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, because I still can’t believe I am writing about this on my aesthetically pleasing home decor blog!
7 – Always keep Water in the Toilet
Water is a natural odor blocker. If we start to smell anything, I know right away that my kids didn’t fill the toilet with a bit of water after they flushed.
It won’t automatically do this like a residential toilet and the smells from the black hole of doom will leach right back up and out almost immediately. Keep water in the toilet AT ALL TIMES! This is one of the easiest ways to prevent RV odors.
Yep – the number one reason mom will “flip the lid” while living in the RV. #punintended #sorrynotsorry
8 – ALWAYS use RV and Septic Safe Toilet Paper
Have you seen the prices of RV specific toilet paper? Ridiculous! Literally, money down the drain!
What to do? Buy it anyway. It is meant to break down easily and will be the key to preventing black tank clogging nightmares and RV odors.
With the assurance of my RV tech guy, we are safe to buy any toilet paper listed as “septic safe”. I have found this brand that has this statement in small print on the back, and it is cheaper and I can buy it in bulk. Not cheaper than most toilet papers, but cheaper than all the RV specific TP I have found.
So basically, the money you save on rent or a mortgage you will spend on toilet paper.
I kid. Kind of.
That’s it my friends! RV odors and how to eliminate them is a topic I never want to discuss on TIDBITS blog ever again, but one that “had to come out”.
Forgive me – if I don’t find a reason to laugh about this . . . I just might cry.
I hope it was helpful and saves someone’s sanity when dealing with RV odors.
If you’ve ever experienced the unpleasant aroma from your RV and have some suggestions, leave them in the comments! It will really help the conversation and possibly be the solution someone needs to hear.
Discover more about our RV adventures in the following posts:
- TIDBITS ON WHEELS big reveal
- RV Renovation Pre Decor Tour
- Art Decor in Our RV
- RV Renovation Process | Walls
- Our Next Crazy DIY Adventure
- 20 Inspiring RV Makeovers
- RV Renovation | Kitchen Details
- Easy DIY Cabinet Shelf Risers
- The Best RV Bunk Bedding
- RV Master Bedroom Essentials
- Tiny Home and RV Bathroom Organization
- RV Window Treatments
- Our 9 Super Practical, Healthy and Easy Camping Breakfast Ideas
- My 10 Best Tips for Small Pantry Organization
- What you must know before you update RV light fixtures
This was a great article. We’re haven’t had this problem yet, but want to prevent it from happening. I’ve heard a couple of drops of dawn soap periodically. Our 5th wheel is new so the toilet flushes leaving water in the bowl, but I always count 2-3 seconds flushing and a good 8 seconds for the solid waste and we have been treating the tank after every trip. Thanks again, Happy Camper Living, we are part timers
I use Rid-x for RV septic system and it works great. My husband and I was getting the septic smell when our camper has been closed up for awhile but since we started using Rid-x we no longer get any odors.
Thanks so much for this article ! Great info. What non chemical product do you use to clean the toilet bowl ?
Marianna Piller says
Thank you so much for this post. It was nice to read about your solutions to fix the problem and not just ways to cover up the smell. My husband and I will commence full-time parked RV living in the very near future as we feather our next nest. I am sure you have saved us a crap-load of issues (I’ll join in the pun game – after all, RV living is partly about not taking life too seriously. At least for me it is!). Thanks again!
We recently (last week!) tried Happy Campers Organic RV Holding Tank Treatment and it worked! You know the stench when you dump your tank? Gone! I kid you not! Going on another trip soon, so we’ll see if it continues to be the answer to a stinky black tank. Fingers crossed!
great work friend. i will also try.
We have an RV, love it!
I am very thankful that you shared with us your trials and tribulations with the potty! Great information!
Imagine how horrible it would have been in an ugly mobile home!!!!
You did a great job redecorating your RV!
Yes, thankful that your mom helped out!!! That is what we are for!!! Enjoy the fall.
I have been putting a few drops of essential oil in my toilet. It keeps the room smelling nice. You can decide what fragrance you prefer. I like pomegranate and I am still using the bottle I bought over a year ago.
Super helpful and detailed! So glad you found the solutions and so generously sharing them with us! Excited about your bathroom in the house! Sending you stamina for your October 1 deadline!
Haha! So funny… since I live in a plain ol’ house with 4 normal toilets. 😁 I confess I read this for the humor value. You’re so right, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Laughing is way more fun! I also noticed years ago, that you can’t smell anything while laughing… seriously! RV life: an excuse for more bathroom jokes…
Ok. Trying to imagine all the instances that helped you figure our that you can’t smell when you laugh. Hahahaha! But I’m definitely going to share this with my kiddos! Thanks for visiting Becky, and laughing with me. Enjoy your blessed indoor plumbing.
These were very practical and needful tips. I’m passing your post on to a friend who is living in an RV for a year and traveling the USA. I’m sure they will appreciate it.
Thank you for this information. Months ago I asked about how this all worked for you. When You did not reply or write about it I thought you just didn’t want to dwell on the icky. It is very important for those of us considering RV life to know how to handle waste.
HI Sue! I’m sorry for my delayed response to your question. To be honest, I didn’t have the solutions worked out. Each time I thought I did, something else would resurface the problem. I didn’t want to lead anyone false solutions until I had actually figured it out – which took the help of pros and those more experienced to guide me. These really have worked well for us, and though it may not solve everyones problems – it is a place to start! Thank you so much for sticking with me while I figured things out!
We have a trailer and already do most of your suggestions. But the one thing I find interesting is your you doesnt put a little bit of water back in the basin when you flush? Mine does. It drives me nuts when I go to try and clean the toilet. But I’ll just leave it there after reading the reason why! I have found that I can’t use packs in my tanks i have to have a liquid. But I agree, once you find the one, you stick with the one!
Thanks for sharing.
Billie Crossman says
With only two people living full time in our RV. (plus the dogs but dog poo does NOT go into the black water tank) We have to empty our tank at least every other week. IF one of us has been sick or hand “The Runs” we empty more often. Never use a strong cleaning in the “Hohn” unless it’s just before your dump your tank. And even if your hooked up to a Septic tank full time. Do not just leave the Valve open thinking that all that mess is just going to flow out every time you flush. It’ won’t, Trust me, It WILL NOT. And some states will give you a heafty fine if you do leave your system open all the time. If you find your bowl is “leaking” drain it. but then use some furniture was to make sure that the little black ring is still soft and doing it’s job. Never, ever put anything down the t toilet that hasn’t been through your body first. (Poo) No food scraps, or, as I said before , Animal waste. It’s not designed for that. Be sure you start of with lots of water, flush with lots of water, and yes, use a Pack of Stuff ( listed in the articea and I can not spell it for the life of me) EVERY Time. And if you have a larger tank, use two
Billie Crossman says
With only two people living full time in our RV. (plus the dogs but dog poo does NOT go into the black water tank) We have to empty our tank at least every other week. IF one of us has been sick or hand “The Runs” we empty more often. Never use a strong cleaning in the “Hohn” unless it’s just before your dump your tank. And even if your hooked up to a Septic tank full time. Do not just leave the Valve open thinking that all that mess is just going to flow out every time you flush. It’ won’t, Trust me, It WILL NOT. And some states will give you a heafty fine if you do leave your system open all the time. If you find your bowl is “leaking” drain it. but then use some furniture was to make sure that the little black ring is still soft and doing it’s job. Never, ever put anything down the t toilet that hasn’t been through your body first. (Poo) No food scraps, or, as I said before , Animal waste. It’s not designed for that. Be sure you start of with lots of water, flush with lots of water, and yes, use a Pack of Stuff ( listed in the articea and I can not spell it for the life of me) EVERY Time.
Hey, sis, thank you for all this information! My sisters have RVs so I knew a lot of this and I learned so much from your post!
Great info. Thank you so much!
Where’d you get your toilet paper holder? I need that.
Try Poo-pourri. It’s a spray you spray into the toilet before you sit down. We found the product when we owned our RV. We even use it in our home. It uses natural essential oils. It’s on Amazon or I’ve seen it at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Great stuff!