Here's how to sanitize your RV's fresh water system to stay healthy in your travels. Don’t worry, it’s easy!
We can sometimes take clean water for granted, but when camping, we rely on our fresh water system for drinking and bathing. It’s important to remember that our RV’s fresh water system can become our main source of water for days at a time.
Also, having a well-stocked and effective water system allows us to visit a larger variety of campsites that don't have hookups.
Keeping the tank sanitized prevents our water from developing a strange taste or smell, or even worse, making us ill.
When Should You Sanitize Your RV?
About every six months is ideal, even if you hardly ever use the water. But you may need to sanitize sooner if you sense a bad odor in the water, or after lending out your RV or buying a used RV.
How to Sanitize Your RV Fresh Water System
Nothing can ruin a camping trip faster than discovering your only access to clean water is unsafe to use.
So, instead of driving back to civilization to buy gallons of water in plastic jugs, here’s how to properly sanitize your RV’s tank step by step (without hiring a professional! Which is certainly helpful when counting costs).
Before You Start
Carve out twelve hours to complete the process, and go to a location where plants won’t be harmed by being under your drain area. Turn off your water heater and let it cool. If you leave your water heater on while you drain you may risk damaging it.
Next, gather your basic supplies of household bleach, a container such as a 1-gallon pitcher, a 1-cup measuring cup, a clean funnel, and a hose from a clean water source.
Helpful tip: Wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting splashed with a little bleach just in case!
Next, turn off the water pump and icemaker if you have one. Also, if you have an external water filter, bypass it. Otherwise, bleach will go through it in the following steps.
Draining the Tank (not just a fitness phrase!)
If your tank has unsafe, contaminated water inside, you will need to drain all the water, in which case it would help to keep your water pump turned on.
If the water is still clean, however, you only need to drain the tank about one-quarter or halfway.
To drain the tank, open the drain valve then tighten it again to stop.
Now the Bleach
You will not be pouring bleach directly into the tank, so first dilute it in water.
The general rule is one cup of bleach diluted in four gallons of water to sanitize a forty-gallon tank. Find out from your RV’s user manual the number of gallons your tank holds to calculate how much bleach you need to use.
If you are using a one-gallon pitcher, add a quarter cup of bleach and fill the rest with water. In the scenario of a forty-gallon tank, you would need to fill this pitcher with that mixture four separate times.
Then pour this mixture into your fresh water tank using the funnel.
Fill ‘Er Up with Clean Water
After adding the necessary amount of diluted bleach, grab your hose connected to a clean water source. Fill the remainder of the tank with water until it’s completely full. You’ll know for sure once you notice overflow appearing beneath the tank.
Filling it all the way ensures you’re completely sanitizing because it's contacting every surface in your system with the diluted bleach.
Clean Out the Pipes
Next, turn your water pump on so the water can pass through the faucets and clean all the pipes out too.
Turn on every faucet in your RV one at a time to circulate this water through. Once you smell bleach coming out of the faucet, turn it off. This shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
Note about hot water faucets: Some people don’t think it’s necessary to clean out the hot water faucets, but you can sanitize those too. If you want to, turn the water heater back on at this stage and run the hot water faucets until you smell bleach.
Since you used some water through the faucets, refill the tank until it is again overflowing.
Now, We Wait
Allow this water to sit in the tank for a minimum of four hours, and a maximum of twelve.
This is the easiest step to sanitize your RV but takes the most patience. I recommend letting the water sanitize your RV on the longer end of time. If you’re doing this process late in the day, you can let it sit overnight.
Drain Again, and Again
After your sitting period is over, turn on the faucets and open the drain valve to empty the tank. Remembering to turn off the water heater in advance!
Refill your tank again with clean water and run the faucets until you no longer smell bleach coming out.
If you still smell bleach after a few minutes of running the faucets, simply drain the entire tank again and refill. By doing this you are flushing the tank and completing the sanitization process throughout every nook and cranny of your RV. So, don’t get discouraged if you have to do this step a few times over.
Last Step to Sanitize Your RV Fresh Water System
After your tank is full of water without a scent of bleach, it’s time to finish up.
Turn on your water heater. You may have an external water filter to make better-tasting water (I use this one, which I replace every six months as well). To replace the old one, turn off your water supply and then install.
If you cleaned your water heater, read your manual for the correct way to refill it, as some manufacturers have different instructions.
If you followed all these steps, congratulations! You know how to sanitize your RV's fresh water system without hiring a professional! You are ready to camp with confidence that your water will be safe and reliable.
How Often Do You Sanitize Your RV?
Do you follow the 6-month rule of thumb? Or maybe even more often since the pandemic! Let us know in the comments and if you have any tricks you use to sanitize your RV.
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