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Water Conservation in Your RV

| Updated Jun 21, 2023

Water conservation in your RV is very important if you are going to enjoy boondocking.

One thing that will detract from your enjoyment of the wilderness is running out of water, especially when the nearest supply is far away.

The camping location in the photo is perfect, except that the nearest source of drinking water is 25 miles down the mountain. Many novice RV users are dismayed to find out that their water only lasts two or three days because they're using it like they did at home. As with many things RV, there are numerous tricks to making your water last longer so you can spend more time enjoying your chosen location, and less time driving back and forth for water and dumping.

What we do is employ several strategies to get the washing of dishes and people done with minimal water use.

The first and most important rule is, never run water down the drain.

Water Conservation in Your RV Tip #1

Don't warm up the water by running it until the water is hot enough to use – catch the water that comes out and heat it on the stove, and THEN use it. (Update: or have a TRUMA instant water heater in your RV).

Don't run water to rinse small dishes and utensils – use a container to dip them in.  Get a container that fits into your sink with a wide, flat bottom for use as a washbasin. Use this basin for soapy dishwater, rinse water, and other things. I found the perfect one by accident- it's a dog bowl.

This bowl is perfect. It's stainless steel, so you can heat water in it directly on the propane burner instead of using a pot and pouring the hot water into the basin.

Water Conservation in Your RV Tip #2

The second strategy – make sure the regular dishwasher is the one who's good at saving water. Sharon washed the dishes once and used about half a tank to wash two plates, two cups, and some silverware. She has been relieved of duty, and no matter how much she begs, I'm not going to let her wash the dishes. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to pull a fast one on me, and… hey, wait a minute…

Here's how I wash dishes – heat your water on the stove in your washbasin, put just enough soap in there to make it sudsy. Too much soap means extra rinsing. Wash the utensils, dishes, and pots/pans, letting them drain in the sink next to the washbasin as you do the big items that won't fit in the basin. The better they drain the less water you need to rinse them.

Pitch the wash water, get some rinse water in the basin, and dip the small items in it before putting them on the drying rack. Only the big items that won't fit in the basin get a trickle of water over them from the faucet. You should be able to wash up dishes for a meal for two in about a gallon of water.

Water Conservation in Your RV Tip #3

Shampooing is another task where a lot of water goes down the drain needlessly if you're not careful. Sharon has her hair done by the famous stylist Mr. Campskunk, who cancels all his other clients when she's in town and needs a shampoo and set in a hurry.

We use a big plastic basin since all we're doing is catching the water to throw out, not washing anything in it. About a pint of hot water to wet your hair, then lather up over the basin until you're ready to rinse. I pour a steady stream on the scalp starting at the back of the neck and working forward until it's all rinsed – maybe a gallon to a gallon and a half total. This is a two-person operation, so put your lazy significant other to work and save water.

Water Conservation in Your RV Tip #4

Bathing? The only time we take regular long hot showers in the Roadtrek is when we're onsite where the water and dump is. Sure, a gas station or water treatment plant isn't an ideal location as far as esthetics go, but you have an opportunity to dump, fill up your fresh water, waste all you want, then dump again, fill up again, and you're all clean and refreshed, and so are your tanks. 

We sponge off in a basin for a day or three, then take a “navy shower.” Wet yourself down, turn off the water, soap up, and scrub, then turn the water back on to rinse.  Maybe two gallons if you're sloppy, less if you're diligent.

Heat the Roadtrek interior if the weather is such that you aren't going to be comfortable standing there all wet. Use propane, not running hot water, to stay warm. We still hit campgrounds with facilities often enough to enjoy long, hot daily showers while we're there, and maintain acceptable levels of hygiene in between.

Water Conservation in Your RV 1 My Roadtrek has two tanks, 10 gallons in the back and 15 in the front. We fill the back tank last and use it first for weight distribution purposes. Normally, we can get about six days out of our 25 gallons, provided a long hot shower awaits us at the end of it.

Water Conservation in Your RV 2

Another trick I have used is to buy two of the Coleman Solar Shower bags – they're less than $10 in Walmart and most other places with a camping supply aisle.  They hold five gallons and can be used both for their intended purpose – heating water to shower with outside – and also to carry extra water, provided that you have the weight carrying capacity – 10 gallons weighs 80 pounds.

They're marked “not for drinking water”, but all that means is that they didn't bother to go through the drinking water certification process, not that they're full of pathogens.

I take a new one and fill it with a dilute bleach solution, just like the tank sanitizing procedure, let it sit, and then rinse it out. We fill these at the pump or faucet, take the orange nozzle off the end of the hose, carry it with us on the floor of the Roadtrek to our campsite, and hold it aloft while the water runs into the Roadtrek tank.

In places where there's a hand pump but no dump, we keep our fresh water tanks full this way. We use the basin in the sink to catch all the wash water and throw it out the door onto the ground just like the tent campers do, and can go two weeks easily without a trip to town to dump. By the time the black water tank is full, we're out of groceries anyway.



Water Conservation in Your RV 3Do you want to save money by avoiding RV parks and campgrounds?

Our Beginner's Guide to Boondocking eBook gives you a detailed look into our preferred way of RVing and traveling.

Boondocking is camping totally self-contained with no commercial power, water, sewer, or any other on-the-grid service. 

We get questions every day from other RVers wondering “How do you do that?” In this step-by-step guide, we show you exactly how to boondock in your RV! 

CLICK HERE for information.


RV Lifestyle

Published on 2021-03-29

32 Responses to “Water Conservation in Your RV”

May 02, 2021at7:02 pm, Jeri-Lou said:

Is it better to heat water on stove or keep water heater turned on

May 03, 2021at12:31 am, Michel said:

That would depend on what resource you value most. Propane used by a hot water heater isn’t all that efficient so maybe get one of those shower bags mentioned above? Also, do be aware that most (if not all) travel trailer type stoves don’t have as much BTU as you find in a standard household range. Typically, they are 5K for the smaller burners, and 6~8K for the larger ones. Whereas the burner in you hot water heater is anywhere from 10K to 30K, depending on make, and model. So hot water heaters trump stove tops, and both can be replaced with solar water heating. The main resource used here is time. Safe, and hoppy travels!

January 02, 2017at8:42 am, ren_man said:

and why not use the gray water from sink and hair washing to flush the toilet? even more savings!

February 15, 2014at4:10 pm, Debra Lewis Wilson said:

I use the basins that you get in a hospital for my sinks. Can’t heat in them but they collect all water to dump outside, preferably on a plant. In a drought people should do the same thing at home.

February 12, 2014at9:40 am, Mary Lou said:

Thanks for the water saving tips.

May 03, 2021at12:25 am, Michel said:

Yes, they are quite useful! One thing I do is that I compost, so there’s a compostible toilet which uses NO water, and all you do is empty the urine bottle once a week (for 2 people), and the bin that contains the humanure once a month. Then run a Y connector to join the black and grey tanks together so that you now have TWICE the grey water capacity (80 gallons in my case)! So with an 80 gallon FW tank, you can camp dispersed (aka boondock) for at least 2 weeks, possibly more (with food being the limiting factor here) if you are careful with your resources. Safe, and hoppy travels!

February 11, 2014at11:15 pm, Scott Atkinson said:

lol…I shaved in a bowl in my sink today…water has been frozen. My pump finally got prime late in the day so the water has thawed…

February 11, 2014at7:58 pm, Bill McLaughlin said:

Thanks, Campskunk…great ideas…funny too!

February 11, 2014at4:54 pm, Geri Marchant said:

Now much are one of these rv

February 11, 2014at6:52 pm, Campskunk said:

new, close to $100,000, but i bought mine used for $40k and spent another $10k or so fixing it up. having been on the road for 40 months now without a mortgage payment or rent, i’m definitely getting my money’s worth.

February 11, 2014at3:18 pm, Lisa Gruner said:

Picked up a couple of ideas. Thanks, CS!

August 28, 2013at6:00 pm, Thom L. said:

Nice tips on water conservation. Many of them in use by my wife & i in our van conversion as we boondock on all outings except an annual gathering in a state park with fellow enthusiasts.

On personal bathing, my MacGirlver of a wife set up a nice system utilizing a 1 gallon battery operated garden sprayer easily purchased at your local garden store. We pour room temp water from a small 1qt tea kettle (3 times) into the sprayer, then pour 1qt of boiling water into sprayer and slosh it to mix water…for us this is about right (~105 degrees). The 4 “D” batteries last us about 8 showers, & we get two nice showers out of one sprayer-full. She prefers the stock sprayer as it sends out a nice water-conserving mist and dose the job well.

On water use, here in the Pacific Northwest we will see a typical use of ~3 gallons of water for kitchen/misc cleaning, and 2 gallons for personal showers each week. We drink filtered (Berkey) water & also bottled water.

July 26, 2013at2:20 pm, Mary Kay said:

I already practice many of these water-saving tips, because we have a cabin in the Wisconsin northwoods with no running water inside during the wintermonths. I’ve learned what to do and it works!

July 22, 2013at1:29 pm, Another RV Owner said:

I would caution everyone to check gray water laws before “tossing water on the ground like the tent campers do”. Most states do not allow this.

July 22, 2013at2:29 pm, Campskunk said:

i avoid such states like the plague – i’m talking about national forest campsites, where there’s water, either gravity fed or pumped, or a hand pump, but no dump facilities. in such places, wash water is usually just thrown on the ground- the tent campers don’t have holding tanks like the RVers do. campgrounds back in the overpopulated eastern part of the country usually have water and a dump. i always use the wastewater dump when they have one – there’s no incentive to conserve grey water tank space when there’s a dump nearby.

July 19, 2013at2:55 pm, paula anderson said:

Coming from a backpacking background, I am wondering about gathering water from streams & lakes, then filtering for use… lite weight backpackers often carry simple gravity fed systems that I could see easily being hung up off the roadtrek and feed into the water sys… is there a reason I never hear about someone taking a collapseable bucket down to the river?

July 19, 2013at8:21 pm, Karsten Askeland said:

To be honest it would be a lot easier to fill from a hose and conserve as necessary. It would take a lot of buckets full of water and filtering to get the fresh water tank filled. 🙂

July 20, 2013at3:35 pm, Paula said:

I wouldn’t try to actually FILL the tank, but a couple buckets a day would mean you could stay at that great boondocking spot for a lot longer with less worry over your water situation.

With a gravity system, you don’t even have to actually pump the filter – gravity does the work. you just pour the bucket in a bag – hang the bag up – stick the output hose in a container and walk away. Hiking on the AT, I saw many homemade in-line gravity systems; but there are some commercial ones available – like the bag system from Katadyn ( they also make the most commonly used hiker filter systems ).

Backpacking, I never actually minded the time spent filtering water for my days use. It was enjoyable as water sources are generally nice areas to hang about for a few quiet minutes…. take a pack off break, off the feet and enjoy listening to the animal sounds. I tend to think of RV’s as a really large luxurious backpack I don’t have to carry and where its much more comfy than a thermarest 😉 Course, I can’t go all the places I can go on my feet – but I can get pretty close to many of them and walk from there in a great deal more comfort now that i’m older.

Boondocking, to me, seems to be the perfect place to mix backpacking skillsets / tools with RV – so you can enjoy the location longer.

May 03, 2021at12:15 am, Michel said:

I use a 12 V DC pump to pump ambient water to my carboys for brewing. There’s a 3 stage filter set up in between that sterile filters the water. With a 100′ drinking water hose, I can sparge, fill my FW tank, or even bathe in this water (after heating in my hot liquor tank) if necessary. You see I’m planning on brewing a beer style based on the water chemistry of each, and every National Park Unit, so I built a solar powered brewery for that purpose. Needs no electricity, except for what I provide with batteries, inverters, and solar charging banks, and pump the surface water locally to my brewery. All I need then is malt, hops, and yeast (and propane to power the burners)! Safe, and hoppy travels!

July 18, 2013at8:09 pm, Darlene said:

For those times when I need to wash dishes, I fill up a spray bottle with soapy water and spray everything, then take a wet sponge and wipe them down. Rinsing could be done with a pan of water or another spray bottle filled with plain water. Most of the time we use paper or plastic, but our boondocking days are not for several days. Another product I like is “No Rinse”. They have body wash & shampoo. You can find these on line or at some Walgreens. Hospitals and caretakers use these. The body wash is great and doesn’t leave you feeling dry or itchy, and you can use a very small amount of water or no water.

July 18, 2013at4:24 pm, Pam Hicks said:

that would be “with a 20 ounce bottle of water”………….

July 18, 2013at4:22 pm, Pam Hicks said:

Thanks, Campskunk – great ideas. Many years ago when I took my first & only backpacking trip in the White Mountains, I managed to wash my (short) hair & sponge bathe with a 20 ounce of bottled water. I was amazed that I could accomplish this & that I felt clean & refreshed! It was all about thinking ahead & doing things in the right order & reusing some water as necessary – just as you say. Just another example of less is more & keeping it simple 🙂

July 18, 2013at4:01 pm, Laura H Postema said:

And book tour:)

July 18, 2013at4:00 pm, Laura H Postema said:

Another great article. I learned that I need to wash dishes like your Sharon does :)… We recently purchased a collapsible pan for dish washing purposes. I’ll try it out this weekend at the mini-‘Michigan rally. Showering, not sure about that one this weekend…hot and humid. Sometimes hygiene is not over rated, especially when with a group of people I rather like.
Thanks again, Laura (waiting for your boom tour sites and dates)

July 18, 2013at1:27 pm, Brad Phelps said:

Thanks CS. as a new RVer, your articles are a great help. I read somewhere a suggestion of using a bucket to catch the cold water from the shower when waiting for it to get hot, and using it to flush the toilet. Would it be okay to use the rinse water to flush the toilet?

July 18, 2013at12:25 pm, Susan Adame said:

Thanks for the great water saving tips!!

July 18, 2013at11:02 am, Barry Barron said:

I really like your suggestion of throwing the sink water outside. We usually use bottled water for drinking, so we generally fill up the gray tank before we run out of fresh water. Dumping the wash/rinse water makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the tips.

July 18, 2013at10:07 am, Kate said:

We use Dawn Foaming for washing dishes. It was made to do dishes with little water. Just rinse.

July 18, 2013at10:41 am, Campskunk said:

thanks, kate! i’ll definitely check into that. this Pacific Northwest water is driving me nuts – it’s so soft i can’t get the soap off of things.

May 03, 2021at12:05 am, Michel said:

You can harden your water by adding salts. I recommend Calcium Chloride, as it’s water soluble at all temperatures, and pH’s. Once mixed in, the increase in calcium will negate the soft water “problem” that you have. I use CaCl2 in brewing lagers, and malt forward beers, but it also works in the FW tank to eliminate soft water problems. Hoppy, and safe travels!

July 18, 2013at9:11 am, Karsten Askeland said:

Certainly some great water saving tips. And they are much appreciated. Since I travel alone I’ll offer two more. When I head out on a long trip I generally visit the barber and get my hair cut “right to the wood”. No more shampooing necessary. 🙂
And since I do travel alone I use paper plates and bowls and plastic utensils. Some might say this is not the most environmentally friendly method … but hey I’m saving lots of water.

July 18, 2013at9:04 am, Dave Miller said:

Another great article Dr Campskunk! Our boat does not have a water heater so we got used to heating water in a 2 qt tea kettle for washing dishes and getting the solar shower water hot enough to enjoy. This practice carried right over to the camper. We only use the water heater for showers. My wife calls my shower rules “tight wad showers”. We keep a water jug in the fridge for instant cold water too.
Thanks for all of your input, Bigfoot Dave

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