By Chris Noble
I’ve seen so many tips and tricks on dealing with the dumping of black tanks on RVs that my head is spinning — but here is what I consider the absolute best tip of all: Don’t even use a black tank. What? I hear you say, “But that isn’t going to work; who can hold it all weekend,” right? Well, here is my tip and by far the single best investment I have ever made in my motorhome.
My wife and I decided to live in our RV full-time and do a lot of boondocking. We hated the idea of having to dump the tanks, so we found a little device called a composting toilet and have never looked back. If you are not sure what it is, follow the links and research them and you, too, may find them to be amazing. Even if you are only a weekend warrior, a composting toilet has so many benefits that you may find it well worth the investment.
I can hear the questions now, so I will try to answer the main ones.
Does it smell? Yep, like dirt. Seriously, it smells like soil and not at all like poop. When you set up your toilet, you place peat moss in the “tank” and as it gets filled and mixed, the stuff turns into nature’s intended role and the “waste” becomes compost.
How do you get rid of it? You can either bury it, put it into your compost pile, or it can go into the landfill because the bad stuff gets broken down into good stuff. Here is the key to successful composting, though: You have to keep the yellow liquids separate from the brown solids, period. If the two mix, you get the nasty stuff that you normally find in an RV black tank — P.U.!
So where does the yellow stuff go? The composting toilet is designed to separate the two and the yellow stuff goes into a small enclosed container of about two gallons that you can easily remove from the unit to dump. So, yes, you still need to dump the yellow tank but you can do that in any toilet in any rest area or gas station and it doesn’t smell like you might think. (Insider’s hint: After you dump and rinse it put a cap full of bleach inside the empty “yellow” tank when you reinstall). The yellow tank only holds a couple of gallons so we dump it just about every other day. As for the compost bin, it depends on how much it is used, but we can go for two to three weeks before it needs to be emptied.
What’s the next question — Oh, yeah. Is it hard to install? It can be quite the task if you are not mechanically inclined as you have to remove your existing toilet, have 12-volt power and have a place to run the vent line — but once you get that done, your black tank woes are gone forever. (Here is another insider’s tip: When you remove your old toilet, use the existing water line that would have provided the flush to plumb in a small spray handle so you can rinse the toilet after use.) It took me the better part of a day for the install, but the results have paid off so much that I will never own an RV with a “normal” toilet again.
Why 12-volts and how much power does it use? There is a small computer-type fan that runs constantly which creates a negative pressure inside the toilet and draws out the odors and exhausts it out of the coach. As for how much power? It would take weeks/months to drain the house batteries depending on your battery capacity, but the drain is so low it really is a non-issue. If you are a weekend warrior and rarely use your rig, a small trickle charger connected will more than keep your batteries in good shape and run this small fan. Another insider tip: Keep the lid closed and you will have much better luck at keeping the air clear.
Now for the vent line: When I installed ours I removed a panel that exposed the black tank vent line that just happened to run behind the existing toilet. I then installed a tee fitting, using a hole saw. I drilled a hole in the panel for the tee to protrude and reinstalled it, hooked the fan line to that tee and voila!
So how much does it cost? This is where the painful part comes into play. These units can run about a thousand dollars, but not having to dump a black tank and being able to camp in sites without a dump station is priceless.
Any other bonuses to consider? Yep, there is the weight savings to consider as there is no need to haul gallons of yuck around and the unit weighs next to nothing compared to an RV toilet (especially if it is porcelain). There are very few moving parts, so this thing will last. The entire unit can be easily removed from the RV for the occasional thorough cleaning — take it outside, remove the “contents” and hose the crap out of it — pun intended. You can use REAL toilet paper because it will breakdown in the composting process and you don’t have to worry about clogging any drain lines; so, therefore, the paper that falls apart in your hand can stay at the camping store. You don’t need gallons and gallons of water to flush it so you can use that water for other, more valuable things. Oh, and did I mention that you will never have to dump a black tank again?
The model in the image is from a company called ## Natures Head.
photos by the author
Black Water Tank: We were told by a nurse whom we bought our first RV from (used) to always put cup of OdoBan in the tank after putting the blue black water chemicals. We have never had a odor problem. We don’t wait till we KNOW the tank is full.. if we are going to be somewhere for a week or more, we listen to the tank and you can tell when the flush is hitting water pretty quickly. We have a clean out spray which we use every time we dump. We also have a wand sprayer that we put down the toilet bowl and spray water up and down the commode lines going into the tank itself.(Do this after dumping the black tank) Have to use a hose to get water to the wand. The first time we did that after dumping, firs my husband said he couldn’t believe the gunk coming out of the black water tank dump line. Unless you run a lot of water down the black water line into the tank, it will collect gunk. The sprayer we have has a flexible hose on the end so we can actually go really far down the line.