Wednesday, September 27, 2023


California bans formaldehyde as holding tank chemical

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

If you’re still a fan of formaldehyde for your RV holding tanks, you may be in for disappointment. In California, the sale and use of the pungent potion as a holding tank chemical will be completely unlawful in 2022. That comes from the passage of Senate Bill 317, recently signed into law.

Who is responsible for the support of this law? Some might immediately think environmentalists, but in what may seem an oddity to some, the major support group for the new law is an RV park owners alliance, CampCalNow. With some RVers who genuinely love formaldehyde products in their black water tanks, you might wonder, why would campground owners support a ban? The reasoning was set out in a news release from the organization.

“This is a major victory not only for California campgrounds, but for the environment and for our groundwater supplies,” said Dyana Kelley, president of CampCalNow. “Our campground members were being held responsible for costly testing and penalties when groundwater was shown to have dangerous levels of chemicals from these products.”

While California features in the news in the “war on formaldehyde” other states will soon come into focus. The California group predicts that where California leads, others will follows, expecting that other RV park owner groups will likewise pursue legislation in their states. But why the fuss?

CampCalNow points out the danger of formaldehyde as a holding tank chemical is the adverse affect it has on septic systems. They point to information going back a couple of decades when the federal Environmental Protection Agency published these statements:

“When chemicals, such as formaldehyde, are added to septic systems they can cause bacteria in the system to die. When this happens, the septic system cannot treat waste effectively. Solids that are allowed to pass from the septic tank, due to inadequate or incomplete treatment, may clog the leach field. Furthermore, clogged systems may send inadequately treated sewage to the surface, threatening the health of people or pets who come into contact with it. Or it may percolate to groundwater, where the chemicals and untreated wastewater could contaminate nearby drinking water wells, rivers and streams.”

The California group isn’t suggesting that RVers give up the use of any holding tank treatments. They point to the use of tank treatments that use enzymes and beneficial bacteria which are reported to break up and consume the odor-causing matter in holding tanks.

Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


  1. I’ve been camping in California with various travel trailers since 2003 and have never dumped my black water tank in a septic system at a campground. After trying the “green” enzymatic solutions, which I quickly found to be totally useless for odor control, I switched to the formaldehyde based Thetford Aqua Kem and haven’t looked back. I always dump when I get home in my RV parking area at home that dumps right into the city sewage system. So, why is California now going to outlaw the sale of these formaldehyde based black water tank products? Is it just because people will ignore the signs that forbid dumping your tanks if you have formaldehyde in your tanks?

  2. We’ve tried the other types of treatment chemicals–they didn’t work! So we’ve gone back to Campa Chem blue, and yes–gasp!, it has formaldehyde in it. But it seems that the amounts are so small compared to the size of tanks that this isn’t really a big issue. Guess we better camp in California before 2022, huh? Oh, and just how would they know if someone was using this type of holding tank chemical, once everybody’s has been dumped into the system?

  3. Keep it up California, you guys are over two trillion in debt, CALPERS, is just about 50% funded. AND no plastic straws, the outrage!

  4. Line the toilet with a heavy-duty garbage bag (use for #2 only). Make the deposit, twist-tie it, and chuck it in the garbage. If that’s objectionable, just wear your adult diaper and do it there, then chuck it in the garbage along with the thousands of the others, including the disposable infant diapers. America’s solid waste system became a defacto human waste disposal system when mothers switched to disposable diapers. Now, about all that kitty litter and the skimmed contents that go in the garbage…

    Or has California got it in mind to outlaw disposable diapers? Not yet? Maybe soon, eh?
    Just sayin’ … these days, I feel sorry for the garbage man.

  5. Chuck, perhaps there could be an article in this newsletter identifying which commercially available treatments that are acceptable, There are some homemade solutions that people use as well. I am aware of one that uses Pinesol, liquid dish soap and water. Not sure if Pinesol is environmentally friendly.

    • LOOK on the containers that say no formaldehyde. Oregon has this law for about 35 years. You can not by formaldehyde products in Oregon.

      Oregon has closed most of the Rest Area dump stations because of the formaldehyde problems with their dump stations.

  6. Since 1995 all my RVs have had an enclosed underbelly. This seems to keep the heat away from the black tank and odors have not been a problem and I my chemical use was minimal. For the last 5 years I’ve added two tablespoons of an enzyme powder once each spring and get absolutely no odors.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.