Simple ways to keep RV pipes fresh and clean

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By Gail Marsh
“Away go troubles, down the drain!” This old Roto-Rooter advertising jingle has been looping through my brain lately, as we’ve recently experienced some trouble with our RV’s gray tank. Specifically, one drain empties slowly (shower) and another drain occasionally emits an unpleasant odor (kitchen sink). Maybe you’ve experienced similar challenges? But what’s the best way to keep RV pipes clean?

When troubleshooting an RV plumbing problem, it’s good to keep in mind that the RV’s plumbing isn’t the same as that in a sticks-and-bricks home. The pipes in an RV are a bit smaller than in standard homes and the drain system isn’t made to withstand high pressure. There isn’t a garbage disposal in our rig, and regular household drain cleaners shouldn’t be used on RV plumbing. (No Roto-Rooter, either!)

My husband and I decided to tackle the kitchen “sink stink” first. We put 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then we added 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the drain. When the fizzing stopped, we poured boiling water down the drain (about six cups, or whatever volume your tea kettle holds). No more smelly drain!

How to keep the shower drain clean

Then, it was on to the shower drain. It didn’t take much thought to figure out that hair was the problem. A needle-nose pair of pliers and a wire coat hanger were part of the solution. We bent the hanger hook so it would fit down the drain and “hook” the hair and other gunk so that we could lift it up and out of the drain. The needle-nose pliers also helped grab some of the gunk. We removed as much as we could and then followed up with baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water like before. Ta-da! The water quickly drained out of the shower! Success!

With our problems solved, we wanted to find a way to keep the problems from reoccurring and keep our RV pipes clean. After a bit of research, we found out that food bits that go down the kitchen drain can become stuck inside the pipes. After a time bacteria can form on these particles and unpleasant smells will follow.

Be careful what goes down the kitchen drain

To keep this from happening, we began to be more careful about thoroughly scraping our dishes before putting them in the sink. (Some RVers use paper towels to wipe down their dishes before washing them.) We also purchased a simple sink strainer and – Wow! Now we can see how much stuff had been going down our drain – and it’s a lot. Now after washing dishes, I quickly remove the sink stopper and replace it with the strainer. After the water is completely drained I clean the strainer by tapping its contents into the trash can.

A similar idea helps in the shower. We bought a drain strainer that is made from soft plastic and effectively catches any hair before it can go down the shower drain. We’re hoping these two simple strainers will prevent further mishaps. And it’s good to know that white vinegar and baking soda can come to the rescue whenever we need them.

Editor’s Note: Gadget reviewer Tony Barthel just reviewed the popular TubShroom and Kitchen SinkShroom. Perhaps this is what anyone with similar problems to Gail and her husband need! Check it out

##RVDT1536

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Dale
2 months ago

An old plumbers trick I have used for years in sticks and bricks also works with RV’s drains including Hepvo’s. Take a garden hose and stick it down the drain at least a couple inches, not over 3”. Take a rag and with a screwdriver stuff it around the hose. Have your helper turn on the water or if you have an inline valve you can release the water pressure right there. Twenty pounds of pressure normally does the trick.
Now, I have had to replace old, rusted drain pipes before in houses, so beware.

Cathi
2 months ago

I agree with the baking soda and vinegar. I added the kitchen strainer right from the beginning, but the drain got slower and slower over the 4+ years of full time living. DH pulled the P trap – all clean and clear. So we called in an RV Plumber. In line toward the gray tank, there was a ‘breather’ valve (??) and it had become stuck and was no longer providing the air flow required to get the water to drain. Replace that part and all was good.

Dr. Mike
2 months ago

For removing hair and other “gunk” from our RV sink and shower drains, we invested in a plastic “Zip-it” tool from Home Depot. It has little plastic barbs that will catch on and pull up anything stuck in the first 12” or so of drain. Safer than a coat hook, and comes with a handy handle, too. We do this 2-3 times a season to keep the drain problems away.

Marlys Thomsen
2 months ago

I not only use the little mesh strainers ( that come in 3 sizes in many regular stores,,) in the rv, but in most drains in living areas of my house.

Irv
2 months ago

Why the need to neutralize the baking soda with vinegar? The combination might do some good if it was: baking soda soak, rinse with hot water, vinegar soak.

WEB
2 months ago
Reply to  Irv

The reaction of the vinegar and baking soda (vigorous foaming) seems to ‘scrub’ the pipes clean, or that is what we like to think. The combination appears to work for ME.

John C
2 months ago

I would be careful about sticking a bent hanger or similar down a drain. In the case of low clearances, such as under my RV shower, the manufacturer used a HEPVO, or mechanical waterless P-trap which has a membrane. If you don’t know the type of trap used, you may end up damaging the membrane rendering the mechanical trap useless.

Ken Sinatra
2 months ago
Reply to  John C

You are correct about the Hpvo valve. I use a long zip tie that I notched slightly to go about 10 inches into the shower drain. Our valve is about 14″ down the line.

dave
2 months ago

Every other time we change our water filters, we do the baking soda vinegar trick in our drains. Keeps the pipes clean and a small price too.

Tom
2 months ago

We use cleaning vinegar. Same great results, just 1% more acid for cleaning. Not salads.

David Telenko
2 months ago

If your kitchen is in your slide out like mine the drain hose is like an accordion & it has little valleys that will collect all kinds of stuff! if I were to buy another RV, it will not have a kitchen slide. Really a bad idea, looked good at the time of purchase, ya you know what I mean!

Glen Cowgill
2 months ago

I used to complain about those strainers my wife put in the bathroom and kitchen sink drains. Now you made me see why. Complaining over, Thanks.