By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’re old enough to remember The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries, perhaps you’ll recall “The Mystery of the Crappy Crapper.” No? Okay, so we made that one up. After all, most of us were born after the advent of indoor plumbing, and we all just take “the throne” for granted. Flush it, forget it.
But then Chuck Woodbury stumbled on a bunch of complaints from RVers who did, in fact, have crappy crappers. When Frank, Joe and Nancy all got together and did their detecting thing, they found the mystery wasn’t so mysterious in itself – it seems that some RV manufacturers don’t have the magic bowl drop its contents straight into the black water holding tank – rather, they send the stuff by a circuitous route by way of bends and pipes before finally allowing it to dump into the tank. The real mystery to be solved was this: Why on earth is the path for the poop particularly poorly positioned?
The answer seems to lie in the old adage: Money talks. When RV manufacturers hit upon a floor plan that’s popular (read that: “sells well”), design considerations fly out the window. Never mind if you have a toilet that, in the words of our reader, Margaret B, “spews contents up and out in a giant bubble onto the floor and walls.” So what if, “The toilet room is on the passenger side and the tank is more on the driver side,” which is Joanie T’s experience. “I was blamed for using too much TP!” she relates. “But after cleanout we discovered the turn in the pipe.”
This whole situation seemed so ludicrous, but at the same time, devastating to toilet sitters, that a poll was immediately undertaken. Question: “On any RV you’ve purchased did you check the toilet’s plumbing design beforehand?” Here are the results: A whopping 86 percent said, “No.” And why on earth would you, anyway? We come from the “flush it, forget it” generation. And yes, 14 percent of you actually did check out plumbing design in advance of purchase. From our own experience, of the five RVs that we’ve owned, all of them were of the “direct drop” variety, and happily, we’ve never had the misery of a clogged toilet so, of course, we don’t make it a point to inspect plumbing design either.
But there are plenty of readers who’ve had problems with this convoluted design. Doing an RV remodel job, Les found this: “There were two elbows in the waste pipe between the toilet and the black tank . . . Removing the black tank I found that the waste pipe protruded into the tank approximately three inches, causing the toilet to flush slowly while the tank was only half full.” Tom Hudson relates, “My previous [fifth wheel] Mackenzie Starwood had bends in the sewer line. Fought it for eight years.” And Paul Goldberg adds, “2004 Southwind had a 45 degree slant from toilet to black tank. Over eight years of ownership I had learned two things: 1) How to manage it so it didn’t cause a lot of problems for us, and 2) I didn’t want to deal with it ever again.”
So just how do you “manage it” when the bends in your “sewage river” cause you grief? There were a few suggestions. “I keep a four foot piece of cut garden hose hidden in the bathroom,” confesses Jim K. “Because every once in a while, toilet paper will get stuck there.” Jim rams the hose down the toilet to clear the two-inch 45-degree elbow in his Winnebago Outlook.
The old “ram it down” solution was highlighted by readers, including Bob P., whose 1999 Bounder abounded with a 90-degree elbow in the black water line. “Had to have a plunger handle to break the waste into smaller parts to get it to go down.” But that wasn’t the only “answer” to the problem. Some may call it extreme (or perhaps, “too much information”), but Bob adds, “We ate a high fiber diet to keep waste flushable.”
If a dietary regimen of whole grains, raw vegetables, and Miralax just doesn’t seem appetizing when trying to keep the old poop chute running, Thor Industries has a few suggestions. Mind you, Thor is the manufacturer of the Thor Ace, one of the RVs that seems to come in for frequent criticism for backed up toilet plumbing. Maybe it’s a case of “treat the symptoms, don’t cure the disease,” but Thor recommends:
“Toilet Tank Wand: You can find these at camping stores or online. They connect to your bathroom faucet with a flexible hose and allow you to spray through the line and break up the clog.
“De-clogging Chemicals: There are plenty of de-clogging chemical options that break down the tissue that gets stuck in your toilet line. Follow the directions on the chemical packaging carefully.
“Water: Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil and carefully pour it down the toilet. Repeat several times as needed and let the water sit overnight without using the toilet.
“Ice: Fill the toilet a third of the way with water. Add ice until the bowl is completely full. Flush the ice and drive your RV around to distribute the water. Continue flushing with extra water and ice until the line is clear.”
Be careful with that hot water trick. Sources suggest that straight boiling water could lead to toilet damage and recommend using hot water that’s not quite to the boiling point. And we’re not sure that we’d necessarily recommend “de-clogging chemicals,” either. If for some reason, the stuff ‘blew back’ at the wrong time, it could be mighty uncomfortable sitting for a while.
Aside from recommending that you flush with plenty of water or even, as some do, dump the toilet paper in a covered container and don’t run it down the drain, we’re pretty much flush out of ideas.