Tuesday, October 4, 2022


RV Shrink: RV dirty swirly – cleaning stained pipe below toilet

Dear RV Shrink:
We seem to have an appearance issue with our RV. Not the exterior, not even the interior. It seems to be below our porcelain toilet. My wife continues to be fixated on the stains she can see when the toilet is flushed. The stains are below the ball valve in the toilet. She is  embarrassed that these stained plumbing pipes can be seen every time the toilet is flushed.

Do other people stress about such things, or is it just my wife? Seldom do other people use our facilities. I can’t imagine they stare in disgust at our stained pipes. The valve only opens for a half-second. I have tried several times to remove the stains just so I don’t have to hear about them any more, but they seem permanent. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.—Strained over stains in Stratford

Dear Stratford:
I have never had anyone complain about this problem before, but I am flush with ideas to help you solve it. You should be able to clean the pipe without removing the toilet. You can try several cleaning agents, but what works best is “elbow grease.”

Stubborn stains are often a result of water deposits. A common problem RV owners experience is calcium buildup on the toilet seal. I suggest using white vinegar on a regular basis to keep the seals clean and working properly. In your case, I would suggest using it often, using a long-handled scrub brush that can reach in and get your pipes clean and then keep them clean so that staining does not build up over time. If you want to use something stronger, like LimeAway, I would suggest doing it just before you plan to dump.

Two things to consider when using various products on RV plumbing. If you end up scratching plastic parts they will stain easier. If you are using harsh cleaning products that end up in your holding tank they will likely kill the digestive system in your tank and inhibit waste breaking down properly. 

Using the above method, you should see progress fairly quickly. Once you have them spit-shined and gleaming, adopt a routine of precautionary maintenance so they do not build up again. 

You will know when they start to become a problem. Your wife will tell you!

—Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-books, including Book 2 in his two-book series: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.



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6 months ago

Where are these magical long handled toilet brushes? Seriously nobody seems to have anything like this. I’m going to have to cannibalize a toilet brush and fab my own.

Joanie Minton
2 years ago

Just another irksome job..

Joanie Minton
2 years ago

Dear Stratford, I agree with your wife…..this is bothersome to me, too….What I do is use a long handled scrub brush and elbow grease, to remove as much as I can, because we are so limited in using any chemicals at all…… This tactic keeps it pretty clean..

2 years ago

I hate the ¨stains¨too. In our case it is not just staining it is other residue that is not only unsightly but can stink.
I used a toilet brush, with a bungee cord tied around the handle and over may wrist so it would not accidentally fall in. Worked, but only so far and took a lot of time. It also brought me closer to the so called stains than I wanted to be.

Then I figured out I could turn off the water, hook up a spray faucet to our flush hose, pull inside through the window and spray the gunk off. Aim is important here to prevent back wash!
I followed up with an inside flush stick.
Smell gone and stains while not completely gone now in the acceptable range.
I have always thought those pipes should have been black not white…

Joanie Minton
2 years ago
Reply to  Nanci

fortunately, mine are black…

2 years ago

Yep. I purchase toilet brushes at the $1 Store for just that purpose. I have my husband cut off the water temporarily, then use a spray cleaner and the $1 brush to clean that pipe well. Turn the water back on, fill the bowl with clean water and wash the brush. Sometimes I spray bleach on it, dry it, put a plastic bag over it to keep it separate from my regular brush, and use it again. Sometimes I just toss it. Usually only have to do this every few weeks. I think it is primarily mildew that gets on the inside of the pipe, since it seems to take awhile to turn dark again. I agree — it does look gross.

2 years ago

Remember the good old days (I think) of camping in a tent and using pit toilets ?? No such problems then.

Gene Bjerke
2 years ago

Another solution is to rig some kine of Rube Goldberg connection to the flush pedal so that she has to look up toward the ceiling to flush.

Bob p
2 years ago

She should wear dark glasses before flushing.

2 years ago

Here’s another suggestion: Ask an rv dealer what they use to clean out holding tanks on traded in units. My black tank was treated with something many years ago when I had some other work performed. Whatever was used completely removed the poop stains inside the area under the flapper. From the looks of it, they must have added something and then filled the tank until the level came up just above the floor.

Sally Gilbert
2 years ago

I am super aware of stains etc along the toilet “pipe” that sits directly beneath the flap, so I feel your wife’s pain, Stratofd!! It always goes through my mind that anyone who visits us and uses the toilet will also see them, and think I don’t keep a clean home, though that’s probably not the case at all!

I regularly scrub away at the marks (whatever they actually are…….) while holding down the foot pedal on the toilet, using a toilet brush. Due to the toilet flushing simultaneously, it’s difficult to successfully use any kind of cleaning product on the brush to help remove the marks, but I always feel better knowing I’ve done as much as I can to have a sparkly down pipe beneath the toilet flap!!!

Roy Ellithorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Sally Gilbert

Why not just turn your pump off, or the tap on the shore water.

Irv Goomba
2 years ago

You guys who poo-poo (pun intended) this thread are lucky or not married. If you have a slightly OCD wife like mine (or, apparently, the original poster), this is a real topic to get nagged on. My wife sees all, smells all. She can probably detect if the next door neighbor’s milk is about to spoil from our couch. (Though she’s not “dainty” or a princess… Just a touch OCD with a dog’s sense of smell… Just enough OCD to drive me nuts and add to my honey-do list). My wife would probably act exactly the same. (Thank God she hasn’t noticed such things… yet.)

I totally sympathize with the original poster. Chin up, my brother.

Eric K.
2 years ago

Whenever you clean around the ball valve – the part that opens and closes when you flush – you must be careful not to use to much pressure; it can break. I know from experience. Because I was traveling I had to buy a new toilet as a replacement for the valve was impossible to find; for this reason a new toilet was easier to replace than the valve alone.

Tommy Molnar
2 years ago

Frankly, to me, this is akin to complaining about how it looks when you peer down into a pit toilet at a campground. When the valve in your RV toilet is closed it looks like it just came off the showroom floor. And that’s what matters. Just sayin’ . . .

2 years ago

Agree with this commenter. It’s the poop layer. And I don’t like it either. Maybe it’s just me (I doubt it though) but I really don’t like it. But I’ve heard a couple of power washer plumbing horror stories. I’m at a bit of a loss without taking the toilet off. I have one of those less pressurized spray cleaning wands but they’re basically useless, especially on my curved pipe. Oh well. I’m going to have a guest at some point. And since we can talk frankly, we have laughed our asses off about the pitfalls (all puns intended) of the RV toilet.

2 years ago

I can just see it now:
Whoops, #&%@+&% ( brush handle broke)
Now how to get it out of the plumbing to the black tank.
If she scratches the pvc down pipe it will happen more often.

2 years ago

Say Doc. I don’t think she was talking mineral buildup, if I might interject. Poop. Different consistencies of poop don’t always go “straight down the tube” to the holding tank. Building up poop on the wall of that 3-inch pipe going down is what I think the embarrassed wife was concerned about. It makes you want to get the power washer out and blast the crap out of the buildup. Elbow grease honey. Mister, show her how to use the power washer and sit back and enjoy the show.