Open Letter: An Apology for that Awful, Disgusting Sewer Hose

Orange Sewer Tube Hook Up

Dear RV Owner,

I’m … I’m sorry.

On behalf of the RV industry in which I work, I sincerely apologize for that pitiful, unsanitary, awkward, awful excuse for a wastewater disposal system we installed under your RV.

I’m sorry that the black tank stinks to high heaven unless you pour some MacGyvered chemical concoction down your toilet.

Or that bargain-basement manufacturers won’t spend the extra $5 to install a siphoning or vacuuming vent atop your waste tank vent pipe.

I’m sorry we force you to wear high-strength disposable gloves and a gas mask every time you dump your tank.

I’m sorry we use leaky bayonet fittings rather than liquid-tight compression fittings.

I’m sorry you’re supposed to use paper-thin 1-ply toilet paper rather than the good cotton-y triple-ply stuff that actually works.

I’m sorry that the recommended solution to cleaning your sewer hose is to flush more dirty water (gray water) through it!

I apologize that the best recommendation we have for cleaning the inside of your tank is a bucket of ice cubes.

Oh, and that you can’t “dump too early,” or the solids will stay!

I’m sorry the standard OEM tank sensors are sh*tty pieces of hardware that don’t work after a few months/years and give you false positives.

I’m sorry your black tank is prone to “poop pyramids” or “poopsicles” depending on the weather.

I’m sorry your $3 toilet seal commonly wears out and allows sewer gas to escape into your living space!

I’m sorry you’re expected to spend several hundred dollars in aftermarket gear like Swivel Stiks, sewer hoses, hose supports, elbows, cleaning agents, ad nauseam.

I’m sorry we don’t give you a decent spot to store a sewer hose besides some random 4×4 tube bumper on the outside of your RV.

In fact, I’m sorry you have to carry around a stinky slinky in the first place!

Nowhere is the Scrooginess of the RV industry on full display more painfully and poignantly than the black tank system.

* * *

The basic RV black tank system looks like it was designed by an absent-minded 10-year-old for a science fair with 24 hours left to go.

“Uh, yeah, so the poop just falls into this tank, and there’s this hole in the bottom, and, uh, uh, there’s this valve thingy that opens the hole, and then the poop comes out!”

The inspectors stare at the contraption for a moment.

“Uh, kid, where does the waste actually get disposed of?”

“In a hole in the ground,” says the student.

“Uh huh. How is the waste transferred to this hole?”

“Through a collapsible tube with lots of ridges inside so it’s impossible to fully clean out.”

While the kid is talking, a couple drops of brown liquid seep out of the valve.

“Is that your valve leaking?” asks one inspector.

“Oh! I can fix that,” beams the student. He pops another valve on front of the first valve. “All fixed!”

“One more question,” asks the same inspector. “What happens if there’s a clog inside the tank?”

“I borrowed this garden hose from my neighbor,” replies the kid. “I just hold my thumb over the end and spray the water into the toilet hole, and it usually works!”

“I see another potential problem,” pipes up one inspector. “What if someone flushes uh, a body wipe or hygiene product down the toilet?”

“Oh, I already thought of that!” says the kid. He reaches his hand into a bag. “You have to use this tissue paper to wipe your butt. (Be very careful not to wipe too hard). If you use anything else, the tank won’t work. Your fault.”

Do you really think that kid is getting an “A” for his efforts?

* * *

Full confession: I’m guilty!

I’ve designed RVs with similar systems: gravity toilets, spade valves, probe sensors. Same old same old. The same systems destined to cause grief to someone, someday.

I do it because I’m assigned a budget. Because upholstery sells more RVs than black tanks. Because a customer can “just buy a portable macerator on the aftermarket.” Because smaller RV manufacturers are forced to play lowball with the Big Boys if we want to compete on price.

But a little part of me dies every time.

One of my favorite (and most sobering) editorial pieces on the state of the RV industry was written in 2016 by Greg Gerber, former editor of The RV Daily Report. His series of articles titled The RV Industry Death Spiral is, IMHO, required reading for all RVers. It’s an expose of the ostrich-in-the-sand-mentality amongst most of the RV industry.

My argument against black water tanks is very simple.

Dumping your waste tank should work the very same way as pumping gas into your car.

When I pump gas, I don’t wear an apron and strap on some gloves because I expect to get gasoline on my hands.

My fuel tank has never leaked into my car.

I’ve never had to pick up and shake the fuel line to get gasoline to move down the pipe.

I trust my fuel tank gauge 100% of the time.

It just … works.

* * * 

I mean, can I ask an obvious question?

Why is the RV owner supposed to schlep around a disgusting sewer tube?

Why aren’t RV dump sites equipped with their own sewer tube and macerator pump that lock onto the RV black tank with a liquid-tight fitting? Better yet, why don’t they automatically backflush?

Hey, you heard it here first, folks!

(In complete transparency, I’ve given serious thought to designing such a system and bringing it to the market. If you like the idea, email me, and let’s team up!)

Or another idea …

You know how you pour laundry detergent into a washing machine to clean a load of laundry?

Why aren’t RV toilets designed with a receptacle for a cleaning solution that lasts for, say, 50 flushes?

With every flush, a certain amount of cleaning product gets washed into the tank, like a surfactant to reduce the surface tension of the water, and enzymes to accelerate the breakdown of organic waste.

There are other aftermarket products attempting to bridge the gap. Products like the:

  • Drain Master Waste Master
  • Thetford Sani-Con
  • Camco Swivel Stik
  • Flojet Portable RV Waste Pump

And while I greatly appreciate these products, I get frustrated that the OEMs expect the aftermarket to solve all their shortcomings.

But back to the black tank.

I’m sorry that the proper usage and maintenance of your black tank probably isn’t described in your owner’s manual.

But well, in some small way, I’m here for you.

This site has some pretty good content on messing around with your black tank, including these tips and tricks on eliminating odors, and this guide to maintaining or replacing your tank sensors, or this report from a full-time RVer about how to dump your Blue Boy/Turd Tank/Turd Hearse/Honey Wagon.

(And shout out to all the other RV bloggers and YouTubers who are creating content to help you learn how to use and enjoy your RV.)

That concludes my rant on the waste system.

Some more advice from my end:

  • Fill your waste tank with 5 gallons of water after every dump.
  • Use enzymes to help break down organic waste.
  • Backflush or rinse your black tank often to keep the sludge of the walls!
  • Use Horst miracle probes for more accurate tank level readings.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic bullet for your RV black tank (not yet, anyway).

In the meantime, may I suggest ice cubes?

Ross

RV engineer by day, intrepid blogger by night (and occasionally weekends). This website is all about how RVs work, and sometimes why they don't. Bookmark pages that you find helpful, and join my email list for exclusive monthly awesomeness.