How to Use an RV Dumpstation

RV waste tank management can be intimidating. You hear horror stories. People talk. Hollywood hasn’t helped.

Movies like Christmas Vacation and RV with Robin Williams lampoon the process. We get it. We’re not above a bit of dumpstation humor ourselves.

Waste tank management is part and parcel of the RV experience so let’s talk through it. I’ll try to be as straightforward as I can without being too gross. Or dropping too many potty jokes.

How Do You Know If Your Tanks are Full?

It should be obvious right? RVs come with gauges for the black and gray tanks.

Don’t trust the gauges. They suck.

I’m not sure what marvel of engineering it would take to create gauges that actually work, but the stock gauges - even on new RVs - aren’t reliable enough to bother with.

Our system?

  • We know when a gray tank is full when a sink backs up.
  • We know our black tank is getting full when the toilet “burps back” a bit when flushing.
  • We know when the blank tank is full when we can see the “water” level in the neck of the toilet.

Should You Dump?

If you aren’t full and your next destination has full hookups, skip the dumpstation stop and just hit the road.

Some people worry about going down the road with extra water weight (either in their holding tanks or in the fresh water tank). We don’t. I can’t tell the difference in fuel consumption or in how the trailer tows.

Approaching the Dumpstation

Dumpstations come in all sizes, layouts and orientations. If possible I like to check them out on foot before pulling the trailer in.

Usually you can approach them from either direction - but not always. Sometimes you have to go past, through another campground loop, and return going the opposite direction.

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Some dumpstations are tight - take a look at the traffic patterns for clues about how others have used it. You’ll probably see worn down grass, crumbling cement, etc. You aren’t the biggest rig to come through so don’t be afraid to drive slightly off the road if you need to.

The biggest thing to watch for is if the center of the dumpstation has a raised concrete pad (like the one in the photo). Drive deep enough into the dumpstation so you don’t end up dragging the trailer over that raised concrete.

Lining Up

Learn where your trailer’s sewer drain is so you can get lined up using your rearview mirror.

Our trailer’s drain is right in front of the trailer tires so I know to stop when my tires are just about to pass up the dumpstation hole.

Leveling Up

It seems stupid, but you will encounter dumpstations that are sloped away from the hole.

We keep some wood blocks handy in the bed of the truck and I’ll have the boy jump out to put those under the trailer wheels opposite the dumpstation hole. This levels the trailer out (or even tips it towards the hole) for better drainage.

Gloves or No Gloves?

This is point of contention in the Boyink household. When we first started RVing I carried a box of the disposable gloves they sell in the RV supplies everywhere.

They were more hassle than it was worth. They tore. They folded over. They were hard to get off if it was hot out.

I go gloveless and just clean up when done.

Getting Connected

Our sewer hose is stored in our rear bumper. We use one of the Rhinoflex Sewer Hoses and highly recommend it - it’s held up for a couple years where past hoses only lasted a few months.

The only downside is you will need the right-angled end attached to put in the dumpstation hole.

Once connected I look at the sewer hose. If it’s not running downhill towards the dumpstation hole I’ll get out my sewer hose support and put the sewer hose on it so that it does run downhill.

Order of Pulls

Think “dirty to clean”:

  • Pull black first
  • then the kitchen gray tank
  • then the bathroom gray tank

Exception: I try to remember to do quick test pull of the bathroom gray tank.

This is to make sure everything is connected correctly. If your sewer hose comes loose you have a clean gray mess rather than a black stinky mess. Pull the clean gray, let it run long enough to ensure your connections are solid, then close it again and start over with black.

Close each previous pull a moment after opening a new one (rather than leaving all of them open until the end).

The main goal is to chase the black water through your sewer hose with as much gray as possible.

Backflushing

Newer RVs have a “backflushing” system - where you can connect a fresh water hose to a different inlet which connects to sprayers inside the black tank.

I’ll do this at the dumpstation if the tank needs it (I try to backflush every 5-6 dumps) and if the dumpstation has a fresh water hose with a threaded end.

Some of the spring-loaded “towers” at dumpstations don’t have a threaded connection. If they don’t I skip backflushing.

Backflush in between emptying the black and gray tanks. Make sure your black tank pull is open (or you are paying very close attention) or you will reinact one of those movie scenes.

Using the RV dumpstation - this is a job you don't want to walk away from.

Using the RV dumpstation - this is a job you don't want to walk away from.

RV connected to the dumpstation hole - I like the hose supported and going downhill.

RV connected to the dumpstation hole - I like the hose supported and going downhill.

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Cleanup

We don’t check our gauges to know when the trailer is empty. I’ll just listen or pick up the sewer hose to see if water is still running through it.

When it’s done I’ll shut the last gray valve then wait another moment or two before unattaching the sewer hose.

There will always be a few drips from the trailer after you remove the sewer hose - that’s normal. Flush it with fresh water from the spring-loaded tower or other available hose.

Leave the other end of the sewer hose in the dumpstation hole and flush it out as well.

Then stow the sewer hose back - making sure to stand in such a way as it doesn’t splash you as you do.

Washing Up

At this point MsBoyink is at the ready with hand santizer for me. We keep some in the truck glovebox for the occaison.

She will also tell me I should be wearing gloves and I will offer to trade jobs with her which she will decline.

I’ll drive off the leveling blocks (if we used any) and pull out of the dumpstation, again watching to make sure I don’t turn too soon and make the trailer tires drive over the raised concrete center.

Related Lessons

Carry six-foot-long piece of 1/2” PVC

This is the tool of choice for unclogging a backed up RV toilet. It’s the right combination of stiff and flexble.

Trash

Most dumpstations will have a trash bin - get rid of your household trash while dumping the RV.

Only Dump When Full

Opinions vary on this.

Whatever.

Even when we have full hookups I manage the tanks and only empty them when full. I want that good “whoosh” when it drains because I know any junk in the tanks will get carried out with the water.

Leaving drain valves open means water can drain out slowly and leave junk behind to get built up.  Pulling a drain valve isn’t that hard and we all know how to do it.

Recipe for Disaster

So that poop-geyser scene from RV?

Totally doable.

We haven’t done it but know of people who did. Here’s how to turn an RV into a poop-geyser:

  1. Get setup at the dumpstation.
  2. Think you are pulling the black dank drain.
  3. Mistakenly pull a gray tank drain instead.
  4. Connect a fresh water source to the backflush system.
  5. Turn it on to flush out the black tank.
  6. Get distracted, start talking or doing something else.
  7. The black tank will fill up.
  8. The black tank has a vent pipe up to the roof of the RV.
  9. Once the tank is full the “water” has nowhere else to go but up the vent pipe (and probably the toilet).
  10. Voila - an RV poop geyser.

This is funny in a movie. The reality is it could total out your RV.

There are times when you want clean out your black tank by filling it and dumping it a couple of times.

The big lesson is to have a person inside watching the toilet that can tell you when the black tank is full..

Don’t do this alone. Don’t get distracted.

Dumpstations are Social

The great thing about dumpstations is that they - like laundromats - are great social equalizers.

No matter your age, race, or type of RV - everyone uses the dumpstation. We’ve met some great folks and have had great conversations while doing the dirty work.

Just skip the shaking hands part.

What’s Your Process?

Anything you do differently? Let us know in the comments below.

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