Two simple words - clean water. Simple, but necessary. But after seeing one YouTube video, we almost canceled our whole RV trip over this vital thing!
People are going RVing like never before. After Covid upended traditional vacations, it seems everyone is thinking camping. People who would never in a million years have considered an RV are buying them. Alluring advertisements use clever targeted propaganda to tell us how we “have” to vacation in a Covid world and how worry-free it will be.
Don’t believe those out there trying to sell you a perfect experience. They have a goal, to sell. The truth is (like many things in life), even though it’s great at times, RVing has some pretty awful aspects and those who are selling (either a product, a solution, or the lifestyle) aren’t going to mention them. Some pushing this narrative are making big money and they want to make more – keep that in mind.
While thinking what our next post should be about, I got an email that was filled to the brim with pro-RV propaganda. I hate being sold, even when it’s something I’m keen on. So, I thought it would be good to honestly share a huge health concern of RVing that you don’t hear much about.
In truth, I could write any number of bad things about RVing to add some realism to the pretty pictures of RV life you see online, but I want to pinpoint one thing that almost canceled the whole thing for us.
Water Spigot Sanitation
There is a video on YouTube with a disturbing segment that we almost canceled our whole “RV Trip” after seeing. I won’t link to the video here (don't think I should for several reasons) but instead will describe it as a PSA for cleanliness of campground water spigots. I don't want to throw the creator under the bus, but instead I want to say that “anyone before you could have done this” rather than point to him and say, “this guy did this”. I think that’s a good way to shield him personally from his awful blunder (not going to "cast the first stone"), but still use it as a teaching moment.
The reality about RV Life is that mistakes happen – to everyone. This video’s creator isn’t alone in making a very bad sanitary decision/mistake. If you sat in with fulltime RVers around a campfire sharing their “this one time” stories, you would probably walk away traumatized!
From now on I will generically call him “the other guy”, as this could be anyone who, 20 minutes ago, vacated that lovely campsite you just pulled into unbeknownst of what unspeakable thing just happened there.
The video reviews a cassette toilet (often used in converted Vans, class B Vans, camper vans, vanlife, whatever) from box opening to the horrific end of dumping and cleaning it. If you do watch it and are squeamish about seeing raw sewage, skip forward to 21 minutes and avoid the 19 min through 21 min mark.
“The other guy” reviews what actually looks like a good product, and to his credit, shows exactly what someone could expect when using it. Anyone researching can see in full nasty detail and decide if they could stomach dumping it or not.
The Bad Part
No gloves are worn when dumping or cleaning the poop container. Ew! “The other guy” empties the container of raw sewage into the shared campground bathroom toilet. This action makes a small mess. Toilet paper is then used to clean the mess, but “the other guy’s” final grip on the TP roll is done with a clearly contaminated hand. Thus, without question, he transferred raw sewage residue to the remaining TP roll for the next user.
Next time you see a roll of toilet paper in a public setting – know that the visible part could have been touched by ANYTHING.
The Worst Part
What happens at minute 21 is the part we almost bagged camping forever after seeing. “The other guy” returns to his campsite with the sewage container that was just emptied into the toilet. Now it’s rinsing time for the container that still has traces of sewage in it.
He does this back at his campsite’s fresh water spigot instead of a designated dump station (where he should have done the dumping and the rincing). That’s right, HE CLEANS SEWAGE WHERE YOU GET YOUR DRINKING WATER! Surrounded by grass that spigot stands there, a noble life-giving oasis, about to be thoroughly contaminated by “the other guy” who really REALLY made a bad call on where to clean his poop container.
Lifting his sewage container toward the clean water spigot, he states that he doesn’t want to actually touch the sewage funnel to the spigot (but gets centimeters away). “The other guy” obviously didn’t think in that moment that an open container of sewage should NEVER be anywhere close to a fresh water source - ever.
“The other guy” then turns on the spigot slowly but, as spigots do, water comes out at full force. The force and speed is so powerful that it is all he can do to just keep his grip. Water enters the container and splashes back EVERYWHERE. All over the spigot and all over the grass.
Contaminated! The whole area was contaminated! With Sewage! The spigot, the grass, my eyes for watching it!
Poop water all over a fresh water source – that should give you nightmares about RVing (it still does for me).
“The other guy” then states (I think knowing that his plan didn't go well), “I did what I did”. I want to point out that statement’s connection to the reality that someone might have "did what [they] did" at your campsite. The theoretical “other guy” may, right now, be making a huge mistake at your tomorrow’s campsite. The awful truth is that what’s done is done regardless of if the site’s next occupant knows about it, if it’s been cleaned, reported - or not.
Don’t go RVing!
My mom showed me this video about a month before we hit the road full time. My jaw dropped! Being a selective germaphobe, this was like the worst horror movie ever! I said to my wife, “Tabitha, the whole thing is off! We aren’t going! Let’s put the RV up for sale immediately!”
Timing wise, people often dump their tanks as the last thing they do before leaving a campsite. People leaving are sometimes in a hurry to either vacate the site before checkout time, or get on the road to make it to their next destination before dark. As such – IF, they clean up their mess, don’t expect a thorough job, because they are in a hurry.
This could happen as the last thing before someone leaves a site, then, 20 min later you could show up knowing nothing and with a smile on your face, attach your fresh water hose to the contaminated source.
A few words come to mind. E. Coli, Typhoid, Dysentery, CryptoSporidium, Cholera, Enteric Fever, Diarrhea, oh yeah … and Death!
Do you REALLY want to go RVing now?!?
It’s not just RVers who make bad calls when it comes to freshwater and sewage. It’s also campsite engineers.
Sometimes – maybe I should say plenty of times, the fresh water spigot is WAY too close to the sewer drain hole. This is a disaster waiting to happen – and at no fault to the RVer.
Accidents happen. I am always telling my children to “avoid accidents”. One way for RV Park engineers and planners to “avoid” a sewer/freshwater accident is – novel idea – don’t put them close to each other.
We’ve encountered spigots that are practically at ground level making it nearly impossible to attach a hose. You need a right angle connector. I don’t know why the installers don’t look at what they have done and see the stupidity of it.
Making this worse, we’ve been to parks where the opening to the sewer hole is actually higher than the spigot. Again, Stupid! Even if there is a small hill involved, they should extend the length of the spigot pipe upward to be above the sewer opening.
We’ve seen some where the nozzle is pointed up. When it’s pointed up, it creates the potential (through gravity) for someone’s backflow to contaminate the entire freshwater source for the whole park. Hopefully it would just be clean water – hopefully.
If the spigot is too close to where the RVs park, someone might back into it. We heard of that happening at a crowded park. Someone backed into the water spigot, broke it, it got contaminated and into the park’s whole freshwater system.
We got to a park once and read (before we connected any hoses) that the whole park had recently tested positive for E. Coli in the water and was on boil order. A lot of rain and flooding was to blame for this one – again, another reason why water spigots should always be away from the sewer and not down hill.
We went to the store and bought bottled water to get us through those 3 days. I bring this up to give another example of why you can’t trust a water spigot.
They discovered the E. Coli contamination from of a routine water quality test. What if the timing of that test was the day after we arrived but the contamination had happened two days before? We would have been at risk and no one would have even known to tell us yet.
What should you do to avoid getting sick?
Maybe just stay home. I’m not telling you you shouldn’t go RVing, but I’m also not telling you you should. If you are squeamish, then you need to think long and hard about if you have what it takes to deal with your waste.
If you think you have what it takes to RV and are willing to brave the “other guy” and what he did to the water spigot, then it's time to get serious about cleaning and filtering.
Get disinfecting wipes (or make your own), and wipe that spigot down REALLY well when you arrive at a site. Don't Forget! If you use bleach to clean it, remember that bleach has an expiration date at which point it has reduced itself to basically salt water so you need to understand manufacture dates and discard when it's too old to clean the spigot. After cleaning, turn the water spigot on and let the water flow and flush the pipe for a bit before you connect.
You should also get water filters. We use 3 water filters. An initial in-line Clear2O DirtGuard water filter that we are in the process of reviewing and I’ll do a post on it soon (spoiler alert – it’s great!). A regular, in-line filter that connects to a water hose (I previously reviewed Clear2Os version and it’s great), and finally a Berkey water filter that we run all of our drinking water through.
Berkey’s site says that their filters can filter out E. Coli. So, even if we had unknowingly hooked up to a bad water source, we should have been ok since we only drink what's been through the filter. I strongly recommend a Berkey water filter in addition to any other filter you have. I don’t like to say “must have” about products to go RVing when they are really just “nice to have”, but in writing this up and recalling all our experiences, I’d say a quality water filter (or a combination of 3 of them) is absolutely a “must have”.
Good Luck! Don't have nightmares!
Did this post freak you out? Did you go out and find the YouTube video? Were you planning on jumping on the RV bandwagon but now aren’t so sure? Any other thoughts? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think.- Matt
Some recent posts that are more fun