Sewer tank panic: Learning lessons the hard way
By Sharee Collier
Throughout our time living in the RV, the subject of many conversations has been the sewer tanks. Learning how to dump them was the first lesson and how to keep them from smelling was the second.
After graduating from what seemed like RV Sewer Tanks 101, we’re now learning how to unclog them, when you treat them badly.
A few years ago, we noticed the sewer tank was filling up. This usually wasn’t that big of a deal, mostly since I personally don’t have to dump the tanks — it’s Antwon’s job, yippee! And it wouldn’t have been a big deal that day, since as usual we were camping in a park with full hook-ups, which meant onsite sewer connections.
So on a typical day, when the tank fills up we — and you know I mean Antwon — just goes outside with his black plastic gloves and dumps the tanks.
That day, of course, life wasn’t so simple. As the lights on the tank monitor turned from green to yellow then quickly to red, I knew by the stunned look on my husband’s face, that there was a problem.
What’s the problem? Hmmm… Could it be that as we arrived for our three-month workamping position in Virginia, my husband had a great idea? An idea so wonderful he actually called it brilliant. An idea that he requested a pat on the back for. An idea he was sure you could only get from a real RVer, someone who knew what they were doing.
Never mind that this particular genius of an idea went against what all the manufacturers recommended and what all the experts advised. This had come from a fellow RVer, a man who also lived in his camper. A man we met for literally two minutes while camping in our beloved north Georgia mountains.
You guessed it folks — He left the tanks open. Not just the grey tank, like I told him everyone else does, but both of them. And now the black tank was full while it was open!
Wheels started moving in his head. A plan was brewing. I could see from the expression on his face and the glazed look of his eyes, he was about to start tinkering and I knew right then, this would be my entertainment for the next hour or two.
So I turned off the TV that the kids left on before heading out to play, and I sat back in my favorite spot at the dinette, so I wouldn’t miss any of the action.
After jolting out the door, I could hear him fumbling around in the storage bins looking for tools, probably his black gloves, and who knows what else. I heard the water turn on and what sounded like a tote being filled. I glanced out the window and saw he was filling two five-gallon water tanks at the spigot and caught a glare from his eye.
I sat back quickly, shut the curtain and started to giggle. I knew this was probably a big deal, but I couldn’t help but to relish in the fact that I had been right and that this was all his fault.
My thoughts were interrupted by his sharp words, “Are you not going to help?”
I shook my head, then put my feet up for added comfort.
Over the next hour, he ran in and out of the camper tugging the heavy water tanks back and forth from bathroom to spigot. Sweat was pouring off his forehead and had now soaked his shirt. He checked the tanks, splashed his face with some water from the sink, then continued with his plan.
I could hear him fiddling with the valve outside, cursing up a storm, while trying not to attract attention form the neighbors. He absolutely hates to be wrong — and having an audience while he fixed his mess would be even worse on his ego!
As I sipped my lemonade, I extended an offer to bring him a glass, but he decided he only wanted to drink water, although from what I could see, it looked as though he was full.
I felt bad for enjoying these stressful moments of sewer panic, and began to think of how I could help. After about 30 minutes of just dirty water coming out the hose I made the decision to hop online. Immediately I googled how to unclog an RV toilet and read through the posts and comments to see if there was anything we could try.
Antwon took a break from dumping water to join me at the table, and together we found an easy hack online. It said that if you dumped boiling hot water down your tank it would break up the “stuff” clogging your tank.
Immediately we began boiling pot after pot of water and dumping them one after the other, down the toilet. After a few hours of letting it ‘marinate’ with loads of tank cleaning chemicals, there was finally a trickle coming through the hose. But, we were far from free and clear.
Exhausted and mentally defeated, we agreed to give it a rest for the day since it was manageable for now.
The next day we did the unthinkable. We decide to move the camper. As all full-timers know, RVers don’t like to pack up and move, and we were not different. So although this was a necessary move, it was rather annoying to have to do it, in hopes it would fix the sewer problem because the solution wasn’t a definite.
We dumped some more chemicals in the tank along with many more pots of boiling hot water, then packed down all the loose items in the trailer and left the bikes and outdoor clutter at the site.
We drove around for a few loops, and then re-parked the camper, hoping all the jiggling from the rough rocky roads would shake up whatever was blocking the lines.
We let it sit overnight, and miraculously when we checked the monitor in the morning, it was down to one-third full.
As we danced around, I couldn’t help to feel really silly for being so excited about the sewer tank. But since it’s a real inconvenience to go to the bathhouse at 3 a.m. when two five year olds have to go potty, I did a few extra dance moves to showcase my enthusiasm.
This was a hard lesson to learn, but thankfully it was a fixable mistake. Sometimes as we travel, we’ll need to learn these hard lessons. Walking in our own shoes and making our own mistakes is sometimes the best way for us to learn — through personal experiences.
Sharee Collier is a full-time RVer who travels the country with her husband, Antwon, and four children. In the past five years, Sharee has developed a voice in the RV travel industry through dozens of published articles, blogs and features in print and online publications. She has had the pleasure of working inside the outdoor hospitality industry.