Do This And Never Have a Toilet Clog In Your RV

PublishedApril 19, 2019

What's more disgusting than when your RV toilet won't drain? Um, nothing? Surely at least once you have watched in horror as an at-home toilet's water surged up and over the bowl. 

The panic that ensues is palpable. Having your toilet in your RV back up can't be much better. It's going to be harder to clear.

This is why RVers are so concerned about poop. We don't want it ON us, and we don't want to have to deal with it any more than we already have to.

Toilet paper roll on top of RV toilet

I don't even want to HAVE to know how to unclog plugged RV toilets. Clogs happen far too often. If you are a member of any RVing Facebook group, I'm sure you've seen a post from someone pleading for help with a clog.

Here's one. This person's RV toilet won't drain. I pulled it from Facebook just today.

Unclog Black Tank Facebook Post
Unclog Black Tank Facebook Post continuation

Some did their best to give their two cents. Others gave (typical) Facebook/forum nonsense advice. So what works and what doesn't? 

It can be frustrating to know, to say the least. Wouldn't the best thing be to prevent this situation in the first place? Then what makes ME a 'professional' at this subject? Absolutely nothing.

Dump station accident

Here, my hose was leaking near the RV connection point

This is my personal camper toilet experience mixed with logic. I have never had a clog. Of course, I am still scared to death of having one. I've had sewer hose leaks though. Ugh.

I am simply sharing with you what I do to never have a clog.  And so far, it has worked like a charm. I have ZERO doubt that it will work well for you, too!

The #1 Secret To No Black Tank Clogs

Here's my secret to never having any clogs. It's really simple:

Get a composting toilet!

Heh. Me so funny. Instead, and for real:

DO NOT FLUSH YOUR TOILET PAPER

You think not?

Well, simply re-read the person who posted it to Facebook above. What clogged the tank? No poo, just TOILET PAPER, and urine. (Things that make you go hmmmm.)

What if they had put zero TP in the tank? No clog. GUARANTEED.

Doesn't that sound nice? Well, it's doo-doo-able. (Couldn't help it)

At the very least, there is NOTHING negative that can come from this method. Remember this.

Used TP In The Trash? Eew, Gross!

So, this solution- some people are against it because they think it's too 'gross'. Trust me, it's not.

Let's have a look at my bathroom garbage can where my TP goes. Even a close-up of it (god forbid!):

Waste basket full of used toilet paper

GASP! Horrid! Disgusting!??

Trash can full of used toilet paper

OH MY GOSH! LOOK AT ALL THE... boring white toilet paper.

Yes, yes, you may be wondering, 'do you go #2 in your rig?' Of course I go #2! You don't see it in the can because I don't point the brown stuff up!

Naturally, it gets placed 'brown side down'. Stinky? Nope.

You may temporarily smell what you drop into the RV toilet, which may happen either way. You won't have a lingering smell from the small amount on the toilet paper in the trash.

You don't wipe giant globs of poo (so gross, sorry) off of your hiney, do you? Or wait, do you?

Errrrm lets not get into that. Let's talk about the benefits before you start arguing the many other ways of avoiding having your RV toilet clogged.

Four 'TP Free' Black Tank Benefits

There are four immediate awesome benefits to this method.

  1. Saves tank space. If you boondock, you can stay longer in between dumps.
  2. You can use any brand of toilet paper that you desire.
  3. You can use as much TP as you like.
  4. No RV toilet paper clogs.
  5. BONUS: If you have children (who behave), no worries they will put too much down the RV toilet.

Need I say more? I'd say 'no'... you can stop here and happily put this camper toilet method to immediate use.

But you may not share my opinion. (Which is fine.) Before you boo-hoo my method, let's look at why the other methods can fail.

Roll of toilet paper on patio mat

Typical Black Tank Clog Prevention Methods

Here are some 'popular' methods you hear to avoid clogs. There's plenty that I can argue about these. Let's dive right in.

'Use Plenty Of Water'

Ok, this sounds reasonable. But there is a problem.  How much is enough?

Some people recommend putting some water in the bowl before (or after) adding 'solids' to measure how much should go in.

Well, ok.

But how is this regulated? How much is enough, exactly?  Is this generalization enough to always prevent a clog?

Is there a poo/TP squares/water scientific ratio we need to know about and measure?And how much doo doo do YOU do? Also, is using a lot of water practical?

Definitely not if you're a full-time boondocker. It's MOST definitely not practical if you're a man.

Why? Heh.

This is where it gets interesting. (Hey, you asked.)

Dudes... if you fill the bowl full with water and try to settle in, well, your 'boys' are in for a surprise once you sit.

Some of your dangly bits even have issues with a  high water level in a regular toilet!

Penis Rock Arches NP

...you get the picture

If you fill the bowl, your junk will resemble a boat on the ocean. A sinking one?

I'm not sure what happens there. I'm... well, I'm a girl.

Worse, once you males go #2, whatever bits are hanging down there will be soon floating in fecal matter or even sewage. 

Gross. Not ideal.

Also, if you have kids, how do you make sure your children fill the rv toilet with enough water? They also might have fun with the TP.

Oh, you don't think toys like this below are fun? TP is fun as he**! Toilets can be fun to kids. So can toilet paper.

Spiderman toilet paper holder
Toilet Trouble game

One excellent way to keep too much TP from entering is to not put any in at all. So, with this 'add plenty of water' method, you are still at risk of having a clog.

ONE clog is too many clogs for this gal. I'm sticking to no TP down my RV toilet.

Side note: I am ULTRA conservative with my flushes. I do 'both numbers' into my tank.

Never had a problem.

I probably press the flush pedal for one second or less. I use as LITTLE water as possible.

'Add Ice And Drive Around'

This method of cleaning a black tank has been very well debunked by James of The Fit RV. It's not very effective.

He tested the theory using a clear tank in the back of his truck.

He added simulated feces, liquids and TP, added ice, drove around like a lunatic, and recorded the whole thing for proof. Then he shared his results.

Ice cubes closeup

Not gonna work

The result? Basically it's not going to do much at all.  Especially not for a clog.

It might clean a tiny bit of residue from the bottom or the side of your black tank at the top of however much water you put into it.

Definitely not enough to make it worth it. We linked to James' video HERE if you want to watch it.

'Use Chemicals To Break Down The Solids'

Nope. I don't use any tank treatments. It's not a septic tank.

I have no smells and no other issues.

If you have smells, consider an odor neutralizer. (Marshall has used Happy Camper.)

UPDATE- While here in Florida for late spring of 2020, I started getting smells and used Happy Camper. It's better now.

Happy Camper toilet treatment

RV Tank 'Treatments'

  1. Formaldehyde- Methyl alcohol and formaldehyde. Only pickles the organics in the tank. Hides odor, does nothing else.
  2. Chemicals- Supposed to break down solids into sludge. (Does nothing for mold/grease in the grey tank.)  Strong deodorizing to mask odor. Temp sensitive. (Struvites) Chemicals accentuate the struvite growing process, turning solids and TP into rock-solid substance on walls of tank.
  3. Probiotics- Gives health benefits to RV tanks. Eats gases instead of masking. Breaks solids into liquid. Eats grease and mold. Works in any temp. May help break down struvites.
  4. Enzymes/bacteria- More modern treatment. Doesn't help grease/mold in grey tank. Breaks down solids into a sludge. Deodorizes. Doesn't remove odors. Doesn't break down struvites.

I save $$ by not buying this type of stuff.

I don't see the need. (Unless you're in very hot places, vomit)

I don't worry too much about struvites because I don't use my black tank sensors at all. My guess is my travel trailer tank sensors are covered with them.

That's fine. I know about how long I can go until I need to dump.

I also have the added 'benefit' of being able to see right down into my black tank. There's no curve in my toilet pipe. 

(Really- it's very helpful! Also helpful in not clogging the pipe from the toilet to the tank.) Therefore If I NEED to, I can see if my tank is almost full.  

Still, you will figure out how long until you're full with not too much experience and without your sensors.

On another note, some RV tank cleaning professionals even claim that the CHEMICAL based treatments cause struvites to form even faster and turn TP into a rock-hard like substance.

(Struvites grow in EVERY black tank) Awesome.

'Buy Only RV Toilet Paper'

Ok, this can also help prevent clogs. But there's no guarantee.

But what if you don't like the feel of RV brand toilet paper?

You will hear people say they use Scotts, Charmin, X brand in their black tanks.

It pretty much runs the gamut as far as brands people say will work and 'not clog your tank'. (Until that one time that it does.)

Aqua Soft RV toilet paper

But does your butt like it?

Even RV toilet paper that turns into mush can 'mush up' a lot, and add to sludge. (Especially when combined with feces.)

It also still adds to the storage space of the tank, causing you to have to dump sooner than later.

Just My Opinion, Folks

This is MY (Kelly's) opinion, folks. Not necessarily Camp Addict's nor Marshall's opinion. On this subject, we are divided.

Marshall DOES put TP down in his tank. He has used Happy Camper in the past. He's never had a clog, either.

He's not going to use Happy Camper anymore, out of feeling like it's not necessary and to just to see 'what happens'.

I will update here if some crazy event happens. I know that this post will likely cause a slurry of opinions and arguments back my way.

Some will argue that putting 'feces' in landfills causes disease here in the USA, though landfills have drainage controls.

(And nevermind the dog poo and diapers that regularly go into them.

We're not putting chunks of POO in, not like that.)

Red X over wad of toilet paper in RV toilet

Just Say No!

Others will say that they have had perfect maintenance using  'X' treatment, or no treatment and put TP down their RV toilet.

That's great! I simply find that my method saves tank space and I have zero worry about clogs. Do whatever works for you!

I just think that this is such a no-brainer, and it has worked so well for me that I wanted to share.

Be warned, there are still a couple of other things that can cause your tank to clog. Let's review.

Other RV Toilet Clog Causes

These are all avoidable for the most part.

Let's learn what can cause an RV toilet clog that has nothing to do with toilet paper.

Leaving Your Black Tank Valve Open

Unless you're new to RVing, you have heard this a million times.

If you are connected to a sewer dump and you leave your black tank valve open 24/7, the liquids will escape while the solids pile up.

This forms a 'pyramid' of poo (yum!) and will eventually cause your toilet to not drain.   Don't do this! It's also best to wait until your tank is close to full to dump.

This way it all goes out in a rush, taking most of the tank contents with it.

Next...

A Leak in or Around Your RV Black Tank

If you have a leak in your system, the same thing can happen as above.

The liquids will escape, leaving the solids with nothing to help flush them out.

holding tank drain valve

Check around these parts regularly

Hopefully, you will smell it before ALL the liquids drain out. Check regularly for drips under your RV. NOTHING should be dripping, nor stinking, coming from your RV.

You may have water dripping from your hot water heater' pressure relief valve while it's running. That's about it. Grossssssss.

Conclusion

It's simple. Don't put TP down your RV toilet.

Then you can use your favorite brand! Use as much as you want! No tank treatments necessary. Listen, I haven't used any tank treatments in over five years (Until May of 2020 for Florida heat).

Zero smell, zero clogs, and I put VERY LITTLE water down my toilet! (Remember, I am a full-time boondocker.)

Keep your black tank valve closed when hooked up in a campground. Watch for leaks.

Do these things and you should be golden! (Especially if you have a curve in the pipe leading from your toilet to your black tank.)

And hey, if you can't convince your partner to put TP in the trash, let them know THEY will be the one doing the 'unclogging', since they wanted to put TP down the tank.

See if that angle works, heh.

Ok, Camp On clog-free you guys!

Camp Addict Kelly

Kelly Beasley is co-founder of Camp Addict and loves sharing her enthusiasm for the RVing lifestyle. As a full-time RVer since May 2015, Kelly's playful writing style helps make learning about the sometimes dull subject of RV products a bit more interesting.

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  • Been living in an RV park 6 years. Have had Sewer drain changed to PVC drain with see through connection. Open and closed tank valves. Guage also never accurate and both tanks reads full. Not sure if tanks still closed . Been smelling sewage lately. Don’t put paper in toilet. Heard black tank can go up sewer pipe to roof. Or maybe I have tank leak but not sure haven’t done full inspection. But have noticed see through drain dry. Fearing when I test valve to see maybe it is closed that it will get end up in all pipes to shower and sinks. Also still need to snake incase of plug.i feel it’s not draining and tanks are full. What steps should I do to avoid mess inside and try to see if sewage drain working?

    • Hi CB,

      Sounds like you have a nasty problem to tackle. Unfortunately, without knowing all of the variables and without seeing your rig, we cannot advise. We would suggest you have the RV looked at by a technician familiar with black tanks.

      We would love if you could let everyone here know what was found in the end. It may help another reader someday.
      Sorry we can’t be of direct help with this touchy situation.

      Good luck with the fix!!

      • Is is possible your knife/dump valve handle broke off internally? If so, pretty easy fix but also going to be messy. Getting a macerating pump feed line down the toilet on the inside while adding water might help clean thing up a little also. I also find continually filling and dumping the gray tends to create a little suction and help drain the black. That reminds me – my black tank handle is getting stiff – time for a little white lithium….

  • I’ve lived in my RV full time in one place for about 10 years. When I first got here, I flushed the paper and let the tank fill until full and twice I had to replace the valve that opens and shuts the black tank in 3 years, so the last 7, I’ve left the valve open and a PVC sewer pipe put in.

    I know it’s not what they tell you to do, but like you…we use NO PAPER in the system and since we aren’t boondocking, there’s plenty of water to go down. We simply add a big bucket of water through the open bowl for each time there’s a #2. There’s no smell, no chemicals and for 7 years I’ve been able to keep from any clog, and with the valve open, I haven’t had to replace that.

    Personally, I think it’s the fact that no toilet paper goes in there. And I like the fact that there’s usually not much of anything in there because a big bucket of water pretty much is going to float off most of the junk. Well, it has for 7 years now. There is no pyramid underneath anyway. 🙂

    • I totally agree with you that it’s due to the no toilet paper policy!!! Good on you- keep it up. I’m still TP tank-free. No worries here!

      I’ve NEVER had a clog. And it’s nice I can see straight down into my tank. Therefore I can see if it actually emptied or not. It’s always fine. Shiny tank bottom! No TP in sight!

    • Hi Mamaji,

      LOL! Well good! I’m very happy it made you laugh! We need that as much as we can get in this post-Covid world.

      Happy trails!

  • We have never yet used toilet chemicals in our rv toilet. I was doing research about this topic when I stumbled onto this post. We’ve used our rig off and on for two years, never putting tp in the toilet, and never using chemicals either. I hate the deodorizer scent of those chemicals and since we have never noticed any unpleasant odors, we’ve never thought to use the chemicals. I was trying to figure out why everyone seems to feel they are necessary. I’m not sure that they are. We have a lidded container (made for feminine hygiene product disposal) mounted on the wall in our rv bathroom. We keep it lined with a plastic bag and empty it frequently. All toilet paper goes into the lidded container.

    • Hi Beth,

      It’s funny, the timing of you sending this. I just had bad sewer smell issues in my trailer for the first time. Not sure what happened or why suddenly the smells are permeating into my camper. But it’s SICKENING when it does. Grrrr.

      So I finally broke down and got some Happy Camper. Still had one flush where it stunk for a good hot (nasty) minute. I did leave the vent fan on but I am pretty sure it was pushing air in, not pulling it up and out. So again- weird.

      But glad to hear you don’t flush your tissue. A clog you shall never have! (Unless you accidentally get a poop pyramid!)

      I am still puzzled as to why I have suddenly had odors and why other people do as well. It’s a mystery to me.

      Happy trails to you!

      • I’ve heard a damaged vent stack (usually in cabinet under sink) can cause this…. I believe it’s a one way valve and the diaphragm tears and lets gasses pass into your rig…

    • Hi Sharon,

      Not that we’ve seen!

      However, there’s nothing stopping you from installing one on your existing toilet as long as there’s enough room for the product. Often, there’s a control panel that hangs on the side of the toilet, and it is sometimes bulky.

      Fitting one on my toilet would be tight.

      But I say why bother? I simply reach over to my sink and drip a little water onto my TP when I feel the need. Same result!

      To each their own. : )

  • We don’t use TP in our black tank. Throw trash can everyday and it’s not gross & there’s no smell. In many countries (Mexico & South America) they don’t put TP into the sewer system. TP goes into the trash can next to the toilet.

    • Hi Nadine,

      Same. I throw it in the trash. I just don’t see the use in taking the risk. There are plenty of people who throw paper in their RV toilet without issue. (So far)

      Here’s to hoping your toilet stays clog-free forever!

  • Great idea, we have been doing it for some time, and it works great!

    Just bought a “new to us” camper with the warning lights on, how do you unclog or clean the contacts?

    • Hi Susan,

      Glad to hear you are one of the smart ones! ????

      Oh boy- the indicator lights. They are notorious for never working. Everything you hear about them is true- they JUST aren’t going to be reliable. Even if you don’t use TP in the toilet, struvites will develop on the side walls. It’s just going to happen. So, don’t bother trying to clean them or to rely on them.

      You will figure out in short time how long you can go before you need to dump. You will either see it, or you will hear it, or your toilet will no longer flush. That’s when it’s time to dump, lol!

      Had you started with a brand new RV and tank, you MAY have been able to keep the struvites from developing. But since it’s new to you, if you REALLY want to try, you can have the tank professionally cleaned. Then you will have to take preventative maintenance to make sure they don’t develop again by using Tank Tech RX.

      So much easier to just learn your tank, if you ask me.

      I do believe we have a video or two about struvites on this page.

      Good luck with it all and have fun!

  • We don’t use TP either in toilet. Use a trash can with top and no issues. Some people think oh so gross but we never have odors and you don’t see it. Better safe than sorry.

  • My wife and I just bought a diaper genie for the TP and also to be used as the Bathroom trash can. We are hoping it works I would hate for her to have to deal with a clogged tank on top of all her other duties LOL.

    • Hi Mike-

      That should work. It MIGHT be a little overkill, but then again, when sharing a bathroom… everyone may not follow the ‘rule’ to put ‘brown side down’?? I don’t know. ????

      I live solo, so I am the only one using my toilet, so maybe it’s different. There’s nothing to look at and there’s zero smell from it. If you use a diaper genie, you will DEFINITELY not have any smell or distasteful things to look at. Good luck with it all! You sure won’t have any clogs. Which is the BEST. : )

  • If you have ever spent time in the “country” you will find a tp basket in bathrooms in a lot of folks home. The idea is the same as yours; tp stops up the septic system. I don’t know if it works, but a lot of people thinks so.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I have actually seen this in Mexico. Apparently, their waste systems aren’t all that great! Thanks for the input and Camp On!

      • Yes, Guatamala too. City or country, doesn’t matter, no tp down toilets. After my Mom told me of this vacation experience, I decided I could put my tp in a plastic bag while camping. Rather than a garbage can like you, I have a plastic bag on a hook that I tie the ends so it’s all “enclosed”.

        • Oh yes, my garbage can is lined with a grocery bag for sure!!! No cleanup, no mess. Interesting about other countries, eh? And thank you for using a plastic bag for your TP while camping. Far too often, I find used TP at campsites. It’s so disgusting. Also, these people tend to not dig a cathole. Seriously, people???

          So, thank you for being a decent, thoughtful, clean human being! ????

  • Hi Kelly, we started doing part of this recently (pee!). We too hate wasting water and worrying about the type of TP etc. Sadly, we went this route because we had clogs every once in awhile! May do poo too?!! Thanks for the article!

    • Hey!

      So you changed over to putting TP in the garbage instead of the toilet and you are considering also not poo-ing in the toilet?? Oh my! That would be a change. Where would you ‘put’ it? LOL!

      Thanks for commenting… hope you don’t have any poo clogs! Man, that would be something! ????

  • Very informative Kelly, I have also gone to no toilet paper in the black tank after having my tank valve become clogged making it unable to close. Quite the surprise when pulling off the end cap. I also use only enough water to flush solids, this allows me to go 2-3 weeks without dumping my black tank. One thing I do add to this method is, prior to leaving my campsite and finding a dump station (I primarily boondock), I add hot water and about a 1/4 cup of Dawn dish soap to the mix. I found this and the drive to the dump station breaks down the solids and thus makes me a happy camper in the end. No pun intended 🙂

    • Hey Kirk,

      Yay to the no TP in the toilet method! Like I said in the post, it CAN’T HURT anything at the very least. I have never added dawn or anything else in years. After emptying, I can see to the bottom of my black tank, and I always see a bottom that looks like new. Like you could eat off of it. LOL! Gross.

      Everyone has their methods, I understand this. I hope some people decide to go ‘our’ route and enjoy no clogs ever! Thanks for the comment and we will see you around, fellow boondocker!

      • Hi Susan,
        I would imagine any brand of dish soap would accomplish this, I just happen to use Dawn (blue). Soap is a surfactant which makes water molecules smaller making it easier to enter and break down solids, thus helping too dispatch the yucky stuff. Enjoy your travels

      • Neither one of us has experience with this method. I simply don’t use any of my indicator gauges except for freshwater. Not even sure if my grey tank indicator works or not! It’s worth a try, Kirk commented and seems to like the method.

  • No! No! NO! I flush my tp and never had a clog! You need to test your paper to make sure it dissolves and don’t skimp on the water! I do also use “chemicals” to dissolve solids from Walmart. I use Scott single ply septic safe tp. Been doing this from 1982 even in my port a potty! Not a single problem!

    • Hi Tina,

      Great that you have never had an issue! (Though I can’t imagine a porta potty having a clog issue.) Not flushing TP hurts nothing at all. And Marshall uses Charmin Ultra Soft septic safe TP in his rig (and almost always pees outside) and has never had a problem.

      All I say is it’s all good and fine UNTIL that day comes. I just won’t risk putting it in my tank. My motto is better to be safe than sorry! Thanks for the comment, and Camp On!

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