Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Odor Free Black Tank: Yes, It Is Possible!

If there is one topic that always comes up among RVers, especially NEW RVers, it's how to use and care for their rig's black tank.  It's for good reason that people are almost obsessed with this one feature of most RV's: It can make your life HELL.  It can cause more discomfort, more embarrassment and more frustration than any other part of your RV.  Fear not: like most things "RV" their is an art to it.

Now, if you are squeamish, maybe you should enjoy a different blog post! For the rest of you, read on:

I don't know why dealerships, when delivering a new RV to a starry-eyed, brand new RV Owner, do not take great care to make sure they get a few things understood right from the get-go.  One of those crucial matters is the black tank, simply because there are a lot of WRONG ways to use it.  Most people, unfortunately, try a few wrong ways out and that is why we get to the frustration and exasperation point.  It needn't be so, because a black tank works amazingly well, if a few easy rules are followed.

Now, I would like to make perfectly clear that our method of caring for the black tank is our own, and I don't claim that it is perfect.  It has been perfect for us.  We were lucky because some kind soul many years ago (I cannot remember who) brought us into the light with regard to what reality is with a black tank.  Thank goodness for this person, and I would like to pass this favor on to you. Please do the same for a fellow RVer who has (or soon will have) an RV that smells like... Well, you know.

So, my friend here are the "Rules". If you understand them, your RV life will be odor-free and easy with regard to the bathroom stuff.

1) A black tank is an artificial environment, and "natural" solutions are of no benefit whatsoever.
Yes, there are shelves of "Enzymes" and "Natural" additives for your tank.  They will work great in a home septic system.  In fact, a knowledgeable septic expert will tell you that PUMPING a healthy septic system is one of the worst things you can do to it.  It upsets the balance of bacteria and enzymes and matter that keeps them fed.  In fact, if you want to really get right into the business, did you know that human excrement has enzymes in it already that begin working on it's demise after it leaves the body? Yep. When the environment is right (as in a healthy working septic system) then there is no buildup of solids, and no real odor.  Hard to believe, but true.  Your black tank is NOT a "natural system" so you cannot expect natural means to keep it working.  It is simply a plastic vessel that carries a lot of (hopefully) effluent waste, that is purged often.

2) ALL odor in the black tank comes from aging, rotting material that has adhered to the surfaces of the tank and solidified.
Usually this is due to improper cleaning and maintenance of the tank and/or from leaving the tank valve OPEN during use allowing solids to stick to the surfaces of the tank and solidify.  NEVER leave your valve open! Water is your friend, use plenty when flushing.  If you have strong odors coming up from the black tank, you need to clean and flush it.  Any solids that are in the black tank become liquids fairly quickly if there is enough water.  Common sense tells you that this is a good thing. If you have a stinky black tank and don't believe me about the solids being the source of the odor, then do this simple test: FILL you black tank with water as full as you can without going too far.  You will notice that the odor is nearly gone because the solids that have adhered to the tank surfaces are under water.  The tank itself does not have odor, the stuff stuck on it does.  If you need further convincing: put a few sheets of toilet paper in a jar of water and shake it up.  Pour it out on the ground in a dry spot and let it dry.  What do you have?  A paper mache' sculpture. That's what is in your black tank if you let it dry out, full of bacteria and reeking to high heaven.

3) The "blue" additives, all of them, mask the odor, and DO help with odor, but do nothing to "remove" it. 
It is better to prevent foul odors in the first place.  They do not HURT anything, and are very useful if you already HAVE a smelly tank and are working to get it in shape. Go ahead and put the deodorizers in until you get it clean.  You will then have the odor that has been tempered with the much more acceptable fragrance of tank deodorizer.  Whatever dry surfaces still exposed in your tank that have dried-on matter, will still stink.  Some tank treatments have lubricants and additives that are supposed to be good for your tank, and they ARE a good solution for tank maintenance, but they are expensive.  Additionally, there are a growing number of parks that ban these toxic chemicals altogether.  Unless you NEVER consume fat or oil in your diet, your seals will be lubricated quite naturally and the ten cents worth of laundry soap and bath salts will encourage a slippery environment for the tank walls.  Fats and oils pass through us quite readily, and if you were to visually observe the inside of a septic tank, you would notice a layer of oily fat floating on top. How's that for "too much information"?

4) Your black tank benefits from having plain old detergent and bath salts dumped in it and allowed to become FULL before pulling the valve.
Adding detergent and bath salts (Calgon) will cause the solids adhered to the walls to release thanks to the detergent and soft water (cheap laundry soap works well).  This is the same principle that you use if you have a cooking pan with baked-on grime.  You soak it in soapy water, add baking soda if it's really bad.  If your tank stinks, put about a cup of laundry detergent in it and FILL it with water and allow it to sit for at least a couple of days-even better, drive the RV to agitate the water. Then flush it, repeatedly if needed. Make it a rule to always add detergent and water softener after every dumping of the tank, along with a healthy amount of water.  A wet tank is a happy tank! It keeps the seals working properly and helps prevent sticking valves.  We are not adding water softener right now because we are using a well at the park we are at that has a water softener on it.  Our water is already soft.

That's it!

Water is the most powerful force on earth, allow it to work, and it will.  The solids must never be allowed to spend time in a dry tank, ever. They form a concrete-like substance that is HIGHLY STINKY due to bacterial action. It is the bacteria feeding on the adhered solids that smell.  A little care and attention and you will never have odor in your tank. Add 1/2 a cup of laundry detergent, 1/2 a cup of bath salts and a couple gallons of water after every dump, and you will be pleased with the result. A wet tank is a happy tank!

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