RV water: How fresh is “fresh” water?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Having your RV sitting in the driveway, “ready to roll” on a spur-of-the-moment trip, is one of the gifts of our lifestyle.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 6.37.42 PMGot propane and gas in the tanks? Holding tanks empty? If you keep a few clothes in the rig, some non-perishable food items, and grab whatever else from your house fridge, your RV is up to an “instant getaway.” Ah, but what about the fresh water tank? How long can you safely keep water in it before worrying about “bugs”?

Our “germ free” society seems to be bent on scaring us to death. If you believe the TV commercials, if you don’t wash with “antibacterial soap” you’re sure enough going to drop over dead. It’s no wonder that many RVers (not just new ones) worry about how long it’s safe to keep water on board. Some even think they should drain their water heater between outings.

We checked with Uncle Sam’s water storage safety experts on the subject of storing “home prepared” drinking water, and here’s the thinking of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Much depends on the quality of your water source. If you’re filling up your RV tanks with water from a “known” good source (a municipal water supply, as an example) then stop worrying about the water. Before you fill, make sure your tanks are properly sanitized. Not sure how? Check out our post on this subject.

Using a drinking water-safe hose, fill your tank from your safe water supply. Make sure the tank is securely capped to keep out unwelcome pests and road dust. Now settle back and relax. According to FEMA, “Replace the water every six months,” is all that’s required. What about water in your water heater tank? Remember, when you fire up the heater, a lot of bugs are likely to be cooked to death. And if the water supply you originally filled up with is good, then the same “six month” recommendation applies.

If you’re really worried about water quality, FEMA suggests you purchase commercially produced drinking water, and keep it closed until you need it. It should be good until the “use by” expiration date printed on the bottle.




10 Thoughts to “RV water: How fresh is “fresh” water?”

  1. Robert Pulliam

    We spend the winters in FL and most of Florida has sulfur taste to their water which we find unpleasant, we carry a number of empty gallon jugs with us and fill them at the purified water refill station in the local Walmart or other store where we are staying. It ranges from $.27-.33/gal. Is tasteless and purified and cheaper than bottled water and we are reusing our containers and not adding plastic bottles to the local dump.

  2. George

    Never feeling comfortable drinking water from my fresh water tank, I easily installed a separate water system and pump it out of the 5 gallon plastic jugs to a dedicated drinking faucet in my RV kitchen. While wintering in AZ I can buy 5 gallons of good water for 50 cents. I alternate between two jugs so I always have water at the ready.

  3. Gord

    The reason I empty the water heater tank is not because I’m afraid the water will go ‘bad’, it’s because I want to get a little more mileage out of my sacrificial anode rod.

  4. Wolfe

    Putting on my professional hat again, this article and comments so far nail it. Water in your tank is completely safe after 6 months if it was safe after 6 minutes. Municipal water is treated to last conservatively that long in a tank (and in fact, FEMA says at least *2 years* for home-bottled water in closed containers).

    Generally, assuming your water was safe to start, DO NOT worry about bacterial growth. You’ll use the 40gallons of water in the RV long before 6 months is up or else need to winterize before then — either way, it’s dumped/sterilized before an issue.

  5. Tommy Molnar

    I don’t understand the worry over water in the “fresh water” tank. If you drink the water out of your faucet at home, and you put THAT water into your fresh water tank, I think you’re good to go. Down the road, if you drink the water at campgrounds (state or private), then you should be fine putting it into your fresh water tank. We add the commercially available ‘fresh water chemical’ to our tanks, then for drinking, run it through our Brita filter. So in over 20 years of RV’ing, neither me nor my wife have gotten sick or died . . . .

  6. Bob Godfrey

    What most folks fail to realize is that a large portion of bottled water supplies are from municipal facilities. Excellent marketing has convinced many that bottled water is the only water you can safely drink and that is far from the truth. I had a friend who’s father owned a beer distributership in Texas and he made more money selling bottled water than he did beer. It’s a fad and actually detrimental to the environment since so many plastic bottles are thrown away with water still in them, never to return to the earth until the plastic disintegrates which could be hundreds of years.
    Less worry……..more living!!!!!

    1. William Fouste

      I prefer the “Purified Municipal” bottled water as I dislike the minerals in “Spring Water”. Water for carbonated beverages/bottled water is also filtered with reverse osmosis to remove minerals and chemicals.

      A good restaurant will serve you filtered water from the beverage machine, not from the faucet.

  7. John Tasselmyer

    A teaspoon of bleach in a stored water hose helps keep things fresh. I always store my hose with ends attached.
    If you have dead leg water lines, like an uninstalled washer option, be sure to open and sanitize these lines occasionally. Neglecting this step can cause smelly water from the nearest sink.

  8. Jay French

    Personally, I never drink “Campground” water or water from my fresh water tanks. This is used for showers, toilets & sinks.
    But I have never kept water in the tank for longer than 1 month. Just as I use a portable dump station every 2 or 3 days regardless of total accumulation.

  9. François Rochon

    What is water.. I often say… it’s dinosaur pee !! Water on this planet has been here for millions of years and regularly recycled , Bottled water should be good indefinite time, the “best before” date is just a way that companies make sure you will buy more…
    Yogurt is good at least two months after the date, so is cheese. Canned food as long as the can is in good shape and not rusted, eggs for at least a month after the date and so on !

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