By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A new RVer lamented that his family had bought a used rig and had taken it out a couple of times. During those trips they’d used the shower and the sinks–but never the toilet. With notable embarrassment he confessed–they didn’t know how to use the thing. Are you in such a predicament? Well, fear not traveling toilet tribulations, help is on the way.
The typical RV toilet uses gravity, rather than water power, to remove those unwanted bowl contents from sight. Most RV toilets have a pedal near the floor, some have a lever mounted somewhere higher up–usually high up toward the back. In general, pushing the foot pedal down partway–or moving the lever partway–will release water into the bowl. Some RV toilets may have two pedals near the floor, one empties the bowl, the other adds water. All this, provided you have the RV hooked up to a “city water” supply or your water pump is turned on (and a supply of fresh water is in the fresh water tank). Step all the way down, or move the hand lever all the way to the opposite position–a valve in the bottom of the bowl opens and the contents vanish.
The reason most RV toilets work this way is centered on conservation. Gravity pulls the waste into the holding tank, rather than requiring a lot of water to flush it away. Unlike your home toilet, it does present a couple of new issues.
From a practical standpoint, “evacuating” the bowl when a large amount of solid matter is present usually calls for MORE water than may be present when you first enter the bathroom. Some RVers will add water to the bowl before ascending the throne. Makes things a little nicer, a little cleaner, after the flush.
Since a material valve (rather than a constantly present level of water) prevents noxious odors from migrating into the bathroom, problems can arise. RV toilet valves have seals, and sometimes the seals can dry out. Gasses from the holding tank then manifest themselves upstairs in the bathroom, particularly after traveling down the road. Before replacing the seal, here’s a trick: Try lubricating the seal with plumbers silicon grease. Turn off the water supply to the RV, don rubber gloves, have an assistant open the toilet valve completely, and apply a light layer of the grease around the seal at the bottom of the bowl. It may stop the stink, and do wonders at easing marital strife.
Never let your “black water” holding tank go empty. Once you’ve emptied the toilet’s holding tank (and never empty it unless it is three-quarters or more full to prevent clogging), always add a couple of gallons of water. It’s simple, step on the pedal (or slide the valve) and just run water a bit. Keeping water in the holding tank will help solids that might remain in it from getting really solid and forming an effective barrier against emptying tank contents.