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How To Get Rid Of Awful Black Tank Smells

How To Get Rid Of Awful Black Tank Smells

Let’s talk about stinky black tanks. They may not be the most fun thing to read about, but they’re something that almost all RVers have trouble with at some point and an issue that simply must be addressed. After all, these kinds of problems left to fester only get worse, and the longer you wait, the more they stink to deal with later on (pun very much intended).

So, what should you do if your RV’s black tank is starting to reek?  Many websites will tell you about how you should’ve avoided the situation in the first place. However, we know you aren’t searching the web to be chastised, you need answers and you need them fast.

Well, after experimenting what does (and doesn’t) work, we’re happy to say that we have answers for you right here in this article. So grab a clothespin, clip it on your nose, and get ready to dig yourself out of one crappy situation.

1. Start with fabric softener

Begin your troubleshooting by simply adding two capfuls of liquid fabric softener to the tank. This is the preferred tank freshener of many RV owners, and if your problem is a lack of tank deodorant, this should do the trick.

That said, if the smell is really terrible, this step will do little to disguise the stench and you’ll need to try some other methods of smell removal.

2. Fill the bowl

You will want to make sure that your toilet bowl is always holding a small amount of water. In many RVs, the toilet bowl does not fill with water automatically after every flush, which means you will have to fill it manually.

black tank smells
Photo: Youtube

By keeping a bit of water in the bowl, you will trap many of the bad smells in the tank, as they won’t be able to make their way through the water and into your camper.

3. Close the valve

In addition to filling the toilet bowl, you will also want to make sure your sewer valve is closed. The reason for this is two-fold: First, keeping it open allows liquid waste to drain while leaving solids behind to dry out, stick, and cause clogs and smells that are virtually impossible to get rid of.

black tank smells
Photo: Youtube

Second, the smell from the sewer actually has the ability to make its way into your camper if the valve is left open. As you can imagine, this is never a good thing because sewers don’t smell like roses, folks.

4. Check the vent

Motorhomes and trailers are built to vent black tank odors through a pipe that leads to the roof of the rig. Unfortunately, if this vent becomes clogged, those smells can’t escape the way they should, and end up making their way into your home.

black tank

This can be remedied by climbing onto the roof and unclogging the vent with a sewer snake or water hose, like this one from Flexzilla.

5. Pull out the water hose

Sometimes the stench in your tank is due to debris that doesn’t drain when dumping. This debris sticks to the sides and bottom of the tank and can be very difficult to remove.

RV black tank
Photo: Top Rated Travelers

One way to get rid of it is with the pressure from a water hose. That said, you will definitely want to use a hose that you don’t care about and use it only for cleaning the tanks from then on.

6. Try ice and soap

Another method of getting rid of leftover stinky debris is through the use of ice. By putting ice, a small amount of water, and a bit of laundry detergent or dish soap into your tank just before you drive from one destination to the next, you may be able to knock some of the debris loose and scrub your tanks clean for your next stop.

black tank smells
Photo: webstaurantstore.com

Just be sure to dump as soon as you arrive at your destination in order to keep the bits from sticking all over again.

7. Dump in some water softener

Water softener is also very effective when it comes to cleaning residue from the black tank. Because it makes everything in the tank slippery, all toilet paper and leftover solids slide out quite easily when it comes time to dump the tank.

water softener
Photo: Amazon

Simply dump in two or three caps full of liquid softener, wait until the tank is full, and dump all of your stinky smells away.

8. Resort to bleach

Occasionally, it happens that no matter what you do, the overwhelming stench of your black tank continues to plague your day-to-day living. When this is the case, bleach is often the best bet.

black tank smells
Photo: Youtube

Although many websites will warn against using bleach, it is okay to use now and then in small amounts of a cup or less. It is extremely effective when it comes to ridding the tank of odors, and because it’s cheap, most RVers don’t mind flushing it down the drain (literally).

This is all the stinky black tank troubleshooting advice we have to offer. If you follow all of these steps and still find you are having problems, the best advice we can offer is seeking out a professional tank cleaning. You may also want to try This Homemade RV Holding Tank Deodorizer Recipe


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1 thought on “How To Get Rid Of Awful Black Tank Smells”

  1. I find it hard to fathom that bleach used in the tanks will harm rubber seals unless you use it with no dilution. If you Google ‘The Geo Method’ you will find the detail of the process in detail, which includes bleach. Let’s just use a 40 gallon waste tank as an example. At capacity using 1 cup of bleach makes a solution of 0.15% bleach. If you add the bleach when the tank is half full the concentration is 0.3% and diminishes with each flush or shower. These concentration levels will not deteriorate even soft rubber. It will however kill bacteria that causes the unwanted odors. Every rig that I’ve owned had Instructions to ‘Sanitize’ the Fresh Water Tank with, you guessed it, bleach in dilution. There is no such thing as good bacteria in your holding tanks. They are holding tanks not septic systems. Using water softeners and laundry soap is sound advice. We travel with a portable water softener, use a combo of Calgon Bath Beads and laundry pods mixed with hot water in a gallon jug and poured down a toilet and a sink drain. One gallon in each every time we dump. Another best practice is to NEVER EVER put your RV into storage with any waste in either tank. Dump before you head for home and use roadside services instead of your rig. Always use chemicals in your black tank. These chemicals help with dissolving solids during the very short period (7 days or less) between black tank dumps.

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