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Campground Sanitation Tips: Be Careful and Stay Healthy

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My campsite at the Moose campground in Lynchburg, Virginia.

My campsite at the Moose campground in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Campgrounds Are Crowded in Peak Season

Peak season is that time of the year when everyone that owns an RV is using it for their eagerly anticipated vacation. You made your plans, you reserved your campsite at a campground near the attractions and entertainments that you and your family love, and you’re counting the days until you leave on your great family adventure.

Oh sure, because of the time of the year, you probably had trouble finding a campground near where you wanted to vacation that had an open campsite you could afford and reserve.

During the summer, when kids are off from school and the weather is at its best, you accept the fact that the campground and its facilities will be heavily used, and you probably know that the amenities at the campground are going to be very crowded while you are there.

Come on, remember last year? Remember when the swimming pool was so loaded with people after lunchtime that you were afraid for your own kid’s safety? Remember when your children complained that there was a long line at the campground’s miniature golf course? And remember when there was a line at the bathhouse every morning when you wanted to take a shower or even use the toilets?

These are all becoming commonplace situations in campgrounds cross the USA, as more and more families turn to camping as a reasonable alternative to staying in motels and condominiums.

Cleanliness and Campground Reputations

As a longtime camper, I can attest to the fact that the management of every campground I have used over the past several decades works very hard to keep their restrooms, bath houses, and facilities in general in good condition.

They all have staff assigned to regularly monitor and clean these important services for their customers.

They know that a camper might grumble about a pothole in a street or a campsite that hasn’t had the grass trimmed properly, but if they walk in and find a stopped up or overflowing toilet, they will remember that one incident for years.

And, if the swimming pool shows signs of not being cleaned properly?

Well, you will probably not see those campers come back any time soon. And, campgrounds do normally keep their facilities in good condition, if they want to survive as a business and have returning visitors.

Kids, Teens and Basic Sanitation

From my perspective, as a knowledgeable and regular camper, I see how well many of the campgrounds are maintained, both in their peak season and in their off-season.

Probably the most obvious difference you will see at different times of the year is the number of kids, pre-teens, and teens camping with their parents, of course. Now, understand that I am not some Scrooge-like character who incessantly complains about kids.

My wife and I raised our kids as campers when they were young, so I remember that certain things are simply not concerns for many of these young people when they are wandering around a campground looking for fun.

And I think I can safely say that sanitation is not the number-one thing on their minds when they are having fun, neither using the different forms of entertainment available to them nor especially using the bathhouse and sanitation facilities.

And, honestly, I often see the occasional adult camper forgetting certain sanitation basics when they are using the campground facilities.

These are the campers (usually, for some reason, the men) who only get to “camp out” once or twice a year, often, only on their annual vacations. And they forget just how many people are using these same sanitation facilities.

Sanitation Rules: Bathhouse in General

I must mention here that there are certain procedures every camper needs to understand and follow when they are in a campground.

Regardless of whether it’s during peak season or the off-season, below are some of these simple yet often forgotten rules for every camper using a public bath house.

One of the basic rules we all know is that we should wear a pair of flip-flops when we take a shower in a public bath house.

Using flip-flops is your first level of defense from contracting so many diseases and bacterial infections when you walk into a public shower or even a public toilet. I believe we have all been trained to do this.

Well, if you think back to your last camping vacation, you will probably remember that there were so many people using the showers, toilets, and sinks that you were often walking through standing water on the floor almost everywhere.

Just remember, any person, whether healthy or ill, may have just used the shower without flip-flops and then walked across to a sink to brush their teeth or whatever other personal hygiene actions many of us perform each morning, and then walk outside and back to their camper.

The question you have to ask yourself, as you are standing in this wall-to-wall water, is: did they have on flip-flops themselves?

Or even worse, were they barefoot, and did they have foot infections?

Toilets and Basic Sanitation

Then of course, there are the toilets.

Everyone should wear their “bath house” flip-flops whenever they go to the toilets at a campground.

Of course, if you remember, the floors in the toilets in many campgrounds are often wet, and you need to wonder if they are wet because maybe someone from the pool needed to go, or if the toilets were recently stopped up and the overflow residue mopped up.

Wearing your bath house flip-flops is at least a basic level of defense against picking up bacteria in an improperly cleaned toilet area.

Over the years, I have had a lot of strange malfunctions happen in the toilet of campgrounds, from being stopped up, to there being no water when you flush.

So, I have my own sanitation procedure when I use a toilet in a campground, or pretty much any public toilet.

  • If, when I walk in, the floor is wet, I assume the worst, that the toilet has overflowed recently, and it has been cleaned up. I move on to another toilet.
  • Second, if the floor is not wet, I look to see that the bowl is empty and the water is clear, so I can guess whether it will probably operate OK. Regardless, I immediately flush the toilet (clean or not), to make sure it operates properly before I use it.
  • Third, I use some of the toilet paper to wipe down the seat, if there are no seat papers available.
  • Then finally, I use the toilet, and I flush it. It seems there are a lot of people who think flushing a toilet is not their job, and leave it as they used it. This is not only unsanitary, but it’s disgusting to look at.

Bath House Sinks and Sanitation

Of course, flip-flops don't defend you from bacteria that might be on or around a contaminated sink. But you can do a few things before you use one of these public sinks for your own defense.

You can run the hot water, wet a bath house paper towel, and use it to wipe down the inside of the sink and the surrounding wet areas on the counter.

Then place a dry paper towel on the counter before you place your personal bag of toiletries onto the counter before you use them.

And keep your toothbrush, your razor, your comb, and other toiletries off of the counters and other potentially dirty surfaces.

Game Rooms and Sanitation

Most of the time, you and your family are as safe in the game rooms of a campground as they are in any other such public business. But, once again, remember that I am talking about the peak season for a campground.

During these times, overall cleanliness throughout the campground facilities can suffer as barefoot children, teens .and adults constantly go from the pool to the bathrooms and to the game rooms in a steady flow of possibly wet and contaminated bodies.

So, when you put your quarters into that electronic driving game, or pick up that pool cue, or grab the handles of that table-top Foosball game, you should think about who may have just finished using it.

Flip-Flop Management

Yes, the most important thing a camping trip planner needs to do is, purchase a cheap and special pair of flip-flops for every member of the family that they use ONLY for their trips to the restrooms and bath houses.

Yes, you may already have a pair of flip-flops for everyone to wear while camping but I recommend that you have yet another pair just for those trips to the bath house.

I say cheap because the smart camper should throw them away after their stay at a campground.

Honestly, you can pick up a pair of flip-flops for around a dollar at places like Wal-Mart, so at this price, you can use them and then toss them.

Why carry a pair of bacteria-laden flip-flops home with you and take the chance on them making someone sick later.

Leave Your Bath House Flip-Flops Outside

And I also recommend that the smart camper line up each family member’s “bath house flip-flops” in front of the camper, to one side or the other, and tell everyone that they are only for use when going to the bathroom or bathhouse.

In fact, I recommend that when you purchase these cheap flip-flops, you pick out ones that are a different color from what everyone normally wears.

It's also a good idea to hose those flip-flops down each day, as just another sanitation step.

Your Campsite and Sanitation

One last thing I need to mention to any camper pulling into a campsite for a stay in their RV who has holding tanks for their sewage: you should be careful about your campsite itself. Here are a few things you should watch out for.

The Sewage Connection on Your RV

If you have an RV, then you have a holding tank for your toilet sewage, and one of the first things you will do is hook up your drain hose between the RV and the sewage connection on your campsite.

This is usually done on the “service side” of your RV itself. On this "service" side of your RV, there is always the potential for a past camper to have had a spill while dumping their tanks.

So you and your family will be using the other side of your camper for your camping fun, eating meals, cooking on the grill, and often, just sitting around in the outdoors.

You should make sure you explain to your family that they should not go to this other side of your camper, and why.

Sewage Dumping

Before you leave on your camping trip, you should have pulled out your dumping hoses and cleaned them up, and checked that the connectors are in good shape. Also, make sure there are not any holes in the hose.

Always dump your black water first and then use your gray water to clean out the hose as much as possible.

And of course, keep that sewage hose in a sealable tote, and not just in a plastic bag or another container that might allow the hose to leak into your camper later.

Even the Picnic Table

Here is a serious warning for you. Don't assume that picnic table on your site is sanitary. The previous campers may have placed anything on it before they left.

In fact, while at a campsite recently, I watched the camper across the road tear down their site to get ready to leave the next day. The man took great pains to wash out his sewage hose, but then he laid it out on the picnic table to dry before he put it away.

I was astounded. Of all places to lay out a sewage hose, no matter how clean, the picnic table is not the right one.

So, never assume anything in a campsite is clean.

Fear Not, Campgrounds Really Are Safe

Of course, now that I’ve scared all of you, especially you parents, with my tips and observations, I need to tell you that what I have written here is a list of the worst-case instances where you might (remember just might) get a foot, eye, or other bodily infection.

So, don’t cancel your campground reservations after reading this.

Rather, go camping, have fun with your family and make new memories with the great times you will have together while camping.

The probability of any of these things happening to you and your family is actually quite low.

But if reading this makes you think about these potential dangers, you are forearmed with some of the things that you can do to reduce the sanitation danger level for your family.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.