How to Stop Your RV's Sewer Tank From Smelling

Updated on November 21, 2017
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I am an avid RV enthusiast who has traveled, lived, workcamped and volunteered nationwide for more than 50 years and am still going strong!

One issue that undoubtedly bothers RV owners more than any other is sewer tank smell.

When people purchase a camper, travel trailer or motor home, especially if it is new, there are no odors in it.

This is true even with many older but well-maintained coaches.

The big surprise comes after they go on their first road trip, wake up one morning and smell noxious odors that are so bad that they become nauseated by them.

This is when reality hits, and travelers realize that they something is wrong that must be dealt with immediately!

There is nothing worse than an RV whose toilet tank smells!
There is nothing worse than an RV whose toilet tank smells! | Source

What’s Happening?

At first they may not realize where the smell is coming from, so they open the windows, turn on the fans, spray the coach with a disinfecting product, check their propane tanks and appliances for leaks and even sniff the great outdoors to see if what is happening is the result of something going on outside.

At some point, they finally start looking at the toilet.

At first it seems clean enough, but when they open the flapper, the truth rears its ugly head.

The tank is full!

Emptying the Tank

For many people, simply going outside, connecting the external tank opening to a sewer outlet with a hose and pulling the dump valve may fix the immediate problem.

For most, it won’t.

You not only have to dump the contents of the tank, you need to fill it with fresh water and rinse it a few times. You should also need to rinse the sewer hose when you are finished.

Additionally you also need to backwash the tank.

The above video provides specific directions that show you how to do a proper tank dump. How to Dump, Clean and Protect your RV's Blackwater Tank provides more specific written directions as well.


Many RVs have built in backwash units. These will do the job nicely. Your manufacturers maintenance books will show you what you need to do.

If your travel unit does not have one of these units, you need to buy a wand that is made especially for pressure cleaning RV waste water tanks.

There are several types, but my husband and I use the one made by Valterra because it has a manual shut off. It is inexpensive, easy to store and works great. (You can use the type without the shutoff, but it likely will be messier to do.)

To wash your tank:

  1. attach a green garden hose to your campsites water spigot,
  2. connect the backwash wand up to the hose,
  3. pull the wand and hose through a window and into your bathroom open the flapper of the toilet,
  4. put the wand down the opening,
  5. have someone standing outside turn the water on and
  6. keep moving the wand back and forth around the tank until you think all of the waste has been cleared.

To do a good job, you really should backwash every time you dump. Otherwise, sludge may build up on the interior walls of the tank and cause problems.

Camco 40094 Swivel Stik Holding Tank Rinser with Shutoff Valve
Camco 40094 Swivel Stik Holding Tank Rinser with Shutoff Valve

This backwash wand is easier and less messy to use because it has a manual shutoff valve. Inexpensive and easy to store, it does a great job of getting rid of waste build up in RV sewer tanks.



Regular dumping and backwashing may be enough to get rid of normal odors temporarily, but to keep your coach smelling good, you also need to sanitize.

The best way to do this when you are using the toilet regularly to follow this routine.

When you are doing your normal dumping routine, on one of the fresh water fills add about a cup of bleach to the water and let it sit for no more than ten minutes.

Then continue to fill and dump until the bleach smell is gone.

After you backwash, close the tank and drop in a packet of biodegradable enzyme product and a gallon of fresh water.

This product eats away any remaining waste and deodorizes the tank. This helps to eliminate sludge buildup and clogs.

The product we have found to be most effective is Walex. It is biodegradable, very easy to use and store and is relatively inexpensive.

We used to use a liquid enzyme product, but a bag of packets is much easier to store and much less messy to use.

Eliminating Clogs

A clog in your toilet’s plumbing system will cause an odor that is very difficult to get rid of.

If it is bad enough, you’ll have to have a pro clean it out. This is extremely expensive to do.

For this reason, you need to be vigilant about not clogging your sewer pipes!

Dumping, backwashing, sanitizing and using enzymes all work to keep your coach from smelling, but none of that will do any good if you are not careful about what you put in your toilet.

You cannot use household toilet paper because it will not degrade. As a result, it will clump up and eventually cause a clog.

Instead, use a biodegradable toilet paper. The attached video shows you the how the two types differ. My husband and I use the type manufactured by Thetford because this company is a leader in the manufacture of toilets. They know what will work well, and what won’t, and their product works!

Do not put foreign objects such as sanitary napkins, paper towels or food products into your toilet.

If you have young children, make sure that they don’t throw their toys into it, either.

How to Clear an RV Toilet Clog shows you what to do if you do get a clog. Read it, make a copy and carry it with you when you travel just in case you have this type of problem. Doing so could save you a ton of money.

A sweet smelling RV is a pleasure to use.
A sweet smelling RV is a pleasure to use. | Source

Keep Your RV Smelling Good

Traveling or living in a recreational vehicle that smells from tank odor can be unbearable.

If you follow the guidelines I’ve given you in this article, you will be very unlikely to have this problem, which means you’ll enjoy your road trips more and will be able to enjoy the camper, travel trailer or motor home for which you paid so much money!

Once you learn how to stop your RV’s sewer tank from smelling, you’ll be a much happier camper.

I know, because I’ve been taking care of this problem in my own coaches for more than 50 years!

Do you now feel as though you understand what you need to do to keep your RV tank smelling good?

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© 2017 Sondra Rochelle


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