Sanitizing the freshwater system is an important part of getting your RV ready to camp out. If you’re like us, however, you’re probably more than a little concerned about safety precautions. Will using bleach in my RV’s freshwater system be dangerous? How can I sanitize the system effectively without having to use bleach? After a little poking around, there seem to be a few tips and testimonies from people who share this concern.
You can sanitize your RV's water system without using bleach, by applying one of the following substances -
- Bleach-free cleaning solution
- Baking soda
These are capable of effectively cleaning and disinfecting your water lines, as long as you do it properly and have some patience.
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It’s always important to be aware of the substances you are using to clean any sort of water system. To get us up to speed, let’s go over some of the reasons bleach might be a bad idea, before we go through how to clean the system without it.
The Ins And Outs of Water Sanitation
Water sitting in pipes for a long time while you're traveling long distances can be very dangerous if no sanitary precautions or treatments are performed. Pathogens such as bacteria or waste materials can build up in pipes or reservoirs if they aren’t properly sanitized.
Usually, water is treated with chlorine or bleach before being supplied for human consumption, and diluted bleach is frequently recommended for usage in sanitizing water systems such as those found in RVs.
Bleach is actually fine - in moderation
When used in low concentrations (around 4ppm), bleach can effectively clear pathogens from drinking water without making it unsafe to consume. At these concentrations, the bleach should be tasteless and odorless. This is the concentration guideline that is used for most city water lines.
Even though it may be considered an effective and safe way to disinfect your water or clean your water systems, the effects of chronic consumption are poorly understood, and accidental overconcentration can have disastrous consequences.
Besides that, you may simply be concerned about putting bleach in your drinking water. This is perfectly reasonable, especially since other substances are capable of doing the job.
Other Methods We Can Use to disinfect the RV water system
There are a few less intense options than bleach for cleaning an RV freshwater system. The two most prominent methods for cleaning without bleach are to use either vinegar or baking soda. We can go over these two substances in a moment. First, we’re going to touch on some general rules of sanitizing your system.
Flush your water system and empty it when not in use
First of all, it’s always important to clean and flush your water system or empty it when not in use. Always perform a cleanse before and after any camping trips.
Bacteria need moisture to thrive, so by keeping the tanks and pipes empty and dry, you're making sure it has no "breeding grounds".
Some types of bacteria can actually survive dry conditions by turning into spores. This means you shouldn't assume your system has been sterilized just by being dry. Still, that's infinitely better than having water in your system that will turn into bacteria-infested sludge over time.
Use clean city water where possible
If you have access to city water, this has already been treated with bleach and is safe for human consumption. Plain city water can be used to effectively flush the system and keep it clean for shorter trips or trips where you won’t be running any untested or unsafe water.
Of course, this is assuming you regularly flush and sanitize the system, the longer you allow things like calcium to build up, the harder it will be to take care of the buildup and get your water system nice and clean again.
If you need a deeper clean (which should always be done once in a while anyway), you will probably need a harsher substance. First on your list should be commercial cleaning solutions. They use safe substances and come with clear instructions to help make sure you use the right concentration.
If you prefer a more natural approach, many veteran RV campers and enthusiasts say good things about vinegar and baking soda; so let’s go over each of these to see how they can effectively sanitize a freshwater system.
RV Commercial Water Sanitation Products
There are several excellent products on the market which will help you keep your water system clean and fresh.
The Camco TastePURE Water System Cleaner and Deodorizer is a popular choice among RVers. Free of bleach, this is an effective sanitizer that can get rid of foul odors as well as that plasticky smell and aftertaste you can get in the water tank. This is not something that you add to the water though. Use this product to very effectively wash the system, and then rinse the pipes and tank well before filling it up with fresh water.
If you're looking to add something to the water to keep them clean and well-sanitized, there's really no avoiding bleach. Chlorine is just the best agent we have against bacteria in the water. And hey, when you think about it, it really is a natural substance too. Safe to use in the right concentration.
To stay on the safe side, don't just get regular cleaning bleach. What you need is an RV water freshener like this one by Camco. It does contain bleach, but when you use the right amount - as per the instructions on the bottle - you're good to go.
How to sanitize the RV water system using vinegar
Acetic acid, or vinegar, can an effective alternative to bleach for cleaning and sanitizing freshwater systems. The acid content is high enough to disinfect and clean away excess calcium or lime, while still being relatively safe for human consumption.
There are some concerns, however, with using vinegar in place of bleach. It has a very strong flavor and odor which can persist in the water and hardware if the cleaning is not done properly.
In order to safely and easily sanitize your RV’s freshwater system with vinegar, follow these steps:
- Prepare a solution of about 50/50 white vinegar and clean water. This is what you will use to flush the system.
- Fill the water tank with the solution. Drive around the block or around the campground a little bit to get it mixed around well inside the tank.
- Open all of your taps and showerheads, and start the water pump to run the solution through the system.
- Once you can smell the vinegar coming from the taps, turn off the pump and top off the solution in the tank.
- Let the solution sit within the system for around three hours, or more for a deeper clean.
- Once the solution has sat in the system, begin running clean water through the system until the vinegar smell dissipates.
- If the smell or taste persists after flushing, use a small amount of baking soda in the water and flush once more.
How to sanitize the RV water system using baking soda
Baking soda can also be used for deodorizing and reducing buildup in the water tanks. Although it isn’t very effective on its own for actual sanitization, it can be effective when used in tandem with vinegar. Or you could use it its own to regularly descale and deodorize RV water systems.
Follow these steps when using baking soda to clean your system:
- Prepare a solution of 240 g of baking soda dissolved in 3.8L of water.
- Fill the tank and run the system with your taps and showerheads on in order to get the solution running through the system.
- Letting the solution sit for a while isn’t necessary, but it can help with the effectiveness.
- You can also drive a bit to mix the solution around in the tank and water system.
- When flushing, make sure to use clean water and continue flushing until there is no more baking soda in the water.
Following these steps will ensure that your freshwater system doesn’t have any excess buildup, odd tastes, or odors when you go to drink from it.
Always Be Cautious When It Comes To Sanitation
You can never be too careful when it comes to keeping yourself and your family safe. Regularly and effectively cleaning and sanitizing your water system is the only way you can ensure that your RV’s drinking water is always safe to drink.
Remember, although you may want to use some safer chemicals when sanitizing your water system, bleach is still considered to be the most effective, and perfectly safe when properly diluted and flushed afterward with clean water.
Peroxide is another chemical that can be used in a very similar manner to bleach, but you will need a higher concentration of it. If you are going to use vinegar and baking soda, make sure you do it thoroughly and flush properly with clean water afterward to avoid contamination.
As always, make sure you thoroughly research any substances you put through your water system. There’s no point in spending a bunch of time and effort flushing out your system if you end up using an unsafe concentration or an ineffective cleaning substance.
And if you want to keep it safe - a trusted commercial product like the ones mentioned above is your best bet.
Before you go, be sure to check out these other helpful guides:
RV Water Leak? Here's What To Do
Sunday 12th of September 2021
can i still sanitize my RV if its stationary i have a 6 gallon fresh water tank. so less then a 1/4 cup of bleach correct.
Sunday 13th of June 2021
Sanitizing your RV tank effectively will require a bleach solution. You’ll need to add a ¼ cup of bleach for every 16 gallons of water within your freshwater RV tank. This measurement will equal one ounce of bleach per eight gallons. But please don’t add the bleach right into your freshwater tank. It needs to be diluted first with a gallon of water for each ¼ cup of bleach. The bleach will be a little too potent and render your freshwater tank unusable without it. Experts recommend sanitizing your RV’s water tank at least every six months.
Saturday 15th of August 2020
Or 1 cup of bleach...
Monday 4th of May 2020
So, to use vinegar to sanitize a 78 gallon tank you'd need to use 39 gallons of vinegar?
Wednesday 6th of May 2020
Roger, that's correct — 39 gallons of vinegar mixed with 39 gallons of water.