Sanitizing RV Water System

pic of bleach bottle

Most folks either have city water or well water to their homes, and they don't give a second thought to sanitizing their water system. With the chlorine that is added to most city water systems, sanitizing isn't required—since the added chlorine does an adequate job of killing the bacteria and other "yukkies" that might be present in the water.

The same is generally true of RV water systems —but only if you always fill your tank with city water, and if you don't leave your RV stored all Winter without use.

Many travelers enjoy the experience of traveling through Mexico to see some wonderful and interesting sites. But, in most cases, the Mexican water is not healthful to Americans or Canadians who have not built up an immunity to the impurities in the water. Yes, Mexican water is usually OK for showering (or even brushing yor teeth as long as you don't swallow the water).

It is highly advisable, after returning from a trip to Mexico, that you sanitize the entire water system in your RV.

The steps required to sanitize your RV water system are not difficult, but the procedure does take quite a bit of time.

In a nutshell, sanitizing your RV water system involves the following procedure:

But, wait—the procedure is a little more involved than that. Let's take it step by step. But there is one important step to take first:

Turn off Water Heater and allow the water to cool down!

Put Chlorine in RV Water Tank. Chlorine must be diluted before being put in your RV water tank. The suggested mix of chlorine should be about 1/4 cup of chlorine for each 15 gallons of your RV water tank capacity. For a 75 gallon fresh water tank, aproximately 1 1/4 cups of chlorine (e.g., Clorox works just fine) is needed to adequately sanitize the tank.

Caution: Do not pour the chlorine directly from the bottle into your fresh water tank! First, find an old gallon jug or plastic bottle and mix the chlorine with about a gallon of fresh water. (I like to shake the jug just a bit to be sure that the water and chlorine are mixed together.) Then pour the entire bottle of diluted chlorine solution into your fresh water tank. Most RVs have a location on the side of the RV where fresh water can be added without being connected to a hose.

Fill Water Tank With Fresh Water. Now, fill your fresh water tank with fresh water until it is full. The electrical guages give you an idea of the water level in the tank, but I prefer to fill the tank until it starts to overflow. (Then, you know for sure that it is completely full.)

Shut Off Fresh Water Supply and Turn on Water Pump. The next step is to be sure that you turn off the fresh water spigot or hose, so that no water enters the RV from an outside source. Then be sure to turn on your RV water pump (since you will be using it for almost all of the sanitizing procedure).

At this point, you should have a full fresh water tank that has a properly diluted amount of chlorine in it, the fresh water supply from outside the coach is shut off, and the RV water pump is turned on. So far, so good.

Flush Out RV Water Pipes. NOw it is time to start the sanitization process. One at a time, open either the hot water faucet or the cold water faucet on the kitchen sink and the bathroom lavatory. Let each faucet run until you can smell the chlorine. It won't hurt to let the faucet run longer. Continue with each faucet (both hot and cold), until all the faucets have been opened.

It is not really necessary to worry about the toilet or the shower, but some of the ladies may feel more comfortable if the shower is also fully sanitized.

Let the Chlorine Sit in the Pipes. Once all the RV piping has been filled with the chlorine solution, let the chlorine sit in the pipes for at least six hours (12 hours is better). Some folks find it easiest to start the process in the evening and let the pipes "soak" over night. For those of you always in a hurry, a three-hour soak period can be adequate, but the longer period gives most folks a better sense of comfort.

Since you will end up having to drain the fresh water tank, I usually just turn on all the faucets, one at a time, letting the water pump empty the fresh water tank of the remaning chlorine solution.

Drain the Water Heater. Now for the more difficult part of the process. Your RV water heater needs to be drained of the chlorine solution. On some RV water heaters there is a separate drain valve; on other RV water heaters you need to unscrew a large nut-like bolt that is also the anode rod for inhibiting corrosion. Open the drain valve or remove the anode rod and let the water heater drain completely.

If you have the type of water heater that has an anode rod, now is also the time to be sure that all of the loose particles of gunk are flushed out of your water heater. (You can buy a small copper wand used for just this purpose from your favorite camping supply store.)

When the water heat has been fully drained, don't forget to close the drain valve or re-insert the anode rod and tighten it.

Once the fresh water tank is empty, and the water heater has been drained, refill the water tank with fresh water and let the water heater also be refilled from an outside fresh water source, (again, a city water source is better). Then, remember to once again turn off the outside water source. When refilling the water heater, I briefly open the pressure-relief valve near the top of the water heater to let any air escape as the tank is refilled.

Flush Out All RV Pipes and Water Heater. Once the fresh water tank is again filled with fresh water, it is time to repeat just about the whole process—to flush your water system with fresh water. Be sure to turn off the outside source of fresh water, and be sure that your RV water pump is still turned on.

TUrn on each faucet, one at a time, and let the fresh water rinse out the pipes—until there is no chlorine smell coming out with the water. After all the faucets have been "rinsed" and you can no longer smell any chlorine, I usually continue the procedure until the fresh water tank is again empty. (I usually find that it is more difficult to get the chlorine out of the hot water pipes and water heater, so don't be surprised if it takes longer to get rid of the chlorine smell.)

Once you are satisfied that the chlorine smell is gone, go ahead and turn the outside fresh water source back on. I usually like to always have about 1/4 of a tank of fresh water, so that we can wash our hands or flush the toilet while we are rolling down the road. After the above procedure, we usually fill the fresh water tank to about 1/4 full.

For those of you who tend to forget things (like me), now is a good time to remember to turn your water heater back on. It is no fun trying to wash dishes in cold water.

Finished. After sanitizing your RV water system, as explained above, you should now be at ease knowing that your fresh water system once again is safe as a source of potable water for cooking and drinking. Sure, it is a lot of work, but it sure beats having several sessions of "Montezuma's Revenge."

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