While no one likes to talk about waste, the health of your waste tank (often referred to as the "black tank") is important to keep your Airstream adventures from turning into a foul smelling disaster. Learning how to properly maintain and clean your waste tank will keep it from being the antagonist in your next road trip story. For optimal performance of your Airstream's waste tank, be sure to follow these precautions while camping.
Should I leave the waste tank valve open while camping?
When you are in a park and connected to a sewer outlet, keep the main holding tank dump valve closed, and empty the tank every few days, or whenever it becomes almost full. Only by sending a large volume of liquid, all at once, through the main holding tank will toilet paper and other solids completely wash away. This practice will avoid the accumulation of solids in the main holding tank, which could lead to an unpleasant cleaning job. Should solids accumulate, close the dump valve, fill the tank about half full with water, then tow the trailer for a few miles. The turbulence and surging of the water will usually dissolve the solids into suspension so the tank can be drained.
What can you put down the toilet?
Do not put anything down the toilet except human waste, toilet tissue, and safe-to-use cleaning products. Do not put feminine hygiene products, paper towels, and sanitary or baby wipes down the toilet. For more information, check out this article on Airstream Support.
If you notice that your waste tank has become clogged, consider experimenting with a different type of toilet tissue. Airstream Supply Company offers Thetford's Aqua-Soft toilet tissue, a rapid-dissolving tissue that is 100% biodegradable 2-ply.
How do I maintain the waste tank?
After every camping trip, flush the waste tank with water to prevent build up and odors. After you’ve emptied the tank, locate the exterior black tank flush, unscrew the cap, and hook up a water hose to the inlet. Do not use the same hose you use for your freshwater tank! Many Airstreamers carry a separate hose for use with the waste tank.
When you turn the water on, the waste tank flush sprays the inside of the tank to loosen sediment from the walls of the tank. It's important to use the waste tank flush as often as possible – if the tank flush is not used, it could become clogged by the sediment and will no longer spray water.
Once you’ve thoroughly flushed the tank, prime the tank with 3-5 gallons of clean water to help balance the water/waste ratio to prevent clogs and odor. We also recommend periodically flushing the toilet twice after each use to add more water into the black tank and balance the ratio.
How do I clean my Airstream's waste tank?
There are a lot of opinions on how to clean your tank on the internet, along with a variety of product offerings. The best rule of thumb is to keep the waste tank emptied and flushed regularly to prevent build up.
Airstream Supply Company offers products that are approved for Airstream waste tank use:
- Ensure that your drain valves close completely and never stick with Thetford Drain Valve Lubricant. Versatile for both grey and waste water tank valves, the specially-designed formula prevents sticky valves, loosens stuck valves, and restores operation. This product can be used for normal lubricating procedures or to aid sticky drain valves.
- Aqua-Kem Holding Tank Deodorant is an effective odor control for your Airstream’s sewer system. It works so well cleaning and eliminating odors that it's secured a spot as the #1 selling holding tank deodorant. With superior waste digestion, it cleans tank walls and drain lines keeping your system clog-free. When disposed of properly, this liquid is 100% biodegradable and environmentally safe.
- Thetford’s tissue digester is formulated to dissolve toilet tissue in holding tanks. Safe for all waste treatment systems, it keeps drain lines clean and free-flowing by preventing tissue build-up and clogging.
You can also contact a professional to clean your waste tank. A professional cleaning usually entails a high-pressure, hydro-jet system that removes built-up sediment and clogs without the use of chemicals. Many Airstreamers take advantage of this service annually.
How Do I Stop Black Tank Odors?
If there is a smell coming from your waste tank, there may be a few issues to consider:
- Your waste tank could be clogged. Try dumping and flushing out the blank tank to see if the clog dissipates. Consider using Thetford’s tissue digester to break down the tissue paper clogs. If something has been put into the black tank other than toilet tissue and human waste, you can try removing the toilet to reach the offending object from above the tank, or you can remove the drain valve and flush it out from the bottom. Or, you can hire a professional cleaning company to handle the clog for you. Either way, it will be a messy job.
- Your waste tank could be leaking. If water is seeping out of your tank causing an imbalance in the water to waste ratio, it can cause an odor (and a clog). Check for leaks around the tank and seal them as needed. Once the leak is fixed, add 3-5 gallons of water to the tank.
- A deteriorating toilet bowl seal will allow odors to rise from the waste tank. If the toilet bowl isn’t holding water, that is a sign it needs replaced. You can also check for water leaking around the base of the toilet. Replace the seal and the odor should go away.
- In most cases, a vent runs from the black tank to the roof of your Airstream travel trailer. Ensure the vent cap is not blocked.
- Heavy buildup inside the waste tank can also cause odors. Dump and flush your black tank thoroughly. If the odor persists, a deeper clean of the tank is needed.