RV Cleaning Essentials

This post is the second part of a series, RV Essentials. If you are new here and would like to read the first post of the series about RV Kitchen Essentials.

Is cleaning an RV really different then cleaning your house? You might be thinking, can’t I just use my favorite household cleaning products? Maybe, it depends on what you use in your home and what part of your RV you plan to use it on.

Let’s talk about Gray Water, what is greywater and does it matter what I let go down my drains into the Gray Water Tank? To some extent yes. Your greywater will either be left to drain into nearby soil or will be dumped after your black tank when you dump your trailer. If you don’t care about the planet you might think you can let whatever products you want leach into the soil. That is not the only reason to pay attention to the products you use in your fifth-wheel or trailer. These septic safe practices will help your trailer last longer, and your family stay safe. If you do care about future generations and your own safety then lets go ahead and talk about things to consider.

Letting your grey tank leach into nearby soil. If this is you you will want to be using earth and animal safe products. You don’t know if animals will come by and drink some of the water leaching from your grey tank so you want to make sure they aren’t going to get sick. That means non-toxic cleaning products in your sink and going down your drains.

Dumping after your Black tank. What to take into consideration. When you are keeping your grey tank closed to dump with the black tank you need to know septic safe practices. Essentially you are going to be dumping your RV trailers tanks at a dumping station. These stations are sometimes septic tanks and sometimes they are city sewer. If you know for a certainty that your only dumping into city sewer you will want to make sure you avoid putting things down your Black Tank’s drains but wont have to worry as much with your Gray Water Tank. If you aren’t sure whether your dumping into city sewer or septic systems then you should use septic safe practices in all of your drains.

What are septic safe practices? When my husband and I bought our home before we started this adventure we didn’t know very much about septic safe practices. We understood how they work and assumed that using certain chemicals wouldn’t be a good idea, not to flush things that would clog the system, septic safe toilet paper was important, just the basics. Because we had bought a newly constructed house it came with booklets about everything in our house. From the siding, flooring, appliances, HVAC system to the septic tank and leach fields. I enjoy reading so I took the time to go through those booklets. I learned a lot more about septic tanks. If you would like to read it from the horses mouth so to speak click >here<. I’ll summarize the section I feel is most relevant to RVers.

What Shouldn’t go down any drains, some of these are obvious but lets go ahead and mention them anyway:

  • Cooking grease or oil
  • Non-flushable wipes, such as baby wipes or other wet wipes
  • Photographic solutions
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Condoms
  • Dental floss
  • Diapers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cat litter (even flushable)
  • Paper towels
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners

Drain Safety

Your septic system works because it is a collection of living organisms. If you allow toxins to go down your drains they may kill the organisms which will damage a septic system. No matter what drain we are talking about, be it the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilet or shower you’ll want do these things:

  • Avoid chemical drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a drain snake.
  • Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
  • Never pour oil-based paints, solvents, or large volumes of toxic cleaners down the drain. Even latex paint waste should be minimized.
  • Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal. This will significantly reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic tank and ultimately clog its drainfield.

That doesn’t mean you cant use harsher chemicals to clean up in your RV. What it does mean is that you should not let any of those harsher chemicals go down your drains. You can use paper towels or rags to make sure none of the toxic chemicals are getting into your grey tank and then into the septic systems or soil. Feel free to use cleaning supplies that claim to kill mold, mildew, germs and bacteria in your RV with good ventilation only if you wont be allowing them to go down your drains. They are not septic safe.

According to the EPA These Products Should Not be Used:

  • Para-dichlorobenzene: Known carcinogen and drinking water contaminant. Common ingredient in mothballs, urinal cakes and bowl fresheners. (if you need gloves to use it, it doesn’t belong in your tanks)
  • OTHER CHEMICALS TO BEWARE OF INCLUDE heavy metals (such as Zinc), benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylene glycol (anti-freeze), methylene chloride, 1,1,1- trichloroethane (TCA), trichlorethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). Strong acids and bases, such as sulfuric acid or caustic soda, can destroy biological activity and damage tanks and pipes. (toilet bowl and bathroom cleaners may be too harsh, check the ingredients)
  • Formaldehyde: active ingredient in some deodorizers, also called Formalin. Formaldehyde is an EPA-recognized probable carcinogen (i.e., causes cancer). (It’s bad for you and your tanks)

If you have ever looked for an RV tank deodorizer you may have noticed that Formaldehyde is the main ingredient in some products directly marketed to RV owners as a product that will kill bad odors and you may have even used it in the past. Just because it is marketed to RV owners does not make the product RV Safe! >Source< Please check the ingredients in your cleaning products.

What We Can Use

Now that we know what shouldn’t go into black tanks, grey water tanks, septic tanks or dump stations lets talk about what can. I have been fairly careful with cleaning supplies, not allowing even the natural cleaners to go down the drains. Even just recently I was avoiding products with essential oils so I didn’t have to worry about them going in the tanks. As essential oils are an oil I mistakenly assumed that they would coat the pipes and tank causing problems down the road. While they may coat your pipes they shouldn’t cause any damage as they do not harden. When deciding if an oil can go down your drain the key is if the oil can solidify it can clog your pipes! According to A-1 septic and Custom tanks essential oils aren’t just safe they are beneficial for septic systems. Hooray!

Home Made Cleaning Supplies. I do not mix my own cleaning supplies, however I know so many households prefer this option over store bought products. If that’s you, Good job! It’s wonderful that you care about your family’s health and the health of the planet! If you are wanting to know more about which essential oils work best for septic tanks visit this website. When making your own cleaning products with essentials oils keep in mind that certain oils should not be used around children under 5, or people with epilepsy, as they can irritate the airways and cross the blood brain barrier.

The use of alcohols and vinegars should be avoided when making your own cleaning products. While they are excellent at cleaning and heavily recommended by the internet but they can damage the gaskets, hoses and seals in your trailer. If you don’t want to have to replace these things simply skip these ingredients in your homemade cleaning products.

Dishes+All Purpose+Hand soap. If you don’t have time or space to make your own cleaning products that is totally okay. I don’t either. Thankfully big companies have caught onto the need to make environmentally friendly products available to their customers. Not all of these products are created equally and it’s important to make sure that their claim of being environmentally friendly is legitimate. I will post some links down below to environmentally friendly products I enjoy using.

Mrs. Meyers cleaning products are available online, in local stores and chains like Target and Wal-mart. These products are safe for your family, RV and septic systems. The neat thing about Mrs. Meyers cleaning products is they have everything. Hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent all purpose cleaning sprays. I recently tried ordering products from Grove during one of their promotions. I really enjoyed the experience, and was able to try more environmentally friendly cleaning products and bath tissue. If you want to check them out here is a link Grove Collaborative. I love their all-purpose spray, dish soaps, sponges, bamboo scrubbing brushes and paper products. We even purchased a glass foaming hand soap dispenser with a silicone sleeve to protect it from falls.

Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Kitchen Basics Set, Basil
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Kitchen Basics Set, Lemon Verbena
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Kitchen Basics Set, Lavender

Grove has bamboo based toilet paper and paper towels that are completely renewable and biodegradable. While their toilet paper felt a little thin, it was soft and most importantly it broke down amazingly well. Making it super friendly for septic tanks. We’ll talk more on bathroom supplies in the the next post of this series. I thought it was worth a mention here however. I like using paper towels but hate that they are cutting down trees to make them. If you feel the same way some options are Grove’s “Seedling” bamboo paper towels or Seventh Generation’s %100 recycled material paper-towels.

Seventh Generation Paper Towels, 100% Recycled Paper

Mold+Mildew. Unfortunately we struggle with mold in our RV, the downside of living somewhere with warmer temperatures I suppose. Bleach really is the best way to deal with mold and is totally not o.k. to have going down your drains. This is where paper towels come in handy. I use a mold and mildew spray called Zep. It has a very strong smell and will ruin your clothes if you get it on them. Use gloves and make sure the space is well ventilated before you use this stuff. It works amazing to kill mold and in the places I have used it (window seals, and around the bathroom faucet) the mold takes much longer to come back or hasn’t returned at all. Victory!

Zep Mold Stain and Mildew Stain Remover

Deodorizer. We left our cat home alone for the day when our son had a doctors appointment in a nearby city. Unfortunately our cat decided to pee on the wall and floor by the door we use the most. I’m not sure if it was out of spite or if he just felt like his litter box was too full. Either way I had to figure out how to get the smell of cat urine out of our trailer. If you have never tried getting that smell out of somewhere you could not understand the struggle. It is quite near impossible. I started the process with wiping up the fluid, and then spraying the area with the above mentioned Zep to kill germs etc. The smell of course was still very strong. After letting the Zep sit for a decent amount of time there was some mild improvement. Not enough that I could live with it, but it was clean. To get rid of the smell I used an all natural odor eliminating spray called fresh wave. Wow, this stuff is amazing. The instructions call for using only a small amount but I didn’t comply, I figured with cat urine you could never use enough. I sprayed enough that the area had a small puddle, because I used so much of the spray that’s all we could smell for a few hours. To my surprise, after the scent of the Fresh Wave spray faded we were left with clean smelling air. Exactly what the instructions said would happen, to my relief. I am sure my husband was just as ecstatic since I would have insisted he replace part of the wall and floor in the event that I couldn’t remove the smell, I honestly cannot live with the smell of cat urine.

Fresh Wave Odor Eliminator Spray

Toilet cleaners. When cleaning your RV toilet all the above information applies. No harsh chemicals that will kill the organisms in the black tank, nothing that will damage the gaskets and seals. In other words most household toilet bowl cleaners or deodorizers are not going to be safe for your Black Tank. Because I really appreciate things being clean I have been using bleach based cleaning wipes in the toilet bowl. I don’t allow any of the liquid to go down the drain, using toilet paper to soak up whats left over and disposing of it in the trash. While this works I certainly don’t love cleaning this way. So I am looking forward to trying the highly recommended Unique RV Toilet Cleaner + Holding Tank Enhancer. When using this product you get to use a toilet bowl scrubber and flush because you want this stuff in your black tank. Perfect! Just like your post black tank treatment this is supposed to help with the bacteria and organisms in your tank. For a healthy black tank after each dump use a bio-enzymatic drop in, as opposed to a formaldehyde tank treatment. Both the Unique tank treatment and bowl cleaner have excellent reviews on amazon. I plan to order some as soon as we run out of our current toilet supplies. After we have used it for a few dump cycles I’ll write my own review for them, and provide the link here.

Unique RV Toilet Cleaner + Holding Tank Enhancer 
Unique Digest-It Holding Tank Treatment Drop-in Pod

Floor Cleaner, Because of the reduced space when full time RV living I prefer to use a standard swiffer sweeper on our floors. It takes up very little room, and rags can be placed on the end if you unexpectedly run out of the swiffer wipes. When faced with a more intense spill or sticky spot, using dish soap and a sponge has served me well. If you want to use your own homemade cleaning supplies in combination with your swiffer their are microfiber mop pads that can be soaked in your preferred cleaner or like previously mentioned a small rag can be soaked and placed on the swifter head. If you really want to save space you can skip the swiffer and use rags directly on the floor with your favorite cleaning liquid.

Heavy duty swiffer dry pads
Swiffer Sweeper Compatible, Microfiber Mop Pads

Swiffer Sweeper Dry Mop Refills
Swiffer Sweeper Wet Mopping Cloth Multi Surface Refills