RV Toilet Smells When Flushed? Steps to Stop the Stink

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A man is horrified by the stink of his toilet while trying to clean it.

If your RV toilet stinks when flushed, that’s your first sign that you have a poopy problem (literally).

RV toilets function differently than regular toilets. For one, they have a holding tank where your waste sits until you empty it. And, the RV doesn’t have a tank full of water to flush all the contents down. These are just a couple of the things that can make RV toilets recipes for disaster if not properly maintained.

But the good news is we’ve compiled a list of ways to help keep your RV toilet in tip-top shape. Let’s take a look.

Toilet plunger and scrubbing wand held up by a pair of gloved hands.

My RV Toilet Stinks When Flushed — Why?

Your RV toilet requires that you step on a lever to flush the contents down the sewer pipe. Then, the contents travel through a system of pipes into your black tank, where they sit until you empty the tank. That means your waste contents can sit there for days or weeks before you have to dump them. In the meantime, your tank can develop lots of smells.

Let’s talk about some of the main reasons your RV toilet stinks when flushed.

Toilet or Black Tank Is Clogged

An RV toilet may give off the illusion that the contents go straight down the pipe after flushing, similar to a portapotty. But that’s not the case. As such, don’t think you can flush large things down the toilet with no issues. Flushing tampons, flushable wipes, toilet paper, and even poop can lead to clogs.

If you have a clog in your toilet, that means the waste isn’t entirely going down into your black tank and is stuck somewhere in the piping. In that case, each time you flush your toilet, you’ll have sewer gases coming into your bathroom.

If the black tank gets clogged, likely, all of the solid won’t come out when you dump the sewer tank. Then, you’ll still have a clog where the waste will continue to build up. The smells would continue to come into the bathroom even if you emptied the tank.

Keep in Mind: It’s helpful to fully understand how your RV toilet works to correctly diagnose a problem with it.

Toilet or Black Tank Needs Cleaning

Emptying your black tank and its contents isn’t enough to keep the stink away; you also need to clean it out. Consider how much waste gets stuck in the piping and the black tank if it doesn’t get drained fully. Maybe not enough to clog it, but it builds up and still causes smells.

To clean the toilet, use a toilet brush and pay special attention to the flapper and seal. Make sure to get all the waste off the seal. Also, remove anything that obstructs the seal from closing all the way.

There are several ways to clean your black tank, including tank treatments and special cleaning wands made for RVs. We’ll go more into that later on. 

Toilet or Black Tank Is Leaking

If your toilet leaks, you’ll need to do some digging to find the source. Check to see if any parts need tightening. You may need to replace something. Make sure your flapper seal holds water in the tank after you’ve flushed. 

If the smell comes from below your RV, you may need to pull back your underbelly. Look to see if the leak originates from a sewer pipe or from the black tank itself. 

Vent Pipe Is Blocked

Typically, your RV roof has two vent pipes: one for the black and gray tank. The black sewer vent allows gases to escape. As such, if it gets blocked, the smells travel through the toilet and back into your RV. Tree debris and bird nests can often clog the pipe. This is an easy fix but one that you can easily overlook.

RV Toilet Stinks When Flushed? Stop the Stink in 5 Steps!

It can be a daunting task if your RV toilet stinks when flushed, but it doesn’t have to be. Read on for our step-by-step recommendations to get to the bottom of that sewer stink.

Looking into the bowl of an RV toilet,

Step 1: Unclog Your Toilet or Black Tank

If you need to fix a clog in your toilet or black tank, you can use a spray wand made for RVs, like the Camco RV Flexible Swivel Stik. You can use this tool inside the toilet to push water down. You can also use it from inside the tank flush valve to push water up through the tank into the toilet.

Camco RV Flexible Swivel Stik with Shutoff Valve - Creates Powerful Cleaning Action that Dislodges and Flushes Stubborn Waste Deposits and Combats Odors (40074), 55-1/2 Inch
  • Powerful rotary cleaning action dislodges and flushes the stubborn waste deposits and odor-causing particles left after...
  • Solid section including handle measures 24" long; the flexible section measures 34" long with a 2" diameter nozzle

Some RVers use this handy trick: pour a couple of bags of ice down your toilet, add some water, and let it slosh around while you drive. This can break up any clogs. 

Step 2: Fix Any Leaks

Next up, check for any leaks. Inspect all the visible lines and tighten any loose connections on the toilet. Make sure the pull lever to the black tank closes properly.

If your leaks continue, you may need to replace some parts. If you’ve found a leak in the black tank, you’ll need to repair or replace it. It’s best to contact your local RV shop or your manufacturer to determine what they’d recommend.

Step 3: Flush Your Black Tank

Your RV likely has a black tank flushing system. This means you fill the black tank with water from the exterior of your RV to loosen any solids inside the tank. Then, you can properly drain them from the black tank. 

You should flush it until the water runs clear to make sure you got all of the yuck out. Consider adding a clear elbow to your sewer hose so you can visually see when the water turns clear.

Add this step to your weekly maintenance to keep your black tank smells in check.

Keep in Mind: Maintenance lists are important to ensure your RV is a comfortable place to live. Here are 5 annual RV maintenance tasks you can do yourself.

Step 4: Clean the Toilet and Flapper

Use a toilet brush to clean the toilet. Be sure to clean on top, beneath, and around the flapper where waste can build up. After cleaning the flapper seal, treat it to make sure it closes properly. 

You can use vaseline or another product to apply to the seal. Do this periodically, especially when the water doesn’t stay in the toilet after a flush. You can also use the flexible RV spray wand down the toilet to help clean out the piping just below.

Step 5: Clear the Vent Pipe if Blocked

First of all, get up on the RV roof to make sure you have a cover on top of your vent pipe. Inspect for any obstruction inside the pipe, like a bird’s nest or leaves. Remove the block with tongs to clear it out. Then, replace the cap if needed.

If the clog is too far down, use a plumbing snake or a flexible RV wand to dislodge it. You could also try using a water hose to push water down the vent pipe. Use the same one you used to flush your tank — not your freshwater hose. 

In theory, the water should not back up and should move freely into your black tank, dislodging anything that may get stuck in there. Regardless, be sure to proceed with caution while doing this.

How to Prevent My RV Toilet from Stinking When Flushed

From proper maintenance to using appropriate products, there are several things you can do to prevent your RV toilet from stinking when flushed.

Toilet paper hanging on a holder in a small bathroom.

Use RV Toilet Paper

Did you know there is special RV toilet paper you can buy to use in your tank? Not any old toilet paper off the shelf will do. You can find some more affordable RV toilet paper out there, but they typically cost more than regular toilet paper. 

If you don’t want to purchase RV toilet paper because of the price, do some research before buying the regular kind. Using one-ply or septic-safe toilet paper might not seem like a problem. However, regular TP differs widely.

As an alternative to using RV toilet paper, do a toilet paper test. Purchase different toilet paper brands and put a couple of squares of each into separate cups of water. Then, see which one disintegrates the most and go with that option. Your tank (and nose) will thank you later.

Many RVers flush tampons and flushable wipes down the drain. You might not have problems with them in standard drains. However, it is not recommended to put them down your RV toilet. If you use flushable wipes, be sure to use plenty of water when flushing. Stay on top of your toilet maintenance game to prevent any build-up.

Use a Holding Tank Treatment After Dumping

In this video, Jason shows you how we keep our black tank from smelling.

You can rely on your sensors to know when to dump your RV black tank, but sometimes those aren’t accurate. Instead, when your stool starts to bubble up when flushing or you begin to notice a smell, it’s time to dump your black tank. After emptying it, pour a holding tank treatment chemical down your toilet.

A good holding tank treatment does more than mask odors. It works to get rid of them by removing debris and breaking down waste and toilet paper. Do some research to figure out which tank treatment you’d like to use.

Follow the instructions to make sure you use the right amount of water and treatment. And, make sure you close your tank before adding the chemical. You don’t want it to wash down the tank. That’s hard-earned money literally down the drain.

Be careful not to put other chemicals in your toilet that might interact with the tank holding treatment. Only use one tank holding treatment at a time, so you don’t mix chemicals. Additionally, you may need to use a treatment more often in hot weather and even dump more often. After you empty your tank, consider adding extra water to it to help further break down any deposits.

Pro Tip: We’ve done the dirty work for you and found the best RV black tank treatments we think you should use.

Use Enough Water When Flushing the Toilet

Make sure you have water sitting in your toilet before using it. This will help all the contents go down properly, especially if you don’t have great water pressure when flushing. 

Also, ensure you use enough water when flushing. This helps the waste and toilet paper to get properly flushed down into the tank, rather than collecting in the sewer pipe.

We also suggest you leave your black tank closed until you dump it. If you leave it open, you risk the liquids flowing out and the solids accumulating in the bottom of the black tank. This causes the dreaded poo pyramid, and it’s often the result of not having enough liquids in the tank when you go to dump.

Finally, close your gray tank just before you dump your black tank. Then, dump your gray tank after your black tank. This allows the gray water to wash down any leftover residue in your sewer hose. Work smarter, not harder.

Regularly Inspect Your Vent Pipe for Blockage

Make it a point to get on your roof to check out your vent pipe and cover. Check to make sure the lid is on and there it doesn’t have any damage. And, make sure you clear out any debris. If the cap is missing or damaged, purchase a replacement and get on with your camping experience.

Don’t Let Toilet Smells Ruin Your Experience

Poop stinks. We get it. But you don’t have to let it ruin your camping experience. Use these preventive maintenance tips to help you have nothing but pleasant smells in your RV. And if ever your RV toilet stinks when flushed, follow the above list. We’ll help you get back to smelling nothing but fresh air and that campfire smell we all know and love.

What are your tips to help combat the dreaded sewer smell?

Last update on 2021-11-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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