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RV Water Procedures

We will cover three very important RV Water Procedures every RVer needs to know. We'll cover sanitizing and winterizing the fresh water system and flushing and cleaning the RV water heater.

Sanitizing the Fresh Water System

The quality of the water in the fresh water tank is vitally important to your health. Algae and other possibly harmful bacteria can grow quite well in your tank if you don’t pay attention to a few precautions. If you are a part time RVer, you should sanitize the fresh water tank before every trip, and full timers should do this at least annually. It is a simple but lengthy process:

Start with a nearly full fresh water tank.

Turn off the external water supply and turn on the water pump.

  •  Turn the water heater off, and let the water cool.
  • Dilute 1/4 cup of household bleach for each 15 gallons of tank capacity in to a gallon of water. Don’t pour straight bleach into your tank.
  • Add the chlorine/water solution to the water tank.
  • One faucet at a time, let the chlorinated water run through them for one or two minutes. You should be able to smell the chlorine
  • Top off the RV fresh water tank and let stand for at least three hours.
  • Drain the system by flushing all the faucets and the shower for several minutes each. Don’t forget the outside shower if your rig is equipped with one.
  • Open the fresh water tank drain valve to speed up emptying the tank and open the hot water tank drain plug and drain until it is empty.
  • Close all valves and faucets and drain plugs.
  • Fill water tank with fresh water.
  • Turn off cold water supply.
  • Open a faucet in the RV to relive pressure.
  • Pull out handle of the Pressure Relief Valve and allow water to flow from the valve until it stops.
  • Release the handle on the valve. It should snap shut.
  • Close the faucet and turn on cold water supply. As the hot water tank fills, the air pocket will be replenished.
  • Flush each faucet for several minutes each repeating until the tank is again empty. Make sure you are using the water pump and not an external water supply.
  • Fill the tank again. The water should now be safe to drink but if the chlorine odor is too strong you can repeat the fresh water flush.

Your RV fresh water system should now be safe for use.

Winterizing the RV Fresh Water System

If you aren’t a full-timer yet, you will probably need to winterize your fresh water system. Winterizing can be a simple process, if you just follow the steps below. There are other ways to do this; I have given you the most common.

If your rig does not have one, an important accessory you can add to your RV is a water heater by-pass. It is a simple device; one or two valves that isolate the tank from the rest of the water system. A water heater tank is normally about 7 gallons. If you do not have one of these, you will have to fill the tank with seven more gallons of expensive RV antifreeze than you need. Installation is a pretty simple do it yourself project, or any RV dealer can install it for you. You will save the cost of the valve in just a few years with the value of the antifreeze you save.

RV antifreeze is safe to use in drinking water systems. Please do not use automotive antifreeze as it is poisonous and can cause serious illness and possibly death.

So let’s get started. Here are the steps for winterization:

  • Drain fresh water tank.
  • Drain hot water heater.
  • Dump and flush both black and gray water holding tanks, leave gray water valve open.
  • Turn off fresh water supply
  • Screw a compressed air adaptor into the fresh water inlet. The adapter is available from Camping World or most RV dealers.
  • Apply compressed air, keeping the pressure less than twenty pounds per square inch.
  • Open each faucet, one valve at a time, allowing the compressed air to force the water out of the line. Don't forget the shower and toilet.
  • Remove the drain plug from the hot water tank and allow the compressed air to blow out the remaining water. Reinstall drain plug.
  • Disconnect the compressed air and the adapter.
  • Close the water heater by-pass valve.
  • Remove the water line that runs between the fresh water pump and the fresh water tank, where it joins the fresh water tank. There is an inexpensive adapter kit to make this easy and it is available from most RV parts dealers.
  • Insert the end of the line into a gallon jug of RV antifreeze. (Again, do NOT use automotive antifreeze.)
  • Start the fresh water pump. It will run for a few moments, sucking antifreeze from the jug. It will stop as pressure in the system builds up.
  • Open each valve of each faucet, one at a time, until the red antifreeze appears; then shut the faucet. Don't forget the shower, toilet, and outside shower.
  • Remove the line from the jug of antifreeze and reattach it to the inlet side of the water pump or close the valve if you have an adapter.
  • Pour a cup or two of antifreeze into each drain including the shower.

You’re done!

Flushing the RV Hot Water Heater

As a result of our traveling to different places around the country in our RV, we encounter water with varying degrees of hardness or mineralization. It is important to flush the hot water heater tank in order to extend the life of the inner tank and to eliminate the buildup of mineral deposits. This should be done two or three times a year, especially at the start of the RVing season. Mineral deposits settle to the bottom of the tank, so simply draining the tank will not usually rinse out these deposits. The smaller particles move up the hot water line and clog the shower head and sink aerators. They must be cleaned individually.

 1. Turn off the switches for gas and if so equipped, electric hot water. Make sure the water inside has cooled.

 2. Turn off the water pump and the city water connection to de-pressurize the system.

 3. Drain the water heater by opening its drain valve (or removing the plug/anode). You can also lift the pressure and temperature relief valve handle to increase the flow. To aid in draining, open all hot water faucets throughout the RV.

4. Now is the time to use a tank flush tool and thoroughly flush out the tank and remove mineral deposits trapped below the drain opening. The Tank Flush Tool is available at Camping World and most RV parts stores

 5. Close all hot water faucets opened earlier and turn on the city water or the water pump (the higher the pressure, the better).

 6. Open the pressure and temperature relief valve and allow water to gush from the drain opening as fresh water rushes in.

 7. Allow this flushing to continue for five to ten minutes. This will remove any stagnant water along with any residual mineral deposits that may remain.

 8. After flushing, turn off the water source, reinstall the drain plug/anode (or close the drain valve) and close the pressure and temperature relief valve by allowing the lever to snap shut.

Note: Inspect the anode rod and replace if more than 50% is missing.

 9. Turn on the water pressure again and open all the hot water faucets inside the coach until water flows freely from all hot faucets.

 10. Now, turn off the water and all but one of the hot faucets, then open the pressure and temperature relief valve again to release any water and to establish a cushion of air on top of the water in the water heater. When water stops dripping from the pressure and temperature relief valve, close it and the last hot faucet inside the RV. The heater is now ready for use and you can turn on the gas or electric switch to heat the water in the tank.


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