Travel trailers may be a blessing for those who enjoy spending time in the great outdoors but don’t necessarily want to find a well-camouflaged tree when nature calls. In addition to a bed, cooking facilities and plenty of storage, most travel trailers have their own bathrooms. The travel trailer bathroom, along with the toilet, generally is smaller than that found in most homes. Travel trailer toilets also function a bit differently than what is commonly found.

Types of Toilets

Travel trailer toilets are light yet durable. They must withstand all that bouncing while driving down the road. A few of the smallest trailers offer Porta Potties. These toilets have two sections. The waste is collected in the bottom section and must be emptied manually. Larger trailers offer the more typical RV toilet in an enclosed bathroom and offer considerably more privacy. Waste collects in a separate holding tank and is emptied from outside the travel trailer.

Trailer Water Tanks

Travel trailers are fitted with three separate water tanks. The freshwater tank holds the water that is taken onboard for use in the kitchen and bathroom. The gray water tank holds water that drains from the kitchen and bathroom sinks. The black water tank holds the waste from the toilet. The size of these tanks varies with the size of the trailer. As an example, a 24-foot-long trailer may have a fresh water tank that holds 48 gallons, and gray and black water tanks that each holds 32 gallons. A 35-foot-long travel trailer can carry more weight, so it may have a fresh water tank that holds 90 gallons. Gray and black water tanks usually average about 37 gallons each.

Flushing Basics

Rather than a handle on a tank like at home, a travel trailer toilet has a pedal located underneath the bowl. Pressing this pedal with the foot causes fresh water to rush into the toilet and a flap to open at the base of the bowl. The waste is flushed into the black water tank mounted under the trailer. Chemicals similar to those used in portable toilets help break up the waste and eliminate odors. Use single-ply toilet paper because it breaks up easier than thicker two-ply. Release the pedal and the flap closes, keeping whatever odors are present from seeping out into the trailer.

Emptying the Tank

The gray and black water tanks must be emptied every few days. The frequency depends on the number of people using the toilet. Tanks should be emptied before traveling because full tanks increase the weight of the trailer, decreasing gas mileage. Most campgrounds have sanitation stations, or dump stations. Both the gray and black water tanks have valves located under the trailer and a connection point for a hose to reach from the trailer to the opening in the dump station. Hoses usually are 3 to 4 inches wide and 10 to 20 feet long. Once the hose is in place, the valve for the black tank is open and the waste flows down into the dump station. The gray tank valve is opened and that tank drains. Emptying the gray tank last helps to flush remaining matter out of the hose. It is best to wear gloves while dumping the tanks. Disposable surgical gloves work well; they are inexpensive and may be discarded after a single use.

Finishing Up

After both tanks are empty, leave the valves open, then go into the trailer and run fresh water in the toilet; this helps flush out any remaining waste. Go back outside to shut the valves, disconnect, rinse and store the hose. Once back in the trailer, flush the toilet to let some water build up in the black water tank, then add any waste-treatment products to the tank. Modern additives are available in liquid and powdered form and are biodegradable. Make sure the flap is closed and the toilet lid is down, and you are ready to hit the road.