Buckle up ladies and gents, this is the tale of how my entire septic system went to shit.
*Warning, there will be a lot of shit talk, but no shit pictures. I promise. *
About three months into living the glamorous RV life, I started noticing some issues which eventually led to a giant shitstorm. (Can't pass up on these puns) At this point, we were parked on private land just outside of Austin, TX and loving every bit of it. Grant was still working away from home so it was just me most days.
I'm going on about my business thinking I'm dumping the tanks like I'm supposed to; black tank first and then the grey tank to wash out the septic hoses. Stinky slinkies as Grant and I like to call them.
Except there was some shit brewing that my RV newbie self was unaware of. You see, the black tank shut off valve wasn't closing all the way, so when I was treating the tank in between dumps, the treatment and liquids were leaking out, leaving the solids behind. Thus causing a literal pile of shit to stack up and ferment causing a clog.
How did I figure out there was a problem?
Good question! I started to notice that when I was dumping the black tank, less and less shit came out. At first, I thought it was just because I was doing it more regularly, but I was wrong. Very wrong.
Then the black tank valve was getting harder and harder to open and close. Our theory at this point was that something was caught around the valve making it hard to operate. We still didn't know about the glorious pile of fermenting shit.
At this point, I was stumped and used my lifeline to call Grant. He was due to come home in a few days so he advised me to sit tight and he would fix it when he got home. But me being impatient, I ordered a backflush for the tanks to try to clear out the clog. Because I'm a strong, independent woman who can handle her shit! See what I did there?
Too bad the commode had different plans.
Unbanounced, the fermenting pile of shit had grown to the point of blocking the valve, thus, stopping even liquids to drain this time. Yep, this shitstorm got real. It reached full force on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when there was literally no more room for anything to fit in the tank.
Of course, everything has to go to shit on a Sunday afternoon because it is the most inconvenient time of the week. I called every septic fixing place google had and they either didn't answer, didn't work on RV's, or were booked solid for a week.
So I started looking at forums. Surely someone in the RV community would have gone through this at some point. Nope! Not a common thing.
Operation Fix the Shitstorm 2.0 Commeced
Plan B started and I went to the store. I can only imagine what the sweet girl checking me out was thinking, watching me buy a plunger, drain snakes, draino, dish soap, and liquid RV toilet treatment.
You see, the backflush wasn't doing it fast enough for me. I thought it needed a little help so I made a concoction in the commode with everything I had just purchased, praying to would unclog and let me drain this very full tank. I tried everything; snaking it from the toilet, snaking it from the septic hose entrance (praying it both would and wouldn't work during this one), more backflushing, adding dish soap to the septic entrance, then backflushing some more. Everything! But nothing would budge.
Three days later, Grant comes home and, you guessed it, the black tank was still clogged. Yes, I peed outside for three days! Thank God I lived in the country.
I yelled, "Tag, you're it!" and let Grant do what he could do, and went into town.
What Actually Fixed the Black Tank Clog
After 6+ hours of continuous backflushing, adding dish soap into the backflush, and cussing to convince the clog to come out, the shit mountain FINALLY moved! Grant did it! (insert happy dance) We finally had a toilet again!!!!! Words I never thought I would ever have to say. This was not a fun or easy process but nobody could tell us a better way to fix our shitty issue. It's was a pretty traumatic process, to say the least.
Here's how he then fixed the problem for good.
Grant drained the black tank completely, leaving it open for 24 hours without adding anything else to it. Then he cut an access hole in the underbelly with a razor blade (cut three sides of a square then fold it over with tape so it's easier to put back). No matter how long you let the tanks drain, there will still be some water that will drip, be prepared for this nasty bit of awesome. Then he unbolted and removed the broken valve, replacing it with a new one. Next, he reattached the cut underbelly and "stitched" it with zip ties then covered it with Gorilla tape. The tap doesn't always hold the best, especially if you haul a lot, so the zip ties were extra insurance.
In Conclusion, I'm not sure if this is something we would have known to check since we were new to RVing and still figuring out what to watch for with the tanks. A common issue in RV's is that the tank level indicators go out pretty quickly so you can't always rely on them.
One thing I have noticed is that when the tank is getting more full it will bubble a little when you flush the toilet.
How We Changed Our Black Tank Dumping Process
We still empty the black tanks before the grey tanks but instead of instantly opening the grey tanks to flush the stinky slinkies, we use our black tank flush every time. Not all campers are equipped with them but they do sell toilet wands if yours does not have a tank flush. The wand attaches to a water hose which you take inside with you to put down the toilet and clean the tank. We have never used one but hear it can be a messy job. If we have learned anything it is necessary to get all the nasty off the side of the black tank to avoid the issue we had.
Once we let our black tank flush run for about 15 minutes, we wait for the slinkies to clear before opening the grey tanks.
When we travel, we leave a couple of gallons of water in the black tank (do this by leaving the toilet flusher open for a few minutes). This actually helps clean the tank as well. When driving down the road the water in the tank is sloshing around. We feel this process helps shake things loose and once we get to camp, we empty the cocktail we made on our journey.
Always, always, ALWAYS put some sort of toilet treatment into the tank once you have flushed it. We like the pods but the liquid works just as well.
We sincerely hope you never run into this problem, or that if you do you are able to recognize it before it turns into a shitstorm of this degree and you are out of a toilet for half a week. Please, learn from our very shitty mistake.
As always, I am open to questions, comments, and concerns. I know this post might raise a few more concerns than normal. We can laugh about it now.
This is now our basic setup. We do this anywhere we will be in the spot for longer than 3 days. You can definitely do it prettier if you have a 4-way water splitter. We have two 2-way splitters so that's why it looks like madness.