As with water
supplies we give little thought at
home to the stuff that goes down the drain! In our motorcaravans
things are rather different since we don't have mains drainage and
therefore need to dispose of motorhome waste quite frequently.
waste tank is often very different to the fresh water tank - often situated right at
the back overhanging the rear axle where the designer’s
intention is that you travel with it empty. Waste tank capacity is
usually less than that of the fresh water tank since some water from the
latter is consumed or even used for toilet flushing. Surprisingly
waste disposal is often the more difficult problem since suitable grey
waste disposal points are regrettably rare! ‘Suitable’ here means
situated so that you can drive a vehicle close to them in any weather
and drop your grey waste under gravity alone. This is also when you
discover that designers using crude ½” plastic taps buried under the
vehicle are doing you no favours at all; they may be easy enough to
demonstrate in the showroom but you try using them in wind and rain on a
muddy Welsh hillside! Our latest ‘van has a large
easily accessible tap opening a 40 mm waste pipe, bliss!
Campsites may provide excellent motorhome waste disposal points where
you just drive onto a concrete hard-standing with built in waste gullies
or rather difficult to access raised and guarded drains designed for
pedestrian access. Informal farm sites may ask you to dump grey
waste "in the hedge" - or at least as close as you can get to it without
getting stuck! European 'aires' usually have good facilities for
motorhomes. In desperation in the UK many of us
resort to dumping our grey waste down town road drains but I must
warn you a) that this is technically illegal even though millions do it
car-washing every weekend and b) that you really must not do this in
rural and roadside locations where surface water often goes into the nearest ditch -
then stream & river, where our waste can cause problems and
like to carry a small waste container to draw off some water
occasionally because they feel it's not always convenient to move the
'van to a drain. Deciding on things like this has more to do with
available storage space and with individual perceptions of convenience
rather than any real necessity! Of course, if your outfit has no waste
tank you'll need some kind of catch-it container anyway. There are rigid
portable waste containers but they take up space - if that is at a
premium then the bag-like, roll-it-up-for-stowage kind is a better bet.
And there is always the humble bucket, it has its place even when you
have a waste tank - for vehicle washing or perhaps for waste in freezing
conditions. Although a little awkward to store, do remember it is a
storage container in itself; it's especially useful for storing hook-up
cables that can be wound into place inside the bucket.
It would be nice, of
course, if one could just plug in to main drains water as at home. That has long been possible on many sites in North America
and such facilities are now starting to appear on
some of the more developed sites in Britain. Best known is the so-called
'Superpitch' system that can include fresh water, drains, electricity,
telephone, tv and even sewers.
with the fresh water issue, ask
yourself 'do I want to use the
motorcaravan in winter?'. If so, then ideally you should buy a ‘van that
has its tanks and plumbing contained within the
heated interior. External tanks and pipe-work runs can be protected against
freezing by insulation, although that alone only delays the onset of ice
formation. Again individual life style comes into play - if you intend
to camp in seriously sub-zero temperatures and will be out on the piste
for hours then you need to fit a thermostatically controlled immersion
heater in the tank(s). There are units which operate on both 12 volts
and mains power. If on the other hand you mostly stay in the warm and
admire the view through your double glazed windows then the heat that
keeps you warm will often keep the water from freezing too.
When the waste tank
might freeze you could leave its drain cock open and let water run
straight through into a bucket and still be able to empty that when the
purpose-made waste receivers would just imprison their frozen contents!
We sometimes experience problems with the exposed waste gate & tap
freezing even when the rest of the motorhome is fairly warm so we're
looking at improving insulation in that area.
If you don’t want to use your motorhome at all in Winter then you must
drain down all water at the end of the season according to the makers
instructions, remembering to include the waste tank. Leaving
drains open helps to keep the tanks fresh but do remember to use some
gauze or mesh to keep out unwanted wildlife; the odd drain smell is
nothing compared to dead rodents!!
caravan waste water systems seldom benefit from the deep water-seal trap
which features in domestic installations so unpleasant odours can
sometimes drift up from the tank. The first defence is to leave the
plugs in all drain fittings. The second safeguard is to try to
prevent the tank contents becoming malodorous. You may find it
helpful sometimes to add some cleaning agent like the new ‘Thetford Tank
Freshener’ to the waste tank while out and about. Just pour some
down the various sinks and drains along with just a little fresh water.
On the road it will mix with your washing-up water and slosh around
nicely doing its thing. When you reach your destination drain the
tank immediately before any sediment can settle out and flush with some
clean water from your taps. This process is particularly useful on
the final run home after a trip to make sure the tank stays in good
order. You can of course add a little extra freshener to stand in
the tank until your next trip too.
Strong household chemicals
are not recommended since you may have to dispose of the tank contents
somewhere where main drainage is not available - on a rural site for
Rubbish: No great problems here, just
bundle it up into small plastic bags as often as you can and dispose of
in rubbish bins. Every site will have some, even small informal
farm sites - though we were once asked to "take our rubbish home with
us" by a very eccentric and very remote farmer who was in dispute with
his council over collection!
A subject that often seems to be ignored despite
its importance! This section is written in a way that we hope is
both frank and informative but polite. We hope you find it useful
even if you are of a delicate disposition!
Motorhome toilets fall into two categories,
chemical toilets and holding tanks. Chemical toilets are the most
common nowadays and in 'cassette' form looking just like an ordinary toilet
often complete with electric flush too. The cassette is the waste
holding portion usually accessed through an outside door. The main
Thetford and these units are sometimes known as "Thetfords"
or "Cassette Toilets". The term "Porta-potti"
is a trade name of Thetford and may be applied to any of their products
but is usually used to refer to the completely portable toilets used in older and in more compact modern
campervans, a trio are illustrated left. They work on exactly the same principle as the cassette but
the toilet, waste tank and flush water tank are all integrated into a
single portable unit. Somewhat confusingly the removable cassette
is often called a holding tank by the makers. These are replaceable when
they get too mucky to continue with - we regularly sell them from our
Cassette toilets and porta-pottis are made of
quality plastic to save weight. The human interface is made to
look much like a conventional domestic toilet except that there is a
shutter in place of a water trap. For use the lower section is
charged with a small amount of a toilet chemical, typically Aqua-Chem
plus about a litre of water, this may last up to four days but many of
us prefer to empty more frequently. Total capacity is typically
15-20 litres. For emptying the bottom section is detachable /
removable and can be carried sealed to a chemical disposal point or 'CDP' or
toilet for emptying. This waste is sometimes known as 'black
waste'. The modern 'green' chemicals are bio-degradable so they
break down in the environment rather than polluting it.
Note that they simply
work as 'pong arresters' so beware of exceeding the four day limit
especially in warm weather! The raw chemical has a strong citrus
type scent that some find pleasant and others dislike.
non-bio chemicals are now banned in many countries and on farm sites,
they shouldn't be deposited in public toilets either.
Most were/are formaldehyde based and there is now evidence that this can be
harmful to humans especially when the fumes are in a confined space.
I predict they will be banned throughout the EU eventually. Flushing is by electric push-button or hand pump and the flush water may
come from a separate tank or from the main water supply. The
latter is more convenient but the former offers an opportunity to put
sweet smelling stuff in the flush water.
Holding tank toilettes may have a similar initial
appearance but the waste products are stored in a larger semi-sealed
tank of substantial capacity. This is similar to those used on
boats and they are sometimes actually marine toilets. A few have
removable tanks but most are fixed and the waste is
disposed of by pumping out. The up side is the relatively
infrequent emptying and the absence of chemicals, while the down side is
the need to handle sewer pipes dispensing raw sewage.
There is a
variant of the cassette that mimics this on a small scale. The
product is branded SOG and seals the cassette itself via a valve
containing activated carbon to absorb smells. A fan pulls air
through this when the toilet is in use to prevent odours entering the
motorhome. All very green but emptying is not always very pleasant!
The new vacuum toilets from Thetford can have a removable holding tank
which bigger than a standard cassette but small enough to lug about -
just - if pump-out facilities aren't available.
In use there are some differences to home toilets.
First there is a debate about whether to open the flap before or after
making a deposit and then there is the inherently less slippery surface
of the plastic compared with porcelain. The flap debate will
continue but a number of solutions to the slip/stick issue have
been found. Some line the bowl with toilet paper, some say a wet
bowl works better so do a pre-flush, while others spray
on a quick application of a silicone based product like WD40 or silicone
furniture polish! Some concerns have been expressed over bunging
up the toilet with too much paper and also about the long term effect of
things like WD40; in the end you'll have to make up your own mind.
My favourite tip is the one that advises keeping a made-up solution of
something like Fenwicks Top & Tail in a squirt bottle (like the ones
used to mist house plants e.g.); after using the toilet simply set the
bottle on squirt rather than spray and use to dislodge 'klingons' as
Cassette emptying is fairly straightforward if a
bit heavy at times. Most campsites, and even farm fields have 'CDP's -
Chemical-toilet Disposal Points. These can be anything from a hole in
the ground to a sophisticated purpose built unit. The best allow you to
stand upright while emptying and provide safe resting places for
the tank and for the cap along with splash guarding and easy water
rinsing. Regular sales of 'spare' caps are made to those who've lost one
down a CDP! Wild campers make extensive use of public toilets and
may carry multiple cassettes, we carry a spare ourselves in an outside-only
locker. To empty most cassettes you remove the cap, swing out the
spout, lift with the tank still level, then swiftly and deftly rotate
and invert the tank while simultaneously poking the spout well down into
any splash guarding - and at the same time pressing the vacuum release
button on the tank! It is actually not that difficult but
beginners would be well advised to practice at home with a tank of clean
Two important tips for you: Get into the habit of
closing the flap when your 'toilet' is done otherwise you'll finish up with a very smelly
motorhome. Get into the habit of opening the flap with the toilet
lid down, this will avoid 'spitting'. Spitting occurs when there
are pressure changes, due perhaps to change in altitude or temperature
and usually when a little water has collected on the flap; in these
circumstances sudden release of the pressure when the flap is opened can
cause spitting. Chances are you'll only get hit by clean water but
it really isn't the sort of experience you want - you'll only do it
Finally, water points are provided on site
for cassette rinsing - and I shouldn't need to point it out but -
never use these for water tank filling nor ever use the drinking water
taps for toilet rinsing!!
See also our Aires page for foreign
waste disposal info and also some appropriate foreign words.
With thanks to Motorhome Monthly for
permission to use one of their articles as inspiration for this one (www.stoneleisure.com).