How To Unclog Your RV Toilet: 4 Great Methods To Use

March 5, 2024
How to unclog an RV toilet

Figuring out how to unclog an RV toilet can be surprisingly challenging. For starters, the cause of the clog isn’t always clear. And on top of that, there are a number of different ways you can attack the problem.

In this guide we’ll cover how to unclog a camper toilet and prevent it from happening again. Don’t worry, it’s usually a lot simpler than it seems! 

Common Types Of RV Toilet Clogs

In order to unclog your RV toilet, you first need to determine what type of clog you’re dealing with. Certain kinds require a different approach if you want to successfully deal with the problem.

So before you get to work, consider the options below.

Poo Pyramid/Pyramid Plug

Pyramid plugs in RV toilets (also known as poo pyramids) are caused by an accumulation of solid waste and toilet paper forming a blockage that extends from the black water holding tank to the base of the toilet.

Quick Tip: This is easily the most common reason for a clogged RV toilet, so we recommend ruling this out first.

The flat bottom design of the black water holding tank plays a crucial role in the creation of poo pyramids. When the black tank valve is left open during use, liquid waste drains out, leaving solid waste behind to accumulate at the tank’s base. Over time, this solid waste builds up into a pyramid shape as you continue to use the toilet, resulting in clogs that eventually stop the flow of water and waste through the system.

An illustration of a poo pyramid causing a clog underneath an RV toilet

If you want to avoid the dreaded poo pyramid, it’s important to keep the black tank valve closed when you’re not actively dumping your tank. This allows both solid and liquid waste to mix and slosh around in the tank, making it far easier for the tank to empty properly and prevent waste from accumulating. When we first got started RVing we made this mistake a few times and were lucky it didn’t cost us!

Compacted Black Tank

A compacted black tank is caused by the accumulation of solid waste that hinders your ability to dump.

Poor waste management is one of the most common causes of this. For the most part, this means not using proper black tank products and treatment or flushing the wrong items down the toilet. The other reason is improper pre-storage preparation by failing to empty the tank before storing your RV, causing waste to dry up and solidify into a dense blockage within the tank.

A compacted black tank can be quite challenging to deal with, since the solid waste buildup prevents the tank from emptying efficiently (and eventually clogging your RV toilet). The nice thing is that simply following dumping and black tank best practices should eliminate the possibility of you encountering a compacted black tank. We know that it’s tempting to cut corners from time to time, but this is a headache you absolutely do not want.

The Connection From The Toilet To The Black Tank Is Clogged

A clogged connection from the toilet to the black tank occurs when waste (and usually toilet paper) accumulates in the line between the two, leading to a clogged RV toilet that won’t flush.

This type of blockage is typically more common in RVs where the toilet is situated further away from the holding tank. Because these toilets have extended lines with bends that don’t descend directly into the tank, it’s far easier for them to become clogged. The main culprit behind these clogs is toilet paper, which tends to gather at the bends in the plumbing.

Quick Note: This can happen even if you’re using RV toilet paper. By using too much or not flushing with enough water, this type of accumulation can happen over time.

It can be tricky to tell the difference between this type of blockage and a poo pyramid, since they share similar symptoms. The toilet in your RV likely won’t be able to flush since water isn’t able to move down the line.

How To Unclog Your RV Toilet

Figuring out how to unclog your RV toilet in the most effective way isn’t as hard as it seems. And these days, there are a number of great tools you can use to make the job even easier.

Here are the best methods to try if your camper toilet is clogged and

1. Toilet Snake

To effectively unclog your RV toilet using a toilet snake, employ a long and flexible tool such as the Camco Swivel Stick or an old hose. Insert the snake or flexible tool into the toilet, pushing it through to the adjoining pipe. Utilize a combination of pushing, pulling, and spinning motions with the tool to break up and loosen the clog, facilitating its flow through the plumbing.

A toilet snake that can be used to get rid of a clog in your camper toilet

For stubborn clogs, consider using water pressure to effectively clear the blockage. Products like the Camco RV Flexible Swivel Stik are designed to help RVers dislodge waste using water pressure. This tool can also be used for snaking black tank drain pipes if the tank fails to empty properly. Be cautious of potential sewage spillage when the clog breaks; position a bucket under the drain to catch any overflow.

The Camco RV Flexible Swivel Stik is recommended for dislodging waste in clogged black water tanks. It comes in two models: one with a straight stick and another with a flexible stick, the latter being necessary for tanks not located directly beneath the toilet. This tool attaches to a non-potable water hose, allowing for effective flushing out of blockages in the RV toilet system.

2. Black Water Flush

Another way to unclog your RV toilet is to flush your black tank effectively. There are a number of ways to do this, and the method you choose will depend on your setup and nature of the clog. 

A black water flush system in use

If you’re dealing with a non-draining tank, consider using a sewer tank rinser attachment (like the Camco Rhino Blaster). This device connects to the tank’s drain valve. By opening up the hose, water is propelled up through the valve, aiding in the removal of clogs within the sewer pipes and the black tank itself. Use this for as long as it takes to see some progress, and try turning it on and off to help break things up a bit more.

If your toilet is flushing slowly, a direct approach can work as well. Simply run a hose through a window to the toilet and use a sprayer nozzle to apply a strong flow of pressurized water directly down the toilet into the tank. This method not only helps unclog the toilet but is also beneficial for routine maintenance, assisting in periodic cleaning of the black tank.

Important Note: Before using the hose method (or your built-in black water flush) it’s important to ensure that liquid is making it out of the waste valve. If things are so clogged up that nothing is coming out, you could cause an overflow. In this situation using the Rhino Blaster (since it works from the outside in) or another method is the way to go. 

3. Add Black Tank Treatments

Another great way to deal with a clogged toilet in your camper is to add some black tank treatment products. These products are ideally used as a preventative measure, but can help with active clogs as well. All you need to do is drop the product into your tank via your toilet (make sure to read the instructions so you get the quantity right).

Our bucket of Happy Campers holding tank treatment

There are plenty of these to choose from, but we like Happy Camper. It was recommended to us by a number of people when we first got started and we haven’t had any issues with it yet!

4. Pour Some Hot Water

Pouring hot water into the tank can effectively break up clogs in your RV toilet by loosening solid waste and toilet paper that contributes to blockages. To start, heat a large pot of water until it’s nearly boiling. Carefully pour the hot water into the toilet bowl, allowing the heat and force of the water to break up the clog. Let the hot water sit for about an hour to work on the clog before trying to drain the black tank.

Remember: Be cautious of the water’s temperature to prevent any damage to the toilet or plumbing components. Boiling water might deal with the clog, but it could also cause other serious problems.

If needed, repeat the process by pouring at least a gallon of hot water each time to effectively address the blockage. Keep in mind that this method works best for clogs within the toilet pipe itself. If the problem lies with the tank not emptying, you may need to explore other unclogging methods (like the Rhino Blaster).

The great thing about using hot water to unclog your RV toilet is it can serve as a simple method before you need to try something more involved. This way you don’t need to subject yourself to more black tank chores than necessary.

How To Stop This From Happening In The Future

Now that you know the best ways to unclog an RV toilet, we think it’s a good idea to address how you can avoid ending up in this situation later on.

At the end of the day, following all of the standard best practices will get the job done. All you need to do is commit to making them a habit.

Use Enough Water When You Flush

One of the easiest ways to prevent clogs in your RV toilet is to use plenty of water when flushing. It’s crucial to remember this, especially when you’re camping off-grid and are doing whatever you can to limit water usage (something we all get sucked into from time to time).

When you don’t use enough water while flushing, waste can easily become stuck in the pipes or start to form a pyramid plug. Press the flushing lever or pedal long enough to allow a generous amount of water to flow through the pipes into the black tank. This helps waste pass through and sit in the black tank without any blockages.

Quick Tip: If you’re committed to avoiding significant water consumption when flushing or just want to explore alternative options, consider looking into waterless toilet solutions like composting or incinerator toilets. These alternatives can help you bypass the issue of clogs related to flushing with water, and allow you to camp off-grid even longer.

Keep Your Waste Valve Closed

As a general rule, you should always keep the waste valve closed when you’re not in the process of dumping. Leaving the valve open can lead to solids accumulating in the tank, making it challenging to empty the tank completely during the dumping process. Also, a poo pyramid can easily form if liquids drain out immediately.

This is a common mistake with new RVers because many people leave their gray valves open when at a site with full hookups. This is fine because there shouldn’t be any solids passing through, but beginners will sometimes think that means you can do the same with your black tank valve as well.

By keeping the waste valve closed, the tank can fill a bit more before dumping as well. This is helpful because all of the extra liquid in the tank facilitates a more efficient flush. So not only do you eliminate clogs in the short term, you’ll make the emptying process far easier as well.

This is a best practice that we encourage everyone to take seriously. While a lot of things in the camping and RV world can come down to personal preference, this isn’t one of them.

Use RV Toilet Paper

Using toilet paper that’s made for RV is an absolute must if you want to avoid potential clogs. It’s made to break down easily unlike the normal toilet paper you find in your home, meaning you won’t need to worry about massive blockages of paper building up over time.

An alternative method to get around the toilet paper problem is to simply throw out your paper instead of flushing it. It might seem a bit strange at first, but there are tons of seasoned RVers that swear by this method. This way you can use whatever toilet paper you wish without needing to worry about a clog.

Flush Your Blank Tank Whenever You Dump

Regularly flushing out your black tank after each dumping session is something that we highly recommend if you want to prevent clogs and keep your tank functioning properly. Think of this as a sort of maintenance protocol that makes sure waste and toilet paper isn’t left behind when you leave the dump station.

A picture of our built in black tank flush

We understand that sometimes you’re just eager to get on the road and want to speed things up. But in our opinion, this isn’t something you should skip. A little extra time flushing out your tank will go a long way when it comes to preventing clogs in your RV.

Author Note: The one instance when we think it’s ok to skip this is if you’re at a dump station and there’s a line of people behind you. Since you’ll be spending a few extra minutes doing this, it adds up quickly if everyone were to do this. Most RVers agree that it’s more courteous to keep things moving in these situations and do your flush another time.

Regularly flushing your black tank not only helps prevent clogs, but also has the added benefit of keeping tank sensors clean. This ensures that you’re getting accurate readings, so you don’t think your tank is full or empty when it’s not!.

Consistently Use Black Tank Treatment

Another way to prevent clogs in your camper toilet effectively by consistently using black tank treatment products. This will help you maintain a smooth-flowing system and prevent buildup in your toilet and black tank.

To put it simply, these products are specially formulated with chemicals that break down human waste. It doesn’t matter if you use enough water or not, some of this stuff will make a world of difference. And as a bonus, it will help keep odors down!

We mentioned it above, but our favorite product is the Happy Campers RV Toilet Treatment. It’s easy to use, effective, and highly recommended by many experienced RVers.

Always Keep Some Water In The Black Tank

This is somewhat related to using enough water when you flush your toilet, but it preempts the process. If you’ve been struggling with clogged camper toilets and have a reasonable-sized black tank, it’s worth putting a couple gallons of water in the tank before use.

This means after you’ve emptied your black tank (even if there’s no clog), pour some water in there to prevent issues once you start using the toilet again. This can be done through your built in black water flush, an add-on like the Camco Rhino Blaster, or even by simply running a hose into your RV and filling up the tank through the toilet.

Having a little water in there at all times will give you a little more breathing room when it comes to managing the waste in your tank. Even if you (or someone you’re camping with) accidentally puts in a little too much toilet paper or doesn’t use enough water when they flush a few times, you’ll still have water in the tank to make up for this.

If you plan on boondocking for an extended period of time, this method might not be possible. But if you have access to hookups or a dump site, it’s relatively easy to implement.

Author Note: This is not something you should do if you’re going to be winterizing.

Closing Thoughts

Knowing how to unclog RV toilets is an important skill for any owner to have. Even if you do everything right, there’s always a small possibility that an issue will arrive.

Fortunately, the simple methods and tools we shared above will make the process simple. While it might not be the most glamorous job you’ve ever done, you’ll be able to do it with ease!

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