RV Hookups for Beginners Guide

Here’s an RV hookups for beginners guide to better prepare you for your first RV trip

Dania and I have been doing this for a long time. So, sometimes I take for granted some of the beginner’s tasks that are now second nature to me—RV hookups being one of those things.

I decided to take a step back and cover some basics that RV beginners need to know. And what better way to start than how to connect full hookups on your first stay at a campground or RV park?

As a first time RVer, you’re probably wondering what steps you need to take and in what order to do them. So, I’m going to share the general rules and my best tips that new RVers need to know.

Electric (with Electric Management System), water (with pressure regulator), and sewer set up © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to set up your RV

For this article, I will focus only on RV hookups for beginners. These steps and tips are the same whether you drive a motorhome, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or camper. Hookups are essentially the same wherever you camp whether it’s an RV park, state park, national park, or any other place that offers hookups.

STEP 1: Set your parking break

The most important thing to do before you even start hooking up is to set your parking brake! Experienced RVers can share plenty of stories where either they or someone else forgot to do this with disastrous (and sometimes humorous) results.

The last thing you want is for your RV to settle and shift back or forth putting tension on your cables. Or, worse, roll-off and pull out the cables and do costly damage to the campground’s panels and connection points.

So, don’t repeat the dumbest RV camping mistakes and set your parking brake!

Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

STEP 2: Electric Hookup

I recommend that the first thing you connect is your electric hookup. The main reason is so you can start running your air conditioner, heater, fridge, etc. on the power source from your RV campsite instead of from your RV’s power supply.

There are usually three different plugs on a campsite’s electric pedestal: 20 amp, 30 amp, and 50 amp. Big rigs usually use 50 amps and smaller RVs use 30 amps. You need to know which amp service your RV runs on. But, if you don’t, since the plugs have differently shaped prongs you’ll only be able to plug into the correct one. Before you plug in make certain the breaker is turned OFF.

Once you’re plugged in, flip the breaker switch corresponding to the amp service you need. For instance, you flip the 30 amp breaker after you plug in your 30 amp plug. Then you plug in the other end of your RV twisting it and rotating the collar until it’s snug. You will forego this step if the power cord is wired directly into your RV as our Class A motorhome is.

BUT BEFORE YOU PLUG IN, here is one of the best RV tips I can give you…

PRO TIP: Always use an Electric Management System

Always use an electric management system when connecting your RV to power! Many have learned the hard way that campground electrical panels are not always well-maintained or wired properly. You can also experience a power surge that can severely damage your electrical system.

You can use one of the Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard portable or hardwired units.

Plug this portable surge protector into the campground’s electric power supply and then plug your power cable into the surge protector.

Power adapters

Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals) at the other end. Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into the 30-amp source
  • 50-amp RV plugged into the 15-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into the 15-amp source
Water hookup with pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

STEP 3: Water hookup

The next hookup to connect is your water hose to the campground’s water source. Just like I recommend an Electric Management System with electrical hookups, I recommend you always use a pressure regulator and water filter connected to your fresh water tank.

STEP 4: Cable hookups

If your campground offers cable TV, you can now connect it to your RV. There’s nothing special to know here. Simply plug in the cable cord to your RV. If you don’t know where your cable port is, consult your owner’s manual.

Sewer hookup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

STEP 4: Sewer hookups

Lastly, it’s time to do your sewer connection. Since not all campsites have sewer connections this might be something you don’t do until you dump your black and grey tanks at an RV dump station. Whether you’re connecting at a campsite or the dump station, the process is the same. The only difference is how long you leave it connected.

Now, let me warn you, that dealing with your black water tank is one of the biggest downsides of camping. It’s just gross. But it needs to be done and is well worth the stinky effort in the end.

That said, I suggest you put on disposable vinyl gloves before you connect your sewer line or what the RV world likes to call the stinky slinky

Disposable gloves © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’ve sometimes wondered why anyone would take on this bacteriological nightmare without protection. From those who don’t use gloves, we sometimes hear the excuse, “It’s just too much bother and I can’t see much advantage to it.”

Another reasoning runs, “The stuff stays in the hose, so what’s the big deal?” In a perfect world, it’s a good line of reasoning. But since we’re not living in a perfect world, the stuff doesn’t always cooperate and stay in the hose. Pinhole leaks can occur and a misaligned bayonet fitting can pop off, unloading an unholy amount of stuff. File that under “Been there, done that.”

“So you get a little doo-doo on your hands, just wash it off,” is the next comment. Good idea: a thorough washing with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Meantime, make sure none of it gets off elsewhere and ends up in your mouth eyes, or nose. And hope in the meantime that you don’t have any minor breaks in your skin. If so, the damage may already be done, no matter how much you wash afterward.

What can happen with a bit of misplaced sewage bacteria? Here’s the short list:

  • Gastroenteritis, characterized by cramping stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Hepatitis, characterized by inflammation of the liver, and jaundice
  • Infection of skin or eyes

I don’t think any RVer would like to have a bout of any of those manifestations. Washing up even when using gloves is still a good idea and an outside shower unit that many RVs are equipped with is great for this task.

For those that glove up before going into the ring with the sewer hose I can only say, I gotta hand it to you! Good disposable gloves are best. Gloves you reuse over and over can easily get contaminated.

It’s always a good idea to check and make sure your gray tank and black tank are closed before grabbing your sewer hose.

Sewer connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect the end of the hose with the twist-on connector to your RV drain spout. Then run the hose to the sewer drain. It’s usually easiest to run your sewer hose support as you go. This support helps direct the hose (and its contents) toward the drain and it is required by law in some jurisdictions.

Now, attach the end of the hose with the elbow connection to the sewer drain. Screw it into position if the sewer drain also has threads (not all do.)

PRO TIP: Do NOT leave your black tank valve open when hooked up

This is a mistake that many new RVers make. They understandably think that if they’re connected, they might as well leave their blank tank valve open so it can continuously drain. Less poo stored in your RV, the better, right? Wrong!

If you leave your black tank valve open while you’re hooked up, it will cause gross and sometimes expensive problems. The most common of which has its inelegant RV terminology: the poop pyramid.

This happens when liquid waste easily drains out when your valve is left open but solid waste builds up in your tank. Like I said, it’s gross—and stinky! And can be expensive to clean out.

Now enjoy the rest of the day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, don’t leave your black tank valve open!

By the way, I have a post on this dilemma and several others on avoiding sewer woes:

Worth Pondering…

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

—Benjamin Franklin

How to Find and Best Practices for Using RV Dump Stations

This is an answer to one of the most common questions that campers ask: How can I find RV dump stations near me?

Despite the RV life being one filled with freedom and excitement, it still comes with a few little changes of lifestyle that many newcomers have a hard time adjusting to.

One major issue that newcomers to the RV lifestyle find is the issue of waste. Yup, you got it! I’m talking about that waste. As in, the human kind!

Unfortunately, though it might be a great fertilizer you can’t dump your RV waste wherever you may want. It’s not as simple as pulling over along the side of the road and unloading. No, you have to find a dump station in order to make the unloading of your waste as safe, clean, and environmentally friendly as possible.

I will tell you how to find dump stations and offer helpful tips for dumping.

RV Dump Station © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Are Dump Stations?

RV Dump Stations are facilities that are designated for dumping RV waste both black and grey tanks. RV owners can get a fresh start on their waste and dirty water storage throughout their road trips and weekend camping trips. However, dump stations aren’t exactly available on every block. Sometimes you must go out of your way to find one when your tanks get full.

Even though RV Dump Stations aren’t packing every street corner, they are still located all over the U.S. and Canada. With a little bit of proper planning, you won’t have to concern yourself too much.

In the same way that we plan our stops for overnight camping, sightseeing, and events, dump stations are another thing that we need to schedule.

RV Dump Station connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for finding RV Dump Stations

Finding RV Dump Stations is easier now than it ever has been. You can imagine what it was like back before the age of the Internet! Today, we can find dump stations rather easily through various online sources and even through simple Google searches.

Search engines make finding dump stations rather easy. However, there can be issues with the accuracy of the information. Sometimes open/closing times and prices will be a bit different than they are in reality. Use Google with a bit of caution!

Boondockers have more of a challenge in finding RV Dump Stations and if off-the-grid camping is your choice, you’ll need to work your trips around them to some extent. The more experience you get with your RV trip planning, the smoother the experience will be. It just takes a bit of practice to get the hang of incorporating dump stations into your trip planning as smoothly as possible.

RV sewer system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use apps and websites to find Dump Stations

Most campgrounds and RV parks have RV Dump Stations but they can often have long lines or the timing just doesn’t work out for you to use them when you need to. And there is a chance your campground won’t have one.

The following online resources will help you between stops. As for boondockers, the following will help you find dump stations wherever you camp.

Sanidumps.com

This site has been around for more than 17 years and claims to provide the most comprehensive listings of RV Dump Stations online. They list private, public, RV park, non-park, municipal, truck stop, rest stop, campground, camping, resort, commercial, pay, donation, and free RV Dump Stations worldwide including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. You search by Zip or Postal code.

Rvdumps.com

This site is only for U.S. RV Dump Stations. They primarily focus on locations other than RV parks and campgrounds—places like rest areas, truck stops, gas stations, and others. This site may be easier to use because you can search by state, city, or map. The map feature lets you find your location and then visually see what is closest. The map feature also shows Interstate rest areas with dump stations are only shown on the dump stations map.

Allstays RV Dump

RV Dumps checks your location and displays up to 150 points on a map view. You can filter by type to see only what you want to see on the map and zoom out. You can also use the offline manual lookup to find locations by type, state, and city even when you have no phone service.

AllStays is a travel-focused company that provides a range of resources for RVers, campers, and truckers. One resource is an app specifically for finding dump stations, called AllStays RV Dump.

You can download that app by itself or AllStays Pro instead. With AllStays Pro, you can find RV Dump Stations and SO MUCH MORE! AllStays Pro is browser based (not an app) but it’s a great resource for RVers. Some RVers rely on it almost exclusively fot their RV travels.

Sanitize with Lysol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campendium

This is a popular website listing campgrounds and you can use it to find dump stations, too. First, search by state, then select “view map.” The map search feature then has a “Quick Links” tab near the bottom of the page where you can select “Dump Stations.” Dump stations will then populate on the map.

It’s worth noting that Campendium (and all its great features) has been bundled with a few other great RV resources into one great app called Roadpass Pro.

Roadpass Pro INCLUDES:

  • Access to all 14,000+ free boondocking locations in the OvernightRVParking.com app
  • RV GPS navigation that considers weight limits, low overhead clearances, grades of terrain, and propane restrictions to give you turn-by-turn directions specific to your RV
  • Roadtrippers Plus, where you can plan trips with up to 150 stops, collaborate with friends on route planning, and get real-time traffic along your route.
  • Full access to Campendium’s premium features, including viewing cell coverage maps, public land map overlays, and trail maps

RVshare.com

This RV Rental site also has a section that allows you to search for nearby RV Dump Stations. Find the state you are in and then scroll the cities for dump stations nearby. It’s a straightforward, browser-based resource that helps you easily find what you’re looking for.

Use disposable vinyl when dumping black and grey tanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for using RV dump stations

A very important thing to remember is that RV Dump Stations are a shared space where all RVers go to empty out their waste and tanks. That means that we should treat them with respect and care.

We are all guests at these sites and leaving the dump station cleaner than we found them is ALWAYS common courtesy.

The sad truth is that many RV dump stations have had to shut down due to excessive waste spillage and improper care by users. With this in mind, always take the time to clean up after yourself and keep your waste where it is supposed to be—in the septic tank underground and not above ground all over the place!

Sewerage system including black tank flush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-preparation

Have the right tools ready and available:

  • Disposable vinyl gloves for handling the sewer hose
  • Clear sewer adapter to know if your tanks have finished emptying
  • Sewer, recommend 30 feet available
  • Coupler 90 bayonet fitting or 45 degree or straight
  • Hand sanitizer for clean up afterwards

Dump station practices and courtesies to keep in mind are:

  • Keep a pair of disposable vinyl gloves stored in the compartment that you store the tank hose. This will help you keep your hands clean as you work.
  • Keep a slope between the hose and sewer to make sure everything empties out of your tank.
  • Dump the black-water tank before the gray-water tank so the soapy water from the gray tank can clean the residue from the hose.

Also, remember to use the water hose provided at most dump stations to clean up the area and any potential spillage that may occur during your dumping process.

And as many dump stations also offer drinking water, be sure to choose the right connection if you are planning to top off your freshwater tanks. There are usually two hoses available. The one near the actual hole in the ground is usually marked as non-potable water. It’s just for washing down any spills.

The freshwater or potable hose is usually located at the far end of the dump station.

Make sure you have an airtight connection with the RV Dump Station Hole. Smaller hoses should use a small black donut that fits over the end of the hose coming from the RV.

Leave the dump station area cleaner than you found it.

Plan Ahead!

Dawn Dish Soap acts as a detergent in the black water tank © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waste is something that all RV owners have to deal with. It may be a bit of a hassle but the freedom of the open road does come with a few obstacles that need to be overcome along the way. That is why RV dump stations are both a godsend and a hurdle that must be worked around at the same time.

The best practice when it comes to RV dump stations is to always plan ahead of time. You never want to be caught off-guard with a full black tank and nowhere to let it out safely and legally. That is why you should always keep an eye on your online resources for where the best dump stations are for you and your route.

With proper planning, you shouldn’t have to go too far out of your way to get to an RV dump station. Once you have a good understanding of where the dump stations on your route are, you can hit the road with a clear and calm head. You don’t have to worry that your, uh… Delicate matters will come back to haunt you in the middle of a trip.

On the same topic, you should also check out:

Worth Pondering…

Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.

—Yan Zhitui (531–591)

15 Things to Buy After Getting a New RV

RVing is so much easier when you have the right gear

Congratulations! You just purchased your first RV. That sense of accomplishment, excitement, and joy is mixed in with “What the heck did I just do?” Now it’s time to get those 15 things you have to buy after getting a new trailer or motorhome.

The call of the road is stronger than ever and you’re ready to hit the gas pedal. You bought a camper, now you need to prepare for the road.

Your wallet may feel like it’s smoking from the large amount of money you just spent on your RV, but now you have some essential gear you’ll need to purchase. The good part is the amount of money you need to complete your travel trailer supply checklist is like adding a few sticks to the fire, not another gas can.

To make this as painless as possible, I’ve put together an organized list for first-time RV owners on what you should keep in your recreational vehicle of choice. You don’t need to wait until you have your RV this is what you need to know before buying an RV concerning essential gear.

Sewer hose and attachment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What comes with a new RV

If your sales representative was good at their job, they did a complete walkthrough of your new RV. We hope you came prepared with your own version of an RV checklist to make sure everything is in proper working order. You may be asking yourself, “Do new RVs come with sewer hoses?” or other questions about essential gear.

RV dealerships may have a “new owner’s kit” or some other goodies they give to their customers but there’s no such requirement. If they do offer basic hoses, they may be too short or poorly made.

You’ll either want to walk into their parts department, take a ride over to a camping supply store, or go home and jump on Amazon to find the best RV gadgets.

Electric, water, and sewer connections © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Essential supplies checklists

1. Hoses

There are a few different hoses you’ll need. If you’ve seen that movie with Robin Williams, we promise the real versions are a lot more sanitary.

Sewer hose: A high-quality sewer hose is essential to avoid any unpleasant leaks or malfunctions. I prefer the Camco RhinoFLEX kit that includes a 15-foot hose, a fitting that connects to your RV sewer outlet, an adapter that fits any sewer connection, and storage caps for each end. The durable hose is reinforced with steel wire so you can shape it as needed. Also, carry a 10-foot extension—you’ll be glad you did.

See-through sewer hose attachment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sewer hose attachments: There are various attachments that make the draining process easier. One type connects to the end of the hose to create a good seal to the dump station. Another is a clear plastic elbow that lets you monitor the flow.

Disposable protective gloves © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protective gloves: There are two schools of thought to keep your hands clean. Some like to use rubber gloves that can be washed while others prefer disposable latex gloves they can throw out after each use.

Water hose: RV potable water hoses are lead and BPA-free. I recommend traveling with two hoses since you never know how far your RV will be parked from a city water connection. This hose looks like a garden hose but it’s white in color instead of green. The interior of the hose is lined to keep it sanitary for drinking.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heated water hose: A heated RV water hose is required for winter camping. This product will give you safe drinking water even when temperatures dip below freezing. These hoses cost $100 or more depending mostly on length but will save you a lot in frozen pipes. A heated hose has a heat strip along the side of the hose that heats up when plugged into a 110-volt electrical connection. Some brands are rated to keep water flowing at minus 40 degrees.

Water pressure gauge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water pressure guage: This brass attachment connects between the campground’s shore connection and your water hose. It protects your RV’s plumbing system from receiving too much water pressure. It only takes one situation for your water lines to blow.

Water filter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water filters: RV water filters probably aren’t the first thing to leap to mind when you’re contemplating everything you need before you hit the road in an RV. But water flavor and quality can be variable when you’re camping. The goal of an RV water filter is to remove sediment (like dirt and sand) and other unwanted contaminants from your RV’s water supply.

Campground water quality is all over the map and that goes double if you’re getting your water elsewhere like an unknown water tap at a truck stop. There are two main categories of RV water filters you can use. One is an exterior RV water filter that goes between the spigot and the RV’s fresh water tank. The other is an interior drinking water filter that goes between the fresh water tank and the faucet used for drinking water.

Progressive electric management system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Electric

Most RVs come with electric cords that plug directly into shore power. There are additional things you’ll need to hook in correctly.

Electrical protectors: There are four electrical issues an RVer can encounter while traveling: surges, miswired pedestals, high/low voltage, and wiring issues inside the RV.

What exactly are you protecting your RV from when you use an electrical protection device? It’s much more than power surges which we typically associate surge protectors with. Surges are actually the least common problem with RV electricity. An RV typically has a lot of sensitive electronic circuitry in it and having steady power is crucial to keeping these components from having an early funeral. Failure of components like AC units, refrigerators, washer/dryer, and computers plugged into a wall outlet can be very expensive to replace. You can use one of the Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard portable or hardwired units.

Extention cord: Sometimes you may have to park your RV further away from the utility box than your cord can reach. You’ll want the same amp extension cord that your unit comes with (30 or 50 amp).

Power adapters: Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals). Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into the 30-amp source
  • 50-amp RV plugged into the 15-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into the 15-amp source

Fuse kit: Pickup a set of fuses that handle different amperages. Each color represents a different level of current. They’ll work for your automotive and coach systems.

Stabiiizer jack pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. RV jacks

Using your jacks on grass or dirt can be problematic. You may start out level but as you move around in your RV they may start to sink into the ground.

Stablilizer jack pads: Prevent hydraulic or electric jacks from sinking into the ground by using RV stabilizer jack pads. Available in sets of four they are solidly constructed of durable polypropylene with UV inhibitors.

Jack blocks: Jack blocks work like Lego to give your jacks a higher surface to sit on. They are useful if your jacks can’t reach the ground. Interlocking for convenient storage they are available with a handy strap.

Tire chocks: If you’re on an incline, tire chocks prevent your RV from rolling. Use these first, and of course make sure your brakes are set. Always use with travel and fifth-wheel trailers.

Bubble levels: Putting bubble levels on your trailer will help you with the leveling process. Higher-end travel trailers and motorhomes use auto-leveling systems that won’t require the use of bubble levels.

4. Toilet

Your RV’s bathroom doesn’t need to smell like a state fair’s port-a-john. Using the proper tools can keep your RV bathroom smelling fresh and toilet clog-free. Preventive maintenance isn’t that difficult but you do want to keep up with it.

Black tank chemical: This chemical comes in your choice of liquid, powder, and packets. A weekly treatment poured down your toilet is all you need to prevent odors and proper breakdown of waste. An an alternative to commercial products you can use Dawn dish soap.

RV toilet paper: Toilet paper designed for RVs are designed to breakdown in black holding tanks. Most residential toilet papers are too thick and will create clogs.

5. Emergency kit

Nobody wants to think about it, but emergency kits are one of those items you want stocked and ready to go. There are still places take hours or days for emergency services to reach. Making sure you’re safe if a disaster strikes is essential.

Road Side Kit: A good quality kit will have hazard signs, flares, jumper cables, and tow cables. You may not find an all-in-one kit with everything you need, so you’ll probably have to piece it together yourself.

First Aid and Survival Kit: You’ll want more than just band-aids and gauze. Good quality first aid kits have everything you need for almost any situation. You’ll also want survival items like matches (waterproof matches if possible) and freeze-dried food for a couple of days. Your freshwater tank will be your source of water, so use it sparingly.

6. Tool kit

Every RVer should have a basic knowledge of D.I.Y. repair. A couple of quick YouTube videos will show you travel trailer dos and don’ts in basic RV repair. Your tool kit should have the following items:

  • Hammer
  • Set of screwdrivers with flat and Phillips heads
  • Set of Allen wrenches
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Drill (if it’s cordless, have at least two batteries where one is fully charged)
  • Drill bits, screwdriver bits, and bits that fit your jacks
  • Heavy duty tire gauge
  • Two (or more) flashlights (preferably one wearable one to keep your hands free)
  • Small tube of silicone caulk
  • Work gloves
  • Rhino, duct, electrical, and masking tape (If you don’t know why, watch a couple of episodes of the Original Macgyver)

7. Generator

If your RV doesn’t have a factory-installed generator, it’s always a good idea to invest in a good one. There are many affordable options that are relatively quiet. This way you’ll have a power source when you’re dry camping or in a power outage.

Pack supplies for your pets © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Pet supplies

If you’re one of the over 65 percent of RVers that bring your pet with you having separate pet supplies just for the RV is a great way to avoid forgetting something. Outside safety equipment like leashes, latching devices, and outside toys will make their RV adventure a fun time. If your coach doesn’t have a built-in dog station I recommend a dog dish with a collar to prevent messes.

9. Back up camera

If you have a motorhome, you’ll already have a backup camera. Most towables now come prepped and wired with backup camera brackets. This camera makes traveling and parking easier.

10. Kitchen supplies

RV kitchen must-haves are essential. Having cookware, dishware, cutlery, and other kitchen items separate from your home make it less complicated when you’re getting ready to leave for your camping trip. Camping accessory manufacturers make these items specifically for camping to hold up to the conditions of camping.

RV mattresses come in different sizes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Linens

RV mattress sizes can be different than residential sizes. Queen mattresses come in short, three-quarters, and other near residential measurements. Sheets, towels, and a portable laundry basket designated for your RV will keep your home linens from degrading too quickly.

12. Outdoor furniture

Picnic tables are good to use but they aren’t that relaxing. Having a mat at your entry will help you keep the dirt outside. Folding tables, folding lounge chairs, and other outdoor furniture will help you make the most of the outdoor camping experience.

Dawn dish soap © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Cleaning supplies

Camping and dirt go hand-in-hand. Vacuums, laundry detergent, and cleaning wipes should always be in a cabinet. Many veteran RVers like to use Dawn dish soap because of its many uses to clean other items besides dishes.

14. Internet service

Pretty much everything we do these days, we do online—so if you’re going to be spending significant time in an RV, internet is an essential. The bad news is, there’s no one easy answer to this question. Staying connected will depend on where and how you camp and what kind of surfer you are. But that bad news is also good news because it means there are plenty of ways to secure internet for your RV, which means you’re bound to find an option that will work for you. Here are the basic options for RV internet:

  • Public WiFi
  • DSL or Cable
  • Cellular data 
  • Satellite
  • Starlink

15. RV insurance

The last and most important thing is RV Insurance. RV insurance is different than car insurance. That’s why motorhomes, travel trailers, and campers need custom coverage. RV insurance gives you many of the same benefits you get with car insurance coverage but includes more protection based on the unique risks that RVs face.

Worth Pondering…

Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.

—Charlie Brown, from Peanuts

Why and How to Use Dawn Dish Soap in RV Black Tanks?

The benefits of using Dawn dish soap in RV black tanks as well as proper tank cleaning procedures and some other cleaners to consider

Keeping up with RV maintenance and cleaning is just part of RV life! One aspect that is necessary but not very glamorous is emptying and cleaning the black and grey water tanks. This can seem like a complex problem but many products and solutions can help make this a lot easier.

Sewer hose connected to dump site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One common remedy involves the use of Dawn dish soap in RV black tanks. It is a detergent and grease cutter that will not harm your tanks and is eco-friendly and biodegradable. It is not corrosive and will not damage your plumbing. It has no phosphates so is a green product that is considered environmentally friendly.

Whether it’s a store-bought cleaner or a homemade recipe, there are numerous ways to clean your black tanks and keep them functional. Below, I’ll explore some of the uses and benefits of Dawn dish soap as well as proper cleaning tank procedures, and some other effective cleaners to consider.

Sewer hose connected to dump site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why use Dawn dish soap in RV black tanks?

Dawn dish soap is one of the most popular household cleaners and its uses are nearly limitless. Obviously, it can be used to clean dishes (it’s right in the name) but this soap can also be used as a pest remover, drain cleaner, stain remover, or just as an easy way to make a bubble mixture for kids.

It’s important to properly clean your RV water tanks so you’ll want to make sure that Dawn is a good choice before you start using it. Many people have incorporated it into their maintenance routines and some of the benefits are listed below:

  • Eco-friendly: One of the best parts about using Dawn dish soap in RV black tanks is that it’s an environment-friendly soap. It doesn’t contain phosphates and can be broken down by bacteria. This means that it’s a safe and biodegradable soap to use even if you’re cleaning/dumping your tank in a strict or natural environment.
  • Cheap: Another great bonus is that Dawn dish soap is quite affordable! If you use high-end cleaners that are specifically engineered for tank cleaning, that price can add up fast. On the other hand, Dawn is cheap and it won’t make a dent in your wallet. In addition, you only need to use ¼ to ⅓ cups of Dawn dish soap at a time so the average large bottle will last you for multiple months.
  • Non-corrosive: Dawn is also a gentle and non-corrosive soap. It’s effective at breaking down grease, eliminating odors, and softening blockages but it won’t eat into the material of your tank. Other effective cleaners exist (such as bleach) but they can be harmful to your tank and the surrounding pieces. You can use Dawn with peace of mind and won’t have to worry about the long-term effects it will have on the integrity of your plumbing system.
  • Easy to buy in bulk: Finally, Dawn is widely available in stores and online and easy to buy in large quantities. If you clean out your tank regularly you may just want to get a large container and work your way through it. If this is the case, Dawn is a fantastic option. You can find it at pretty much any grocery store and might even be able to find it in gas stations or small mini-marts along your journey. Loading up in large quantities is easy and affordable.
Approved dump site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to clean an RV black tank

Now we know that you can use Dawn dish soap in RV black tanks but that knowledge won’t do you any good unless you follow proper tank-cleaning procedures. It’s important to do a deep clean of your tanks at least twice a year but you’ll probably want to do it even more frequently than that if you live in the RV full-time.

Your black and grey water tanks should be dumped frequently so that odors and blockages don’t become a problem. Generally, the rule of thumb is that it’s time to empty them once they are about 2/3 full.

RV connections for dumping and flushing tanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of us just don’t like to think about it until we have to but cleaning out RV tanks is quite simple. Here’s what you need to do:

Use disposable plastic gloves to wear when performing the deed. You’ll eliminate any chance of spreading bacteria if you toss the gloves before going into your RV.

Drain the tanks by connecting the sewer hose and emptying the contents into an approved dumping site. Drain the black tank first. Always! Once drained, close the black tank valve. Then open the gray water valve to empty it. The reason for this is to clean the hose attached to your wastewater tanks. The residue will go into the septic system at the campground.

Clean out buildup by using a tank rinser, flush valve, or macerator. This will help prevent blockages in the future. When finished, close both black and gray waste tank valves.

Add 4-5 quarts of fresh water to the tanks to provide a good base for future use. The system needs a certain amount of water to operate so never leave it completely dry. Finally add ¼ to ⅓ cup of Dawn dish soap to your tanks and you’re ready to go.

Approved dump site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other cleaners for RV black tanks

Using Dawn dish soap in RV black tanks is certainly an effective method but it’s not your only choice. There are numerous other tank treatments that have been used over the years and some of them might work better for you depending on your preference and the availability of certain products in your area.

While you can always use store-bought water treatments there are a number of homemade tank cleaners you can try as well. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Citric acid: This is a mild, naturally occurring acid that can break down build-ups and improve the smell of your holding tanks. It can be combined with Borax, water, and baking soda to strengthen its cleaning ability.
  • Fabric softener: Fabric softener is another good way to break down buildups in your tank and improve the smell. This is a mild and pleasant cleaner that has proven to be effective.
  • Yeast: Believe it or not, kitchen yeast is a good RV tank cleaner too. Yeast is an active culture that feeds off the bacteria and waste in a tank. It might take a few days to become effective so some people combine it with hydrogen peroxide to make it stronger.
  • Water and more water: Surprisingly enough, some people get by just fine without using any kind of special add-in. As long as you use plenty of water to flush out your tanks, you may not need to add a chemical cleaner. However, if you’re having problems with blockages and smells, one of the previous options can be helpful.

Related articles:

Worth Pondering…

Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.

—Charlie Brown, from Peanuts

16 Must-Have RV Accessories

These camping essentials are the key to a smooth journey

You just stood there, clueless and more than a little terrified, staring blankly at your new mobile living space. It was yours now. It was new. It was perfect. And obviously, you were also excited on top of everything else.

But what you slowly realized as the newness of the moment wore off was this: This thing is also very incomplete. This shiny new travel trailer needed help. It needed partners. It needed supporting characters to become the “adventure capsule” you dreamed of.

Class A motorhome on parking pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But you could not find a resource that covered all of the items you needed in one spot. And you didn’t have the time or energy to try and pull together recommendations from over a dozen different sources.

How do you know what you really need to buy for your new RV? This is the million-dollar question, right? Because we are all willing to buy what we know we will need and use, but nobody wants to buy stuff they will never use.

And, that my friends, is the motivation for this article.

Fifth wheel trailer on parking pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. RV First Aid Kit

A first aid kit readily available in an emergency isn’t just a good idea—it’s a necessity for every RVer. A well-stocked first-aid kit and manual can help you respond effectively to common injuries and emergencies. You can purchase first aid kits and refills at the Red Cross store, most drugstores, online, or assemble your own.

Contents of a first-aid kit should include adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic solution or towelettes, bandages, calamine lotion, cotton balls and cotton-tipped swabs, gauze pads and roller gauze in assorted sizes, first aid manual, petroleum jelly or other lubricant, safety pins in assorted sizes, scissors and tweezers, and sterile eyewash.

Related Article: Road Trip Ahead! What Do I Pack?

Familiarize yourself with the items in the first aid kit and know how to properly use them. Check your first-aid kits regularly, at least every three months, to replace supplies that have expired.

If you travel with pets, pet first aid manuals are also available.

Travel trailer on parking pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. RV Tool Box

A basic tool kit could quickly become your best friend. You never know when you’re going to need a screwdriver to tighten/loosen something or a hammer to pound something in place.

Just about anything in your RV that can snap, crack, rip loose, tear, bend, leak, spark, or fall off will do exactly that at the most inconvenient time. Something will need to be tightened, loosened, pounded flat, pried, or cut. To help you deal with everyday problems and annoyances, maintain a well-equipped tool box in the RV (always store on curb side).

Contents should include Phillips and Robertson head and flat bladed screwdrivers (large, medium, small), standard and needle-nose pliers, channel-lock pliers (medium and large), 10-inch Crescent wrench, claw hammer, hobby knife with blade protector, wire cutters, tape measure, silicone sealant, electrical tape, battery jumper cables, open and box-end wrenches, silicone spray, WD-40 lubricant, bungee cords, road flares/warning reflectors, fold-down shovel, stepladder, and heavy-duty tire pressure gauge.

Many RVers also carry a socket wrench set, small drill bit set and cordless drill with a spare battery, and digital voltmeter.

Tear drop trailer on parking pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Gorilla Tape 

Gorilla Tape is a brand of adhesive tape sold by the makers of Gorilla Glue and available in several sizes and colors, including camouflage, white, and clear. Gorilla Tape can solve many problems while on the road—and you can do most anything with this stuff. RVers have used it to temporarily repair a sewer hose, keep a driver’s side window from continually falling, and even affix the coffee maker to the counter so that it doesn’t move during travel.

4. LED Flashlight

Flashlights are a must-have on any road trip. 

5. Assorted Fuses

Vehicle fuses can blow at any time so it’s a good idea to keep extras around. We like to travel in a variety of sizes. But remember—something caused it to blow in the first place. Address the original issue as soon as you can. 

Water hose connection with pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Potable Drinking Water Hose

RV potable water hoses are lead and BPA-free. I recommend traveling with two hoses since you never know how far your RV will be parked from a city water connection.

Related Article: The Safety Checklist for When Your RV is Parked

Sewer hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. RV Sewer Hose

A high-quality sewer hose is essential to avoid any unpleasant leaks or malfunctions. I prefer the Camco RhinoFLEX kit that includes a 15-foot hose, a fitting that connects to your RV sewer outlet, an adapter that fits any sewer connection, and storage caps for each end. The durable hose is reinforced with steel wire so you can shape it as needed. Also, carry a 10-foot extension—you’ll be glad you did.

8. Disposable Vinyl Gloves

Emptying the RV black water tank is probably the most common reason to have disposable vinyl gloves around. But, they can also be used for a variety of other things like cleaning and handling food. Yes, you should absolutely use disposable gloves for sewer tasks.

Sewer hose hookup with translucent elbow fitting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Translucent Sewer Hose Elbow Fitting

If your sewer hose kit doesn’t come with a transparent connector, we recommend adding this accessory to your list. Clear connectors will give you a good idea of when the tank has been fully emptied. That way you won’t be stuck guessing when a good time is to close the connection.

Sewer hose hookup with sewer hose support © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. RV Sewer Hose Support

This product helps to hold the sewer hose in place and prevent a failed connection between the RV and dump station. It’s a recommended accessory if you’re camping at a site for long periods and want to avoid other travelers from tripping or moving your sewer hose connection. Also, some areas require sewer hoses to be elevated off the ground.

Class A motorhome on parking pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Heavy Duty RV Dogbone Electrical Adapter

Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals). Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into 30-amp source
  • 50-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source

12. RV Stabilizer Jack Pads

Prevent hydraulic or electric jacks from sinking into the ground by using RV stabilizer jack pads. Available in sets of four they are solidly constructed of durable polypropylene with UV inhibitors. Interlocking for convenient storage they are available with a handy strap.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Heated water hose

A heated RV water hose is required for winter camping. This product will give you safe drinking water even when temperatures dip below freezing. These hoses cost $100 or more depending mostly on length but will save you a lot in frozen pipes. A heated hose has a heat strip along the side of the hose that heats up when plugged into a 110-volt electrical connection. Some brands are rated to keep water flowing at minus 40 degrees.

Related Article: What’s in Your RV Emergency Kit?

Progressive Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Electric Management System

There are four electrical issues an RVer can encounter while traveling: surges, miswired pedestals, high/low voltage, and wiring issues inside the RV. We’ve had a power surge, situations where pedestals were miswired, and both high and low voltage situations. Fortunately, our Progressive Electric Management System has protected us from all of these situations.

Check out the units available from Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard. Both portable units and hardwired units are available.

15. Toilet chemicals

The black water tank works more efficiently with what is commonly called “toilet chemicals.” Toilet chemicals are bacteria and enzymes designed to break down solids and control odor.

Commercial RV products are sold in liquid, crystal, and tab (drop-in packet) form. They are sold under numerous brand names. All seem to work pretty well and the major real difference is convenience—it’s easier to drop the tab in than to pour in the liquid plus there is no splash. These products are readily available at RV outlets.

Class C motorhome on parking pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Other considerations

Other considerations, supplies, and equipment include fire extinguishers (one in the galley, one in the bedroom, and one outside of the RV in a basement compartment, plus one in the toad/tow vehicle), NOAA weather radio, heavy-duty whistles, emergency waterproof matches, jumper cables, ice/snow window scrapers, work gloves, and blue tarp.

Related Article: RV Emergency Kit Essentials

Now that you know the 16 must-have RV accessories, are you ready to hit the open road? Plan your route with one of the many online tools available today and don’t forget to take photos of your experiences. Happy travels!

Worth Pondering…

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

—Stephen Covey