RV 101® What to do After the RV Trip?

July 15, 2012 by Mark Polk · 10 Comments  
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Copyright RV Education 101

Copyright RV Education 101

When you return from a trip and you’re not going to use the RV for a while you need to drain the entire water system to prevent it from getting stale and musty. You can start by draining the water heater. If the water heater has an electric mode make sure it is in the “off’” position before you drain the water heater tank. It’s a good idea to turn the breaker for the water heater off, so the switch doesn’t accidentally get turned on with no water in the tank. Now go to the outside compartment where the water heater is located. The drain plug, or petcock is normally located in the bottom left hand corner or bottom center. Remove the plug and open the pressure relief valve on top of the water heater to assist in draining. (See Caution below)

If you have a Suburban water heater you will need to remove the anode rod with a 1 -1/16 inch socket to drain the tank. The anode rod is designed to help prevent corrosion and protect the tanks steel lining. Corrosive elements in the water will attack the rod rather than the tank. Inspect the anode rod every time you remove it to drain the tank, and replace it when 3/4 of the rod is consumed. Atwood water tanks do not require an anode rod and use a nylon drain plug because the tank is made of aluminum.

Caution: Never drain the water heater when it is hot and/or under pressure. Turn off any water going to the RV, to include the water pump, and open a hot and cold faucet to relieve water pressure. Allow sufficient time for the water in the tank to cool before draining. Draining a tank that is hot and/or under pressure can result in serious injury.

Copyright RV Education 101

Copyright RV Education 101

Next you need to locate the low point water line drains. It may take a while to find them. There will be one for the hot and one for the cold water lines. This is the lowest point in the water system. Open these and let the water drain out. Now locate the drain for the fresh water holding tank and drain all of the water from it.

Copyright RV Education 101

Copyright RV Education 101

At this point you can turn the water pump on for a moment to force any remaining water out. Do not let the pump continue to run once the water stops draining. Close all the drains. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is how you winterize the RV water system. If you do, it can be a very costly mistake next spring. All we have accomplished so far was to evacuate the majority of water from the system.

If by accident you forget to drain the water system and you get that notorious stale odor all is not lost. You just need to sanitize the water system. Watch Sanitizing Video

Start by draining all of the old water out, and then close all of the drains. Take a quarter cup of house hold bleach for every fifteen gallons of water that your fresh water tank holds. Mix the bleach, with water, into a one-gallon container and pour it into the fresh water holding tank. Fill the fresh water tank completely full of water. Turn the water pump on, open all of the hot and cold faucets and run the water until you smell the bleach at each faucet. Close the faucets and let it sit for about twelve hours. Drain the entire system and re-fill the fresh water tank with potable water. Open all of the faucets and run the water until you no longer smell any bleach. It may be necessary to repeat this process again to eliminate all signs of bleach from the water system.

Once this is done it is safe to use your water system. It’s also a good idea to use a water filter at campgrounds and to keep bottled water on hand for drinking.

Happy RV Learning,

Mark Polk

RV Education 101

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10 Responses to “RV 101® What to do After the RV Trip?”

  1. John O'C on July 15th, 2012 4:48 pm

    I usually restock my water supply and fuel after trips, even if I plan to leave the RV in storage. In Alabama, in the event we lose power and hot water at the house due to storms (hurricanes, tornados, etc) our RV becomes our emergency shelter until power is restored. I usually drain, flush, sanitize and refill every 3-4 months. of course I do at least monthly checks and runs on the generator during thses periods as well

  2. butterbean carpenter on July 15th, 2012 5:04 pm

    Howdy Mark,
    Thanx, for a very good article…

  3. Linda S. on July 15th, 2012 5:20 pm

    Mark. What do you define as “a while”? We bought a 2000 Monaco in 2006 and a few months after, noticed “a smell”. Can’t define it as musty (like from a leak) or any particular odor… just “a smell”. Summers, we use it at least once a month for a weekend (belong to a camping club). Always dump & use the Saniflush, so didn’t think it was the holding tanks. Last winter we boondocked in AZ for 3 months and one day I noticed No Smell. Now we’re back in Colo. & “the smell” has returned. Would letting water sit in the tank for 3 weeks before we drain or top off with more water cause a smell? Thanks.

  4. Jim G on July 15th, 2012 6:04 pm


    Where does the smell come from, all through the RV or just one or two locations. Do you notice the smell at the tap of faucets? Sniff the water coming out, perhaps this is the culprit. I am no expert but generally I sanitize the fresh water system every month, regardless of use. I follow the procedures Mark outlined and never have had a smell, so far.

  5. Mark Polk on July 16th, 2012 5:53 am

    Hi Linda,

    Draining the water system is easy to do, so I usually drain it between trips. Sometimes, if we have another trip planned within a month of returning from a trip I will leave the water in the system.

    As Jim mentioned you will need to narrow down the source of the odor so you can correct the problem. Try flushing the toilet to see if that is when you notice the odor. If it is a sulphur or rotten egg odor it could be coming from the hot water tank and the tank will need to be flushed, or the water system sanitized to remove the odor.

  6. John on August 1st, 2012 9:18 am

    A smell problem we had in our travel trailer was caused by dry p traps.

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