Our First Black Water Mistake

A man hooking up a waste hose to an RV for black water drainage.
Our story begins when the sewage hit Mack’s shoes.

But let’s back up so you can truly grasp the scope of that moment. We are Mack and Christina, a married Millennial couple, who went all in (an “entire life savings” kind of all in) to move into an RV on November 1, 2018. Neither of us had ever spent one night in an RV park until that first night. So, why did we do it?

Moving into 300 square feet is not the traditional decision most married couples in their late 20’s make. But for us, it meant consistency. Mack serves in the military, which enables us to move often. Our motivation to live in our RV full-time is the fact that we can hook it up to Mack’s truck and just go—and still be in our home. Since we move so much, home has always been wherever we are together; but now, we have a physical space that makes moving a little easier.

So, back to day number one. You know how the first time you do something, you try hard to make it look like you’ve done it before? Us, too. We arrived at the RV park and went inside the office to get the rundown on this new life we were about to “roll” into. We received our spot assignment, signed on the dotted line and popped back into the truck.

It was time to back our 34-foot RV into the spot and line it up just right. (Deep breath.) But don’t leave tires marks in the grass. (Deep breath.) Crank the wheel right—ahhh, a little left—okay straight back. We’re in. I sighed a big breath of relief. So far, so good!

Up next was water and the toilet. While I captured our new home through my latest Instagram preset, Mack was literally doing the dirty work. Although he’d never set up plumbing before, he examined the hose, figuring out its connectivity and assuming that the tanks were emptied upon the exchange of ownership. Do you see where this is going?

Christina and Mack Griffin pose in front of their Airstream.

Our ’93 Airstream Excella is 34 feet of pure love. We didn’t know what life would look like as full-time RVers, but it’s not only doable – it’s worth every minute!

As Mack removed the tank cover, just before he could attach the hose and click it in place, the sludge rush of 2018 began. And by sludge, we mean … well, you know. And it was coming out alarmingly fast. This sludge had been stored in that black tank during our Florida summer for three months. Can you imagine the nuclear smell that Mack was enduring as it came in contact with his tennis shoes and spilled onto the concrete of our first ever campsite spot? The smell stopped us in our tracks, petrified. We’d instantly rained on the parade of our new neighbors and the RV park as a whole, and it became crystal clear to everyone that we were newbies.

Amongst my gagging and the realization that Mack’s tennis shoes should be burned and then buried, we had to come clean with the RV park owner that we had never done this before. Any of it. Mack approached him and explained the situation. He looked Mack dead in the eyes and asked, “Are there any solids?”

How Mack didn’t laugh, I don’t know. But since there were no “solids,” it was an oddly calm exchange. Mack simply hosed off the concrete, and thanks to some strong Gulf Coast winds, we were spared the stench for much longer.

As all of this occurred, I just plugged my nose, gagged and kept saying, “Oh my gosh!” Which I don’t remember, but Mack assures me I was screaming it. Clearly, I was a huge help.

We both learned a lot that day, and Mack came up with three tips for setting up your sewage for the first time.

  1. Disposable gloves are your best friend.

    This doesn’t take too much explaining because, well, you’re dealing with sewage. And in the case of any slight spillage, you won’t feel like you need to pumice stone your hands clean. Rule of thumb, always stock up on disposable gloves.

  2. Hook up your sewage hose to the ground first.

    It’s imperative that you connect your sewage hose into the ground before you start the process of connecting it to your RV sewage pipe. Locate the sewage port at your RV site, pop off the top, and seat the adaptor on your hose into the sewage port. Ensure the connection is secure to avoid any mishaps. Once that’s complete, you’re ready to catch any residual sludge that might be residing in your black tank. Do as we say, not as we do: if we had hooked up our sewage hose first, we could have caught the mess in the hose leading it to the sewer. Instead, it landed on Mack’s shoes. See Mack smiling in that photo? It’s because he learned from his mistake, and now you don’t have to make the same one.

  3. Flush and close your tank before you leave.

    Somehow, our black tank wasn’t fully empty and it was open when we popped the cover to connect the sewage hose. This is the only explanation for the speed at which our first set-up spiraled into a smelly debacle. If you’re like us, even though your RV is new to you, it may still show signs of previous use.

    Here’s how to flush your tanks completely. First, make sure they’re empty. Use your plumbing system to actuate the process of flushing your tanks. For us, this involves hitting a switch to open and another to close, on both tanks. We always do the black first, so the grey water will flush the line after the sewage is drained. Next, use an auxiliary water hose to hook into the city water spigot and then screw the other end into the spigot above your tanks. Make sure your black tank is open and turn on the city water. This will flood your tank, cleaning it completely. Run the water for several minutes to ensure it’s free of any debris or extraneous material that may be sitting in the tank and line. Once complete, be sure to close your tank. Then, disconnect the water hose from both the city water source and your tank. We choose to use a hose exclusively for flushing tanks so we don’t cross-contaminate our drinking water with the cleaning water.

    For an extra measure of caution, hit your black tank switch to the closed position before you start set up at your new location. By flushing your tanks and closing them before you depart, the hope is that when you reach your next destination, your tank is clean and therefore won’t spill upon re-connecting your sewer line.

Ensure that the hose properly connects to your RV output for sewage. And wear gloves, always. The RV sewage set-up is quick and easy after a time or two. If we can figure it out, anyone can.

And, if you do make a mistake, take it in stride. It’s a learning experience you’ll laugh about some day, and you’ll have countless other firsts to celebrate. Never forget—we were all newbies once!

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