How to Unclog a Camper Toilet (Step-by-Step)

So your toilet in your RV is all clogged up and you have no idea how it happened and how to deal with it? Here's everything you have to know about clogged camper toilets.

There are some key differences between an RV toilet and a house toilet, however, when it comes to clogging in an RV toilet, it’s almost always because of what’s happening in the tank just below it. Since they drain differently and clog differently, a camper clog isn’t necessarily dealt with in the same way. So, how to unclog a camper toilet?

There are the official ways, such as flexible tank wands and chemical solutions; then there are the unofficial ways, such as using ice cubes or dumping boiling water down into the toilet while the valve is completely open. 

The good news is, whether it is a homemade remedy or an official, chemical ready, all of the above solutions work pretty well. Some work better than others and if you’ve recently dropped the kiddies off at the swimming pool, only to discover that they don’t want to swim, you have some options to go with to force the issue. 

What causes toilets in a camper to clog?

a bunch of toilet paper rolls stacked up
Image credits: Kev Bation

Toilets in an RV drain similar to the way toilets in a home drain, with two major exceptions. An RV toilet is far more dependent on gravity than a house toilet and a house toilet uses a lot more water since it has to generate enough flow to push the waste into the drain pipe.

When your RV toilet clogs, it’s often because there is far too much material to drop down into the tank, or the tank itself is full and you’re really in trouble, especially if you have no means with which to dump it at the moment. 

Summer and winter also play a role, as the summer heat evaporates the necessary water inside the black tank, allowing waste material and toilet paper to stack without getting broken down as they should be. Winter does something similar by raising the viscosity of the sewage, reducing flow, and slowing down the process of degradation. 

When you don’t have the necessary chemicals in your black tank and the summer or winter are playing their roles, it’s a race to see who is the king of the hill, with the largest chunk of truffle probably being the winner.

It’s also important to dump your tanks routinely. You never want to end up somewhere that you are solely dependent on solar energy for all of your camping needs, with water and waste at primitive levels, and an overflowing black or grey tank.

When to dump your grey & black tanks

Whether it’s your grey holding tank or your black, you should dump them at regular intervals of 3 to 5 days, or when they reach roughly ⅔ full. Whichever comes first. If you had some Taco Bell recently and your black tank is ⅔ full in only two days, it’s time to dump it. 

Besides, you’ll probably want to dump that mess as soon as possible anyway. There are also some other facts to consider. You might be in a small camper with a 12-gallon tank, while others are dealing with monstrosities on wheels that are lugging around 200-gallon tanks. 

So obviously, the 12-gallon tank is going to be emptied at a far more frequent pace than the 200-gallon tank. If your camper is parked at a campground for seasonal living accommodations, then it’s obviously not a concern, since you will be on a permanent hookup.

There are two more reasons why you should follow the routine dumping procedures mentioned above. First, dumping on a routine basis helps keep the insides of the tank from getting a lot of residue build-up, especially if Taco Tuesdays is a thing.

Second, it helps to keep odors down. As good as your toilet seal is and as well-mounted as your tank might be, nothing can hold down the odors that will proliferate from a week’s worth of baked beans, cabbage, tacos, cheese, fish, and fried food. Painting quite the image aren’t we?

How to properly unclog a camper toilet

a woman in blue gloves cleaning toilet
Image credits: Marco Verch

We will separate these into two groups, the official way (the one that you will probably find on your RV maintenance manual) and the homemade versions. We promise, none of the homemade stuff will involve essential oils and conspiracy theories, though the essential oils may be great for odor control.

These methods do work and have been shown to work over decades of recreational vehicle experience amongst the masses.

The official means

You should always stock up on the necessities for a vacation in the camper or long-term recreational road travel. That means keeping plenty of toilet and bathroom cleaning supplies stocked for any eventuality, even if you do subscribe to more of the home remedies. 

  • Stock up on black tank cleaners
  • Purchase a flexible wand or even a drain snake
  • Vacuum breaker

Black tank cleaners are incredibly effective and take very little time to break down the “deposits” that are clogging up your camper toilet. The best part and the worst part is the fact that the market is saturated with them, so be careful what you choose.

Unique is one of the more popular brands and gets a lot of positive user reviews. It’s one of literally hundreds of options, however, including multiple variations of itself. Thetford is another good option. Besides, anything that markets itself with the words “Blasts Crud” overlaying an explosive background has got to be good for something.

Flexible wand cleaners and drain snakes are just as effective in an RV as they are at home. Of course, they can be a little messier, especially the snake as it will pick up a lot of debris along its coils as you wind it down and through. 

The wand and snake methods should be used for only the lightest clogs before they have the opportunity to turn into something much worse. 

Lastly, the vacuum breaker installs directly onto the sewage line and keeps the mail moving, not allowing backflow. It blasts away residue and “crud” and the best part is that it will do its job without your intervention. So you can put away the wand and your look of disappointment. 

Home remedies

There are a lot of these, so prepare yourself. Fortunately, most of the home remedy methods for clearing out toilet clogs in RVs actually work, albeit not to the same degree as chemical cleaners and vacuum breakers. They’re great in a pinch however and will get the job done until you can find a better alternative.

  • Boiling water
  • Ice cubes
  • Dish soap and vaseline
  • Baking soda and vinegar

There are a lot more home remedies than this, but these are deemed the most effective solutions, especially in the short term. 

If you have a large pot and a propane burner, boiling water for a clogged-up camper toilet is your best friend. Get your water going until it’s a nice bubbling, boil, and dump it down into your toilet.

Boiling water is an excellent tool for breaking down solid waste. It will practically eat its way through paper waste, like toilet paper, especially if you go very liberal and the Charmin. It will eat through it quickly, dissipating the worst part of the clog and it will get your toilet back to the standard operating procedure in a hurry. 

It’s not the end all be all of toilet unclogging power, but it will free you up until you can get the tank properly discharged. 

The ice cube trick may have you scratching your head at first, especially when we’ve already discussed the fact that winter air is not healthy for a free-flowing toilet and black tank. However, it’s an old-school method that any veteran RVer will tell you is tried and true.

  • Get a large bag of ice from the store
  • Dump the entire thing down your toilet
  • Take the RV for a spin
  • Return to the campground or home and dump

The ice works as a sort of aggregate beat down for all of the material waste in the tank. It will knock everything loose in other words, adding much-needed liquid to the tank as it melts away. 

Dish soap and vaseline is another good trick. Pick either or and dump it into your tank. Go with an industrial-sized bottle and pour it all in there. It’s like a laxative for black tanks and will allow you to unclog everything and dump what’s in your tank. 

Baking soda and vinegar is a great combination, especially when you dump an industrial-sized box of baking soda in there, quickly followed by several liters of vinegar. The chemical reaction of the two will help break apart all of the consolidated material down there, freeing up the clog. 

Final thoughts

When all is said and done and you have used any of the above solo or combination methods, your toilet should be unclogged and everything flowing properly again.

Remember to dump your tank after a clog, to help remove any final fecal resistance before relaxing, once again, on your porcelain throne, confident that you are well on your way to creating the next clog.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.