Cleaning Your RV Gray Water Tank to Prevent Odors and Clogs

Cleaning Your RV Gray Water Tank to Prevent Odors and Clogs

Posted by Happy Campers Store on Mar 13th 2024

The Importance of Cleaning RV Gray Tanks to Ensure Optimal Functionality and Hygiene

When it comes to maintaining an RV, there are several essential tasks that owners must prioritize. One such task is cleaning the RV gray tank, which holds the wastewater from sinks, showers, and laundry facilities. Neglecting the cleaning of the RV gray tank can lead to unpleasant odors, clogs, and even damage to the tank system. 

Many new RVers recognize that an RV black tank is going to get pretty disgusting, but the gray tank, well, that only holds shower and sink water, so how bad can it get? The gray tank can get pretty foul. Frankly, I've smelled some  odors coming from gray tanks that you could swear were coming straight from an outhouse.

In this blog post, we will show you exactly how to clean RV gray water tanks. We'll break this down in terms of the benefits of functionality, hygiene, and overall RV maintenance. 

I Don't Want to Read the Whole Article Take me to the Good Stuff!

How Do I Prevent RV Gray Water Tank Odors?

Using Vinegar and Baking Soda to Clean Gray Tanks

Cleaning Disgusting Stinky Gray Water Tanks with the Extreme Cleaner

What is the Gray Water Tank?

Before we walk through the steps for cleaning RV gray water tanks, it is crucial to understand their purpose and function. The Gray Water tank is responsible for storing and holding the wastewater generated from various sources within the RV, such as the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower, and laundry facilities. Unlike the black tank, which holds sewage waste, the gray tank contains relatively cleaner water, or 'gray water'. However, this does not mean that it does not require regular cleaning and maintenance.

How Do I Prevent Gray Water Tank Odors? 

In order to ensure your grey water tank remains clean and functions optimally, it is crucial to take proactive measures. Start by scraping off any excess food from dishes before washing them and make sure to use minimal amounts of biodegradable soap. Avoid using anti-bacterial soaps. 

Consider utilizing gray tank treatments that can help break down organic matter and reduce the buildup of food particles and soap residue. This is a key component if you are struggling with unpleasant odors that seem to be coming from your sink. We'll walk through this process in more detail shortly. 

To maintain the tank's cleanliness, it is essential to regularly flush the tank and ensure it does not become stagnant by regularly emptying and adding water.

To improve airflow and prevent odor buildup, you may want to look into installing venting systems or utilizing tank deodorizers with ventilation properties. Establishing a consistent cleaning and maintenance routine for your grey water tank is key. This routine should include flushing the tank with clean water, using tank cleaning solutions and thoroughly rinsing the tank after each use. Don't forget to inspect the tank's components, such as valves and seals, regularly to prevent leaks and potential odor issues. By following these preventative measures diligently, you can keep your grey water tank clean and functioning effectively for your travels.

How Do I Prevent RV Gray Tank Clogs?

Furthermore, neglecting to clean the gray tank can result in clogs. Normally, we only think about clogs happening in RV black tanks where we know there can be a build up of nasty solids. That being said, accumulated debris such as; hair, soap and grease can block the tank's drainage system, causing water to back up into sinks and showers. This not only hampers the functionality of these facilities but also poses a risk of water damage to the RV's interior. By regularly cleaning the gray water tank, owners can prevent clogs and maintain the smooth operation of their RV's plumbing system.

Ensuring Hygiene and Health: 

Another crucial reason to clean the RV gray tank is to ensure proper hygiene and health for the occupants of the vehicle. The gray tank contains wastewater that may contain bacteria, soap residue, and other contaminants. If left uncleaned, these substances can breed harmful bacteria and pose health risks to those using the RV's facilities.

Regular cleaning of the gray tank helps eliminate these potential health hazards, ensuring a clean and safe environment for RV occupants. It is especially important for those who frequently use the RV for extended periods or have sensitive health conditions. By prioritizing gray tank cleaning, owners can promote a hygienic living space and minimize the risk of illness.

The Gray Tanks Impact on the RV Plumbing System:

Cleaning the RV gray tank is not only beneficial for hygiene but also crucial for maintaining the overall functionality of the RV's plumbing system. Over time, debris and sediment can accumulate in the tank, leading to blockages and reduced water flow. This can strain the RV's plumbing system, potentially causing damage to pipes, valves, and other components.

Regular cleaning of the gray water tank helps remove these deposits, ensuring the smooth flow of wastewater through the plumbing system. By maintaining a clean tank, owners can prevent costly repairs and extend the lifespan of their RV's plumbing infrastructure. Additionally, a well-maintained plumbing system contributes to the overall efficiency and performance of the RV, enhancing the overall camping experience.

Many RVers recommend cleaning your Gray water tank with vinegar and baking soda. There is nothing wrong with this, just be aware that vinegar and baking soda may not remedy stubborn buildup in your tanks. If you want to try Vinegar, here's how to clean an RV gray water tank with Vinegar;

Cleaning Your RV Gray Water Tank Using Vinegar and Baking Soda

Step 1: 

Gather the Required Equipment Before embarking on the cleaning process, it's imperative to gather the necessary equipment. You'll need a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves, a sewer hose with end caps, a garden hose, a tank cleaning wand, a bucket, and a natural tank cleaner or homemade solution.

Step 2: 

Prepare the Tank for Cleaning Firstly, ensure that your gray tank is empty by dumping any remaining water through a proper sewer hookup. Next, close all valves connected to the gray tank to prevent any liquid from entering during the cleaning process. This step will ensure optimal cleaning conditions.

Step 3: 

Prepare the Cleaning Solution To create a natural and effective cleaning solution, combine one cup of distilled white vinegar with one cup of baking soda in a bucket. Stir the mixture until it forms a paste-like consistency. This concoction will help neutralize odors, dissolve grease, and break down any residual waste inside the tank.

Step 4: 

Apply the Cleaning Solution Using a tank cleaning wand, pour the cleaning solution into the RV's gray tank through the toilet or sink. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines if included with your cleaning wand. The solution will start to loosen any debris and neutralize accumulated odors. Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the level of buildup you're dealing with.

Step 5: 

Agitate the Solution After the cleaning solution has had time to work its magic, you need to agitate the tank to further break down debris and dislodge stubborn particles. Attach the tank cleaning wand to a garden hose and insert it through the RV's gray tank opening. Turn on the water, and the high-pressure stream will create a whirlpool effect within the tank, effectively scrubbing its interior surfaces.

Step 6: 

Rinse the Tank Thoroughly To ensure a comprehensive cleaning, it's crucial to thoroughly rinse the gray tank after agitation. Open the valve connected to the gray tank and allow the cleaning solution and debris to empty into the sewer hookup. Continue rinsing the tank until clear water pours out, indicating a successful cleaning process.

Step 7: 

Dry and Deodorize To prevent any lingering moisture and subsequent odors, allow the gray tank to dry completely. Afterward, sprinkle a tank deodorizer or baking soda down the drains connected to the gray tank. This step will help control odors between cleaning sessions, keeping your RV smelling fresh during your travels.

How to Clean the Dirtiest, Stinkiest RV Gray Tank?

When your RV gray water tank has a problem and you know it! 

First of all, this happens to almost every RVer. It's not uncommon to think your gray water tank is clean, only to encounter some issues that would indicate otherwise. If your RV gray water tanks stink to high heaven, it is crucial to understand the buildup that occurs within these tanks as well as how to get rid of it. 

Over time, food particles, soap residue, grease, and other debris can accumulate in gray water tanks. This buildup creates an ideal environment for bacteria and other microorganisms to thrive, leading to the production of foul-smelling gases. Additionally, the presence of stagnant water and lack of proper ventilation can exacerbate the odor problem. By understanding the causes of buildup, RV owners can take proactive steps to prevent and eliminate these unpleasant smells coming from gray water tanks.

It's hard to visually show a bad smell, but we can show the buildup inside of an RV gray tank that causes it. This is an actual customer video showing what comes out of his RV gray water tank after using the Happy Campers Extreme Cleaner.

This Video shows what comes out of the gray tank after: 

1. Emptying and Rinsing the Gray Tank 

2. Filling the Tank with Water 

3. Adding the Extreme Cleaner 

4. Letting it set for almost 24 hours ish. 

5. Emptying again.

Important Notes: This customer did not use the preferred method of driving around for at least 45 minutes. This is an important step when using the Happy Campers extreme cleaner product to ensure that the inside of the tank is thoroughly cleaned.

The customer was stationary and filled his gray water tank 3/4 or more full of water along with adding the Extreme Cleaner treatment. He then let the treatment set over night and emptied the next day. Though this method is much less effective, we can really see some big chunks of gross buildup coming out of this tank that normal rinsing could not get. Imagine what would have come out if the agitation from driving around had been applied.

What's Causing the Bad Smell Coming from my RV Gray Tank?

1. Food Particles and Soap Residue:

One of the primary causes of bad smells in RV gray water tanks is the accumulation of food particles and soap residue. When washing dishes or cleaning, small food particles and soap scum can find their way into the gray tank. Over time, these particles can decompose, releasing foul-smelling gases. The warm and moist environment of the tank provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, further contributing to the odor problem.

To combat this issue, it is essential to scrape off excess food from dishes before washing them and use minimal amounts of biodegradable soap. Additionally, using enzyme-based tank treatments can help break down organic matter and reduce the buildup of food particles and soap residue, ultimately minimizing the occurrence of bad smells.

2. Stagnant Water and Lack of Ventilation:

Another factor that contributes to the bad smell in RV gray water tanks is the presence of stagnant water and inadequate ventilation. When the RV is stationary for extended periods, the water in the gray tank can become stagnant, allowing bacteria to multiply and produce foul odors. Additionally, a lack of proper ventilation can trap these odors inside the tank, intensifying the smell problem.

To address this issue, RV owners should ensure regular use and flushing of the gray tank. Regularly emptying the tank and adding water can help prevent the water from becoming stagnant. Installing venting systems or using tank deodorizers with ventilation properties can also help improve airflow and reduce the buildup of odors.

3. Insufficient Gray Tank Cleaning and Maintenance:

Insufficient cleaning and maintenance of the RV gray water tank can also contribute to the development of bad smells. If the tank is not regularly cleaned, the buildup of debris and bacteria will continue to worsen, resulting in stronger and more persistent odors. Neglecting to clean the tank can also lead to  clogs and blockages, further exacerbating the smell problem.

To combat this issue, RV owners should establish a regular cleaning and maintenance routine for their gray water tank. This includes flushing the tank with clean water, using tank cleaning solutions or enzyme-based treatments, and ensuring thorough rinsing of the tank after each use. Regular inspections of the tank's components, such as valves and seals, are also essential to prevent leaks and potential odor issues.

Using the Extreme Cleaner to Clean Stinky Gray Tanks

A Comprehensive Guide on How to Use the Extreme Cleaner by Happy Campers: Achieving Spotless Gray Tanks

To tackle stubborn buildup and eliminate foul odors in RV gray water tanks, many RV enthusiasts turn to  the Extreme Cleaner by Happy Campers

This powerful cleaning solution is specifically designed to deep clean gray water tanks, removing debris and bacteria that can cause unpleasant smells. The Extreme Cleaner is the most powerful RV tank cleaner available. It's very easy to use and is very effective.

How Does the Extreme Cleaner Clean Gray Tanks? 

Before diving into the usage instructions, it is important to understand the effectiveness of the Extreme Cleaner by Happy Campers. This specially formulated cleaner is designed to break down and dissolve stubborn buildup in gray tanks. Its powerful cleaning agents target grease, soap scum, food particles, and other debris, leaving your tanks clean and odor-free. The Extreme Cleaner is also environmentally friendly and safe for all types of plumbing systems, making it a popular choice among RV owners.

Preparing your RV Gray Tank:

To begin the cleaning process, it is important to prepare the gray tank. Start by emptying the tank completely, ensuring that there is no standing water or debris. Next, close the tank valve securely to prevent any leakage during the cleaning process. It is also recommended to wear gloves and protective eyewear while handling the cleaning solution.

Applying the Extreme Cleaner: 

The next step is to dilute and apply the Extreme Cleaner to the gray tank. Follow the instructions provided by Happy Campers for the recommended dilution ratio. Typically, we mix one container of the Extreme Cleaner into a gallon bucket of Hot water.

Once the solution is ready, pour it into the gray tank through the sink or shower drain. It is important to distribute the solution evenly throughout the tank. To achieve this, you can add water to the tank while pouring the cleaner, allowing it to mix thoroughly.

Agitating and Allowing the Cleaner to Work: 

After applying the Extreme Holding Tank Cleaner, it is important to agitate the solution to enhance its cleaning power. This can be done by driving the RV. We recommend at least a 45 minute drive, the windier the road the better The movement helps the cleaner reach all areas of the tank, ensuring a thorough cleaning.

Once the solution has been agitated, it is recommended to let it sit in the tank for a period of time. The exact duration will depend on the severity of the buildup and the instructions provided by Happy Campers. For best results, we recommend adding the cleaner before you head out on a trip and empty once you reach your destination.

Flushing and Rinsing the Gray Water Tank:

After the recommended duration has passed, it is time to flush and rinse the gray water tank. Open the tank valve and allow the solution to drain completely. This will remove the dissolved debris and bacteria from the tank.

Next, thoroughly rinse the tank with clean water. This can be done by filling the tank with water and then draining it multiple times. It is important to ensure that all traces of the cleaning solution are removed.

Changing Lanes produced a video showing how they used the Extreme Cleaner to remedy a pretty stinky gray water tank problem, check it out below.


Cleaning an RV's gray water tank is an integral part of the maintenance process that should not be overlooked. Neglecting this vital task can result in unpleasant odors, clogged drains, and potential damage. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can ensure that your gray tank remains clean and odor-free, enhancing your overall RV experience. Remember to prioritize regular cleanings and incorporate preventative measures to maintain a healthy and enjoyable RV lifestyle.