Can You Flush Toilet Paper in an RV?

Owning an RV frees you up to an abundance of experiences as you travel across the land. It is also an excellent way to get out into nature with your friends and family. However, you must spend more than just the RV, though.

You’ll need an RV toilet paper. Without this special item, you’ll find your septic tank bursting with clogs and in need of repair. So, being sure to pile your bathroom up with this item is very crucial.

Proper black tank and toilet maintenance are integral for a pleasant RV experience. You may find it easy to do yourself, as long as you perfectly understand the basics.

“Yes, taking care of the black tank is my favorite bit of RVing,” said no RVer ever. However, the bathroom is really one of the best RV points and proper maintenance is essential to keep smells and clogs at bay. The good news is that it isn’t that challenging to manage your RV toilet and black tank.

You just need to learn the difference between RV toilets and household toilets, proper usage of RV-safe materials and chemicals, and follow proper cleaning methods each time you clear the black tank.

First, let’s understand how an RV toilet works and how they differ from a common household toilet. And then we’ll answer the question most RVers love to ask?

What Types of RV Toilets are There?

The most typical type of RV toilet has easy access to your RV water supply, a foot pedal for flushing that empties the toilet, and carries it to the RV black tank. High-quality RV toilets are commonly made of porcelain, and the more affordable ones are made of plastic.

Some smaller types of RVs, like tent trailers and teardrops, may come with cassette toilets. They come with a built-in reservoir for freshwater that connects to a “cassette” for waste. You can detach the cassette when you want to dump the waste into a sewer drain.

Another type of RV toilet that has become more popular is the composting toilet. These do not require a plumbing system or water supply to function, making them highly recommended for folks who like to boondock. This type of toilet carries the waste into a lower holding tank (or tanks) where liquids diffuse and solids turn into fertilizer. 

How is an RV Toilet Different from a Toilet in a Sticks and Bricks house?

An RV toilet has a significant difference from a residential toilet in your home.

A house toilet uses a fresh water supply system and is coupled to the main drain system that excludes wastewater from your home and brings it in a sewer line or septic system. An RV toilet also uses a freshwater supply, which you can get from a campground water hookup or the RV freshwater tank. However, the waste goes directly into a black water tank, where it is collected until you clear it.

An airtight rubber seal placed at the bottom of the toilet bowl is all that separates you from the black tank waste. So make sure to take care of it and replace it promptly if worn, dry, or cracked. 

What is an RV Black Tank?

An RV black tank is a container connected to the underbelly of the RV where all wastes are stored. All of the wastes from the RV toilet go straight into the black tank, while the wastewater from the RV showers and sinks goes into the gray tank.

Black tanks differ in size anywhere from 15 gallons to 50 gallons. The capacity of your black tank will indicate how long you can use your RV toilet without clearing the tank.

That said, RVers that prefer dry camping and boondocking should look for a bigger black tank or must be able to minimize the use of the RV toilet. 

Should You Poop in Your RV?

RV toilets are built to handle all human waste. If you take care of your black tank and RV toilet thoroughly, plus using lots of freshwaters when flushing, you will be able to poop in your RV without encountering clogs or smells. 

RV Sewage Systems

For this discussion, let’s focus first on the black-water holding tank.

That holding tank is typically found directly under the toilet. When you flush your RV toilet, the waste, and flush water plunge straight into the black tank. It uses an uncomplicated and powerful gravity-drop system similar to an old outhouse or more modern “porta-potty.”

Several RVs are built with a “pumping-type” toilet that is designed to pump the waste from the toilet straight to the tank. Meanwhile, a “macerator” toilet has a system that uses gallons of water.

The macerator toilet is found in any RV when the toilet is not placed directly over the black tank. This is commonly seen in RVs with a rear bathroom. The rear toilet pumps the flush to the black tank. However, this system is not applicable to extended boondocking due to its excessive use of water.

Your RV’s black tank works like a septic tank system located in most homes that are not connected to a municipal sewer system. In that way, the waste and water from the flush proceed into a holding tank where it breaks down. This holding tank is called the “septic tank” in residential areas and the “black tank” in RVs.

At home, the waste is slowly drained or dissolved into the earth. For an RV, you must literally “dump” or clear the black tank when it is nearly full.

The size of the black tank corresponds to the size of the RV. This means that the bigger the RV, the bigger the black tank. And the bigger the black tank, the longer you can go with your journey without dumping.

This is the part of your RV that is considered “self-contained” or fully practical without being “hooked up” or connected to utilities.

Toilet Paper – 101

What do you know about toilet paper? Unfortunately, the toilet paper that must be used in RVs is “unique.” That is, using a special type of paper (not brand specific) is a must to ensure that it will dissolve in the black tank easily.

Can you flush toilet paper in an RV?

RV toilets are built to control the flushing of RV-safe toilet paper. If you are using toilet paper that is specially designed for RV toilets and flushing with lots of fresh water, you should not worry about a clog. 

When flushing, always make sure that the toilet paper has fully flushed before releasing the flush lever. This will stop toilet paper from getting caught in the toilet seal and keeping it from shutting completely. 

Remember that some RV owners strongly avoid flushing toilet paper down into their RV black tank, and instead use a trash can with a lid for disposal of their toilet paper. This may be unnecessary, but some RVers would prefer the safer way of black tank maintenance. 

Do I need to use RV toilet paper?

There are toilet papers specifically designed for use in RVs so that it “breaks down” or disintegrates easily and rapidly.

There are two different “labels” to watch out for on the packages of toilet paper that indicate it will be safe to use in an RV. First, and the most obvious, is “Safe for RV use” or any relevant statements. The other label is more complex and it usually goes like, “Safe for Septic Systems.” The rule of thumb, if the toilet paper is safe for use in the household’s septic systems, it will be okay in RVs as well.

Branded toilet papers sold specifically for RVs are available at several RV dealers, camping supply stores, and a few retail stores. You can also find it at Wal-Mart.

One important note to remember is that this “specialty” toilet paper is always more expensive than ordinary toilet paper found in grocery stores. However, since you are not really required to buy the “specialty” one (assuming that you purchased the “Safe for Septic Systems” brands), you can also save a lot of money by purchasing toilet papers at the grocery store for use in your RV.

The only brand that you should avoid is Charmin®. Several RV owners insist on using RV-specific products only, while others claim that these products are just a big rip-off.

What separates the RV toilet paper from the regular ones is that it is built to dissolve easily in the black tank to avoid clogs. Companies such as Scott and Thetford convey a thorough trial to make sure that their products are RV-friendly. These companies also understand that consumers pay a bit extra for a niche product and peace of mind. 

What to consider when purchasing RV toilet paper?

There are several key aspects you need to consider before you buy toilet paper for your RV. Without paying thorough attention and giving due care, you will surely find yourself with a scratchy, thin toilet paper that constantly jams up your septic tank. Here, we take you through the main points you need to consider when buying toilet paper for your RV.

Biodegradability

The main factor that you should consider is that your toilet paper is biodegradable. Due to the small size of your RV’s septic tank and the fact that the waste requires to be stored and cleared, regular toilet paper will create blockages that could cost you hundreds of dollars to fix.

Be sure to choose a toilet paper that is completely biodegradable and breaks up quickly.

Strength

A lot of the toilet papers designed for RVs are thin to make them biodegradable. Imagine a type of tissue paper that you use to fill a gift bag.

Using toilet paper of this thickness will create breakages and tears as you use it. It will also require you to apply for more than you would with thicker paper.

Comfort

Another side effect of thin toilet paper is that it frequently ends up being scratchy, which can create a lot of discomfort during use. Rather than point yourself to this event, try to choose a toilet paper for your RV that is smoother and well-textured, as this will help with the absorbance.

The toilet paper breakdown test

If there is ever any issue about whether some “special” toilet paper can be used in an RV, try these methods…

  1. With a regular clear water glass (about 10 oz.), fill it with half-full of water.
  2. Place a couple of clean pieces of toilet paper inside the glass.
  3. With your one hand on top of the glass to seal it and the other on the bottom, shake the glass two times forcefully. No more, no less. Place the glass down.
  4. Observe if the toilet paper has dissolved or disintegrated.

If so, that toilet paper won’t probably harm your RV toilet. But if the sheets of paper are almost intact and still in large pieces, don’t use them. Also, remember that shaking the glass more than two times will nearly always make the paper dissolve!

Are septic-safe toilet papers the same as RV-safe toilet papers?

Some RVers say that septic-safe toilet papers are specifically designed for the same purposes as RV toilet paper—to easily disintegrate in a waste holding tank. Thus, they are safe to use without the hefty price.

Remember, though, that there are huge differences between a household septic system and an RV black tank system. And the septic-safe toilet paper is not guaranteed to dissolve quickly in RV black tanks. Therefore, some septic toilet paper may still dissolve easily in an RV black tank, but you can’t still be sure that all brands will.

Some RVers like to test their septic-safe toilet paper first by placing a few sheets of toilet tissue into a jar of water then shake it vigorously for about 10 to 15 seconds. If the toilet paper starts to dissolve, it is safe for the RV. Otherwise, do not use it. 

Disposal process for used toilet paper

Several RVers (newbies and experienced ones) stated that they never flush their “used” toilet paper straight down the toilet. Nearly all have said that they just put it inside a plastic bag and take it out along with the other trash.

Most of the reasons stated for this were:

  • They are not confident with the black tank.
  • They believed that it was unsanitary to carry used toilet paper with them even in the black tank.
  • They didn’t think they were supposed to lay toilet paper in the toilet.
  • Their friends instructed them to do it that way.

They may think that they are doing the right thing, but it just isn’t necessary. The flush system and holding (black) tank is built for practical usage. Rarely is there a problem? Just apply plenty of flush water and everything will be fine. This special RV system has been on the scene for decades on RVs.

Correct Disposal Process for Used Toilet Paper

This one is easy: Flush it down the toilet, period. That’s all you need to do, just like what you do at home.

Don’t store it, pack it, wrap it, or travel with it. Just flush it down the toilet. That’s exactly what the toilet was intended to do and precisely what the black tank is for.

If the system runs and works well, use it with the correct toilet paper we discussed earlier.

Final Thoughts

When looking for an RV toilet paper, make sure that it is septic-safe tissue to ensure that it breaks down easily. Normally 1 or 2 plies of these septic-safe toilet paper works the same as RV toilet tissue. You can also test it first in your kitchen before using it in the toilet to ensure it breaks down easily. 

And remember to buy an RV toilet paper holder to keep your bathroom neat, clean, and organized! A regular toilet paper holder works excellently as an RV toilet paper holder, and you can buy one that you can attach to the wall, stand on its own, and much more. Choose one to suit your personal style and the décor and color scheme of your RV bathroom.