Lesson Learned: Not All Septic Safe Toilet Paper Is RV Compatible

Last year I went through some minor drama with regards to our camper’s black tank, which is the tank that the toilet empties into.  Don’t worry, there’s nothing too queasy here!

Essentially, we use our toilet mostly for number one only.  Since we camp at campgrounds, most other business is done at the campground bathrooms.  Unfortunately, it’s not 100%, but even so there’s toilet paper used anyway.

The Problem Arises

Last summer, we were on a week long trip around the 4th of July, and we ran into trouble. After every time using the toilet, well, the only way to put it, is that the camper stank.  Definitely a sewer stink.  (I promised it wouldn’t be too queasy, and that’s the most detail there is *lol*)

I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but after some investigation I found out the problem.  The tank was full.

We were only halfway into the trip, so I knew that something was not right at all.

Luckily for us, our trip was divided into two parts and we were leaving the campground the next day.  I was able to stop at the ’empty out’ station, but even as I went through, I could tell that the amount that had emptied was not a full tanks worth.  Even so, the amount that cleared was sufficent to get us through the week.

mb-2014-05outhouse
So to speak….

After I got home, I did a more thorough cleanout of the tank. There’s a tool specifically for this and I already happened to own one.  Prior to this, I used it just once a year at the end of the season for a final cleanout, but used it now.  It’s a wand that goes on the end of a hose, and since the tank is located directly beneath the toilet, you just lower it into the tank area, turn it on, and it shoots out jets of water all over the place.  It definitely did the trick as the next ’empty out’ cleared it out.

Identifying The Issue

I began to suspect that the toilet paper we were using was possibly the culprit.  From our last couple of trips, I monitored how things went.  It definitely seemed like the tank didn’t fully empty when we left, and after using the wand, it did.

This spring, I decided to do an RV toilet paper test.  Essentially, what you want is for the toilet paper that you put into the tank to break down by the time it’s emptied.  Toilet paper that is ‘Septic Safe’ is supposed to do this.  We were using ‘Septic Safe’ toilet paper, made by Thetford.  It’s sold all over the place, and I figured it had to work because, well, it’s sold all over the place and it’s labeled that it’s RV safe.

The RV Toilet Paper Test

I read a lot of forums about our camper type, and there’s quite a bit of information available as this is a fairly common problem.  What you want to do is test the toilet paper to make sure that it does in fact break down.  The test is pretty simple:

  • Fill a jar or glass halfway with water
  • Insert a couple squares of toilet paper
  • Cover the top and give it a couple of vigorous shakes.  This simulates the ‘drop’ from the toilet down into the tank.
  • Give it an hour or two of soaking, since this is what it does in the tank anyways.
  • Give it another couple of shakes.  This simulates the sloshing around that takes place when other toilet paper and water drops in, or when you’re driving around to empty out.

After all this, the desired result is that the toilet paper breaks down.  It should break down into small shreds.

I decided to give our paper a try and a few others a try as well.

The Results

  • Thetford RV Safe Paper – This was no good.  The paper was ripped in a couple of spots but did not break down at all as expected.  I can definitely see why we had a problem as this would not generally drain well during the empty out process, and would then accumulate over time.  FAIL.
  • Scotts Single Ply Paper – I noticed that the rolls at work were labeled Septic Safe, so I decided to steal a couple squares.  The results were not much better.  FAIL.
  • Kirkland Brand Two-Ply – Generally, you’re not supposed to put two-ply down, but Costco stuff is often pretty magical, so I figured I’d give it a try.  No good.   FAIL.
  • Walgreen’s The Big Roll – I was driving by a Walgreens and for some reason I stopped in and they have ‘The Big Roll’ sold either individually for 79 cents or in a 4 pack for $2.99 (a whopping 3 cents saving for buying in bulk).  I figured for 79 cents, it was worth a try, and it came out as the clear winner.  As soon as I gave it the initial shake, I could see it start breaking down, and by the time an hour had passed, it was fully shredded.  This is the clear winner.  And, since we generally don’t use it for the most stressful of toilet paper situations, it’s just fine. PASS!!!

I immediately went out and switched out our roll with the remaining roll that had 998 squares left.  I expect better emptying results and will be monitoring throughout the summer to see if this improves our situation.

Why Did The Other Stuff Fail?

I’m really surprised that the other stuff didn’t work.  Many other people who reviewed the Thetford brand said it worked fine, but then I started to see a theme.  Many people who have campers go to more full service campgrounds.  These include areas where you can hook up to water and sewer right at your campsite.  This means that you can empty your tank as often as you please, which means that you can fill it as often as you please.

In our case, since we go for a week and we don’t have a means to empty the tank, we can’t be as liberal with how much water we put per flush.  You’re supposed to make sure to put a good amount down, and I’d say we probably put down a couple of cups per flush, which is fine for ‘dry’ camping, but if I had a full hookup, you could double or triple that, and then empty the tank.  Having full service hookup seemed to be a more common report amongst those who found success.

Also, when camping, you’re supposed to put in chemicals that will help break things down.  I do put these in the tank with the proper allocation, but I didn’t use them for testing.  Still, I’m hard pressed to believe that the chemicals can make that substantial of a difference, and I’d rather know that the toilet paper I use will break down regardless of their presence.

So, the clear winner for our RV, at least for the time being, is Walgreen’s The Big Roll.

4 thoughts on “Lesson Learned: Not All Septic Safe Toilet Paper Is RV Compatible”

  1. Hah who would have thought that Walgreens would save the day! 🙂 Glad you figured it out. That was smart of you to test the different brands like that. Nice job DIY!

  2. It’s really interesting that not all septic safe toilet paper works for RV’s. That actually makes me wonder how well that stuff breaks down in other septic systems. If it doesn’t work well in an RV, then I’m not totally sure you can trust it to work as well as it claims. It may be interesting to look into that a bit more.

    • Well the one thing that is different is the amount of time that is required to break down. With us camping, the most we typically have the tanks in use is around a week. A septic system can go for years between cleanouts, so there is a lot more time for that paper to break down in the septic system.

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