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Your RV’s fresh water system is the key to most of the conveniences that you may have in your RV. And while freshwater isn’t necessary for an RV’s operation, its quality and quantity are crucial for ensuring a positive experience.
Aside from convenience, the health aspect of your RV’s fresh water system is also critical. And with that in mind, we want to talk about effective and safe ways of sanitizing a freshwater system, particularly with vinegar.
Why Clean Your RV’s Freshwater System?
While it’s obvious that your RV’s fresh water system should be kept clean, what are the things that you should be especially mindful of?
Well, here is what your RV’s fresh water system may be contaminated with:
- Mineral buildup. This may be caused by the minerals contained in water.
- Mold and mildew buildup. The growth of these can be fostered by humidity inside the tank.
- Bacteria can get into your fresh water system from a variety of sources, e.g. water of unknown quality.
Of these, you should be most mindful of bacteria. Among the bacteria that could make a home in your freshwater system are E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. These bacteria can cause food poisoning and severe diseases, and they are the biggest threat that could be lurking inside your freshwater system.
With that said, minerals and mold are no less harmful, and they should be dealt with as well.
Why Would You Want To Use Vinegar For Tank Cleaning?
Chlorine-based bleaches are very commonly used in water and kitchen sanitation. And while bleach can be very effective at sanitation, it poses significant health hazards.
In low concentrations (around 4 parts per million), bleach can effectively kill pathogens in drinking water while keeping it safe to consume. However, accidental ingestion of water with high bleach concentrations could lead to irritation, burns, and even a fatal income.
Not only that, but you need to be careful when handling bleach while doing a cleanup. Contact with skin or eyes causes irritation, burns, or drying, and inhalation of bleach fumes is harmful to the lungs.
The solution? Well, perhaps the best option is to switch from bleach to another, safer substance for cleaning. In particular, we want to talk about the use of vinegar in cleaning the RV fresh water system.
Bleach is completely okay in moderation
At low concentrations, bleach is tasteless and odorless, as well as safe for consumption. Most city water lines use bleach for sanitation anyway, and these lines are safe because they use bleach in moderation.
The thing here is that the city lines are closely monitored to ensure that there is only as much bleach as needed in them. But can you make sure that there is just enough bleach in your freshwater system to sanitize it while keeping you safe?
If not, then other safe options like vinegar are much better. It will take a lot of vinegar to do harm, and as long as you follow the general 50/50 water-to-vinegar formula, you should be okay.
Is Vinegar An Effective Freshwater Tank Cleaning Solution?
Bleach is a very common household cleaning solution. It’s widely available, and it’s also much safer to use than bleach.
But is vinegar effective?
It appears that yes.
The Colorado State University Extension provides this handy chart comparing a few solutions that are commonly used for kitchen sanitization. In particular, the ability of the solutions to kill bacteria that often contaminate food – listeria, E. coli, and salmonella.
Apparently, white distilled vinegar is capable of killing these bacteria, just like chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide. But there’s a catch – the vinegar needs to be at a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill these bacteria.
And notably, baking soda – another solution commonly used for cleaning and sanitization – is ineffective at any temperature or contact time with the surface.
While unheated vinegar will do a decent job of cleaning and sanitizing your fresh water system, it may not be able to kill the mentioned bacteria. And what this means is that you need to find a way to pump hot vinegar into your RV’s fresh water system.
Another great thing about hot vinegar is that it will be effective at removing mineral deposits that may have built up during those weeks and months while your freshwater system was left untreated! Vinegar is acidic and can thus dissolve mineral deposits from smooth surfaces.
And when heated, vinegar will do its job even more effectively!
How To Clean Your RV Freshwater System With Vinegar
Below is a step-by-step process of cleaning your RV fresh water system with hot white vinegar:
- Set your water heater to over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. 130 degrees should be enough, but you may want to set it higher just in case. Make sure that the heater is off – you don’t need it yet.
- Drain all water from your RV’s fresh water system. Drain the water from the hot water tank as well.
- Prepare a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar. Make at least 15 gallons of the solution (7.5 gallons of water and 7.5 gallons of vinegar).
- Fill your fresh water tank with the white vinegar solution.
- Open your kitchen faucet. Turn your water pump on and keep it on until the vinegar-water solution comes out of the faucet.
- Close the faucet and turn the water off.
- Turn your water heater on. Let it heat up the vinegar solution to the set temperature. It may take 20-30 minutes for the solution to heat up.
- In the meantime, mount a thread adapter to the kitchen faucet. Then, attach a garden hose to the adapter and run it to the freshwater tank intake. The intake should be outside of the RV.
- Once the vinegar solution has heated up, turn the heater off and turn your water pump on.
- Run the solution through the hot side of the kitchen faucet until the fresh water tank gets filled up.
- Once the vinegar solution is in the fresh water tank, you need to open each fixture until you smell vinegar out of it. You need to open the fixtures one by one and move to the next one once you smell the vinegar.
Note that you should get cold and hot water out of the cold and hot sides of each fixture. Besides, keep in mind that the cold side of the kitchen faucet should be opened last.
- Once the vinegar solution has been run through every hot and cold line in your RV (including your ice maker, drinking water dispenser in the fridge door, or whatnot), disconnect the garden hose.
- Let the vinegar sit in your RV’s fresh water system overnight.
- Remove the anode rod from the water heater and then drain and rinse the heater. You may see sediment coming out of the water heater. Place the anode rod back and set the water heater to its default temperature (usually 120 degrees).
- Hook your fresh water system to a water supply and run water through the entire system until there is no vinegar smell coming out of the fixtures. Be sure to run water through both the hot and cold sides of your fixtures.
How Often Should You Sanitize Your RV Freshwater System?
The procedure described above isn’t too difficult to implement, but it takes a lot of time and preparation. You should thus perform a deep cleanup of your RV fresh water system as infrequently as possible.
How often should you sanitize your RV’s fresh water system though? Here are a few suggestions:
- Every spring while de-winterizing your RV.
- If you sense strange odors when using water.
- If the RV’s water system hasn’t been used for a few weeks.
- After you’ve used water from a questionable source.
- If a boil water advisory is in force. This is because these advisories are issued when the local water supply is likely to be contaminated by pathogens.
Flush Your Water System When Not In Use
You should make sure that your freshwater system is empty while it is not in use. Bacteria need moisture, and if you keep the RV fresh water system filled, you will be encouraging bacteria to thrive.
By flushing your freshwater system, you are ensuring that its environment is not friendly to bacteria growth.
Keep in mind that some bacteria can survive dry conditions. Due to this, after your RV’s fresh water system has sat empty for some time, you should perform cleanup before using it to ensure that there are no bacteria in it.
Avoid Water From Questionable Sources
A key thing to keep in mind when RVing is that you should avoid questionable water sources. It’s better to have your own water supply from a reliable place than rely on the water hookups of a subpar campground. The water of unknown quality is likely to contain pathogens, not to mention that it may be highly mineralized and generally polluted.
City water lines are the most well-monitored out there, so you should replenish your water sources in cities. Alternatively, if you do know a reliable campground, you may pick up some freshwater there as well.