Our WORST RV Disaster Ever

by Christy on

What’s the absolute worst thing you can imagine happening to your wonderful little nomadic home on wheels? For us, it’s probably returning home to find Mayhem engulfed in flames, but right after that I think seeing liquid feces gushing down the side of our motorhome has got to be at the top of the list.

And that’s exactly what happened while we were in Key West.

First, some context for those of you unfamiliar with RV tanks.

The black tank is the holding space for anything that goes down the toilet: y’know, the icky stuff. The gray tank holds all the water used for dishes, showers, etc. Both of those get dumped using the same outside sewer hose; first you open the valve to dump the black tank, then close it and open the gray water valve (always in that order, so the gray water flushes the sewer hose clean).

We also hook up a sewer hose that routes clean water into the black tank as it’s being dumped, helping to create pressure and fully rinse the entire tank. We turn the water on, open the black tank valve, and after a few minutes everything is dumped and just clean water is flowing through the tank.

So, the disaster.

As we were packing up to leave our ridiculously over-priced and hoity-toity RV Park in Key West, Kali turned on the flush water… but instead of opening the BLACK tank valve to let it all out, he accidentally opened the GRAY tank. Not realizing his error, he left the tank flushing (he thought) and went to find a dumpster to dispose of our accumulated trash.

As he walked back to the RV and saw Mayhem, this was his reaction:

Foul sewer water pouring off the roof of Mayhem, down the sides, and cascading over the ground. Oh. Ehm. Gee. Is this for real?

Poor Kali ran to turn the water off then rushed inside to see if the toilet had overflowed. I was inside lashing things down and cleaning stuff up before we left, and of course I had no idea of the disaster that was taking place directly above my head.

Thankfully the toilet didn’t overflow (geez, could you imagine if it had? Toilet water flooding our tiny little home?!?), but it had to handle the excess liquid somehow. Apparently there’s an air vent on the roof that runs down into the black tank, so everything backed up into that…. thus the waterfall of liquid excrement off the top of the RV.

So we run outside in panic mode, trying to clean this mess up as quickly as possible while simultaneously throwing up a little in our mouths. We managed to rinse most of it into the grass, disperse the solid bits (sooooooo groooooossssss), and clean all of the hoses and cables while smiling at the employees driving by in golf carts and pretending everything was just peachy.

We tried our best to clean off the RV and rinse the roof without bringing too much attention to ourselves, but there was really no way for us to thoroughly rinse the air vent (we tried running water down it from the outside, but a cap on top prevented us from getting any direct pressure in the vent). So we did the best we could, rinsed ourselves off, tucked our tails between our legs, and got the heck out of there.

Now? Our RV reeks of despair and poo, with a little horror occasionally wafting through the vents if the air flows just right.

We need some air freshener, stat.


{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth February 9, 2011 at

Bleeeck! OMG guess you need a car wash???
Sorry I was eating my breakfast when I read this :}

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kali February 9, 2011 at

Haha – sorry, I guess we should have timed this to post sometime in the mid-afternoon. :)

The really sad part is that we’d just spent hours washing Mayhem the previous week…

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Triciatwitter: geekyexplorers February 9, 2011 at

O.M.G – This post freaks me out as this is one of my reoccurring nightmares (not related to the owners manual). I can’t even imagine the horror! Glad it didn’t seep inside at least but wow – so sorry! I hope you both deal with nasty better than I do. ;-)

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Christy February 9, 2011 at

I think as long as you double check your valves whenever you dump, this hopefully won’t happen to you! Of course you’ll have your own wonderful adventures instead, though… ;)

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jill - Jack and Jill Travel The Worldtwitter: jacknjilltravel February 9, 2011 at

Gosh, that’s horrible!!! Eeeww!!! Sorry to hear you had to go through this… Maybe the RV’s trying to live up to its name :p
jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted: Mike and Luci from 1000 Fights — Meet A Traveling Couple

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Christy February 9, 2011 at

Haha, that’s entirely possible! Maybe we should have named it Peace or Tranquility. :P

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Scotttwitter: quirkytravelguy February 9, 2011 at

Amazing story… thank you for not posting pictures!
Scott recently posted: Review- The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles

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Christy February 9, 2011 at

lol… we were tempted for about a nanosecond, then thought better of it. :P

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Sheryll February 9, 2011 at

Oh my god! OH NO! This story is something straight out of a sitcom. It’s not funny, but you can’t help but laugh after it’s all over. I hope Mayhem gets clean soon!
Sheryll recently posted: I’m Worth More Than 50 a Week

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Christy February 9, 2011 at

At the time it was pretty surreal… I couldn’t stop thinking “is this really happening right now??” But now we can laugh about it – writing this post helped. :P

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Cherie @Technomadia February 9, 2011 at

Holy Crap!

We had a small leak once from a clogged up valve, and the smell was revolting. But you guys get the prize for most disgusting RV disaster! Umm.. congrats? :)

Now… whenever you pull into a RV campsite. Stop and think. Has a previous RVer had a similar disaster? That’ll make you think twice about stepping on the ground, or how you store any RV mats after having them sitting on the ground.
Cherie @Technomadia recently posted: Nomadic ≠ Minimalist

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Christy February 9, 2011 at

Haha, yay for winning the prize! :P And you are so right – ever since, we’ve been looking at campgrounds rather suspiciously. What’s that smell? What’s that on the ground?? We now know the worst case scenario can actually happen, and I bet campgrounds/rv parks have seen all kinds of sewer-related disasters!

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Akilatwitter: theroadforks February 10, 2011 at

That sounds awful! But, glad that you wrote this post and it helped absolve some of the reek. I guess it’s time for another car wash. At least, you named Mayhem appropriately. :)
Akila recently posted: how we dont fund our travels

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Christy February 11, 2011 at

Haha, too true. We’ll have to find a way to clean down in that air vent one of these days.

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Bean February 10, 2011 at

oh shit! …literally. i am so so so sorry.
anything i can do to make it better? send you a copy of Everybody Poops?

on the bright side, check out all the new readers you got all a sudden! whatever you did, good job!

love and pleasant fragrances xoxo
Bean recently posted: Free Stuff!

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Christy February 11, 2011 at

lol, thanks Bean! Coincidentally, Kali and I were just talking about the book Everybody Poops. We got a Twitter account recently, which I think is a huge part of the upswing – we’ve made so many awesome connections w/ other travelers on Twitter, it’s been rad. :)

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Charles McCool February 11, 2011 at

Yuck! When I rented an RV for a week’s vacation, I had the same black tank fear. Glad you can have a sense of humor about such a foul situation.
Charles McCool recently posted: McCool Travel Tips from Travel Experts- David Lee- GoBackpackingcom and MedellinLivingcom

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Christy February 11, 2011 at

Oh wow, I couldn’t imagine how awful it might be to have a similar situation in a rented RV…. the company probably wouldn’t be too happy about that. :P The funny thing is we had been fine for five months and never even really worried about it, then BAM! Poo crisis.

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Jilliantwitter: ishouldlogoff February 13, 2011 at

I’ll admit I laughed out loud reading this post. I feel like if we ever rented an RV this would practically be guaranteed to happen to us. Although now that you’ve noted the color coding, I’ll have a reference guide. Hope you get a good old florida rainshower soon and wash any errr well you understand off. In the mean time, good luck with the air freshener!

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Kali February 13, 2011 at

Thanks! In my defense, after a thick coat of travel dust the colors really aren’t that distinct… but then again I should really know which is which by now, so that’s not much of a defense. :P

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Camels & Chocolatetwitter: LunaticAtLarge February 17, 2011 at

And with that, I am already learning so much about what NOT to do when we take my in-laws’ trailer on the road this spring, ha. It will be my first time so I’m a total rookie.
Camels & Chocolate recently posted: The Garden Route- The Monkey Who Ate Our Lunch

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Christy February 17, 2011 at

Thankfully most errors you can make in a trailer don’t have such dire consequences as this one… just keep constant vigilance when working with the tanks, lol. That’s neat that you’ll be RVing this spring, though – any ideas on your route?

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Megan February 19, 2011 at

Oh lord. What a nightmare! I can’t think about it too hard or I feel like throwing up in my mouth a little bit, too.
Megan recently posted: WTF What THE! Friday Part 18

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Christy February 20, 2011 at

Yeah, we’ve tried to forget the overwhelming grossness of it all and just laugh about it… but dang – it was gross!

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Lauren @ The Mad To Live March 8, 2011 at

WOW that is INSANE hahaha. I can’t even believe that. Thank goodness I have a terrible sense of smell b/c if I was with you I’m not sure if I’d last.
Ah travel…this is a story to make the grandkids laugh when they seem bored at the dinner table :-P
Lauren @ The Mad To Live recently posted: Traveling Philosopher’s Roundtable- Citizen Of The World Edition

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Christy March 9, 2011 at

That’s true! We may have lost our dignity, but at least we gained a funny story to share with the grandkids in 40 years. :P

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Sam November 5, 2011 at

Gosh I can imagine it. I know what those over priced fancy RV parks are like – I remember calling up to reserve a spot in Salt Lake City and being told we were not allowed because our camper was too old, the snobby *******. So to have a black water disaster in one… Hope the air vent didn’t taint the rest of your trip.
Sam recently posted: Antelope Island State Park

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Christy November 5, 2011 at

The stink disappeared pretty quickly! Which was the only good thing about the ordeal, lol. And some RV parks were so snotty, turning away bus conversions and older rigs and anything that didn’t “meet their standards.” Blah. Too bad you can’t boondock anywhere in the Keys. :)

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hitekhomeless(jenn) January 15, 2012 at

Awesome. We had this happen too. We never posted about it. It’s Our Dirty Little Secret©. It happened at a nice RV park in Orlando, Florida while right before we hit the road. Horton’s Travels just pulled in yesterday. We were talking about RV stuff and somehow the story came up. Brent told us that you guys had a sh*t storm too. Thanks for sharing. We thought we were the only ones! Haha.
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Rob May 31, 2012 at

Sounds nasty, at least if you look on the bright side you know it won’t happen again! :)
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Debbie June 10, 2012 at

I know this is an old post but I just had to write because we had this same thing happen yesterday, except add to the above post the toilet did overflow, filled the furnace registers, soaked the insulation around the furnace, flooded the carpeted hamper…..Good news is only had one 3ft section of carpet get wet and luckily we had just emptied the black tank the day before- but still so concerned about where that sewer water has gone and how safe our trailer is now health wise. I sprayed bleach solution on everything I could but one can’t reach everywhere. I can’t even deal with ripping out everything to replace it. Anyone know how drastic we have to go to remove contamination? Will running the furnace to heat the ducts kill bacteria or just spread it worse?

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Christy June 11, 2012 at

I am SO SORRY to hear that, Debbie! I wish I had more advice about how to be sure all the contamination has been removed, but I don’t know enough about RVs (and thankfully we didn’t have to go through that aspect of things). I would suggest posting on one of the RV forums, though – there are a ton of helpful people who regularly post and can probably give you some advice. Good luck!! =/

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Jeff February 17, 2013 at

I hate to admit it but the very same thing happened to me… My RV was only weeks old and I had just recently watched a youtube video on the best methods for flushing the black tank… I shut the valve and filled it carefully watching the tank full indicator lights at panel.. then my girlfriend started rushing me to make it to walmart before they run out of happy New Year tiaras for This new Years eve day.. she kept pushing me to hurry so we could go get that tiara.. I said ok just let me grab a quick shower.. I had the vent fan running in the bathroom and the hatch cranked open a bit… This is a true story and sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.. I got completely undressed and was just about to enter the shower when you guessed it.. I was getting rained on in foul urine odored light brown water, it wasnt full on sewage because this was the second flush but I can assure you it still had some small amounts of feces in it.. I yelled to her to open the black valve and shut off the water outside the RV… ofcourse she was frozen in panic so I frantically got a towel on and ran outside to find her looking for the water valve and black tank valve… I can understand why she was paralized and unable to perform under the stress and the fact that I had only shown her those controls once before..

It was my worst RV disaster to date and I have been full time in my new sunset trail reserve 32bh since Christmas.. I was able to get the mess cleaned and sanitized and everything laundered.. however for those of you who were wondering about the tiara for her daughter? she was right when we finally arrived they had sold out completely… she was anger and the entire situation stunk! we did have a good new years after all..
I just had to laugh when I read your story.. I also had to hose and rinse off the outside and do some cleaning in the bathroom.. It was not as bad for me even though it rained on meinside the bathroom, because I had dumped already…

Enjoy your RV and that is an experience you wont soon forget..

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