Concerned about cleaning your motorhome water tank? Want to sterilize the freshwater tank on your camper or caravan? Here’s what you need to do to ensure safe drinking water in your van.
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Cleaning your motorhome water tank
One thing my husband and I have always been conscious of is drinking water. Mr WB has spent a lot of time in the Middle East, where water is not always safe to drink and he’s a little obsessive about making sure we have safe water.
At least- I used to think it was obsessive until he got Legionnaire’s Disease!
Now, I should make it very clear that he did NOT get Legionnaires from our motorhome water tank, but it was from another van, which isn’t used very much.
So, to avoid the same situation in our van and help you avoid it in yours, you need to clean your motorhome freshwater tanks regularly.
Why cleaning motorhome water tanks is important
Most water carries bacteria. When that water is kept in an enclosed space (like a fresh water tank) bacteria can multiply quickly. This becomes even worse in warm temperatures. Legionella is one of the main concerns, but so is E-coli and several other types of bacteria.
Sadly, you don’t need to drink the water to become infected. If you shower from a contaminated tank, or use the water for cooking or rinsing food, you can become sick. Many of these lead to lung conditions, like pneumonia and COPD.
Also, over time, the freshwater tank in your motorhome, campervan or caravan becomes contaminated by dirt, particles and even bits from the hose you use to fill up the tank. All of this promotes bacteria and makes the water less safe to consume.
You can also never guarantee that the water you’re filling your tanks up with is safe to drink either. When we were motorhoming in Scotland, we spent some time on the Isle of Skye and it turns out a sheep had died in the campsite water supply and had contaminated it all! Thank goodness we didn’t fill up!
However, many people do not want to carry additional water for drinking, as it eats into space and payload, (1litre weighs 1kg) so keeping the water tank clean becomes a higher priority.
Is it safe to drink water from your motorhome water tank?
This is a topic which divides opinions massively. Many people only use the water straight from their tanks for showers / cooking etc, preferring to either filter the water before drinking or boiling it for hot drinks. (This personal filter is a great idea.)
Others are quite happy that it’s ok to drink and don’t pay it two minds.
Personally, we use our motorhome water tank for showers, teeth cleaning and washing up, but use additional water filtered from our Lifesaver Jerrycan to drink from, even when we’re going to boil it in the kettle.
We are also debating putting an inline filter in the system, so the water out of the kitchen tap comes out filtered. This is what we have on our boat and we drink the water straight from the boat water tank with no problem.
How often should you clean a motorhome water tank?
The question of how often you should clean your motorhome freshwater tank depends a lot on how often you use it and where you are. Personally, we clean ours twice a year, but that’s because we spend a lot of time touring Europe in our motorhome.
At the bare minimum you should clean it thoroughly once a year and ALWAYS when it’s been standing for a few weeks or more. This is when bacteria and biofilm can really start to grow and make the water dangerous to drink.
How do you clean a freshwater tank on a motorhome?
The first thing to remember is that whatever you use to clean your water tank will leave a residue, which you will then be consuming for a while every time you use the water.
Then you need to pick a product. There are several on the market, and each has their pros and cons (see below).
Once chosen, here’s what you do:
- Close all taps and valves
- Add your chosen cleaning product (ie- Puriclean)
- Fill system completely with water
- Turn on tap FURTHEST away from your tank to get the solution all through your system, let it run for 10-15 seconds (or until you can smell the cleaner), then close
- Leave overnight. Alternatively, you can drive around for a little while, to get the mixture into all corners. Just be aware you’re driving with a full tank and the vehicle will be heavier than perhaps you’re used to.
- Next day, open all taps, which allows the cleaning product to then run into your gray waste tank and clean that too (You can also use a product like this to clean your gray tank and toilet cassette but don’t put it into your fresh water tank!)
- Completely empty the freshwater tank, then refill with clean water and EMPTY fully again.
- By the end, you should not be able to smell the cleaning product any more. If you can, refill and empty again and again until the water no longer smells.
- It’s a good idea to change your water filters now too, so the whole system is clean and ready to go.
Motorhome tank cleaning products
Like most things when it comes to cleaning your motorhome, there are several products you can choose from.
Most of them work in very similar ways, so it’s mostly a matter of choosing the product which sounds best to you. This is the one we use.
What is Puriclean?
Puriclean is one of the most well-known motorhome tank cleaners. It’s really easy to use and works very effectively to eradicate bacteria, viruses, bio-film, algae, and fungi.
It has a dual-purpose formula which both cleans and sterilises in one go, so no need to do two treatments. It cleans the entire motorhome water system: tanks, pipes, pumps, hoses and taps and can apparently also be used to “remove stains from many domestic items such as glassware, plastic tableware, tea and coffee pots and stainless steel items such as vacuum flasks. ”.
One 400g tub cleans a tank of up to 270 liters and the mixture does not smell, foam or harm any components in the water system. It can be tricky to know when the tank is flushed, so I would do it at least twice to remove all of the formula before you use the tank normally.
Are Purisol and Puriclean the same thing?
NO. Purisol and Puriclean are NOT the same things. Puriclean cleans and sterilises the tank, while Purisol disinfects water whilst it’s in the tank waiting to be used.
We add Purisol to our water EVERY time we fill up. It’s safe to drink or use in the shower.
Can you use vinegar, bleach or acid to clean your water tank?
I’ve seen some posts and videos on Youtube talk about using citric or acetic acid to clean a motorhome water tank as it restricts the growth of bacteria and prevents algae growing.
We’ve never done this, purely because the acetic acid we know of is hazardous to eyes and skin. Many people use it as a weed killer. You can get a milder dose (vinegar is only 4% acetic acid) but I question how effective this would be!
So no, I don’t recommend using vinegar or citric acid to clean your motorhome water tank. If you choose to, you’ll need one liter of cleaning vinegar for every 100 liters of water.
Some people also mention using bleach. Again, bleach can be hazardous if consumed and I don’t feel the risk is worth using it, especially when there are other products on the market which do a great job. I strongly recommend you use one of those.
If you choose to use bleach, be aware it can damage stainless steel, which many motorhome hot water boilers are made from.
Do you need to sterilize a motorhome water tank?
Sterilizing and cleaning a tank are similar, but not quite the same thing. Cleaning is more ‘washing out’, while sterilizing is actively trying to kill all the bacteria.
One of the reasons we like Puriclean is it cleans AND sterilises at the same time, making the whole process much easier.
How to look after your motorhome water system while traveling
Here are some tips to keep your water tank clean while on the road:
- Change the water regularly (at least every three / four days).
- If you don’t naturally use this much water (if you’re traveling solo or naturally frugal), then just fill the tank halfway each time so it’s not standing in the tank too long.
- If you’re motorhome wild camping and want to stay off-grid, you can fill the tank full but be sure to add chemicals (we do this every time anyway, no matter whether we’re wild camping or on campsites).
- Use a proper food grade hose to fill the water tank, and keep it dedicated JUST for this task. Keep the hose in a protective bag to stop the ends coming in contact with other things. See our other motorhoming essentials here.
Can you leave your motorhome with water in it?
Water doesn’t store well, even though many plastic bottles say it will last for a few years. But stagnant water will start to get bacteria and slime very quickly- scarily quickly. I always recommend you drain your water system down unless you are using it again within a week.
I hope you found those tips useful. I know the thought of catching something nasty from your motorhome water system can be worrying, but using a proper food-grade hose and cleaning out your system and tank regularly should keep everything safe.
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