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RV Black Tank Valves: Upgrades, Troubleshooting, and Proper Use (To Avoid a Nasty Mess)

RV Black Tank Valves: Upgrades, Troubleshooting, and Proper Use (To Avoid a Nasty Mess)

If you’re anything like us, you likely have a love-hate relationship with your RV black tank valves. It’s one of those parts that makes you cross your fingers and hope it works as it should every time. Unfortunately, no matter how many fingers you cross, things don’t always go to plan. There will come a time when you need to upgrade, troubleshoot, or arrange a black tank valve replacement.

Today, we’re sharing some tips and advice to help you avoid a nasty mess when that time comes.

So put on those plastic gloves, and let’s get our hands dirty!

Bye Bye Black Tank! - Installing an Airhead Composting Toilet and removing our RV's black Tank
On one of our RV’s we removed the black tank altogether!

What Are RV Black Tank Valves?

RV black tank valves control the flow of sewage sitting in a camper’s black holding tank. Their primary job is to keep the contents of the black tank from escaping at the wrong time or place. The waste flows out of the tanks and into a drain pipe when open.

Typically, the owner would connect a sewer hose to the drain pipe. The sewage, toilet paper, and other gunk would flow into a storage tank or a sewer connection. It’s not the most glorious task in the world, but it must be done.

When you do it correctly, this can be a relatively sanitary process. However, a faulty RV black tank valve can cause issues. If you’re not careful, you could have a mess on your hands.

Do RV Black Tank Valves Break?

Like many things in a camper, RV black tank valves can break. This could be due to normal wear and tear, improper usage, or many other factors. The usual causes of breakage are mechanical wear, freezing temperatures, and improper use.

You can generally expect years of use from your RV black tank valves. To reduce the chances of experiencing issues, you’ll need to do routine maintenance occasionally. However, they can take a beating as your rig travels. No matter how well you care for your rig, these valves may not last as long as you’d like.

Pro Tip: New to RVing? Use our RV Black Water Tank Survival Guide to get started!

Man at RV dump station dumping tanks
Your RV black tank valves are essential for stopping your sewage from draining until you are hooked up at a dump station.

Black Tank Valve Types and Upgrades

Whether you’re looking to replace, upgrade, or learn about your system, knowing the different types is essential. Here are some of the most common options companies use on RVs.

Direct Pull Valve 

Many RVs have a direct valve pull. These are very basic systems with equally simple designs. Because they have fewer parts, there’s less chance of something breaking. When the user pulls the valve, it removes the stopper from blocking the drain and allows the liquid to flow freely.

Some owners install these as a second layer of defense. They’re cheap and can do the job without overcomplicating the process.

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  • No more mess with an old valve problem.Fit Type: Universal Fit
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RV Black tank valve close up
Direct Pull Valves have as haft that when you pull it opens the gate inside the pipe to allow flow.

Cable Pull Valve

Some RV waste systems will use cable pull valves to mount the valve in a more convenient location. This could be inside a storage compartment or a host of other locations. As their name indicates, these valves utilize a cabling system.

When the user pulls on the handle, it tightens the cable and opens the valve. Pushing the valve back in releases the pressure and closes the valve. These systems are still simple but slightly more complex than the direct pull valves.

cable actuated

Electric Waste Valve Systems

If you want the easiest way to open your valves, you’ll want electric waste valves. These allow you to dump your tanks at the push of a button. When you attach them to a sewer connection, you can push the button, dump your tanks, and close them without stepping outside. If you’ve ever emptied your tanks during the winter, this may be an answer to your prayers.

However, technology is novel, but only when it works. The more complicated you make something, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong. Additionally, when things go wrong, it may require an expert to fix them.

electric actuated RV dump Valve
Electric actuated dump valves open at the push of a button. They usually have a manual override, however.

Should the Black Tank Valve Be Open Or Closed

Your black tank valve should remain closed unless you are actively dumping your tanks. This is a mistake that many RVers make, especially those new to RVing. Leaving the black tank valve open allows the liquids to drain from your black tank but not the solids. We’re sorry for the mental picture; this can quickly create a significant problem.

Solid human waste and toilet paper require liquids to break them down and push them out when dumping. With no liquids, the solids will pile up in the bottom of your tank. They’ll sit at the bottom of your black tank and create the dreaded “poop pyramid.” This can lead to clogs and make it challenging to empty your tank. In the worst cases, you may need to hire a professional.

Pro Tip: Tired of your black tank? We took a closer look at whether or not you can Replace An RV Black Water Tank.

How to Use RV Black Tank Valves

One essential thing that every owner should know is how to use their RV black tank valves. Luckily, it’s a relatively simple task. Let’s take a look!

Wear Gloves

First, do yourself a favor and wear gloves. We highly recommend keeping a pair of disposable latex gloves with your supplies. No matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance of coming in contact with raw sewage.

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Connect to Sewer Connection

With your hands covered, it’s time to connect your RV to the sewer system. Grab your sewer hose and connect any attachments you need to join the hose to the sewer connection. Many RVers use a rock, brick, or other heavy objects to keep the sewer hose in place and prevent spills. Camco even makes a camper-themed RV sewer weight for this purpose.

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With the sewer hose attached to the sewer connection, check your black tank valve. Confirm it is closed before removing the cap to connect your sewer hose. If it is closed, place the sewer hose under the sewer pipe to catch any drops that might occur when you remove the cap.

Once you remove the cap and the drops fall into the hose, twist the sewer hose onto the drain valve. Check all your connections and ensure the prongs are tight and ready to go. If you do not have a solid connection, you will soon have sewage everywhere.

rv sewer hose how to connect

Pull Valve Handle 

With everything ready, now is the time to pull the handle. However, you want to dump the black tank first. Let the tank dump completely, then move on to the gray tanks. This allows you to flush the line and remove any sewage or solids remaining in your sewer hose or attachments. Additionally, it can prevent the black tank from backflowing into your gray tank.

Flush the System

Occasionally, it’s a good idea to flush your black tank. Many modern RVs come with black flush connections. While safety mechanisms are in place, we recommend using an entirely separate water hose. Grab the Camco Clean-Out Hose, so you don’t have to worry about contaminating your water hose.

Fill the tank with water and dump the tank repeatedly. Please keep an eye on how much water you’re putting into the tank. You don’t want to overfill your black tank, especially when it likely contains raw sewage.

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Body waste valve
Many RVs now have a sewer tank flush built into them. Connect a water hose to this port and turn on to flush tank. Make sure the valve is open!

Pro Tip: Flush away your questions and confusion about RV Black Tank Flush: What It Is and How to Use It.

Sanitize your Hands

Once you finish, toss your gloves into the trash and sanitize your hands. Due to the potential dangers of raw sewage, we suggest using soap and water. Can you use hand sanitizer? Absolutely. It is a great temporary solution in a pinch, but rinsing the gunk off your hands and down the drain is best.

How to Troubleshoot RV Black Tank Valve Problems

Unfortunately, no matter what type of RV black tank valves you use, they can experience problems. Here are a few of the most common issues and how to troubleshoot them. If you’re unsuccessful, you may need to hire a professional. 

Valve Stuck

If you pull the valve and it’s stuck, a few things could be causing the issue. One of the most standard reasons is that the valve hasn’t been opened or closed recently. If it’s the start of the camping season, this is likely the root of the problem. It may work again after you open and close it a few times.

Additionally, the gunk inside the tank could be causing the issue. Flush your tank thoroughly, use tank cleaners, and take your RV for a drive. The sloshing and moving of the liquids can help eliminate the gunk and clean the inside of the tank.

If your rig has a cable-style pull, it could have seized. This would cause it to lock into the position and be unable to open or close. To fix this, you’ll need to disassemble the component, spray it with silicon, and use pliers at the valve to open it. Once free, use a valve lubricant to prevent it from sticking in the future.

Valve Leaking Into Sewer Pipe

Another typical issue involves the valve leaking into the sewer pipe. If you frequently find liquid in your drain pipe when you remove the cap, it’s not sealing properly. This can be the result of dried rubber seals. The best way to condition them is to pour vegetable oil into the tanks when empty or use a valve lubricant and open and close the valve a few times.

You can also install external valves to prevent this mess. You can use this as a temporary solution until you get it fixed. However, many find it’s easier and not worth the money to fix the leaking valve and will resort to a black tank valve replacement.

Valterra T58 Twist-On Waste Valve, Mess-Free Waste...
  • No more mess with an old valve problem.Fit Type: Universal Fit
  • Twists onto your current waste valve
  • Eliminates expensive service work

Valve Leaking At Connection When Closed

If you’re experiencing leaks when your valve is closed, there’s likely a crack or other significant issue. Typically, the easiest way to address this is to replace the entire valve assembly. However, loose bolts could cause you to experience this issue, which could disappear once you tighten them.

Broken Valve Cable

While cable pull valves have perks, they can break over time. When this occurs, you will often need to replace the entire assembly. You’ll need to disassemble the component and expose the cable connection. Use your pliers to open the valve and drain the tank. Unfortunately, if a cable breaks, you will need to replace it.

Electric Valve Not Actuating 

Luckily, most electric valves come with a manual override handle. This allows you to dump the tank even if experiencing an electrical issue. Troubleshooting issues with your electric valve will require some advanced knowledge of electrical systems. Test the circuit and look for connection issues; you may be able to solve this issue yourself.

Remember to check simple things like blown fuses and that you have power going to your rig. You or someone else may have accidentally turned off the battery disconnect. So before you call in a professional, thoroughly test the components you have the knowledge, skills, and resources to test. 

Dumping tanks
Don’t wait until it is too late to replace your RV black tank valves.

How to Replace RV Black Tank Valves

If you need an RV black tank valve replacement, it’s relatively easy to do. However, it can be messy if you don’t follow the correct steps. Let’s see what you must do to replace them on your rig.

Empty Black Tank

The first step is to empty your black tank. Trust us; you don’t want any of the contents spilling onto you or the ground where you’ll work. Since you will be working near the tank, it’s best to flush it out. If not, you may smell the remaining contents of your tank for some time.

Take your time during this process. You want to get the inside of your tank as clean as possible. This can help reduce the smells you’ll experience and help your tank sensors once you finish this process.

Pro Tip: Cleaning out your black tank? Find out Is It Safe to Use Dawn Dish Soap in RV Black Tanks?

Remove Four Bolts Connecting Valve to the Flange

The next thing you need to do in a black tank valve replacement is remove the bolts holding the broken valve in place. Unfortunately, this may require you to remove the underbelly covering on your camper to access it. If you’re lucky, you may not need to remove the entire underbelly or have to remove it at all. Unscrew the bolts, and it will separate the two pipes holding it in place.

Remove Inner Rubber Seals

With the four bolts removed, you should easily remove the rubber seals and the broken valve. Now you can inspect the black tank valve and see what was causing the issue requiring a replacement. It could be something as simple as an aging rubber gasket. 

Reinstall Install New Seals And Valve

Now that you’ve removed the old seals and valve, you can place the new seals and valve into their new home. You want to ensure the connection is solid and everything is snuggly in place. Reinstall the four bolts that connect the valve to the flange. Be mindful that you’re working with plastic, which can break if you tighten it too much.

Reconnect Cable (if necessary)

You must connect the cable if you’re installing a cable pull valve. This will require you to use pliers to attach the wiring to the valve. Ensure you wrap it tightly around the valve assembly and that everything works. It’s a good idea to do this before closing up the underbelly. If not, you may discover that something needs to be tight and try again.

Test and Check for Leaks

Now comes the pivotal moment where you test all the connections for the black tank valve replacement. To do this, you’ll want to fill the black tank to at least half full. Let the water sit in the tank for a few minutes, and inspect the connection to ensure there are no leaks and that the valve is operating as it should. Once you confirm that there are no leaks, open the valve and watch for any issues.

If all goes to plan, you won’t have any leaks and be ready to close everything up. However, if you find a leak, you need to disassemble and adjust the seal on the valve. 

RV Black Tank Valve Are Essential

RV black tank valves are essential. Unfortunately, we don’t appreciate them nearly enough until they’re not working correctly. You can’t ignore these issues since you’re talking about raw sewage leaking from your RV. If you follow the steps we’ve shared, you can quickly troubleshoot and replace your RV black tank valves.

Are you considering any black tank valve upgrades? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Rusty McFall

Sunday 24th of September 2023

This is probably the worst DIY I have ever done and I mean worst in all meanings (failed diy and difficulty) I had done many latest replacing my old flooring.

I replaced all 3 valve gates 2 gray and one black on my 2015 Bighorn 5th wheel, the location and access to these gates is very difficult having to remove the entire underbelly to access them.

Unfortunately I was in a location that did not allow for testing, bad call! (No sewer drop)

In my second stop of our Fall Trip last year one of the gray tanks started to leak, first sign was the smell inside the RV then a small drip under the RV.

I drained the tank and we could not use it until I could get it fixed, bad timing because on my first stop I had an emergency appendectomy that laid me up for at least 10 days, but eventually I did get back under the RV and fixed the issue, the seals had come loose during the installation. When I took it apart I noticed that they are no longer nice and round, but my hack for that was to put them in hot water and allow the rubber to relax and then I was able to reinstall. This time I tested and all was good. Unfortunately the second gray tank also leaked around the 4th stop (we stop for at week at a time) I got very acquainted with the process of removing and installing the underbelly while fixing them. I kept my fingers crossed on the black tank it never leaked so very glad.

Word of the wise, do the testing while the belly is still open