Fixing My Marine Toilet System

When I purchased the Rock ‘n Row, it came with some serious serious septic sludge issues in the holding tank. This article and video shows you how I am fixing it.

Septic systems and holding tanks are subjects that I never cared to know anything about. However, shortly after purchasing the Rock ‘n Row, I realized that something was amiss with its black water system. I decided to document my ‘adventure’ with marine toilet systems for those poor boaters who are in a similar situation. There are a great deal of nuances associated with marine and RV waste tank management, and the penalty for mismanagement is unpleasant to say the least.

How Does a Septic Tank Work

septic tank problems and solutions

A typical septic tank – photo by Columbia County Health Department

It took me a while to figure it out, but the sludge buildup I have in my holding tank is actually a septic tank problem. In order to deal with it adequately, I had to first have an understanding of how a septic tank works.

A septic tank works by collecting human waste. The tank provides holding capacity for liquid waste to initially breakdown and mix with anaerobic bacteria before it is flushed out into a drain field, where aerobic bacteria break it down further. The solid waste (also known as sludge) sinks to the bottom and is broken up by the anaerobic bacteria. Septic sludge can buildup in tanks when excessive amounts of chemicals, detergents, or soaps enter the septic tank and kill off the bacteria population.

A marine or RV waste tank works much differently. Because the tank is intended to only hold waste for a short period of time, a healthy bacteria population is not encouraged. Instead, a macerator pump is used to grind the waste into small bits, chemicals are used to hide the smell, and lubricants are used to help it all flow into and out of the tank. These chemicals and lubricants also prevent bacteria from breaking down the waste naturally, which is why sludge buildup is a frequent problem in RV and marine toilet systems.

Sludge Disposal Methods

In my case, the sludge buildup is extreme. My holding tank is supposed to have 75 gallons of capacity, but now only has about 5 gallons of capacity due to the buildup. The biggest reason for this buildup is that the previous owners did not use marine toilet paper. They used the regular toilet paper that you buy at the grocery store, which is guaranteed to plug up a marine toilet system. Also, I’ve been finding huge amounts of hair. I have no idea how they managed to get so much hair into the toilet. The only plausible scenario I can think of is that they were cleaning all their drains and hair brushes and flushing them down the toilet instead of putting it in the garbage.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding proper sludge disposal methods. In order to combat the problem and restore my waste tank, I’m having the tank pumped regularly by my local Pump Me Out service. They also flush the tank with fresh water, which is important because I need to get all the chemicals out of the tank that inhibit bacterial growth. I then put in five scoops of Bio-Clean Septic Bacteria and agitate the tank with a 5-gallon paint stirer attached to my cordless drill. The bacteria should breakup the sludge and allow it to be flushed out of the tank.

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One Response to “Fixing My Marine Toilet System”
  1. Sharon Hartwig says:

    What we do for our RV is dump it and then put a bag of ice in it with a little water and let it slosh around on the way home and then dump it again.

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