How to Diagnose and Fix a Campervan Toilet Not Flushing


You notice a foul odor in your campervan or trailer.  Finding the source of that odor and fixing the problem must be a priority issue.  More than likely, the source of that odor is the toilet.    Toilets in campervans do become clogged, although the problem may not be apparent at the toilet.  How do you diagnose and fix a campervan toilet that isn’t flushing?

Diagnosing a clogged campervan toilet can be a disagreeable task.  If done systematically, the process can be much less disgusting and easier than you think.

  • Check the toilet.  
  • Check the Holding tank.  
  • Check the dump valve
  • Clear the pipes

Clearing a clog in a campervan toilet is like clearing a clog in your home toilet.  However, campervan toilets are not the same as home toilets.  The methods of clearing plugs and clogs differ slightly for campervan toilets.  Even the types of clogs can be different.  We’ll discuss the methods that can help you determine why your toilet is not flushing.

campervan toilet

Finding the Problem – Start at the Top

Finding the source of the problem with your campervan toilet may present a challenge.  If your nose was the first indication of trouble, there is a good chance the problem is in the toilet itself.  The logical place to start is in the toilet.

flush valve rv

Examine the toilet to make sure there are no problems with the sealing valve or the flush mechanism.  Use the foot pedal to flush the toilet a few times.  Some things to look for are:

  • A non-working flush valve. – If the flush valve at the bottom of the toilet doesn’t open and close fully, the flush valve may be your problem.  You should also watch for adequate water flow in the bowl of the toilet when the flush valve foot pedal is depressed.
  • A flush valve that sticks and doesn’t close or open fully. – Operate the flush valve foot pedal several times and ensure that the valve at the bottom of the toilet bowl is opening and closing fully.  Waste material or foreign objects can buildup and inhibit the full operation of the valve.
  • A lack of water flow – Waste material in the toilet bowl that appears to be a clog may be the result of inadequate water flow into the toilet bowl when the flush valve operates.  Press the flush valve several times to check the water flow into the toilet bowl.
  • Waste material in the bowl of the toilet or visible below the flush valve.

Non-Working or Sticky Flush Valve

If the flush valve doesn’t work, or it is sticking in a partially open position, that is a problem.  If the flush valve is damaged, in most cases, the entire toilet must be replaced.  If you suspect that your flush valve has problems, contact your RV dealership for more options.

Water Flow – The Key to A Good Flush

Without a good flow of water through the toilet bowl, it will not flush properly, and clogs will happen.  If the water flow in your campervan toilet is slow or weak, check for these problems.

  • An empty water tank – Check your water tank.  Sensors and indicators can fail and may give inaccurate readings.  
  • A pump that is not turned on or not working – Your toilet requires pressurized water to operate properly.  If your water pump is not operating, the toilet will not flush effectively.  Ensure that the water pump comes on when a tap opens or the flush valve on the toilet is activated.
  • Kinks or other obstructions in the water line to the toilet – Examine the water line that feeds the toilet flush valve.  If it is kinked or obstructed, the toilet may not get enough water flow or pressure to move waste out of the bowls and the black water tank.
  • A broken flush valve – Not only does the foot pedal on the flush valve operates the valve at the bottom of the toilet, but this valve also opens the water supply valve to allow water to flow into the toilet bowl.  Without water flow, the waste material can buildup and clog the toilet
water system rv

A Visible Clog – The Easy Diagnosis

If there is waste material still in the toilet bowl after you flush, you should suspect water flow problems.  However, there may be more subtle problems that are not visible from the top of the toilet.  These could include 

  • Poor operating procedures – Many times, when traveling with children, you will encounter clogs in a campervan toilet because the younger ones forget to flush.  The waste material can harden and form clogs that prevent the flush valve from opening. 
  • A clog in the waste pipe that backs up into the toilet – The problem may not be in the toilet.  Clogs can happen in the pipes below the toilet and allow waste material to build up enough to be visible in the toilet or just below the flush valve.
  • A full waste tank – Never discount the possibility of a full waste tank.  Indicators and sensors are prone to failure as well and you can get false readings at the control panel.  Before taking any other steps, dump your waste tanks and make sure they empty and rinsed.
  • A “pyramid blockage” in the waste tank – Some black water holding tanks are susceptible to the “Pyramid clog.”  Toilets that dump directly into the black water holding tank are particularly susceptible to this type of clog.  Waste material can pile up and eventually clog the opening in the tank.  There is still room in the tank, but the pyramid of waste prevents anything else from entering the tank.  Dump your waste tank and flush it well.

Dealing with the Problem – Options and Solutions

The solutions and options to a clogged toilet in a campervan depend on the reasons for the clog.  If you have followed the instructions and diagnosed the cause of the clog, you can decide on the best options and solutions.

When the Flush Doesn’t Happen

If you have discovered that the problem is the flush system on your campervan toilet, one of these options may solve your problem.

  • Repair the toilet flush system – Many campervan toilets have flush valves that can be rebuilt or repaired.  Check with the manufacturer of the toilet installed in your campervan for more information. 
  • Replace the toilet – Replacing a toilet in a campervan is not as involved as you might think.  The fittings and attachments are standardized.  Your RV dealer can offer more advice, but, in most cases, installing a new toilet in a campervan is easily accomplished by the campervan owner.

No Water When You Need It

If water flow problems are the issue and you find that the water pump in your campervan is not performing properly, it is probably time for a new pump. Many campervan owners replace water pumps with no problems.  Your RV dealer is your best source of advice on pumps and services.

If the pump is operating and there is a problem in the supply line to the toilet, the fix may be more involved.  A clog in the supply line may be the problem.  Damage to the supply line that inhibits the flow is another possibility.  

Often the supply lines run under the trailer or through walls or bulkheads.  If this is the case, you may need the services of a trained RV technician to find a and fix the problem

Deeper into the System – Clogged Pipes

Larger campervans can have extensive waste pipe systems leading to the black water holding tank.  Just like the drainpipes in your home, these pipes can clog.  Removing clogs in drain systems on campervans is not difficult but does require some knowledge.

  • Do not use household drain cleaners – Household drain cleaning products are highly caustic or acidic and can seriously damage the drain system.  Gaskets and seals in RV toilets are also at risk of damage if exposed to household drain cleaners.  There are specialty products meant for RV’s.
  • Don’t Use Power Snakes – The typical powered drain snake used by plumbers is not safe to use on your campervan drains.  The power snake can damage fittings and connections.  If you must use a snake, a manual snake designed for RV drain systems is available. 

Keeping Things Flowing 

Inevitably, you will experience a clog in your campervan drains system.  The solutions to clogs in campervan drain systems are typically easy and quick.  Don’t despair when you face a campervan toilet that refuses to flush.  A little knowledge and some practical tips can help

Martin

As an independent traveler, I try to share my positive and negative observations about van life as well as tips and tricks to make your life on the road easier. I travel and work in my old RV and would greatly appreciate a coffee from you if you find my content useful.

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