Tank additives. It’s one of the age-old questions in RVing. What kind is best? Are there alternatives? Do I need them at all? Here’s our “professional” take on this oftentimes controversial topic.

If you’ve been RVing for any amount of time, doubtless you’ve had, heard, or wondered about holding tank additives. Most of the time, the question comes up when people are complaining about their holding tank smelling bad, sensors not working, or just wondering what they can do to make things work better.

What is an additive and what’s it doing in my tanks?
Almost every commercial tank additive promotes, as its first advantage, the ability to break down waste in an RV’s holding tank. In fact, that’s where the problem starts.

Your RV’s holding tanks are big, somewhat squarish plastic boxes. The exact size, configuration, and capacity vary from RV to RV, but for the most part, they are rectangular, with sharp corners, a frontward-sloping bottom (so waste can “fall” to the front of the tank), and an exit hole cut or drilled into the front bulkhead.

Adding a tank additive with its main intent to break down the holding tank’s contents gives you one thing: A big, plastic box full of a thick, sticky mess.

Think about it: What would drain better/faster/more thoroughly? A tank full of mostly water, with solids (human waste, TP) floating in it or a tank full of broken-down sludge, almost like a sticky pancake batter? The tank of water with suspended solids.

And it’s those same corners and front bulkhead where dissolved waste can collect and be nearly impossible to dislodge. Same with the tank sensors — that broken-down, sticky mess in your tanks is coating the sensors and making other things (more mess, TP, etc.) stick to them.

Your tank solution is the problem. It’s doing exactly what it is intended to do. And the unnecessary byproducts are that you are having problems with your tanks and sensors.

Do we know what we’re talking about?
We’ve cleaned over 6,000 tanks in our seven years as a service provider. That’s a lot of tanks. Small-, medium, and large travel trailers. Fifth wheels of every size and configuration. Motorhomes from $25,000 bargain lot bank possessions to million-dollar beauties fresh from the factory.

We can always tell when an RV owner uses a tank additive that breaks down waste. When we clean their tanks (because they have a problem, such as misreading sensors, offensive smells, slow-draining tanks, etc.), what comes out of the tank is a slow, thick, slurry-like mixture. Every time.

So what should you do?
There are a few things you can do right away:

1. Stop using tank additives whose main purpose is to break down waste.
2. Use more water in your tanks, by adding 3-5 gallons right after you empty them and flushing down an extra toilet bowlful of water after each use.
3. Top off your tanks with clean water before empty them, trying to get to 90%-100% capacity.

Our solution
Now, everyone likes to put ***something*** into their holding tanks. It’s what we’ve been taught by RV dealerships. It’s what the online forums, discussion groups, and Facebook Pages are all saying. We hear “good advice” from other RVers (who, very likely, still have problems). And we see vendors and other manufacturer’s reps at rallies hawking their latest potion.

What we recommend — for those seeking something to put down their tanks — is a variation of the GEO method. This homemade solution — which can be mixed for just $5 for 50 tank treatments — is a combination of Pine-Sol and Calgon water softener.

The Calgon breaks the surface tension of the water, preventing the holding tank’s contents from sticking to the plastic walls and surfaces of the tank. The Pine-Sol is an ammonia-based disinfectant, killing harmful bacteria, viruses, etc., and also imparting a strong, antiseptic smell (a lemon- or other pleasant-scented mixture will help with this). For the exact mixture, download our “recipe” for free by clicking here.