Boondocking. Going off-grid. Getting back to nature. Whatever you want to call it, this type of camping connects us directly to the great outdoors.
Whether it’s the desert lands of Arizona or the high mountains of Colorado, the beauty of nature calls us.
But once our RV grey tank fills up, is it okay to dump on the ground?
To many, the answer isn’t obvious.
What is RV grey water?
Most RVs capture grey water and black water in holding tanks that have to be emptied when full. Black water is everything that goes down the toilet…your sewage. Everything else is captured in the grey water tank.
Water from your shower, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, or other sources not going down the toilet, go into the grey tank and is thus considered grey water.
Can you Legally dump grey water anywhere?
The answer to this question 99.9% of the time is no.
The Boondocker’s Bible has done thorough research on the legality of dumping your grey water tank, particularly on public lands.
The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army Corps of Engineers all have regulations making it illegal to dump grey water on the Federal lands that they maintain.
The lone exception is the Bureau of Land Management, but there are a couple of caveats.
It is in some cases legal to dump your grey water (NOT black water) in the open, public BLM spaces used for dispersed camping, according to some BLM regulations.
Always verify legality at each individual location.
But, the BLM also manages developed campgrounds, recreational areas, and wildlife preserves. In these BLM locations, many prohibit the dumping of grey water.
State public lands are another popular source of boondocking and camping but fall under a wide variety of laws specific to each individual state. They frequently ban the practice of dumping wastewater.
It should be noted, however, that even if you are at a dispersed site managed by the BLM, dumping your grey water could violate state and/or local laws for which you could still be cited.
Why is Dumping Grey Water Harmful?
Even where dumping grey water is technically allowed, it isn’t considered by most boondockers to be good practice. It is harmful in many ways.
Most RVs hold 20+ gallons of wastewater. Dumping a large amount of RV grey water can cause erosion, which diminishes the places that we want to go. It also smells bad, further destroying the beautiful locations that we often go to great lengths to seek out.
The wastewater from the kitchen sink can also be particularly harmful to local wildlife.
When grey water contains food scraps, it can tempt animals to eat or drink it, which can be detrimental to their health. If you dump grey water while still in the area, it might also attract animals that you don’t want milling around your site, creating another type of danger to you and your family.
Your dishwater might also contain grease or harmful chemicals from soap and other cleaners. This again can be harmful to local wildlife, but also to plants, trees, and water sources in the area.
Pro Tip: Extend you tank capacity with a portable RV waste tank.
Find a dump station and keep nature preserved
There are many detrimental side effects caused by dumping grey water. And at the end of the day, it can easily be avoided.
It’s not all that difficult to find a dump station where you can safely empty your black and grey tanks.
Even if you’re not staying at an RV park, most parks have a dump station that you can use for a small fee. There are also many rest areas, truck stops, and gas stations that have dump stations available for a fee or sometimes even for free.
Another option is local sewage treatment facilities, which sometimes have RV dump stations available. Even county fairgrounds and parks in some smaller towns or rural areas often have dump stations.
Most of us go boondocking to get off-grid and enjoy nature, not destroy it. So why not simply pack out what you packed in?
Find a dump station and help preserve these fantastic spaces that we so enjoy.
Is Dumping RV Tanks at Home Legal?
Most people say dumping your RV tanks at home is legal if you own your own septic system. However, if you’re connected to a municipal water supply, you’ll need to check with your local government. Whether you have septic or sewer, you should ensure it’s legal.
This is one of those questions that isn’t easy to Google or find in your online city or county code. We recommend calling your city offices (or county if you’re in an unincorporated area) so there’s no doubt. If you dump where it’s illegal or in the wrong spot, such as a storm drain, you could be heavily fined.
Difference Between RV Grey Water and RV Black Water
An RV grey tank holds the grey waste water from the sink, shower, and other water-using appliances in the RV. The RV black tank holds only the wastewater and waste from the RV toilet.
In some RVs, the black tank also holds water from the bathroom sink, but it’s still raw sewage due to the waste from the toilet.
Grey water isn’t as noxious as RV black water. A grey water holding tank typically fills up faster due to how much water humans use, filling up in anywhere from three days to one week. Grey tanks are also usually larger than black tanks.
Black tanks can take one to three weeks to fully fill, depending on use, and are usually the smallest holding tank on an RV.
5 Places to Dump Your RV Grey Water
RV Dump Stations: RV dump stations are specifically designed for RVs to dump their tanks. They can be found at many RV parks, campgrounds, and rest areas. Some dump stations may require a fee, while others may be free to use.
Honey Wagon: If you are staying at a campsite or RV park that has a honey wagon, you can use this to dump your RV tanks. Make sure to follow the rules and regulations of the campsite or RV park.
RV Service Centers: Many RV service centers offer dump stations for RVers. They may also provide additional services like water and propane refills, repairs, and maintenance.
Public Rest Areas: Some public rest areas have dump stations for RVs. However, not all rest areas have this facility, so it is recommended to check before you go.
Private Dump Stations: Private dump stations can be found at some gas stations, truck stops, and RV dealerships. These facilities may charge a fee, so be sure to check before using them.
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I understand about gray water and agree with the article. Here’s my question….is it okay to shower outside with an all-natural castille soap like Dr. Bronners and allow the water to run out on the ground? We do dishes with Dr. Bronners the same way.
So if in camping with my tent for a week, I take my grey water with me when I leave?
Same with a canoe trip. Gonna Portage 5 gallon containers of grey water? Don’t think so.
As with any gray water system whether it be in a Home or a RV the main problem happens in the tank when it’s allowed to sit and go anaerobic for a period of time.
if you wash your dishes with a natural soap in a pan out in the wilderness and then toss it on the ground it hasn’t started to digest yet and will actually make the plants happy
I have the same question. I have an outdoor shower and that seems like a decent way to conserve tank space.
The BLM Ranger at an AZ LTVA told us “if the shower water doesn’t hit the grey water tank it’s not considered grey water”. We of course shower outside usually standing on a wooden pallet with a plywood top.
In the country, people’s houses the black water goes to septic tank. However their gray water just goes to the ground.
I never let mine sit closed and use all biodegradable products, Earth friendly only. My tank is never shut.
My grey water “tank” has never been used as a tank. It holds nothing. Earth happy products used only.