How To Get Rid Of And Prevent Algae In Your Camper Or RV

When you think of algae, you probably think of ponds or lakes. Perhaps you are picturing a body of stagnant water coated in green goo.

Unfortunately, algae can and does grow in campers and RVs. Specifically, your RV or camper’s plumbing and water systems are susceptible.

It can be disconcerting to discover your RV or camper has a nasty case of algae. You are likely full of questions: are algae dangerous? How did this happen?

We’ll cover how and why algae can grow in campers and RVs. You will also learn how to get rid of algae and prevent them from coming back.

Algae On RV

How Can I Tell If My RV Or Camper Has Algae?

Algae can be sneaky organisms.

You might not even realize that algae are growing in your camper or RV until they have advanced.

There are a few ways to determine that your camper or RV might be afflicted with algae. You may be able to see them growing in your freshwater or gray water tanks.

It is unlikely algae will affect your blackwater tank.

The products most people use to maintain blackwater tanks make the environment inhospitable for algae growth.

One warning sign is if your fresh water has started to taste or smell off. Maybe family members have started to complain.

Even if you haven’t noticed anything yourself, you should investigate. You don’t want to ignore algae and let the situation get out of control.

If there are algae in your water tanks, other parts of your water system might be affected. The pipes, your hose, and water heater may also have algae growing in them.

Why Are Algae Growing In My RV Or Camper?

Algae In Fresh Water Tank

You’re probably confused as to how algae ended up growing in your camper or RV in the first place. If you understand what algae need to grow, you will know why this can happen.

Moisture is one of the key requirements for algae growth. Your pipes, tanks, and water heater are all moist environments.

What about other things, like sunlight and water type? Do they contribute to the growth of algae?

Contrary to popular belief, algae don’t need direct sunlight to thrive. In bodies of water that get covered in algae, only the surface is exposed to light. It is the warmth, rather than the direct sunlight, that can make your tank vulnerable.

The right environment and nutrients also play a role in algae growth. Just a few compounds necessary for algae include iron, phosphorus, oxygen, and hydrogen.

Now, think about the water you’re using in your RV or camper. You are probably using plain old tap water for your water supply, right?

Most of the tap water around the United States contains iron and phosphorus, among other minerals. Air gets into your tanks when you refill and drain them, so there is also oxygen in there.

Another factor that promotes algae growth is agitation. Consider all the times you have driven or towed your RV or camper across rough terrain. Given all of this, the presence of algae is a bit less surprising.

Are Algae Dangerous?

Woman Drinking Water

The greatest concern after discovering algae in your RV or camper is safety. It can be scary to find out you’ve been bathing in, or worse, drinking contaminated water.

On a practical level, you will also want to know how soon you have to solve the problem. If you’re out on the road and discover algae, getting rid of it right away might not be an option.

Even if it’s inconvenient,  if you find algae in your tanks you should make it a priority to take action.

There are toxic and non-toxic variations of algae. The type growing in your RV or camper will depend on the water being used.

Harmful species of algae can have unpleasant consequences on your health. How serious these negative effects are will depend on how long you have been exposed and the algae type.

For example, drinking water with harmful algae in it can result in an upset stomach. You might experience diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Using only bottled water for the rest of your trip will save you from drinking it, but what about washing?

Your gray water tank and water heater can house algae too. This means the water you are using to wash your dishes, and yourself, can be algae-infested.

If it’s a toxic type of algae, repeated exposure can result in a skin rash. While showering, algae particles can be inhaled accidentally in the form of mist.

Your vulnerable family members are more at risk — this includes children, the elderly, and pets.

How Can I Get Rid Of Algae?

You will need a number of basic supplies to get rid of algae. Prepare everything in advance so you’re ready when it’s time for the actual cleaning.

Bleach

Preparing To Bleach RV

Bleach is touted as a universal solution for a range of issues. Whether you are fighting tough dirt or just want to make things sterile, bleach is the popular choice.

The beneficial properties of bleach can be applied to clearing out algae too. There are few living things that are tough enough to withstand a good dose of bleach.

Algae grow well in environments that have a fairly neutral pH level—around seven or eight.

The water circulating in your RV or camper falls into this category. If it was too acidic or alkaline, it wouldn’t be safe to use.

Common household bleach is an alkaline substance, about a 12 on the pH scale. This pH imbalance will kill algae.

Now, don’t go full throttle when it comes to using bleach. As I will explain later, you must dilute the bleach you’ll be using on any parts of your water system. Dumping pure bleach down your pipes or into your tanks is not a good idea.

Additional Supplies

There are a few other supplies you will need to battle the algae. These include:

  • Soft sponge.
  • Soft bristle brush.
  • Gallon bucket or container.
  • Rubber gloves.

Since you will be handling bleach, it is wise to wear gloves. I’ve mentioned soft sponges because you should avoid heavy-duty steel wool cleaning tools. You don’t want to damage your tanks.

How To Get Rid Of Algae In Your Gray Water And Freshwater Tanks

Draining Freshwater Tank

Clearing out algae begins with attacking it at the source: your freshwater and/or gray water tanks.

Read the following section on clearing out your water heater as well, if you want to be as thorough as possible.

Step One

  1. Drain your gray water and freshwater tanks completely. If possible, get rid of algae that you can see inside your tanks. Use the soft sponge or soft bristle brush to scrub around.
  2. For every fifteen gallons of water capacity, add three quarters of a cup of bleach. Remember, don’t ever use undiluted bleach. Get your bucket out and fill it up with water. Mix the bleach in, and you’re ready to go.
  3. Fill the freshwater tank with your sanitization solution. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you fill the tank.
  4. Run all the taps and shower until you can smell bleach. Don’t forget to use both the hot and cold taps. Then close the taps.
  5. Let your cleaning solution sit for a couple of hours. If you want, you can take your RV or camper over a bumpy road to agitate the solution.
  6. Drain your gray water and freshwater tanks. Next, refill your freshwater tank with fresh, clean water. Run the water again in your RV or camper until you can no longer smell bleach.

You may have to repeat this step more than once until all traces of bleach and algae are gone.

How To Get Rid Of Algae In Your Water Heater

Shutting Down RV Water Heater

It can be easy to forget about your water heater when it comes to sanitizing the water system. You would imagine that it’s too hot for algae to survive comfortably in there.

It can be easy to forget about your water heater when it comes to sanitizing the water system. You would imagine that it’s too hot for algae to survive comfortably in there.

Most water heaters operate in the range of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Surprisingly, there are species of algae that can survive in temperatures up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even if your water heater is not home to algae, it can house other dangerous organisms. This is a good chance to get rid of any bacteria breeding in there.

One such example is Legionella pneumophila. This is a type of bacteria that can cause lung infections.

Note that you can do this at the same time as you sanitize the freshwater tank. Or, if you prefer, you can do it before or after.

  1. Switch your water heater off. If you have just used your water heater, give it a chance to cool off.
  2. Locate the water heater’s petcock. Most models have the petcock at the bottom of the heater.
  3. Open both the petcock and the plug at the top of your heater, and allow it to drain.
  4. Fill your freshwater tank up with the diluted bleach solution we used earlier. Let the hot water heater fill up completely.
  5. Leave it to soak for several hours.
  6. Run the water until you can’t smell bleach anymore. Don’t forget to switch on your water heater when you’re done.

How To Get Rid Of Algae In Your Plumbing Lines And Hoses

Changing Pipes In RV

All of your water lines are going to be cleaned out during the tank sanitizing.

The bleach solution will run through the pipes repeatedly and clear out any algae.

As for your sewer hose (or hoses), use the same tactics. Just like with the tanks, all you will need is bleach and a gallon container of water to dilute it with.

  1. Clean any visible algae or scum off your hose with the soft sponge or bristle brush.
  2. Put your hose in a bucket or container filled with diluted bleach. Use common sense for the ratio of bleach to water. For example, half a cup of bleach per gallon of water should be fine for most hoses.
  3. Rinse the clean hoses inside and out until you can’t smell bleach anymore.

You might have to do this repeatedly to be sure they are fully cleaned out.

Preventing Algae: Good Maintenance Habits

There are a few strategies you can use to prevent algae from coming back. All of them boil down to staying on top of maintenance.

Sanitizing Your Water System

Pouring Bleach In RV

Sanitizing your RV or camper’s water system regularly is the best way to prevent algae. Aside from avoiding algae growth, it’s always good to keep your water clean.

The diluted bleach technique isn’t just for getting rid of algae. You can use it whenever you feel your water system needs to be cleaned out. Don’t forget about your water heater and hoses when you do this.

The number of times you should be sanitizing depends on your circumstances. You should always sanitize your RV or camper water systems before putting it in storage.

If you use your RV or camper year-round, aim for at least three or four cleanouts a year.

Checking Your Tanks Often

Don’t get into the habit of filling up or dumping your tanks without looking at them.

Always examine your gray water and freshwater tanks. If you spot algae starting to grow, you know it’s time for a deep sanitization.

Draining Your Tanks

Start draining your tanks whenever you bring your RV or camper back from a trip. Allowing water to get stagnant can provoke algae growth

Not only that, but stagnant water can attract insects and be a breeding ground for bacteria. You don’t want to start off on a new trip with water that has been sitting in the freshwater tank for weeks or months.

Preventing Algae: Keeping Your Water Clean

Connected RV Water Filter

There are other techniques you can try to minimize the chances of algae returning.

However, these are not intended to replace maintaining and sanitizing your water system.

If you have an algae infestation, get rid of it before going further. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting your time and money.

Using Distilled Water

Distilled water is lacking in minerals—it is also purer than standard tap water. Remember that tap water contains certain minerals that algae need to grow.

You can fill your freshwater tank with distilled water instead of tap water. Admittedly, this is going to be more expensive than using plain tap water.

However, if you’re willing to go to any length to prevent algae from returning, this might be an option for you.

Water Filters

Water filters can be used to improve the quality of the water in your RV or camper. Filtering the water means there will be less sediment, bacteria, and other unsavory substances in it.

In turn, this can lower the chances of algae growing. If you take your camper or RV out frequently, consider getting canister water filters.

These can attach directly to the hose you use to refill your fresh water tank. The water is filtered before it reaches your tank. An added bonus is water that smells and tastes better.

Dispelling Myths About Getting Rid Of Algae

I’m going to end by dispelling some myths about algae growing in RVs or campers. Now that you know what works against algae, you should also know what doesn’t.

Opaque Or Dark Tanks

Washing Black RV Tank

Transparent RV or camper tanks can let light in. That’s something you want to avoid if you’re trying to prevent algae from growing.

Still, buying opaque or dark holding tanks for your gray water or freshwater won’t make much difference. Algae will still be able to grow as long as there is water in your tanks, which there will be.

Darker tanks can also make it more difficult for you to see the condition of your tank. Save yourself the money and stick with the tanks you have. Just make sure to sanitize them regularly.

Using Vinegar

Some RV or camper enthusiasts swear by using vinegar to get rid of algae. This is because vinegar is acidic and can be used as a natural cleaner.

There isn’t much in the way of scientific evidence to prove that vinegar will work to get rid of algae. On the other hand, we know about the sterilizing powers of bleach.

It won’t hurt your RV or camper water system to use vinegar. Just know that it also won’t be as effective as using bleach.

Conclusion

I hope you feel more confident about getting rid of algae in your camper or RV. With some patience and effort, you should be able get your water system algae-free.

Odd tasting water or seeing the dreaded green tank can be a traumatic experience. As with most issues we encounter in our RVs or campers, maintenance is key.

Sanitizing your water system regularly will drastically reduce the chances of algae reappearing again. You can also enjoy knowing that your tanks, pipes, and water heater are as clean as can be.

Do you have other suggestions for getting rid of and preventing algae in a camper or RV? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments.

If this article was helpful to you, share it with other RV or camper owners.

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