Can I Sanitize My RV Water Tank Without Bleach?

More and more people seem to be looking for ways to go green to help protect the environment. And I am all for that! So when I was reading through some RV forums recently I saw quite a few questions from people who were wondering if they could sanitize their RV water tank and lines with vinegar instead of bleach.

Of course, there were many questions and many more opinions on the subject. So, we did a little research ourselves and here is what we discovered.

Is Sanitizing the Water System With Vinegar Safe and Effective?

Yes, sanitizing your fresh water system with white vinegar is safe and effective. The graph below shows a comparison of Chlorine Bleach, Hydrogen Peroxide, White Vinegar, and Baking Soda to determine which product is best at killing Listeria, E. Coli and Salmonella. As you can see Bleach, Peroxide, and Vinegar kill all three types of bacteria.

But – and for most of us this is a BIG BUT – the chart below shows that in order to be effective the hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar must be heated to at least 130 degrees to kill all three of the bacterias. At room temperature, they are not effective.

Cleaner Comparison Chart

So, How The Heck Do I Get Hot Vinegar?

If you are asking this question you really want to save the planet! And I commend you for it. There is a great answer to this question, however, and that is to use your RV’s hot water heater to heat the vinegar solution to over 130 degrees. And the beauty of doing this is that it actually kills two birds with one stone.

It turns out that hot white vinegar, in addition to sanitizing your freshwater system, is also perfect for removing the mineral deposits that build up in your hot water tank and on its anode rod. As an example of this, let’s take a look at your coffee pot. Sometimes you will notice white mineral deposits in your coffee maker. When this happens it is recommended by the manufacturer that you run white vinegar through the coffee maker to clean it. It’s the same exact principal here. The coffee maker heats the vinegar solution and then it cleans the mineral deposits from your coffee maker.

What is The Process to Sanitize The Tank and Water System?

I’m sure you are thinking –  how do I get the hot water and vinegar solution from the hot water heater into the cold water lines in my RV? In order to heat the vinegar solution to run through your hot and cold lines just follow these steps:

  1. Before you begin you will need a thread adapter to attach a garden hose to your RV kitchen faucet. You can go here to order one from Amazon or pick one up at Home Depot or Lowes.
  2. Make sure your water heater is off.
  3. Set your water heater temperature to over 130 degrees while it is off.
  4. Drain all the water you can from your water system and hot water tank.
  5. Fill your fresh water tank with at least 15 gallons of a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar.
  6. Open your kitchen faucet and run your water pump until water comes out and you smell vinegar.
  7. Turn the water off and turn on the water heater. It will take at least 20 minutes for the water to reach at least 130 degrees.
  8. While the water is heating attach a thread adapter to the kitchen faucet in your RV.
  9. Attach a garden hose to the thread adapter and run the hose to the fresh water fill up outside of your RV.
  10. When the water is heated up, turn on your water pump and run water through the hot side of the kitchen faucet so it will fill the fresh water holding tank with the hot white vinegar solution.
  11. Once your fresh water tank has hot water in it you will run each fixture, one at a time, until you smell vinegar then turn the fixture off and move to another. You should be getting hot water out of the hot and cold sides of each fixture. NOTE: you will run the cold side of the kitchen faucet last in this process.
  12. Don’t forget to run the solution through your ice maker, instant hot, or the drinking water dispenser in the fridge door.
  13. Once you have run the hot solution through every hot and cold line to every fixture you can disconnect the garden hose and let the solution sit overnight.
  14. The next day be sure your hot water heater is off. Remove the anode rod and drain and rinse out the water heater completely. You will probably see quite a bit of sediment when you rinse out the water heater. Re-insert the anode rod and then dial the hot water heating temperature setting back to 120 degrees. Please note that temperatures over 120 degrees can cause scalding.
  15. Hook up to a fresh water supply and run fresh water through both the hot and cold sides of all of your fixtures until the vinegar smell is gone.

Now your entire fresh water system is sanitized and ready for use!

How Often Should I Sanitize?

You should definitely sanitize your RV water system if your RV has been sitting for a long period of time. You definitely should sanitize every spring when you de-winterize your RV. Here are some other guidelines for when you should sanitize your fresh water system:

  • If you notice a stale odor when using your water
  • If your RV been sitting for two weeks or more and the RV water system has not been used
  • If you have been informed that there is a boil water advisory it is definitely time to sanitize the entire water system.
  • If you have algae or slime in your water tank it is absolutely time to sanitize the entire water system.

Even though you do not drink water out of your freshwater tank you still need to sanitize your system. Bacteria will still form in the water system and you don’t want to take a shower in bacteria-filled water. And although filters will remove contaminants and improve taste and odor, a filter is not a purifier and will not kill bacteria.


Cleaning your water tank and system without bleach definitely goes against conventional wisdom. But if your goal is to go green and be ecologically friendly then using a hot vinegar solution is a great choice. It takes a little extra work but if you have the thread adapter for the kitchen sink it really is a pretty easy process.

For more info about RVs check out our article The Pros and Cons of Owning an RV.

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To see a list of all of our articles check out the Blog Archive!

Do you have some other ways you are going green? We would love to know so please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


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