RVing & Camping – Drinking Water Quality

Banff national Park
Pristine, clear and drinkable water…………or is it?

Whether camping in a tent or in a luxurious motor home safe and good tasting drinking water is not a luxury it is a necessity. Clean safe drinking water can be an issue especially if you are camping in the boonies or boondocking.

Many areas in the world do not have good tasting drinking water and buying water seems to becoming more necessary as the population of our planet increases.

In the last 150 years disinfecting our drinking water is probably the single most important factor that enables us humans to live longer. Water born pathogens and diseases killed millions every year. Unsafe drinking water is still a huge problem in developing countries.

When camping or RVing it is extremely important to take all precautions necessary to insure your drinking water is safe. If not you may easily ingest pathogens that may cause illness for you and your family.

Most people who become ill from drinking unsafe  water do not realize the source of their illness. It is most often thought food or contact with others was the caused of the illness.

What are pathogens?

Inadequately treated water may contain disease-causing organisms, or pathogens. Pathogens include various types of bacteria, viruses, protozoan parasites, and other organisms.


Coliforms are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment and used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present. Coliforms found in more samples than allowed is a warning of potential problems.


E. coli

Fecal coliform and E. coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that water may be contaminated by human or animal wastes. Microbes in these wastes can cause short term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms.  They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, and people with severely compromised immune systems.

These are just a few of the nasties that may be in untreated water. The source of your drinking water is very important. Even though you may be camping miles from city pollution in a pristine wilderness, there is no guarantee that a seemingly crystal clear creek or lake may not contain illness causing pathogens.

Start Clean

Chlorine is and has been widely used to disinfect water systems all over the globe. It is reasonably inexpensive and has not been found to cause any ill effects to humans, even in large doses.


When camping or RVing water tanks and containers are often neglected, but these containers can be a breeding ground for bacteria.The best way to insure your drinking water is safe is to sanitize your fresh water holding tank or containers. For a 50 gal tank a cup of chlorine bleach. Remember more is better.

Run a small amount of water into the tank or container, add the bleach and then fill with clean water. Run the RV water pump and let the water run out of faucets for a few seconds and then turn them off leaving the system pressurized.

Leave the chlorinated water in the tanks overnight and then flush the system with clean potable (drinkable) water, then drain and refill the tanks or water containers with potable water. You are all set.

water holding tank
RV fresh water holding tank with level indicators

Disinfecting your fresh water holding tank and/or water containers should be performed on a regular basis especially if water in your tanks is left standing for more than a few days. This is even more important if the weather is warm. Bacteria grows faster in warmer water.

While you are sanitizing your fresh water tank you may want to do the same with your grey and black tanks, although because there will be more bacteria and germs present use more  chlorine bleach. This will help with foul odors.

No Drinking (potable) Water?

Boiling water for 5 minutes will ensure water is safe to drink, however if this is not an option, you can disinfect a container of water with chlorine. Be aware there may be pathogens present in the water that are resistant to chlorine disinfectant.

1 gallon of water can be disinfected by 8-16 drops of regular household bleach (visually about 1/4 of a teaspoon) – double that for cloudy water. Shake and let stand 30 minutes. One teaspoon will disinfect 5 gallons. Immediately after treating, water must initially have a slight smell of chlorine. If it does not – repeat the process.

This will do in an emergency but it is not a good idea to drink unsafe water even after disinfecting.

Filtered Water

Filters are a good way to  improve the taste and clarity of water but don’t be fooled, filters do not remove micro organisms or pathogens. The only safe way is to disinfect water before filtering using chlorine, UV rays or ozone.

Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System (RO)

RO is one of the most reliable and low maintenance water treatment systems and provides high quality drinking water from suspect  sources, although disinfecting is often used after RO treatment. Although more expensive than a simple filter system, RO works much better and lasts longer. We have been using a RO system for years. This is an RV friendly Reverse Osmosis system.

Transferring Water into Your RV

So you are still out in the boonies and you have a water source like a lake or stream, but you are not sure if it is safe to drink. Boil enough water for drinking, but for showering etc. you will need to get the water from the source into your RV or to your camp. These products will help you with this task.

Remember safe drinking water is vital to keep us healthy. Don’t take a chance if you are not sure of your water source. When we travel even though a water source seems to be safe I always will add a 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach to our fresh water holding tank. This will insure that we have no unwanted tiny passengers and the chlorine with dissipate after a day or so.

I have first hand knowledge of using chlorine to disinfect water. One of my part time retirement jobs is custodian of our community water system. My duties include testing for chlorine content and adjusting the injector pump to increase or reduce the free chlorine according to the health department regulations.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and it helps you to deal with your potable water issues.

For your convenience I have compiled a comprehensive list of equipment and items you may need for your RV and camping travels, complete with product  links, click here to check out my list & links.


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Thanks for visiting.

Gord B.

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