21 Best Tricks for Saving Water in an RV: Extend Boondocking Stays with Conservation
June 19, 2021
Boondocking is a great way to enjoy the beauty of America on a budget. Camping on public land offers beautiful locations for free. But there’s a catch.
There are no campground hookups in these majestic remote locations and you have to boondock. Saving water is the easiest way to extend your next boondocking trip. We’ve learned several RV water-saving tips and tricks from years of experience combined with the knowledge of fellow campers.
Boondocking is also known as dry camping and dispersed camping. It is camping without any amenities. Some areas may have designated campsites with fire rings or a pit toilet but most are undeveloped. Public lands such as National Forest and Bureau of Land Management properties typically allow stays up to 14 days for free.
In recent years, busy areas near National Parks have started to shorten stay limits to protect resources from overuse and abuse. Some areas may require permits from the regional field office. These permits are generally free but non-compliance can result in ticketing and fines. Be sure to read posted signs to ensure you know the restrictions and limits. To keep these places accessible for everyone, please follow the rules and leave it better than you found it.
Is boondocking worth it?
We love to boondock and think the sacrifices are definitely worth it. Honestly, our favorite part of full time RV life is finding off-the-beaten path locations and camping for free in the wild. To be fair, our current version of camping is very luxurious compared to our old weekend tent camping trips.
When boondocking, you’ll sacrifice the convenience of campground hookups to convene with nature. But amazing locations will literally be in your back yard.
For example, we hiked along the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona and biked the West Magnolia Trail system in Colorado without ever starting our car. They were both on our doorstep while camping for free on public lands.
We have eaten dinner while watching amazing sunsets over oceans, lakes, mountains and deserts. Finally, don’t even get me started on the wildlife. A moose wandered by our campsite in the Rockies and bighorn sheep watched us from rocks near Lake Havasu Arizona.
Boondocking is all about location for us. This post contains photos in a few of our favorite boondocking spots. I hope they demonstrate why conserving water is absolutely worth it.
Is dry camping difficult?
Boondocking and dry camping do have downsides. It’s not as easy as living in a house but it is manageable. Water and electricity will be at the front of your mind at all times. That’s because you’ll be limited to your own resources.
RV Water Conservation
The water in your RV holding tanks will become precious when you don’t have campground connections. Our RV holding tanks are relatively large at 85 gallons fresh water, 48 gallons grey and black waste water tanks. However, if we use water freely our fresh water tank will run dry by the end of a weekend.
Saving water is the only way to extend a camping trip. Water conservation is fairly easy to master once you reset your habits. With 85 gallons of water on board and active water conservation measures, we can stay in one location for two weeks without having to break camp to refresh our supply.
Electricity is another concern for RV campers when boondocking. We have a solar and lithium battery system designed to sustain our 37’ Class A diesel pusher, Pippi, with all of the conveniences of home. To read more about solar basics and our setup, check out this post.
21 Tips to Save Water in an RV
We have been living in our RV full time since 2018 and have learned several tips to save water. Below we share 21 Tips for saving water in an RV.
Many are things we personally do when boondocking to extend our stay. Others are tips from fellow RVers that we don’t personally use. Try a few or all of the recommendations, to decide what works best for your family and your rig.
There are a few tips that apply to all areas of RV including how to repurpose otherwise wasted water and the best way to use your faucets to reduce waste.
1. Catch Unused Water & Repurpose
This is intentionally our #1 Tip to Save Water in an RV. Catch every drop of unused water in a pitcher or pan.
While waiting for the shower to heat up, catch the water in a container. It is clean fresh water and can be used to cook, drink, shave, brush your teeth or whatever else you might need.
Some people save their used dishwater to flush the toilet or perform light cleaning (cleaning dirty feet or floors). Personally, we do not generally keep our used dishwater because it’s not worth the hassle of maintaining multiple containers of water in the coach. However if your holding tanks are small or your family uses a lot of water, repurposing dishwater should be considered.
2. Master the Trickle
Turning a faucet on and letting it run wide open is a thing of the past. There are very few times that full water flow is needed to achieve a task. Try rinsing dishes and washing your hands with a trickle of water running out of the faucet.
I find that washing my long thick hair requires full flow but washing my hands is achieved just as well with a trickle of water. As you test it out, you will find what works best for each task.
Water Saving Tips for an RV Kitchen
It seems we use more water in the kitchen than anywhere else in our RV. We cook and eat most meals at home. That means a lot of dishes every day. Additionally, water is our beverage of choice and we both consume more than average. Below are a few tips to save water in your RV kitchen.
3. Use Paper Products
We don’t follow the popular water saving method of using disposable plates and utensils in the RV. Primarily because we think eating on real plates with silverware feels more like home. It’s important to our mental health. Plus we don’t love the ecological impact of using paper and plastic products every day.
However, if we are with a large group, we do use paper plates and disposable utensils to save on clean-up. Sometimes friends bring their own plates and utensils to pot lucks which divides the clean-up equitability.
3. Prep Produce
Fresh fruits and veggies are an important part of our diet. Washing them under running water is wasteful. Instead try scrubbing and/or soaking them in a bowl of captured fresh water.
Cleaning and cutting all of the produce for a week at one time is another way to save dishes and water. You’ll only need to wash your knives and cutting board once and everything will be in the fridge ready to eat or cook.
4. Simplify Meals
We cook the majority of our meals at home. To save water, consider simplifying your meals.
Single pot meals are a great way to reduce dirty dishes. A few of our favorites are stir frys, pasta dishes with store bought sauces, and soups.
Grilling is another way to simplify your meals. Choose a protein or entrée to throw on the grill. Wrap your seasoned veggies in foil pouches and add them to the mix. No pots or pans to clean and we rarely have a disappointing grilled dinner.
5. Line Your Pans
If you need to use a pots or pans for a meal, consider liners to simplify clean up. Crock pot liners are great since they eliminate the need to wash. If baking, wrap your pan in aluminum foil or line with parchment paper. Create a barrier to protect your pan from baked on food that will require a lot of scrubbing to clean.
6. Pre-Wash Dishes
We love to cook and sometimes we have meals that require multiple pans. That’s okay.
One way we reduce our dishwater usage is to pre-clean our dishes. It sounds a little nuts but we pre-wash our dishes. We use a small quantity of water to get the big chunks off before washing them. A spray bottle of captured water or a product like Dawn Power Spray is a good way to do this with minimal water.
A less eco-friendly option is to use a paper towel or wet wipe to pre-clean dishes before washing them.
Alternatively, some RVer serve meals with bread to encourage everyone to wipe their own plates clean.
7. Wash dishes in a bucket
We always wash our dishes in a container. Similar dish pans are available for a couple of dollars at any big box store.
Occasionally, we use the largest dirty pot as my dish washing bucket or container. But if we don’t have a dirty pot, we use a plastic dish pan. Our dish pan fits inside the kitchen sink and allows us to use less water than making a sink full of dish water.
If you don’t mind the clutter, washing dishes once per day reduces dish water. We prefer to wash dishes after each meal but it is not the most water saving method.
Alternatively, if your RV has a dishwasher, use it. Based on an unscientific study by our friends Rebekah&Jared, their small RV drawer-style dishwasher uses about two gallons of water per wash cycle. This is a great water conservation option if you can wash a day or more worth of dishes with two gallons of water.
8. Pre-Heat Dish Water
If you have a standard water heater that takes a few minutes to heat water, consider pre-heating your dish water using an alternate method.
Some people use a kettle to heat water to wash their dishes. Another option is fill a dirty pot with water and heat it on the stove. Either option will save the unused cold water from the tap while you are waiting for the hot water to make it to the faucet.
We have an on-demand Truma water heater so our water is always warm. It is one of our RV modifications that provides the convenience and comfort of home while on the road.
Water-Saving Tips for an RV Shower
Showering is a necessity. However to save water in a RV, you need to rethink your bathing routine.
9. Master the Military Shower
Short showers are a key to saving water in an RV. When we shower, we do military or Navy showers. This means only turning on the water only when you need it.
I consider myself somewhat of an expert. And this is what works for my water saving RV shower but you will find what works for you.
I turn on the faucet and catch the cold water in a pitcher until it heats up. With our on-demand water heater, I usually only catch about a cup of clean cold water. I turn off the water and place the pitcher outside the shower to keep the captured water clean.
First, I wet my hair, body and shower tools (loofah, wash cloth, razor, soap bar, or whatever else is needed) with warm water. Immediately turn off the water. Second, I shampoo my hair and wash my body. Once I am fully soaped up, I turn the water back on and quickly rinse my hair and body. Immediately turn off the water. Next, I condition my hair, wash my face and shave. I use my collected water to rinse the razor as I am shaving. Finally, I turn on the water and quickly rinse my hair, face and body. As you might surmise the key to this method is to turning of the water immediately and quickly when you don’t need it.
10. Switch to low suds biodegradable soap
We use Dr Bronner’s castille soap as body wash, hand soap and shaving cream. It is biodegradable and doesn’t contain the chemicals added to most soaps to make them sudsy. Suds are fun but they don’t get you any cleaner. Plus it requires more water to rinse more suds.
Some public lands allow discharge of grey water onto the ground. Since we use biodegradable soap, we know our soapy water won’t harm the wildlife or plants in the area.
Check regulations in each area to see if grey water discharge is allowed. Dumping dishwater and handwashing water outside saves grey tank space allowing you to extend your stay even longer.
11. Shower Less
I know my mother won’t like this tip since I was raised to bathe every day. It was a nightly battle to make me bathe but guess what I’m giving you permission to skip a shower or two.
Let’s be real, some days you sit inside and end the day smelling as fresh as you started it. Skip a shower on those days to save water. We generally shower every other day and time our big workouts to align with shower days.
Alternatively, consider showering away from the RV. To save fresh water and tank space, many RVers have national gym memberships that provides access to showers. We enjoy lap swimming for exercise. Local aquatics centers offer an opportunity to work out and use their showers. We’ve seen some that even offer lower cost admission for just shower privileges.
12. How to Stay Clean between Showers
There are several options to stay clean between showers.
The most water hungry option is to wash yourself in the sink using a small quantity of water. Sometimes you smell and nothing else will do but water and soap.
Wipes are another option if you need a quick refresh between showers. We often use baby wipes to clean our feet after a day in flip flops. There are stronger body wipes than baby wipes that are recommended by van dwellers who don’t have on-board shower facilities.
Dry shampoo is a great way to extend the time between hair washes. A can of dry shampoo only costs a few dollars. It is available at any store that sells shampoo. It absorbs the scalp oil and refreshes hair for an extra day. I wouldn’t recommend using more than one day in a row because it can cause build up on your scalp. Also consider experimenting with braiding long hair or wearing buns to extend time between shampoos.
13. Wet Shaving without Using Water
Dry shaving is an option to save water and laser hair removal will virtually eliminate the need to shave.
But if you prefer to wet shave, it can be done without using water. While in the shower and your skin is already wet, use captured water to wet and rinse your razor. It will allow to you shave without using any of your precious fresh water.
Water-Saving Tips for an RV Bathroom
RV toilets can waste a lot of water if used without consideration. Our toilet is operated with a foot pedal that adds water to the bowl when flushed.
14. Turn off Water to Your Toilet
We turn off water to our RV toilet when in conservation mode. This saves our fresh water from literally being flushed down the toilet. To turn off the water to our toilet, we turn off the water pump and clear the water lines before flushing the toilet. Other toilet models can be turned off more easily.
Remember to use captured water to flush the toilet. Used dish water is good for this purpose. RV black tanks need water to function properly. Google ‘poop pyramid’ if you want to know what happens when RV tanks are too dry. But if you have a weak stomach just take my word, It is critical to add water each time you flush.
15. If it’s Yellow
A great way to extend black tank capacity is to only flush the toilet when necessary. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.
RV Modifications to Save Water
There are many RV modifications that will help save water. Not all options are possible in every rig. Upgrade costs can be expensive. This is just a brief summary about a few of the options.
16. Upgrade plumbing fixtures
Consider upgrading sink faucets and shower heads to low flow versions. Oxygenics is a popular brand among RVers. These add air to the water to maintain water pressure with less water usage.
17. Grey Water Recycling
Grey water recycling systems can be installed to automate reusing water. Simple versions of these systems take used grey water and divert to flush toilets. More advanced systems filter shower water and reuses it.
18. Shower Toggle
Water can be wasted when turning the shower on and off during military or Navy showers. It takes a few seconds to get the faucet adjusted back to the right temperature and that water is wasted.
A simple toggle switch can be added to a RV shower faucet that allows warm water to remain in the line without turning off the faucet.
19. Upgrade to an On-Demand Water Heater
We upgraded to a Truma On Demand Water Heater to Pippi before we started full time RV living. This upgrade allows us to have 1 liter always hot reducing the water wasted waiting for it to heat up.
When connected to water and sewer at a campground, this upgrade also provides us unlimited hot showers.
20. Composting Toilet
If you are interested, a composting toilet can eliminate the need for toilet water altogether. It also frees up the black tank for other purposes such as extended grey tank capacity.
Composting toilets rely on evaporation and decomposition to process human waste.
21. Get More Water
This tip isn’t truly a water saving tip but it is used by most RV boondockers. Find a method to get more water without moving your RV.
Water containers that can be filled to supplement your tank capacity will greatly reduce water conservation pressure. We have two six-gallon jugs that we keep in our car trunk. If we see a water spigot on our daily adventures, we fill up the jugs and pour them into the RV fresh water tank when we get home.
Others have large water bladders that fit in their tow vehicle backseats or truck beds. These can be filled without moving the RV. Some rigs do not have a gravity fill like ours and require external pumps to get water into the tanks.
We have also met RVers who have large 5-gallon water bottles that they refill for drinking water only at local grocery stores and water fill stations. They only use their tank water for cooking and washing.
If you are able to easily transport more water to your rig, saving water will be less crucial to extending your RV boondocking trips.
Summary Saving Water in an RV
Boondocking for free on public land is amazing but can be challenging. To extend your RV stay while camping without hookups, water conservation is key.
By implementing a few of our tips, you can stay longer without feeling deprived. As you gain more boondocking experience, the easier it will become to save water in your RV without even thinking about it.