Boondocking is a great way to RV on a budget. Camping on public land provides access to beautiful locations for free.
But there’s a catch. You’ll need to focus about saving water and managing power consumption in your RV while boondocking.
There are no campground hookups in these majestic remote locations. 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 boondocking combined with the knowledge of fellow campers.
And we share 23 of the top tips for saving water while RV boondocking.
23 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 23 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 methods of saving water works best for your family and your rig while boondocking.
- Overall Keys to Saving Water in an RV
- Water-Saving Tips for an RV Kitchen
- Water-Saving Tips for an RV Shower
- Water-Saving Tips for an RV Bathroom
- RV Modifications to Save Water
Overall Keys to Saving Water in an RV
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, pan or bucket.
While waiting for the shower to heat up, catch the water in a container. This is clean fresh water and can be used to cook, drink, shave, brush your teeth or whatever else you might need.
Some people even 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. 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. For environmental reasons, we avoid disposable products. 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.
4. Use Paper Products
We don’t follow the popular water saving method of using disposable plates and utensils in the RV.
Primarily we avoid disposable products because eating on real plates with silverware feels more like home. It is 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 even bring their own plates and utensils to pot lucks which divides the clean-up and shares water resources.
5. 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 freshwater.
We like this space saving flat handheld strainer instead of a big colander to drain the water back into the container for reuse.
Cleaning and cutting all of the fresh fruits and vegetables 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.
6. Simplify Meals
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 get dirty when grilling dinner and we rarely have a disappointing grilled dinner.
7. Line Your Pans
If you need to use pot or pan for a meal, consider liners to simplify clean up.
Crockpot liners are great since they usually eliminate the need to wash.
If baking, wrap your pan in aluminum foil or line with parchment paper. Both options create a barrier to protect your pan from baked-on food that will require a lot of scrubbing to clean.
8. 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 Wash 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.
9. Wash dishes in a bucket
We always wash our dishes in a container.
Occasionally, we use the largest dirty pot as the dishwashing bucket or container.
But if we don’t have a dirty pot big enough to wash in, we use a plastic dishpan. Our dish pan fits perfectly inside the kitchen sink and allows us to use less water than making a sink full of dishwater.
A collapsible dishpan can easily be purchased for under $10.
If you don’t mind the clutter, washing dishes once per day reduces dishwater. 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.
10. Pre-Heat Dish Water
If you have a standard water heater that takes a few minutes to heat water, consider pre-heating your dishwater using an alternate method.
- Some people use a kettle to heat water to wash their dishes.
- Another option is to 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 water heater so our water is always warm. It is one of our favorite RV modifications because it 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 an RV, you need to rethink your bathing routine.
11. 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 in saving water in boondocking showers.
This is what works for my water-saving RV shower but you will find what works for you.
How to shower with less water in an RV when boondocking
The key to saving water when taking an RV shower while boondocking is to turn of the faucet when you don’t need running water.
Here are complete step by step instructions for my RV boondocking shower method. It allows me to feel clean without too much compromise.
First, 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.
Then, I turn off the water and place the pitcher outside the shower to keep the captured water clean. The captured water is used to flush the toilet or for cleaning.
Third, I wet my hair, body and shower tools (loofah, washcloth, razor, soap bar, or whatever else is needed) with warm water. I like to set my “tools” in the floor under my feet so they can get wet while I wet my hair and body.
Immediately turn off the water once wet.
Next, I shampoo my hair and wash my body without running water.
Once I am fully soaped up, I turn the water back on and quickly rinse my hair and body. Immediately turn off the water.
Finally, I condition my hair, wash my face and shave without running water. I use some of my collected water to rinse the razor as I am shaving.
Then, I turn on the water and quickly rinse my hair, face and body.
As you might surmise the key to this method of saving water in the shower is to turn off the faucet when you don’t need it.
12. Switch to low suds biodegradable soap
Suds are fun but they don’t get you any cleaner. Plus it requires extra water to rinse more suds.
Biodegradable soap doesn’t contain chemicals added to make them more sudsy.
We use Dr Bronner’s Castille soap as body wash, hand soap and shaving cream. I love the lavender scent but there are several other good ones available.
Some public lands allow the discharge of greywater 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 greywater discharge is allowed. Dumping dishwater and handwashing water outside saves grey tank space allowing you to extend your stay even longer.
13. Shower Less
I know my mother won’t like this tip since I was raised to bathe every day.
Growing up, 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 while boondocking.
We generally shower every other day and plan our big physical activity and workouts to align with shower days.
Shower in Other Places
Alternatively, consider showering away from the RV. To save fresh water and tank space, many RVers have national gym memberships that provide 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 in popular RV destinations like Moab Utah.
14. How to Stay Clean between Showers
There are several options to stay clean between showers.
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 intended for bathing that are recommended by van dwellers who don’t have on-board shower facilities.
Get Creative with Long Hair
Consider experimenting with braiding long hair or wearing buns to extend the time between shampoos.
Dry shampoo is also a great way to extend the time between hair washes.
A can of dry shampoo only costs a few dollars at most shops and lasts me for many months.
It absorbs the scalp oil and refreshes hair for an extra day. I wouldn’t recommend using dry shampoo more than one day in a row because it can cause build-up on your scalp.
The most water-hungry option is to wash in the sink using a small quantity of water.
Sometimes you smell and nothing else will do but water and soap. I usually use captured water in a container for a sink bath.
Additionally, biodegradable castille soap, like Dr Bronner’s, does not contain foaming agents which requires less rinse water.
15. Shave 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 running extra water specifically for this task.
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 freshwater.
Water-Saving Tips for an RV Bathroom
RV toilets can waste a lot of water if used without consideration. Most RV toilets are operated with a foot pedal that adds water to the bowl when flushed.
16. Turn off Water to Your Toilet
We turn off the water to our RV toilet when in conservation mode.
This saves our freshwater 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 dishwater is perfect to flush toilets if saving water while boondocking.
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.
17. 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 and sometimes are not worth the investment.
This is just a brief summary of a few of the options.
18. Upgrade plumbing fixtures
Consider upgrading RV sink faucets and showerheads to low-flow versions if interested in saving water while boondocking.
Oxygenics is a popular brand among RVers for low flow shower heads. These add air to the water but are able to maintain water pressure with less water usage.
Some showerheads also have a built in toggle switch as described in #20 below.
19. Grey Water Recycling
Greywater recycling systems can be installed to automate reusing water.
Simple versions of these systems take used greywater (shower and sink water) and divert it to flush toilets. More advanced systems filter shower water and reuse it.
20. 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 and inexpensive toggle switch can be added to an RV shower faucet that allows warm water to remain in the line without completely turning off the faucet.
21. Upgrade to an On-Demand Water Heater
An expensive upgrade to save water while boondocking is to install an on-demand tankless water heater.
We upgraded to an On Demand Water Heater 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.
22. 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.
We do not use a composting toilet but have friends who love theirs.
Natures Head is one of the most popular and highly rated brands of composting toilets among RVers.
Composting toilets costs around $1k and are an expensive RV upgrade.
They require a natural material, like coconut husks, as a base for the decomposing poop. Urine is collected in a separate container of the composting toilet and the urine container must be dumped regularly or plumbed into an existing RV tank.
23. 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 because fresh water is generally the limiting factor.
Portable water jugs
Portable water containers that can be filled to supplement your tank capacity will ease some of the pressure to save water while boondocking.
We keep two of these inexpensive 6 gallon Ozark Trail jugs in our car trunk. However, we found them to be much cheaper in stores than online. For instance, we bought ours under $20 each at Walmart.
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.
The Ozark Trail jug has a spout that can easily be stored inside when not in use. They also have an air vent which makes filling our tanks much faster and cleaner.
Most of our full time RV friends travel with large water bladders that fit in their tow vehicle backseats or truck beds.
These can be filled without moving the RV but they require a flat space in your vehicle large enough to accommodate them without risking a puncture.
Keep in mind, you may also need an external pump to get water into the tanks from a water bladder.
Filtered Drinking Water
Alternatively, we have also met RVers who have large 5-gallon water bottles that they refill for drinking water only.
Most local grocery stores have water refilling machines for these large bottles. With dedicated drinking water, then RV tank water can be saved for cooking and washing while boondocking.
This rechargable dispenser pump can turn a 5 gallon bottle into your own RV water cooler.
There is no one way to RV and we do not want the hassle of buying filtered drinking water. Instead, we installed filters on our RV tank water to ensure it is safe for drinking.
With our RV water filtration system we were able to safely drink tap water in Mexico.
If you are able to easily transport more water to your rig, saving water will be less crucial to extending your RV boondocking trips.
What is boondocking?
Boondocking is also known as dry camping or dispersed camping.
In short, boondocking is camping without any amenities or hookups.
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 in a solar powered, self contained 38 foot Class A motorhome 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 backyard.
For example, we hiked along the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona and biked the West Magnolia Trail system in Nederland 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 and restricted by tank capacity.
RV Water Conservation
The water in your RV holding tanks will become precious when you don’t have campground connections while boondocking.
Our RV holding tanks are relatively large at 85 gallons freshwater, 48 gallons grey and black wastewater tanks. However, if we use water freely our fresh water without any efforts to save while boondocking, our tank will run dry by the end of a weekend.
Saving water is the only way to extend a boondocking trip and our 23 tips provide ideas for all campers whether in an RV, car, tent or something else.
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.
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 for water conservation while boondocking, you can stay longer without feeling deprived.
As you gain more boondocking experience, it will become easier to save water in your RV without even thinking about it.