The Best Small Septic System for Travel Trailer

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For people who love to travel, there is no other thing as satisfying as a travel trailer, recreational vehicle (RV), pop-up camper, or motorhome.

These vehicles are not just an incredible possession but are also fantastic travel companions providing you with the comforts of a home away from home.

No wonder then that travel trailers have become exceedingly popular these days, so much so that over 10 million US households own one RV today, observed a University of Michigan study and presented by the RV Industry Association.

Not just the young population, travel trailers are a favorite even among the 70-75-year-old.

Its ownership spans a whopping 40-year age range from 35 to 75 years, making the RV industry a $50 billion sector. This is surely good news for the US economy!

The bad news is when your awesome travel coach smells bad due to careless waste management.

If you are all focused too much on the other aspects of the travel trailer maintenance, you may end up with a smelly waste water tank.

And that is definitely not a good thing – neither for you nor for the coach! You must keep your travel trailer’s waste tank clean and sanitized.

Chances are that you already know this, for this is old wisdom and all travelers and campers are aware of it. But what people often neglect is to regularly dump and deep clean the tank. And there’s really no point carrying all the crap along with you forever, isn’t it? So RV tank dumping is a necessity.

And for beginners, a common question often is: What is the best small septic system for the travel trailer?

The best version of a mini septic system for your travel trailer is perhaps if you construct one yourself, modeled on the big ones. It is easy and affordable.

But before we get into that, it is important to understand ‘what is a septic system and how does it generally work for households?’ The same logic and structure apply to your travel trailer.

Septic System: Structures & Functions

Septic systems are basically underground structures for treating the wastewater from your house. Most typical and small septic systems would comprise two main parts:

  • The tank for holding and digesting waste
  • The dispersal or drain field (soil absorption field)

In a septic system, wastewater first runs out of the house (or a travel trailer) through a drainage pipe and gets collected in the septic tank, which is underground.

A septic tank is usually a water-tight vessel made of fiberglass, concrete, or polyethylene.

The main function of the septic tank is to contain the wastewater for as long as it takes the solid wastes to settle down at the bottom and the watery wastes (oils, greases) to float above as scum.

It’s a compartmentalized structure with a T-shaped (90-degree) outlet that prevents the solid wastes and the scum from slipping into the dispersal area. Only the liquid wastewater or effluent is released into the drain field for soil absorption.

The effluent permeates through the soil and is discharged into groundwater. The harmful bacteria existing in the effluent are thus naturally removed. 

The septic tank primarily digests the organic matter and separates the solid stuff and the floatable matter (oils and grease) from the wastewater.

Soil-based septic systems release the liquid or the effluent from the tank into a series of punctured pipes that remain buried in a leach field, chambers, or other distinct units specially developed to discharge the effluent into the soil gradually. 

For RVs, travel trailers, and their likes, a small septic system that is constructed by scaling down the full-size version of big households works wonders.

One can build a mini version by buying some basic items/parts from a local hardware shop, plumbing stores, and stone yards.

That is the best option for a small septic system perhaps while you are on the move. You only would need to know how to make that. Here’s step-by-step guidance:

Constructing a mini-version Septic System for Travel Trailers

Your travel trailer does not need a full-scale septic system as your home does because usage is low in RVs than in houses. So constructing a smaller version of the system suffices well. 

If you are not too many people, maybe just a couple (which is often the case) and there is no laundry to do, the following steps would help you build a small septic system for your RV to manage waste on your travels.

You would need two 55-gallon drums, a landscape fabric, gravel, some bends, and some pipes.

  1. As a first step, get all of these materials from a store near you.

  2. Next, dig a ditch of this dimension – 26 feet (length) x 4 feet (width) x 3 feet (depth).

  3. Make holes at the top of the drums, more towards one edge. The circumference of the holes should match that of the toilet flange pipes to be inserted.

  4. Fix 4-inch toilet flange pipes to each of these holes.

  5. Make two more holes at the sides of the lower drum, more towards the top edge which is at the opposite side of the 1st hole on top. Also, these two holes should be at an angle of 45 degrees from the hole on top.

  6. In the upper drum, make another 4-inch hole at the side of the drum more towards the top edge, opposite to the edge of the top hole.

  7. Now keep the upper drum at one end of the ditch, at least 4 inches below the top of the ditch.

  8. Just in front of this drum, dig a 2 feet deep hole for the lower drum.

  9. Fill this hole with gravel up to 1 foot, so that when the lower drum is placed here, the outlet pipe of the upper drum can perfectly fit the toilet flange on top of the lower drum.

  10. From a 4-inch ABS pipe, cut out a 3.5-inch pipe and stick it with glue to a 90-degree connector pipe. Cut out another 2.5-inch pipe and glue it to the other end of the 90-degree pipe.

  11. The end where you stuck the 2.5-inch nipple must go into the upper drum and the 3.5-inch end into the lower drum.

  12. Add more glue at both ends to secure the fitting.

  13. At the top hole of the upper drum, glue a Y-shaped pipe and also add a 45-degree bend pipe to the left arm of the Y-pipe.

  14. This Y-pipe should be aligned to meet the waste pipe coming from your RV. Once aligned, secure it well with glue to the toilet flange of the upper drum.

  15. Cut out two 2.5-inch nipples again and glue them up with two 45-degree bend pipes (at one end only, the end that goes into the side holes of the lower drum.

  16. Hammer a stake into the ground of the ditch right below one of the 45-degree bends coming out of the lower drum.

  17. Fix another stake 4 feet apart and 1 inch lower than the last stake (step 16).
  18. Keep planting stakes like this (4 feet apart and 1-inch lower than the previous) till the entire length of the ditch is covered.

  19. Fill the ditch with gravel in a way that is level with the top of each stake. So the gravel should slope down from the drums to the other end of the ditch.

  20. Get two 10 feet x 4 inches perforated drain pipes with holes. Fix one end of these into the 45-degree bends of the lower drum and another end should slant down the length of the ditch with open holes at the other end.

  21. Seal all pipes and bends attached to drums.
  22. Fill the drums with water.

  23. Pour more gravel up to the top of the lower drum.

  24. Lay the fabric on the gravel to stop the soil from seeping into the gravel.

  25. Cover the ditch with soil.

  26. Through the right arm of the Y-pipe, pour water into the upper drum so that when sewage enters the drum, it gets enough water to begin the anaerobic digestion process unique to septic systems.


So there you are – already with your mini septic system. Remember, this is by no means a permanent system, but it is effective for the purpose nonetheless.

Therefore, for people who are frequent travelers or modern-day nomads moving around places in travel trailers, this can be the best solution for a small septic system.

Only make sure the sewer hose coming out of your RV should be as straight as possible up to the septic tank, preferably at a slant (running downhill).

That ensured you are good to go. Just keep flushing, sanitizing, and cleaning your tanks regularly to keep your travel trailer’s septic system in fine health.

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