More and more, people are looking for safer, more natural ways to treat their RV toilets and black water tanks. The days of formaldehyde-based treatments and chemical treatments are, thankfully, for the most part, behind us.
When it comes to proper blackwater habits in your motorhome, trailer, or fifth wheel the top holding tank issues have always been and probably always will be avoiding odors and clogs. Savvy RVers understand that the best way to safely control odors and prevent clogs is to use bacterial and enzymatic products, but what most don't know is that there is A HUGE DIFFERENCE between bacteria products and enzyme products.
In this article, we will clear the air and outline exactly what Enzyme RV chemicals do in a holding tank, their strengths, weaknesses, our recommendations, and how they are VERY different from Bacteria RV treatments.
So, let's start this with a bang. Contrary to popular belief - enzymes are not bacteria. See, you're already learning new things! Bacteria and enzymes are, however, linked. Here's how: Bacteria create enzymes. When bacteria are present - in this case inside your tank - their only purpose in life (they are living organisms!) is to eat and survive. Different bacteria eat different things, and the ones that are present in high-quality holding tank treatments are made to eat the things that cause clogs and odors in your tank: paper, human waste, bad bacteria, etc. Unfortunately, bacteria have fairly small mouths and they can't eat large compounds so to help make these large compounds smaller they shed enzymes. Enzymes are simply non-living proteins that break larger things down into smaller things. After they have broken down the compounds the bacteria can eat them, digest them, and exhaust nothing but carbon dioxide and water (if you're using good aerobic bacteria, like what we put in our products).
Because enzymes are capable of breaking down solid waste, they are often confused with bacteria. Here are two important things to remember:
Also important to note: The type of enzyme created is completely dependent on what type of bacteria it is and what it needs to survive and multiply. So, if you don't have the right bacteria to start, you won't end up with the right enzymes to break down the waste. This is why poor quality treatments work poorly. They don't introduce the right bacteria (for bacterial treatments) or enzymes (for enzymatic treatments) and therefore they don't effectively work inside the tank. Not all treatments are created equal. You need treatments that include the RIGHT bacteria or enzymes to digest the specific compounds inside your tank.
It has become popular especially within the RV industry to make enzyme based holding tank treatments, but there are some pitfalls that the average consumer should keep an eye out for. Here are some pros and cons of enzymes in RV toilet chemicals.
The problem that many enzyme based RV waste treatments face is the limited number that can exist at a time. For example, if you put 1000 enzymes into your RVs holding tank tonight, by next week you would still have 1000 enzymes. So there is a clear limitation to just enzyme based products; no multiplication.
On top of that, enzymes cannot consume any of the the waste that has been broken down. Only bacteria can. This is why you can still get odors and clogs when you use a RV waste chemical that is strictly enzyme based. Because what is happening is, the waste is being made into tiny consumable pieces, with no bacteria to eat it. We have written a piece to help you learn more about how bacteria fits into the big picture of odor control and to select products that contain high-quality bacteria.
To be completely fair, enzymes will often break down waste in your black water tank very quickly and will work in high temperatures without slowing down at all. However, they will still have no effect on the odors coming from your RV holding tanks without bacteria to help digest the waste. So, good for clogs - bad for odors. It is even possible for waste to resolubilize/rejoin in your black water tank after it has been broken down without the help of bacteria. This happens with the waste you broke up with enzymes reforms into solid clumps again. When you use enzyme treatments, is important to dump often to avoid clogs building up all over again.
Because enzymes are proteins, there is always a risk of having an allergic reaction if it is inhaled in the air. Both, powdered and liquid enzymes can become airborne and there is always a fraction of a chance that after contact with the enzyme, you could develop an immune response to the dust; causing anaphylactic shock or other allergic reactions if you ever come into contact with it again. This is much less of a problem if the enzymes are in a liquid form. To be fair, most producers of enzyme toilet treatments understand there is some danger in enzymes which is why they are either in a thick liquid solution, like Dawn dish soap. Or, they are contained in a drop-in pouch, like this.
There are a few benefits to using enzyme based RV tank treatments:
However, Enzymes do not help with odors in any way because they cannot consume the waste that they break down. Enzymes also cannot multiply on their own to continue to help break down waste in your RV holding tank. And when in a dust/powder form, it has been found that enzymes can trigger an immune response and cause allergic reactions down the line.
What you use inside your tank is ultimately your choice based on several factors, like effectiveness, safety, environment, allergies, etc. We hope that this article has helped you understand RV enzyme treatments better and can help you make an informed decision about what products you add to your RV waste water systems.
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This is an excerpt from a training video that we offer store associates to help answer the commonly asked questions about RV holding tank problems. There is some good information here that may be valuable to you and fellow RVers who are struggling with common RV tank issues.