The Geo Method is a homemade system for treating your holding tanks that many people swear by and is widely believed to be an effective and cheap treatment method. In this post, we are going to go over every inch of The Geo Method, how it works, pros and cons, how waste digestion and odor elimination fit into that picture, and our recommendations.
Created in the 80's by Charles Bruni, The Geo Method is a combination of powdered Calgon (water softener), laundry detergent (soap/surfactant), plenty of water and often bleach or chlorine (to attempt to control odor). It was created by Charles through his extensive experience as an RVer; to find a cheap way to maintain RV holding tanks. First, what does it mean to maintain a holding tank? Charles would argue that it is about keeping the tank sensors and walls and base clear of debris. We don't disagree with Charles, but we do believe that proper tank maintenance should go beyond just keeping the tank interior clean. More on that in a minute.
At the core of the The Geo Method system is a concept that you never see a dirty washing machine interior because soft water and detergent not only clean your clothes, but also the interior of the washing machine and The Geo Method applies this logic to RV holding tanks.
The process of water softening (Calgon) makes it so that organic and inorganic waste (poop and toilet paper) alike don't stick to the walls of your holding tank. The addition of laundry detergent or dish soap is used to penetrate any solid waste that may still get stuck to the walls or sensors in your RV and help rinse it away. This makes The Geo Method, but mostly soft water, a decent solution for cleaning the interior walls and sensors in your RV black water holding tank.
The process of water softening removes calcium and magnesium in water that can cling to your tank sensors, causing them to misread - which is a good thing. However, this process can also make the water uninhabitable for any bacteria inside your tank that assist in digesting the solid waste and can lead to clogs and backups. This is because the ingredients in Powdered Calgon create sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as a result of the chemical reaction with hard water. Baking soda has been known for years to be antibacterial and does a great job of it!
Those of you who understand how your holding tanks work know that bacteria and enzymes are a crucial element to maintaining clog and odor-free tanks. If you aren't familiar with this concept, you can learn more about how bacteria are a crucial element in reducing solid waste and reducing RV toilet odors. If you understand this concept, you can clearly see how The Geo Method would interfere with waste break down and odor reduction in your holding tank.
A quick primer on bacteria: Anaerobic bacteria, which is already in your gut and is present in human waste (poop), is much more resilient to chemicals and may often survive treatment with the The Geo Method. At first glance this sounds great! Unfortunately, though anaerobes are helpful in digesting solid waste, they also release methane and hydrogen sulfide gas which make that all-too-familiar toilet smell.
Unfortunately, aerobic bacteria that effectively break down solid waste and eliminate odors by releasing carbon dioxide and oxygen (the kind you really want in your tank), will likely die off in a baking soda-rich environment created by Calgon.
Simply put, with The Geo Method you are reducing the chances your solid waste will get adequately digested. Furthermore, you will potentially increase the ability of anaerobic bacteria to create strong toilet odors.
Anyone who boondocks or has issues keeping water in their tank will still continually deal with odors and clogs. The water in The Geo Method is the only thing keeping odors under control, and at that, water is nowhere near a foolproof solution. If you plan to use the The Geo Method while dry camping, here are your viable options for using water as an odor control:
1. Add a buffer of 5 gallons of water (or more) to your holding tank before you leave, this allows your water reserves to stay ahead of a possible poop pyramid.
2. Keep water in your RV Toilet to create a water barrier, like you would find in your home toilet. The water keeps odors from seeping up from your holding tank.
Even this can only do so much to reduce tank odors when you're dry camping as the odors WILL build up. As many of you dry campers know, even in the best case scenario, you can still get odors. Water softener and soap just can't cover all the bases.
As you now know, bacteria and enzymes are a crucial element for maintaining clog and odor free tanks. You have also learned that Calgon can kill the beneficial bacteria, which is a major detractor to The Geo Method. Another problem is using bleach or chlorine to eliminate odors in your holding tank, as prescribed by The Geo Method. Bleach and chlorine are designed, specifically, to kill bacteria.
We won't go into this any further, as we have discussed this already at length. Needless to say, killing the bacteria in your tank is almost always a bad idea. Sure, it may eliminate the odors, but it is only a matter of time before you get a back-up or compacted tank.
Between Calgon and Tide laundry detergent it comes out to be roughly $3.68 per treatment. This doesn't account for added bleach or chlorine. To put that in perspective, our RV Digest-It Holding Tank Treatment is only $0.87 per treatment (or lower if you use the larger sizes). Though The Geo Method feels inexpensive at first glance, it is actually one of the most expensive ways to treat your tanks!
Unfortunately, the process of softening water can and often will damage bacteria, so many of our products aren't a great option to use in conjunction with The Geo Method on a regular basis. For many, The Geo Method is very good at cleaning sensors and preventing waste build up on the inside of a holding tank so using the The Geo Method occasionally can be a good way to prevent sensor issues. Just know that if you are using bacteria / enzyme treatments to treat your tank you'll need to sufficiently rinse your tank and wait a couple of days after performing The Geo Method before you can resume using these treatments.
It is important to understand that waste break down can become a monster of a problem very quickly and The Geo Method probably isn't the best all-around solution. In specific scenarios, such as using Dawn dish soap you can get some waste break down due to the enzymes in their formula, but those are used to target grease not proteins, fibers, sugars and fats and will do nothing to reduce odors.
In conclusion, The Geo Method is potentially a good solution for preventing sensor problems and it can successfully be used to ensure your tanks remain clean and free from residue, however, it is far from a complete solution to treating your RV holding tanks and may present many problems.
The Geo Method, in our opinion, is only one solution to a complex problem. Considering The Geo Method's inability to effectively breakdown solid waste, the complications that come with not having enough water to suppress odors while dry camping, the cost of the ingredients, and the inability of The Geo Method to eliminate odors make it hard for us to recommend this process as a regular tank treatment.
Of course, this is just our opinion - though well researched and thought-out. We would love to hear your thoughts on The Geo Method! Please email us and share your experience-with or thoughts-on The Geo Method.