Having clean, great-tasting water on board the Airstream is essential for staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy constitution during travel. But having a safe and plentiful water supply during a trip–especially a long one–isn't as simple as turning on the tap at home.
Here are answers to 9 common questions Airstreamers ask us about drinking water.
1. Is it safe to drink campground water?
Generally speaking, yes. Campground water in the USA and Canada meets the same safety standards as the drinking water supplied to your house.
But water quality definitely varies across the country. So, even though it's safe to drink, you might not like the taste, or your body might be sensitive to water that's different from what you are accustomed to drinking at home. If that's the case, I suggest a water filtration system (discussed below).
If you're headed to Mexico, it's different story, of course. When traveling south of the border, the best option is usually to buy bottled water in 5-gallon jugs. Most towns in Mexico, even small ones, have at least one place that sells these.
2. Should I travel with a water filter?
Although it's not required, we think a water filter is a good idea.
At the very least, use an in-line charcoal water filter–the kind that screws onto the drinking water hose. In addition to improving taste, this type of filter removes chlorine and large sediment from the campground water. You can find multiple, inexpensive options at Wal-Mart or an RV parts store like Camping World. Make sure to replace the filter regularly (follow the manufacturer's recommendation).
If you want really clean, high quality water, invest in a water filtration system. A basic charcoal filter won't filter out small particles, such as protozoa and bacteria. For that you'll need a system with a more advanced filter, one that removes particles down to 0.2 micron. A quality filtration system will also improve water taste.
If you are traveling in Mexico, a filtration system is a must if you want to use campground water.
3. Is it safe to drink water from the holding tank?
Yes, if you sanitize the water system regularly. And even if you don't plan to drink the water from the holding tank, you still need to sanitize regularly.
Sanitizing is just a matter of adding some chlorine to the fresh water holding tank, running that water through the plumbing, and letting it sit for a few hours. Afterward, you can replace the chlorinated water with fresh water.
Not sure how do this? Here's our practical guide to sanitizing the tank. It explains what you need and how to do it, in plain language.
4. How long can I let the water sit in the fresh water holding tank?
As a general rule, dump the holding tank water after 2-3 months–especially if the Airstream has been sitting in storage or in the driveway unused.
There are drain petcocks on the water tank under the Airstream that make this a fairly easy operation. The water will just pour out on the ground. You can find the location(s) of these valves in your Owner's Manual, under "Fresh Water Tanks and Draining".
If you don't want to reach under the Airstream to access the drain petcocks, you can simply turn on the water pump and open a couple of faucets until the fresh water tank is empty, but this will take quite a while. You'll need to keep an eye on it so you can turn off the water pump when the tank runs dry, otherwise the pump can be damaged. Also, this method requires you to have some place to dump the gray water tank afterward—because it will be full of the fresh water you just pumped.
5. Should I disconnect the hose at night if a freeze is expected?
This is often recommended to prevent the hose from freezing solid and bursting. But if you use our Ultimate RV Water Hose, you don't need to worry about it—it will not be harmed by freezing, even when full of water.
Keep in mind that, regardless of which hose you use, in freezing temperatures you probably won't be able to use campground water in the morning – that is, until the ice in the hose melts.
To avoid this, you can unhook the hose and keep it in the Airstream overnight. But I hate going out on a frosty cold morning to hook up the water hose, so I leave mine connected overnight and let it freeze. If I want water in the morning it's easier to switch on the pump to pull water from the fresh water holding tank. When the hose defrosts, I switch the pump back off.
If you have an in-line water filter, remove it on freezing nights and put it somewhere warmer. Freezing will damage the internal components of a filter.
6. Do I need to flush out my water hose before use?
It's always a good idea to run the water long enough to push through any water that's been sitting in the hose for more than a day, especially if you're using a vinyl hose.
And you should definitely flush a vinyl hose that has been sitting in the sun, because most vinyl hoses are not rated for hot water and can leach chemicals. Alternatively, our Ultimate RV Water Hose is made of materials that never leach chemicals–which makes it drinking water safe, even if it's been left in the sun.
7. Do I need a water pressure regulator?
Not if you have an Airstream made in the past 40 years. On Airstreams made in this century, as long as no one has removed the Shurflo city water connection (pictured), you don't need to purchase a separate pressure regulator to protect the plumbing. Airstreams have one already built-in.
Things can be different for an older Airstream in which the plumbing has been replaced. In these Airstreams, it’s quite possible that the person who did the plumbing work neglected to install a decent pressure regulator. Under rare circumstances, you could have a plumbing problem as the result of excessively high water pressure.
I say “rare” because the common problem in campgrounds is low water pressure. When we find a campground with high pressure I’m always kind of happy about it, because it means great showers.
Sometimes people suggest using a water pressure regulator to protect the typical vinyl hose, because it’s still potentially exposed to high water pressure at a campground spigot. I don’t see the logic in spending anywhere from $9 to $30 to protect a $35 hose. Especially since that hose won’t last more than a couple of years in average use anyway! Get a better hose that won’t ever be damaged by high pressure and will last for many years. In the long run it makes a lot more sense.
8. Is it OK to leave the water pump on while connected to campground water?
Yes, on late-model Airstreams it's perfectly fine.
The water pump will only run as needed, so if the water pressure from the campground is high, the pump won't run at all. But if the campground water pressure is low, the water pump will act as a "booster," pulling water from the fresh water tank.
Here's a neat trick if you are getting a dribble in the shower. Turn on the water pump and you'll have a nice high pressure shower again—at least until the fresh water tank runs dry!
This "booster" trick is also useful if you have a tankless water heater and are experiencing issues of unexpected bursts of cold water, or if your unit is intermittently shutting itself off. The pump will increase the water pressure to the point that the water heater can do its job more consistently.
9. Is there any value to traveling with a water softener?
Now that Airstream is installing tankless water heaters, a water softener is becoming a very good idea for people who travel in hard water areas like the Southwest. Especially if you plan to be there for a month or more.
Regardless of the brand, tankless water heaters are extremely sensitive to mineral build-up. A water softener minimizes this build-up, keeping the water heater working more effectively. We recommend the BLU ELITE Portable Water Softener, which is made for RVs and small enough to fit into the wardrobe or your tow vehicle.
Unless our 2015 Airstream 30RB isn’t working correctly, number 8 is wrong. If the pump is on the water will come from the fresh tank until it’s empty. We have been doing this for 6 months and understand how it works. We found out the hard way when we were at a campground with poor water pressure and thought like you did that it only assisted the show water. Not true.
David, the problem you encountered can occur when the campground water pressure is very low. Here’s a quote from the Airstream Owner’s Manual:
“As a general rule, the water pump should be turned off while using a city water hookup; however, the water pressure at some campgrounds may be low. The water pump can be turned on to assist the city water hookup pressure. Be sure there is some water in the fresh water tank. The pump will only use the water that is needed out of the tank to bring the pressure up to the usual standard of 55 psi.”
In other words, the lower the water pressure from the campground, the more water the pump will use from the fresh water tank.
If the campground water pressure is extremely low, the Airstream’s backflow preventer will close and zero water will come from the campground. So it depends on the campground water pressure.
Thank you for the information and particularly interested in your recommendation of a water softener. Quick question . . . how does it affect drinking the water? At home, drinking water bypasses the water softener and we have always used a Berkey for our drinking water in the Globetrotter. With the recent purchase of the Blu Tech R3 Elite water filter system, we are considering foregoing the Berkey and drinking from the tap. Not sure if we are quite there, yet, but am curious about the “drinkability” of RV water softeners?
Off topic but my wife would love to see a post on defrosting the electric fridge. We understand that using scrappers and heat guns are not recommended, but we find it is a chore (and a pain) to defrost and it must occur on a regular basis. I searched through your past posts but was unable to find one on this topic. Did I just miss it?
We enjoy your posts and look forward to the next one.
Rich, I understand that I don’t need to worry if my Ultimate Water Hose freezes and that disconnecting isn’t necessary, but I have a concern, probably imaginary, so I disconnect from the city connection. Why? Because not knowing what is on the other side, the interior part, of the city water connection, I don’t know if it is susceptible to damage from freezing. I’ve never heard of it being a problem, but I’m hoping to prevent a potential problem. Is it a potential problem? Thank you.
I have a question about storage of water – in the freshwater tank and all of the lines – in my 2019 airstream. My plan is to fill the freshwater tank with the diluted bleach solution according to your instructions and run about half of the water through the lines and sinks and shower, etc. Then I will store the entire airstream in a climate controlled warehouse for about six months. My question is, do you think it’s OK to leave this sanitizing (bleach and water) solution in all of the lines and freshwater tank to prevent mold? Are there any risks to this? Then in the spring when I go to use the Airstream, I will flush everything out before starting vacation. Thanks! Jim
Gil, the answer to your first question is that the water softener should not appreciably affect the taste of water. But soft water can taste different from hard water, so it’s a matter of personal “taste”.
Your second question about defrosting the refrigerator is best answered in my book, “The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance”, which is available on Amazon. Short answer: be patient and let the ice melt.
Jeffrey, it certainly won’t hurt to disconnect one end of the hose. The city water inlet is not likely to freeze even with the hose connected, because the fragile parts (those susceptible to freezing) are inside the Airstream. It would have to be very cold to overcome the warmth of the interior, hose or no hose.
James, what you’re suggesting isn’t necessary if the plumbing system has been sanitized prior to storage. Also, bleach has a corrosive effect on the copper found in faucets, so if you’re going to leave water treated with bleach in the pipes during storage, you should use a more dilute solution than is needed for routine sanitizing.
You can get guidelines for long-term drinking water storage from various sources. The Utah Dept of Environmental Quality, for example, recommends using “unscented liquid chlorine bleach (Clorox or Purex type bleaches, containing 4% to 6% sodium hypochlorite)” diluted to the ratio of one teaspoon of bleach to 5 gallons of water.