A guide to ensuring healthy drinking water on the road

Having clean, great-tasting water on board the Airstream is essential for staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy constitution during travel. When you think about it, having a safe and plentiful water supply during a trip isn't as simple as it is at home.

Here are answers to 8 common questions Airstreamers ask me about drinking water.

1. Is it safe to drink campground water? 

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 filter (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. Do I need a water filter?

You don't need one. But I think it's a good idea, and we always use a water filter when we travel. It doesn't have to be fancy: a basic charcoal water filter is fine. Such filters improve taste and remove chlorine, as well as large sediment, and they are inexpensive. You can find a basic water filter at any store that sells RV parts, including Camping World and Wal-Mart.

A water filter is easy to install – simply screw it onto your drinking water hose – which also makes it easy to remove and replace. Make sure replace the filter regularly (follow the manufacturer's recommendation). 

If you're a water purist, you could upgrade to specialty filters that remove even finer sediment, bacteria, protozoa, chemicals and metals. You can also soften the water, de-ionize it, and even sterilize it with a UV light. You're most likely to find filters for these purposes at online specialty stores.

Don't forget though that every added purification element or system means more expense, more weight, more stuff to carry, an ongoing maintenance cost, and (in the case of external filtration systems) more setup time at the campground. So before you buy, consider carefully how far you are willing to go for extremely pure water.

3. Is it safe to drink water from the holding tank?

Yes, if you sanitize the water system regularly. If you don't sanitize the water system regularly, you should plan to bring bottled water on your trips.

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.

The exact procedure for sanitizing the water system is published in The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming, which comes with every new Airstream sold, and Airstream Life’s (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.

4. How long can I let the water sit in the fresh water holding tank?

It's a good idea to dump the water in the holding tank if the Airstream has been sitting in storage or in the driveway unused for a while. 

There are drain petcocks on the water tank under the Airstream that make this a fairly quick 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 slide 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.

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?

If you have an Airstream made in the past four decades, and nobody has removed the Shurflo city water connection (pictured), you don’t need a separate pressure regulator to protect the plumbing. It's already built in.

Things can be different for an older Airstream in which the plumbing has been replaced. In this case it’s quite possible that the handyman who did the plumbing 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!


David Sexton

David Sexton

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.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

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.

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