Updated: Jan 26
Some of the best travel tales I’ve ever dined out on featured toilets. Let’s be honest, many of us have a morbid fascination with the things, particularly when the story involves someone else’s misery or discomfort. There was the time when I tried unsuccessfully to balance on a squat toilet on a Vietnamese train as the carriage lurched from side to side and a visit to a long drop in rural Georgia when I glanced down through the hole in the floor to see the head of a cow right beneath me. I can laugh about such episodes now, but at the time it was nowhere near as funny, I can assure you.
Fortunately, although there’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to negotiate the thorny issue of a septic tank, the process of emptying the toilet of your recreational vehicle (or RV for short) isn’t going to provide much in the way of mouth-opening material when it comes to regaling your friends and family back home. But it’s not going to be the most glamorous aspect of your RV rental in Iceland either. Here’s what you need to know – our beginner’s guide to RV dump stations in Iceland.
Motorhome lavatory disposal in Iceland: The mechanics
The first thing you need to know is that you’ll have three tanks: fresh, grey and black water. There’s nothing remotely gross about the first. Your freshwater tank holds the stuff that will come out of your taps. The grey water tank is where the water goes that you use in your shower and sink. You might find that some older, basic campers don’t have this. If they don’t, any greywater will end up in the black water tank. And now we’re on the subject of that black water tank, this is where what goes down the toilet ends up. Most campervans and motorhomes have this tank attached to the vehicle, but you do occasionally get portable ones on wheels that can be moved around.
How often will my tank get full?
During the course of your trip, the black water holding tank will gradually fill up and therefore will need emptying at regular intervals. The exact rate will vary. If you’re traveling solo and stopping regularly in towns and at attractions with toilet facilities, you may find you don’t fill the tank at all. On the other hand, if you’re a large group or family and you’re relying on the onboard facilities a lot, then you’re likely to have to deal with emptying the tank on and off throughout your trip. Some have a sensor attached but these can become unreliable over time. The best advice is to be aware of how much you’ve used it and think about emptying the tank before you’re so full you have no choice. That way, you won’t be stressing about finding somewhere suitable to deal with it. Oh, and one other thing: it’s a good idea to get into the habit of not throwing things into the toilet that might clog up the tank.
The good news
Emptying your RV tanks should only be done at an RV dump station. It’s absolutely not OK to drain the tanks anywhere else, including into drains in the street. Remember you and everyone else came to Iceland because of the beautiful landscape and pristine environment, so let’s keep it that way. But you won’t have to travel far to find somewhere suitable to legally dump your waste. There are plenty of RV dump stations throughout Iceland.
The most convenient is likely to be located on Iceland campsites. If a campsite has pitches for recreational vehicles, then it makes sense that it’s going to also have RV dump facilities. There will be a designated area for dumping the wastewater from your black water holding tanks and it should be clearly marked. If for any reason it’s not clear, ask a member of the campsite staff and they’ll be pleased to assist.
Iceland’s Environment Agency produces a handy leaflet showing campsite locations with water disposal facilities, also found online here.
It contains not only a list of approved places but also a handy map of RV dump stations that are well worth downloading onto your phone or tablet before you set out. The map shows you where to find the country’s free RV dump stations. Cross-reference it with your itinerary and think about which locations are likely to be the most convenient once you’re on the road. If you forget, the symbols to keep an eye out for look like this:
Gas stations with RV dump
In addition, you’ll also find a handful of gas stations with RV dump facilities. You’ll find them at some Olis and N1 gas stations. The latter has three locations, as seen on the map here
Olis has five. One is situated in Norðlingaholt, a few kilometers from downtown Reykjavik. This is not only the most convenient for the capital, but it’s the closest of the Olis gas stations with portable toilet drains to the airport, so handy as the last stop before you head home. The other four Olis gas stations with portable toilet drains are in Selfoss in the south of Iceland, Reyðarfjörður to the east and Dalvik and Akureyri, both up north. A map showing each dump station location can be found here:
How do I drain my RV tank in iceland?
Though you might be nervous about this part of campervan or motorhome hire, in actual fact draining the RV tank isn’t as hard as you might think. Nevertheless, it’s wise to get the rental company to give you a demo of how it works on the vehicle you’ve hired before you pull out of their parking lot.
Here’s how it works. First, you’ll need to attach the sewer hose to the outlet drain on your vehicle. It’s worth packing a pair of gloves for this. If you’re traveling in a vehicle with both grey and black tanks, always deal with the black first. That way, as you drain the grey water afterward, it will help flush out anything that’s been left behind and reduce the chance of a blockage.
Second, attach the other end of the hose to the sewer inlet at the campsite or gas station, or slot it into the hole provided for this purpose. If applicable, make sure you do it up tightly, as the last thing you want is any leakage. Thirdly, pull back the valve. This will allow the tank to drain fully. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the sound of water passing through – when you can’t the tank’s empty. That’s when you can close the valve again. Finally, it’s time to disconnect the hose. Don’t rush this. Start with the vehicle end. Undo it and rinse it out with some freshwater to keep it clean before disconnecting the other end. Double-check the drain is properly closed and store the hose. Job done!
So there you have it: our beginner’s guide to RV dump stations and how to deal with your black water tank. It’s not going to be your favorite experience during your Iceland holiday, but it will be worth it for the convenience of having your own private toilet on board while you tour this fabulous country.