Picking Products: Holding Tank Chemicals

One constant among RVs – whether it’s the tiniest travel trailer or the most magnificent motorhome – is the toilet. The dilemma for dealers is choosing which products to offer customers for effectively and safely breaking down materials found in gray and black water tanks. According to three leading sanitation product manufacturers, the key ingredients to anything offered on your store shelves should be bugs.

Specifically, turning organic waste into water and carbon dioxide requires bacteria and enzymes, says Todd Vice, vice president of sales and marketing for Walex Products Co.

“Enzymes, upon coming into contact with bacteria, help to break down the waste and deodorize,” says Vice, whose company offers the Bio-Pak and Porta-Pak line of holding tank chemicals. “Especially going into a septic system, they help the culture inside do what it’s supposed to be doing so it doesn’t allow any harmful substances to flow over into a leach field and clogging anything up.”

For anyone who’s ever owned a home with a septic system, the fear of replacing a failed leach field is a very serious one if the system is not maintained, or a chemical such as formaldehyde is introduced to it, says Ralph Wooddell, production manager and co-owner of Chempace Corp., makers of the Ultra Series line of holding tank treatments. It’s an event RV park owners fear, too.

“When you change out the holding tanks, it goes into the septic systems of these parks and if you have formaldehyde in there, it will kill the bacteria. That, in turn, kills the septic system and kills the leach field, then you’ve got bigger problems than you know,” he says. “So, our stuff can go down the drain and, in fact, will help the leach fields because you’re adding bacteria.”

Don Stewart, owner and president of Unique Manufacturing & Marketing, says the detrimental effects of formaldehyde can even begin long before RV owners pump out their tanks.

“Many times when people use the wrong product in their holding tank, it will clog up, especially if they’re using formaldehyde products because a holding tank is like a small septic tank but it’s only 40 gallons,” says Stewart, who created RV Digest-It, a holding tank cleaner. “Normally, two people living in a motorhome will dump it about once a week. Many times, they’ll use a lot of toilet tissue. If you use formaldehyde, it will actually preserve your feces and your toilet tissue and anything else you put in there, clogging the tank up.”

The Move Toward Formaldehyde-Free

Each manufacturer interviewed for this story offers formaldehyde-free products to prevent such problems from occurring, and that’s not just a coincidence, due to growing movement against formaldehyde usage in recent years. A bill introduced earlier this year in California by lobbyists from the California Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds would ban six RV holding tank chemicals, including formaldehyde, from being used in a sewage disposal system. While the ban is not yet law, dealers outside the Golden State who might see similar legislation in their own states have a wide selection of products that would be legal to sell.

All three companies profiled here have their roots in the $1.5-billion portable sanitation business. After all, there’s not much difference in holding tanks for portable toilets and RVs, so developing products for towables and motorhomes was a natural offshoot for each manufacturer.

Toledo, Ohio-based Chempace is the newest to serve the RV market, but certainly not to portable sanitation, a market it’s been a part of since the late 1960s. Rick Shall, CEO and president, says his company entered the market about three years ago.

“We went around to all the RV dealerships and bought everything on the shelves,” he says. “We analyzed the products and decided if we were going to get into the market and what products we were going to go in with.”

Today, Chempace offers six Ultra Series products; two are tank treatments and two are deodorizers.

“We provide the dealers with cutting-edge, innovative products like Odor-Eze, which is an industry exclusive. It’s an instant neutralizer. Like the rest of our products, it’s formaldehyde-free and it also works to neutralize not only odors, but contains no fragrances and no dyes,” Shall says. “It’s perfect if you’ve got an allergy-sensitive consumer.”

For waste breakdown, Chempace offers Ultra EZ-Shot, a liquid concentrate, and bioForce-RV, which is made in both liquid and powder forms. For odor control, Chempace also sells Ultra PowerPak Xtrm in addition to Odor-Eze.

“Everything we do, we manufacture or we grow. We’re the only ones in the industry who grow our own bacteria. Our competitors have to go to a bacteria farm and buy it,” Shall says. Outsourcing bacteria, according to Wooddell, means quality is harder to control, so Chempace raises its own to ensure the highest count possible for its products.

Arvada, Colo.-based Unique has a different approach for making RV Digest-It. “We actually buy our bacteria from two or three of the highest notable companies in the country and we blend these bacteria to do special things,” says Stewart, who developed the product 15 years ago.

All of the bacteria-based products Unique has targeted for the RV market, which includes Carpet Shampoo, Grime Eater Surface Cleaner and Water Stain Eater, are in liquid form, he says, rather than powder, for a reason.

“Bacteria, in order to get going, has to be in liquid form,” Stewart says. “If you have a powder form, sometimes that takes 10 to 24 hours in order to become liquid and start growing. If you put 2 ounces of our product in a holding tank, it starts growing almost immediately and that’s why it works so well and so fast.”

Bacteria, Enzymes Pack Combined Punch

Another consideration, says Bryan Hull, Unique’s production manager, is the company’s belief that bacteria is only half the story.

“Enzymes are meant to work in conjunction with bacteria. An enzyme will break down waste, then the bacteria will come along and eat it, digest it, then turn it into water and carbon dioxide. A lot of bacteria products are coming out, but there’s a wide variety in the quality and types of strains of bacteria out there. Our product carries seven different strains,” he says. “Because it has such a wide variety, it can digest and eat lots of different things. There may be products out there that only have three or four strains so it’s not as versatile.”

Versatility is a hallmark of the Bio-Pak and Porta-Pak line, says Vice, which Wilmington, N.C.-based Walex originally developed for its core sanitation business.

“What’s unique about our products is both of them deodorize, break down waste and paper, and clean the tanks,” he says. “You don’t have to add anything else to them. Just drop the sachet in and it does everything for you. Most of the competition does one or another, but no other product offers all that except us. The other thing about Walex is we were the first to develop and introduce the portion control product. It’s in a water-soluble packet you can drop into a tank and it dissolves.”

Porta-Pak places emphasis on deodorizing tank odors, he says, while Bio-Pak is a faster waste digester, due, in part, to its composition.

“Our Bio-Pak is an all-natural enzyme formula that’s 100-percent environmentally friendly, 100-percent biodegradable and it’s beneficial for use in septic tanks,” he says. “The advanced enzyme formula we use in that has the best performance and convenience that no other natural-based product out can match today.”

Based on its years of experience, the family-owned company also devotes attention to product packaging, a big plus when shelf space is more valuable than ever.

“Both the Bio-Pak and the Porta-Pak come in a product sleeve that holds six bags, so when you get a case of our product, there’s two sleeves inside there,” he says. “This is an easy way to place the product on a shelf. It keeps the product looking professional. There are no bags laying over and they’re all in a straight line because they’re in this sleeve. It really helps with the presentation of the product.”