If you're considering van life, chances are you're curious what van life chores look like. Well, today is your lucky day because we're going to dive deep into what chore day looks like for us as well as give you some of our favorite apps and products we use every time we clean. Let's just jump right in....
Are van life chores really that different?
No, no they aren't. While (for the most part) the chores are the same, how the tasks are completed can be a bit different and there are a few extra chores such as finding water that must be added to the mix throughout the week.
Looking for something specific? Skip ahead!
- Gray water
- Fresh water
- Other smaller chores
- Must have items and apps for chore day
Laundry - 1x a week
When you live in a van and have very few clothes, you have to do your laundry pretty often. We also hit the gym or the running trails most days so our stinky, sweaty laundry piles up pretty fast. To keep smell down and so that we have clean clothes, once a week we find a laundromat in whatever town we find ourselves.
Typically we hit up Google Maps, search for "laundromats" and see what pops up. If you've never used a laundromat, let me fill you in: they range from really awful to really awesome. Some laundromats provide free wi-fi, nice sitting areas, and topnotch really clean machines. Other times the machines hardly wash your clothes and the dryers are so hot they literally melt your underwear to the inside of the dryer (true story). To find the best laundromat in town, be sure to read the Google reviews and see how many stars the places have. Seriously, this could mean having squeaky clean laundry again or having to leave some behind in the dryer because it literally melted it to the dryer walls.
Propane- 2x a year
Propane is super easy to fill! Only our oven/stove runs off this so we don't have to fill it very often. In fact, we've been in the van 11 months now and we've only had to refill it twice. Propane definitely wasn't our original plan, but we decided to add an oven to our van too so we needed either 20x more batteries ($$$) or just go for the propane. SO GLAD we did propane! It's super inexpensive and our propane oven cooks so well (far better than a convection oven!). The first time we filled it up it cost $17 and when we filled it up the second time it cost $16.
Both times we've had our propane refilled we've gone to a U-Haul center. It's super quick and easy. Honestly, you point to the propane tank under the van and the propane attendant does his thing. You can find propane at all sorts of places, but two good go-to spots are Tractor Supply and U-Haul. For more locations across the country check out the iOverland appor the Allstays app.
Toilet - 1x a week
Ahhhh--- the toilet. Let's just bust the myths right here and now. Cleaning the toilet IS NOT THAT BAD! I promise. And no, the van does not smell bad all the time because we went with a Porta Potti Thetford Cassette toilet instead of a composting. Instead of going into why we chose what we chose, I'm just going to link y'all to our blogpost dedicated entirely too that topic here.
When we empty the toilet we go to any RV dump stations. Typically we aim to find free dump since we do dump our toilet about once a week, paying every time can add up quickly. Common places to find dump include state welcome centers on major interstates, water sanitation facilities, sometimes gas stations, truck stops, Cabela's, and campgrounds. Not all of those are free options, but sometimes they are. To find dump stations use the iOverlander app or the Allstays app. Usually the descriptions of each place marked on the map inside the apps people have noted the cost to dump as well as if freshwater is provided. If you do have to pay, it's going to range anywhere from $5-$15 USD.
Side note: finding dump stations (especially free dump stations) is wayyyy easier on the west coast than the east coast in the USA.
As far as actually dumping the toilet goes, I'll walk you through the basic steps but for a more visual guide, check out our van life chores video below.
How to dump the toilet:
- Put on gloves
- Carry toilet from van to dump hole in the ground
- Separate top of toilet from bottom of toilet
- Place toilet's dump pipe/arm into the hole and let it empty
- Use hose to rinse the toilet with water provided at the dump station (** bring your own water hose because a lot of the time the station won't provide this)
- Reattach the bottom half of the toilet to the top half
- Fill the flush water tank in the top half of the toilet
- Toss in the black water tablet
- Place toilet back into van
Really, it's not that hard or that messy to empty our toilet. Again, if you want more info about why we went the Porta Potti route instead of a composting toilet, check out our blogpost here.
One more note about our toilet: it was designed to be small enough to take into a trailhead outhouse or a home bathroom and dumped down a normal toilet. Honestly, we've never done this because 1) we don't want to have to see our waste over again (if you know what we mean), and 2) we always use a water hose to rinse out the toilet after we've dumped it which isn't an option in outhouses or homes. However, in a pinch if we're off grid for days and we pass an outhouse, we can dump it there if need be.
Emptying gray water tanks
Oh man, gray water is so tricky and people have a lot of mixed opinions on this. I'm going to tell you what we do, and you can do whatever you'd like with the information. But please don't flood our inbox or comments with strongly worded opinions about how we're doing this wrong.
Gray water is definitely a gray area (pun intended) because while yes, the water is dirty, it's not toxic. It's literally just dirty sink water! How we dispose of it definitely varies from place to place. If we're in a campground then we definitely dump at dump stations using a black water hose we keep in the back of our van. If we're in more remote areas or driving for the day, we typically dump it and drive while it empties.
A couple of rules of thumb we always abide by if we are going to dump it on the ground vs. dumping it with the black water:
- Always be respectful of others. Don't dump near other's campsites.
- Don't dump near fresh water sources.
- Be intentional with what goes down your drains. Things like biodegradable soaps and not letting food slip through the kitchen drain are great ways to cut down on the impact you're leaving behind.
- Be aware of wildlife! When we travel through bear country we're especially cautious of where we dump our water since bears have incredible noses. We never dump near our campsite (or near a spot someone else may be camping in later) because we want to keep both the people and the bears safe.
Bottom line is this: there's no perfect answer. The way we see it, it's very situational and depends on where you are traveling! Play it by ear and be aware. With time you'll get the hang of safe and appropriate places to dump the gray water.
Cleaning gray water tanks
Here's the dirty truth: gray water tanks stink. No amount of gray water deodorizer will be able to combat the inevitable odor that will eventually come from your tanks. That being said, you can't definitely help combat the smell with items like gray water tablets, regularly emptying out your gray water tanks, and being extra careful not to put food down the drain.
Even with all that careful attention to your gray water tanks, you will eventually need to clean them. We installed our gray water tanks with nylon straps which hooked under the van using holes that we placed there by Mercedes. While this installation was almost too easy, it worked like a charm and made easily cleaning our tanks possible!
Fresh Water - 1x a week
Water just might be the trickiest of all the van life chores. You'd think it would be easy, but it's not! 90% of the time you can find clean water at dump stations for free but when you can't you have a couple other options:
- Go to a campground and either pay for a campsite or just ask to pay for water
- Use a friend's water hose
- Gas stations/truck stops
Here's where it gets tricky though: if you're traveling in colder climates or on the cusp of seasons, a lot of campgrounds and such will turn off the water to keep pipes from freezing. When this happens you can be in a bit of a pickle to find potable water. Knowing this would be an issue going into van life since we do travel on the cusp of peak seasons, so we installed a water filtration system that allows us to fill up from slightly more questionable water stations (such as gas stations). We never risk filling up at places that blatantly state "non potable" water because while we do love our water filter, why risk an obvious no no? No body has time to get sick from bad water so we just drive until we find clean water (usually it doesn't take too long thanks to our favorite apps).
Use the Allstays app or iOverlander to find clean water sources.
Other van life chores not listed above....
Everyday chores such as grocery shopping, washing dishes, washing the dog, sweeping the floors, etc. are no different in a van than they are in a normal home so we won't go into detail as to how we do those chores. Just know that our fridge is smaller and our water supply limited, so you may grocery shop more often and be extra careful of your water usage while doing the dishes.
Like everything in a van, it takes a little time to get a rhythm, but once you do, it's not too bad at all!
Our favorite items and resources for chore day
Chore day is inevitably going to be a hassle and time consuming. Just because it's the (literal) dirty side of van life doesn't mean that there aren't tips and tools we use to streamline the process and keep our van in its cleanest possible state!
- Allstays app
- iOverlander app
- Our toilet
- RV toilet paper
- Gloves for emptying toilet
- Our water hose (we have 1 for gray water and 1 for potable water)
- Blackwater tablets
- Laundry reusable dryer balls
- Water filtration system
- Laundry hamper
- Biodegradable soap
- Handheld broom
In a nutshells, van life chores aren't really that different from chores you do in a house or apartment. The few tasks that are different become second nature once you've been on the road for a while. You know how to spot a potable water faucet a mile away and you get a sixth sense for the nearest dump station. If you're like me and are nervous about what van life chores are going to be like in your own day to day routine, I'm here to tell you it's not so bad. You can do this!