If you can plug in a hose at a caravan park, you can probably have luxurious showers in your caravan while you are there (within reason considering water conservation and any water shortage issues in the area), and when camping out in areas where you can refill your tanks every few days the following economies will not be needed .
What if you want to camp in the outback for long periods at a time where water may not be easy to obtain? When water is short, you can get away with using very little, conserving this valuable resource so you have adequate drinking water on hand.
Drinking water: Need varies greatly according to climate and activities undertaken and well as individual preferences. In hot climates it is wise to allow five litres per person per day. In extreme conditions you may well require more, but most of us choice to travel in milder climates and need much less. Two litres per person per day is a standard basic requirement, allowing more for hotter weather and when undertaking strenuous activities.
Water disposal: Similarly if water disposal will be a problem. Need to cart water well away from a ‘fully self contained only’ camp ground? Purchase a couple of cheap collapsible twenty litre camping water canisters. They take very little room when packed away, and can be filled with waste water to cart it away. In case of spillage (should the lid come lose), carry in bathroom if you have one or on tray of ute if you have one. Otherwise you can sit it in your large ‘wash bowl’ which should contain any accidental spillage.
Hot Water System: Your hot water system may heat up as much as twenty litres of water; nice for long luxurious showers, but when water is really short, don’t use it. Your hot water requirements can be met from the kettle, with no need to wait for water of the right temperature for showering or washing up. Saves gas as well as water.
Showering: In most cases, a tub and sponge bath will keep you clean and fresh, and what’s more, you can share. You may like to use the shower for a very quick rinse at the end if you have enough water. Otherwise two people can get clean and fresh in two or three litres of water. What about hair washing? I have long hair and prefer to wash it in a shower at a caravan park or other pay shower. However when in the bush, I have used a four litre ice cream container in the sink using river water. Using a kettle to warm the water, three litres proves adequate to wash my hair, and a further three litres to rinse, and re-rinse after conditioning. The wash water can go straight into the bathing tub ready for the evening bath. Then there is three litres from the rinse to save for pre washing dishes, hand washes or adding to your bath.
Cooking: Instead of deep boiling, steam rice or vegetables to economise on water. Simmer food rather than rapid boil for less evaporation.
Dish washing: Wash up once a day and don’t fill the sink. Use a kettle instead of running water through from the hot water system. Washing up in the morning is best so you can leave with clean dishes all packed away if moving on. If you are camping out, washing up in the morning in full light makes the job easier anyway. Save water in a two litre ice cream container from hand washing or rinsing vegetables and use this to give the dishes a good pre-wash, or if at the beach pre rinse with sea water. Unless anything is really greasy, rinsing over with a litre of water from a boiling kettle gives sparkling clean dishes. Save this rinse water for hand washing. Most dishes can be washed in or scrubbed over a two litre ice cream container. For greasy dishes, wipe surplus fat or oil with a paper towel then add a drop or two of detergent into the pan with a few drops of water. This concentrate will remove the grease which will just need rinsing off a bit of boiling water. This method will also leave less detergent residue in the waste water when you dispose of it. Do you really need to wash it? Perhaps you have had sandwiches for lunch, and there is little but a few crumbs on the plate. Wipe these of with a paper towel. Even a bit of butter can be wiped away. What about saucepans which have only been used to boil green vegetables? A wipe with a paper towel straight after use may be all that is needed. You may find that ‘wipe don’t wash’ eliminates quite a bit of your load.
So you are camped alongside a lake and want to stay for a week or two and your on board water supply is inadequate. Do you need those fancy filter pumps the up market caravans often have? No need. Instead of putting suspect water in your tanks, start with a bucket. Two regular nine litre buckets of water will see you through the day for cooking, washing up and bathing, using it direct from the bucket. If it has bits of vegetation, strain it through a ‘fuel funnel’ with filter, or a cloth such as a tea towel held over the bucket, pouring from the drawing into the storing bucket. Any sediment will settle after a few hours, and can be left in the bottom of the bucket by scooping water from the top with a small jug. You will then have a good supply of drinking water of a known quality in your tanks. Conversely, if you don't mind the bore water going into your tanks, keep a 25 litre water jerry can topped up when you find the water makes a good cup of tea (our taste test when deciding on water quality), and use this for drinking water.
Pure water does not go off. The water coming from bores and artesian sources may have been accumulating underground for tens of thousands of years. Across the nation, many people have been relying on water stored in tanks which may not be completely emptied year after year, and they are not as sealed from sunlight and contamination as caravan tanks are. Water in a caravan or camper tank is not exposed to sunlight so will not grow algae and will be safe even if left for years.
If you drain the tanks, remnant dissolved salts or calcium may crystallise and could cause blockages in pipes or pumps. There is no need to drain the tanks.
For those who feel there may be a need to cleanse the tanks, add a little household bleach to some water (or swimming pool chlorine if you have it) and swill it around in the tanks before emptying and flushing with fresh water ready for refilling. Going for a drive with the caravan will do the job if taking the tanks off is difficult.
The hot water system may be drained which may prolong the life of the sacrificial anode, however this is not necessary.
It is best to use solid rather than clear pipes between tanks and for delivery to avoid any sunlight induced algal growth in the pipes. If clear, they can be covered with split cable covering which can be purchased from auto stores.
See also an article on Water Treatment from Caravans Plus