Thetford SmartTote – How to use it and Why you want one

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Some of you may have seen me in this video over on Chuck Woodbury’s RVTravel channel.  I’m posting it here too, in case you haven’t seen it yet.  It shows how you can use the Thetford SmartTote to empty your RVs waste without moving your rig.  It really is as simple as I make it seem in the video – crazy easy.  But there’s a little story about this video that I want to get out as well, so read on after watching.


This video actually grew out of my clear black tank experiment videos.

I really wanted to test tank additives.  But that starts to get into chemistry, and I knew that to test things right, I would have to test indoors where I could control the temperature and light exposure.  That would work fine, until I need to dump.  You see, my sewer cleanout is on the other side of the house, quite far from my shop (which doesn’t have its own plumbing).  I wasn’t willing to try to schlep a full tank of fake “digested” waste around my yard, so I was kind of stumped.

Finally, I had the idea to use one of the portable waste totes.  I called around, and the good folks at Thetford stepped up to help out.  Thanks to them, I’ll be able to conduct the black tank additive experiments properly (indoors).  Since I had the tank, I thought I’d take it for a test spin to see how it worked out, and that’s what led to the video you see above.

So, not to get too commercial or anything, but if you’re purchasing a portable waste tank, please consider buying one of the Thetford SmartTote models.  You’d be supporting a company that’s helping support my RV Black Tank experiments, and that’s good for all of us.

And finally, if you’re interested in purchasing the two adapter pieces I use to empty the SmartTote, you can find them here:



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.

    16 thoughts on “Thetford SmartTote – How to use it and Why you want one

    1. Terri Carrell

      Our travel trailer is low to the ground on the site we like to camp on and our portable waste tank will not fit under it. On longer stays we have a “Blue Dumper” to empty our tanks with rather than hauling the travel trailer to the dump station. Do you think it would be possible for us to hook the “blue dumper” to our truck hitch and use The Sewer Solution to drain our tanks directly into it? This would also eliminate having to try and pull the tank out and away from the camper through rocks to hitch it to our truck. (Our dumper is not a Tetford Smart Tote). We periodically do a high pressure clean out of our tanks.

      1. James - Post author

        I see no reason why it wouldn’t work.
        HOWEVER –
        You’re going to get a LOT of extra water in your dumper with the Sewer Solution. Be prepared for your dumper to not hold as much as you’re used to.

    2. Tom Boles

      Hi James,

      I ran across this clip researching totes and wanted to ask how the Thetford is holding up. A number of reviews have surfaced suggesting that the handle is weak and the wheels have some problems, causing me to consider another brand.
      We just came back from a week at a “no sewer” campground and I brought my old 2 wheeled 25 gallon tote from my tent trailer days. I made a towing handle for it that worked well and used it nearly every day to move grey water around. Our new rig has small tanks (43-45-45) and we were trying out a newly installed on-demand water heater.
      I have two more trips this year scheduled at “no sewer” parks and am looking for a four wheeled tote so I don’t need to use our tow vehicle to move grey water around. Have you learned any more from your use of the Thetford that you’d like to update us on?

      (If you want to talk about on-demand water heaters, I can now talk with experience about the ‘1st quart” problem they all (except perhaps the Truma) appear to have!

      1. James - Post author

        Our Thetford SmartTote is holding up well. We don’t use it all the time, but I have started using it to empty our tanks here at the house. We have a composting toilet these days, and so only have shower and sink water to empty, which I’m comfortable doing in the driveway and toting around to the sewer clean-out.
        The handle on ours is a beast! I can’t imagine it being weak. Our wheels have been fine, too. But we’re not heavy users, and I don’t generally drag it over gravel roads, etc.
        Thetford has a new model of SmartTote that’s an updated version of ours. I haven’t tried that one out.
        The only other learning I’ve had with the SmartTote is that I seem to have trouble getting the last little bit of liquid to drain. I seem to wind up picking one end of it up over and over trying to slosh it out. I’m sure there’s a better way – I just haven’t used it enough to figure it out.

        1. Tom Boles

          Hi James-

          Like many products, the SmartTote went through some redesign as you mentioned. Many of the negative reviews seem to be of an earlier model, so it’s hard to separate the current status from earlier experiences. Thetford has reached out to people with issues on Amazon, so that is a good thing. The nice pneumatic tires on the Barker are very appealing especially if actually trying to pull (Radio Flyer wagon style) or tow the thing on gravel and worse roads. I am still on the fence and will keep watching Craigslist for a used one to snag in the next month or see which one is on sale when I need to get it…Thanks again for write up and response!

        2. Tom Boles

          Hi James, I found a tote identical to yours, new, on craigslist and picked it up last night. I have not filled it or anything, but I note that there looks like a feature molded into the tank above the water hose holding features that “looks” like it could serve to hold the handle if it were snapped down. I don’t see any mention of it in the little manual available for the tote, so I wonder if yours works that way or if you’ve ever tried that?

        3. James - Post author

          Never noticed anything like that (and I’m not around the tote right now). But I’ve never thought “gee, I could snap the handle down there,” when looking at it.
          I store mine vertically when not in use.

    3. Rich

      I use the largest Thetford tote since I boondock.

      Though large it’s still smaller than many RV holding tanks so don’t wait till full, or make several trips.

      The tank gets quite heavy I used to use an ATV with ball to move but ended up replacing the front axle every year. Now I leave it in my truck and use a master at or Pump to move the waste into it.

      The short hose on the tote is for rinsing the tank through the vent. The vent has a plunger that rises telling you when Tank is full and to prevent Waste coming out the vent.

      Can be bulky to transport and store when not being used.

      1. James - Post author

        You’re right on several accounts.
        It is bulky, so think about where you might store it before you buy one.
        And I don’t want to think about the mess that would erupt if you tried to put more waste into it than it would hold. Your advice to not wait until full is on target (unless you’ve got smaller tanks).

    4. Bob Lantinga

      Hello. I use ice but add about 2 gallons of water and driving will call you back around. Seems to work good. I used a camera to check the tank and it is clean. So add water with ice to clean side walls of the black tank. I also bought the sewer transport cart like yours. But my motor homes so low being a highway model that I can’t get the tank underneath to dump sewer in to portable tank and that’s a problem. I ended up by buying a sewer thrasher pump so I can use the 1/2 inch water line to pump into my portable tanks withs wheels. Not that easy to set everything up but it does work. So not always that easy. Lol

      1. James - Post author

        Well, I never considered an RV being so low to the ground that the tank wouldn’t fit under it! Sounds like you came up with a creative solution for it though. Congratulations on your ingenuity!

    5. Bob

      I can’t imagine you are planing to use your clear plastic experimental waste tank for testing chemical additives on dummy waste. If you are not using #1 or should I say #2 Premium Choice US Grade “A” authentic previously digested humane fecal material (aka poop) how are you going to determine the effectiveness of the chemical additive for such things as deodorizing ability. I would seem to think that most people using such products initially buy them because of the offensive smell. I think the only real way to test these products would have to be a road test. Then again certain foods would has to be added to or eliminated for the rv’ers diet for comparison purposes.
      As far as checking the inside of the tank for cleanliness properties of the additives one of those little worm cameras should be suffice. Or get GoPro to kick in a couple to be mounted to the tank.
      If you have the funding and need test subjects to travel nation wide for research purposes, I love chili.

      Question: How do you get the tote from Point “A” (home) to Point “B” (Cape Cod.) You can’t possibly tow it behind your rv all that way. Those little wheels will be burnt right off. And don’t tell me your going to put it inside your spotlessly clean sanitized RV? I suppose the roof could be an option.

      Oh ya, where did you dump that thing at the stadium parking lot? Was there any complaints?

      Thanks for the great demo. Have never used one.

      1. James - Post author

        Lots of questions – but yes, I am planning to use the clear tank. If I just did a field test in my own rig, the results would be no better and no more repeatable than the anecdotal reports that the internet is full of. I find little value in those. I’ve got a recipe for simulated waste from NASA which has similar viscosity, dewatering rates, etc. as the real thing. As far as smell, I’m consulting with a chemical engineer on other aromatic compounds that have similar chemistry, but aren’t quite so hazardous or unpleasant to work with. It’s a work in progress, but the results will be as close as we can get without using the real thing.

        As far as the tote – I only use it at home. It would take a larger rig – something with a tow vehicle and a large storage compartment – to make proper use of it on the road. Or, in the case of tailgating locally, just another vehicle like my old truck.

    6. Mike

      I think you should test the ‘ice cube cleaning’ theory with the SmartTote and tow it behind your pickup while driving like a maniac 😉

      Seriously though, I really enjoy your videos – informative and funny!



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