RV Plumbing for Beginners: 3 Must-Have Tools For a Job Well-Done

a pickup truck, fifth wheel and motorcycles camping in the desert


You can take all the time you want to learn more about house plumbing, whether it be through trial and error or through classes. Even if you make a few mistakes, you can always call a professional to fix up the mess. However, the situation with RV plumbing is drastically different.

First and foremost, there’s a chance that you won’t find any professional (and available) plumbers in your area in time. Secondly, even if you do, they’ll probably need more time to reach you than they would if you were just around the block. Thirdly, you’ll usually pay much, much more for a plumber to drive to you if you get stuck outside of their company’s covered area.

With that in mind, most RV owners should get familiar with the basics of plumbing, and today we’ll talk about three tools that will help you tackle the most typical tasks, so let’s dive right in.

Before You Shop for Tools, Switch to PEX Plumbing

Even though PEX tubes are the default for modern recreational vehicles, if your RV features old-fashioned copper or steel pipes, you may want to consider polyethylene ones simply because they’re far superior in almost every field of performance.

Polyethylene tubes were first used during the ‘80s for floor-heating systems, after which they generated quite a buzz among thousands of homeowners.

a complicated tangle of RV plumbing
DIY RV plumbing can be tricky, as shown here in this tangled mess of PVC, braided tubing and… peanut butter?

Basically, this particular material is far more flexible than traditional copper, and despite the fact that it’s flimsier than steel, adjustments can be made on the spot within minutes with adequate fittings, whereas metals require welding for similar results.

Furthermore, polyethylene pipes expand, which means that they won’t crack under extremely cold temperatures as copper would.
PEX plumbing pipes are typically colored in red, blue, or white, which offers easily recognizable labels for cold or hot water. Having a steady supply of hot water is essential for campers who travel with RVs, so you may also want to consider getting a tankless water heater as a backup until you fix the red tubes.

In a nutshell, you’ll need an arsenal of heavy-duty tools to fix mildly challenging problems with steel plumbing tubes, whereas you’ll only need a couple of basic ones to mend even the most serious of issues with PEX tubes.

1. Pipe Sealant

A pack of strong long-lasting adhesive can save pretty much any RV trip if the plumbing goes south. It’s essentially as easy to use as glue or duct tape and should be used in similar situations. The thread sealants are the most popular ones alongside Teflon and pipe dope.

The thread sealant is an adhesive material that can fill any gaps between threaded connections, which will in turn prevent any fluids from bursting out. It also doubles as a lubricant, offering a quick and easy assembling process when used. It can be either in the form of a paste in a tube or in the form of tape.

Paste-type thread sealants are a bit more reliable, although they leave behind quite a mess. Tape-type ones are usually made of similar materials (excluding alcohol-based ingredients), although they can’t be used with the same degree of accuracy, at least by beginners.

Pipe dope is generally not the best option for beginners due to its permanent effects. Basically, it’s a much stronger variant of thread sealants that does the same job.

It’s important to note that sealants should never enter the interior of the pipes, as they may contaminate the water.

2. Tube Cutter

The tube cutter is the most important tool for any work around the PEX pipes. It’s small, handheld, and allows you to repair damaged tubes or refine your spares into replacements quickly and accurately.

These tools can be manual or motor-powered, with the main difference being how easy they are to use. Manual cutters are normally lighter than motor-powered ones, although they certainly aren’t as fast.

The main feature you should look for in a tube cutter is its cutting range. The smallest ones are meant for 0.1-inch tubes while the largest models can cup up to 4.5-inch pipes. Given that the typical diameter of a PEX tube ranges from 0.375 inches to one inch, all but the smallest tube cutters would do the job.

Obviously, you should measure your tubes just to make sure you’ve got the dimensions right and then pick the cutter accordingly.
Tubing cutters can also be used to crimp the fittings that surround the pipes, allowing you to install new ones.

If you want to be as prepared as you can, buying a standalone crimping tool is also a good idea. Cutters should mainly be used to shorten or remove the tubes while they are fairly useful for working with pipe fittings. On another hand, crimping tools are perfect for fittings while they can be used to remove tubes, although they offer substantially less accuracy in comparison to cutters.

3. Extra Tubing and Spare Fittings

Buying fittings and extra PEX pipes in bulk are warmly recommended for RV travelers, as you won’t be able to fix your old ones every time. In fact, usually, it’s easier to insert a brand-new piece of tubing if the damages on your actual plumbing pipes are too big.

A few meters-long PEX tube (regardless of color) can be cut whenever the situation demands it – if your cold-water pipes become worn out, all you have to do is measure their length and insert a new one of equal length.

The fittings should be manually inserted and tightened on both ends, after which all you have to do is affix the pipes in place with your usual hardware (screws that came with your plumbing system).

Luckily, both PEX pipes and fittings can be bought at the same place, so all you have to do is measure the dimensions of your plumbing system’s sockets. The fittings should be slightly narrower than the pipes, although PEX tubes can expand, so even if you miss a few millimeters, you shouldn’t face any issues in terms of size. We hope that this guide was useful to you and that you’ve learned something new on RV plumbing today. Make sure you are staying safe in these times we are all going through and have a good one, guys!