“Cleans Like a Blue Volcano”

Hello, again. This time around, we have a further cautionary tale about chemical interactions.
Sometimes, things that are completely safe, and labeled as such, can still create a mess if mixed with other completely safe things. For example…

An Airstream came in this Summer with the holding tank indicators not reading out like they should. The owner of the trailer had tried several things, including some cleaners that should have done the job (but didn’t). Buck and Rusty were both off, and I was manning the fort in the shop. After conversing with the customer, I decided I could chance letting John tackle this job. He pulled the trailer in to the shop, hooked it up to water, and started checking it out. One of the RV chemical companies had given us some samples of super-duper holding tank cleaner, which they advertised as “completely safe”, and John decided this trailer would be a prime candidate to try the new chemical on. He grabbed a bottle of the stuff from the parts department, came back to the trailer, and went inside with it.
A few minutes later, I heard a commotion from the area John was working in, and looked out just in time to see the main door of the trailer fly open, and a blue foamy blob come running out, closely followed by a sea of light blue foam. What the? I thought aliens had landed, and were trying to kidnap John, and steal the Airstream. Hey, sometimes strange things go through one’s mind before common sense kicks in. A few seconds later, a second foam-covered blob exited the trailer, bringing with it more blue foam. About this time it dawned on me the blobs were John and the owner of the trailer. I grabbed several towels, and ran out to where the blue blobs were standing. While John and the customer were trying to remove the blue foam, I ventured in to assess the damage to the trailer. The bathroom, floor, and part of the galley area were covered in blue foam. At least it was a pretty shade of blue. I sent John to the showers, and had two other techs clean up the mess. Luckily, the foam was easily removed, and didn’t leave any stains. That’s good, because I had visions of a smurf-colored Airstream interior.
After some serious questioning, the customer told me he had tried several other cleaning agents, including a couple of non-standard chemicals, to try to clean the tanks and monitors. He thought since he had left the trailer for several months with contents in the tanks, and everything was dried and caked in place, stronger measures were needed. One of those measures was a few gallons of concentrated sodium hypochlorite. For those not in the know, that chemical, in a less concentrated form, is also known as chlorine bleach. So that, plus whatever else the customer added, was a witches’ brew just waiting for the final ingredient to make what had the effect of a nuclear bomb in his holding tanks. The final ingredient was unknowingly added by our hapless technician, who didn’t check to make sure the tanks were empty before adding the tank cleaning chemicals.
After all was said and done, the Airstream was hauled outside and the tanks were dumped. The good news is, the tanks are now squeaky clean, and John will (I hope) remember to make sure the tanks are empty before adding chemicals from now on. Oh, and we have decided not to carry that particular brand of holding tank/sensor cleaning chemicals at the shop.

About the Author

Lug Wrench is a long-time mechanic, multiple Airstream owner, and dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist. All tales guaranteed 100% true, although names and certain details may be altered to protect the guilty.