Where to put things
The only storage in my old rig's diminutive bathroom was a small medicine cabinet over the toilet—no shelves, no cabinets. Clearly, there was considerable room for improvement. I tackled the storage problem in several ways.
If you click on the photo at right, you'll see how I dealt with the lack of counter space. Mounted on the wall above that small sink are:
...and of course the towels. (If you're wondering about that shower hose curled up in the background—yes, the sink was actually in the shower stall of this 22' rig... an arrangement that worked better than you might imagine.)
Hang it on the wall
Another way I increased the storage space in my old rig's bathroom was to install a fabric storage unit (purchased at IKEA) on the wall adjacent to the toilet. About four feet high, it was cleverly sewn from heavy nylon, with many pouches, pockets and shelves of various sizes. Mounted on the wall, it was out of the way (as much as anything could be in that little bathroom!), didn't have to be removed when I took a shower, and held everythng I needed... all nicely organized. The original unit was six feet high with a two-foot acrylic mirror at its top, but I removed that, folded the excess fabric behind the unit and sewed a seam of heavy-duty thread across the top so it'd stay that way.
The mirror didn't go to waste, though. I installed it on the inside of the bathroom door, after covering the door's dark fake-wood paneling with almond-colored Con-Tact film. The combination of an off-white panel and the mirror helped make the small bathroom look much larger and brighter.
One of my favorite tricks for increasing storage is to put things in places that you don't normally think of as storage space: underneath eye-level cabinets, inside doors, hanging from the ceiling...
In my old rig, there was an 8" high unused space above the factory-installed medicine cabinet. I didn't want to let that go to waste, so I added a small wire shelf that I found at Home Depot.
This shelf was actually meant to be stacked inside a cupboard, but by turning it upside down I was able to use its flanges as mounting points—four large sheet metal screws held it in place on the ceiling. It was just large enough to hold spare bath and hand towels—very convenient!
One of the problems all RVers deal with is keeping things from moving around while you're driving down the road. Of course, you can always just put everything away in a safe place before leaving and then take it out again when you arrive, but I hate to do that. Besides, there'll always be something you forget to put away, usually announced by a startling crash as you go around the first corner leaving the campground. So I try to keep the number of things that need to be moved before breaking camp to an absolute minimum.
There are lots of ways of securing items. One that I use often is loops and retaining brackets made from bent coat hanger wire. Here are some examples of coat hanger wire at work in my new rig's bathroom: loops of wire hold my cup and electric toothbrush at one side of the sink, while the toothpaste hangs nearby in the same manner as in my old rig's bathroom. (I found the richly colored bulldog clip in a stationery store.) And over on the counter, there's a wire "safety rail" that keeps essential items handy while preventing them from falling all over when I'm underway. (For instructions on how to make wire holders like these, see the Fun with coat hangers page.)
Adding a medicine cabinet
My old rig had only a medicine cabinet for bathroom storage. My new rig had a different problem: lots of storage space, but no medicine cabinet at all! Oh, there were plenty of shelves and cabinets, but none of them were suitable for small items like pill bottles, Band-Aid boxes and the like. So I built a medicine cabinet—a very simple one—out of a few lengths of thin 2.5" x 1/4" poplar, plus a piece of scrap composition board, sizing it to just fill the space above the window. Just as four inches is the perfect depth for a pantry cupboard, two to two and a half inches is just right for all those small medicine bottles, tubes and boxes.
Like my pantry cupboard, I built this with no back—the wall behind it serves that purpose. It's just an open frame, mounted to the wall with four small angle brackets, while additional angle brackets support the shelf inside. I added retainer rods made of white coat hanger wire to keep the contents from falling out.
The hardest part about making it was finding screws short enough that they wouldn't go right through the thin wood and stick out the other side. In fact, I couldn't—I ended up having to grind off the tips of the screws with a Dremel tool. Using thicker wood would have avoided this, but I had a small space to fit into, and wanted to maximize the usable volume of the cabinet.
A stretchy solution
I wasn't completely satisfied, though—the small items on the lower shelf, especially the tubes, tended to wind up in a jumbled heap. Here's what I mean:
So I stapled a strip of 1"-wide elastic across that area, and now everything is nice and neat!
The first time I tried this, I put the elastic halfway up the space... but then discovered that it was difficult to remove or replace the items. Keeping it low (about an inch above the shelf) worked much better.
Medicine cabinet, take 2
Here's another way of adding a medicine cabinet. A couple I met on the road had a new RV with no medicine cabinet. What they had was a narrow counter with a full-width mirror over it and a few shelves underneath. So my friend Kate and I did a "bathroom makeover" on their rig, installing a medicine cabinet and a high shelf.
We chose an inexpensive ($30) white medicine cabinet from Home Depot. Because the mirror covered the entire wall over the sink, and we didn't want to cut the glass, the question was how to mount the medicine cabinet so that it would be secure when going down the road. Gluing it to the glass with double-sided adhesive was ruled out as not strong enough.
So instead of mounting it to the wall, we wedged it firmly between the counter and the shelf above it (which we also installed), using spacer blocks cut from 1x4 lumber. We mounted the high shelf to the wall above the mirror using angle brackets, so it was firmly fixed in place. And of course the built-in counter was quite solid... so between them, the medicine chest was very secure, even though it had no connection at all to the mirrored wall behind it.
By the way, here's a tip that works if you have a steel medicine cabinet: if you drop a small permanent magnet (available cheaply from Radio Shack) inside cardboard boxes such as those for Band-Aids, it'll make them stick to the metal back of the cabinet, so when the door is opened they'll be less likely to fall out. (In my case, they would have dropped into the toilet directly below.) When the contents of one of these boxes were used up, just shake out the magnet and drop it into the new box. Just as a reminder, I also used my labeler to make a label for the upper left corner of the medicine cabinet mirror: "Close toilet before opening cabinet."
A blind on the ceiling
My new rig, Skylark, has a big skylight over the shower stall. Boy, do I love it! It makes the whole bathroom so bright that it seems twice as big as it really is. Except... in the summer, it can get a bit hot with all the sunlight streaming in through the skylight.
My solution was simple: I mounted a small roller blind at one end of the skylight. when the weather gets hot, I just pull it across and hook it on a small cuphook I put on the other side. The blind cuts the light and heat down to manageable levels.
The zero-power night light
By the way, if you're wondering about that semicircular fixture that's mounted on the left rim of the skylight's frame, that's my solar night light. It's actually a ten-dollar Hampton Bay "fence light" that I picked up at Home Depot. The copious sun coming through that skylight charges its built-in batteries all day. Then at dusk its two amber LEDs come on automatically, providing just the right amount of light for those late-night trips to the bathroom. It glows all night on a charge.
What I love about this is that it's self-powered—it uses no 12V power from my house batteries, so I never have to worry that I forgot to turn it off. In fact, I don't have to think about it at all, since it's completely automatic. I wish there were more appliances I could say that about! In fact, it works so well that I mounted a second one outside, next to my entry door, where it lights my keyhole all night for free.
The water-saving showerhead cutoff valve has always annoyed me. Why the heck did they put it in the back of the showerhead? Why didn't they give it a grippy surface? There you are with soap in your eyes, and you're supposed to reach behind the showerhead, grasp a slippery, round knob and turn it...without even being able to see what you're doing. This is a Really Dumb Design.
So I cut off the last 3" of a plastic tongue depressor (it was a close match to the showerhead's color, and it was the right shape and size) and screwed and glued it to the back of the showerhead to make a nice big lever that you can easily see and operate from the front with a single finger. Big improvement!
Turn up the pressure!
I got tired of the noisy 1985-vintage water pump in my old rig, and had a new Shurflo "Whisper King" pump installed. (My new rig came with one of these.) I loved the fact that the new pump was almost inaudible...no longer did I have to put up with jackhammer noises whenever I ran water. But the Whisper King's flow rate was lower than the old pump's, making the shower spray a bit anemic.
Fortunately, there's a simple fix: plug half the showerhead's holes with glue, and the flow from the remaining holes will be twice as strong. I tried it first with tape, and it worked... so I laid a bead of epoxy around the outer set of holes, giving me a much more vigorous spray at the same water-saving flow rate. I applied the same trick to the toilet sprayer with similar benefits.
Your shower's secret feature
Well, not so secret, really. I don't want to insult your intelligence here, but I've run into a surprising number of people who don't realize that the angle of their showerhead is adjustable. If your showerhead looks like this one, its plastic holder has three not-very-noticeable notches. Depending on which notch you use, the showerhead assumes one of three different angles.
So if you find the spray going over your head, or hitting you in the chest instead of the face, try using a different notch. It just might solve the problem for you. If you already knew this, my apologies for wasting your time. And if you didn't... well, don't be embarrassed. You're in good company!
Rescuing your plumbing
Here's something that ought to be in every RVer's toolkit: Rescue Tape. It's a remarkable self-fusing silicone rubber tape that creates a permanent water-tight seal in a few seconds. It has no adhesive, so it can never loosen or leave a sticky residue. It literally welds to itself when you stretch it and wrap it onto anything—even wet or dirty surfaces.
Here's a practical example: many years ago, I was fitting a new drain to the bathroom sink in my condo. When I put a pipe wrench on the drainpipe joint to loosen it up, the pipe itself tore like tinfoil. It was just thin chrome-plated brass, and years of use had eroded it down to a paperlike thinness. It was soldered at the other end, and I wasn't equipped to do that kind of plumbing, so I figured I'd need to call a plumber. But in the meantime, my bathroom sink was out of commission—any water I ran into it ran right out into the cabinet underneath.
So as a temporary fix, I wrapped it with about ten inches of Rescue Tape. I just stretched the tape and wrapped it around the damp, corroded pipe, overlapping each wrap about halfway onto the previous one. It took less than a minute.
Well, you know how it is. I kept putting off calling the plumber. I'd check under the sink every day to see whether anything was dripping, but nothing was. Eventually I forgot all about it. Eight years later I sold the condo, as I prepared to become a full-time RVer. The place got a very thorough inspection by a licensed engineer hired by the buyer, and another going-over by the township building inspector. It passed both tests with flying colors... and as far as I know, that Rescue Tape is still holding water to this day.
Rescue Tape withstands higher pressures than you'll run into in an RV's plumbing system, it resists solvents and corrosives, and it's good up to 500° F. You could probably mend a burst radiator hose with it. And if you ever need to remove it... just slice it lengthwise with a sharp blade, and it'll come off cleanly. (Remember, there's no adhesive.) The first time I did this, I was amazed to find, instead of the layers of tape I'd expected, a solid mass of rubber. As I said, the stuff really does weld to itself! Oh, and it's great for adding nonslip grips to tool handles, tennis rackets, you name it. It never seems to go bad, so you can keep it on hand, knowing it'll be ready when you need it.
Like our own joints, RV faucets tend to stiffen up with age. Here's a page that details an easy fix.
Parking my glasses
My bathroom doesn't have a lot of counter space (in fact, my first rig's didn't have any at all)... so when I wash my face, there's always the question of where I'm going to set my glasses. I don't want to put them where they might get knocked down, and if they're too near the sink, they'll get splashed with water.
The answer turned out to be a simple suction cup. This one came with a soap dish I bought, but I've seen similar ones with hooks attached for hanging things up. I trimmed the little knob on the back so that the bridge of my glasses fit securely over it and then I stuck it to the upper portion of my bathroom mirror. There it holds my glasses, safely out of the way of fumbles and splashes, until I'm ready to put them on again.
My old rig came with a small plastic wastebasket that lived in the shower stall... well, actually it kind of roamed around the shower stall while I was driving, and often spilled its contents messily. I thought about Velcroing it to the wall, but its tapered shape was wrong, its rim kept it from direct contact, and adhesives don't stick well to polyethylene anyway.
So I made a restraining loop from coat hanger wire—one of my favorite raw materials—that held the wastebasket to the wall under the sink. It's easy to bend coat hanger wire into any shape you like; the secret is to have two pairs of pliers: one to hold the wire and one to bend it. Needlenose pliers work best, allowing you to make tight little curves. I made a couple of little loops on the ends, just big enough for a wood screw to slip through—those were my mounting holes. Then I made a few right-angle bends to form a big squared-off "U" that the wastebasket could just slip into. I fastened the finished bracket to the bathroom wall with a couple of sheet-metal screws, and voila!
If you click on the small image at left, you'll see a larger picture in which I've "ghosted in" the wire bracket (which is normally invisible, hidden by the wastebasket's rim) so that you can see where it is. Take a look and you'll get the idea. This worked so well that I made a similar bracket to keep the kitchen wastebasket from wandering while underway. (For more examples, see the "Fun with coat hangers" page.)
In my new rig, there was a slender space beside the toilet, but no existing wastbasket would fit. My friend Kate came to the rescue with a great idea: use a 6.4-quart Sterilite dry food container (part #0218) as a wastebasket! Its slim shape fit perfectly in the narrow space.
I don't know whether any other RV manufacturers do this, but Lazy Daze uses a slightly odd bathroom door design on some of their floorplans: there's a 3.5" gap at the top when the door is closed. There's a reason for this: when all the way open, the door serves as a room divider that breaks the coach into two sections. In this situation, the gap at the top lets the air conditioner blow cold air into the back section even though the door is blocking it off, which is a good thing. But it does mean that in the other situation—when you're in the bathroom with the door closed—any noise you make is pretty clearly audible in the rest of the coach.
To remedy this, I built a simple "privacy panel" from a length of the same 3.5" wide x 1/4" thick poplar I'd used for the medicine cabinet. It's hinged to the ceiling, painted white to match, and normally latched in the "up" position with a small piece of Low Profile Dual Lock tape. When I want privacy in the bathroom, all I have to do is lower the flap and close the door, which holds it in place thanks to an 1/8" overlap... as shown here:
My first RV had a tiny shower stall, and the space seemed even smaller than it was because of the flapping shower curtain that always seemed to drift inward and try to wrap itself around me. There are lots of ways to deal with this, but none of them seemed to fit my situation. Magnets would have been no good, because my shower pan was fiberglass. A shower curtain rod that bows outward is a good idea in a house, but in my 22' rig's small bathroom, it would just take away space from the toilet area.
My solution was a retractable New Line shower screen. When in use, the translucent screen is taut and flat; when not in use, the screen rolls neatly back into a slim 3" x 3" canister, as a full-length blade wipes off water to prevent it from ending up inside. (The photo here shows it halfway retracted.) It worked wonderfully, making the shower stall seem twice as big as it used to. Installation was easy (although you do need a flat surface to mount it to), and the slim wall-mounted canister was hardly noticeable. The shower screen is elegant and functional—well worth the hundred-plus bucks I paid for it at Camping World.
While I was at it, I also got rid of the vinyl curtains that covered the bathroom window. To preserve privacy, I covered the windowpanes with textured, translucent Con-Tact plastic film (in the geometric "Frosty" pattern) that was meant for just this purpose. The result is complete privacy with no loss of light... and no flapping curtains or ugly curtain hardware. (The window in your entry door is another place you might want to use Frosty Contact film.)
Some people have complained that it's hard to get the self-adhesive film positioned where you want it, so I've included a separate Con-Tact page that shows you a couple of simple tricks that make it easy.
A place for the laundry
Some RVers stash all kinds of stuff in the shower stall... in fact, some folks use only campground showers, so they turn their rig's shower stall into a big storage closet. Me, I figure that as long as I have a shower, I'm going to use it, so I don't pile it full of things that will have to be removed when I do. But I did find one item that fits nicely in the shower: my laundry bag.
I located a stud in the ceiling using my Stanley Intellisensor stud finder, and screwed a heavy-duty 1" screw eye into it. The laundry bag hangs where plenty of air circulates all around it, so clothes don't get musty, and removing it to take a shower only takes a few seconds.
A new floor
Shag carpeting in the bathroom may have seemed like a groovy idea in the 1980s when my first rig was built, but I found it thoroughly impractical... so one day I ripped out all the old carpeting and removed the scores of staples that held it in place. Underneath, to my surprise, I found a linoleum floor. But it was in poor shape and I didn't like the pattern... so I covered it with inexpensive parquet-look self-stick vinyl tiles. Then I put a small throw rug on that to keep from getting cold feet... and to cover up the bolt head that showed just in front of the toilet.
So what was the point of going from one carpet to another? Well, aside from not being shaggy and dark brown, the new rug is removable so I can wash it, unlike the old wall-to-wall carpeting!
The new "throw rug" was actually a small nonskid bath mat I bought at Wal-Mart and cut in half to fit the small floor area. Making the cut left an edge with loose threads, of course—but knowing that the pile material was synthetic, I just ran a butane lighter along the edge to fuse the threads enough that they wouldn't ravel. It worked fine... and I had a spare mat left over, in case the first one ever wore out.
(How does this work?)
"Eureka!" is © 2012 by Andy Baird.