Hand Pump Sink and Drain Installation [Basic Van Life Guide]

by Vera Lawrence | LAST UPDATED June 22, 2021

Hand pump sink
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One of the most significant drawbacks of van life is a lack of readily available water sources. But the best solution to this problem is to install a simple hand pump sink. After that, you will have easy access to water from the comfort of your van dwelling. 

If you're a van lifer and spend most of your time in a camper van or a modified motor home, then any water system will drastically improve your way of life. 

However, be aware that you won't be able to use a water heater without installing a more advanced electric water pump. On the other hand, you can still use the cold water for everything from drinking to doing the laundry, which is a huge plus. 

hand pump sink graphic

We'll get into all of that a bit further on in the article, but for now, let's focus on the three primary items you need to build a hand pump sink. First, we'll talk about the water containers. Then discuss the hand water pump and the sink itself. 

After that, we'll go over all the materials you'll need to install your hand pump sink and provide general instructions on how to build it. Let's get started!

The Water Container

The most important factors are the size, capacity, and type of materials when it comes to water tanks. To make a hand pump sink that works well in your van, you'll need two receptacles as follows:

  1. Clean water container: A receptacle that connects the hand pump to your clean water supply
  2. Greywater container: A receptacle that collects the greywater from the sink after using the hand pump faucet

Clean water container

The clean water jug is linked to the manual pump. You can use it for everyday drinking water. 

But many people don't trust plastic containers for repeated long-term use. That said, stainless steel options offer a solid alternative for clean water storage. 

Chrome water bottles are a better choice than reusing a single water bottle, but that logic doesn't apply on a larger scale. Plastic water containers are not the same as plastic water bottles. One is meant for one-time use, while the other is for repetitive use. 

Most water containers state if they're FDA approved and provide guidelines for ongoing usage. However, the most straightforward metric is to look for yellow discoloration in the plastic. If you notice the water container is turning yellow, it's time for a new one. 

You can freely choose whichever container you might like, but you'll need one with a narrower top for easy accessibility. 

Our clean water container recommendation: If you want to skip the guessing games altogether, allocate a few more dollars on your hand pump sink and get something like the Sansone Stainless Steel Water Dispenser

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Sansone Stainless Steel Water Dispenser

[Enjoying this article? If so, take a moment to read through our ultimate beginner's guide to van life.]

Greywater container

Since you won't be drinking from the greywater container, the type of material doesn't matter. What's more important is portability. The greywater container should be smaller than the clean water container in most cases. 

When it comes to the clean holding tank, you can connect the water pump to a larger container. This way, you can refill it using smaller and easier-to-lift water containers.

As for the greywater container, you'll empty it regularly. It's a good idea to find a large receptacle, but still easy to manage when full of water. 

Our greywater container recommendation: Our suggestion is the 7-gallon Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer Rigid Water Container. If you're willing to change it out more often, go for the 4-gallon version.

The Hand Water Pumps

water pump

There are quite a few different water pumps ideal for van lifers. There's the hand water pump, the foot water pump, the electric 12-volt pump, and the gravity water faucet. All of these pumps have unique advantages and disadvantages.

Hand-operated manual water pumps are generally the cheapest option and the easiest to install and use.

The Dolphin Water Pump is the simplest option. It connects up to your water container and shoots water out of the spout or sprayer through repeated pressure on the top of the pump dispenser.

While this is the cheapest hand pump and the easiest to install, it's not ideal to constantly press the pump—especially during certain activities like washing dishes. 

On the other hand, the Valterra - RP800 Rocket Hand Pump is a better option in terms of pressure. You only need to pump it a few times, and you'll have enough water pressure to maintain a steady flow for a short duration. Although there are many great Valterra van life products, this item still might not provide enough force for some people. 

Other recommendations for hand water pumps: In that case, we recommend combining the Whale GP0418 Flipper Pump Mk 4 Hand-Operated Galley Water Pump with the 4-gallon Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer Rigid Water Container to build your hand pump sink. 

If you attach the container above the sink and connect a hose up to the hand pump, you'll have a gravity-powered water source. These setups are ideal because you can control the flow rate by opening and closing the hand pump. You can also use the 7-gallon version of the water container or the Sansone Stainless Steel Water Dispenser since they both have spigots. However, remember that lightweight is usually better when attaching a container above the kitchen sink.

Hand Water Pump Alternatives

Electric self-priming water pumps like the Shurflo 8000-543-238 are, without a doubt, the most practical option. But there are a few things to consider before using the Shurflo to build a hand pump sink for your van dwelling. 

Although these appliances operate without manual pressure, they cost a lot more than the alternatives. Additionally, the setup for these pumps is a lot more complicated and requires a constant power supply. When living inside a van, you should keep powered appliances to an absolute minimum. 

A Marine Boat Baby Foot Pump is also a decent option for van lifers interested in installing hand pump sinks. But the setup is tricky, and operating the sink faucet requires constant manual pressure. 

As for the gravity water faucet, you need to put your water container on a spigot above your sink, connect a hose with a stopper up to the end, and let gravity do all the work.

The Pump Sink

There isn't an item called a hand pump sink, which means that pretty much any type of sink will do.

We don't know what sort of van you're using, but it's a safe bet that you won't be able to fit a full-sized bathroom cabinet. In most cases, heavy marble or porcelain sinks won't work either. Consider that van life setups are always scaled down. 

Our pump sink recommendation: Your best bet is to get something like the Kingston Brass Gourmetier GKUS16168 Undermount Single Bowl Bar Sink and attach it to a New Antique White Single-Sink Bathroom Vanity Base Cabinet. Both items are readily available on Amazon. 

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Kingston Brass Gourmetier GKUS16168 appliance for hand pump sink

We like it because the sink is small and portable. While the cabinet is small enough to fit into a van, it still has two large drawers in the front where you can easily accommodate both of your water containers.

If you're going for a gravity-powered faucet, you can make do with a single drawer cabinet since the central water container is above the sink. However, this combo requires some DIY work when it comes to fitting. You'll need to acquire a sink and a hand pump to go with the countertop.

Since the sink is lightweight, wooden countertops will suffice. You can either cut it yourself or take it to a professional for fitting. 

Tips for transportation: It's good to glue the sink in place so it doesn't dislodge during transport. Please make sure the hand pump is firmly affixed, so it doesn't come out of place. The faucet should be on a swivel to keep the water line in place, but it doesn't need to be super tight. 

[RELATED READ: Van Life Parking: Helpful Hacks For Hardcore Travelers]

How To Install a Hand Pump Sink

Before you get all excited and run to the store for supplies, make sure you have a list that includes everything you need to build a DIY hand pump sink.

The items are:

  1. Cabinet
  2. Sink
  3. Hand pump
  4. Two water containers
  5. Sink strainer
  6. Around 2 to 3-feet of tubing for the freshwater container
  7. Four hose clamps

Below we'll go over a general installation method for hand pump sinks. But depending on your setup, you may need to change the tubes that lead to the hand pump. On the other hand, the sink and water containers will be the same. 

  1. First, make a hole for the sink and the pump, and attach the sink to the cabinet.
  2. Place the freshwater container under the hand pump hole and the greywater container under the sink.
  3. Affix a sink strainer like the Keeney 878PC Stainless Steel Junior to the bottom of your sink. 
  4. Then, attach a Camco Flexible Camper Drain Tap with Hose System from the container to the strainer.
  5. After that, attach the hand pump to the counter and connect the flexible nylon poly tubing to both the pump and the container using hose clamps

Note: We chose this tubing for our hand pump sink since it's non-toxic and ubiquitous. After all, it will transport your drinking water, so it needs to be safe. 

If you want a gravity hand pump system to get a bit more GPM, you should attach the water container to a hook above the sink and connect it to the hand pump via the tubing and hose clamps.

Don't forget to make a hole in the cabinet for the tubing and connect it to the bottom of the pump in the cabinet.

These instructions should provide some value regardless of which appliances you choose to build your hand pump sink. Just be aware that these are general tips, and every van setup is unique. 

If you're having problems getting your hand pump sink up and running, reach out to us on social media, and we'll do our best to guide you through the process according to your van.

Final Thoughts about Hand Pump Sinks

In reality, there are endless possibilities for building a quality hand pump sink. The best thing you can do is find one that fits your specific van and individual needs. Every van life setup is different, and there are many varieties of hand pump sinks.

With that said, you can quickly fill up your container using natural or public resources around you. In the past, I sourced a lot of my water from rivers, fountains in national parks, RV parks, or spigots near camping spots.

All you need to do is fill up your containers with a steady water supply and regularly replace the greywater. After that, you can access hassle-free water from the confines of your van using a quality hand pump sink. 

Did you like this blog about hand pump sinks? If so, take a moment to read through some of our other articles to unlock the secrets to living the ultimate van life. 

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Van Life Toilets: The Best Portable Options & Basic Tips 

Sprinter Van Life: 4 Reasons The Trend Is Wildly Popular

Vera Lawrence
Vera is a part-time van lifer after spending nearly four years in her 1990 Ford E350 (named Fred). She currently lives in Utah and takes extended weekend trips into the desert with her two dogs. She is an ice cream fanatic and avid runner.

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