How to Install a Hand Pump Sink and Drain [Van Life Guide]

by Vera Lawrence | LAST UPDATED June 22, 2021

Hand pump sink
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One of the biggest drawbacks of van life is the lack of a readily available water source, resulting in the need to use water bottles in order to wash your hands or even brush your teeth in the morning, for instance.

An easy fix for this issue is simply to install a countertop with a faucet in order to get easy access to water for washing the dishes or preparing food.

If you’re a van lifer and spend most of your time in a camper van or a modified motor home, then any sort of water system, regardless of how rudimentary, is going to be a big improvement to your way of life.

You won’t be able to take advantage of something like a hot water heater without installing a more advanced electric pump, but the cold water can still be used for everything from drinking to doing the laundry.

hand pump sink graphic

We’ll get into all of that a bit further on in the article, but for now, we’re going to take you through the three most important items that you’re going to need in order to make all of this work - the water containers, the hand water pump, and the sink itself.

The Water Container

When it comes to water tanks, the most important factor is going to be their size and how much water you’ll be able to fit inside of them before they reach capacity. However, you’re also going to need to pay attention to the materials that they’re made out of.

You’re going to need 2 containers:

  1. A container that links the hand pump to your clean water supply;
  2. A container that links the sink and collects the greywater that’s left after you use the hand pump faucet.

Clean water

The clean water container is pretty self-explanatory—it’s the tank that you’re going to link to your manual pump and use as drinking water or for your everyday use.

A lot of people don’t trust plastic containers for repeated use and prefer to go for a stainless steel option when it comes to ensuring that the water that they’ve collected and stored stays clean for longer.

We will say that chrome water bottles are a better choice than reusing a single water bottle for weeks, but that logic doesn’t apply on a larger scale.

Plastic water containers are not the same as plastic water bottles since one is meant for one-time use, while the other is meant to be used hundreds of times before it needs to be replaced.

Most water containers are going to specifically state if they’re FDA approved and how many times they can be used safely, but the easiest metric is going to be when you start seeing yellow discoloration in the plastic after repeated use.

If you want to skip the guessing games altogether, then you can simply spend a few more dollars and get yourself something like the Sansone Stainless Steel Water Dispenser.

You can freely choose whichever container you might like, but you’re going to need one with a narrower top that can easily be opened in order to be refilled and connected back to the hand pump sink.

Greywater

The greywater container can be made out of pretty much any material since you won’t be drinking from it, but it might be smart to make it a lot more portable than your freshwater container.

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

As for the greywater container, you’re going to be emptying it on a pretty regular basis, which means that you’re going to need a container that can hold quite a bit of liquid but isn’t difficult for you to lift when it’s full.

Keeping all of that in mind, our recommendation would be to get the 7-gallon version of the Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer Rigid Water Container if you’re feeling capable of lifting it, or simply going for the 4-gallon version if you’re willing to make more frequent trips to dump the water in exchange for less back pain.

The Hand Water Pump

water pump

There are quite a few different types of water pumps that you can get for your van. There’s obviously the hand water pump, then there’s the foot water pump, the electric 12-volt pump, and the gravity water faucet. All of these have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Alternatives

The electric self-priming water pumps like the Shurflo 8000-543-238 are without a doubt the most useful option since they can keep working without constantly applying pressure to them, but on the other hand, they’re quite a bit more expensive than the alternatives. Additionally, the setup for these types of pumps is a lot more complicated, especially inside of a van where you need a constant power supply to keep them going.

A Marine Boat Baby Foot Pump is also a decent option for van lifers, but the setup is still a bit more convoluted than we’d like and it requires constant pressure from you in order to keep the water faucet operational.

As for the gravity water faucet, all you need to do is 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.

Hand Water Pumps

Last, but not least, we have the many different types of hand-operated water pumps, which are generally the cheapest option, as well as the easiest to install and use.

You’ve got items like the Dolphin Water Pump, which is the simplest option since it just connects up to your water container and it shoots the water out of the spout by way of repeated pressure on the top of the dispenser.

While this is the cheapest hand pump, and the easiest to install, constantly having to press the pump is less than ideal when you need a more steady stream for washing dishes or something similar.

The Valterra - RP800 Rocket Hand Pump is a better option in terms of pressure since you can pump the handle multiple times in order to accumulate enough pressure for the flow of water to keep going even after you take your hand off of the dispenser.

However, while there are a multitude of great Valterra van life products, this item might still not provide enough pressure for the sort of constant water stream that you might be looking for.

In that case, what we’d recommend is combining the Whale GP0418 Flipper Pump Mk 4 Hand-Operated Galley Water Pump with the 4-gallon Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer Rigid Water Container that we mentioned before.

If you attach the container above the sink and attach a hose up to the hand pump, you’ll be able to get a gravity-powered water source that can easily be focused and allow for a controlled 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, but when you attach a container above your kitchen sink, it’s better for it to be light-weight rather than heavy-duty.

The Sink

There really isn’t an item that’s 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 with a heavy marble or porcelain sink, so you’re going to have to scale things down.

Your best bet is probably 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.

The sink is small and can fit anywhere, and while the cabinet is small enough to fit into a van, it still has 2 large drawers in the front where you can easily fit 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 main water container is going to be above the sink rather than below it. This combo is going to require a bit of DIY work when it comes to the fitting since you’re going to need to buy both a sink and a hand pump of your choice before you put in the countertop.

Due to the light sink, the countertop can be made of wood, which you can either cut yourself, or you can take it to a professional in order for them to create holes that can fit the sink and the sink faucet.

The sink is going to need to be glued into place in order to keep it from dislodging from all of the driving, but the hand pump only needs to be affixed firmly enough so that it doesn’t pop out of place.

You’re going to want a bit of swivel on the faucet, so while the water line needs to be properly connected, the faucet itself doesn’t need to be held in place all that tightly.

Installing a Hand Pump Sink

hand pump sink

Before we get started, we should list all of the items that you’re going to need in order to install a hand pump sink in your van.

The items are:

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

We’re going to go through a few different installation methods, and depending on the exact method that you choose, you’re going to need to change the tubes that lead to the hand pump, but the sink and its container are going to stay the same.

  1. The first thing that you’re going to need is to make a hole for the sink and the pump and to attach the sink to the cabinet as we mentioned before.
  1. Take both of your water containers and place your freshwater container under your hand pump hole, and your greywater container under your sink.
  1. Affix a sink strainer like the Keeney 878PC Stainless Steel Junior to the bottom of your sink and attach a Camco Flexible Camper Drain Tap with Hose System that goes from the container to the strainer.
  1. Attach the hand pump to the counter and connect the flexible nylon poly tubing to both the pump and the container by using hose clamps. We chose this specific tubing to work as a connector since it’s non-toxic, which is what you want to be connected to your drinking water supply, and because you can easily find any length of it with a 5-minute search on Amazon.

If you want a gravity hand pump system in order to get a bit more GPM, then you’re going to have to attach the water container to a hook above the sink and connect it to the hand pump via the tubing and hose clamps.

This means that you’re going to need to make a hole in the cabinet where the tubing is going to go in from above and connect to the bottom of the pump in the cabinet.

Conclusion

The water for the containers can be procured easily from any river that you might find; a fountain in a national park, an RV park, or any other water source that you might have in the vicinity of your current camping spot.

All you need to do is fill up your containers with a steady supply of water, make sure that you throw away the greywater and often as you can, and you’ll have access to a hassle-free water source for your van.

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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