I have learned during my 50 years of RVing how to rid my RVs of odors quickly and effectively and am happy to share my experiences with you.
If your RV is plagued by nasty odors, there are a number of things you can do to eliminate this problem.
The first and most important one is to find out what it is that is causing your coach to smell.
The worst smells come from tanks that have not been properly maintained. How to Get Rid of RV Holding Tank Smells shows you how to deal with and eliminate this problem.
How to Get Rid of RV Toilet Smells in Three Easy Steps also provides good information that will help with this problem.
Other Causes of RV Odors Can Include:
- poor plumbing design,
- improperly installed or damaged pipes,
- damaged tanks,
- leaks of various kinds,
- black mold,
- rotting food,
- spoiled potable water,
- smelly carpets, bedding and furniture,
- refrigerator odor,
- propane smells,
- bacteria in drains,
- pets, pests and vermin and
- poorly maintained air conditioning units.
The trick is for you to find out which of these issues is affecting your coach and then do whatever is necessary to remove the odor(s) from your camper, travel trailer or motor home.
Poor Plumbing Design
Check the schematics from your owner's manual to find out if your waste water system is one of the many has been constructed with pipes that have sharp angles. These can cause clogs that make your unit smell, but you can eliminate those odors if you
- use only biodegradable toilet paper,
- use plenty of water when flushing,
- dump often and
- always use eco safe chemicals that will to turn the matter into liquid form such as Wallex-11530 Bio Pak Natural Holding Tank Deodorizer.
I use this product because it is inexpensive, easy to use, safe and effective.
Its enzymes eat away hardened sludge and turn any solids into liquids and thus eliminate odors. After you dump your sewer tank, just drop a packet into your empty tank, add one gallon of water, and you're done!
Improperly Installed or Damaged Pipes
Improperly installed pipes or those that have become damaged due to accidents or normal wear and tear can create nasty odors in an RV.
- An improperly installed pipe that has been incorrectly cut does not connect to the one above or below it, creating a fissure or opening that allows sewer tank odors to enter the walls of the coach.
- Either normal wear or an accident can knock pipes out of line, thus allowing a similar opening with similar results.
The best way to resolve this problem is to remove the wall in front of the pipe that runs under the tank and up through your roof and inspect it. If you see an opening, you will have to either replace or repair it.
You may also want to install a cyclone vent to pull the putrid air out of the walls and up through the roof. These are specially designed for use in recreational vehicle bathrooms and do a great job of pulling odors up and out of areas where odors hide.
There is no other product on the market like this one. When we installed ours after repairing our own broken sewer pipe, we noticed an immediate difference. Once it was in place, the wind turned the blades and pulled the odors up and out of our unit.
This vent is inexpensive, installs easily and works amazingly well.
A Damaged Black Water Tank
Waste water tanks that have become damaged due to overfilling or accidents are a major cause of noxious RV odors.
You can avoid ruining yours simply by never filling by more than 50% and always dumping often.
You can avoid accidents by doing a better job of maintaining your tires, loading and driving your RV.
- If a rear tire blows out, the debris it causes can damage or destroy a tank.
- “Bottoming out” when driving over curbs or going up or down steep inclines will do the same.
- A roll over will also create problems for you.
Some accidents cannot be avoided, of course, but the more safely you drive and the more well balanced your RV, the lower your chances of having one.
The bottom line is that if you want to get rid of sewer odors, it's up to you to protect your tank!
Improperly closing toilet flappers, broken seals or damaged valves can also make your coach smell.
- If toilet paper or hardened waste matter gets caught on the edge of the toilet flapper, it will cause a small opening that allows foul smells to enter a coach. Cleaning the flapper thoroughly will fix this problem.
- You can replace leaking toilet seals, but if odors persist, you will have to replace the entire toilet.
- Leaking valves are one of the most well known sources of RV odors, but fortunately, they are easy to replace.
All of these issues are easy to deal with, but if you are not handy, get help!
Anybody with a sensitive nose can immediately tell whether there is a water problem because mildew has a distinct and easily identifiable odor.
The best way to eliminate the problem is to keep water from entering your RV.
- Properly seal and protect the roof and caulk every single visible seam, including those on window frames and lights.
- Find the area inside of the coach where the mildew is located by allowing your nose to lead you to the source of the odor.
- Dry out the interior thoroughly by using a dehumidifier.
- Once everything is thoroughly dried, spray the affected areas with professional grade Lysol, and keep spraying daily until any remaining smell is gone. (Be sure to wear a mask and also air out the RV following each treatment.)
- Once you have fixed the problem, keep your RV dry when it is stored by opening ceiling vents (making sure that they are safely covered) to allow air to circulate. You can also place small containers of charcoal throughout the coach. Remove them when you travel.
If air conditioning duct condensation is causing your coach to smell, remove the grill covers and filters, wash and dry them, and then spray them as well as the insides of the vents with Lysol several times until the mildew has been killed. Then replace the covers and filters.
If doing these things to your air conditioning unit does not take care of the problem, follow the advice about dealing with a dirty air conditioner as shown below.
If you ignore water damage, black mold will develop. This can cause serious damage to an RV that may require repairing, replacing or rebuilding parts of the basic structure.
Furthermore, breathing it can cause lung cancer as well as many other serious respiratory problems, so this job is best left to a pro who has the construction knowledge, protective equipment and gear necessary to deal with it.
It spreads quickly, so once you discover it, you should take immediate steps to fix it.
Stay away from it or wear a mask when entering your coach until you get help.
To eliminate odors from rotting food, you should vacuum, steam clean and wipe down the entire interior of your coach. After doing this, you should always:
- Wipe counters, tables, sinks and floors regularly with a disinfectant spray.
- Empty trash early every morning, especially if pieces of meat or produce have been placed in garbage baskets. Then wipe the container down and spray it before inserting a fresh garbage bag. Sweep the area beneath all trash cans often.
- Use spray products instead of cooking oils.
- If you must cook with oil, clean its residue often.
- Air out and spray your unit after cooking with odorous foods such as onions.
- Clean and disinfect the inside of the refrigerator, microwave and oven on a regular basis.
- Clean the area under the sink regularly.
Spoiled Potable Water
Every so often you need to clean and disinfect your fresh water tank because if you don't, it will start to smell and will become unsafe to use.
How to Care for Your RV's Fresh Water Tank shows you how to do this.
Smelly Carpets, Bedding and Furniture
To remove odors from carpets, bedding and furniture you need to:
- vacuum and steam clean every item that is made of upholstered or soft fabrics,
- spray with Scotch Guard,
- and wash clothing, bedding and linens at least once each week, making sure to sanitize them with Ammonia.
If the odors are caused by cigarette or cigar smoke, you will never be able to get rid of them unless you gut the entire coach, do a complete job of sanitizing it, replace everything and then stop smoking.
- If the odors are caused by poor personal hygiene, you need to shower every day, wear clean clothes each day, wash your hair at least twice each week and brush your teeth regularly.
- Additionally, if body odors have caused the problem, you will have to thoroughly clean and sanitize your entire coach to get rid of them.
The best way to eliminate odors that come from your refrigerator is to
- clean and disinfect it regularly,
- throw away old or rotted food,
- leave the doors open when your coach is in storage and
- keep an open box of baking soda in the fridge at all times.
However, if you smell ammonia when you open the door, this means your refrigerator is broken. In most cases, you'll have to replace it, but sometimes this problem can be repaired.
Since ammonia is toxic, never travel or remain in a coach that has this problem because to do so is not safe.
Propane gas has a distinct odor. If you smell it, you need to
- immediately turn off your propane tanks,
- make sure all internal gas jets are turned off,
- open all windows, and
- use soapy water to check the lines for leaks.
You may also want to have a repairman check for leaks to make sure your coach is safe to use.
In most cases, the smell is coming from an unlit jet on your stove top, but if not, take no chances. Once the cause is found and fixed and the coach aired out, the odor will disappear.
Bacteria in Drains
When an RV is in storage, water can collect in certain plumbing areas, grow bacteria and start to smell.
If you mix a cup of baking soda with a gallon of fresh water and pour some into each shower and sink drain every time you store your coach you'll be able to eliminate this problem.
Pet, Pest and Vermin Odors
It is almost impossible to eliminate the urine, damp hair and other odors pets create unless you either want to remove and replace all of the soft flooring and upholstered furniture with smooth products such as vinyl and leather, vacuum regularly and wash down your walls often.
Eliminating odors from pests and vermin that may have crawled into the hidden areas of a coach is a different story. The attached video explains more about this issue, but basically, getting rid of the odor is a matter of getting rid of the pests, their dead carcasses and their leavings!
To do this you will need professional help because finding nesting areas is not easy to do and is also nasty work.
Dirty Air Conditioning Unit
Generally speaking, if you clean your AC filters regularly, your RV air conditioner will work well.
However, every year or so it's a good idea to get up on the roof so that you can clean the interior portions of the unit.
To do this you will need to remove the shroud that covers your AC unit and then vacuum and clean the dirt and debris that has built up over time.
When you fail to do this, your unit will not function properly. Odors from the rancid materials will build up and eventually enter your coach. There may well be mildew and mold problems as well.
The attached video shows you what you need to do, but if you don't feel confident in handling this task, definitely pay an experienced repairman to do the job for you. It is very easy to damage your unit, so having a pro do it for you could save you money in the long run.
Keep Your Travel Unit Smelling Good
As you can see, there are many causes of stinky RVs, but in most cases, there are just as many ways to fix or guard against them.
There is no sense in paying a fortune for a recreational vehicle so that you can enjoy the great outdoors only to have to travel in one that smells so bad that it ruins your enjoyment and that of people who visit with you along the way.
If you understand what the 14 main causes of bad odors in RVs are, you can use the information in this article to eliminate them.
Then, and only then, will you be able to truly enjoy your camper, travel trailer or motor home.
How to Keep Your RV Odor Free
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What do you use to clean the walls of an RV bathroom?
Answer: I would find out what the walls are made of and plan accordingly. Usually, for most materials, a light mixture of ammonia and water will sanitize and clean the walls..but test a spot first to see how it reacts.
© 2014 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 02, 2014:
Easy Exercise: Are you speaking of getting rid of smells in a home or an RV? In an RV you really do not need to do all of those things, and when it comes to mold, you need to do more than get rid of its odor...you need to get rid of the mold...otherwise it could damage your health
Kelly A Burnett from United States on December 01, 2014:
Recently I have been using an air ozonator and absolutely love it. The smell of popcorn I love but after a couple of hours that smell I find difficult to live with. Now I turn on the air purifier after we finish eating the popcorn and run the ozonator in the kitchen and it is wonderful.
Perhaps I am just more sensitive to smells than others.
Another homemade trick I have used for mold is to gather Epson salts into a nylon bag (cut off panty hose works great) and hang the bag over a buck by a stick. The Epson salt will gather the moisture and work quickly to neutralize the mold smell.
What I don't understand is why hardware stores such as Ace, True Value or Home Depot, why don't they carry the industrial ozonator to really combat tough smells. It seems they carry everything else for DIY. Just a thought.
Great hub! Thank you!