My 50 years of RV ownership have taught me that there are many maintenance jobs I can do myself to save money.
Keeping mildew from forming in your recreational vehicle or eliminating it once it has surfaced is relatively easy to do. There is nothing worse than that nasty odor that it creates, but once you eliminate the source, you terminate the problem.
What Causes RV Mildew?
If a travel unit is kept dry, it will never have mildew problems. However, due to the fact that most RVs are stored for long periods of time, issues can arise that create mildew.
The source of mildew is always dampness coupled with lack of air flow. Thus, if you don't inspect your coach regularly for leaks, don't use proper preventive practices, or close it up too tightly, you're creating a problem for yourself.
If you fail to address that problem, over time it can turn into a major issue that can seriously damage your coach. Therefore, your best bet is to check regularly for moisture and quickly take steps to repair the sources that are causing it.
How to Prevent Dampness and Mildew in Your RV
- Check for ceiling leaks.
- Look for wall and floor moisture.
- Check your plumbing.
- Improve air circulation.
- Avoid condensation.
- Use drying products.
Each of these steps is explained thoroughly below.
How to Inspect an RV for Dampness
There are a number of things you can do to seek out problems.
Your first indication is smell. Mildew has a distinct odor that is slightly nauseating and makes a closed up coach smell worse than just "musty." If you smell this odor when entering any RV, it's time to start searching for its cause. In most cases, water infiltration and condensation are the culprits. However, they hide themselves well. Therefore, you need to
- open upper cabinet drawers and look up toward the ceiling, especially in the corners,
- check floors behind couches and beneath the dash for discoloration or dampness,
- look at wall for loose wallpaper, lumps and discolored window treatments,
- check around toilets for leaking seals,
- check faucets and shower heads for drips, and
- investigate plumbing under sinks for leaks.
If you look, you will find. If you do find, you need to make repairs asap!
In many cases it is very difficult to determine where a leak is coming from, especially if it has left its mark on the ceiling.
One way to find out is to hold a hose on suspect roof areas while someone inside checks for a problem, but this is just a stopgap measure. You are better off sealing the entire roof.
In most cases, a crack in a roof seam or something that is attached to the roof, such as an air conditioner, causes this type of problem. Therefore, the fix is to buy a sealant made specifically for RV roofs, climb up and seal every single seam, including those around vents and other attachments.
My husband and I have tried numerous types of sealers, but the Geocel brand is the one we now use for caulking RV seams and other areas because it holds up well under road vibrations.
If your roof does not "lap over" the front and back portions of your coach, you may also want to use a tape made specifically for providing wider coverage and protection. There is more stress on those areas, so, for them, tape is a better sealant. However, you want to use one that does not have to be replaced such as a product called Quick Roof.
We have used this in the past on the front and rear seams of a Safari Motor home roof and it really got the job done. Older Safaris were known for having roof leak problems, and once we installed this tape, which was very easy to do, we had no more of them.
We prefer to combine the two products, and this seems to work well, but no matter what you use, the bottom line is to seal everything on your RV's roof to ensure maximum dryness.
After finding and repairing troublesome areas, always spray the existing internal mildew with Professional Strength Lysol, and keep spraying daily until the visible mildew disappears.
Wall and Floor Moisture
If your walls or floors show signs of water damage, the source can be
- a roof or window leak,
- a crack in the area around an exterior light, or
- an open window that has allowed rain water to enter the coach.
In the first case, you need to
- seal the roof (as noted above),
- caulk around every window,
- use a dehumidifier to remove moisture, and
- lift up any carpet so that the pad also gets dried out.
If the damage is bad enough, you may have to replace the carpet and wall covering.
In the second case you need to caulk around every item that attaches to the exterior walls of your coach, including awning and door hardware.
In the third case you only need to put a protective cover over your vent and make sure to keep your sink window only slightly opened.
In all three cases, you must use Professional Lysol to directly spray mildewed areas until they disappear.
Any water, whether standing or dripping, can cause mildew to grow in a coach. Therefore, doing a thorough evaluation of faucets, shower heads, toilet seals and pipes, and making appropriate repairs while spraying Lysol on mildewed areas will quickly fix the problem.
Keep Air Moving
Even when a coach is stored, it needs to have air flow in order to prevent mildew. The easiest way to create this is to crack open the window over the sink, and open roof vents part way, making sure they are covered. This way, fresh air can move through a coach without creating moisture problems from rain.
When you shower and don't leave a way for the moisture to leave the bathroom, condensation forms. It can then create mildew.
However, you can avoid this problem simply by opening a window and a vent and/or putting a fan on.
Do the same for other activities that create steam, like cooking. This will eliminate many mildew problems for you; it is just a matter of paying attention to what you are doing.
Using Drying Products
Some people like to use products such as Damp Rid to keep their motor homes, travel trailers, and campers dry when they are being stored, but this is a waste of money. They are single-use products that will overflow with fluid if not monitored and can create a big mess.
Instead, for a few dollars, buy a bag of charcoal briquettes. Put three or four in open containers and place them around the coach when you are not using it. Remove them when you are using your RV, and use them again the next time you store it.
I keep mine in empty Gatorade containers and simply remove the lids when I want to place the charcoal around my coach.
I've been using charcoal briquettes for many years to keep my stored travel units dry and have had no problems whatsoever.
Keep Mildew Out!
Using every product and method possible to fight mildew is a smart move because it protects your RV, saves you money and makes your coach a pleasant place to be.
Eliminating mildew problems is one of the best things you can do for your coach, so don't delay.
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.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on July 29, 2017:
Sallybea: Didn't know there was such a critter, but then again, have never needed one. In an RV you can smell mildew a mile away!
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on July 29, 2017:
This one caught my attention and I did wonder if you have ever used a damp meter in your RV? They seem to be quite popular in the UK.