How to Get Rid of RV Toilet Smell in Three Easy Steps

Updated on February 4, 2019
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.

It happens to everybody who owns a travel unit sooner or later. One day, you step into your RV and the smell from the toilet almost knocks you out. You have flushed regularly and even have put special cleaners into the bowl and tank, but the stench persists and permeates your entire motorhome or camper.

You do not have to tolerate this problem. In fact, I can show you a way to eliminate it quickly and forever in just three simple steps. If you want to do that, read on!

Keep your RV toilet smelling good!
Keep your RV toilet smelling good! | Source

How Can I Get Rid of That RV Sewer Odor?

Believe it or not, you can get rid of RV sewer-tank odor quickly and forever by following the directions in this guide.

As soon as you step into any trailer, camper or motor home, you can tell whether there are problems because there is an easily recognizable and somewhat sickening smell that emanates throughout the unit.

It is coming from your toilet, and in order to get rid of the stench you need to find the problem and fix it.

My article, “How to Clean and Sanitize Your RV's Black Water Holding Tank” will give you specific directions about cleaning your sewer tank, but you need to do some other things, too.

Why Does My RV Toilet Smell?

Your toilet smells for one of four reasons:

  1. Your sewer tank is damaged.
  2. Your toilet is leaking.
  3. It has not been thoroughly cleaned for some time.
  4. You have created a clog.

In most cases, you can correct problems 3 and 4, but for 1 and 2 you will need a professional repair job, unless you are extremely handy and are willing to deal with a messy situation.

Eliminate bathroom smells now.
Eliminate bathroom smells now. | Source

If You Know How RV Toilet Systems Work, You Can Avoid Problems

No matter the cause, you need to understand how RV toilet systems work.

  • To function properly, waste matter must be mixed with enough fluid to keep it from drying out. These liquids come from urine, bathroom showers, and/or sink water. When the sewer tank is kept closed, the incoming water keeps the waste from drying out. But if you keep the line open, the liquids leave and most of the solids remain and eventually the system stops working.
  • The problem is made worse if you use regular household toilet paper because it does not biodegrade. Even if you use RV grade toilet paper, too much of it will add to the problem.
  • Furthermore, whatever is in the tank, clogged or not, must be sealed. The flapper inside of the toilet is what takes care of this job.
  • If the flapper breaks or becomes blocked so that it does not close all the way, the odor from the black water tank enters the RV and makes it smell.
  • If there are no clogs or leaks, but there still is a smell, the toilet itself is dirty. Despite the fact that RV toilets are made of heavy plastic, waste and dirt leavings still can cling to them, dry up, and smell.

So, unless you have a problem that requires a major repair, the problems I just mentioned are easy to fix.

Step 1: Get Rid of the Clog

The lengths you must go to do a corrective clean out will depend on the severity of the problem. The worst case scenario happens when you try to empty the reservoir and nothing comes out. The fix for is not pretty, but it is the only way you can get rid of the smell. How to Clear an RV Toilet Clog shows you how to do this job.

The article I linked to above will tell you how to deep clean your system so that it starts working again and eliminates the odor.

You can hire someone to do this job for you, but it is not difficult and will cost nothing if you do it yourself.

Step 2: Scour, Sanitize, and Sweeten the Tank

  1. Once everything is moving again, you need to clean and scour the tank itself because all of that dry material is still clinging to its sides. Therefore, your toilet will still smell. If you read the article I have linked to above, it will tell you how to do this job, also.
  2. After you have done this, sweeten the tank with some Pine Sol or Spic and Span and a bit of water. Spic n Span is the better choice of the two because it will help to keep the inside of the tank scoured and free of the smelly debris that sticks to the tank's sides.

If you maintain and use the tank properly after doing this, and use the correct enzyme chemical, such as the one I show here, in it on a daily basis, you should only have to do a deep clean like this a few times each year.

We use this product regularly, and it does a great job of turning waste into liquid and keeping sludge from forming on the sides of the tank.

Step 3: Clean Flapper and Toilet

If you have done all of this and the odor persists, it is likely that the flapper inside of the commode is not closing completely. This often happens when bits of toilet paper get caught up under the rim.

  1. Thus, the best way to fix the problem is to take a rag, soak it well with water and thoroughly wipe around the area inside and under the flapper to release anything that may have gotten caught in it.
  2. If this does not work, you will have to hire a repairman or may even have to replace the toilet. However, that rarely is necessary.
  3. Before you make the call, though, clean the bowl, the inside rim and the top and bottom of the drop down seat thoroughly, because the smell may be due to the fact that those areas may just be coated with dried waste that has started to smell.

You now have a clean, sweet smelling RV!
You now have a clean, sweet smelling RV! | Source

Protect and Maintain

These three simple steps should result in a complete and permanent absence of noxious odors in your unit. However, that will only happen if you continue to use your toilet and waste water tanks and hoses correctly and keep them clean.

Repairs are expensive, but you can avoid them by following the advice both in this article and the one I mentioned earlier.

More Info About RV Tank Odors

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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

  • Why does the toilet in our RV smell after we flush (and the odor linger)?

    When you flush, the valve opens and allows odors to escape. If you do not properly clean and sanitize your sewer tank regularly and use the proper cleaning products, the smell in the tank will permeate your coach.

  • We have sewer gas odor after using the shower. What could the issue be causing this?

    The problem could be caused by several things. You may have a leak in one of your sewer pipes, or your gray water tank may need to be cleaned and sanitized. You could also have mold growing inside of your shower drain area. If you address these issues and still can't fix the problem, let a pro take a look and then decide on the repair that may be needed.

  • We always use full hookup when we camp. Does that matter when compared to dry camping?

    Using full hookups gives you a lot more comfort and ease when traveling than does dry camping. Some people prefer to dry camp, many because it often costs less to do so. However, this is a personal decision.

  • The carpet directly in front of my toilet is wet and smelly, how can I fix it?

    Take it out and replace it with waterproof flooring such as laminate. Before you make the repair, check the toilet for leaks, and fix them. The carpet is no longer any good.

  • Why is it that when we use the fantastic fan in the bathroom, the rest of the RV starts to smell like sewer/gas?

    If you are using the fan to pull air out of the RV it will also suck odors out of the sewer tank if the tank is not properly cleaned and sanitized regularly or if there is a leak in the sewer plumbing pipes.

© 2013 Sondra Rochelle


Submit a Comment
  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

    Sondra Rochelle 

    18 months ago from USA

    Mike Nard: Yes. We had a similar problem and discovered that some of the plumbing inside of the walls had been poorly installed and had either split or cracked open. Once we repaired them and placed a cyclone vent above them to pull any remaining odors out of the walls, we fixed the problem. What's happening is that the tank odor is wafting into the areas behind your walls because it's leaking through the broken pipes. It won't take much to fix this problem if that, in fact, is your issue. The only other possibility is that you may have a clog in your sewer tank's plumbing or you have a plumbing vent that may need to be replaced. Good luck with this one.

  • profile image

    Mike Nard 

    18 months ago

    The black tank smell wafts up through the kitchen drawers and in around the stove ans sink in the kitchen, some even comes through heater vent in kitchen..some comes through the drawer in the bathroom...

    We have installed a fan on the top black tank vent. blocked some pvc vent pipes under kitchen area. still have black tank smell in kitchen and bathroom cabinets, worse under kitchen cabinets. Any helpful ideas?


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