RV Odor Problems: How To Remove 10 Different Odors From Your RV

rv-odor-eliminator-by-teamstickergiant.jpg Nothing is nastier than a foul RV odor that just won’t go away.

When your total square footage is less than a small efficiency apartment, keeping your RV smelling sweet and clean is pretty important.

Hanging the old familiar pine-scented cardboard tree from your rearview mirror might mask the smell for a day or two, but it won’t fix the problem.

You’re better off addressing each individual problem area with a more effective solution to get rid of the RV odor once and for all.

This list of RV odors and ways to address them will keep your sinuses happy, so you can breath easier while you’re cruising down the highway.

 

#1: RV Sewer Smell In The Bathroom

This can be a tuffy.

There are oodles of different chemicals for eliminating RV toilet odor. Some are recommended for use when your waste is deposited in a septic system, and others are designed to go down the city sewer. One thing is for sure though, they don’t always do the job!

A lesser-known issue with RV toilets is the lack of adequate ventilation for the black water tank. It is vented out the roof of the RV, but many times while driving, the wind will actually push air back down the vent pipe rather than draw the RV odor out.

The Cyclone Sewer Vent is designed to create a powerful vortex that will suck the odor out of the black tank with only a modest breeze. There are a number of these kind of vents available. This video demonstrates the Extreme Cap:

 A friendly reminder: Always drain your waste tanks after every RV outing!

 

#2: RV Kitchen And Bathroom Drain Odors

During periods of non-use, water contained in P-traps under every sink and the shower will have the opportunity to grow bacteria. This smell can travel all through your RV.

To keep them from smelling during periods of storage, mix a cup of baking soda with a gallon of water. Pour some in every drain then dump what’s left into a sink — so it will go into the gray water tank.

 

#3: Rodent Odors Onboard RVs

There is nothing worse than the smell of a dead mouse baking in the hot sun. Been there, done that! The only way it will go away is to find the carcass and remove it. Then, follow up with a good scrubbing of the area.

If your RV is going to be stored for a period of time, a good offense is the best defense in order to avoid rodent problems in your RV.

 

#4: Bad Smelling Potable RV Water

Sooner or later it will happen. You fill up your fresh water tank only to discover the water smells or tastes horrible. It’s so bad you can’t even make coffee with it. Many areas of the country are plagued with water that smells of sulfur. The only way to clean out the smell from your water system is to sanitize your RV water system with a diluted mixture of household bleach and water.

If bad water is a reoccurring problem in your area, consider installing a water filtration system.

 

#5: Closed Up Stale RV Storage Smell

If you’ve ever gone RV shopping and toured the second row of used motorhomes, you know what I mean. There is nothing fresh about these babies. They have been sitting for years with little or no use — closed up tight so every odor just builds on the next. When you step inside, you just want to get out ASAP so you can breath again!

rv-odors-accumulate-during-storage-by-SteelMaster-Buildings.jpg To avoid this particular RV odor, your recreational vehicle needs to breath.

Installing vent covers over the existing roof vents will enable you to leave the roof vents open slightly, allowing hot stale air to escape. You might consider solar powered vents to draw the air out more efficiently.

Removing this deeply ingrained type of RV odor will require everything listed above plus cleaning every surface in your RV. There are products like Bad Air Sponge or Smelleze RV Deodorizer that claim they can absorb storage and mildew odors.  I’m old school, I believe in the power of Pine Sol.

 

#6 & #7: Smelly RV Carpet & Pet Odors

The best cure for smelly or pet stained carpet is to tear it all out and install laminated flooring. The RV industry hasn’t done RVers any favors over the years by installing wall to wall carpeting. Just because it was cheaper for the manufacturer, it sure wasn’t the best choice for floor covering.

You can have your carpeting professionally cleaned to take care of much of the odor. When you do, invest in throw rugs to help keep the carpeting as fresh as possible for as long as possible.

Many carpet cleaning companies can also steam clean your upholstery. This will help eliminate pet odors from Fido sleeping on the sofa all day.

 

#8: RV Refrigerator Odor

To avoid a nasty mildew smell in your RV refrigerator wipe down the inside with soapy water after every outing. Then let the refrigerator and freezer sit with the doors left ajar to allow all moisture to evaporate. I use bungee cords to tie them back so they don’t accidentally close when I move the RV into it’s parking spot. Leaving a shallow bowl of baking soda in both the refrigerator and freezer compartments will absorb any refrigerator odor that may develop.

 

#9 & #10: Propane & Ammonia Odors In RVs

These 2 odors mean big problems. If you smell a strong ammonia odor, the source will be the cooling unit of your refrigerator. There won’t be any question about the odor, because it will be strong enough to bring tears to your eyes. There is nothing you can do on your own to fix the problem; this requires the specialized knowledge of your RV dealer. Be prepared, it will be expensive.

rv-odors-from-propane-by-curtis-carper.JPG Propane odor can come from many sources in and around your RV from the propane tanks to the stove, oven, refrigerator, water heater and furnace.

Don’t forget all the gas lines connecting these appliances to the tank as well! A small brush and soapy water can be used to check fittings for leaks. Just be sure you have adequate ventilation before you go inside to look for the problem. If you’re the least bit unsure of what you’re doing, call the professionals.

RV odors are a common, yet annoying, problem. Don’t waste your time with products that do little more than mask the issue or (worse!) introduce a new smell to cover up the bad odor. For the most part, it’s best to invest in some elbow grease and give your RV a good cleaning.

This video highlights a number of ways to eliminate moisture and mildew odor from your RV:

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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  • John Wallen

    Curtis,

    We have a Fun Finder 19′ travel trailer. When have been getting a sewer gas smell in the trailer on intermittent occasions. I noticed the smell every time we dump the tanks at first. The inside of the unit would become unbearable. Lately, we have had the smell appear for apparently no reason. Then, it will disappear. It doesnt seem to
    make a difference if the tanks are full or empty. Last time we noticed it, we turned the ventilation fan in the bedroom to intake instead of exhaust, and it seemed to keep the odor away. I have tried filling the traps, and the Thetford toilet seal holds water OK. I am thinking of replacing the seal on the bottom of the toilet/flange
    next. Before I do that, would you tell me if this is a highly unusual condition, or do RV tank/toilet issues usually include intermittent odor?

    • Curtis

      John, I doubt the seal at the flange is the problem. You would have water leaking there if it wasn’t sealing properly. I’m thinking you have a vent problem. Instead of an updraft certain conditions are allowing air pressure to come down the vent pushing odor out into the trailer. I’d look at adding a better vent like this: http://www.anythingrv.com/staticpages/index.php/RV_Vents_ToiletVents
      Something that will follow the breeze and insure a good updraft.

  • Gary

    I have found a product called Extreme Biodrive that removes the musty smell from closed RV’s.

  • Nancy whaley

    Hi we have a perfume musky smell in our 5th wheel and it is so strong that you can smell it outside. It kind of smells like mildew under the smell is there something that someone could of bought to try to cover up mildew smell. We can not find where the smell is coming from it is trough the whole trailer.

  • Curtis

    Nancy, If I’m reading your question correctly this is an RV you recently purchased that you fear someone else tried to cover up an odor?  Only they know what they tried.  I’d recommend airing out the RV for a week or so then close it up again and follow your nose real close to try and isolate the problem.  The worst odor I ever chased down ended up to be a dead mouse under the center console in a car.  Closed up and sitting in the sun was enough to lead me right to it.  I about stripped the interior looking for it though.

  • krzymom007

    Hi~  We have a 30ft fith wheel. There is an oder coming from under neath ~it seams~It is in the hallway, livingroom, bedroom! It smells like sewer!!! UGH!!!We have dumped the the grey & black water yet the smell is just there! Any help??

    • Curtis

      Krzymom007, With the odor that widespread I wonder if you have a leaking waste tank.   Are your tanks out in the open under your RV or are they enclosed within an insulated bottom?  If enclosed the leak could have spread throughout the insulated bottom causing the odor to come up pretty much everywhere.  Is there any indication of water leaking out to the ground?  Stains, or residue at a seam maybe.  I don’t want to suggest tearing open the underneath unless you can confirm there is a leak first.  Be conservative in your search, odor can travel easily from its origin.

  • peter

    Dear Curtis

    we have a Thetford Cassette C2000 C/CS and it is wonderful EXCEPT when we drive over corregated or rough roads the lid makes a very loud clapping sound.

    we have turned the toilet to face the rear of the motor home – no effect and we have tried to tighten the hinge but no change – we now pass a rubber band over the seat and secure on either side but you must know a better way.

    really value your opinions

    regards

    peter – Seaford – Victoria _ Australia

    • Curtis

      Peter,  I’d go to your local home center and look for some stick-on cushioning buttons.  They are little rounds of felt with peel and stick adhesive on one side.  The lid will still bounce, but the felt will stop the banging.

  • Gloria

    I have read all the sewer gas odor comments but haven’t gotten an answer to my original question of why we have a severe odor only when the window is open and the exhaust fan is running in the bedroom. We are staying in an rv park and using the sewer connection.

    • Curtis

      Gloria, If the exhaust fan is pushing air out, you may be sucking fumes in through the window from either your sewer connection or a neighboring one.  On the other hand if the exhaust air is bringing air into the RV it may be located close enough to the waste vent pipe on the roof that it is drawing fumes into the RV.  It may be a case of prevailing winds working against you and pushing fumes from your vent pipe towards the roof exhaust fan opening.

  • polarisguy

    dear curtis, we have a parkmodel 38 foot camper that has a terrible odor of lp gas in it, we found that one of the kids must of bumped the stove on the way out of the door, it was on all weekend. we were lucky it didnt blow up! anyway we have aired it out for 48 hours and checked for leaks, which there is none but we still have a strong odor of lp gas in there, in the wood , carpet, curtains, and so on….any ideas on how to remove that odor????

    • Curtis

      polarisguy, Lots of fresh air and spray deodorizer. Then when you close it up I’d hang a couple automotive air fresheners in it. Artificial pine tree smells better than LP.

  • colleen busch

    Hi Curtis – I have a 5th wheel 34 foot — this is our 3rd season — for some reason we are experiencing a sewer smell only in our kitchen sink area. We have had this happen since the first year but only one time. We have cleansed out the gray water tank using the in store cleaner for rv’s and also just good old cleaner pine sol, mr clean, etc. we have checked the trap and also the vent seems to be all good. Anything else you may suggest?
    Thank you in advance for your response.
    Colleen

    • Curtis

      Colleen Busch, This link http://tiny.cc/dwb5gw will take you to a type of roof vent that is designed to help eliminate sewer odors. It swivels and follows the prevailing wind causing a slight suction to help draw out the smell from the black tank. If you have a separate vent for your gray tank it should work there as well but I’d bet the odor is coming from the black tank.

  • Maggie

    We live in Washington state with a lot of rain. Our motor home always has that mildew smell when we haven’t used it for a long time. I have, so far, washed all the curtains, linens, and taken everything else out. How do I get that smell out?

    • Curtis

      Maggie, Carpeting is a big odor sponge too. Storage is always a tough one because there is no air movement. Carpeting and furniture trap odors big time. If it’s possible to leave a vent open just enough to let in some fresh air and better would be to leave a fan running a day or so before you plan on using the RV. Auto air fresheners(pine tree) may help to overcome the odor too.

  • tim smith

    i have a trailer with bad sewer odors from black tank every time we flush the commode.tried cleaning tank,odor chemicals,and running water down roof vent with no luck. the odor only comes from commode and fills trailer up.there is no odor in trailer until you flush commode

    • Curtis

      tim, Sounds like it’s time to try a Cyclone sewer vent cap. http://tiny.cc/i8voiw They are designed to rotate so the prevailing winds draw the gasses out by creating a negative pressure in the tank. As it is now it seems the winds are pushing down into the vent creating a positive pressure so when you flush the smell rushes out.

  • The Trull 5

    i am at a loss, my furnace in my 92 jayco 900 series is great for pumping out some heat, but the smell is intolerable. It doesn’t smell like propane, and the furnace is clean. the exaust is putrid. Any thoughts on where to start?

    • Curtis

      The Trull 5, I wonder if a rodent has died in the duct work. I had a mouse die under the console of a car once. When the summer temps came and the car got hot the smell was enough to make you wretch. I about completely stripped the interior of that car looking for it.

      • The Trull 5

        Thanks for the reply Curtis, I ended up taking the furnace out of the trailer and running it – no strong smell like before. I noticed a medium-sized wasp nest in the exhaust (next to the pipe but not in it) so I have removed it. I have a hard time believing that a wasp nest could put off an odor like that, but I will fire the furnace up again tonight and see. Only though is that the nest was “cooking” in there. I’ll post an update when I am able to get it tested.

        • The Trull 5

          sure enough – wasp nest was the culprit. Thanks !

  • http://www.facebook.com/diane.gundy Diane Gundy

    Curtis,
    We purchased an 1999 tent trailer with a fairly strong odor of mildew. We did not realize how difficult to deal with and permeating this was going to be. We’ve pretty much stripped it bare, cleaning what we could while replacing the plywood on the ends and seats, washing the upholstery and curtains, and buying new cushions and canvas (we call it our $6 million trailer). Now, while cleaning and deodorizing we realized that the heater stinks highly of mildew – seemingly on the metal(?) – we removed it from the unit and cleaned its space in the cabinet. We’ve spent so much already, another 400-600 dollars for a furnace that will barely be used is where I draw the line and am searching for some ideas on how to clean the one we have. What would you do? Is there any hope?

    • Curtis

      Diane, I recently read that painting mildew on house walls won’t kill it, you have to use bleach. Makes sense to me that a bleach solution would kill off any remaining mildew in your situation too. When it comes to a furnace the heat it produces should help as well. Once it cooks for a while it should bake out any odor inside the actual furnace. Don’t overlook the duct work. The heat won’t be as high there and you may have to clean or replace the foil tubing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/diane.gundy Diane Gundy

        I didn’t think that bleach should be used on the veneer surfaces, but had considered it. There are chemical sprays that you spray on and leave, but there again, didn’t think that that would be good for the cabinets and paneling. I used borax on all the surfaces and found out today that all the work I did yesterday was for naught. It still reeks – we have to shower and wash our clothes when we come in (and we’re standing out in the elements since the trailer has no canvas!). Turns out the furnace is the least of our worries. Now I’m afraid that we will never get this smell out of the wood and veneer that can’t be replaced by us. I do have a fire and water damage restoration company coming out tomorrow to see if there is anything they can do. I knew how to look at used pop ups structurally, but never thought the mildew odor was so pervasive. If anyone out there smells even the hint of that sweet disgusting odor, RUN FOR THE HILLS – do not buy! I’m afraid even a parts dealer wouldn’t want this. Should have been free, not what we paid for it.

  • LizzyTish

    Hi Curtis, we have a Keystone Fuzion 2010 40 ft… Recently we have been smelling this rotten egg smell at times an other time a poop smell… We recently tore out the under belly and notice there was an over flow and poop was all under it… We cleaned it out, removed the cover and tossed it… However, last night we woke up to this awful smell in the bedroom only. It’s when the heat and air is on only… We have checked vents, and obviously took care of the poop smell in the under belly. The rotten egg smell is coming from the front of the 5th wheel where the bedroom is… We are at a loss… Would it be possible for something dead causing the issue? Does it smell like poop and then rotten egg… Those two smells are always together… One for a while, then the other for the rest of the time. Any ideas?

    • Curtis

      Lizzy Tish, It’s possible a rodent died somewhere. I had it happen in a car once and the smell was unbelievable when the interior got hot from the sun. Anything nasty in the heat duct work is likely to smell things up when the furnace is used.

  • Brooke

    Hello Curtis! My husband I recently bought a Hybrid camper with two pop up pull outs. The camper has two problems that we have tried to remedy without any luck.
    #1 The people we bought the camper from accidentally left fishing worms in a styrofoam container in the freezer for 3 months. The smell was totally overwhelming. I didn’t have hope that it would smell good again and well, I was right. It hasn’t. We put several boxes of baking soda in it as well as scrubbing it out with bleach. The smell has lessoned but it is still there.
    #2 The camper itself has a very strong odor of a bleach mix/some kind of overwhelming floral scent. When I stand outside the camper I can smell the odor. Again, we bleached everything to no avail.
    We would love any suggestions you might have!
    Thanks,
    Brooke

    • Curtis

      Brooke, Many years ago my Dad left what he thought was a milk container filled with frozen water in the icebox cooler he had built into our converted school bus. Weeks later he discovered the milk box was actually filled with frozen fish. Oops! He ended up building a new tin liner for the ice box and starting all over to get rid of the stench. Looking at some forums I read that Febreze http://tiny.cc/3l53kw will help. Another product Fridge It http://tiny.cc/un53kw may help too. I haven’t tried either one but they might help.

  • lyons

    hello we bleached our tank this spring like always but now every cup of water tastes like bleach any ideas on how to fix this. we have rinsed the tank several times.

    • Curtis

      lyons, Fresh water, keep running water through the tank. If you too much bleach this might take some time.

  • Noel

    Hello, we are looking into moving to a town that has a lot of sulfur in their water. Do you recommend a way to keep the odor out of the lines, or a way to clean the tanks if we move from this area? Thank you

    • Curtis

      Noel, Sanitizing your water system with bleach should kill any odor it accumulates. As to preventing the odor an inline water filter designed to remove minerals should do the trick. Here’s an example: http://tiny.cc/9ces0w

  • Crystal Knighton

    what if the refrigerator hasn’t worked in a while? could that still be the cause of the ammonia odor?

    • Curtis

      Crystal, The only way there can be an ammonia odor is if the cooling unit is leaking. If you smell ammonia, your refrigerator is doomed. If it’s an older model it will cost more to have the cooling unit replaced than it’s worth.

  • Lisa Stamper

    Curtis we just bought a 30′ play mor it is in great shape except we have to clean out the black tank. It is full. We also noticed that the water coming from the sinks smells like yeast. Any idea of what is the cause of that odor? Lisa

    • Curtis

      Lisa, If the black tank was left full it’s likely the fresh water tank hasn’t beem sanitized for a long time. I’m assuming you mean the faucets, not the sink drain, but either way bleaching the system should do the trick. Add 1 cup of household bleach to a gallon of water. Pour it into the empty fresh water tank. Fill the fresh water tank then run water trough all faucets, both cold and hot. Don’t forget the shower and toilet. Let it sit over night then drain the system and refill with clean water. Run the faucets until there is no odor of bleach and it will be safe to use. For the sink drain, pour some bleach down the drain. There’s a P shaped water trap under each sink that may be the source of odor. By cleaning the fresh water system and pouring a little bleach down the drain that problem should clear up as well.

  • Tim Covert

    Can I drill a hole into my RV cooler to rid the frig of the ammonia smell? We want to use the RV without the frig this winter and repair/replace the refrigerator in the spring.

    • Curtis

      Tim, I think it would be better to remove the cooling unit all together. Residual ammonia will likely continue to smell even if you drill a hole in it. I doubt that the fumes are safe to breath either. It may require you removing the fridge to remove the cooling unit, I don’t know if you can do it from outside the RV.

  • ForTheKids1965

    Hi Curtis, we have a pull behind camper and keep having a mold problem. It is white and starts on the cabinets. I have only seen it on the lower ones, and it take a while. We haven’t been using our camper as much as we used to so it is sitting more. One time the bathroom vent wasn’t closed and I think this problem may have started after that. I hung Damp rid bags in there this time which did seem to help, it’s been 4 1/2 months since we have had it out. If I use a bleach solution to clean it will that keep it from coming back? This time I also have an unusual odor in the camper that I hadn’t noticed before. I have looked around and didn’t see any leaks, but find the mold worrisome. Thanks!!

    • Curtis

      For the kids, Yes, I believe a diluted mixture of bleach and water would help kill the mold. The next most important factor is removing moisture. Using the RV will cause condensation and moisture to build up. Be sure to dry and ventilate so that all dampness is removed before you close up the RV for storage of any real duration. If it’s damp inside the mold will return.

  • Annette Quinn

    Hi Curtis, we own a keystone outback 2010 just purchased last year. We noticed a poop smell occasionally when we have the air conditioner on. There is a slight smell sometimes with just the fan as well. There is also a sulfur smell coming from the closet that is over the hot water tank. Any ideas of what the cause may be and how to get rid of it?