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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!
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.
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:
I’ve been involved in RVing for over 50 years — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs and motorhomes. 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, 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. To date, I've shared my RV knowledge in over 300 articles here at The Fun Times Guide!