How to Survive and Deal with Common RV Odors

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Nothing is worse than living in smelly quarters, but you shouldn’t have to live that way in your trailer or motorhome. In the confined space of a RV, you should be able to keep it smelling great, even on long trips, or extensive periods of camping out. As living in a camper means spending a great deal of your daily life in the confined space, odors that might not otherwise be noticeable in your house, can become unbearable in your RV. Therefore, you must have a plan for dealing with the different types of odors you might encounter.

Below are some possible causes of odors and how to get rid of them, remember one of the keys is ventilating your RV as frequently as possible.

    • Body odor. By making sure that everyone showers regularly, and changes their clothes daily, body odor should not become a big problem. Don’t use laundry bags for dirty clothes between washes, instead consider using an airtight closed container such as a trash can. You can add a scented fabric softener sheet to the container to help minimize the odors.


    • Waste from your black and grey water tanks. There are quite a few different brands of tank treatments available. Your RV tanks have the potential to create a serious odor problem, they need to be treated properly on a regular basis.


    • Toilet/Sewer Smells. Keep air freshener in the bathroom. Some people light a match after bowel movements, but it only hides the smell temporarily. There are many chemicals available 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.
      There is often a lack of adequate ventilation for the black water tank which is vented out the roof of the RV. However, while driving, the wind will push air back down the vent pipe, rather than draw the RV odor out. Therefore, we suggest using other kinds of vents. Some vents are designed to create a powerful vortex to suck the odor out of the black tank.


    • RV Refrigerator Odor from Rotten Food. Wipe down the inside of your refrigerator with sudsy water after each outing and periodically do the same with the freezer. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors open to allow all moisture to evaporate. Leave a box of open baking soda in the refrigerator and freezer to absorb any further refrigerator odor that may develop again.


    • Trash Odor. Empty your garbage frequently. Throw out fast food, wrappers and fish bones after eating. These create some of the strongest smells. Add a box of baking soda to the base of your trash under the disposable bags, so it can absorb odors.


    • Ammonia Odor. If you experience a strong ammonia smell, it is the cooling unit of your refrigerator. The smell is so strong, it will bring tears to your eyes. Only professionals at your RV dealer can and should rectify this.


    • Propane & Odor. Propane odor can come from the propane tanks, a stove, oven, refrigerator, water heater, furnace or the gas lines connecting these appliances to the tanks. Use a small brush and soapy water to check fittings for leaks. Caution: make sure you have adequate ventilation before you go inside to look for the problem. If you aren’t knowledgeable about how to handle this, call the professionals.


    • Pet odor. Like people, pets should be bathed often and their bedding washed after each trip so it will be fresh for the next trip. For pet stained carpets, you may want to consider removing the carpeting and installing laminated flooring instead. If you can’t, you can have your carpeting and upholstery professionally cleaned a few times a year. This will take care of much of the odor. If pet urination is a daily issue, keep cleaners handy; sprinkling baking soda on the affected areas after cleaning is great at removing odors. You may want to add some throw rugs to help keep the carpeting as fresh as possible for as long as possible.


    • Mildew and Musty Odors. As RVs are prone to interior moisture and condensation which can cause a lot of damage. We recommend wiping down your windows, shower doors and other areas where moisture accumulates. You can use of a power vent, stove vent and/or dehumidifier to get rid of some of the moisture. In addition, use a desiccant or damp trap. It is a container with a substance that absorbs water and removes humidity. You will have to empty the water out of it from time to time, otherwise it will overflow or spill. You can use a few of them throughout the RV.


    • Smoke Odors. Odors from BBQ pits, cigarettes and cigars can permeate everything. Try an air quality manager that works with odor absorbing ingredients and small fans to eliminate odors in the air. Add a cup of baking soda to a load of wash, along with laundry detergent to get the smell out of clothing. Launder your curtains, bedding and pillows the same way or take them to the dry cleaners, if they aren’t machine washable. Vinegar will cut the tar and smell from cigarettes from the hard surfaces, spray and wipe down furniture, appliances, carpets and curtains. Spray your upholstery and carpeting with Febreeze or Odor Eliminator. Smoke odor also clings to light bulbs, every time you turn a light on, it heats up the chemicals that have adhered to the bulb. So, if the cigarette smoke is from a previous RV owner, replace all bulbs.


  • General Odors. Use your slow cooker to “cook up” some delicious odors like cinnamon, cloves, and other spices.


Happy Camping!

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