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What's that smell?

RV Odor Removal Tips & Tricks

Nobody wants to hang out in a smelly RV, but unfortunately, even the best RVs can sometimes develop unwanted odors.

It can be hard to identify the problem, let alone find an appropriate odor removal solution. It’s important to treat the root of the smell, not just cover it up.

RVs might smell bad for a variety of reasons, but the most common causes are due to worn-out water heaters, propane leaks, unclean holding tanks, mold/mildew, and pests. Your RV might smell like rotten eggs, sewage, garbage, or mildew.

Pay close attention to the scent of your RV. If something starts to smell funky, that can be an early warning sign of trouble. If you locate the source of the problem and fix it right away, you can avoid dealing with major issues in the future.

There are lots odor removal tactics you can use, but you’ll need to use the appropriate solution for the problem. Simply covering up the smell won’t be very helpful!

Rotten egg smell

If you’ve ever smelled rotten eggs in your RV, you’re not alone. This is a common problem that can be caused by a few different things. In most cases, what you’re actually smelling is hydrogen sulfide. This is the same gas that you might smell around mineral hot springs or national parks like Yellowstone!

Most of the time, the culprit is a worn-out water heater anode rod. These are usually made with sulfur and magnesium. When they start to break down, these chemicals dissolve into the water. When they mix with water and bacteria, they create the pungent-smelling gas that’s filling your entire RV. This isn’t super dangerous by itself, but it smells bad and can be flammable if it builds up.

To fix this, you just need to replace the anode rod (a zinc model that won’t leak into the water is recommended) and flush out the contaminated water in your pipes. It’s a pretty quick fix. Just make sure to air out your RV so you can get rid of any lingering fumes.

A bigger potential problem is that you’re dealing with a propane leak. Gas doesn’t have a strong smell of its own, so sometimes companies add in a strong smell (similar to rotten eggs) so you can detect when a leak appears.

A propane leak is extremely dangerous, especially in a small enclosed space like an RV. Use a gas detector to see if this is the cause. If so, leave the RV immediately and call the office. You’ll suffer physical harm if you continue to breathe it in.

Sewer smell

You might also smell sewage from time to time. This is to be expected. After all, you do live in a small vehicle that has tanks specifically devoted to wastewater. Although nobody likes to smell sewage, it’s probably something you’ll need to deal with at one point or another.

RV black tanks start to smell pretty bad if you don’t take care of them. The best way to deal with sewage odors is to clean and maintain your black tank. You can do this by ensuring it has plenty of water in it. Some enzyme soaps can also be helpful because they break down waste and perform effective odor removal for you.

You also need to try to dump your black tank before it gets full. Aim to dump your black water tank when it is about 2/3 of the way full. If it fills up all the way, it can be difficult to effectively clean it later on.

Your sewage hookups could also be the source of some bad smells. If you suspect there is an issue with the connections, let us know.

Garbage smell

A garbage smell is usually easy to identify! It either comes from the garbage can or plumbing system. Standing water can smell pretty nasty, especially if you flush food down the drain.

If your garbage can is the source of the odor, this is pretty easy to fix. Just take out the trash, clean out the bin, and put in a fresh liner. We pick up trash daily starting at 9am.

Sometimes spills cover the floor or walls around your trash and stink up the RV. Open up the windows to let fresh air in and use an air freshener near the area.

If the smell comes from the drains, you might need to work a little harder. It could be caused by rotting food, mold, or bacteria that thrives in standing water.

The classic baking soda and vinegar combo can usually clear out most bad drain smells. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of baking soda into each stinky drain, then follow it up with 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Give it about 15 minutes to fizz and settle, then pour 1 gallon of boiling water into the opening.

If this doesn’t work, you may need to do a full system flush. Empty out your holding tanks and clean them thoroughly. Then create a mix of 1/4 cup bleach for every 16 gallons of fresh water and pump this through your pipes. Let it sit for at least 4 hours, then drain the system again and replace it with fresh water.

Moldy/musty smell

Everyone dreads dealing with mold, especially in an RV. It can be hard to get rid of without professional help, and it creates a strong musty smell that’s hard to ignore.

If you suspect that your RV might be developing mold or mildew, you need to reduce the humidity as fast as you can. Use dehumidifiers to dry out the air and create a less inviting atmosphere for mold.

Focus on areas that accumulate moisture, such as the bathroom, underneath sinks, or near windows. Thoroughly clean and dry each of these places. You can also spread desiccants around the area to absorb any extra moisture that shows up.

If the musty smell continues to stick around, try to sniff out the specific source. Sometimes it could be coming from old furniture padding that’s breaking down.

Clean your carpets and bedding regularly so you can stay on top of your odor removal game. Use vents to flush out excess moisture and run dehumidifiers to prevent mold growth. Fresh air can also help, so consider opening up your windows and doors when the weather is pleasant.

Pest smells

Finally, remember that it’s a possibility that pests could be creating the gross smells in your RV. These creatures might leave droppings, food waste, and secretions with a terrible odor. Keep an eye out for mice droppings, mysterious holes or cracks in your RV, and excessive bugs.

You can use scented deterrents such as peppermint oil to keep them away. This helps cover the smell, plus it can prevent pests from taking over your living space. Regularly cleaning will help you maintain a clean RV that’s uninviting to pests. In extreme cases, you may need to call in an exterminator.

Track your RV maintenance

Make sure you keep track of all your RV maintenance and repairs with an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance. Not only can you keep all of your documents in one place, but you’ll also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents.

Happy Camping!

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