Recreational vehicles bring immense joy, offering the freedom to travel the world while enjoying the comforts of home – sleeping, eating, and exploring. However, this home on wheels comes with its quirks, and one of them is the potential for unexpected odors that can catch you off guard.
In such moments, the immediate reaction might be to reach for a room spray, hoping to mask the unpleasant smells. Yet, enhancing the overall freshness of your RV involves more than just a quick fix. The spray cannot permanently eliminate the unpleasant stench in the RV. With our tips, you can effectively remove bad smells from your RV.
How to Remove Bad Smells in the RV
Consider these 13 tips to maintain a pleasant environment on your travels:
1. Use baking soda to clean the fridge
I don’t want to go without the luxury of cool drinks, especially in summer. The RV fridge is therefore a must for me. Cleaning the fridge on the other hand is a tedious task that you should tackle regularly. The bad smell settles inside the refrigerator, which is caused by the storage of different foods. Even if you are careful when handling packaged food and drink, the milk carton that you open can still leave splatters. But even without stains, the smell will dissipate over time. So what do you do against unpleasant odors in the RV fridge?
A proven recipe is baking soda. Just take a bowl and fill a little water in it. Then add at least 1/2 cup of baking soda and use a wooden spoon to mix the mixture together until it forms a kind of paste. Then scrub and clean your camper fridge thoroughly with the baking soda paste. Your nose will thank you!
The bad smell in the fridge often occurs when you have turned it off for a period of time and are now using it again. When displaying, always ensure proper ventilation and leave the refrigerator door open at least a crack (a hand’s breadth minimum). If you want to leave the Wo-Mo fridge switched off while driving, leave a little space here for air circulation. Clamp a towel between the gap and fix the door, for example with duct tape.
2. Prevent and eliminate cooking odors in RVs
The ventilation in your RV works fundamentally differently than in your apartment or house. Even in smaller apartments, the air has to travel longer distances than in a motorhome. It doesn’t take that long for odors to build up and settle into the camper’s walls or furniture. It’s not your fault though – it’s just the way RVs are built, so nothing can be done about it.
But what you can do: You should fight the odor itself:
- If you know that you have to reckon with strong smells when cooking, use every conceivable ventilation: open every single window & door and turn on all fans. Do not leave out a window, the air should be able to circulate well.
- Use a conventional table fan and set it up in the kitchen area in such a way that it transports the cooking smells toward the window or door.
- If you are standing free, it is a good idea to drive the RV for a few minutes with the windows open. This helps to get bad smells out faster.
- Prepare dishes at home that have an intense smell when cooking, pack them airtight in Tupperware, and eat them at the holiday destination for the first few days.
- When the weather is good, frequent outdoor grilling is a good idea, so there is no cooking smell in the RV. If you use a grill near the camper, make sure to close all doors and windows. That way, the grill smell doesn’t get into the vehicle.
12-volt extractor hood: if you cook a lot in the RV
The best way to remove cooking smells is to combine open windows with a 12-volt extractor hood for the motorhome. Even stubborn odors are history after a short time. Kitchen fumes are not extracted by filters but are quickly transported outside. The performance of these extractor hoods is limited since they are only operated with low currents.
Nevertheless, the combination of a fan roof hood and open doors and windows is a good solution to eliminate kitchen odors in the RV. If you don’t use a range hood in the RV, try to use pot lids as often as possible. As simple as it may sound, the lid and proper ventilation are often enough to mitigate intense cooking smells.
3. Keep the kitchen drain clean in the RV
What to do if the kitchen drain is clogged, and the water is only draining slowly?
Basically, the kitchen waste leads to unpleasant odors at the drain, like collects below the drain hole of the sink. Over time and without cleaning the drain system, deposits will result in strong odors from the siphon and drain pipe.
There are different methods to clean the kitchen drain of the camper:
- A rubber plunger often helps against coarse dirt. But be careful and don’t use the plunger too hard. Otherwise, connections or clamps can come loose.
- Four cups of boiling water, one cup of vinegar, and two tablespoons of baking soda are good cleansers. Pour substance after substance down the drain, boiling water last.
- Crumble some denture cleaner tabs (check price) and put them in the siphon. Leave on for a few minutes and rinse with water.
When cleaning the siphon, you should not use too strong a “chemical club”. The same goes for the idea of using compressed air from the compressor. This method can tear off the clamps! If the siphon is already too dirty, you can unscrew it and clean it thoroughly or even replace it for around 20 dollars. A prerequisite for this is a freely accessible siphon.
The same applies to heavily soiled drain pipes or hoses: if they are “tight”, remove them (or have a professional do it) and clean them thoroughly.
4. Dispose of uneaten food in good time
I have often stored groceries in various cupboards, shelves, and the like. However, over the course of the camping holiday, I forgot. I had stored anything edible there, only to find the packet of granola bars or rice much later. On the one hand, many foods have a short shelf life before they go bad. This is less of a problem with pasta or rice, but things are different with bread, meat or fish. Many of these foods have to be kept in the refrigerator anyway to prevent them from spoiling even faster.
If you store food with a short shelf life for a longer period of time, you will notice an unpleasant smell of spoiled food, depending on the packaging. This is all the more true when large temperature fluctuations in the vehicle are part of everyday life – for example in summer with the air conditioning running for hours. It therefore makes sense to think carefully about where to store which food and ingredients before setting out on a trip and to use them up in good time, especially those with a short shelf life.
The second reason why you should not store leftovers and old groceries in the RV for a long time is uninvited guests: mice, rats, birds, insects, and other small animals. Such small animals especially like the interior of the camper when regular cleaning is not done or food and leftovers are within reach. So if you still notice a bad smell in the motorhome despite intensive cleaning, the stench can come from a dead mouse or other animal carcasses. Many camping enthusiasts eventually found the culprit behind panels, cupboards, or in ventilation shafts.
5. What you can do if the RV waste water tank is smelly
Nutrient-rich liquids and keyword pasta water are particularly problematic in relation to the formation of unpleasant odors in RV. If this is poured down the drain and stands in the waste water tank for a long time, it stinks very badly as gray water starts to rot after a while.
You can effectively combat and prevent the smell from the wastewater tank:
- During winter breaks and long downtimes, keep the drain cock open. This allows the tank dry.
- Empty the waste water tank as often as possible. This prevents the annoying odor from the wastewater tank immensely.
- Add chlorine cleaner to the wastewater tank at regular intervals. This reduces the germ load.
- On pitches and campsites, it is best to catch pasta water in a container before it can end up in the drain. Dispose of such nutrient-rich liquid outside of the vehicle after cooking.
- Since not every spout offers the space for siphons as an odor trap in the RV, you should press the plug of the sink or shower into the corresponding drain as a precaution after use.
- While driving the motorhome, make sure to push the plugs into the appropriate drains. Reason for this: During the journey, the residual water from the siphons gets in motion and spills over so that gray water odors can arise. The plugs prevent the odors from rising.
Emptying and cleaning the waste water tank regularly should be a top priority to prevent stinking and the best way to do this is with chlorine cleaners.
6. Thoroughly clean the RV upholstery and textiles once a year
If the upholstery cannot be zipped off, a special vacuum cleaner can be used to remove odors.
The odors and fragrances settle mainly in the upholstery and textiles in the camper. As the summer months approach, temperatures soar. This is accompanied by the production of sweat, which is immortalized in textiles. To a certain extent, you can prevent musty upholstery in the RV when it gets hot in the motorhome. Place bedspreads, towels, and other pads on the delicate upholstery.
If you only wear a few clothes, your upholstery in the motorhome will thank you. But even without the summer months, one or the other scent gets caught in the textiles in the RV over time.
If you have bought a used vehicle, you want to remove the smell of the previous owner as completely as possible. Anyone who smokes or takes animals on board must also expect stronger odors in the upholstery.
You should carry out a thorough cleaning of the upholstery and textiles at least once a year. When buying a used RV, it is advisable to replace the mattresses and curtains completely. To clean curtains, you should carefully remove them and wash them in the washing machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Upholstery often has zips so that the covers can be removed and cleaned in the washing machine. However, if these are missing, chemical cleaners and sprays for textiles, which are available in every hardware store, can help.
If you often go camping with your dog, you should tackle upholstery with cleaners to combat stubborn animal odors in textiles. Pet Animal Spray works on a microbiological basis and is comparatively environmentally friendly. Even better than sprays for textiles are special vacuum cleaners from specialist shops that you can borrow. The purchase is usually not worthwhile because these devices are quite expensive. Many specialist shops or hardware stores offer vacuum cleaners for hire.
The advantage of such a vacuum cleaner lies in deep-acting cleaning. A special solution is sprayed onto the fabric with the nozzle and is sucked off again after it has been left to act for a long time. The upholstery and textiles should then dry. With these measures, textile smells in the camper should be a thing of the past.
Avoid carpets in the mobile home and RV
Of course, carpets are great: you immediately get the feeling of a cozy atmosphere in the RV. Just like in your own four walls. However, as you will discover after a while, carpets are also the source of stubborn, smelly odors. Even if it’s unintentional, at some point someone will walk across the carpet with shoes or dirty feet, spreading dirt, bacteria, and more into the fibers.
Dog owners in particular should think twice before buying carpets for their RV. Sure, you can always clean the motorhome carpet as soon as it smells. But that can not only be time-consuming but also means that you have to treat it thoroughly with shampoo and cleaner.
However, you may not be able to completely remove the smell. That is why many motorhome owners recommend not using carpets in the first place. To prevent odors from developing on carpets in the motorhome, I recommend you remove the stains as soon as possible. You can achieve this quite comfortably with a compact hand-held vacuum cleaner for the RV, which can also vacuum wet.
7. Clean furniture fronts at regular intervals
Although furniture fronts are not quite as susceptible to absorbing odors as textiles, this can be stored over time. In particular, the cabinet fronts in the kitchen must be cleaned regularly because grease splashes and other residues collect there.
If you notice an unpleasant smell on the furniture in the RV, you should proceed as follows:
- Mix together 2 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of water, and 20 drops of tea tree essential oil, or lavender essential oil in an empty spray bottle. Such a vinegar cleaner is ideal for cleaning camper furniture.
- Alternatively, a biodegradable neutral cleaner is suitable for removing odors in and on furniture in the camper.
- In order not to create scratches on high-gloss furniture fronts, never use microfiber cloths, but cotton cloths.
- Now scrub all furniture fronts and the inside of all cabinets with vinegar-based cleaner or neutral cleaner.
8. What to do if the air conditioning in the RV smells?
The bad smell often sits in the RV air conditioning system. Harmful microorganisms can even accumulate in vehicle air conditioning systems, but there is a solution for this. On the one hand, you can have the air conditioning professionally cleaned by a specialist at regular intervals so that bad odors from the air conditioning system are history and harmful bacteria are broken down.
The AIRTHEREAL by specialist companies is carried out using special ozone generators. These devices remain in the RV for hours and spread ozone gas inside the vehicle. On the other hand, specialist retailers offer special devices for this task. One of them is the Airthereal MA5000. The tank of the ultrasonic nebulizer is filled with a special cleaning liquid, the air conditioning cleaner Aircon Refresh, and placed near the floor.
Airthereal MA5000 now produces mist that spreads throughout the vehicle. The ultrasonic nebulizer kills bacteria and microorganisms in just 20 minutes, after which the refresh-o-mat switches off automatically. Aircon Refresh air conditioning cleaner converts odors instead of just covering them up – these are therefore sustainably broken down.
The special cleaners from Airthereal can not only be used for the air conditioning system, they are also suitable for the deep cleaning of upholstery and carpets. The cleaner can be used for devices from other manufacturers. Airthereal also offers a hose set for the Refresh-o-mat. With this adaptation kit, the fogging of air intake ducts can be carried out.
A good solution for allergy sufferers: the ionizer (air purifier)
Ionizers are electrical devices that produce negatively charged electrons (ions). Not only particles of matter that cause allergies (bacteria, viruses, dust, pollen, bird dust) are filtered out of the air but also harmful gases, fine dust and cigarette smoke.
The ionization finally causes the natural concentration of negative ions to be reached again. Such a device produces between 20,000 and 200,000 ions per second. The ionizer works best at temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius and at 45 to 60% humidity. A good choice for allergy sufferers and smokers is this air purifier and ionizer.
9. RV Toilet Smells: What you can do to neutralize toilet odors
The most important tip for dealing with toilet odors in the RV is still: The cassette should be emptied and rinsed as often as possible. As a result, unpleasant toilet odors are kept to a minimum and the air in the toilet remains pleasant. Instead of using chemical additives that only cover up the bad smell from the camper toilet, there is a sensible alternative: The SOG system for cassette toilets.
Odors that would normally arise from the holding tank are simply sucked out. The central component is a built-in small fan that is switched on as soon as the toilet slide is opened. The air is drawn in. In this way, acts as a seal, so no faecal odors can rise to the top.
The SOG system uses biological decomposition instead of chemical agents. Because even when the slider is closed, there is a constant supply of oxygen to promote the decomposition process. Retrofitting the RV is not a problem, since the SOG system was designed as a kit for various models.
10. Musty smell in the RV: Identify moisture in the camper
After showering in the camper, a lot of moisture collects in the bathroom. Good ventilation is then particularly important.
Sanitary area in the RV is the number one source of moisture. Whether showering, washing or damp clothing: A lot of moisture is created in the shower area. The basic rule is therefore: After showering or when drying laundry, only open the bathroom door briefly and never leave it open for a long time.
If you use forced ventilation or mushroom fans, this greatly promotes the transport of moist air to the outside. After you’ve ventilated the humid air out, you can further reduce the humidity with a room air dryer.
If you have cleaned the vehicle thoroughly but still notice a musty smell in the RV, you may have a moisture problem due to damage to the vehicle’s body. When rains heavily, the musty smell in the RV has increased. This smell indicates leaks where water has penetrated the wood.
RVs are built with sandwich walls in which wooden slats are used for stabilization. In the worst case, the wood starts to rot if there is a leak, and the stability function of the wooden slats is no longer given. In order to understand such serious odor problems, you should act immediately at the first suspicion and visit a specialist dealer who can carry out a leak test. This test unmasks moisture damage at the same time.
The specialist not only checks the visible areas but also places measuring probes on the interior paneling of the vehicle so that the moisture in the walls can be precisely determined. If you have a measurement taken regularly when there is the slightest suspicion, you can often prevent serious interventions or prevent the spread of moisture damage.
11. The new motorhome smells strange? Tests of the breathing air in the RV
Are you looking forward to picking up the new RV, but immediately noticing unpleasant odors in the new vehicle? The smell from new closet smells of plastic, glue, or textiles literally stinks to high heaven in the brand-new camper you just bought. If the new piece of furniture or the adhesive smells strongly, this can indicate pollutants in the motorhome. To be more precise: carcinogenic formaldehyde! This is of course not something to be trifled with.
The first step for you is to ventilate the RV thoroughly immediately after purchase and only enter the vehicle if absolutely necessary. When the stench subsides, continue airing and then consider whether you need to take additional action. In the best case, the new vehicle smell should disappear completely.
If that doesn’t help, do a test to see if there’s a health hazard. Pharmacies sell special tests for this purpose. Mobile alarm device also has a function that you can use to monitor the air quality in your motorhome.
Keep in mind that RVs in the blazing summer sun that are not ventilated have a higher concentration of pollutants. Before testing, make sure you have a normal environment by parking the vehicle in the shade and airing it out beforehand. You should follow the instructions carefully so as not to falsify the result.
12. Regular ventilation and air fresheners
If you air the RV regularly two to three times a day, you can prevent unpleasant odors. On the other hand, this helps to avoid moisture damage. Similar to your own four walls, airing out is your best choice. Open all windows, skylights, and doors for about 10 minutes at least in the morning and evening. When you cook, you should always ventilate additionally.
If you want to counteract unpleasant odors in the motorhome superficially and in the short term, you can set up scented jars and air fresheners. But be careful – since there is significantly less air in the RV than in your home, the smell will quickly become too strong for you. So you should set up the little scent helpers with care or only use them in certain situations, for example after cooking.
Coffee powder or salt in an open container also binds bad smells. Depending on the type of bad smell in the RV (animal carcasses behind panels or other problems) household tricks only help in the short term or not at all. They are therefore not a long-term solution to serious odor problems. So you should always know why it smells bad in the RV and eliminate this reason permanently.
Sure, your RV can bring great holiday joy, no question about it! Remember, it can occasionally smell ugly if you don’t prevent it at the right time. With these tips, you should be able to enjoy your camping holiday to the fullest, free from unpleasant odors in the motorhome.
My question to you is:
What bad smells in the camper did you notice that I didn’t list? Write to us about the odor problem you have noticed in your RV.