By Russ and Tiña De Maris
“Dear Low Tech RVing: When I open my RV refrigerator door, I about get knocked over by a strong ammonia odor. I only use ‘Simple Green’ to clean my fridge. Is there a problem here? —P.U. Proboscis”
Ammonia in the refrigerator? Say it ain’t so!
Didja forget to toss out the leftovers?
It’s yet another sad story from someone like P.U. Proboscis. Odors and RV refrigerators aren’t uncommon companions. Happily most are related to failure to take last month’s supply of forgotten leftovers out and pitch them. Sad to say, sometimes RVers returning from a trip have actually forgotten to remove food from the traveling fridge. After a while, the memories of the happy meals shared on the road turn into a nightmare. A good cleaning out may not always cure the problem. Some have found that commercial “pet odor” removing concoctions (found at pet stores) applied liberally to the inside of the fridge will actually remove even those “unforgettable” rotten food odors.
But the strong smell of ammonia in the refrigerator – that’s another story. Most RV reefers don’t work like the ones back home. Instead of using a compressor motor (highly energy consumptive), a combination of ammonia, hydrogen, and water is heated by a burner or small electric element. Through the magic of science and technology, these remove heat from the refrigerator box. Sadly, if the cooling system which seals this trinity of chemicals in matrimony is breached, well, all sorts of refrigerator hell breaks loose. If you smell the strong odor of ammonia around your RV refrigerator, its cooling unit is most likely kaput.
Replace the cooling unit?
Kaput cooling units can be conquered with replacements. And, yes, if you are very handy with tools you can probably do it yourself. If you feel hesitant, most RV repair firms can do it for you. However, the consensus among RV techie types is this: If your RV reefer is older than 10 years, it’s probably just better to replace the whole unit. After all, other things can go gunny bag too. New refrigerators come with warranties. Not that a multiple hundred or low thousand-dollar payout makes you feel good.
If your RV isn’t moving much, i.e., you spend all your time in an RV park with available electricity, you might consider replacing the confounded chiller with a small “apartment size” refrigerator unit. Lowe’s has a 7-cubic-foot model for a little more than $200. And, yes, you won’t have ammonia in the refrigerator if you install a 12-volt compressor-style fridge. From what we’ve seen, if you’re a boondocker, you’ll need plenty of solar panels and lithium batteries to make it work. Too spendy for our blood – we’re sticking with a conventional LP rig. And keeping a proboscis out for ammonia.
Photo credit, opening image (refrigerator only, edited in meme) Wwikitom on wikimedia.org.