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How to know if your RV fridge is leaking ammonia

By Dustin Simpson, California RV Specialists
If your RV refrigerator smells like ammonia you need to take action. It’s not something where you can wait three or four days to finish your camping trip before dealing with the issue. Ammonia is a toxic gas and can be harmful in the confined space of an RV or camper.

Signs of leaking ammonia

While the smell of ammonia is oftentimes enough to alert your senses that something is off, there is something else you can look out for: yellow staining near the refrigerator. If you notice yellow coming from your refrigerator and yellow stains begin to appear in and around your fridge, it is pointing to a likely ammonia leak.

If you suspect a leak, you should always refrain from lighting any burners, stoves, lighters, or matches that can cause ignition.

Risks with ammonia leaks

There are two types of risks when it comes to ammonia leaks:

  1. Exposure
  2. Fire and explosion

Ammonia exposure

Ammonia is a toxic chemical that, in high concentrations, can be dangerous to humans.
If you think you have been exposed to ammonia in your RV or camper, it’s important to take the exposure seriously.

If you suspect ammonia exposure, take these steps

  1. Seek immediate medical advice and/or attention if you feel burning of the nose, throat and/or respiratory tract.
  2. If exposed, wash eyes and skin as quickly as possible with large amounts of water.
  3. Open windows and doors to ventilate the area.
  4. Turn off the energy supply (propane) to the refrigerator.
  5. So long as it is safe, go outside your RV or camper into the fresh air.

Ammonia fire and explosion hazard

High concentrations of escaped ammonia in a confined area such as an RV or camper can be a fire and explosion hazard. That said, ammonia doesn’t pool like other gases so it poses less of a risk of fire and explosion than propane.

Again, if you suspect a leak, you should always refrain from lighting any burners, stoves, lighters, or matches that can cause ignition.

Make sure to see your refrigerator and/or manufacturer owner’s manuals for additional details, maintenance, and safety information.

If you suspect there’s a problem, contact your local RV repair shop and make an appointment to have it checked out.

This is another reason to have your RV refrigerator serviced at least once a year.

Hope this helps you better understand the seriousness of this situation.

Also by Dustin:

Make sure you check out Dustin’s website and YouTube channel for more helpful information.

##RVDT1918

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Steve Hericks
8 days ago

I’m a retired engineer….Always lots of scare tactics in these ‘theoretically helpful’ articles, often written by someone who knows next to nothing about the topic. The purpose of this article is to gain the writer attention, not to actually provide useful information.

The small amount of amonia in a cooling unit and the slow release rate of a pinhole caused by rust will never reach flammable levels. The only way a large leak is going to result is from catastrophic physical damage such as caused by a traffic accident which will occur in seconds and dissipate in minutes, far quicker than any deliberate reaction could occur.

It doesn’t take much work to find the flammability limits and learn that it would take a large leak from a source hundreds times larger than a cooling unit to become flammable.

‘Ammonia is (only) flammable at concentrations of approximately 15% to 28% by volume in air.’

L Beal
8 days ago

What if we are out in the boonies and no repair mechanic is nearby? Or no one is available to come fix it for weeks? RV repair shops are all backed up for months and won’t see us.

How do we fix the problem?

It’s nice to write an article and make sure people understand the seriousness of a situation but it’s better if said article offers temporary or permanent fixes to the situation.

Jesse Crouse
8 days ago

Ammonia is not just a “take care of it when you get back home” situation. It is deadly serious. Ask any refrigeration contractor the protocols for an ammonia leak. Get out and ventilate-NOW.

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