Friday, December 9, 2022


Sniffing out RV smells and how to eliminate them


By Gail Marsh
We’ve all been there. You come home to your RV after a day out and what greets you as you enter? A smell. And not just any smell. A horrible smell. It’s not always easy to identify the cause of the smell and harder still to eliminate it. Maybe these tips will help…

Some RV smells can indicate danger

  • Gas or electrical odor — If you smell propane (rotten eggs) or burning electrical wires get out of the RV immediately. Call a professional.
  • Ammonia odor — Ammonia gas is harmful to humans. Immediately air out the RV. The smell may be coming from your refrigerator. If so, it’s probably not a DIY job. Call a technician.

Some odors just smell bad!

  • Holding tanks — Be sure to completely empty and thoroughly rinse your holding tanks regularly. Use a tank treatment product inside your black tank to control odors in between emptying. Also, check that the toilet gasket is in good shape. The gasket should always hold a little bit of water inside the toilet bowl. If yours doesn’t, sewer odors may be leaking through the worn gasket and into the RV.
  • Kitchen/bath trash bins — Empty the trash bin and wash it thoroughly with dish detergent or a spray disinfectant. Rinse and wipe to remove most of the moisture. Set the can in the sunlight to dry, if possible. When it is completely dry, place a scented dryer sheet or laundry scent beads in the bottom of the trash can. Always use a trash can liner. It will prevent liquids from pooling at the bottom of the bin where they will eventually cause unpleasant odors. Experiencing liner bag leaks? Put folded newspapers in the bottom of the trash can bags. They will absorb any liquids you put into the plastic trash bag.

And even more RV smells in the galley

  • Dishrag/sponge — Ugh! Soak the dishrag in a 25/75% mix of laundry bleach and hot water for five minutes. Then launder as usual. Toss that sponge. Or if it’s still in working condition put it in the dishwasher’s utensil compartment for a complete dish cycle. No dishwasher in your RV? No problem! Use the microwave. Make sure the sponge is completely saturated with water. Then put the sponge into the microwave for 90 seconds. Be especially careful when removing the sponge. It will be very hot!
  • Refrigerator  — Every time you open the fridge there’s potential for the inside smells to get outside. Make it a habit to clear your fridge weekly. Store more fragrant food items (like cut onions) inside airtight containers. Use a soapy sponge or cloth to wipe off any spills inside the fridge. Be sure to clean beneath the jug of milk where sour milk may hide.
  • Drains — Pour ½ cup baking soda directly into the drain. Follow with ½ cup white vinegar. Let the mixture bubble and clean for 20 to 30 minutes. Then pour a gallon of hot water down the drain. (Use the same mixture for bath and shower drains.)

More RV smells which you can easily resolve

  • Funky towels — Put 2/3 cup OxiClean™ into a large container, like a big plastic dishpan. Then fill the container halfway with hot water. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the powdered cleaner. Add towels one at a time, making sure each towel is completely submerged in the water. Add more hot water if needed. Let the towels soak overnight (or longer if they’re really musty). Wring out towels and launder right away in hot water. Immediately when the wash cycle ends, put towels into the dryer. Dry on hottest setting. If this doesn’t cure the towels’ unpleasant odor it may be time to replace them.
  • Shoes — Check for debris on the bottom of shoes. (Animal poo is the worst!) Thoroughly scrape the bottom and sides of shoes. If needed, dip a scrub brush into a 1 to 1 ratio of water and white vinegar to clean the soiled area. Rinse with warm water and dry outside if possible. For the inside of stinky shoes, rub the insoles with a cotton ball moistened with rubbing alcohol. (Be careful not to saturate the cotton ball.) Or check to see if the insoles are removable. You can wash many insoles in dish soap and water. Just be sure they are completely dry before reinserting them into your shoes.
  • Under mattress, inside closets/cupboards — You might be smelling mold. Check these hidden areas and clean any mold with a bleach solution. Check the RV roof and sides for places where water may be leaking inside. Fix the leaks. These hidden areas also serve as a nesting spot for rodents and may hide bugs. Clean these areas thoroughly and work to prevent the critters from entering.

Keep the RV smelling sweet

  • Air out the RV often. Open all the windows and doors (with screens in place). It’s best to do this on a low-humidity day. If that’s not possible, air out the rig for 30 minutes, close up windows and doors, and then immediately run the air conditioner to remove humidity from the RV’s interior air.
  • Use a shower squeegee after every shower. Push as much water as possible down the drain. (This will help keep your shower glass doors cleaner, too!) Toss damp towels into the dryer or dry them outside.
  • Put an open box of baking soda inside your refrigerator and/or freezer. It will absorb unpleasant odors and keep areas fresh. Change out the soda every month or two.
  • Contain the dirty clothes smell inside a laundry bag that can be closed.
  • Run the kitchen exhaust fan when cooking. (There is absolutely no cooking of fish or bacon in our RV. Ever.) Clean up cooking pans, dishes, and utensils immediately after use.
  • Periodically clean your RV washing machine.
  • Use a fabric deodorizer like Febreze on curtains, cloth furniture, and rugs.
  • Keep excess moisture out with RV dehumidifiers.

Do you have additional tips for keeping your RV smelling sweet? Please share them in the comments below.


Cleaning RV air vents: A simple, important task to breathe easy


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Janey Phillips
1 year ago

For general good smell in the RV (not remedial for a problem, just to make it smell nice) put Irish Spring soap, still in the box/wrap, in multiple places inside the RV: in cabinets, under the couch, etc. We did this originally after having read it might repel mice (unlikely) but the great side effect was a very pleasant but muted fragrance in the RV the next time we entered it.

Bruce LaHargoue
1 year ago

Holding tank-like odors can sometimes be caused by a failed air admittance valve under the kitchen or bathroom sink. These valves are used in RVs instead of roof vents used in sticks and bricks homes. You can find replacement valves at big box hardware stores.

Carol Singletary
1 year ago

I was just going to add this myself. The grey tank can smell as bad as the black sometimes, and a defective air admittance valve lets all that nasty into the RV, especially on travel days.

1 year ago

When feeling the evil effects of eating that big plate of potatoe salad, baked beans, &
hot dogs, step outside instead of blaming it on the dog.

David Telenko
1 year ago
Reply to  Don

Spot on +1

Kaye Green
1 year ago

I woke up a with a foul smelling smell similar to a dead animal. We have been very careful about mice and have never seen any evidence of mice. My first thought was an animal somehow got in and died. I proceeded to remove every drawer to look behind with no success. I finally tracked down the smell to our laundry bin. We had shrimp a few days before and I used a dish towel to dry the shrimp thoroughly before air frying. I immediately ran a load of whites with bleach and cleaned the laundry bin. A few days later the washing machine smelled horrible. Before I insisted my husband remove the stacked washer and drier out of its cabinet to look for dead animals, I decided to thoroughly clean the washer including the rubber seal. As I ran a wash cloth soaked in bleach around the inside seal, I found 3 rotting shrimp. Evidently, they had caught on the dishcloth and then lodged in the washing machine seal while being washed. Now I clean the washing machine seal every time I use it

1 year ago
Reply to  Kaye Green

I think you may be on to something here….throw out the air fryer, and try steaming the shrimp in the washer, add a load of socks for a little extra flavor.

1 year ago
Reply to  Larry