Friday, June 2, 2023


Finding and eliminating RV ‘mystery smells’

There it is again! Each time you enter your RV, that mystery smell attacks your nose. It’s a weird, kinda’ funky, and difficult-to-describe kind of odor. Unwanted smells really irritate me, but even worse—sometimes I can’t find the source of the odor. “What is making the RV smell like this?!” Here are three mysterious smells we’ve experienced in our rig, plus tips for eliminating them.

RV washing machine

I’ve always loved our RV’s washing machine. Until I discovered that it was the culprit behind the overpowering, nasty smell inside our rig.

I happened to leave the washing machine door open as we left for the day. When we returned several hours later, the entire RV smelled really sour and, well, stinky. I looked all around the rig, before noticing the open washer door. An ah-ha moment followed!

Just like the washer in our stix-n-brix home, the RV’s washing machine features wide, rubber gaskets around the front-load door opening. Invariably, gunk and dirt get trapped inside the gasket. If not removed, that washer gunk will begin to smell.

To eliminate the odor in the washer, I ran the tub cleaning cycle. Then I used soap and water to clean away the remaining debris and dirt caught around the gaskets. Finally, I cleaned the detergent port and wiped it dry.

Now every time I finish laundry duties, I wipe dry the moist areas where mystery smells often originate: the inside of the glass door, rubber seal, and dispenser port. It’s best to leave the washer door and dispenser open afterward, so each dries completely.

Once every month or two I run a cup of white vinegar through the machine’s normal cycle. This gets the vinegar throughout the machine, to kill bacteria and prevent mold.


Our RV fifth wheel features a built-in vacuum. I don’t think it does a very good job, so I usually take our stix-n-brix Shark (bagless) vac along with us when we travel. I’ll admit, I never considered that a cleaning instrument could smell, but ours sure did.

Here are some potential causes of stinky odors in your vacuum: pet hair, mold, burnt belts, and excessive dust. Even though I emptied the vac dust bin regularly, it still emitted an unpleasant odor every time I vacuumed. After extensive investigation, I found the filter to be the problem. Eww! Pretty stinky. I opted to replace the smelly filter with a new one and the mystery odor problem was solved!

So now, here’s what I do. After each vacuum session, I empty and clean the dust bin. If your vac has a disposable bag, be sure to check it frequently. Toss disposable bags often. Don’t wait until the entire bag is crammed full! That will make your vac motor work harder, and you may end up with burnt belt smells. Clean and replace filters as needed, and keep brushes, wands, and hoses clean. If you want, you can place a drop or two of essential oils in the dust bag to freshen it.

Note: If you carry a wet/dry vacuum with you while RVing, take the same steps as outlined above. That vac has the potential to stink up your RV’s basement storage area, too!

Dead critter

I knew that whatever it was, it had to be dead. That distinctive smell was evident throughout our RV, but especially in the galley area. We looked inside each crevice, drawer, and hidey-hole we could see or think of. We aired out the RV and hoped the smell would go away.

No such luck! I knew we had to do something to locate and get rid of the “mystery smell!” Out of desperation, I began removing drawers to look behind each one. I also lifted the carpet inserts that lay at the bottom of each galley cupboard. Finally! There he (or maybe she?) lay. A mouse. A skinny, stinky, dead mouse.

After the mouse was removed from the RV, I thoroughly cleaned behind all of the galley drawers. I used Lysol spray foam followed by soapy water to clean the interior of cabinets and drawers to remove residual crumbs and mouse droppings. (Use caution when disposing of mouse droppings. Hantavirus is spread by rodents. Do not use your vacuum to clean them up!) Then it was time to go outside. Using a combination of steel wool and expanding foam, I sealed all of the holes and gaps I could find.

I’d learned the old wives’ tale as a child: “If you see a mouse, he’s not the only one!” So, I placed traps inside our rig. We didn’t trap any mice and haven’t seen any since. Success!

Now we regularly check for exterior “mouse entry points” and do our best to keep holes and gaps sealed. I also make sure to remove any food when our RV sits in storage, and always keep food inside tightly closed containers when camping. RVing friends swear by Fresh Cab as a natural deterrent but we haven’t had to use it. The mice have since stayed away!

Have you had any “mystery smells” inside your RV?

Have you ever had a “mystery smell” inside your RV? How did you find out what it was? Tell us about it in the comments below.


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


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P Larson
14 days ago

5 mice found in a semi-liquified state inside the toilet. Must have been one heck of a party they had!

14 days ago
Reply to  P Larson

Hopefully it is a direct drop toilet. I’m not sure a maceration style would handle more than 2 at a time.

Jim Johnson
14 days ago

If your roof vent doesn’t have an all-weather cover, install one. And for all RVs, once that cover is installed, make sure your roof vent is at least partially open when the RV is in storage. This will help control excessive moisture inside the RV. Excessive moisture can lead to mold, mildew and that damp high school locker room smell.

14 days ago
Reply to  Jim Johnson

Great reminder. Thanks, Jim.

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