RV life is full of weird smells. Seriously, I feel like every time I turn around I’m sniffing out a new odd scent and trying to decide how important it is to track it down. You see, some scents are completely harmless—yes, I’m talking about you, last night’s dinner leftovers—while others could actually signal a real issue.
Wondering how you know which is which? Well, to be honest, it’s always a good idea to track down any odd scents just to be on the safe side. However, it’s also nice to have an idea of the most common scents RVers complain of and what causes them.
The five scents below are the ones I hear of most often, and some of them I’ve even smelled for myself in my own home-on-wheels. Some have more than one potential cause, but all should be addressed in a timely manner, and a couple should even be considered an emergency.
1. Rotten egg smell in kitchen or bathroom
Rotten eggs are never something you want your home to smell like. Unfortunately, there are a few different things that can cause this smell in your RV. One of these is, of course, rotten eggs, and it is always a good idea to check your fridge before getting worked up about any weird smells.
That said, rotten eggs are probably not the issue since I doubt you ever let eggs sit around long enough to rot. The other two possible culprits actually have nothing to do with eggs, and both are things you’ll want to look into.
Potential culprit #1
Possibility number 1 is propane. Propane actually doesn’t have a smell of its own, but a stinky smell (akin to the scent of rotten eggs or skunk spray) is added to the gas in order to ensure gas leaks can be quickly and easily detected. If you smell propane in your rig, you’ll want to get out right away.
The next step after evacuating the rig is to determine the cause of the propane smell. This could be a leak, in which case it will need to be fixed immediately before the RV can be used again. It could also be as simple as the propane running low, so make sure to check the fill level of your cylinders.
Potential culprit #2
Another possibility is your water heater. If you only smell the rotten egg scent when running the water, this is likely your problem. The smell is caused by an anaerobic bacteria that lives in some water and reacts strangely to the sacrificial anode rods in many RV water heaters. This won’t hurt you, but it sure doesn’t smell pleasant.
To fix it, thoroughly clean the system using water and hydrogen peroxide, and replace your anode rod with one comprised of aluminum and zinc combined.
2. Sewage smell in RV bathroom
That stinky poop smell in your RV? Well, it’s probably poop. Black tanks have a tendency to get stinky over time, especially if they aren’t rinsed well after every use. There are many solutions to this problem, and the internet will argue ‘til the cows come home about the best one.
My best tried-and-true tips are as follows:
- Rinse the black tank well using a black tank cleaning wand.
- Always use a drop-in tank treatment such as this one.
- Make sure your toilet is sealing properly and that the bowl is holding a small amount of water at all times.
- Check your black tank roof vent for any clogs that could be preventing smelly gases from escaping.
3. Salon smell coming from drains
Another weird tank smell is that of a salon. This one comes up through the sink and shower drains and smells nearly identical to a hair perm. It is the smell of a gray tank in need of cleaning.
Unfortunately, cleaning a gray tank is actually a bit more difficult than cleaning a black tank due to a lack of accessibility. However, a tool such as this should do the job. After it’s cleaned, be sure to use a tank treatment liquid after every dump.
Also, please note that while the salon smell is super common for our RV, it isn’t the only smell a gray tank can give off. Therefore, any odd scents coming from sink and shower drains should be treated the exact same way as the salon smell.
4. Ammonia near RV fridge
The smell of ammonia in your RV is never a good sign. This smell is pretty unmistakable and it means a problem with your fridge. Along with the smell of ammonia, you may see a leak from the fridge and will definitely notice a rise in your refrigerator temperature.
Unfortunately, a leaking fridge is not generally repairable and it will need to be replaced. Until you can replace the unit, be sure to shut off the propane and power to the fridge in order to prevent any further issues.
5. Musty or mildew smell in RV
Lastly, there’s the dreaded musty or mildew smell. This can be found in any part of the RV, but is particularly prevalent in corners, under mattresses, and in other small nooks and crannies. This is the smell of a water leak, and it likely means water damage, as well as the potential of mold.
If you smell a musty cave-like smell in your rig or if you notice the distinct scent of mildew, sniff it out and pinpoint its location. From there, you’ll have to assess the damage and decide how to fix any mold or soft spots to make your RV safe once again. Keep in mind that some molds can wreak havoc on the body, so you may want to move out of the RV while repairs are being made.
Hopefully this article has helped you pinpoint the problems that are filling your RV with odd smells. Make sure to take care of your issues quickly, as the sooner you act, the easier most of these things will be to repair.