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Get Rid of Odors and Keep Your RV Smelling Fresh!

Video: How To Get Rid of Odors in Your RV

If you are an RVer, you've probably encountered some pretty, shall we say, interesting smells at some point during your adventures. We certainly have! And, believe it or not, they weren't always caused by what you might expect. Over the years, we've learned a few ways to get rid of unpleasant odors and avoid some of those funky smells all together. Here are a few ideas that work for us...

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Tip #1: It May NOT Be Your Black Tank!

We used to think that all "sewer" type smells were coming from our black tank, but that wasn't always the case. Sometimes, the grey tank can cause odors every bit as bad (and maybe even worse) than the black tank! So before you blame the black tank, think about what might be going on with its grey neighbor.

The grey tank collects the water from your sinks, shower, washer/dryer and dishwasher. And yes, believe it or not, it can create some pretty funky aromas! Like the black tank, the grey tank is an enclosed, dark, moist environment that is the perfect playground for bacteria. Add in a few stray food particles that make their way down there and you practically have a petri dish on board! Lovely!

Tip #2: How to Control Grey Tank Odors

If you are a part-time RVer who stores their RV for periods of time, your P-traps may be drying up. What is a P-trap and why would that effect the smells in your RV? A P-trap is part of the pipe under the sink and shower that holds a bit of water at all times. That water captures odors coming up from the grey tank and keeps them from entering your RV through your drains. If the P-traps dry out, there is no water barrier to block the odors. If you haven't used your RV in a while, running some water through your pipes will put that water barrier back in place and prevent further odors from making their way back up the pipe.

Tip #3: How to Clean Your Grey Tank

So how do you clean a grey tank to get rid of some of that lovely bacteria that may be partying down there? We start by draining the grey tank as much as possible. Then we add 1 cup of Cascade Dishwasher Detergent to hot water that we run to fill the grey tank about 2/3 full. We use automatic dishwasher gel because it removes built up grease and gunk without causing a lot of suds like a handwashing dish soap would.

As we drive to our next destination, the detergent sloshes around in our grey tank cleaning the walls and hopefully collecting any little bits of things that might be stuck on. A couple of hours on the road works well for a good cleaning. After we get to our next stop, we dump our grey tank and we are good to go.

This has worked so well for us in removing grey tank odors in the past, that now we do it every so often just to stay on top of keeping the tank clean, even when we don't smell anything.

Tip #4: How to Control Black Tank Odors

For black tank odor control, we used RV toilet chemicals when we were part timers. Today, we rely more on simple water. First, when we are connected to sewer at our campsite, we use plenty of water in the toilet. If you have a foot flush toilet, you can add water to the bowl by pushing halfway down on the foot pedal. Using plenty of water minimizes the chances that solids will build up inside the black tank.

We also use our black tank flush connection every time we dump our black tank. Yes... every time. We want to keep our black tank as clean as possible, so we always make sure that we allow enough time at the dump station to fill our black tank up once or twice with our black tank flush after that initial dump. You'd be amazed how much more stuff you can flush out of the tank after it says it's "empty".

If we have been camping without sewer hookups for a while and have filled our black tank completely a few times, we will sometimes add some water and a bit of Aqua Kem to the tank before we drive to our next destination.

Tip #5: Keep Your Fresh Water Tank Fresh

A lot of RVers like to keep some water in the fresh water tank for flushing the toilet or washing hands as they are traveling. Others believe in keeping a full fresh water tank on board at all times. We personally travel with about 1/3 of a fresh tank of water unless we will be camping without city water connections (in which case, we'll fill up the tank). However you choose to travel, the most important thing is to keep your fresh water tank sanitized and the water inside it fresh. If you park your RV or travel for several months without using the water in your fresh water tank, that water will become stagnant. That can not only lead to odors, but also bacteria growing inside your "fresh" water. And there's nothing good about that.

Tip #6: Keep Those Valves Closed

We've heard some RVers say that they like to keep their dump valves open when they are set up in a full-hookup site. We NEVER leave our valves open.

Your black tank needs water in it to break down solids. It can't do this if the valve is open. You don't want to build up the dreaded poop pyramid of doom. So keep that black tank valve closed until you are ready to dump.

A lot more folks talk about leaving their grey tank open. Here's why we disagree with that... Leaving your valve open leaves a direct open line between the inside of your grey tank and RV living area and the park sewer system. Any gasses in that sewer system can easily work their way up your hose into your grey tank and toward your living area. And maybe worse yet, those sewer systems sometimes have bugs and other critters living in their little ecosystem. Leaving your valves open gives them an unobstucted passageway into your RV. No thanks!

Tip #7: Fuller Tanks Dump Better

If your RV is like ours, the dump system is based on gravity. We find that our tanks dump more completely when they are fuller. So if we only have 1/3 of a tank, we will wait to dump until we hit at least 2/3.

But be careful. When a tank completely fills up, the water begins collecting in the drain pipe inching closer and closer to the sink, shower or toilet as it fills. If it gets too high, you will definitely notice a smell.

Tip #8: Minimize the Humidity

Humidity is not your RV's friend. Humidity is moisture in the air. That moisture can get trapped inside your RV and cause mold or mildew. That mold and mildew will cause musty smells. A good dehumidifier can go a long way toward minimizing the amount of moisture that builds up in your RV. We currently use an Electric Portable Dehumidifier that collects the water from the air and turns itself off when full.

When we were weekend RVers, we would set Disposable Moisture Absorbers on the counter of the RV while it was in storage. These require no electricity. They just sit on the counter and attract the moisture from the air. You throw them away when they fill up.

Running your RV's fans can also help to draw some of the humidity out of the RV especially during showers or when cooking.

Tip #9: Bring Fresh Air In

On a pretty day, there's not much better than opening the windows and turning on the fans and bringing some of the fresh outside air in. Just like your sticks and bricks home, an RV is a closed up box until you open the windows. Getting some good circulation of outside air can be a great way to freshen up the smell inside your RV, especially if you are camping in a natural area with lots of trees that smell good. On really nice days, we like to open the door also to let even more air flow in. We keep the screen door closed to keep the bugs out. Fresh air = good. Bugs = not so good.

Tip #10: Don't Always Follow Tip #9

As much as we love fresh air in our RV, there are sometimes where closing up those windows is a better choice (even if it's just on one side of the RV). If it's raining, we close the windows (we don't need more dampness inside... See Tip #8). If we are enjoying a campfire or cooking outside anywhere near the RV, we close the windows to keep the smoke and cooking smells outside (See Tip #13). If we are parked in a very dusty area or near a road with a lot of road dust or noise, we keep the windows closed. And if you are a smoker who smokes outside to keep the smoke out of your RV, you'll probably want to keep your windows closed as well.

Tip #11: Keep Your Air Vents Clean

While we're on the topic of air circulation, let's talk about your air vents. Both kinds of air vents: the standard RV vents that often have fans and the air return vents on your air conditioning system. Part of our RV maintenance routine is keeping all of our air vents clean. Clean vents mean better air flow and circulation, which means better air quality, which means better smelling (and probably healthier) air. Be sure to check all of your vents regularly to see if they need to be cleaned.

Tip #12: Don't Let the Dishes Pile Up

The last thing you want to do when you're out camping is to think about doing dishes. We get it. Believe me, we get it. But letting dirty dishes pile up in the sink will attract bugs and cause your RV to smell from food remnants, any standing water in the sink, and possibly bacteria that starts to grow there. Staying on top of the dishes will help keep your kitchen are fresh, plus it will be less of a chore than working your way through a pile.

To shorten our work time, we let our clean dishes dry on our KitchenAid Dish Drying Rack. We've owned this rack since 2014. It has plenty of room to hold everything (on most days), is stainless steel and really durable. We also really like the water catching tray underneath and the rubber feet that keep it in place on the counter.

And on days where we really want to save time, there are always paper plates!

Tip #13: Cook Outside When Possible

One big way we keep cooking smells out of our RV is to cook outside as much as possible. We prefer to spend our time outside anyway so this is something we've always done as RVers. It works especially well for anything with a strong aroma (because let's face it: even food that smells fantastic while it's cooking, doesn't smell so great the next day when the aging aroma is still lingering around... and in a small space it's really noticeable).

Cooking outside also keeps any heat and moisture associated with the cooking outside. Just be sure to pay attention to Tip #10 and think about where you set up your outdoor kitchen.

Tip #14: Fan-Tastic Fans are Super Useful

I don't think we've ever mentioned this before, but we absolutely LOVE Fan-Tastic Fans!! We have had these high powered fans installed in every RV we've ever owned. They really do a fantastic job (see what I did there?) of moving the air. We have one in our kitchen near the cooking area and in the bathroom. We turn it on every time we are cooking, showering or going to the bathroom. These fans are really helpful in drawing odors out of the RV through the roof. In fact, it is amazing how much airflow we get in our RV's bathroom with the door closed and the fan on.

So that we can use them in any weather (including rain), we have Vent Covers installed on our roof. This way the vents can be open and fans running without worrying about water coming in during a rainstorm. Another very similar option is the MaxxFan.

We hope these tips are helpful. We'd love to hear what works for you. Drop us a comment at the bottom of this post and share your thoughts. Thanks!

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