A stinky RV

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24445365953_a0299f6fce_zHave a favourite old RV that has seen better days, freshness-wise? Even a new RV can start to smell. After all, it’s a small, relatively confined space after; camping doesn’t always leave the humans and animals living within at their smelly best. Try as you might, between cooking and living, your RV might start to emit an odour. Luckily, there are a few easy things you can do to spruce up your space and help it smell as fresh as the beautiful wilderness outside your stinky door.

And with storage season almost upon us, now is the time to consider how you are going to freshen the place so you don’t start the spring off stale.


Baking soda your fridge. Make a paste out of ½ cup baking soda and a few tablespoons of water and use it to scrub your fridge. Then put a little vinegar (or even better, vinegar with some citrus essential oils) on a clean, wet cloth and wipe off the residue. Once the fridge is clean, put a box of baking soda (the kind with the open sides are best) to absorb odours going forward. Replace it every 3 months. And unless you like your cookies to taste vaguely like fish smells, don’t use it after it has done its odour-absorbing duty (though you can still use it to put out a small grease fire!)


Avoid carpeting. Carpeting has a lot of benefits – the coziness factor alone is enough to sell you on this RV addition. But be aware that carpets take an extra investment in time and energy to keep clean, dry and smell-free. Wouldn’t you rather spend time fishing or hiking in the mountains than vacuuming and scrubbing dirty carpets in your home-away-from-home? You can always put down a few area rugs to warm up the place. Choose pieces that can be easily shaken or dried in the sun, or even thrown in the wash, and you can enjoy the best of both worlds.


Regularly clean your water system. It full of clean water – how can it be dirty?! But the water quality in the areas where you travel might not be quite what you are used to, not to mention that bacteria can really thrive in a wet environment. At least once a year, you should flush the system.

To do this, you need to locate and drain the water heater (check the outside compartment and look for the drain plug, typically in the bottom left hand corner). If it’s hot or under pressure, don’t remove the plug.

Next, find the water line drains (one for hot and one for cold) at the lowest point of the RV system. Open and let these drain.  Drain the fresh water holding tank as well. You should also turn the water pump on to flush out any remaining water but turn it off once the water stops flowing.

Close all of the drains that you just opened.

Lastly, you are going to flush the system with bleach and fresh water. Use 125ml of bleach for every 60 litres of fresh water that your fresh water tank holds. Mix the appropriate amount of bleach with fresh water into a 4-liter container and pour it into the fresh water holding tank. Fill the tank almost full of water, and then turn on the pump. Run all the hot and cold faucets inside until you smell bleach coming from each tap; at this point, you can shut off all of the faucets. Let the bleach and water sit in the water system for 12 hours; if you can, drive the RV around a little to move the water through the system.

Drain everything again and repeat with fresh water (no bleach) until you can no longer smell bleach from the taps.


Drain and clean Your Bathroom’s Holding Tanks

Shock of all shocks: significant odours can come from your toiliets. Regularly emptying and cleaning your holding tanks is essential for odour-free RV living.

When your black tank is close to full (it drains easier when fuller), you securely fit your sewage drain hose, and then open the T handle valve on the black tank (the black tank should be drained first, ideally with grey water present in the grey tank). After it has completely emptied, take the opportunity to flush the tank with clean water.

Next, you can close the black tank valve and empty the grey tank. Emptying the grey water second gives you an opportunity to flush the system of the more odious black tank contents as well. You can flush the grey tank with fresh water after as well, but you don’t need to do this every time.

You can also start adding a few squirts of dish soap into the toilet periodically. When flushed into the holding tank, it can help keep it clean and prevent bacteria from adhering.


Clean your kitchen drains.


Dirty kitchen drains can also be a significant cause of RV odours. Food and waste can clog up drains and cause the water to drain slow, or they can just…stink. To keep this from happening, you can use water, vinegar and baking soda periodically to help reduce any residue that may stink or cause a clog.

Start with a cup of vinegar down the sink, then follow with a few tablespoons of baking soda. The combination of the two may foam like a junior high volcano project, but they should take offensive smells with them. Finally, dump four cups of boiling water down the drain. This should dissolve minor clogs and leave the drain odour-free.


Even the most fastidious cleaning can leave odours, but if you follow these 5 steps regularly, your RV should smell as fresh as the mountains!

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