RV/Camper Smell: How to rid yourself of the musty moldy

If you have ever been shopping for a used RV, you can definitely relate to this topic. Letting an RV sit around unused and closed up for a couple of months takes its toll. A little moisture on the carpet or a black tank not properly dumped can bring the RV smells to the forefront quickly.

The refrigerator has an unwanted leftover sandwich from your last outing, Kitchen sink with a hidden nugget in the drain. Smells can come from any direction in a camper, as you probably know all too well. So, let’s discuss, How to prevent and eliminate musty camper smells.

You don’t need to have a brand new top of the line RV to have a clean-smelling one. These toys are big investments and they need to be treated as such for them to last. Also to keep out the musty camper smells!

We spend a lot of time in them (some more than others) and keeping them clean and fresh takes a little work.

Air fresheners are fine, but they usually just mask the odor. you need to fight the musty camper smells at the source to get rid of them completely.

How to Prevent and Eliminate Musty RV Smells

Table of Contents

RV smells- How to find, eliminate and prevent them from ruining your adventure. couple driving in new RV.

How to Prevent and Eliminate Musty RV Smells

RV smells will only take a back seat to your fun and exciting adventure for so long. Eventually, they are going to rear their ugly heads and take a stand. The good news is, we have some great ways to defend your ground and take back your RV. Hopefully, we can help you remove and prevent those musty camper smells for good.

At first, you think one of the kids really needs to shower, or maybe someone left a sandwich out to let it marinate in the heat. You search around and find no food growing hair and realize everyone has had their daily bath, what could this be?

You will be traveling around from state to state, park to park and the last thing you want is a cloud of nastiness floating through the close quarters of your RV. Something has to be done about this, and now! RV smells can be overwhelming ar best.

RV Smells -  How to find, eliminate and prevent them from ruining your adventure. man holding his nose.

8 ways to prevent and eliminate nasty musty RV smells from your life

Here are 8 ways to reduce or eliminate odors from your RV and make inside life much more pleasant. The best part is some of these cleaning ideas use products readily available to most people right at home. Don’t let RV smells take hold or they may not give your RV back.

RV smells- How to find, eliminate and prevent them from ruining your adventure. dirty pair of tennis shoes.

8. Drain and clean your black Tank

Let’s just go ahead and get the worst of the smells taken care of and out of the way. Bathrooms can be down right nasty if not cleaned and maintained properly. This is especially true in an RV with holding tanks being right below your feet and sewer connection not much farther.

Let’s start with the basics

Has your tank been dumped and cleaned properly?

If you need a refresher on this, check out How to maintain your black tank in a few simple steps

Once you know your tank has been dumped and cleaned the right way, let’s keep it that way.

Check here for the best black tank treatment – also a good read

Black Tank Tips

  • Always keep your black tank closed when hooked up to the sewer to allow liquids to remain in the tank and keep solids from becoming…. well solid. If you leave your tank open it will let fluids out and solid waste will build up and create the dreaded poop pyramid.
  • A good rule of thumb is to dump every 3-6 days, but you also should dump once you reach the 2/3’s mark. This will control odors entering your RV and keep your tank from becoming too heavy. Weight can loosen seams for leaks and straps that hold the tank in place.
  • When possible let the Gray tank remain closed to collect water that can be used at a later time to help flush lines while emptying the black tank.
  • Don’t be afraid to use plenty of water when flushing to assure the tank has enough water to start the solid waste breakdown process.

7. Don’t let the smells linger

Remember you have a small space and with it comes little air circulation.

So, when you cook that fresh catch of the day, it is going to smell up the whole RV, if you cooked it inside.

That spoiled plate of food that has been sitting in the fridge for 2 days too long.

Or that pizza that you just dripped cheese all over the oven for, that really did not taste good anyway.

These smells will linger and seep into the walls or any cloth materials around.

The solution is when you have these odor clouds floating around, clear them out as quickly as possible.

Open windows and vents, and turn on your Max fan if you are lucky enough to have one, or really anything that gets the air flowing to break these smells up before they settle in to make life unpleasant.

6. Close it back up tight

Once you have cleared out the smells, shut windows and doors to keep other smells from coming in to replace the ones you just removed.

Smoke from the bonfire outside or BBQ grill will smell up the inside fast.

Also smells and fumes from the generator if you have it running.

If traveling, your exhaust will send toxic fumes your way and they are hard to remove.

Depending on the person, you could also have a concern for dust and allergens making their way in and setting up camp.

Especially if you are boondocking and getting off the roads quite a bit, dust will find a way in and coat everything. I like to run the Max fan at one end and open a window at the other. This will clear out the whole RV quickly and shut everything back up.

I know, this is part of camping and you can’t stop it all from entering. You can though, reduce it as much as possible for a better experience.

After a while you may become immune to the smell, but visitors will be aware and probably not stick around long. (could be a good thing, depends Lol!)

5. Monitor your fridge regularly

Your refrigerator can produce some of the worst smells, right behind the black tank. We often get busy having fun and forget about some leftovers from 3 days ago. Until it penetrates your nose later on and you then have to go through the fridge smelling everything to find it.

RV refrigerators are usually not as efficient at keeping the proper temperature as a home unit is. This can reduce the time food remains fresh and it then starts to emit odors.

A small circulating refrigerator fan can help keep air moving and temps lower to extend shelf life a little.

Adding a box of baking soda to absorb odors is a good option and it can also be used to give the inside cleaning when needed.

What do you use to clean the inside of the refrigerator?

A couple of tablespoons of water in a small bowl mixed with 1/2 cup of baking soda to make a paste that is pliable enough to sponge on the surface needing cleaning.

  • Remember that nasty, smelly food you just threw out will try and find its way back in if you don’t dispose of it properly.

4. Water smells – the main source of musty camper smells

Yes, it is true! the water smells and could be one of your biggest issues in an RV as far as musty smell.

More than just the water itself, but surfaces that it penetrates can become hot zones for odors.

When the cloth gets wet and does not dry quickly enough, we start getting mildew growth and along with it the smells.

This can be clothes, towels, bedding, and furniture.

Also if you have carpet, it is the worst (as we will cover below)

This can be a major issue living in a sticks-and-bricks home, even more so in this small of a space.

3. Say no to Carpet

This is not the 1970s with your 3-inch shag carpeting that went wall to wall in your first house.

We are talking about an RV that gets a lot of traffic in a small area.

Moisture can be brought in in many ways, from swimming, coming back from fishing, running to the RV in a downpour, or as simple as the morning dew on your shoes.

Unless you circulate the air quickly and dry it out, it will start to grow mildew. Seriously, who has time for all that?

Carpet also traps odors, dirt, dust, and any debris that happens its way. Unless you have room for a residential vacuum, the Swiffer is not going to get the job done.

Tile, hardwood, or vinyl are much better flooring choices and also better at not absorbing odors.

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2. Clean your trap

We talked about how water can smell when left wet on porous materials, well sitting in drains can be just as bad.

Toilet bowls, shower drains, kitchen or bathroom sink drains, and even your outside kitchen or showers can produce unwanted smells.

Run water enough to clean out P traps occasionally.

Standing water is a breeding ground for bacteria and produces odors you just don’t want.

How do you clean kitchen and bath drains?

Pour a 1/2 cup baking soda and a 1/2 cup lemon juice down the drain. Plug the drain and let the solution work for about one hour. Finish by running the hot tap water down the drain and thoroughly clearing leftover debris and odors.

Cleaning your drains will help eliminate odors and also prevent the arrival of small gnats and drain flies from invading your space.

1. Storage bays need love too

Don’t forget about your under-storage bays. We often just throw things in them and walk away to let them smolder in the heat.

Mold and mildew can grow quickly in that environment and the smells will come along with them. Those smells will eventually make their way up into your space and make for some really bad roommates.

We often throw sewer hoses that were freshly used to move poop from one place to another. Swimsuits and wet clothes or towels get tossed in there to marinate. Water hoses that we know we never got all the water out of sit till next use.

Be aware of what you put in them and clean your storage areas often to keep them clean and odor free. At least try to do it whenever you have the opportunity to do so.

You will thank me later!


We have all invested a lot of time and money into our adventure toys, so why would we not want to take care of them? Usually, when camping, there is a lot of time spent indoors with the windows shut and odors roaming free. If you just take a few simple steps and do a little preventive cleaning, your time together in a cramped RV will be much more pleasant for everyone. Hopefully, this blog helps with how to eliminate camper smells.

There is not much room in most RVs and campers, why would we take odors along with us to take up space?

A great read for the new to RVing people – Most common problems with RVs you don’t want to see


Close your eyes for a moment and just think about this. It’s sunrise, and you roll out of your RV, morning air feeling brisk, fire from the night before taking its last breath as it’s trying to reignite. You find your favorite chair in the site, turn it to look out over the lake, and nestle in to relax. Birds chirping and fish jumping as the new day begins. This is what it’s all about!………. Now imagine a hot cup of coffee in your hand. Life just got so much better!

Visit us @ The GRIND Coffee Shop

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How to Prevent and Eliminate Musty Camper Smells