Your home on wheels should be the comfortable base for some road trips to remember. But damp, mould or mildew makes for an unpleasant holiday environment – and worse, it could damage your vehicle and even your health.
So don’t put a dampener on your holidays – make checking for damp part of your pre-holiday routine, along with carrying out vehicle safety checks and choosing the right motorhome insurance.
Read on for our guide to preventing, detecting and treating damp, mould and mildew in your motorhome.
Why do motorhomes get damp?
Damp builds up when there’s moisture in the air that can’t escape. So the relatively confined space of a motorhome is the perfect location – especially if you’re travelling in rainy countries.
Moisture can result from condensation or water ingress. As far as condensation is concerned, steam from cooking and showers is a common cause, as are wet clothes – and simply breathing!
Water ingress can be harder to detect. Rain entering through gaps around windows, roof lights, awning rails and doors is a likely source.
In fact, anywhere there’s a hole cut in the bodywork of your vehicle, there’s the potential for water ingress and, consequently, damp.
Older motorhomes often have a wooden frame, which is prone to damp.
In recent years, manufacturers have been trying to counter the problem by using different construction materials, such as plastic blocks and bonding.
While older motorhomes are most prone to damp, newer ones are not immune.
Vehicles have to have a certain amount of flexibility when they’re on the road, so manufacturers use flexible sealant or rubber surrounds.
And these can become brittle over time and crack, letting in water from outside.
What’s the problem with a bit of damp?
While you may not mind too much if you get the odd spot of moisture on your curtains, damp really is a problem you need to tackle before it gets out of hand.
Damp that lingers in your floors, walls and ceilings will lead to mould and mildew. It can rot timber framework, and rust any metal parts.
That’s seriously damaging to your motorhome, which you want to be providing you with great holidays for years to come.
A damp, musty environment can also significantly detract from your enjoyment of your holiday.
You want to be experiencing life in the open air, not cooped up in a mildewed motorhome!
And worst of all, it can cause or exacerbate health issues, particularly respiratory problems such as asthma or allergies.
Moulds produce allergens, irritants and even toxic substances, so inhaling or touching mould spores can trigger an allergic reaction or asthma attack.
If you have a weakened immune system, for example if you’re on chemotherapy to treat cancer, you need to take special care that your living environment is free from mould and mildew.
How can I spot damp in my motorhome?
If you think your motorhome might be affected, or you want to be sure the vehicle you’re buying is damp-free, then follow your nose!
The first sign of damp is often that distinctive musty smell.
Look out for black spots around places where water might come in: joints, windows, roof lights and so on. You might see staining, too, which could be black, blue or even a pinkish colour.
However, water doesn’t always stick around the ingress points: it finds channels and pipes to run along. So you may spot water or damp and have no idea where it first entered your vehicle.
You’re also looking out for spongy or soft areas in the walls or floor. Try pressing your finger gently against any suspicious areas to see if there’s any give.
If the floor creaks underfoot or feels spongy, then it can indicate that damp has got into the layers of flooring.
This is a common problem with motorhomes, and one that needs to be tackled quickly.
When inspecting a second-hand motorhome, look for signs that it’s had problems in the past.
If you spot areas of internal panelling that have been replaced, this might indicate that there’s been an issue with damp.
You could also invest in a damp or moisture meter, which should give you an indication that something’s wrong before the tell-tale signs appear.
Test out at-risk areas of your vehicle before and after storing it for the winter.
Once you’ve detected damp, then it’s time to take action fast, before the problem spreads and causes serious damage.
Stopping water from entering your motorhome
Damp can be a little tricky to fix, so obviously it’s best to avoid the problem in the first place if you can.
The key is to plug up gaps where water can enter, reduce condensation, and increase ventilation.
Take care when washing the outside of your motorhome. Avoid using a jet wash, as this can damage sealant, particularly if it’s already weak.
If installing something on your motorhome, such as solar panels or a satellite dish, make sure any holes in the bodywork are properly sealed.
Unless you’re an accomplished DIYer, it’s best to get such jobs done by professionals.
Check all your ingress points such as doors and windows regularly, and pay attention to signs that the sealant is faulty, or the rubber surround is cracked.
Look for signs of cracks or gaps, too – don’t forget to check in hidden corners, such as under beds.
If you carry out your checks after a heavy rainfall, you may even see a trickle of water.
If you’ve had an accident in your vehicle – even just a small bump – then that can damage the bodywork of your motorhome and cause cracks that might be invisible to you, but still let in moisture.
Such checks may be a little tedious when all you really want to be doing is heading off on your road trip adventures!
But they’re an essential part of responsible motorhome ownership, along with safe driving and motorhome insurance.
They needn’t take long, and they’ll help preserve your vehicle for as long as possible, allowing for many more holidays in years to come.
Reducing condensation and increasing ventilation
To get air circulating around your motorhome, you need to get in the habit of opening windows or switching on extractor fans during or after cooking and showers.
Let the steam clear, even if it makes your motorhome a tad chilly for a while!
Avoid drying wet clothes in your motorhome wherever possible. It might be unavoidable at times, but it’s always best to stick them outside in the sunshine or under an awning.
Don’t forget wet dogs or children! Wherever possible, dry them off with a towel outside before letting them in.
You produce a lot of condensation, too, just from breathing, particularly at night. So try to keep windows open wherever possible, and make sure ventilation points are not blocked.
You want vents both low down and high up in your living area, to ensure a good circulation of fresh air.
If you find you still have a problem, some people swear by placing dehumidifier crystals or bowls of salt around their motorhomes to absorb excess moisture from the air.
Finally, if the problem’s really serious, you could use an electric dehumidifier for a while.
Treating damp and mould
Your motorhome needs a regular programme of maintenance to keep it in tip-top, holiday-ready condition. Tackling damp issues comes high up the list of essential tasks.
If you catch mould and mildew early enough, then you may be able to stop it in its tracks.
It can be a good idea to wear gloves, goggles or face masks while cleaning, particularly if you’re asthmatic or suffer from allergies.
Fill a bucket with warm water containing detergent, and carefully wipe away any black spots.
You could also remove patches with a mould removal spray: you may need to rub lightly, perhaps with an old toothbrush, to get them really clean. Leave for 20 minutes, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions, before wiping dry.
If bedding or soft furnishings have been affected, then remove them and wash them on as high a setting as possible for the fabric type.
Make sure they’re thoroughly dried before you replace them.
Wipe down all surfaces and vacuum all floors to remove the last spores of mould.
Then wipe all wet surfaces dry, and leave your motorhome to air for an hour or two while you collect all used cloths and throw them away.
They’re not particularly pleasant tasks, but you can use the time to dream about your next holiday.
Motorhome insurance arranged by Motorhome Protect can include unlimited cover around the European Union.
When the time is safe to travel, where will your travels take you?
Tackling leaks in your motorhome
However, such measures only really deal with the symptoms – you really need to tackle the source of the damp, too, otherwise the mould and mildew will be back in no time.
While water usually enters from the outside, it can also occur from cracked shower trays, pipe, sinks and taps.
By fixing or replacing these, you should be able to dry out your home on wheels fairly simply.
If the damp is due to water ingress from outside, that can be a tricky business.
One task you may be able to tackle yourself is replacing sealant around windows, roof lights or other areas.
Make sure you choose a good quality, flexible product that’s recommended for motorhomes.
But some areas of damp are far trickier to sort out, and you may need to call in the experts.
Cracks need expert attention to ensure there’s nothing seriously wrong with your vehicle.
And if the damp has got into your timber framework or floors, then get it sorted by professionals as quickly as possible to stop it spreading and ruining your vehicle.
In this case, the wood needs to be dried out, damaged areas replaced, and then the bodywork resealed.
It’s not a job for a casual DIYer, so find a local motorhome workshop who can identify the problem and carry out the work for you.
Workshops can also carry out habitation checks on your vehicle, checking for signs of damp that you might have missed and remedying the problem before it spreads.
It’s wise to book in an annual check – perhaps at the same time as you get your MOT and buy your motorhome insurance, so you don’t forget.
Storing your van
At the end of your summer or autumn travels, there are a few things you need to do before storing your motorhome for the winter to ensure that it is damp-free when you set off on your travels again next year.
Give it a deep clean, and use that time to check for leaks, cracks, or signs of deterioration in sealant or rubber.
Open all windows and doors while cleaning, and make sure you dry all surfaces thoroughly afterwards.
When your van is not in use, arrange soft furnishings and bedding so that air can circulate around them, or remove them completely and store them elsewhere. Leave cupboard doors open, too.
Once you’ve carried out all these tasks and checks, cover your motorhome in a waterproof but breathable cover.
Check on your van once a month or so, leaving the doors and windows open for an hour or two to let the air flow through.
Simple checks such as these will help prevent damp problems from developing so that when summertime comes around again, you’re raring to go!
And after all the hard work and care you’ve put into your home on wheels, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected with the right motorhome insurance.
Take a look at the range of policies available from Motorhome Protect to find the one that suits your needs and budget.
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today
Your vehicle represents a serious investment, so it’s essential you protect it with the right motorhome insurance.
Motorhome Protect arranges competitive policies that can include benefits such as cover of vehicles with a value up to £150,000 and camping personal effects up to £3,000.
Unlimited mileage cover is also available, as are discounts for club members. Contact our specialist team today to find the right policy for you.