We all love our campervans, after all they’re our trusty home on wheels and truly amazing machines. However, while they’re oh-so-fun and super-comfy they do have their downsides.

A significant one is the powerful whiffs that can really cramp our style. When you’re settling down to sleep at night or sitting down for lunch there are few things worse than wondering ‘what is that awful smell?’

If you need some help identifying the causes of these pongs and how to get rid of them, then read our guide to campervan smells.

While there are plenty of ways to put a stop to sniffs, the only way to protect yourself from accidents, damage and theft is to have insurance for campervans in place. Give our team a call today and get your insurance sorted now.

 

Causes of campervan smells and how to get rid of them

 

  1. My campervan smells of sewage

 

What’s causing it?

You won’t be surprised to hear that sewer smells in your beloved camper are likely to be down to your toilet and its cassette (if you have one) or your grey waste tank.

These smells tend to be more pungent the hotter the weather, but can appear at any time of year. If your grey waste tank is clean and working properly then you shouldn’t have any problems.

 

What to do

If you have a toilet in your van then give it a good scrub, empty the cassette and clean it out with a specialist toilet cassette cleaning product.

If you think it’s your grey waste tank then you’ll need to empty it at a suitable disposal point and give it a good clean inside.

To do this, flush through with plenty of clean water while keeping the drain open. Then close the drain and fill the tank to around 20%.

Add some specialist heavy duty tank treatment before leaving for a couple of hours – it might be worth taking it for a drive, so the whole lot has a good slosh around.

 

How to stop it happening again

If the problem is with your toilet then:

  • Scrub the toilet every day, both inside and out.
  • Clean the cassette inside every time it’s emptied.
  • Use lightweight toilet paper that breaks down fast.

If the problem is with your grey waste tank then:

  • Scrape food off dishes and pans before washing.
  • Use on-site washing-up facilities.
  • Use sink strainers on your plugholes to remove food, debris, hair, etc.
  • Empty your grey waste tank daily if possible.
  • As part of regular cleaning, flush the tank and pipes through.

Smells often occur during the summer and warmer weather when water has evaporated out of the drain traps and smells are able to escape up into the van.

An easy fix is to pour water down each drain to fill the trap back up and seal off the smells.

A small wooden sign pointing towards a toilet on a campsite

  1. My campervan smells of sulphur or rotten eggs

 

What’s causing it?

If you notice this smell, then a good idea is to check your leisure battery first. If it’s very hot and making a fizzing sound then your battery may have overcharged and ‘boiled’.

This means the battery could well have discharged sulphuric acid onto the battery and its container.

If it’s not your battery then the smell might be traced back to your grey waste tanks again. As we said before, it’s always wise to flush, clean and check your tanks regularly.

This smell sometimes happens if you’ve gone off-grid for a few days and you haven’t been able to empty out the tank. When you move off, all that long contained waste water sloshes around and releases some pretty nasty smells.

 

What to do

If your leisure battery has boiled, you’ll need to assume the battery is covered in acid. So, don’t touch it!

Instead, immediately disconnect any hook up so the battery is no longer being charged. Then wait for it to cool down and for the smell to disappear.

Unfortunately, this usually means your battery has had it and will need to be replaced.

 

How to stop it happening again

However careful you are with your batteries, they don’t last forever and will eventually need replacing. But there are steps you can take to prolong their life.

  • Keep your battery fully charged, particularly when you put your camper into storage over the winter months.
  • Never allow your battery to run flat. This will cause damage and greatly reduce lifespan,
  • Instal solar panels. Solar panels are a great, environmentally friendly way to keep your battery topped up.
  • Check the charge level regularly. This will alert you to potential battery problems.
  • Keep it secure. As a pre-trip check make sure it’s secured upright and doesn’t move around too much. Use high quality clamps for a good connection and secure fit.
  • Keep it clean. Every year, clean the battery tray, terminals and connectors. Smear a bit of petroleum jelly on the connectors.
  • If in any doubt, get it checked by an expert.

A leisure battery plugged into a campervan

  1. My campervan smells of damp

 

What’s causing it?

The dreaded damp or musty smell in a campervan can really ruin your holiday. And it can be a tricky one to get to the bottom of because there could be a number of possible causes.

Start off by checking for any obvious signs of condensation or mould in the van. Particularly anywhere that air isn’t free to circulate, such as above a pull-down bed or beneath seat cushions.

Condensation and resulting mould are caused by the introduction of moisture into your camper. Perhaps through wet clothing, cooking or even just the natural act of breathing during the night.

This moisture becomes trapped in the air and eventually settles inside as condensation, unless there is freely circulating air to move it out. Eventually this can lead to a growth in mould and unpleasant smells. 

Next, check under your sinks for any leaking taps or pipes. It could be something as simple as a loose jubilee clip or damaged seal that needs replacing. It’s surprising how much water a slow trickle can leak into your camper.

Finally, don’t forget to check for external leaks, too. The seals around windows, doors, hatches and vents are all common places where water can get into the fabric of the campervan.

It may take years for this to become noticeable, but it could be the cause of the smell.

 

What to do

The solution will entirely depend on what the cause of the problem is. If condensation or mould are present then you need to reduce the amount of moisture in the air.

For example, remove any wet clothing you have drying inside, fit a vent and open windows to ensure good ventilation. Then clean off any mould with a specialist mould remover.

For a leaking tap or pipe then a competent handyperson should be able to fix it. Campervan plumbing is relatively straightforward, but a professional might be required if you’re not confident.

If you’ve got a leak from outside then this can be a major problem and cause a lot of damage to your camper. Get an expert in as soon as possible to check if this is the case.

 

How to stop it happening again

Using your campervan regularly and staying on top of any ‘little’ jobs is a good way to keep the damp and musty smells at bay.

Condensation on a campervan window

  1. My campervan smells fishy

 

What’s causing it?

Apart from someone cooking fish in your camper, the most likely explanation for a rather ‘fishy’ smell is the electrics. Dodgy electrical connections can end up effectively cooking the surrounding plastic and making that awful pong.

 

What to do

Get help from an auto-electrician or other suitably qualified person. It might just be a dodgy fuse but if it’s a loose connection somewhere then it will involve removing socket covers and exposing wiring. Something for the professionals.

 

How to stop it happening again

Getting a professional to perform a regular electrical safety check on your campervan is the best way to stay ahead of problems. Just like arranging campervan insurance, it’s important to get specialist advice.

 

  1. My campervan smells of ammonia

 

What’s causing it?

A common source of this smell, if it’s around your fridge, is leaking coolant.

As well as the whiff, a tell-tale sign of a leak is yellow staining around the back of the unit.

Alternatively, if you have a toilet in your camper the smell could be connected to that. When urine is stale, it can produce an ammonia smell.

 

What to do

If it’s your fridge then you’ll want an expert to take a look. It’s likely that a new cooling unit or a new fridge will be required. If you think it’s the toilet, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the area.

Other common causes of unpleasant smells in your cherished camper

  • Carpets - Those cool vintage carpets can be notorious for holding smells and damp in campers. Apart from laying a brand new carpet, hire a powerful carpet cleaner and go over it until the water runs clean. A spot of elbow grease is sometimes the only answer!
  • Upholstery - Beneath your snazzy cushion covers the foam inserts could easily be harbouring no end of suspicious spills, stains and stinks. The way to freshen up upholstery is to strip all the covers off and give them a good wash. Then put the foam seats outside in very bright sunlight. Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over the foam and leave outside for a couple of hours. Shake or beat off the powder and then spray with a diluted vinegar solution and allow to dry.
  • Engine smells and exhaust fumes - You shouldn’t be getting engine smells or exhaust fumes in your van. Find the source and fix it.
  • Cooking smells - Just like in a bricks and mortar home, cooking smells can soon start to be overpowering in such a small space. Making sure your van has adequate ventilation, or even cooking outside more often are good ways to stop smells in the first place. If smells do happen then there are lots of suggestions for natural air fresheners on the internet that could banish any lingering pong.
  • Shoes - Shoes and boots can create a problem inside a campervan, particularly when the temperature rises! Try tucking them under the campervan when you’re parked up. Or keeping them in a dry and well ventilated box or locker outside.
  • Rubbish bin - Keeping food waste and rubbish in your campervan overnight can often lead to an unwelcome stench in the morning. Try to empty the bin as often as possible or at least empty it every night. If you’re on a campsite then this is easy to do. If you’ve gone off grid then you’ll need a place outside your van to hold on to it until you reach a town or village.
  • Decomposing pests - If you’ve had your van in storage over the winter months or during a period of down time then pests such as mice may have entered the body of the vehicle. If you find droppings or a body, then check your wiring carefully as mice also love to chew through cables!
  • Air conditioning units - Some campervans have air conditioning units to keep them pleasant during warmer weather. If you notice a vinegary/fishy/musty type smell and the unit losing effectiveness, then it might need re-gassing.

 

Protecting your vehicle with campervan insurance

It’s not just unpleasant odours that you need to guard against as a campervan owner. From road traffic accidents and damage to theft, a lot can go wrong on a trip in your wonderful camper.

Using our panel of insurers Motorhome Protect will search out the most appropriate campervan insurance, tailored to your vehicle, needs and budget.

Cover arranged by our team of insurance specialists can include benefits like:

  • Cover for vehicles valued up to £150,000
  • Enhanced cover for personal effects
  • Unlimited EU cover
  • Discounts if you’re a member of a club

Call Motorhome Protect and get a quote for campervan insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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