Tips on Keeping Your Van Smelling Fresh at All Times

Tips on Keeping Your Van Smelling Fresh at All Times: Freshener in the car

Recreational vehicles, especially the smaller vans and campers, are considered closed spaces, which could house all the powerful and stinky smell you can get from your travel. These smells create a lingering sensation that is inevitable to have when you cook food, use the bathroom and kitchen sink, and go in and out of your RV, which of course, you probably do. Now, let us get you some amazing hacks on how to keep your van smelling fresh at all times while enjoying your time with your travel buddies. 

Counter these nuisances by following these tips and tricks to keep your van smelling fresh at all times.

1. Limit Amount of Moisture Inside the Camper

The presence of moisture inside the van can result in mildew. You would automatically detect them as they have a distinct and identifiable odor that is absolutely not welcome in your van.

There are numerous ways to reduce moisture in your van. The first is to invest in a good functioning humidifier. This reduces the inevitable moisture inside the van and keeps the van smelling fresh.

You also need to properly seal any opening on your camper, every single visible seam, window frames, doors, and the roof area. These openings are prone to moisture, especially during rainy and snowy seasons. 

Spray mildew-breeding areas with professional-grade Lysol. Do this every day until the smell is gone. When spraying, remember to wear a mask and always air out RV after each treatment to eliminate the chemical smell.

Always keep your RV dry when not in use. Due to humidity, even the properly stored and unused vans could produce moisture. Open ceiling vents and make sure they are covered so fresh air can still circulate throughout the camper. You can also place small containers of charcoal in your coach and remove them when you’re on the drive.

Air conditioning duct condensation may also be the culprit causing a bad smell in your coach. It may smell because of being exposed to moisture very often. The simple solution to this is cleaning.

Remove the grill covers and filters. Wash them with soap and water, then dry them before returning to the unit. Finally, spray the vents with Lysol to remove any mildew buildup.

If you are feeling extra hard-working, you may clean the AC unit as a whole. Remove the shroud covering the AC, often found at the camper’s roof. Then, vacuum and clean the dirt buildup on the AC unit. You may also spray chemicals designated for cleaning the aircon. 

2. Let Air In: Open Doors and Windows When Parked

Your van is a closed space where air does not have much room to travel. This results in easier smell buildup. Since the air is trapped within the camper walls, it may easily stick to your camper and smell over time. 

Let the air out and welcome fresh air in by opening doors, windows, or any opening in the van. Do this when the van is parked, and the weather is nice, no raining or snowing of any kind. Letting air inside your van freshens up your camper, drawing out the unwanted smells from cooking food, musty bathroom, and pet wastes. It also prevents the unwanted smell from setting into your van and removes any lingering smell which is hard to get rid of.

One great piece of advice that works to reduce potential smell in your coach is to cook outside in an allowed space like RV campgrounds. If not, open doors, windows, and air vents and let smoke and other smell out of the van while cooking.

You can just close them after cooking. Note that there will still be a faint smell, but it is better than a trapped smell inside your van. Furthermore, you may consider installing an RV kitchen range hood vent which helps in letting out smoke and smell from cooking food. 

3. Keep Trash Out of Your Van

When it stays for long inside the van, your garbage is one of the leading causes of foul odor. Dump all trash whenever possible and when parked in a space with dumpsites, which you can find a lot across North America. 

Do not leave the trash for days inside the van, especially if it involves garbage that rots and causes stink in your camper. The best time to empty the trash can is every morning. Get rid of all the biodegradable garbage like pieces of meat, remains from fruits and vegetables, cans of consumed foods, and spoiled foods thrown in the garbage.

Make it a habit to wipe the container after removing the trash and spray it with a disinfectant before putting in a fresh round of garbage. Furthermore, use garbage bags for easier disposal and sweep and wipe the area beneath the trash cans before returning them to their places. 

4. Use Campground Facilities As Much as Possible

RV bathrooms may leak and cause an unwanted odor on your van. Furthermore, the smell of your bathroom business may linger for a while and spoil your appetite. For smaller campers, you cannot avoid these smells.

Maximize bathroom facilities in campgrounds, gyms, and even restaurants. These bathrooms and toilets would help minimize bathroom odors and prevent possible leaking.

Remember only to use the van bathroom when you’re on the road or in a place where there are no campground facilities.

5. Place Air Fresheners Inside Your Van

Campers are indeed musty as they brave any weather condition in the name of your dream trip, be it sunny, rainy, or snowy. This leads to moisture from the outside creeping on the inside of the van, settling anywhere, and producing the smell that knocks the breath out of you.

Placing air fresheners inside your van combats the inevitable bad smell. There are numerous choices for air fresheners, and I have listed them here for you. 

Electric air fresheners and diffusers are two modern air fresheners to keep your space smelling and feeling fresh. These devices diffuse essential oils into the air. One downside of these devices is that they add moisture to a closed space. You can pair it with a dehumidifier to get the best results.

Be mindful if you use these devices and travel along with pets, as some oils may cause health problems on your pets—research beforehand on the essential oils that are safe to use around your pet. 

Scented candles are brilliant air fresheners that also serve as aromatherapy. They contain essential oils with amazing health benefits. One great choice for scented candles is beeswax candles. They have wonderful air-purifying benefits and burn cleanly without smoke and soot. For further information, you can check my article on beeswax candles here

These stylish scented candles are great air fresheners but are dangerous for vans. So remember to always keep the candles in your line of sight and out of reach of pets and kids. 

A candle warmer is a device that could be considered the electrical counterpart of scented candles. This device is plugged into an outlet and doesn’t require an open flame, making it safe for both your kids and pets. 

However, the candle wax can still get hot and burn when touched. So, it is advisable always to take precautions when using candles inside your van, be it electric or open flame candles.

For some healthy choices of purifying agents in your van, you could go for air-purifying plants. These plants can survive even with irregular sunlight exposure and keep your van feeling and looking fresh.

Bamboo palm, peace lily, Boston fern, and chrysanthemum are some of the amazing air purifying plants you can purchase for your van.

Moisture eliminator is also on the list of air purifiers for your camper. Simply peel the seal off the container and let it sit in your camper, stuck on the wall. The activated charcoal inside it draws out moisture from the air and traps it inside. 

The moisture eliminator would continuously draw out the moisture in your van until it fills up. When this happens, just dispose of it and replace it with a new one. Every pack of the moisture eliminator can last for four to eight weeks, depending on its speed to fill up. 

6. Always Maintain Your Camper Clean

Cleaning is one of the obvious ways to prevent the smell from settling into your van walls and interior. Wipe the counters, tables, sinks, and floors regularly and use disinfectant sprays to remove all the remaining residues. Use a vacuum to remove all dust accumulating inside the coach. 

When cooking, use spray products instead of cooking oil for easier cleaning. If you use cooking oils, make sure to clean the residues immediately after cooking. Air out and spray the whole unit after cooking inside to let out the odors left. Don’t also forget to clean the area under the sink. 

7. Avoid Storing Leftovers in the Fridge for Longer Periods

The refrigerator containing all your leftovers, strong-flavored and smelly food, and even unnoticed spoiled food is one source of bad smell. These mixed smells of food kept in the fridge could go bad for your van.

Ensure to remove all contents in the fridge that are not needed, such as food or ingredients that will not be further consumed, spoiled food, and beverages. Packed goods are okay as long as they are not opened yet.

Consume cooked food immediately to avoid leftovers or consume them within the day to prevent spoilage. Another thing to note is the correct portion of food you will prepare. Make sure to cook just enough food so there won’t be leftovers. Clear out uneaten foods as the higher temperature in the van may speed up its spoiling process. 

Here are some remedies that could absorb or eliminate the pungent smell in your refrigerator. 

Baking soda is a proven extinguisher of bad smells. Simply spread it on a cookie sheet and place it in the refrigerator overnight or until the smell is gone. Fresh coffee grounds are also an option. It is used the same way as baking soda. The foul smell from your fridge would be replaced by the coffee smell that would disappear quickly, leaving you no worries at all.

Activated charcoal, available at most pet stores, can also be placed in the refrigerator for a few days and removed when the odors are gone. The last remedy I could give you is the use of essential oils. Damp a few cotton balls with vanilla extract or essential oil and leave them in the fridge for 24 hours. 

The most effective way to leave your fridge smelling fresh, like your fruits and vegetables, is to clean it once a week. Remember to leave the fridge door open when not used, like how you air out your camper. 

8. Open Exhaust Fans and Air Vents

RV releases exhaust, a combination of water, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, stuff you don’t want to inhale together. They can be dangerous to your health if exposed for a long time. Since RVs give off more exhaust than ordinary-sized cars, opening exhaust fans and air vents is a must.

Open the exhaust fans and air vents to let out all the unwanted smells in your van. Also, open them when using the bathroom, shower, or kitchen to keep all that humid air from staying in the small space and encourage mold growth. 

Exhaust fans and air vents also keep the cooking smell out of the van, which may be great for the day but would go bad the days after. They further let air circulate well inside the van. Just make sure to close them when you’re on the road. 

9. Skip the Use of Carpets in Your Camper

Carpets are a wonderful addition to your van. They are plush and comfortable and create a more relaxed ambiance to your van home. Carpets are a pit of stinky and hard-to-remove dirt and an odor from people walking on the carpet, pushing dirt and debris in it. 

The dampness brought by shoes used for the outside activities, spills from food and beverages, and hairs from your pet blending with the carpet fibers are also members of the stinky pit. 

This dirt may not be visible, but the bacteria in it would start to smell and give you a hard time removing them when they are already stuck to the carpet. Plus, cleaning the carpet is time-consuming. Carpets need a thorough cleaning to get rid of all the dirt and smell, a not-so-recommended activity when you’re on a trip. 

Consider swapping carpets with hard flooring or vinyl, which are both easier to clean and would not store as much filth as carpets do. 

10. Ensure No Leakage in the Camper’s Water System 

Leakage in the water system could result in a disgusting smell in your camper. Leaks combined with dust and other elements would produce a bad smell, so you should look out for damaged pipes and repair them quickly.

Damaged pipes include incorrectly cut pipes that do not connect well with the one above or below, creating an opening for water to leak and odors to escape from the pipes to the van. 

Pipes may also be damaged due to accidents and their natural wear and tear. They may deteriorate over time from being exposed to moisture and a long use time. If this is the case, the pipes need to be replaced immediately before letting them create all the nasty odors. 

Regular inspection and repair of the van’s water system are necessary to lessen or prevent odor problems. Check your camper’s water tanks and drain them as often. The black water tank that holds wastewater from the toilet should not be fuller than ¾ of its holding capacity. It is recommended to drain at half its content. 

After draining, add chemicals to break down the remaining wastes at the bottom of the tank. You can also make your cleaner by adding a cup of dishwashing soap and a water softener to the tank, letting it sit there until the next draining.

The grey water tank that holds wastewater from the shower and kitchen sink is also one to look out for. Drain and clean it the same way as the black water tank, and do not wait until it is full before draining. 

Freshwater tank, the storage of fresh and clean water that comes out of your faucets can start to smell if stored for longer periods. If you haven’t used your van for a while, bacteria can start to breed in stagnant water. Give it a proper clean regularly and replace water often if not consumed. 

11. Regularly Drain Your Bathroom’s Holding Tanks

Home bathrooms can get filthy, more so with RV’s, where everything runs on a system of pipes and tanks. All the waste from the bathroom is stored and needs to be drained regularly to prevent smells.

Drain your holding tanks following these simple steps. Prepare materials such as a 30-foot sewer extension hose, sewer adapter, bleach wipes, black water flushing rinse hose, and disposable gloves to protect your hands from the dirty job.

Start by checking the holding tank. It should be almost to the top but not full. If it is, that’s the perfect time for draining. Put your gloves on and connect the sewer hose to the adapter. Then, connect the holding tank drain outlet to the adapter and slowly release the black water tank valve. Do not rush this part as the waste may spill out, causing additional work to clean spilled waste.

Let the waste from the tank pour out slowly and very carefully. Then, clean the holding tank with a permanent-mount black tank rinse system (if you have one). Repeat this process of draining every time the tank gets close to full.

Use chemicals to help break down the contents of the holding tank. It should be septic-system safe and have a subtler odor such as sewer chemicals like holding tank deodorizer, waste digester, or odor eliminator.

Honestly, there are many choices available in the market, specifically made for the job of cleaning and freshening up your holding tanks. You can look them up and purchase the one you think is best for you.

Other effective hacks to reduce bathroom smell are using plenty of water when flushing, using biodegradable toilet papers, dumping holding tank wastes as often as possible, and eco-safe chemicals. These chemicals would turn matter into liquid form for easier draining. 

Practice safe and balanced driving. A safe and balanced driving prevents accidents that may damage the holding tank or other things in your camper. Avoid having a damaged holding tank by never letting it be filled by more than 50% of what it can hold, which means you need to dump it often. 

12. Clean Your Kitchen Drains of Accumulating Gunk

Another dirty work to remove the musty odor is cleaning your kitchen drains. The drains may be another culprit if your fridge is already cleaned and the smell is still there. The kitchen sink may house small bits of food particles, food wastes, gunk from oily food waste, and surprisingly some hair strands. 

When you pour water on the sink, all the waste would be pushed further down the drain, blocking the water on its way to the tank and clogging the whole drainage. Here is an easy fix for you.

Prepare four cups of boiling water, a cup of vinegar, and two tablespoons of baking soda. Then, pour the vinegar and baking soda into the sink, followed by the boiling water. This remedy unclogs the drain and removes the unpleasant odor coming from the accumulated gunk.

Make it a habit to wash the dishes right after use. This practice prevents smell and bacteria buildup, especially in a van, a not-so-well-ventilated space. Furthermore, always dry your kitchen sink after use and add a few drops of grease-fighting dish soap in your gray tank to break down bacteria buildup. 

These measures would surely help lessen or, better yet, remove the stinking smell from your kitchen sink. 

13. Look Out for Possible Causes of Toilet Leaks

Toilet leaks are caused by several reasons you should look out for in your RV bathroom.

Improperly closed toilet flappers are one of the leading causes of leaking toilets. Toilet flappers provide the seal for the flush valve and control the water volume released by the bowl. They wear out over time and leak water when not closed properly. As a result, the toilet would smell when not taken care of quickly.

Toilet paper or hardened waste caught on the edge of the toilet flapper would cause a small opening allowing a foul smell into the coach. Fix this by simply cleaning the flappers and removing wastes caught in them. 

Replace leaking toilet seals or the entire toilet if replacing the seals is not enough. For valves, easily replace them if they are leaking. 

14. Ensure Propane Tanks are Not Leaking

Propane tanks have a distinctive smell that adds to the undesirable odor in your van and is extremely dangerous when left leaking. Check for leakage if you happen to use one. Just turn off the propane tank and make sure the internal gas jets are turned off. Then, open all windows to let out the smell and apply soapy water to check the lines for any leaks.

There is a leak when the soapy water starts to bubble, meaning the gas from the propane is escaping from the tank. If you feel like there is a leak and don’t know how to check, take no chances. Have a repairman check it for you. 


Your van is your home on the road, and it is only just to make it cleaner and smell fresh all the time. However, it is not that easy to do compared to freshening up your home, but it is highly achievable. With these tips, you can be assured that you’ll have a wonderful trip without any worries of an uninvited foul smell in your van that could ruin your appetite, or worse, keep you up at night. 

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