Keep Your Motorhome Smelling Fresh

A motorhome is a home on wheels, they are amazing machines. Generally, they are fun and comfortable but occasionally you may get a whiff of something that shouldn\’t be there.

If your motorhome is a bit funky, not in the musical sense, this blog will help you to identify and eliminate smells in your motorhome, keeping your motorhome smelling pleasant. 

Causes of Smells in a Motorhome

The main causes of smells in a motorhome seem to be;

  • Damp
  • Rot
  • Mould
  • Grey Waste
  • Drains
  • Upholstery
  • Carpets
  • Engine smells
  • Old Food
  • Old Shoes
  • The Bin


Let\’s have a look at each of these in order


Damp is usually a musty smell that would be more prominent during wet periods. Motorhomes do spring leaks so if you have a musty damp smell in your motorhome when you are not using it you want to find the cause. The longer you leave damp the more damage will occur to the motorhome and can be very expensive to repair.

Get a cheap damp meter and test around the windows, doors, hatches – any opening or vent and in the corners. If the moisture content is high you have a problem needing to be sorted.


Your motorhome may just smell damp because you have damp gear in there like wet jackets and shoes, If you are using the motorhome during a wet period it is very difficult to get clothing and shoes dry again and it could just be damp gear that\’s causing a smell.

We use the bathroom for damp gear. It keeps the dampness out of the living space and the smells to a minimum. If you can use the heating then that\’s better and will help to dry things and keep the humidity down.



Usually caused by damp. Mould can be tricky to get rid of and has been discussed in this blog; Prevent Mould in a Motorhome

Mould is something you want to get rid of very quickly. It can be very destructive and harmful. If you see mould anywhere get rid of it straight away and try to work out what is causing the problem so it can be prevented. 

Mould is usually caused by a lack of ventilation as well as damp. If you find mould a good airing is required and clean up the mould with a mild bleach solution. It is much more difficult to get rid of if your soft furnishings are mouldy and in a perfect world they should be replaced



In our motorhome, we have 30-year-old foam and upholstery. Over the years there have been a vast collection of smells and stains collected over the years. 

When the covers are removed it is not a pretty sight. The foam is not too bad and most are in really good condition. There are only a couple of cushions that need replacing. It\’s the underlying smell that\’s the problem. They are not super smelly, there is just a smell of oldness if that\’s a thing.


The way we freshened up the upholstery was to strip all the foam of its covers and put the foam seats outside in very bright sunlight. This will help to freshen the cushions up. 

We washed all the covers. 

We then rubbed in the bicarbonate of soda into all the foam cushions. This will deodorise the foam without destroying it. 

After putting the seats back together again it did seem to work and the motorhome did smell much better.

To do the cushions justice you need a very nice sunny day, you do not want to get the cushions damp as they take an age to dry and by the time you get them dry there is a good chance that the mould would have moved in. It is very risky to wash the cushions for this reason. 

That\’s not to say it can\’t be done, it\’s just risky. 


We have an old carpet in our motorhome. These are notorious for holding smells and damp. With the carpet, we got a carpet cleaner and went over the carpet many times until there was very little dirt coming out. This really helped to improve the smell of the van. 

One thing I would add is to only do this during good weather, the hotter the better. Otherwise, the carpets won\’t dry and the motorhome will end up smelling like a wet dog, not pleasant.



Is a damp musty smell a bit like mould and damp rolled into one but will remain even when the van is dry. It just never seems to stop smelling. If you have rot you need to find it urgently and get it out of the van. Rot tends to spread and is fed from damp do a damp meter may help pinpoint any rot. 


Engine Smell

The smell of the engine was extreme in our motorhome. It smelled like we had the engine on the dining table. It is a smell of engine oil, gearbox oil and a tinge of exhaust fume. Not very pleasant. When we first go the motorhome we just though that\’s how they smell. Turned out we were wrong. 

We had a great big hole in the dashboard and the engine is directly below. We fixed the big hole and lone behold there was no more engine smells for dinner. 

If you are getting engine smells they are not normal. Find the source, there will be a source and fix it. The smell of the engine in the living space can be quite offputting. 


Exhaust fumes 

Like the engine smell, whenever we were driving we would get very strong exhaust fumes. Turns out they were coming from the engine and not the exhaust. This age of the engine had a breather pipe that just vented to the atmosphere. Due to the big hole in the dash and the breather pipe we were being slowly asphyxiated on our travels.

To fix this we fixed the dash and had the breather recirculated back into the engine. Smells much better now and don\’t feel ill when driving.


Waste tank

A greywater waste tank is a favourite place for smells to come from. These smells can range from rotten egg to sewage or a mix of both depending on the temperature. The hotter it is the more pungent the smell will be. 

If your tank is working correctly you should have virtually no problems. Its a place many people do not want to venture. It is important that you keep the tank as clean as possible. If you don\’t then the smell can reach the inside as explained below.

To keep the tank clean I like to flush through with plenty of clean water. Just do it whenever you can to keep the tank as fresh as possible.

I like to clean the freshwater tank and pipes at least once a year with some Puriclean and then after it\’s been in the pipes for a few hours I flush it into the waste tank and let it sit there for a few hours. That way it keeps the bacteria levels down and ready for the summer season.




Drain Smells 


Drain smells usually occur during the summer and hot weather. If the water has evaporated out of the traps at the drains then you will get smells coming up.

Usually, the best way to solve this is to just put a little water down each drain. This fills the trap back up and seals off the smell from the grey waste tank.


Rotten Egg Smell

A rotten egg smell can be caused by a number of things. Apart from an actual rotten egg, the smell could be coming from the waste tank through the drains. If not from the drains then it could actually be the three-way fridge. If you are driving it could be coming from your battery. 


If you are getting an eggy smell from the three-way fridge its not good news. It means there is a coolant leak and the chances are you are going to need a new fridge.

If you determine that the smell is coming from the battery there is a good chance that it\’s being overcharged and needs urgent attention.


Old Food 

As well as the actual van smelling make sure you have removed any fresh food. It\’s amazing how many times there is a bit of fruit somewhere or some food that just goes off and is stinking out the motorhome. 

If you are in the motorhome you will notice a build-up of the smells over a period of time that gets worse and worse. Make sure the bin is being emptied regularly and check the fridge. Make sure the fruit and veg are in good order and your motorhome should be smelling sweet.


Old Feet

Shoes are a problem in a motorhome. In the summer we usually have them tucked under the motorhome if we are in a campsite or they are inside. When inside they can be very smelly especially if damp. A good place to keep them, for us, is in the gas locker. We usually only have one bottle so there is plenty of room for some shoes. The gas locker is well ventilated and dry, so a good place to keep smelly shoes out of the way.


The Bin

The bin where your trash goes can get whiffy fast. It\’s a good idea to empty the bin as soon as possible. Try not to keep your rubbish overnight. This is easy to do on a campsite but if you are wilding then make sure your rubbish gets disposed of properly, otherwise you will have to hold on to it until you reach a town or village. 

Rubbish can be a bit of a problem. We will store it in an outside locker until be reach a place where we can dispose of it. It\’s surprising how fast it builds up. 



Whatever smells you have in your motorhome it is always important to investigate them. It\’s not easy living in a smelly confined space and its easy for a confined space to become smelly.  Damp caught in the early stages could save you a fortune. So keep your nose finely tuned and investigate as soon as possible.