What to do if your Travel Trailer Smells Like Sewer

There’s a saying that if you love something, you have to accept its flaws, and everything has flaws. Unfortunately for those of us called unto the RV life, this saying quite literally applies. We love our RVs, but sometimes that love comes with a smelly price.

How to get rid of the sewer smell in your RV? The best way to get rid of the sewer smell in your RV is to check to see if your black tank is almost full, the toilet is dirty, roof vents are clogged, and your valves are closed. These are the most common culprits to a sewer smell in a camper.

If you own an RV, and if you’re reading this, you probably do, chances are you’ve come across “that smell” before. That disgusting sewer smell that makes your loving home feel like a porta-potty. I don’t know about you, but I rather not lay my head in any place that makes me feel like I’m sleeping in a restroom.

If this sounds like you, keep on reading to find the most common reasons for why your RV smells like a sewer and what you can do to tackle them once and for all.

If your travel trailer or RV smells like sewer after driving it, here are some solutions to fix that issue.


#1 Make sure the toilet itself is clean.

 If you’re keeping up with maintenance and everything seems to be in working order, the answer might be as simple as making sure your toilet bowl is clean. Just like a land home, toilet bowls require maintenance, otherwise, waste and its odor can easily cling to it, eventually finding itself spreading through other living spaces.

RV toilets do not usually have water in them to trap smells so a dirty toilet can be your culprit.

#2 Make sure your dump valves are closed

We know, you really want a chance to take long showers without worrying about filling up the grey tank. The thing is, by leaving either your gray tank or blank tank dump valves opened (even when you are hooked up to a sewer system at an RV park) you run the risk of the sewer smell from the RV park’s sewer system entering your RV and causing a smelly mess. These vapors can be harmful so never leave your tank valve open.

If you leave your valve open, you also run the risk of accumulating human waste on the bottom of your black water tank. The liquid will go directly in the sewer system and the solids will remain and cause a bad smell that will also enter the trailer. To avoid this altogether, the quickest fix is prevention. Make sure your valves are always closed and you’ll have one less smelly situation to deal with.


How’s the water?

One common problem with RV sewer smells is the amount of water (or rather lack of) in the sewer tank. In order for an RV toilet to work properly, the waste in it must be mixed with enough fluid to prevent it from drying out.

As a general rule of thumb, holding tanks should be dumped and flushed when they are about 1/2 to ¾ filled. Once emptied, you should close the dump valves and pour about two or three gallons of water into each holding tank, this will allow future waste to be diluted by the water at the bottom of the tank. Always make sure to add a holding tank deodorizer and treatment in each tank right after adding water.

The Geo Method

Speaking of deodorizing and treatment, a simple google search will lead you to a fairly popular method for combating smelly RVs a lot of fellow RV’ers swear by known as the GEO method. For this process, you only need two ingredients

  • Blue Dawn Dish Soap
  • Calgon Water Softener

Every time you empty your black tanks (and after you’ve flushed and closed them) pour one cup of each into your toilet, next fill it up with water and flush. Finally, add an additional three gallons of water and flush again. This process is almost guaranteed to give you a fresh and clean scent every single time.

Replace your vent caps

Another foolproof way to freshen up your camper is to simply replace its vent camps. This is something that you want to use as a defense, but if you’re already having odor problems, it also makes for a great offense.

If you want additional protection, you can change your generic vent cap to something like a Siphon 360 vent cap. These type of vent caps are made to work as a sort of vacuum that works with wind turbulence to remove orders and gases from your holding tank and prevents them from seeping into your RV.


It Could be Your RV’s House Batteries

There’s a less likely culprit for the sewer like smell in your RV that actually has nothing to do with sewage. The smell might actually be coming from your RV’s House Batteries getting overcharged causing the electrolytes to boil (battery acid) causing a rotten egg or sewer type smell.

To confirm this is the problem, you can check the electrolyte level in the house batteries by topping them off with distilled water. If they are full and appear to be boiling, you need to have the house battery charging system checked out by a Certified RV Technician.

How’s the Weather?

Hot weather and tank odors are not exactly a pretty combination. Bacteria is a lot more likely to make a stinky stand over the summer months. You can be staying on top of your camper’s tank treatment to a T and still have a foul odor lingering around.

Lucky for you, much like adjusting your wardrobe to a season, there are also products available and tailored to treat your tanks during the summer (and winter) months. The next time you shop for a tank odor eliminator, just make sure it’s one made to work with extreme temperatures, and you are good to go.

Other Considerations:

Sometimes the cause for the foul odors can be too serious of an issue best left to be handled by the professionals. This can be a hard pill to swallow but trying to DYI a tough job can open you up for a bigger mess, and a higher repair bill. Such things include but are not limited to:

A leaking toilet: While there are many ways for you to repair a leaking toilet, there are a couple of things to consider before you attempt to repair it yourself. The first thing you want to do is check for any recalls.

Sometimes RV toilets are manufactured poorly and end up being faulty. Always double-check for a recall. If there is a recall, you might be entitled, not only to a new toilet, but the company will usually arrange for someone to pick up your faulty one and install the new one.

Also, if for whatever reason you decide to pull the toilet, make sure you speak to a professional to avoid any surprise headaches.

Your Sewer tank is damaged: Unless you are really handy and don’t mind dealing with a big stinky mess, this might be a job better left for the professionals. Yes, it is an expensive trip to the service center, but if you do attempt to do it yourself, you’re still left with dealing with parts, and a big smelly puzzle to put together. Just make sure you really weight out your options before taking on this job alone.

You Have created a Clog: The good news is this one is highly avoidable. By making sure you’re using a septic-safe tissue you can significantly cut down your chances of getting a clog. With that said, if you’re relatively new to driving an RV and you have a clog, you might need to head straight to a professional, and for the love of everything RV please never use products like Drano to attempt fixing the clog, doing this can ruin your RV’s pipes and hoses.

Keeping these things in mind, you can see that most of these issues are fairly easy and inexpensive to take care of. With a little common sense and some research, you can easily tackle most sewer smells in your RV.  

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