Why Does my RV Refrigerator Smell like Ammonia and How to Fix it

You open the door of your RV, fifth wheel, or travel trailer refrigerator, and you are all of a sudden hit with the strong and pungent smell of ammonia. After you have worked past the smell, you begin to wonder if it is safe to use your RV refrigerator and why it smells like it does. There is typically one main culprit that can turn your once functional RV fridge into an awful smelling disaster.

If your RV has a strong smell of ammonia filling the air, it is the cooling component that is leaking. More specifically, the evaporator of your cooling component needs to be replaced. Catching a leak early can keep you and your family safe while also helping to ensure the longevity of your fridge.

Keep reading if you are wondering what to do if you are greeted with an ammonia smell in your RV and what steps you should take.

Why does my RV Refrigerator Smell like Ammonia?

For centuries, ammonia has been the main product used to cool special-purpose refrigerators. One reason it is an excellent option for a coolant is that it is frugal, but it also almost immediately alerts people if there is a leak with a powerful smell.

Ammonia is used in your RV refrigerator because it requires less electricity to keep cool and is perfect for particular purposes. Years and years ago, ammonia was the main product used in all types of refrigerators but is now mainly found in vintage and special use fridges.

The main reason that ammonia is not used in residential refrigerators anymore is that it can present a considerable hazard if there is a large leak. Ammonia can be damaging to your eyes and skin, so make sure you protect yourself appropriately.

A leak within the cooling system of your RV refrigerator is the main reason you will be smelling ammonia when you open your fridge door.

Ammonia can leak out of your evaporator coil which causes your cooling unit to not work. All brands including Dometic refrigerators can have this problem, especially in absorption refrigerators.

How Do I Know if my RV Refrigerator is Leaking Ammonia?

While the smell of ammonia is oftentimes enough to alert your senses that something is off, there are a few other things you can look out for.

  • Yellow Staining
  • Strong Ammonia Smell

One way to tell if your RV fridge is leaking, besides the smell, is by noticing yellow coming from your refrigerator. Yellow stains will begin to appear in and around your fridge, pointing to a likely ammonia leak.

Having an ammonia leak can become a significant issue within your RV refrigerator if it is not taken care of quickly. Thankfully, you have a few options to choose from to make sure your refrigerator is back in tip-top shape in no time.

Another way you can check to see if your RV refrigerator is leaking ammonia is by purchasing an ammonia detector. An ammonia detector can easily detect how much ammonia is present in your refrigerator, and if the coolant numbers are down, it can prove there is a leak.

How Do I Fix the Ammonia Smell?

The very first thing you should do if you detect an ammonia smell within your RV refrigerator is to open all windows and doors. If left contained within your RV for an extended period of time, ammonia can easily cause skin irritations and is not safe to be around when a leak is present. Try to keep your fridge door shut as much as possible, as opening it will release the smell and fumes into your trailer.

One option you have when it comes to fixing an RV fridge that is leaking ammonia is to fix the issue yourself. Repairing your RV refrigerator is a more economical option but will take some time to get it right. Because of the hazards of coming in contact with ammonia, you should only fix an ammonia leak if you feel confident and knowledgeable about the process.

When your RV refrigerator is leaking ammonia, the issue comes from a leak within your refrigerator’s cooling system. In order to combat the problem, you will need to replace the entire cooling component within your refrigerator. Most of the time it can be more cost-effective and less labor to replace the whole unit. A safer alternative is to take the time to find a skilled repairman who knows exactly what steps to take.

How Do I Get the Ammonia Smell out of my RV?

Once you have replaced the cooling system within your RV refrigerator, you are now tasked with getting rid of the ammonia smell that is radiating throughout your camper.

There are a few options you can choose to quickly and efficiently get rid of a strong ammonia smell and get back to enjoying your camping experience. With any pungent smells that come from refrigerators, there are multiple items you can use that you likely already have.

  • Coffee Grounds
  • Baking Soda
  • Newspapers
  • Vinegar

By leaving coffee grounds or baking soda in your fridge, they will work to absorb the smell in no time. You can place a small kitchen dish with either product and leave it in your fridge for at least a day. These household products have been used to absorb smells for centuries and are great options to get rid of an ammonia smell.

After you have left the coffee grounds, baking soda, or newspaper works its magic; you can then completely clean out and wipe down the interior of your RV refrigerator. Utilizing an all-purpose cleaner or simply vinegar will provide you a blank slate for your next RV adventure. There are also specific cleaners to clean ammonia as well if vinegar and all-purpose are not making the cut.

Here are the steps you should take to properly rid your RV refrigerator of an ammonia smell:

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