Ever walked into your camper and been mortified by the horrible smell coming from the bathroom? It happens to all RV users eventually, ESPECIALLY when the weather warms up. There is a big difference between thinking to yourself ‘I should probably give the motorhome a quick sweep up and tidy' and wondering with embarrassment ‘WHY does my RV bathroom stink so bad???!!!'
It's time to talk bathrooms. RV, Motorhome and camper bathrooms, to be exact. And when I say bathroom, we all know I mostly mean the toilet, right? Yep, we're going there, sewage smells and all. Prepare yourselves…
Why does my RV Bathroom smell like a sewer?
Motorhome toilets work differently to ones in a house- and boy, don't we know it! Everything you put into the toilet is kept in a holding tank, which then needs to be emptied later on. This is also known as the black water or black waste tank… even if it's a brownish cartridge which you have to empty yourself!
In ‘normal' conditions, motorhome bathrooms shouldn't have a horrible odor- and they DEFINITELY shouldn't smell like a sewer when flushed.
Camper bathrooms smell for the following reasons:
- Need a good clean
- Clog/ blockage
- Damage to the black waste tank
- Leaking toilet/ faulty seal
The biggest cause of toilet odor in your camper is methane gas build up- which is why it smells SO MUCH WORSE either at altitude or in hot countries. This is also why you don't want your holding tank to dry out- more on that later!
7 easy ways to make your RV bathroom smell amazing!
So, let's stop your camper smelling like sewage and get rid of these toilet odors for you!
- Make sure you close the toilet flap securely after use
- Clean regularly
- Use enough liquid
- Empty your black waste frequently
- Be careful with your toilet paper
- Clever tricks to get rid of RV toilet smells
- Get a vent/ SOG unit
Ok, let's dive into these a little more.
Close the toilet flap securely
The first is fairly self-explanatory: make sure you close the flap between you and your holding tank after each use of the toilet. You’ll really regret it if you don’t! This is often the biggest cause of RV bathrooms smelling like a sewer- the methane gas leaks out of a hairline crack somewhere and boy do you know it!
CLEAN REGULARLY to avoid RV toilet odors
I hate to say it, because NO-ONE enjoys cleaning a toilet, but it really does help. Give your bathroom a daily wipe down with antiseptic (or sweet smelling cleaner). We keep ours in a handy spritz bottle and use after a shower to clean the area. We then wipe down the toilet (if you use disposable wipes, do NOT throw them into your toilet after use- put them in with the other rubbish.)
The other thing which can smell in an RV bathroom are the drains.
We have a walk-in bathroom/ shower unit, so the drain in our motorhome works hard to get rid of EVERYTHING. Try to avoid putting ‘bits’ down your drains (both in bathrooms and kitchens) and clean the drains regularly. A cup of baking soda mixed with water helps keep drains clean and smell free.
If you have (or are!) girls with LONG hair, you need to clear out the drain regularly. All that hair gets washed down the drain and collects other bits… which smells disgusting.
USE ENOUGH LIQUID to get rid of holding tank odors
This is counter-intuitive, I know. ESPECIALLY if your RV toilet uses your fresh drinking water for flushing. But you NEED enough water in your toilet to stop smells- ‘dry’ camper toilets smell MUCH worse.
I could go into a long and technical description about methane gas release from dried out waste yada yada… but frankly, nobody needs to read that, so just trust me that wetter is better. Yes, you can snigger. I doubt many kids are reading this! 😉
Of course, don't use TOO much water- you'll fill up your RV waste tank much quicker. It's a delicate balance.
Also, you don’t need expensive toilet chemicals if you have a portable cassette which you empty manually. We’ve been using bio washing tabs (the same ones you use to wash clothes in a washing machine) and they work great! The bio washing powder works just as well.
EMPTY the waste regularly
The best way to stop camper waste smelling like a sewer is to… empty the sewer! The more often you empty, the less it will smell. This also comes back to getting rid of the stuff letting off the gases.
If you use a portable toilet cassette in your motorhome, always make sure to wash it out properly EVERY TIME (using the tap provided at the emptying station). We fill with water and empty at least a couple of times to make sure everything is out.
If you can't empty your RV waste like that, this sewer tank rinser fixes onto your waste outlet and allows you to really get the tank clean.
BE CAREFUL WITH TOILET PAPER
We never ever put our toilet paper down the motorhome toilet. We use a bin in the bathroom which is for this purpose, and that bin gets emptied as often as we can, usually once a day. We’ve lived on boats for 14 years and this is perfectly normal for us, but I know that many people find this ‘a bit weird’.
However, if you don’t put your paper down the toilet you lessen the risk of blockages in your waste tank caused by wadded, wet paper. Many people use far too much paper- we’ve had to learn to decrease the amount we use.
Another advantage to not putting toilet paper in the cassette or black water tank is that the toilet doesn’t get full so often= more time for wild camping/ boondocking!
If this is too gross for you, use extra water every time you use your camper toilet- it helps soften the paper. Also, use the cheapest toilet paper you can find- NOT the ‘approved RV or motorhome paper’. Seriously, supermarket own brand stuff will dissolve really well!! But again- more water and ‘stuff' in the toilet will cause it to fill up faster!
Clever tricks to get rid of RV toilet smells
This is a great trick to keep your RV bathroom smelling nice all day long. Hide bathrooms scents or sachets somewhere out of the way, and they will release a delicious smell all day long.
Be careful if you have pets- make sure any sachets are out of range as many are not suitable for pets.
Our favourite trick is to put a sachet behind the shower- the warmth release the scent more and it smells delicious! If you use a eucalyptus one like this it makes your camper bathroom smell like a spa!
Mesh bags filled with scent hanging around RV are another good idea- pot pourri like this is perfect for that.
If your RV toilet smells when flushed, try putting a little scent or essential oil in the water flush. (NOTE- do NOT do this if your toilet uses your fresh water!!!!)
Fit a vent or SOG unit
Many RVs already have vents built in (often it's a crack in these pipes which causes your RV bathroom to smell like a sewer (or rotten eggs; lovely!)
However, many campers and motorhomes don't have any vent at all in their tiny bathrooms, so it can really help to install one.
A SOG unit is a vent which runs whenever the toilet flap is open. This helps release the gases which build up inside the toilet holding tank, sending them out through the vent instead and keeping your camper smell free.
We installed a SOG last year and it's been really useful. Here are a couple of tips for fitting it:
- Make sure the vent for the SOG isn’t anywhere near the door to your motorhome. Otherwise, all those smells which have come out of the holding tank go straight back into your living area…!!
- If your toilet is near the door, consider venting toilet odors up and out on the roof.
- Make sure you close the flap SECURELY after using the toilet- or the SOG keeps running, and running.
Can you use the bathroom in an RV while driving?
I would really recommend NOT using the bathroom in your camper while driving. Not only is it against the law (seatbelts!!), but can you IMAGINE what would happen if there should be an accident?!?!
Spare 5 minutes and pull into a service area before you use the bathroom (or get snacks etc!)
What are your favourite tricks to keep your RV bathroom smelling amazing and free of toilet odors? Share your tips below so we can all benefit.
This was a question from one of our lovely US readers, (welcome!) so I've chosen to use US spellings. Even though writing odor without a ‘u' has made my spell check go mental. You're welcome! 😉