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The 4 Reasons Why Your RV Smells Like Rotten Eggs [And How to Fix Each One]

So, your RV smells like rotten eggs? Unless you love the smell of spoiled poultry in the morning, this odor can be both intolerable and alarming for RVers. 

The truth is, if your RV smells like rotten eggs it is likely the sign of an underlying problem with your motorhome. Issues can range from old, stale water to something more serious like a propane leak. 

The key is to quickly identify what’s causing your RV to smell like a sewer and fix the situation as fast as you can. Today, we’ll help you identify the most common causes of egg-smelling odors emanating from your RV. 

The four culprits of foul-smelling RVs are: 

  1. Water heater issues  
  2. Propane leak
  3. Overcharged RV batteries
  4. Open dump valves

Let’s look at these four issues and teach you how to fix each problem. 

Culprit #1: RV Water Heater Issues

It’s the beginning of RV season. You take your RV out of storage (or your driveway), unlock the door and excitedly step inside … only to be knocked back by an overpowering rotten egg smell inside your RV. 

Believe it or not, it can be an issue with your RV water heater. 

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Water heaters are a main culprit for rotten egg odors in your RV.

Many RV water heaters contain an anode rod inside the tank. An anode rod is a temporary steel core wire with magnesium, aluminum, or zinc around it. The anode rod is specifically designed to degrade to prevent a steel water tank from eroding – thereby preserving your tank. 

A common cause of why your RV smells like rotten eggs is that anaerobic bacteria in your RV water heater tank reacts with the sulfur and magnesium of the anode rod. This interaction produces hydrogen sulfide gas – your rotten egg odor. 

How To Get Rid Of the Smell

There are a few relatively easy options to get rid of the stinky rotten egg smell caused by water heater issues: 

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Replace Your Anode Rod

The first option is to replace your anode rod. You can easily get an inexpensive anode rod replacement for popular RV water heaters on Amazon (Atwood or Suburban). Just make sure the anode rod is appropriate for your size, make and model of water heater. 

Descale and Drain

You can descale and drain your RV water heater which is a surefire way to rid yourself of the rotten egg smell. RVHabit offers an excellent step-by-step-guide with pictures to show you exactly how to clean, descale and flush your RV water heater. 

Rinse with Vinegar

Once you rinse and drain your RV water heater, you can fill the tank with a mixture of vinegar and water. After emptying and rinsing the tank, re-insert the drain plug and remove the pressure relief valve near the top of the water heater. 

You want to completely fill your RV water heater with a mixture of two parts white vinegar with one part water. Fill the water heater tank with the vinegar-water solution using a funnel and then re-insert the pressure relief valve. 

Turn on the water pump to cycle the solution through your RV’s water system. Allow this process to continue until you can no longer smell the vinegar solution. 

At this juncture you can turn off the water source, open the pressure relief valve and take out the drain plug. You will need to drain and flush the tank again using a water heater tank rinser. Finally, replace the plug, reset the pressure relief valve and fill the tank with fresh water.

The nasty odor should be gone. 

Culprit #2: Propane Leak

If you use propane as a fuel source in your RV, there’s a chance that a propane leak can be the source of your RV’s rotten egg smell. Natural propane has no odor, but propane companies add a harmless chemical to give it its distinctive “rotten egg” smell. This smell alerts users should there be a propane leak.  

Smell is a tell-tale sign of a propane leak, but sometimes RV propane leaks occur in places where you can’t smell them. This can be outside or underneath your RV, or inside a closed compartment. To further complicate matters, some leaks are so small you might not be able to smell them at all. 

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A propane leak can be incredibly dangerous.

Due to the highly flammable nature of propane, an RV propane leak can be extremely dangerous if not promptly diagnosed and fixed. The thing that makes an RV propane leak particularly dangerous is the small, confined space of an RV. A leak can cause propane to accumulate in hazardous amounts inside confined spaces which can lead to an explosion if met with a flame or spark. 

Not only can a propane leak lead to a fire hazard, but if it accumulates in large enough amounts it can lead to breathing problems, nausea and vomiting or possibly death. 

If you are traveling with propane tanks in your RV or trailer, you should always have an RV propane leak detector placed inside the vehicle. An electronic RV propane leak detector will have audio and/or visual alarms that will immediately alert you in the event of a propane leak. It’s one of the few devices you travel with that can save your life. 

How To Get Rid of the Smell 

If you think you’ve discovered a propane leak in your RV your first priority is always the safety of yourself, your family and the other campers surrounding you.

If you believe you identified a propane leak all occupants should evacuate the RV immediately (but safely). Once at a safe distance from your RV, you should call a propane service professional and alert any neighbors whose RVs may be at risk should a fire break out.

If you feel you can safely mitigate the situation while waiting for a professional, you can: 

  • Shut off the LP valve on your RV propane tank(s); 
  • Extinguish any open flames including pilot light for water heater, stovetop burners or refrigerator cooling system; 
  • Open all windows and doors to fully ventilate the RV and disperse the fumes; 

Culprit #3: Overcharged RV Batteries 

Overcharged RV house batteries are a main culprit for why your RV smells like rotten eggs.  Your RV batteries may overheat if the charging voltage from the converter is too high or if too much current is being drawn away. When the batteries overheat, the acid can boil and emit egg-smelling sulphur fumes.

As a result of the overcharged battery, a rotten egg smell can make its way through your RV. 

How To Get Rid Of the Smell

If you believe that overcharged batteries are causing the smell in your rig, you can do a DIY diagnostic test on the batteries. Everything About RV has a great step-by-step guide on how to check if your house batteries are being overcharged. 

If you are relatively inexperienced with electrical or batteries, your best bet is to take your RV to a certified RV technician to check out the condition of your house batteries and fix the problem. It may cost a bit more in the short term, but it will give you peace of mind while you are out on the road. 

 

Culprit #4: Open Tank Valves

Hold your nose … the reason why your RV smells like rotten egg may be sewage. If this foul odor has invaded your living space one of the first things to check is your black and gray water dump valves. If one or both is open – you may have found the culprit. 

Black and gray water tanks accumulate all sorts of nasty stuff over time and will get stinky if not rinsed regularly. If you forget to close your tank valves, you are essentially creating an open pathway from directly from your sewage tank into your RV.  

Another possible culprit can be that your black tank roof vent could be clogged. If you are having a rotten, eggy smell in your RV its a good idea to check that your roof vent isn’t clogged and trapping smelly gases inside your motorhome. 

How To Get Rid Of the Smell

First step is to close your tank valves! Seal up the place where the odor is originating from, open some windows and the smell should dissipate fairly quickly. 

However, while closing the tank valves may help the situation temporarily you probably want to also go ahead and clean and rinse your black water and gray water tanks if you have not done so recently.

You can watch the video below for a good tutorial on how to clean out your tanks: 

Conclusion

Nobody likes when their RV smells like a sewer. While a foul odor might seem like a mere annoyance at first, there are safety reasons why you should diagnose and remedy this situation as quickly as possible. 

You should be able to narrow the culprit of your foul smell to one of the four culprits above. Once you’ve identified why your RV smells like rotten eggs, don’t let the situation linger and potentially turn into something worse. Since one of the culprits can be a propane leak, it’s important that you act quickly to ensure the safety of you and your passengers. 

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, tips or have experienced your own issues with a rotten smelling RV, please leave your comments below. 

     Easy Travels,  

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Additional Sources

Connecticut Department of Energy

RV Life Mag

Truck Camper Magazine

Drivin & Vibin

Do It Yourself RV

Kleen Tank

 

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