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Why Does My Camper Smell Like Sewage?

May 21, 2019

Camper Toilet Odors Caused By Under Usage Of Water Hot Temperatures Use The Best RV Toilet Treatment Deodorize Tanks RV Toilet Chemical

A stinky RV is arguably one of the most unpleasant aspects of living in an RV. Whether you full time in your camper or are a weekend warrior, it is VERY likely that you’ve dealt with holding tank odors at some point. Ideally odors aren’t an everyday issue for you, but if they are, this article is a must read. In this post we go over what often causes unpleasant smells and some of the best ways to effectively fight your stinky camper toilet.


Main Points

  • Odors are often caused by two main factors - (1) improper waste tank habits  and (2) changes in temperature.
  • Using the right kinds of holding tank treatments is crucial, but only half the battle. If you aren't treating your holding tanks with proper care practices, NO product will work to its fullest potential.
  • Using proper black water care habits in conjunction with a bacteria-based holding tank treatment garners the best results for odor control. (We recommend RV Digest-It)
  • Supplementing your holding tank treatment with a mineral/salt treatment may be necessary for odor control in excessively high temperatures. (We recommend Unique Tank Odor Eliminator)


Holding Tank Valves, Seals, and Water Usage


In both your gray and black tank, there are valves and seals that are meant to prevent unwanted fluid loss and keep odors from seeping into your RV. Often, these seals are not enough to keep bad smells at bay and you may need a little extra help. This is where proper habits and the right toilet treatment comes in to play.


Camper Valve and Water Usage

Black Tank

Using a sufficient amount of water in your holding tanks is crucial to keeping your camper from leaking sewer smells. For black tanks, ample water usage is simple:

  1. Keep Your Black Tank Valve Closed
  2. Flush Your Camper Toilet for 10 seconds After Every Use
  3. When You Are Parked, Always Keep Several Inches Of Water In Your Toilet Bowl

Following these steps will create two water barriers inside your commode that will help keep smells from seeping into your RV.

  1. The water added to your holding tank covers all waste and prevents odors from escaping.
  2. In the event that the waste in your holding tank begins to smell, the water in your toilet provides a second barrier to control smells.

It is important to have both water barriers. Similar to a P-trap in your home sink or toilet, the water acts as a wall separating your camper from your waste tanks. Read more about our guide to proper black water care here.


Gray Tank

Controlling Gray Tank odors is simple and relies primarily on your tank valve usage which will change based on your style of camping:

Full Hookups

No Hookups (Dry Camping)

* Keep in mind it is often prohibited to dump your gray tank or black tank onto open land. Please check your local laws to find out the correct rules for waste water disposal.

Many of the odor issues that come from gray tanks are caused by grease and food waste. If you are camping on full hookups and can regularly dump your tanks onsite, leaving your gray tank open is your best option for controlling grease and food odors. Just make sure you keep that p-trap!

Most camper odors have to do with your treatment habits. Think about it like going to the dentist. Even if you have an amazing toothpaste, you still need to brush your teeth every morning and night, floss, and stay away from candy and sugar. Without these habits, the chances of you having a cavity on your next check-up increase dramatically.

The same goes for your holding tanks. Even if you have the best holding tank treatment, you still need the right habits will help prevent issues with your camper's waste tanks from day to day and long term.

Remember, proper water usage is a MUST but using a good camper toilet treatment is also extremely important. RV toilet chemicals like Unique's, work together with your waste water systems to control odors and break down waste. 


Why Does My Holding Tank Stink Up My Camper?

So, why does your camper stink so much? Well this might be a no brainer, but poop stinks! As waste sits inside your black water tank it begins to break down and decompose due to the active bacteria from your stomach. It isn't just any bacteria that causes bad smells, it is specifically anaerobic bacteria from your stomach.

To explain further, there are two main kinds of bacteria.

  1. Anaerobic
  2. Aerobic bacteria.

Anaerobic bacteria exists naturally in your gut and causes foul odors i.e. burps and farts. This is because some of the byproducts of anaerobic waste break-down are hydrogen sulfide gas and methane (as well as many others). Aerobic bacteria on the other hand, is also naturally-occurring, but during the waste breakdown process creates water and carbon dioxide as byproducts.

If you have excessive amounts of anaerobic bacteria, you will experience strong smells from your holding tanks. This is why your holding tank will start to smell. One factor that contributes to foul odors is high temperatures. (More on why your tank can smell worse during certain times of year a little further below)

Filling your tank with aerobic bacteria from a high-quality toilet chemical will push out the anaerobic bacteria, thereby eliminating the hydrogen sulfide gas and methane, hence eliminating the odors. More on this below.

So, now that you know which bacteria causes smells in your camper, let's go over what other ways you can treat foul odors from both your gray tank, and black tank.


Bacteria RV Holding Tank Treatments

One of the best ways to control smells inside your camper is by counteracting them with a bacteria-based holding tank treatment. Bacteria holding tank treatments counteract the bad bacteria in your holding tank that create odors, and at the same time break down poop and waste! The best part is that the colony of good bacteria grows exponentially as soon as they are added to your holding tank, allowing them to work overtime to digest poop and control strong odors.

Truth be told, bacteria are an amazing natural powerhouse, but they are also living organisms and have limits to their effectiveness. Excessively high temperatures and lack of water can slow bacteria down and lead to unwanted odors and clogs.


Weather and Tank Odors

Bacteria are most effective within a certain temperature range. Approximately 45°F and 85°F. This is why it is much easier to get foul odors over the summer. Bacteria productivity slows down and becomes less effective in high heat.

As much as you would like your camper's tank treatment to be a magic bullet for all of your holding tank issues, odors can be a little bit more nuanced than just adding a holding tank treatment and wishing upon a star. Luckily there is an easy solution for your summer and winter excursions when you are using bacteria-based treatments! Unique Tank Odor Eliminator.

Tank Odor Eliminator is a salt/mineral-based odor remover that is a fantastic supplement treatment for your holding tanks during periods of high heat. It uses minerals to eliminate odors completely and is not limited by heat in most cases. We recommend using Tank Odor Eliminator because it has been specifically formulated to work with our other RV holding tank products for the best results.

We are probably biased, but we are not the only ones shouting from the roof top about the caliber of Unique Camping + Marine products! Thousands of RVers use our products everyday and they agree that RV Digest-It is the best RV holding tank treatment. Read about what people are saying about us here!


Camper Tank Odors Summary 

Hopefully, now it is clear that there are several reasons why smells can occur in your camper and that solving those odors comes down to two major things:

  1. Proper Tank Habits
  2. Use The Best RV Holding Tank Treatment

Using the correct treatment is only half of the battle. Without the correct holding tank habits, no product will work right for your camper. Read about our guidelines for proper black water care here and start treating your stinky RV!

If you have questions or need further assistance, please reach out! We're here to help:

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