Camper Smells Like Sewage

7 Reasons Why Your Camper Smells Like Sewage (+ Ways to Fix It!)

If you’re a diehard camper, you’ve probably come across that “funny smell” that turns your RV from a sunny meadow into a mobile cesspit. I’ve endured it a couple of times and I’ve got to say – NONE of it is pleasant!

So, why does your camper smell like sewage?

The main reason for this tragedy is usually a result of a clogged black tank. Other times, the sewage smell in your camper can be also caused by an unflushed tank, a blocked vent pipe, unchecked stains in the toilet, or even leaks from worn-out plumbing seals.

But, how do all these affect your camper?

Let’s find out below!

Why Does Your Camper Smell Like Sewage?

The following are some possible culprits responsible for many sewage smells in campers out there. You may fix them yourself or call for professional help depending on the severity of the problem.

1. Clogged Black Tank

Woman Is Wasting Rv Black Tank
Mandruss, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The black tank is the most burdened as it carries all the waste from the gray tank (where wastewater from the shower drain and sinks flow).

Once your camper’s waste gets to the black tank, it gets digested by the bacteria, much like in a septic tank. This makes things easier when you want to dump the waste after the tank fills up.

When the black tank isn’t able to properly break down the accumulating waste, then solid waste will pile up and effectively block your RV’s plumbing system. This malfunction mainly occurs when you use tons of harsh cleaning chemicals or throw non-flushable items in your RV toilet.

In the end, the stench from the piling-up gunk in the tank will come out and fill your entire RV.

2. Unflushed Tanks

Your RV may also smell of sewage if its grey and black tanks don’t get dumped regularly. This also causes the solid waste to build up in the tank and draft up a terrible odor.

And when left for too long, the solid waste may lead to a buildup at the bottom and along the walls of the tanks. When this happens, it may create an extra lining of filth inside the tank and give you a bigger hassle when cleaning up.

3. Blocked Vent Pipe

An RV’s vent pipe shoots straight up through its roof just like we see in most houses.

Its main function is to let out the waste gases rising from the holding tanks into the atmosphere above. This mechanism ensures that there is enough ventilation inside your camper and that the toxic methane gas does not pollute your living space.

So, if your RV’s vent pipe gets blocked, broken, or compromised in any way, there is a fat chance that the pungent gases will find their way into the RV. It may be either through the toilet when you flush or the kitchen and shower drain.

4. You Have a Stained Toilet

Campet Toilet

This only affects campers who don’t dedicate enough time to cleaning their toilet.

Since your RV’s toilet stays in constant use throughout your travels, it’s only prudent that you clean it promptly and properly.

If you stay for very long intervals before you clean your restroom, then urine and fecal stains may start forming in and around the toilet.

Things can even get worse if you have some unnoticed sewer leaks soaking up on your toilet’s floor.

As all this mess forms, it gets invaded by bacteria attracted to such waste. In the long run, you’ll notice the stench of sewage as a result of all that filth getting broken down.

5. Worn Out Bowl/Tank Seals

An RV’s toilet has several seals that fasten it in place and facilitate drainage in and out of the tanks.

Two of the most notable include the bowl’s seal found between the base of the toilet and the RV’s floor and the tank seals that hold all of the water and waste pipes together.

When the seals wear out for any reason, they may cause leaks that’ll naturally seep onto your camper’s walls and floor.

If left unchecked, this spillage could cause your RV to smell like sewage.

6. Open Dump Valves

Some people fear having filled up waste tanks when they are on the move. So, what they do as a countermeasure is always leaving the dump valves open whenever they’re showering or washing up around the RV.

… And that’s a very BAD idea!

When you leave your dump valves open, the gray and black tanks will constantly drain out all of the water coming in, causing your tanks to fill up with the smelly solid waste instead.

In the end, this may cause blockages and an overwhelming smell of sewage.

Open Rv Dump Valve

7. Extreme Temperatures

When the temperature is either too hot or cold, it can cause the anaerobic bacteria in the black tank to slow or stop slow or stop the process of breaking down waste properly.

Eventually, this leads to sewage waste piling up and releasing that deadly smell in your camper.

How To Remove Sewage Smell from Your Camper    

Follow the tips below to remove the sewage smell from your camper:

1. Regularly Clean Your Camper’s Toilet

Having and keeping to a regular cleaning roster will ensure that stains don’t build up in your toilet.

While you are at it, make sure that you give every square inch your undivided attention to prevent sewage bacteria from re-infesting the toilet.

Regularly cleaning the toilet also goes a long way in preventing stains and clogs in your black tank.

2. Check for Damages in Your Plumbing

Once you notice the stench of sewage, you should check your camper’s plumbing to check if that’s the source of the problem.

If you spot any blocked or broken pipes, work on fixing them ASAP to avoid uncontainable damages in the future.

Replace loose seals and mend broken drains so that the sewage waste won’t leak onto your RV’s surface.

3. Unclog Your Camper

Rv Plumbing System

Since clogs cause sewage waste buildups, you should make an effort of getting rid of them immediately.

Ensure that your sink, toilet, and shower drains are all spiffy and running by removing the blockages yourself or through the help of a professional.

If the problem is in the air vent, then you can easily fix it by inserting a water hose inside the vent and letting the water run through it. It’ll clear the blockage in most cases.

4. Avoid Using Harsh Products

You should keep away from overly harsh antibacterial products as they kill the good bacteria needed to decompose solid waste into liquid.

You can also opt for sustainable toilet papers that don’t give your holding tank a hard time when broken down.

5. Maintain Moderate Temperatures in the Holding Tanks

To protect the good bacteria in the black tank from weather elements, you have to use more water during that period to provide a cooler environment for them to thrive.

In cold temperatures, you should consider installing warmers around your holding tanks to keep the bacteria active enough.

6. Keep Your Dump Valves Closed

Ensure that you keep the dump valves closed to prevent drying out your black and gray tanks.

You should only open them when you want to dump the tanks or carry out maintenance.

7. Seek a Professional

Rv On A Coast

If all the above tips fail to solve the problem, then you should contact a professional RV plumbing company.

They’ll be better placed to deduce why the sewage smell persists and deal with it accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What to do if my RV smells like sewage

You should first check out your drains to confirm whether the smell is because of a clog or broken plumbing.

Afterward, you can resolve the matter by following the recommended tips above based on what you’re dealing with.

2. Why does my camper shower smell like sewer?

When only your camper shower smells like sewer, then the reason might be because of broken plumbing or a clog in the shower drain.

You should move fast and remove the clog to clear away all the blocked waste and gases from backing up into your shower.