How to keep a campervan from smelling musty


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Living in a campervan offers an unparalleled sense of freedom. The open road, new destinations, and ever-changing views. But, one common challenge many face is keeping that campervan from smelling musty. Why does this happen, and how can we prevent it.

Why Do Campervans Get Musty?

Campervans, by nature, are compact, mobile homes designed to provide both comfort and convenience on the go. However, the very features that make them attractive can also make them prone to developing a musty smell. Let’s break down the causes:

  • Moisture Accumulation:
    • Daily Activities: Simple daily activities, such as cooking, taking showers, or even exhaling while sleeping, release moisture into the confined space of the campervan. Over time, without adequate ventilation, this can lead to moisture accumulation.
    • External Conditions: Parking in humid areas or under trees, where dew or rain might drip constantly on the roof, can increase moisture inside the campervan, especially if there are unnoticed leaks.
    • Condensation: Cold nights and warm days can cause condensation on the insides of windows and walls, especially if the campervan is not adequately insulated. This is a common issue in many campervans and can be a significant source of moisture.
  • Limited Air Circulation:
    The compact design of a campervan can restrict airflow, especially if windows and vents remain closed for extended periods. Stale air trapped within can lead to a musty atmosphere.
  • Material Retention:
    • Upholstery and Fabrics: Campervans often feature soft furnishings, curtains, cushions, bedding and mattresses. These can absorb moisture and, if not dried out, become a breeding ground for mould and mildew.
    • Wooden Surfaces: Many campervans use wooden surfaces for their interiors. Wood can absorb moisture, and over time, if not treated or dried, it can develop a musty smell.
  • Hidden Leaks and Spills:
    Even the tiniest leaks from windows, roofs, or plumbing can cause water to accumulate in hidden spots. Similarly, unnoticed spills from drinks or other liquids can seep into nooks and crannies. Over time, these damp spots can foster mould growth, contributing to that distinctive musty odour.
  • Lack of Regular Cleaning:
    Campervans, like any living space, require regular cleaning. Neglected areas, food residues, or accumulated dirt and grime can produce unpleasant odours over time.
  • Storage of Damp Items:
    Storing wet or damp items, like clothes, towels, or shoes, can quickly lead to a musty smell. Without proper drying, these items can also develop mould or mildew, further contributing to the problem.

The primary reason campervans can develop a musty smell is moisture in combination with limited ventilation and the specific materials used in their construction. However, understanding these causes is the first step towards prevention and creating a fresh-smelling, comfortable environment inside your mobile home.

How to keep a campervan from smelling musty

Ensuring a campervan remains fresh and odour-free requires proactive steps. These measures are not only about addressing the smell but also about creating a healthier living environment.

  • Adequate Ventilation:
    • Regular Airing: Make it a habit to open windows and roof vents daily. This simple act allows damp, stale air to exit and fresh, dry air to enter, reducing moisture levels.
    • Fan Installation: Consider installing exhaust fans, especially in areas prone to moisture, like the kitchen or bathroom. These fans can significantly improve air circulation.
  • Moisture Control:
    • Dehumidifiers: Portable dehumidifiers can absorb excess moisture in the air. For campervans, there are many compact models available that won’t take up much space.
    • Moisture Absorbers: Silica gel packets or moisture-absorbing crystals can be placed in areas prone to dampness, like under sinks, in cabinets, or closets.
  • Regular Inspections for Leaks:
    • Frequent Checks: After heavy rainfall or washing your campervan, check for any signs of water ingress. Early detection can prevent significant damage and mustiness.
    • Sealant Application: Regularly inspect and refresh sealants around windows, doors, and the roof. Over time, these can degrade, leading to potential leaks.
  • Proper Storage Practices:
    • Dry Before Storing: Ensure items, especially clothes, towels, and camping gear, are thoroughly dry before stowing them away.
    • Use Airtight Containers: Store food and perishables in sealed containers to prevent moisture release and to keep pests out.
  • Regular Cleaning and Vacuuming:
    • Routine Cleans: Clean surfaces regularly to remove dust, food residues, and potential mould spores. Pay special attention to corners and hidden areas.
    • Vacuuming: A good vacuum not only removes dirt but can also suck out moisture from carpets and upholstery.
  • Avoid Cooking Large, Steamy Meals Indoors:
    • Opt for outdoor cooking when possible, especially for meals that produce a lot of steam. If cooking inside is unavoidable, ensure there’s adequate ventilation.
  • Consider Using Mould-Resistant Paints and Fabrics:
    • Mould-resistant paints: These can be particularly useful in areas prone to dampness. They contain antimicrobial properties that inhibit mould growth.
    • Mildew-resistant fabrics: Ideal for curtains, cushions, and other soft furnishings, these fabrics prevent mould and mildew growth, helping to keep the campervan fresh.
  • Use Natural Odour Absorbers:
    • Baking Soda: It’s a natural odour neutraliser. Place open boxes or bowls in areas like the fridge, bathroom, or kitchen.
    • Activated Charcoal: Available in bags, this can be placed in various spots to absorb odours and moisture.

In essence, the key to preventing a musty campervan lies in regular maintenance, smart choices in materials, and staying vigilant about moisture. By addressing potential problems before they escalate, you can ensure your home-on-wheels remains fresh, welcoming, and ready for the next adventure.

If you’d like to know more about dehumidifiers for campervans and motorhomes, check out our blog post here – 5 Best Campervan Dehumidifiers To Help You Combat Condensation

Quick Fixes for a Musty Campervan

Realising that your campervan has developed a musty odour while on a trip can put a dampener on things. Here are some quick remedies to refresh your space:

  • White Vinegar Solution:
    • Surface Cleaning: A mix of equal parts white vinegar and water can act as an effective cleaner. Wipe down surfaces, especially ones prone to dampness. Vinegar’s acidic nature helps kill mould and mildew, eliminating musty smells.
    • Air Freshener: Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar and spritz around the campervan. The vinegar smell dissipates quickly, taking the mustiness with it.
  • Baking Soda:
    • Carpet and Upholstery: Sprinkle baking soda generously on carpets, mats, and upholstered surfaces. Let it sit for a few hours, then vacuum. Baking soda acts as a natural odour absorber.
    • Fridge Refresher: Placing an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator can neutralise unpleasant odours.
  • Lemon Freshness:
    • Squeeze a couple of lemons into a bowl of water and microwave or gently simmer on the stove. The evaporating citrusy aroma can mask and neutralise musty odours. Plus, it’s a pleasant scent that can uplift moods!
  • Coffee Grounds:
    • Place bowls of fresh coffee grounds around the campervan. Not only will they absorb the musty odour, but they’ll also leave a rich coffee aroma behind.
  • Essential Oils:
    • Using a diffuser or simply dabbing a few drops onto cotton balls and placing them strategically can fill your campervan with a refreshing aroma. Popular choices include lavender, eucalyptus, and tea tree oil, known for their antimicrobial properties.
  • Activated Charcoal Bags:
    • These can be purchased from most home stores. Hang or place them in musty-prone areas. They act as odour and moisture absorbers, drawing out the mustiness and freshening up the space.
  • Open Everything Up:
    • If the weather permits, open all windows, doors, and vents. Letting fresh air flow through can drastically improve the smell and reduce moisture.
  • Check and Empty the Waste Water Tanks:
    • Sometimes, the source of the odour might be from stagnant water in the grey or black water tanks. Ensure they are emptied and cleaned regularly.
  • Portable Air Purifiers:
    • Compact air purifiers can be a worthwhile investment for frequent travellers. They not only help remove odours but also improve indoor air quality by filtering out allergens and pollutants.
  • Replace Old Items:
    • Cushions, mattresses, or curtains that have absorbed too much moisture over time might be beyond saving. Consider replacing them if they consistently contribute to the musty smell.

Remember, while these quick fixes can address the immediate issue, they’re most effective when paired with preventive measures. Tackling the root cause ensures that your campervan remains a fresh and inviting space for all your journeys ahead.

The Significance of Moisture Meters in Campervans

If you suspect that moisture is a problem in your campervan or motorhome and could be causing a musty smell, a moisture meter is a great tool to have to detect any issues.

What is a Moisture Meter?

A moisture meter is a handheld device designed to measure the moisture level in various materials. They are commonly used in construction to detect dampness in walls, ceilings, and floors. For campervan owners, they serve as an invaluable tool to detect and prevent potential moisture issues.

Why Every Campervan Owner Should Consider One:

  1. Early Detection: The earlier you detect moisture, the easier and cheaper it is to address the problem. A moisture meter can identify damp areas before they become visibly noticeable.
  2. Accurate Readings: Relying on touch or sight alone can be deceptive. A moisture meter provides an accurate percentage, allowing you to assess the severity of the situation.
  3. Material Versatility: Modern moisture meters come with settings for different materials, making them suitable for everything from wooden fixtures to upholstery.

If you’d like to know about moisture meters in more detail and how to choose the best one, then check out our blog post here – Best Moisture Meter For Campervans, Motorhomes & Caravans

moisture meter

Cleaning Routines for Every Campervan Owner

To keep your campervan in tip-top shape and free from unpleasant odours, follow these cleaning routines:

  • Daily Habits:
    • Ventilation: Begin each day by opening windows and roof vents for at least 15 minutes. Fresh air can prevent mould and keep the interiors smelling pleasant.
    • Wipe Down Surfaces: After meals or activities, quickly wipe down counters, tables, and any spills. This can prevent stains and bacterial growth.
    • Empty Waste Bins: Ensure waste bins are emptied daily to prevent odours and pest attraction.
  • Weekly Practices:
    • Vacuuming: Vacuum the floors, upholstery, and nooks and crannies. This not only removes dirt but can also help eliminate any moisture from carpets and mats.
    • Bathroom Cleanup: Clean the toilet, shower, and sink with appropriate cleaners. Due to the compact space, bathroom areas can quickly develop mould if left unchecked.
    • Fridge Check: Remove expired items, wipe down shelves, and check the freezer for frost build-up.
    • Linen and Fabric Care: Shake out rugs, wash kitchen towels, and air out bed linens to keep them fresh.
  • Monthly Maintenance:
    • Deep Cleaning: Once a month, take the time to clean areas you might overlook weekly. This includes window tracks, under the bed storage, and overhead cabinets.
    • Drain and Plumbing Care: Use natural solutions like a mix of baking soda and vinegar to clear drains. Ensure they’re flowing smoothly to prevent unpleasant odours.
    • Exterior Wash: Give the exterior of your campervan a good wash, checking for dirt accumulation, especially on the roof and undercarriage.
    • Appliance Maintenance: Check appliances like heaters, ovens, and air conditioners to ensure they are free from dust and functioning optimally.
  • Quarterly or Seasonal Chores:
    • Inspect Sealants and Caulking: Check the sealants around windows, doors, and the roof for any wear or cracks. Replace or repair as needed.
    • Deep Carpet Cleaning: If your campervan has carpets, consider a deep clean using a carpet cleaner. This can remove ingrained dirt and refresh the fibres.
    • Water System Flush: Run a solution of mild bleach or specialised cleaning product through your water system to disinfect and remove any build-up.
    • Upholstery and Curtain Wash: Remove and wash curtains and, if possible, upholstery covers. A fresh set can drastically change the ambiance inside.
  • Yearly Duties:
    • Thorough Inspection: Once a year, preferably before your main camping season, conduct a thorough inspection of your campervan. Check for rust, wear, mechanical issues, and any potential problems.
    • Replace Filters: Change out filters in water systems, air purifiers, and air conditioners.
    • Battery Checks: Ensure batteries in smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and other safety devices are functioning.

Remember, a little effort goes a long way. By incorporating these cleaning routines into your campervan lifestyle, you’ll not only enhance your travel experience but also prolong the lifespan of your beloved mobile home.

Addressing Common Misconceptions

  • “A little moisture doesn’t hurt.” Wrong! Even minimal moisture can lead to mould and mildew, causing musty smells and potential health issues.
  • “The campervan’s sealed tight; no need for ventilation.” Even in the tightest van, a bit of ventilation is vital for air circulation and preventing stagnation.


A musty-smelling campervan can dampen the spirit of adventure. But with the right measures, products, and routines, you can ensure that your home on wheels remains fresh and damp-free.


How often should I air out my campervan?

Regularly! Ideally, every day or every other day, depending on the weather and where you’ve parked.

Can I use household cleaning products in my campervan?

Yes, but ensure they are safe for the materials in your campervan.

How do I detect leaks in my campervan?

Check for damp spots, discolouration, or a persistent musty smell. Regular inspections can help you catch leaks early.

Do air purifiers help in reducing mustiness?

Yes, they can help in filtering out allergens and improve the overall air quality.

Can frequent travel cause my campervan to smell musty?

Not necessarily. In fact, movement and regular use can aid in air circulation, reducing chances of mustiness.

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