Camper vans will quickly soak in the smells around them. If you have air fresheners, the inside will smell pleasant. But when smoke from any source enters the interior, the mattresses, pillows, curtains, seats, and many other parts of the van can quickly smell smoky.
To get smoke smell out of a camper, start by ventilating the vehicle and use air fresheners or dryer sheets to mask the odors. Next, air the cushions, wash bedding, air out the mattresses, scrub the rugs, wipe off all of the furniture, and clean the windows. Don’t forget about the awning as well.
Throughout this post, you’ll also learn the following information:
- Tips for removing the smoke smell from different parts of a camper
- Causes of smoky odors
- How to prevent smoke odors from happening
- What to do when you suddenly smell smoke in your camper
Air Out the Camper With Vents, Wax Melts, and Tea Tree Oil
Smoke from campfires and cigarettes are the two most common sources that cause campers to smell smoky. Regardless of where it’s coming from, smoke can make your whole motorhome unpleasant to relax in. Fortunately, there are several ways to get this odor out of everything found in the camper.
Let’s examine the five best methods of removing campfire smoke from a camper:
- Use a few drops of tea tree oil. Drop them onto a warm damp rag and scrub whatever surface of the camper is smoky. If it’s everything inside your vehicle that smells like smoke, then consider getting an essential oil diffuser. These products are inexpensive and can coat everything inside of your camper in no time.
- Dryer sheets aren’t just for the clothes dryer, use a few dryer sheets to help remove the smoke smell. These sheets work wonders for removing odors from clothes, seats, curtains, and other fabric types. The thing you need to remember is when you’re using dryer sheets is that they’re not a cleaner. It’s almost like using deodorant rather than actually showering.
- Ventilate the camper whenever you can, especially at night. Open all of the vents, windows, and doors to allow air to flow through. The smell of a natural breeze in the woods can be enough to remove most of the smoky smell caused by a campfire. Even if it doesn’t remove it entirely, it’ll get rid of it enough to make it tolerable.
- Use air freshener plug-ins. Different plug-ins allow you to release the smell of various scents. Some are always on or can be set on timers to go off every hour. Either way, both choices provide an effortless solution to campfire odors.
- Consider trying wax melters. These candle alternatives have become increasingly popular in recent years. They provide an incredible array of scents without needing a flame to melt the wax. However, you shouldn’t drive the camper van while a wax melter is active. It’s dangerous and potentially very messy to clean up. And never leave the wax melter on and unattended.
Get the Smoke Out of the Cushions
Getting smoky odors out of the cushions in your camper is much easier than you might think. All you need is baking soda and a bag (unused trash bags will work well).
Follow these steps:
- If the cushion cover is washable, remove the cover and wash it.
- Throw the foam cushion form (when removing the cover) or the whole cushion in the plastic bag.
- Add 1 cup of baking soda into the bag with the cushion and close it. You can use more baking soda if you have a bigger cushion.
- Shake the bag for 1 minute to cover all areas of the cushion, then leave the cushion inside the bag at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Remove the cushion from the bag, shake off the baking soda, and vacuum it off if it doesn’t come off easily.
- Place the cushion outside for a few hours on a picnic table, then flip it over to air the other side.
This process will also work for your bed pillows and any decorative pillows that you have in your camper.
Focus Extra Attention on the Curtains
Since curtains are usually made out of porous fabric, they’re among the first places to soak in the smoke smell. However, you can remove it rather quickly if you remember that most camper curtains are washable; in that case, the washer will do everything for you.
If you’re not lucky enough to have washable curtains, you can first try hanging them on the clothesline outside to air out. In case that doesn’t work, next, you can try a product like Febreze for fabrics. Before using a fabric freshener product, test it in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it won’t leave a stain.
Finally, if that doesn’t take the smell away, you can use baking soda to get the job done. Follow the same basic steps we listed above for the cushions after letting the curtains sit overnight, shake out, and hang on the clothesline. You may need to repeat these steps.
Note: You can also try having them dry cleaned at a professional shop.
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Clean the Rug With Baking Soda
You can clean rugs in a very similar fashion. It’s no secret that fluffy, dense fabric usually makes it harder to remove smoke smells. Follow the steps below to quickly clean your rug and get it back in the camper.
- Start by getting the rug out of your camper; if it is removable, if it is not removable, you will have to do it in place. Lay it on a flat surface, such as a cement pad at a campsite or in your driveway.
- Sprinkle baking soda evenly over the rug. You can add up to 10 drops of lemon oil, eucalyptus oil, or lavender oil to the baking soda; just mix it in a container, let it sit 6-8 hours, then sprinkle it evenly over the rug.
- Let the baking soda sit at the minimum of an hour or two, longer is better, then vacuum the soda off the rug to ensure that you remove all of the powder.
- If it still smells smoky, repeat steps 2 and 3. You can also add a few more drops of your chosen essential oil to maintain the fresh scent.
Use White Vinegar, Washing Soda, and Ammonia on Vinyl Surfaces
Dealing with vinyl is a bit tricky. It’s not very porous, so once it has a smoky odor, you might find it difficult to remove. However, you can try out various techniques to see which ones work for you.
One suggestion is to use traditional store-bought sprays, like Rejuvenate Leather & Vinyl Cleaner. If you’re able to remove the vinyl furniture from the camper, it’ll receive proper ventilation.
You could also use ¼ cup of white vinegar, ¼ cup of washing soda, and ½ cup of ammonia, according to How to Clean Stuff. Add these ingredients into one gallon of warm water and wipe down the surface with a sponge. Follow it up by using a dry rag to remove moisture and repeat the process if necessary.
Spray or Scrub Wooden Furniture With Citrus Cleaners
Citrus-based wood cleaners are some of the best products on the market for removing smoky smells from your camper. They strip foul odors out quickly, but they also make the rest of the vehicle smell pleasant for a few days. Howard Orange Oil is an option that you might want to try.
Another option is to wash all the surfaces down with warm water and a product like Murphy Oil Soap. Sometimes a good scrubbing will work wonders.
Freshen the Bedding With Baking Soda and Essential Oils
Perhaps the most obvious suggestion with smoke-smelling bedding would be to throw it all in the washer and dryer. Assuming that you’ve already tried it or you simply don’t have access currently, you could also have everything dry cleaned. Sheets, blankets, and pillowcases aren’t usually the problem, though.
When it comes to smoky bedding, the pillows and mattresses are usually the biggest problems. You can’t really throw an entire mattress in the washing machine, so what can you do?
Use 1 cup of baking soda and several drops of essential oils. Bedding requires the exact same process as rugs and curtains. The only difference is that some mattresses are harder to work with. Follow the same principles that we gave above for the cushions and rugs for the mattress and pillows.
Scrub the Awning With Dish Soap and Warm Water
The awning of a camper sometimes gets neglected. Many people who buy used campers discover that the awning is torn to shreds, covered in mildew, or ruined in some other shape or form. The smoke usually doesn’t ruin the awning quickly, even though it can hang close to a campfire.
If your awning starts to smell smoky, figure out what material it is before cleaning it. Fabric-based awnings can be cleaned with baking soda and tea tree oil. On the other hand, vinyl awnings only require water and dish soap. Scrub it down with a sponge, ensuring to cover every corner of the surface.
Let the awning stay fully extended until it has dried completely. Failure to let it dry can result in mold and mildew growing overnight.
Use Water, Baking Soda, and Cleaners for the Appliances
Finally, appliances can be a hot topic for smoky odors. If your fridge, oven, or shower starts to smell like smoke, you might have a serious issue on your hands. We will cover that in the next section to review the risks and causes of smoke from the various appliances throughout a camper.
Nonetheless, removing cigarette and campfire smoke from appliances is quite tedious. You’ll need to use store-bought cleaning sprays and loads of baking soda. Try out these steps:
- Select your preferred cleaner of choice.
- Scrub the inside and outside of the appliance (appliances need to be unplugged to prevent shocks).
- Dry everything off with an unused/clean rag.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 if necessary.
What Causes a Smoky Smell in Campers?
If you’ve ever looked through used RV lots, then you know that they’re no stranger to smoky odors. Cigarettes, campfires, and malfunctioning appliances can all cause smoky smells throughout the vehicle. Let’s examine some of the main reasons that your camper might smell like smoke.
- As mentioned above, cigarettes can cause smoky odors in motorhomes and other recreational vehicles. If this is the case with the purchase of your used camper van, just apply the tips above to get it smelling fresh before hitting the road.
- If you light campfires too close to the camper, it’ll permeate the vehicle. Your seats, bedding, curtains, and other fabrics can start to smell like smoke overnight. It’s essential to park far away from the fire if possible—campfire smoke changes to a stale, foul odor after a few hours of soaking into the vehicle.
- Old appliances that have electrical issues can create smoke smells as well. Whether two wires are causing unseen sparks or gas isn’t burning efficiently, you might have a serious problem on your hands. If this is the case with your camper van, replace the appliances, or have a professional look at your wiring.
How to Prevent Smoke From Stinking Up Your Camper
Preventative measures are obviously the best way to always have your camper smell like-new. We all love the scent of the open air in nature, but that doesn’t include the pungent odor of old smoke from campfires and cigarettes.
Here are three top-notch ways to prevent smoke from stinking up your camper:
- Always allow your camper to have a high amount of airflow. Proper ventilation from roof vents, open windows, screen doors, and fans is the key to never smelling smoke in the vehicle. They can also prevent headaches and dangerous outcomes from cooking indoors.
- Close windows, vents, and doors when parked near a campfire or near where people are smoking. On that note, keep your camper at least 15 feet away from campfires if at all possible.
- Clean your camper regularly. Whether you’re mopping the floor, wiping down the shower, or dry cleaning your bedding, it’s important always to clean something. When going on an extended camping trip, make it a habit to do a deep clean on one part of the vehicle every day. It could be something as simple as air-drying the cushions of the couch.
What Should You Do if You Suddenly Smell Smoke?
The previously mentioned sources can naturally cause smoke odors to grow over time. However, sudden smoky smells might be a sign of mechanical failure that could prove dangerous. They might come from the fridge, stoves, or even under the hood. Fear not, you can deal with any situation without risking yourself or the camper.
Here’s some tips on what you should do if you suddenly smell smoke in your camper:
- If you’re driving the vehicle, pull over to the side of the road as soon as you safely can. Don’t panic and make any abrupt turns or movements that might endanger any passengers or other vehicles.
- Turn off the ignition and get everyone else outside of the vehicle. If there’s an electrical issue or potential fire hazard, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Only the most mechanically inclined individual should potentially remain inside, and then only if it is safe to do so. If you’re worried and not sure where it’s coming from, call a professional.
- Locate the source by following your nose. Smoky smells are often easy to detect since they become stronger as you approach them. Start by opening the fridge, pulling down the door of the oven, and checking the water pump. Note: All appliances should be turned off at the breakers right away.
- If you’re able to find the source, you might be able to fix the problem. Loose wire connections are often as simple as disconnecting and reconnecting them. For example, you can use twist-on wire connectors to pair wires together. Loose wires can arc by touching just enough to cause sparks since they’re not correctly connected.
- Remember that sometimes the safest course of action is to hire a professional. It might put a damper on your vacation, but safety comes first. Roadside assistance services, such as the invaluable membership perk offered by Good Sam, can allow you to get back on the road as quickly as possible.
As you can see, there’s no need to panic in these situations. You can call someone for help or fix the issue yourself if you’re trained and confident. As noted above, turn off the breakers immediately, cutting the electrical power should stop what caused the smoky odor.
Warning: If you ever see fire or smoke, get out of the vehicle right away. Nothing in or on a camper is worth risking your well-being or that of your passengers.
Smoky campers don’t smell good and are tough to deal with. However, you can use the numerous helpful suggestions to tackle any and all odors caused by smoke from cigarettes, campfires, and so on.
Here’s a recap of the post:
- Keep cleaning supplies, baking soda, essential oils, and clean rags on hand for cleaning purposes.
- Park at least 15 feet away from campfires.
- Perform daily or weekly cleanings to prevent smoke smells from building up.
- Opening the windows, dryer sheets, and fresh-scented sprays can keep your camper smelling fresh.