Why Do New RVs SMELL So Toxic?


Have you ever wondered why new RVs smell so toxic inside, especially after being closed up for awhile? There is an unmistakable odor of “newness” that permeates all conventional travel trailers and RVs that often cause burning eyes, runny nose, headaches, sore throat and other strange symptoms. It’s also not only the brand new camper that emits a toxic smell…older ones can, too, depending on how old and how they are made.

Here’s Why New RVs Smell

So, why do new RVs smell so…toxic? The basic answer is that those noxious odors you may smell are caused by the chemical emissions from a plethora of unhealthy building materials that are used to construct the camper. Most consumers are not aware of the level of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that compromise the indoor air quality of almost all new RVs and trailers. (Incidentally, this also applies to mobile homes and many other conventionally built modular living spaces.) One of the worst VOCs found in RV and trailer construction is formaldehyde.

One important case was the report that was brought to light after Louisiana’s devastating Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of victims lost their homes due to the natural disaster and FEMA supplied temporary housing with new travel trailers. Reports began to emerge of toxic exposures people were experiencing in the trailers that caused serious health problems.

The Washington Post reported that, “FEMA received 11,000 health complaints and moved more than 4,000 families.” There were serious concerns documented by Berkeley researchers who concluded that formaldehyde was “found to be higher, sometimes much higher, than what is typically found in residential environments.”

It was concluded that the large number of adverse health reports were due to the “exceptionally large emissions of formaldehyde in units tested and traced the chemical’s presence to extensive use of cheap, light plywood and particleboard for walls, flooring and cabinet surfaces.” The report also concluded that the trailers were not adequately ventilated which further caused dangerous indoor air pollution.

Unfortunately, RVs and trailers are typically built with an unusually high level of materials loaded with VOCS…even more so than standard built homes. One reason is that the lighter weight materials used for building campers are filled with synthetic resins and chemicals that produce more porous materials such as plywood, luan plywood, particle chipped board, vinyl, plastics, adhesives, and wall papers.

Much of these materials are laced with chemicals such as formaldehyde, petroleum based toxins and a variety of other toxins. Cabinets, walls, flooring, insulation, ceilings, furniture, and heating systems are commonly loaded with problematic materials. For example, have you ever noticed how strong the odor is when you open the kitchen and bathroom cabinets of some new RVs?

Health Reactions to New RVs

Health reactions to toxic materials in RVs and other types campers may present in a wide range. Some people may notice a simple irritation from indoor odors while others may experience full blown negative health episodes that damage their health.

Environmentally induced asthma, dizziness, increased respiratory illnesses and infections, disorientation, weakness and blurred vision can all be caused by breathing toxic fumes in motorhomes and campers.

Because of this less publicized health danger, many owners of RVs, travel trailers and campers know they feel terrible or get sick when they live in their home on wheels, but don’t know why.

How to Avoid RV Toxicity

It’s frankly very difficult to avoid all toxicity in RVs and campers unless you actually renovate an older one, buy a custom built camper or find a manufacturer that specializes in green travel trailers…which are very few. (Even green building materials can sometimes pose a problem.)

So, what to do?

The following tips are very helpful in improving indoor air quality and lessening your chance of experiencing health problems:

  • If you are experiencing some problems in your current RV or camper, you can actually make some basic changes that will help.
  • Remove the carpeting and replace with inert flooring such as wood or tile.
  • Wash the walls and ceiling down with white vinegar and white periodically. This will systematically remove some recurring resin from chemicals and hold mildew in check as well.
  • Seal your walls, ceilings and cabinets with AFM Hard Seal that can be purchased from the AFM Company online, who specializes in toxic free building materials.
  • Cover or replace smelly furniture with less toxic products.
  • Buy a portable air purifier to run in your RV when you camp.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not until after a consumer buys a new recreational vehicle do they actually realize how serious a problem they may have. Almost 10% of American households own RVs, so indoor air quality in campers isn’t something to ignore.

If you need help in dealing with a problematic RV or trailer, you can contact us for more help. We offer consultation for improving air quality in RVs, homes and other living or working spaces. Visit us for more info at www.wiselygreen.com. Follow us on Facebook.

ABC News: Embalmed in Your RV

RV Toxicity: A Real Problem

Washington Post

P. S. Orr
P.S. Orr is a Certified Green Living Coach and Healthy House expert. She is also Editor of WiselyGreen.com, a trusted resource for Toxic Free, Organic, Green Living information, community and personal help. For more info, visit WiselyGreen.com. Her recent book, The Backyard Food Factory is a #1 Best Seller and is available on Amazon. Follow on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook