RV Kitchen

Why Does My RV Refrigerator Smell Like Ammonia?

The smell of ammonia is not pleasant at any time of the day or night. For those who have an RV refrigerator, this can be especially distressing to detect. Also, it can be a little confusing. What could be the problem if the fridge appears to be working and all of the food within it is still good? The obvious question is, “Why does my RV refrigerator smell like ammonia?”

This is a reasonable question, and the answer is clear. If you open the door of your RV fridge and smell ammonia, you have a leaking cooling component. In particular, the evaporator of your cooling system must be replaced. It is possible to protect yourself and your family by detecting a leak like this early on.

However, this answer raises more questions. I don’t understand how this happened. Is this fix going to be difficult or expensive? And what on earth is ammonia doing in a recreational vehicle refrigerator to begin with? We’ll address these and other questions in this article.

How Does An RV Refrigerator Work?

The term “absorption refrigerator” refers to the type of refrigerator commonly found in RVs, including even the most luxurious models. 

An RV refrigerator uses ammonia, water, and hydrogen in a chemical reaction to keep food fresh. After the ammonia is heated, evaporation and condensation occurs, resulting in the fridge’s cooling effect. When it comes to heating ammonia, either a propane torch or an electric coil will do the trick.

Simply put, this process works well when everything goes as planned. RV fridges aren’t nearly as cool as your kitchen fridge, but they do a great job of keeping essentials like water and food cool and fresh.

So, Why Does My RV Fridge Smell Like Ammonia?

Smelling ammonia which should be cooling the fridge indicates there is a leak, as previously stated. As well as stinking and making your food go bad, inhaling too much of it can be harmful to your health, especially if you or anyone else in the RV is exposed to it.

Shock and fainting are possible reactions to ammonia inhalation. Coughing or wheezing may also occur. Because of this, ammonia was banned from being used in refrigerators in the home a long time ago. On the other hand, RV refrigerators are lagging behind.

How Do I Know If My RV Fridge Is Leaking Ammonia?

If you open the RV refrigerator door and smell ammonia, it is a safe bet that you have a leak of ammonia. 

Detectors for ammonia can be used if the smell is very faint or if you are unsure what you are smelling. Although they can be purchased online for relatively low prices, the ammonia detectors are essential in other situations, such as monitoring fish tank water. 

Ammonia monitors for fish tanks are readily available, and they could very easily be attached to the inside of your RV refrigerator so that you can be alerted immediately if something goes wrong.

How Do I Check The Ammonia Level In My RV Refrigerator?

Using monitors are extremely useful.

If you use the stick-on type, you’ll get a color-coded system that’s easy to understand.

If you do a lot of RVing and keep a lot of food in the fridge, or maybe if your RV fridge is an older model, these monitors are worth the small investment.

How To Fix Ammonia Smell From An RV Refrigerator

When you smell ammonia, you know something is wrong with your cooling system’s evaporator. For the sake of your health and that of everyone else in the RV (including pets), it is never a good idea to ignore an ammonia problem, delay repairs, or attempt a DIY fix.

A new evaporator for an RV fridge is a risky endeavor, even if you can find YouTube videos showing how someone with some mechanical aptitude can do it.

The best course of action is to seek the advice of a trained professional.

Some RV fridges with ammonia leaks can be fixed relatively cheaply, but if yours is an older model, it may be in your best interest to replace it, both from a safety and financial perspective.

3 Best Ways To Remove Ammonia Odor From An RV Refrigerator

Repairing your RV fridge instead of replacing it may leave you with an ammonia smell after it has been repaired.. Your camper’s interior may be filled with an unpleasant smell if the leak was severe.

The following are some of the best ways to get rid of the smell:

Clean First

It’s best to start with a gentle cleanser that doesn’t have a strong scent. The Better Life All Purpose Cleaner is an excellent choice because it cleans well but will not end up leaving behind residue or leave smears on any glass shelving in your refrigerator.

Baking Soda

An odor as strong as ammonia can’t be completely eradicated by simple cleaning measures. Baking soda has been used for a long time to soak up refrigerator odors, which it does very well even when the aroma is as strong as ammonia. The smell should disappear within 48 hours if you buy a new box, open it, and put it in the refrigerator.

Coffee Grounds

Aside from baking soda, coffee grounds can also be used to get rid of odors in your RV if you don’t have any. After brewing your favorite cup of coffee, allow the grounds to cool and then place them on saucers or small plates in the locations where the smell is the strongest. Coffee, unlike baking soda, has a distinct odor of its own, so only use it if you’re a fan of the aroma!

Chemical air fresheners should be avoided at all costs in your motorhome. It’s not just the ammonia odor that’s difficult to get rid of, but also the chemicals that are released into the air when you use these products.

Can I Swap Out An RV Refrigerator For A Standard One?

This ammonia scare may have you wondering if it would be better to replace your RV refrigerator with an ordinary refrigerator commonly found at home.

People who spend a lot of time in their RVs sometimes recommend this, and you can do it too if you choose to. Additionally, a standard refrigerator will keep your food fresher, cooler, and more functional, with features like ice makers and other conveniences.

However, there are a few things you’ll need to be aware of and consider. Some RVs don’t have 120-volt outlets, so you’ll need a 120-volt outlet to run any standard refrigerator—even a dorm-sized one.

For those who enjoy going “off-grid” on a regular basis, this kind of swap may not be a good idea because you will only be able to use your refrigerator on generator power or shore power. RVing can be an exciting experience, but if you’re more concerned about staying in campgrounds and using shore power frequently, a standard refrigerator may be the best option for you.

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