On this site, we’ve talked about many stenches that can naturally occur in your RV or travel trailer. These include a stinky toilet, a smelly camper, and an unpleasant freshwater holding tank.
Speaking of that holding tank, you know that not all your tanks are the same, right? That could be one major reason your RV water smells like rotten eggs.
There’s your graywater and blackwater holding tanks, and then there’s your freshwater holding tank.
The former two tanks are where your waste goes: toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, and other bodily bathroom waste.
The latter is where the fresh water comes from. Cross-contaminating the two somehow could cause your rotten egg smell, but that’s only one reason out of many.
Want to know why else your vehicle might reek? Read on. We’ll also include some quick solutions for getting rid of the smell.
Reasons Your RV Water Might Smell
If you’ve read any of the other articles on this blog about common RV odors, then you can probably guess what might be causing the water in your RV to smell. Drumroll, please: it’s bacteria.
Here’s the twist. Most of the time, the reason the anaerobic bacteria develop in the first place is because of your water heater. The heater comes with an anode rod, which we’ve talked about before. Essentially, the rod is silver and fresh right out of the box. Over time, say, about five years, the anode rod will start to turn coppery and corroded. Your water heater will start corroding as well without a functioning anode rod. This significantly shortens the lifespan of the water heater.
What does any of this have to do with your rotten egg smell? Good question. When the anodes start corroding, they generate what’s known as hydrogen sulfide gas. This smell tends to occur when organic material disintegrates and is most commonly found in sewers and swamps. It has a rotten eggy smell. It’s also known for being flammable, corrosive, and toxic.
Not only is your rotten egg smell an inconvenience, then, but in this instance, it’s a health hazard as well. That means you need to take care of it ASAP.
Troubleshooting Tips and Fixes
There are a lot of things that desperate RV owners have tried to get rid of that rotten egg smell in their water.
Here’s what doesn’t work:
- Switching to aluminum anodes from magnesium; both will corrode, so there’s no point
- Taking out the anode yourself, as you need an anode in there to keep the water heater from rusting (also, doing so may void your water heater warranty, so be careful!)
- Softening the water to get rid of the smell
Now that you know which tactics to avoid, let’s get into what you can do to get rid of all traces of this rotten egg smell ASAP.
First, it’s important to differentiate the source of the smell. Most of the time, since it’s a water heater issue, you won’t smell rotten eggs when using cold water. It’s only when you run the hot water that this odor occurs.
If your water smells regardless, it might be because of a backup of sulfur. You’ll either have to buy a sulfur removal system (and this can cost upwards of $1,000) or call a professional.
Otherwise, if you’re sure it’s an anode issue, you should start your troubleshooting by accessing your water heater’s cold-water valve. Close this for now. Move to a sink and run some hot water. You’re going to have to leave this on for a while, so make sure the sink is relatively empty. A tub also works. Doing so eases some of the water heater tank pressure.
We must mention that accessing your hot water tank when it’s still on can lead to burns and other serious injuries. If you insist on doing this job yourself, then be careful!
Now you want to remove a little of the water within the tank, but no more than half. For every 20 gallons of water left in the tank, toss in a pint’s worth of hydrogen peroxide (this may vary depending on the hydrogen peroxide you buy; always follow those instructions).
Next, open the cold-water valve so you can run both hot and cold water. Test each sink and your shower to see if the smell is gone. It should be, but if not, repeat.
Preventing Recurring Rotten Egg Smells
We have some bad news: unless you do this on a two-week basis (and sometimes even weekly), the rotten egg smell is going to come back.
That’s because you’re putting a Band-Aid on the problem rather than treating it at the source. More than likely, you’re going to have to pay a professional to come out and reinstall a fresh water heater anode. If you have a water heater with more than one anode, make sure the technician replaces both, or the smell is going to persist.
If you add water softener, it’s recommended you stop doing so. Hydrogen sulfide gas has the perfect environment to develop and spread in softened water. In fact, many RV owners with softened water in their hot water tanks report an even stronger rotten egg smell than those without softened water.
Hopefully, between the troubleshooting tips above and these tips for rotten egg smell prevention, you should have an RV with water that doesn’t stink at all.
You use water to cook and cleanse, but what do you do if it’s the water itself that smells unclean? If you have an RV, it can happen. If it’s both hot and cold water that’s affected, then it’s probably a sulfur issue. If it’s only the hot water, though, it’s because of bacteria that grows in the hot water tank.
You can either access this tank yourself (but being careful not to burn yourself) or let a professional take care of it. In most cases, getting a new anode in the tank fixes the eggy smell of the water. Good luck!