RV Refridgerator Smells Like Ammonia? 5 Easy Fixes!

RV refrigerators are convenient machines that use ammonia to run correctly, but if you start to smell ammonia in the fridge or RV, you have a problem. The smell of ammonia is distinct and unnatural, meaning you’ll notice something is off right away. Determining why your refrigerator is leaking is critical because extended exposure to ammonia is unhealthy. 

Why does my RV fridge smell like ammonia?

The primary reason why your RV refrigerator smells like ammonia is a leak in the cooling unit of the fridge. In most fridges, ammonia is used as the coolant, so if you detect this smell in your RV, it’s because of a leak with the evaporator in the cooling area of the fridge. 

All refrigerators need a coolant in the cooling unit because it creates a chemical reaction with water, and ammonia is the coolant choice in most RV fridge models. Specifically, there is an evaporator coil where most ammonia leaks happen. Keep reading to learn more about why the RV refrigerator has an ammonia smell and what you can do about it. 

Ammonia and these refrigerators are complex machines, and it’s not recommended to do maintenance on cooling units without proper safety precautions and experience. However, this guide should help you learn more about your RV’s issues. 

Why Does My RV Refrigerator Smell Like Ammonia? 

RV Refrigerators can be a hotbed of smells, especially when not cleaned properly. But when the refrigerator has an ammonia smell, you likely need to fix a leaking cooling component instead of just a simple cleaning. 

This ammonia smell happens because many RV refrigerators use ammonia as a coolant. It’s considered a cheaper and more efficient coolant choice, resulting in lower electricity usage. 

However, it also comes with a uniquely distinct smell, so any leak is evident because of the potent ammonia odor. When an RV appliance starts smelling like ammonia, it could mean an issue in one or more areas of the unit. 

The smell of ammonia can come from a variety of sources. It could be that the coils are dirty and need to be cleaned, or an issue with the gasket where the door seals onto the refrigerator body.

The smell of ammonia can be powerful, and it can make you feel sick. Don’t worry. There are no serious risks, but you should address the issue as quickly as possible. 

How Do I Get Rid Of Ammonia In My RV Refrigerator?

The ammonia in an RV refrigerator is stored inside the cooling unit. Removing the cooling unit is the first step to start if you want to eliminate ammonia. 

This is why the primary response to repair the fridge is to remove and replace the cooling unit when a leak happens. While ammonia is a colorless gas, it can leave yellowish stains and a strong smell when it leaks into your fridge. 

Follow these steps to get rid of those ammonia stains in the refrigerator. 

1. Empty Your Refrigerator 

Before doing anything to your refrigerator, clean the interior and throw away any food or drink items. These have been contaminated due to the ammonia leak, and getting them out of the RV right away is the safest thing to do. 

2. Use An Ammonia Detection Cloth

One of the best ways to detect an ammonia leak before doing any unnecessary maintenance is with an ammonia detection cloth. All you need to do is put the cloth near the suspected leak inside or outside the fridge.

If any leak or ammonia is detected, the cloth’s color changes, indicating a problem with the cooling unit. Once you confirm this, you can prepare to do further maintenance. 

3. Remove the Refrigerator From RV

Next, we recommend removing the refrigerator from the RV. If you have ammonia inside your fridge, further inspections and repairs must be done, so you should get it outside with more space. 

This also stops the leak from happening inside the RV and prevents any other smells or stains from occurring. 

4. Remove & Replace the Cooling Unit

As mentioned, any ammonia inside your refrigerator means the cooling unit is likely leaking. If you notice a strong ammonia smell or yellowish stains, this area is leaking. 

First, remove the cooling unit from the fridge to see what type of damage exists. Typically, there is no way to repair a leaking cooling unit, and it needs to be replaced. 

5. Do A Thorough Cleaning Of The Fridge

Once everything has been repaired, you should do a final deep cleaning of the fridge as a precaution. This can be done with a soft cloth or sponge, warm water, and detergent. 

Avoid using any cleaners that contain ammonia for this task. 

What Causes Ammonia Smell In RV Refrigerators?

The most common cause of an ammonia smell in an RV refrigerator is a leak in the cooling unit. If you are experiencing an ammonia smell inside your RV, check for leaks in your cooling unit before calling for help.

The evaporator inside the cooling unit of the RV refrigerator likely needs to be repaired or replaced. This is where the ammonia, water, and hydrogen react together to create a cooling effect to reach desired temperatures. 

When this gets defective or begins leaking, this ammonia smell can happen. You can use an ammonia stick to check the current levels or look for any yellowish stains or unusual noises inside the fridge. 

How Do I Get The Ammonia Smell Out Of My Fridge? 

Ammonia has a potent smell that isn’t overly dangerous in small doses. However, it can quickly get out of hand in your fridge and make you feel nauseous and dizzy if you are not careful. 

It will also cause a significant smell inside the fridge, meaning you’ll need to find a way to get the smell out. Try these tips. 

Install A New Cooling Unit

The most common cause of ammonia leaks is a damaged cooling unit. The cooling unit is located in the refrigerator’s freezer area and is responsible for using energy to monitor and maintain proper temperatures. 

If the cooling unit malfunctions, it will leak ammonia into the refrigerator’s interior. Because this can’t be repaired, you should replace the cooling unit immediately.

Do A Deep Cleaning

After replacing the unit, you need to focus more on the smell. We recommend using vinegar, coffee grounds, and baking soda to combat distinct ammonia smells. 


White vinegar can work like a regular cleaner if you put it in a spray bottle. Use this spray inside the fridge, which will help eliminate the smell. But because it can stain, don’t spray it on any other surfaces in the RV. 

Coffee Grounds

Numerous studies exist on the effects of coffee grounds on fighting ammonia smells. It works well, and you can find success by filling one or two bowls with ground coffee and placing it inside the closed fridge for 24 hours. 

Baking Soda

Baking soda has similar capabilities as coffee grounds. For these reasons, many households always keep an open box of baking soda in the back of their fridge. 

It’s less effective as a quick solution to eliminate an ammonia smell, but it’s worth considering for long-term improvements. 

How Do I Get The Ammonia Smell Out Of My RV?

Getting rid of the ammonia smell in an RV is not easy. There are a few ways to get rid of the smell, but they all require some work and time. Consider these tips below. 

Air It Out

If you have tried some cleaning techniques and don’t see the smell fading away, open everything and air it out. This includes doors and all windows inside the RV. 

But monitor the weather conditions and keep your RV in a safe area when doing so. 

Run Your RV Heater

Running the RV heater at higher temperatures can work well to get rid of the ammonia smell. This can be done with an internal heater or by turning on the stoves and letting them run for an hour or two. 

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