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RV Air Quality Is Terrible: How to Measure And Improve Camper Air Safety

Because RV’s are small living spaces tightly sealed air quality can get bad very quickly. After many years on the road we started monitoring our air quality and were shocked at how bad it gets. In a small space, particulate matter can spike from moving around and stirring up microparticles. VOC’s (volitale organic compounds) go through the roof any time you cook, and humidity can build up fast just from breathing. CO and CO2 can also build up quickly and even be dangerous to health.

Today, we’re breaking down what causes such bad air quality in RVs. If you’re like us and want to ensure you are safely breathing clean air, read on to discover how to measure and improve air quality in your RV. 

Let’s dive in!

Good RV Air Quality Matters

RVs are well-sealed and compact, so any air pollutants an RV generates inside don’t have anywhere to go. They can become quite concentrated. This can lead to many issues, from discomfort and health concerns to making your RV less enjoyable. Breathing in concentrated air pollutants can result in respiratory problems and irritation and exacerbate existing health conditions. Exacerbated asthma is what tipped us off to an air quality issue. It’s not only about comfort; it’s about ensuring that your RV is a safe and healthy space to live and travel.

Woman opening van window
Breathe right by improving the air quality in your RV.

Common Air Quality Issues in RVs 

Air quality in your RV can decrease for many reasons. Consider the following concerns to ensure your rig has fresh air on your adventures.

Poor Ventilation 

One of the most prevalent issues in RVs is poor ventilation. If you’re like us and love cooking, you have likely experienced the build-up of cooking fumes throughout your rig. Cooking, especially on a propane range, often releases fumes that can quickly degrade air quality. Using a hood over your cooktop can help mitigate the fumes and ensure proper ventilation. Additionally, open your RV’s windows while cooking to help circulation. 

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Concerns

Carbon monoxide is a significant concern in RVs, given the confined space and the potential for gas leaks. Generator exhaust is one of the major contributors to CO, but other appliances can emit it as well. Correct maintenance of gas appliances and installing a CO detector is paramount to safeguard against this silent but deadly threat.

Pro Tip: Is your carbon monoxide detector making noises? We uncovered the different reasons Why Your RV Carbon Monoxide Detector Is Beeping.

CO detector
Make sure you have your carbon monoxide detector installed before you hit the road.

Off-Gassing 

New RVs often come with a distinct “RV smell,” which you can attribute to off-gassing from materials like adhesives, plastics, and rubbers. While this has been a concern in the past, more manufacturers are using low-VOC materials. Still, allow your RV to air out if it’s new, and be aware of any lingering odors.

Allergens and Dust 

Like any home, RVs can accumulate allergens and dust. These allergens can potentially cause respiratory issues and reduce air quality in your RV. The best way to combat this is by regularly cleaning, but we understand that it is hard to stay motivated to clean when you’re exploring. We like to use an air purifier in our rig to help remove unwanted contaminants, allergens, and pollutants from our RV’s air.

Mold and Mildew

The compact, often humid conditions in RVs make them prone to mold and mildew. If you don’t correctly ventilate and dehumidify your rig, you may see mold and mildew growth. Use a dehumidifier in your RV to keep your air fresh on the road.

moldy rv
Poor air quality can cause major mold issues in your RV.

How to Measure Air Quality in RV

Using an air quality monitor is crucial to gauge air quality in your RV. These devices can detect various pollutants and provide real-time data on the state of your indoor environment. We use this air quality monitor to review our rig’s air quality. It syncs to an app on our phone so we can closely monitor any changes in our RV. (You do need a wifi router to make this unit work). Other options can be very inexpensive and offer a simple light that indicates quality like the Ikea unit that is so popular.

air quality dashboard
The rapid fall off of air quality here was making dinner. We noticed it and quickly opened windows

However, we have noticed even everyday activities like making toast can trigger the monitor. Seeing how a piece of bread can impact our RV’s air quality highlights the importance of these tools.

Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor – Know your…
  • Know your air – Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor makes it easy…
  • Track and measure – Keep tabs on 5 key factors: particulate…
  • Stay informed – Get an indication of current air quality from…

How to Improve Air Quality in an RV

If you’ve installed your air quality monitor into your rig and noticed you need to make some improvements to your setup, do the following steps to quickly refresh your RV.

Get Air Circulating

To enhance air quality in your RV, prioritize ventilation. When cooking, particularly with a propane range, always use your RV’s vents and consider opening a window when feasible. This promotes the circulation of fresh outdoor air, which helps dilute any cooking fumes. Dilution prevents fumes from accumulating and degrading indoor air quality. Adequate air circulation is a simple yet effective way to keep the atmosphere inside your RV clean and breathable.

Clean Your Air Filters in A/C and Furnace

If your RV has air conditioning and a furnace, keeping their filters clean or replacing them regularly is essential. Dirty or clogged filters restrict airflow, reducing the system’s efficiency and allowing dust and allergens to accumulate in the indoor environment. By regularly cleaning your filters, you ensure optimal air quality by reducing the presence of airborne particles that can cause discomfort or health issues.

RV air conditioning maintenance
Make sure to do regular maintenance on your AC unit, like cleaning or replacing the vent filters.

Use an Air Purifier

Installing an air purifier is a proactive measure to substantially improve overall air quality in your RV. Air purifiers capture and remove particulate matter, allergens, and even odors from the air. Select a model suitable for the size of your RV for optimal results.

Our air filter in our RV
After trial and error, we found that this air purifier works best for our RV. Its small enough, quiet, reasonably affordable and works very well.

Dehumidify

High humidity levels can create an environment conducive to mold and mildew growth, which can be detrimental to your health and the condition of your RV. If you’re in an area with elevated humidity or are experiencing moisture issues inside your RV, consider using a dehumidifier. Depending on the size of your RV, you can also use DampRid to remove excess moisture from the air.

We always open vents if possible when showering and squeegee down the shower after each use to minimize moisture buildup.

Pro Tip: Make sure you have one of these 6 Best RV Dehumidifiers in your rig on your next adventure.

Breathe Right With Fresh Air in Your RV

Maintaining adequate air quality in your RV is essential for your comfort and well-being. Insufficient air quality can cause illness or difficulty breathing, which may stop you from exploring. Whether you’re dealing with cooking fumes, carbon monoxide, or general allergens, taking steps to measure and improve air quality can make your journey more enjoyable and healthier.

Have you ever measured your RV’s air quality before? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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tom

Monday 4th of December 2023

If you are going to go to the trouble to quantify indoor air quality I would think that carbon dioxide would be one of the top metrics you want to observe?

Mortons on the Move

Thursday 7th of December 2023

Thats a good idea and I would like to monitor it but is a less common metric on most meters. Its not toxic of course and once it builds up too high you will notice for sure. I would love to see how much it builds in a small space however.