If you’ve ever set foot inside a brand, spanking new travel trailer or RV, you can’t miss the unmistakable odor of ‘newness’ that generally permeates the interior. In fact, many people experience an increased burning of the eyes, nose and throat the longer they stay in a new RV.
Not only do new recreational vehicles often emit pungent odors, but older ones do as well, depending on how old and how much offgassing of the construction materials has occurred.
Health Reactions to Offgassing in New RVs
Some people experience a simple irritation from the odors while others may experience full blown negative health episodes from living or camping in some of these homes on wheels that are so popular today.
One good case in point, is the past reports of toxic exposure that caused poor health in some of the Hurricane Katrina victims who had to spend months in new FEMA trailers because they had lost their homes due to the devastating natural disaster in Louisiana.
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.
So why do new RVs smell, anyway?
The short answer is that odors are linked to chemical emissions from building materials. Many people are not aware of the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are used to construct most campers.
In fact, campers may even have a higher intensity of building materials filled with VOCs than do some standard houses.
One reason for that is the fact that lighter weight materials used to construct RVs are generally processed materials that are filled synthetic resins, chemicals and more porous materials.
The trade off is a lighter weight product for easier towing, but more indoor air pollution is inevitable in a much tighter living space.
Common materials that are used to build campers include standard plywood, luan plywood, particle chipped board, vinyl, plastics, adhesives, and wall papers.
Most of these building materials are laced with various chemicals such as formaldehyde, petroleum based toxins and a variety of other chemicals.
For example, particle board is nothing more than chipped pieces of wood glued together and formed into boards.
The adhesive used to form the chips into particle board includes formaldehyde and other chemicals in its adhesive formula. Have you ever noticed how strong the odor is when you open the kitchen and bathroom cabinets of some RVs?
If you look, you can see that much of the cabinetry is built from particle board. Hence, the emission of toxic chemicals.
Even some of the more expensive, higher end RVs such as Airstreams may use particle board in the frames of cabinetry, even if the company advertises their interiors as “all wood.”
The doors and facings of the cabinetry might be all wood, but not the frames.
Just more formaldehyde to breathe!
Subflooring, ceiling, and walls are just some of the other areas that may be constructed with materials that contain toxic chemicals as well.
Too Little Regulations of Dangerous Chemicals in New RV Construction Materials
There have been some small steps in Federal regulations about the use of formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals found in construction materials. However, manufacturers are not completely restrained from using possibly dangerous chemicals in the construction of most typical travel trailers and campers.
Also, each manufacturer can build their company’s product with their own particular set of specs. This is why some brands of campers may not have the same degree of pungent odor in the interior as do others.
Simple Rule of Thumb about Selecting Least Toxic Trailers and RVs
A rule of thumb about RVs, campers and trailer trailers is that generally the more expensive, the less toxic the building materials are used to create the product.
More natural or semi-natural materials are used in these models, such as all wood, aluminum and other more inert or natural materials.
That is why the Airstream is one of the most popular choices for those who deal with chemical sensitivities or various allergies.
Another brand is the older Avion and the Airstream Argosy, all which are higher end campers, but with less toxicity in the final product. These are particularly conducive for renovation as well for those who wish to create a safer, less toxic indoor environment for camping and traveling on the road.