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12 Tips To Prevent Mold In A Campervan (And Musty Smells)

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Discovering that mold is growing in your campervan is one of the biggest nightmares of van life. Not only is mold difficult to eradicate, but mold also weakens the wood structure and is harmful to your health when inhaled.

During our van build and 3+ years of travel, we took great pains to prevent mold growth in our campervan.

And we’ve learned so much from our successes (and mistakes) that we want to share this information here.

So in this post, we share our top 12 tips to prevent mold in a campervan.

Specifically, we give:

  • 3 tips to prevent mold during the van build, and
  • 7 tips to prevent mold during your van travels
Mold growing under campervan sink
Mold growing under campervan sink

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

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    Van Build

    1. Use Anti-Mold Spray

    Because mold loves to grow on wood, treat your raw wood with a generous layer of anti-mold solution. Then let the wood dry for a few hours before putting the wood in your camper van.

    This spray can be used on plywood and standard wood beams.

    Mold spray prevents mold growth by killing the mold spores and roots before they have a chance to grow and take hold into the wood.

    Concrobium anti-mold spray
    Concrobium Anti-Mold Solution

    Treating the wood with Concrobium mold spray is so quick and easy, we used this anti-mold spray on all the wood for our:

    • Walls
    • Ceiling
    • Sub-floor
    • Furring strips
    • Cabinets
    • Bed frame

    Note: We do not recommend to use the anti-mold spray on wood countertops, since this countertop will likely come into contact with food.

    Recommended materials:

    Van Build

    2. Use Anti-Mold Primer

    If you a will be painting some of your wood pieces, like for your cabinets and bed frame, using a primer paint that doubles as a mold killer can add extra protection against mold growth.

    During our campervan conversion, we added two layers of Zinsser mold killing primer before adding the top-most paint layer.

    Zinsser mold killing primer
    Mold killing primer

    Although you could add the mold killing primer to every piece of wood in your van, we only painted primer onto all front facing wood pieces, like our walls, cabinet fronts and bed frame panels.

    In the picture below, we also added Zinsser primer to our DIY furring strips.

    Creating DIY furring strips for our camper van conversion
    Adding anti-mold primer to our DIY furring strips

    Recommended materials:

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Van Build

    3. Install A Ventilation Fan

    Stale and stagnant air promotes mold growth. And campervans that do not have a solution to effectively circulate outside air into the vehicle will experience mold in the future.

    The best and most cost effective way to promote air circulation in a camper is to install a vent fan. With just a push of a button, you can expel stale, humid air and being in fresh, clean air in seconds.

    Learn more: Why we love our Maxxair vent fan

    Not only does a vent fan help to prevent mold growth, it also keeps your van smelling clean and fresh by expelling old, musty air.

    When our van is parked, our vent fan is turned on virtually the entire time. Good ventilation is that important to us.

    Maxxair fan cooling down a camper van and a humans feet
    Enjoying the cool breeze from our vent fan.

    Don’t know how to install a fan? Read our vent fan installation guide.

    Recommended materials:

    Van Build

    4. Select Mold-Resistant Insulation Materials

    The type of material you use to insulate your campervan will dictate whether or not mold grows underneath your floor boards and behind your van’s walls and ceiling.

    Avoid installing insulation that tends to absorb moisture, which ultimately promotes mold growth.

    These type of materials include:

    Instead, focus on insulation materials that either wick away moisture or do not absorb moisture altogether.

    These materials include:

    Adding insulation to our camper van
    Insulating our campervan with non-mold promoting materials

    For more information, read our campervan insulation post. 

    Recommended materials:

    Van Build

    5. Avoid Cheap Propane Heaters

    Propane heaters are a popular way to heat the interior of a campervan. However, most propane heaters, like the Mr. Buddy heater, create moisture that is released into the van.

    This is because the exhaust from the propane combustion process, which includes moisture, is expelled inside the van.

    And this moisture can get into your fabrics and insulation and help breed mold.

    “But how else can you heat a campervan?”

    If you are interested in a heating solution for your van, consider the following options that emit DRY HEAT inside the camper. The options include:

    These heaters do not emit moisture into the camper because they exhaust the waste fuel and moisture outside the van.

    Van Life Heating - Espar D2 diesel heater
    Espar D2 Diesel Heater

    Van Travels

    6. Keep Wood Countertop Dry

    Maintaining a clean and dry countertop is a surefire way to prevent mold from growing in your campervan.

    We learned this lesson the hard way.

    One night, we left a moist towel on our butcher block countertop and by mid-day the next day, we could already see tiny black mold spores growing into the wood.

    We let the wood dry and dabbed some anti-mold solution onto the spores. Luckily, we haven’t seen any mold growth on our counters since.

    But since then, we’ve learned to be vigilant in keeping our wood countertop free of water and moisture. This is especially true in the areas around the sink.

    Campervan kitchen and countertop
    Keeping a clean & dry countertop

    If we find little water puddles on our countertop (usually during cooking and after dish washing), we are quick to wipe the water away.

    And we never leave moist towels on the countertop anymore. All moist towels are now always hung on a dry line or on our multi-clip hanger (see tip #11).

    Van Travels

    7. Keep Area Under The Sink Dry

    The cabinet area under the sink is prime location for mold growth. It’s dark, has no air ventilation, and the area is prone to being wet due to water leaks.

    One year into our van life, we also discovered mold growing under our van’s sink area.

    To solve the problem, we added a layer of clear coat (polyurethane) to make the wood completely water proof and impenetrable to mold.

    We also regularly wipe the sink cabinet to get rid of any moisture, mold, and mildew that may be growing on top of the clear coat.

    Lastly, we promote ventilation under the sink by using a USB fan to air out the area when changing out our water tanks.

    Under sink cabinet in a campervan
    Keeping the area under the sink dry

    Recommended materials:

    Van Travels

    8. Prioritize Air Circulation & Sunlight

    Even though a vent fan is critical for air circulation, it doesn’t come close to the air flow you get when you simply open up all your doors.

    That is why when we’re parked at a campsite or boon-docking away from public spaces, we like to open all our doors, including the sliding door and back doors, to promote as much air flow as possible throughout the campervan.

    Within seconds, we can get rid of musty, dusty air and bring in fresh, clean air.

    Keeping our doors wide open does wonders for improving internal air quality, wicking away moisture, and preventing mold.

    Campervan with sliding door open to promote airflow
    Keeping our sliding door open at a campsite

    Van Travels

    9. Air Out The Mattress

    A big source of mold growth in campervans is the underside of the bed mattress. This is because that side of the mattress likely experiences no airflow, traps moisture, and receives no sunlight.

    It is the perfect mold breeding ground.

    Mold growth under the mattress is more of an issue for campervans with fixed beds (since fixed mattresses are often rarely aired out). And this is one of the major reasons why we prefer convertible campervan beds. 

    To prevent mold from growing under a mattress, make sure to regularly flip the mattress to allow the underside to dry out.

    Note: A mattress underlay can significantly improve air ventilation under your mattress and prevent mold growth. If you have a fixed bed, consider getting one of these.

    Recommended materials:

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Van Travels

    10. Dry Rugs In The Sun

    If you have area rugs in your campervan, it is a good idea to regularly take them out to dry in the sun. 

    In our van, we have two small rugs and a mat that regularly get moist from when we cook, wash dishes, and track in water from outside (hello rainy season!).

    So if we experience a sunny morning, we like to place both our rugs and mat out to dry in the sun.

    Not only does this help to prevent mold growth, but doing so also keeps our rugs smelling fresh and clean.

    Drying our rugs on a sunny day
    Drying our 3 rugs outside the campervan

    Van Travels

    11. Hang Clothes & Towels

    When living in a campervan, it’s so easy to simply throw your used clothes and towels on the bed, shove them inside a cabinet drawer, or toss them in the front cab area.

    But piles of used clothes and towels present another potential breeding ground for mold and foul odors in campervans.

    That’s we hang EVERYTHING that could possibly have moisture in them.

    This includes:

    • Used socks, shirts, & underwear
    • Shower towels
    • Hand towels
    • Dish drying towels
    Drying out clothes on a sunny day
    Hanging clothes in the sun

    If you don’t already have one, get yourself a foldable clip hanger. We’re able to hang over 20 pieces on only one hanger. It’s incredibly space efficient and one of our vanlife essentials.

    Recommended materials:

    Van Travels

    12. Avoid Humid & Rainy Environments

    This is a no-brainer, but if you want to prevent mold  in a campervan, you can simply avoid environments where mold growth is common.

    This includes places that are hot and humid or regions that experience strong rainy seasons.

    Remember: Mold loves warm and humid environments.

    If mold is a real concern for you, travel with the seasons and look for cool, dry environments.

    Placing tarp over campervan during rainy season
    Parked in Mexico during the rainy season

    BONUS!

    Products We DON'T Recommend

    Unfortunately, not every mold-prevention product you hear about actually works, especially when it comes to camper vans.

    Below are three products that we do not recommend to prevent mold in your camper.

    1. Dehumidifiers

    Most household dehumidifiers are too large, bulky, and power demanding to realistically be used to reduce moisture in a campervan.

    We’ve seen some vanlifers recommend the Eva-Dry dehumidifier, which is a low wattage (25-watts) dehumidifier that is advertised to be used in rooms smaller than 1,100 sq. feet.

    However, though this product might be perfect for a small closet, it is not a good fit for campervans.

    That’s because at 25-watts there just isn’t enough power to effectively pull moisture out of the air. Furthermore, every time you open your sliding doors or turn on your vent fan, you would be letting significantly more moisture into your van than the dehumidifier can pull out of the air.

    Energy efficient dehumidifier
    Eva Dry dehumidifier

    2. Dessicant

    Dessciant is similar to dehumidifiers in that they pull moisture from the air, but instead they store the water in silica gel beads.

    However, we do not recommend dessicant to remove moisture from a campervan because dessicant cannot absorb moisture quick enough to make it worth while.

    And, like with the dehumidifier, every time you open your doors or use your vent fan, you are letting in much more moisture than the dessicant can handle.

    Rechargeable dessicant

    This includes kitty litter! We have a cat and have traveled through many humid environments with kitty litter. Take it from us, kitty litter is NOT an effective solution to reduce moisture in a campervan.

    3. Vapor Barriers

    We’ve seen multiple Youtube videos and blogs promoting vapor barriers as a solution to preventing mold growth behind the walls and ceilings of campervans.

    But we think this is folly.

    Not only would you be trapping existing moisture behind your walls and preventing it from escaping, but it is virtually impossible to ensure that your barrier is 100% impenetrable by moisture.

    100% is a hard standard to meet.

    Enjoyed reading? Check out our “Vanlife Hacks & Tips” category page for more similar content.

    Conclusion

    We hope you learned a few tips, from our experience, on how best to prevent mold in your own campervan.

    Mold is a difficult thing to completely prevent and you may make mistakes, just as we have.

    But as long as you stay vigilant in drying out the interior of your van and continually inspect your home for mold growth, we’re confident you can keep your camper as realistically free of mold as possible.

    Happy travels!

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