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Eliminating the formaldehyde smell of a new RV

by Richard Sharp

Forum member Richard Sharp, a retired organic chemist, recognized the odor and burning sensation in his eyes inside his new motorhome as formaldehyde outgassing from various materials. Here is how he resolved the issue before leaving on his maiden voyage with the motorhome.

When we purchased our motorhome in November, 1992 with a departure commitment for a seven month trip leaving in 10 days, I knew that the odor and burning sensation in my eyes was from formaldehyde. I was reasonably sure that the formaldehyde was coming from the plywood and other woods used in the construction, since plywood, at least then, was made with a formaldehyde based glue. Some carpets also use formaldehye as a curing agent during the manufacturing process. We special ordered the motor home so it was brand new and never had a chance to "air out."

He is what I did. First I opened every door, drawer, and any thing else that could be opened and sat all cushions in an upright position. I turned the furnace on to its maximum setting and turned an electric heater to its 1500 watt setting. I let them run overnight with the motorhome closed up. The next morning, after opening all windows and the door and shutting the heat off, I put a window fan in one of the side windows and turned it on high. I also turned the two ceiling fans on high. These fans ran all day, while we packed and got ready for our trip. This was at times somewhat uncomfortable, since it can get pretty cold at the end of November in Rochester, NY. That night I again closed up the motor home and turned the furnace and electric heater up to maximum. I did this every day until we left 10 days later. By the time we left I could only sense a trace of formaldehyde and even then I am not 100% sure that it wasn't my imagination.

The really bad thing about formaldehyde is that you can become sensitized to it with repeated exposures. Since I had been exposed to it many times over the course of my career, I was really concerned about becoming sensitized to it and having a severe allergic reaction other than just burning eyes. It all worked out and, except for a two week period when we stopped at our house on the way to the Rocky Mountains from Florida, we spent 8 1/2 months in our new motorhome with no further problems. We went though a full tank of propane in 10 days and definitely added to our electric bill, but it was worth it.

As far as any chemical solutions, I personally do not think they will help. Perhaps they will mask the formaldehyde odor but you MUST drive the excess formaldehyde vapors from their sources and continue to do this until the sources (plywood, carpets, etc.) no longer outgas formaldehyde.