Rotting food odor in RV? Check for propane leak.


Matt Robinson’s article in Best of New reports on the results of a fatal blast in a FEMA trailer.

“In the weeks leading up to the fire, though, John and Linda (Myers) had reported some problems with their trailer. They began to notice a foul smell in the unit — something like rotten food. They assumed that onions or garlic on the counter were responsible for the odor, but in retrospect, it might have been LP gas.

“Odorless and colorless, propane is mixed with a malodorant — a noxious chemical additive — for safety purposes before it is sold. The rotting food odor that the Meyers encountered before the blast was likely the sulfurous smell of propane leaking somewhere in the unit. Although the proximate cause of the fatal blast was the open stove burners, that lingering smell might have been the only warning the couple had that their trailer was at risk.”

Read more in: “Alarming Failure–FEMA trailers have alarms that warn of dangerous propane levels, but the alarms work only if they are properly installed and maintained.”

If you have technical questions ask the RV Doctor at RV Tech Tips.

Photo: In FEMA trailers that explode and burn, it can be difficult for inspectors to determine whether components, such as a required propane detector, were installed and maintained correctly and were in working order when the accident occurred. (

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  • “Mercaptan”, also know as “Methanethiol”, is the odorant added to propane. Without it added, propane is virtually undetectable by smell.

    It may smell like certain rotting foods, but really is a fairly distinctive odor. Get to know its smell the next time you have your propane tank filled. Then, when you smell it again, it should ring a bell right away in your mind. Take immediate action – get out of your RV, and turn off the shut-off valve.

  • This comes under the heading “lack of knowledge” about an RV. I ran into this problem (lack of knowledge on my part)when we came back to our RV after a day trip. There was this rotten food smell in our RV. I jumped on it right away – dumped the tanks, took out the trash, also thought it was a rotten onion. No luck – the odor was still there. Then I discovered the gas knob on the stove was turned ever so slight – looked like it was off, but it was leaking. The thought of what could have happened. Looking at the photo – wow.

  • We were in Gunnison, Colo and had a terrible odor inside and outside our RV. The neighbors could smell it. It smelled like a sewer. The Prophane was near empty. Went to buy propane and the man told us when propane gets real low it will give off this odor. After we filled up we no longer had odor.

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