Pop Up Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

I was so excited to go for our first look at our potential camper. I’d been researching and checking Craigslist for so long, I finally decided I had to have one and this thrifty lady was armed with a hefty sum in her purse and hope that it didn’t turn out to be a complete disaster.

Our first look at the 1999 Viking Popup showed a trailer that had all the upgrades we wanted – toilet, shower, air conditioning, screen porch – but it was definitely showing it’s age. We’re a pretty handy family and there is a lot we can do, so it didn’t deter us completely. In fact, we were kind of looking forward to the challenge and making it our own.

The one thing that was almost a deal breaker… the smell!

Pop Up Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

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It was obvious the camper hadn’t been used in a couple years, but it also must have been stored in some musty, old barn. It’s a pop-up, so when everything was open and the wind was flowing through it, the smell was tolerable. When we got home and opened that thing up for the first time – whew!

We rushed to start throwing out everything that could contribute to the smell. Sadly, this is why I don’t have many “before” pictures of the camper. We barely had the thing open enough to stand up straight and we started throwing cushions out the door and ripping out curtains (more on this later…).

Popup Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

The disgusting carpet with years of filth was the next to go!

Pop Up Camper Remodel - dirty floor

I was at a loss when it came to the foam cushions. How the heck do you clean foam? I started by spraying them down with disinfectant spray just so I felt better about handling them.

Popup Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

I had read that people washed them, so we decided to go ahead and spray them down with the hose. They are definitely not easy to handle or dry, so we hung up the couch cushions and decided to skip this approach with the mattresses.

Popup Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

Another thing I read was using baking soda to get the smell out, and I kept thinking a carpet cleaner should help. Luckily, I found a great smelling Arm and Hammer Odor Eliminator at Menards that I could just shake over the cushions and vacuum out. I just shook it on and rubbed it all across the foam. I think I went through a couple of boxes covering it all, but it’s really reasonably priced.

Popup Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

Next step was washing all the cushion covers, mattress covers, and curtains. So we plugged $10.50 into the huge commercial washer and loaded it up with Win Detergent – designed for sweaty gym clothes – and scent boosters and let it go. To save time and money, I was hoping to save the curtains, but I wasn’t sure if the mattress covers would be salvageable, and I knew I wanted to ditch the cushion covers but wash them anyway in case we could use them for a pattern.

Popup Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

Luckily, all the washing and powdering seemed to have done the trick because things do smell much better! We’ve since painted the camper too, so I’m hoping that about covers it. More on that later….

Popup Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

I’m so excited with the way things are coming along! We have our plans set for her maiden voyage to Grantsburg, WI for Watercross, and my husband just picked up the flooring tonight. Yay! Stay tuned!

I’d love to hear from others who are doing this, have done this, know someone, etc. I’m kind of obsessed with it right now and can’t stop the pinning! 😉

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22 thoughts on “Pop Up Camper Remodel: Getting the Smell Out

  1. Pingback: Pop Up Camper Remodel: New Cushions | Exploring Domesticity

  2. Shannon

    Thank you so much for posting this! My hubby got me a pop up for Easter this year and it had been sitting for years :-/ the musty smell was strong. I had the thought of replacing the cushions but when I added in the mattresses, it started to add up quickly. I visited the trusty Dollar Tree and picked up a few boxes of the carpet powder. Wow! What a difference! I ran out of day light but will battle the mattresses tomorrow. The seat cushions are airing out further in the garage. I skipped the step completely on soaking them with water and just did the carpet powder. Hopefully this works. Then I will re-cover them myself due to all of the covers being torn or having a few holes. Plus I want to update the fabric. Just one step in the entire redo of the pop up decor 🙂
    Again, thanks 🙂 your are awesome!

    Reply
    1. exploringdomesticity@gmail.com Post author

      Awesome! Pop ups are so much fun! I actually just saw that carpet powder at the dollar store for the first time last night. I wish I had known the first time around!

      Let me know how it goes and if the smell is gone! It made such a huge difference when we recovered our cushions too. I’m so happy with how they turned out!

      Reply
  3. Michelle

    We just bought a used popup and I am just in the beginning stages of giving it a makeover. (First things first – I had to vacuum out all of the dead bugs!) Next I need to get the mildew off the canvas and repair a couple of small holes in the screens. And THEN I hope to get to the fun stuff like repainting, making curtains, and recovering cushions. Thank you for your advice on how to get the smell out, I’m sure I’ll be using it in the near future.

    Reply
    1. exploringdomesticity@gmail.com Post author

      Awesome, Michelle! It’s so much fun!

      We had a lot of cleaning to do as well. We also recently had my mother-in-law do some patching to the tinted plastic windows and she did an amazing job. What a chore! Did you see my post on our cushions? I was thrilled with how easy it turned out to be!

      Keep me posted on how your makeover goes! If you’re on facebook or instagram, add me so I can see. Camper remodels are my obsession!

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Pop Up Camper Remodel: Progress to date and a new season! | Exploring Domesticity

  5. Shirley Cole

    Thank you so much for your tips. We are picking up a pop up this weekend, 2002, has only been used about 12 times in all those years so I can imagine I will have some of the same situations you just described. I am also planning to recover cushions, even though they are in great condition,(just not my taste). This is our second voyage into pop up land. We have always had travel trailers or very small 5th wheel. Most recently we renovated a 14′ Vintage camper, but invested WAY more than we paid for it to renovate and re-decorate. Sold it, paid off loan and now going to economically update this 8′ Coleman. (I hope). This one we will keep and use, then pass on to the kids. I must confess, I am a Glamper, totally new experience for us boondock camping with our little total electric camper. Hoping for a less complicated experience this time! Keep the great tips and ideas coming:)

    Reply
    1. Kristin, Exploring Domesticity Post author

      I’m so excited for you, Shirley! We love our popup and love working on it and making it our own. We just bought a new house and had/have a lot of work to do here, so I don’t think our camper projects will be happening this season, but you should check out the posts I shared about what we did before – http://exploringdomesticity.com/pop-up-camper-remodel-progress-to-date-and-a-new-season/. We recovered the cushions and it turned out so well! We sewed them in a way that worked so well and without zippers but still easy to remove for washing. We love how they turned out!

      Keep me posted on how your camper is going!!

      Reply
  6. Shirley Cole

    The canvas on the pop up we are purchasing is in good shape, but supposed to have been used only about a dozen times in the 15 yrs. We anticipate it will need a good cleaning and we’re also figuring a conditioning treatment? What would you suggest?

    Reply
  7. Tara

    Thanks for sharing! I had to look twice at your camper because we just got a 1998 Viking pop up. It was in wonderful shape for the age and have already taken it out twice! I was just wondering what kind of things you will be doing to yours? Hope you guys are enjoying your as much as we live ours!

    Reply
    1. Kristin, Exploring Domesticity Post author

      Hi Tara! I actually posted a couple other things we did – the floors and paint and the cushions. You can find them if you use the search box to the right just about my photo. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a full “after” photo, but we love how it turned out! Are you going to be doing any modifications to your own camper? I’d love to see / hear them!

      Reply
    2. Shirley Cole

      Oh my goodness…I was getting excited, then the keys arrived (did I tell you we purchased it after it not being opened in 2 yrs, also parked in a field). It has been titled the “Mouse Palace”. Had to take out and dispose of entire canvas and both mattresses, over 80% chewed by mice and 3 live ones came with it!.. It is now for sale, $200, but will need entire canvas. Rest is good condition..I don’t know how to post pics here but do know how to text & message from phone. Thanks for your advice, wish we were enjoying ours like you are yours:)

      Reply
      1. Kristin, Exploring Domesticity Post author

        Oh no! We have a few campers in that condition, actually. After we remodeled our own we wanted to try our hand at making one into a party popup. The plan is to remove all canvas and mattresses and set it up as portable tables. https://www.instagram.com/p/BHp2Xozjrda/?taken-by=exploringdomesticity

        We live in MN so summers can be short and we moved into a new house this year, so our plans are on hold. Unfortunately, we’ve also been running into the problem of roof leaks, so we’re learning how to repair the rotted roofs. At least your camper has a good roof??? I’m so sorry to hear it wasn’t ready to go for you! What a bummer!

        Reply
  8. Kate Billings

    I would love to remodel our pop up. How did you remove the canvas top without destroying it? We need to do some caulking underneath it as well as give the canvas a good cleaning. Thanks for any input.

    Reply
    1. Kristin, Exploring Domesticity Post author

      Hi Kate! We didn’t remove the canvas on this camper, but we have removed it on others. However, they were all damaged already so we weren’t incredibly careful. They were also mostly older.

      Oh wait! I take that back. we did remove one of the canvas sides to have my mother-in-law help sew the vinyl over the screens. It was actually very easy! If I remember correctly, there is a screw that we removed and we were able to feed the canvas sides through the channels and it came right off. However, we didn’t remove the canvas on the bunks, so that could be different.

      On our ’81 Viking we found the canvas was basically stapled everywhere, so that would be a little more time consuming than the newer models.

      Tell me about your camper! What year? Style? What are your plans? I love hearing about it!

      Reply
  9. Debbie Lehman

    Just got done putting on our new canvas ( Bear Creek Canvas) today. Went on pretty easy just had problem with the ends of the beds a the plastic tubbing was too big for the channel on our old pop up. We had some plastic clothes line and put that in instead and it went on so fast. I have taken the bed and couch covers to laundry washed once didn’t take musty smell. Googled how to take that smell out they said -Vinegar, baking soda and Borax added to wash, hung outside on line in the sun and the musty smell is gone!! Now we will work on the foam soon will use the same concoction. Pray for us,lol

    Reply
    1. Kristin, Exploring Domesticity Post author

      hey Debbie!

      Thanks for the update! I’ve always wondered how it works out for people when getting a brand new canvas – I bet that is so nice! So happy you were able to get the smell out! We totally swear by this stuff (amazon affiliate link) for getting the smell out of our cushions. It worked so well and we’ve never smelled that awful smell since.

      Keep me posted on all your progress! I love it!

      Reply
  10. Brenda Obrinski

    Hi, we just purchased a pop up and it had a roof that leaked, so definately needs some repairing. My hubby is in the process of doing a new roof on it, but MAN the mildrew smell has been fierce! We threw away the curtains. I want some new ones lol. I am using baking soda on the foam. The foam mattresses were actually in really good condition, just damp from years of water damage, but they are now baking in the sun with some baking soda and the covers are in the wash with some detergent. We are very excited to get this pop up! $200 for a nice and easy fixer upper. The canvas came in AWESOME condition, but do you have any thoughts on getting smell out of the canvas at all without taking it off. Its a 91′ Skamper pop up.

    Reply
    1. Kristin, Exploring Domesticity Post author

      Wow! Great score! I couldn’t stand the smell of our camper when we got it! Luckily, it came out after the painting and laundering of the curtains and cushions.

      I think if I would have had more smell coming from the canvas I may have tried the baking soda we used and rubbed it on, left it popped up to air out, and vacuumed the remainder off. At least I think it would have stuck to the softer inside… You could also consider mixing a solution of essential oils in a scent you love and water and giving it a spray to freshen it up. The main tip would be to have it open as often as possible. We still keep a couple air fresheners inside the bench storage because I swear I can still smell it faintly in there.

      I hope that helps! Best of luck Brenda. Keep me posted! (If your husband has any good tips for redoing the roof, do share! We have a couple older ones that need help and that part is a bit overwhelming to us!)

      Reply
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