Most RV fridges are different from the compressor-based refrigerators people put in their houses. They use a different cooling concept that revolves around ammonia instead of CFC or HFC.
Ammonia has a distinct hard-to-miss smell, and you can quickly tell if your fridge is leaking. The smell is the greatest way to identify a leak and predict low levels in your fridge.
Be on the Lookout for the Smell
Since the ammonia circulates in a closed-loop, the levels won’t dip unless the fridge is leaking.
Ammonia has strong urine or sweat-like stench. It is very strong and can be overpowering in moderate concentrations.
If you detect this smell, open up all the windows in your fridge and turn on the fans to vent it out.
Direct contact with ammonia vapor will irritate your nose, throat, eyes, and skin. If this happens, rinse with clean cold water until the irritation settles. Visit the doctor if the irritation persists.
Due to ammonia’s corrosive characteristics, it is best to let an expert repair and fix leaks. If you go DIY, wear thick rubber gloves, a mask, and remember that ammonia is flammable in the right oxygen mix.
Get an Ammonia Detector
An ammonia detector is a great way to detect leaks and level drops long before they become strong enough to detect with your nose.
Place your ammonia detector close to the ceiling and away from exhaust fans. Make it as directly above the fridge as possible
Ammonia is lighter than air and will rise to the ceiling
The detector either beeps or beeps and turns on a light when it detects ammonia in the air
Check How Hot the Tubes Are
Your RV fridge has coils that are heated to make the coolant (ammonia) flow. They should be evenly heated if the Ammonia levels are right.
A very hot spot could mean that there is low or no ammonia in the system. This will also translate to no cooling in the fridge or trouble getting the fridge cold and keeping it at the determined temperature.
How to Get Rid of a Lingering Ammonia Smell
Sometimes, after repairing an ammonia fridge, you might have some lingering ammonia smell in the RV.
Clean everything with cold clean water for a start. This should get rid of any ammonia residue and neutralize its corrosive properties by diluting it out.
Check this too: How to Keep an RV Fridge Cold While Driving
A good trick to get rid of the smell is placing some fresh coffee grounds in and around the fridge. Alternatively, you can place big chunks of wood charcoal. These will absorb the ammonia smell and get everything fresh again.