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How to eliminate cooking smells from your campervan

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Vanlife Eatshttps://vanlifeeats.com
Two passionate Vanlife cooks and the creators of Vanlife Eats.

The best way to eliminate cooking smells from your campervan is to maintain a steady airflow with a suitable ventilation system. There are also some great natural options of neutralising cooking smells from your van, so get cooking.

Whether you are a full-time van-lifer or a part-time van lifer enjoying your van for weekend trips and holidays, one thing is for certain, van life gives the freedom to travel, park up and take in amazing views with a good meal and a nice cool drink.

However, one of the realities of vanlife is that your kitchen is also your living area, your bedroom…. you get my drift. This means that the lovely aromas from the food you have been making in your van may not smell so appetising when they are clinging to your bedclothes as you climb into bed or the clean clothes that you put on the next day.

This article is going to address what you can do to ensure you minimise the smells of cooking in your van and how to get rid of smells if that is unavoidable.

Cook outside!

One way to really make sure your van doesn’t smell of cooking smells is to not cook in it! Use a camping stove or bbq to cook outside, this may even encourage you to be more adventurous with your meals.

However, vanlife doesn’t mean that we are always parked up in those insta-worthy locations with no-one else within a mile’s radius.

Sometimes the reality of it is that you are parked in a driveway, car park or residential street trying to be stealthlike and the last thing you want is the world and their wife to see you attempting to heat up a tin of baked beans while in your underwear.

  Jokes aside though, it is not always easy or safe to cook outside, so this may not be an option for all.

If you are on a campsite though, definitely make use of the communal cooking areas. You may just find some new friends along the way!


Cooking in a van is not always the easiest thing to do, space and cooking facilities can be limited and adequate ventilation is not always possible.

It would be easy to think all you needed to do was open a window and job done, unfortunately this is not the case. Just cranking open a window can make the breeze carry the odours of your cooking across your van and actually make the situation worse.

It is better to have as many doors and windows open as you can rather than just one to help create a cross breeze and minimise the smell, it is unlikely to be completely successful though.

Also as we have mentioned above, you may not always be in the situation where it is suitable to have your doors and windows open and so this is not going to help. As well as smells lingering, the heat from cooking can actually cause condensation in your van which can lead to further problems such as mould.

The best option for ventilating your van adequately is to have a vent above your kitchen area which will help with both of these problems. A brief overview of different types of vents to have in your van is below, please also see our more in-depth article for more information on campervan ventilation here.


Skylight vents

These can be placed above the cooking area allowing in extra light and expelling heat and the smells from cooking out.

Most skylights are double glazed so they do not allow heat to escape when shut and they have bug screens for when you need it open.

These types of vents do not usually have a fan in them though, so while they will not drain your power, they will also not be able to help regulate the temperature of your van or give optimum heat and smell removal.

This leads us on to our next option..

Vents with a built-in fan

These are going to be better options for ventilation as you can choose which way the fans will rotate either pulling fresh air in to cool the van down or pushing air out which is particularly useful when cooking to help eliminate the smell and heat within the van.

These are quite often remote controlled and are usually easy to operate, the disadvantages are they do use power (albeit not much).

They can also be noisy which may not be an issue when you’re cooking up a storm but may well be when you’re lying in a stuffy van trying to get to sleep.

So all in all it is worth ensuring you adequately ventilate your van, not only will it stop any smells lingering it can also stop condensation, which may lead to mould and can help to regulate the temperature in your van.

Sometimes no matter how well ventilated your van is, the smells just cling on to everything (smelly fish – we’re talking to you!) So we are also going to discuss different options you can use if ventilation isn’t enough.

Ways to remove cooking smells

If you find your clothes or bedding are holding onto cooking smells it is not the easiest thing to be able to wash them in a van and it’s not feasible to wash them daily so you need a different solution.

Some have suggested using plastic sheeting to cover your bed and clothes, and while this probably does help limit the smell getting into them it is probably also quite tedious to do each time you want to cook.

A different option is to hang the offending item out in the nice fresh air to air out a little, this may not banish smells completely but it’s going to smell better than it did before you started.

Some people may reach for the air freshener at this point, which as well as not being good for the environment probably isn’t the best for your health either and can actually be overpowering in such a small space.

A quick search on the internet reveals how to make natural air fresheners and these are much better to use than the chemical-laden ones from the stores. Plus you can add whichever essential oils you like to make the scent personal to you.

Baking soda is good for absorbing scents as is vinegar so many of the recipes you find will include these, if you’re planning on creating an anti-bacterial one then you will most likely need to get the vodka out! Here are some of our favourite combinations:

Lavender & chamomile – this a particularly good one to spray on your bedding as it has calming and relaxing properties which can help you to drift off.

Lemon & basil – this is a good all-round spray as it creates a crisp, clean smell so is great for getting rid of unwanted odours.

Mint & orange – This scent is a good one if you need a bit of invigorating, so probably not the best just before you go to bed, but perfect after cooking that delicious van breakfast.

If you have essential oils with you on your travels another good way to neutralise those cooking smells in your van is to soak wooden clothes pegs in essential oils and then peg them up!

By the time the sun is setting you may be wanting to set the scene to gaze across a candlelit table into the eyes of your loved one and so scented candles are a win win right? Creating some ambience as well as getting rid of those dinner odours!

No candles available? No problem, use an orange!

Peel an orange while keeping half of the skin and the middle part in-tact so you have a little ‘boat’, fill the skin halfway with olive oil and then when ready light ‘the wick’ not only will it smell lovely and natural it can be added to your food waste afterwards.

There are also chef’s candles available which are really great for neutralising cooking smells, not all of them are fragranced so if you’re not a fan of fragrances then these could be for you.

Natural ways to banish cooking smells

If you’re already on the road when a cooking odour disaster strikes, do not fear because you may already have everything you need to get your van odour free in no time at all. Here’s a list of our favourites.

1. Bicarbonate of soda

Bicarbonate of soda is very versatile and has lots of uses when on the road so it’s well worth having in your van pantry.

To use it to get rid of cooking smells you simply need to fill a bowl with it and leave it to absorb the smell – magic!

You can use it for so many things after, such as getting rid of the smell from shoes (handy if you’ve been on a long hike!), mix it with water to make a paste to soothe insect bites, put in dirty pans overnight and wash with hot water the next day for them to come up beautifully clean. It really is a cupboard essential!

2. Potatoes

Potatoes are great at absorbing smells, if you cut one in half cover in salt and place in a bowl on the side it should absorb those smells in no time!

3. Coffee grounds

‘Proper’ coffee fan? Then you may have leftover coffee grounds to hand, these are really good at absorbing odours, just leave them in a bowl on the side and job done. Not only will the cooking smells disappear but your van will have the lovely scent of roasted coffee.

The coffee grounds have other uses too, they’re good for deterring insects, particularly ants.

Coffee grounds can also be mixed with coconut oil to make a good exfoliating scrub for those of us lucky enough to have showers in our van.

4. Vinegar

White vinegar can have lots of uses too, one of them being absorbing smells, leave in a bowl on the side in the kitchen to soak up any cooking odours.

It can also be used when making cleaning solutions and is good at getting sticker residue off, so handy if you’re taking stickers off your van.

5. Cinnamon 

Boiling up some cinnamon sticks for 5 minutes and leave to cool which will fill your van with a pleasant aroma and no more nasty cooking smells. If it’s Christmas time you could even trade the water for wine and enjoy some mulled wine – providing your not the designated driver!

As a final note if your fingers are smelly from cutting up onion or garlic rub your hands in salt or coffee grounds prior to washing them and those lingering smells will be gone and your hands nice and soft!

That’s it folks – our tips for getting cooking odours out of your home on wheels. We hope these can be of use to you, if you have any tips of your own then please comment below.

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