How To Check Ammonia Levels in RV Fridges (Simple Steps)

As a full-time RVer, you know how important it is to keep your refrigerator in good working order. There is nothing worse than spoiled food and lots of hassles if your refrigerator breaks down. Ammonia buildup is a common problem for RVers. There is a possibility that the fridge will stop functioning altogether if this happens. Here, we’ll show you how to check ammonia levels in an RV fridge, and what you can do to prevent ammonia buildup in the first place!

What is the purpose of ammonia in refrigerators?

For decades, refrigerators have used ammonia, a naturally occurring element. An RV fridge can be filled with it because it is stable, non-flammable, and safe to use. Additionally, ammonia is a very efficient refrigerant, which means it consumes less energy to operate.

A major reason why ammonia is used in RV fridges is that it doesn’t deplete the ozone layer. In contrast to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), ammonia does not harm the environment.

It is also advantageous to use ammonia in RV refrigerators because a compressor is not required. As a result, ammonia-powered RV fridges are usually lighter and smaller than other types of refrigerators, making them easier to transport and install.

Checking your RV fridge’s ammonia level is important since high levels can be dangerous. 

Leaks of ammonia are dangerous

ammonia-powered RV fridges

Despite being safe for use in RV fridges, ammonia can be hazardous if it leaks. Gases such as ammonia have a pungent odor and are colorless. The chemical is used in a wide range of household and industrial products. This includes cleaning supplies, fertilizers, and certain types of plastics. Ammonia, although it occurs naturally, can be harmful to humans and animals if it leaks into the environment.

When exposed to high levels of ammonia, skin, eyes, noses, throats, and lungs may become irritated. Inhaling large amounts of ammonia can cause coughing, choking, and respiratory inflammation. Chemical burns and permanent blindness can also be caused by high ammonia concentrations in the air. Asthma and emphysema are also aggravated by exposure to ammonia. Exposure to ammonia can be fatal in severe cases, especially if the problem is ignored for too long.

What are the symptoms of an ammonia leak in your RV fridge?

It is important to act immediately if you suspect your RV fridge has an ammonia leak. Ammonia leaks can be detected with these tips.

Be on the lookout for yellow stains

Check your fridge for yellow or greenish stains if you suspect an ammonia leak. Leaks of ammonia can leave yellow stains behind, even though it is a colorless gas. In most cases, these stains can be found on the exterior insulation panel, and sometimes on the walls as well.

Keep an eye out for smells

The smell of ammonia around the fridge is another way to check for an ammonia leak. The smell of ammonia is very pungent and strong. A refrigerator that smells strongly of ammonia should have all the windows and doors open to let the air circulate.

Make sure the coils of the refrigerator are hot

A fridge’s coils can also be checked for ammonia leaks by touching them. Because ammonia is a very efficient refrigerant, ammonia-powered refrigerators usually have cooler coils than other types. An ammonia leak could be indicated by hot coils.

The fridge or tubing should be checked for any signs of damage

If you notice any signs of damage to the fridge or tube, you may have an ammonia leak. There is a good chance that ammonia is leaking from your fridge if you notice cracks, holes, or leaks. Surfaces such as metal can be corroded and damaged by ammonia leaks.

In the event of an ammonia leak, the windows and doors should be opened and the area should be evacuated. The leak should also be repaired as soon as possible by a qualified technician.

Checking Ammonia Levels in RV Fridges

It is important to double-check the ammonia levels in your RV fridge if you suspect there is an ammonia leak or just want to ensure the levels aren’t too high. There are two methods for checking ammonia levels, and we will discuss each one in detail.

Use an ammonia detector

An ammonia detector instrument is the first method you can use to check your RV fridge’s ammonia levels. The majority of hardware stores and online retailers sell ammonia detectors.

Follow the instructions included with the ammonia detector to use it. In general, you must turn on the power button before pressing the test button. Afterward, the device will measure the amount of NH3 present in the air.

No ammonia is found in the air when the reading is zero ppm (parts per million). It is however essential that you take immediate action if the reading exceeds 0 ppm and you detect traces of ammonia. People usually feel sick at levels above 100 ppm, but it’s best not to let it get that high.

The best place to place ammonia detectors is near the refrigerator’s storage area so that you get accurate readings.

Use Phenolphthalein paper

Checking Ammonia Levels in RV Fridges

The pH strip test is another method of determining the ammonia level in an RV fridge. A pH strip can be purchased online or at a hardware store.

It is very easy to use the pH strip test. The strip will need to be dipped in a sample of water and then held inside your RV fridge’s box. A change in color indicates the presence of ammonia. As the color changes darker, the concentration of ammonia increases. The color pink usually indicates that ammonia is present in the air, but it has not yet reached toxic levels. Take immediate action if it’s considerably darker. 

Using detection cloth

In the event that you don’t own an ammonia detector or cannot obtain one, don’t worry! You can also use a detection cloth to check the ammonia levels in your RV fridge.

A special bromothymol blue-infused cloth is needed for the detection cloth method. There are some hardware stores or online stores that sell this cloth. After you’ve obtained the cloth, place it near the fridge’s storage area and wait around 30 minutes.

Once 30 minutes have passed, examine the cloth. In case it has turned green, there is a high level of ammonia present and you should take action immediately. The cloth, however, should be blue if all is normal and no traces of ammonia are present.

Even though the detection cloth method isn’t as accurate as the ammonia detector method, it’s still a good way to determine if your RV fridge has ammonia traces. After the ammonia is gone from the air, the cloth will return to its original color. 

Managing ammonia leaks

In the event that you find an ammonia leak in your RV fridge, you have a few options.

Provide adequate ventilation

You should begin by opening all your car’s doors and windows to ventilate the space. It is very dangerous if ammonia is not properly ventilated, since it is a very strong gas. Keeping the air ventilation will dissipate the ammonia fumes and keep it safe for breathing.

Install a new cooling system

Cooling units must be replaced if leaks are coming from them. If you don’t know what to do with your RV, we recommend having a qualified technician do it for you. It will be possible for them to diagnose the problem and replace the cooling unit, if necessary.

It’s usually very expensive to replace the cooling unit, so you’ll want to avoid it if you can. This is why it’s so crucial to check for leaks regularly and address them as soon as possible.

The smell can be neutralized with vinegar

A vinegar solution can be used if your RV still smells strongly of ammonia. Just spray some white vinegar near the leak and let it sit for a couple of hours. In addition to absorbing ammonia fumes, vinegar should also eliminate the pungent smell of ammonia in the air. 

Keeping ammonia leaks at bay

Prevention is the key when it comes to ammonia leaks. You can prevent leaks by doing a few things.

Maintain a regular check on your refrigerator

Regularly checking your RV fridge for leaks is one of the most important things you can do. Make sure the seals around the doors are intact and the cooling unit is free from cracks or holes. Do not hesitate to act if you see anything suspicious.

Invest in a quality cooling system

Coolers use ammonia to cool air and products. As a refrigerant, ammonia has a low boiling point and is easily converted into gas. Consequently, it can be used in refrigeration to make air or items colder by removing heat from them. Ammonia gas is circulated through coils in the cooling unit. In order to absorb heat from the surrounding air or product, ammonia passes through coils. In this manner, the temperature is adjusted until the desired level is reached.

Clearly, cooling units are essential. It’s important to select a good quality cooling unit for your RV fridge. When the cooling unit is of high quality, it is less likely to leak and will last for a longer period of time.

Level the refrigerator

It is possible for your RV refrigerator’s cooling unit to leak if it isn’t level. That’s why you should always set up camp with your refrigerator level. The best way to make sure that everything is level is to use a leveler or another leveling device.

Ensure there is good ventilation in the fridge

A good ventilation system in your RV fridge is another way to prevent ammonia leaks. The fridge should have enough space for air to circulate around it. The fridge will not be able to properly ventilate if it is too close to a wall or other object, which could lead to ammonia accumulation or even a leak. 


Is it possible to recharge an ammonia RV refrigerator?

RV refrigerators that use ammonia cannot be recharged. In this type of refrigerator, the interior space is kept cool by liquid ammonia. In the event of a leak, the entire contents will need to be thrown away.

Observe any greenish-yellow residue on the cooling coils to detect a leak. It is important to have a qualified technician repair this breach as soon as possible.

What are the signs that my fridge is leaking ammonia?

There may be a leak in your fridge if you notice a strong ammonia smell. You can also check your fridge for yellow spots to see if there is an ammonia leak. There may be yellow spots on the fridge surface if ammonia has leaked out.

If your refrigerator leaks, its tubes will overheat as well. Feel the tubes with your hand to make sure they are in good shape. It is a sign that ammonia is leaking if they are hot to touch.

What is the best way to fix ammonia in a refrigerator?

An ammonia problem in your fridge requires that you ventilate the surrounding area and change the cooling unit as soon as possible.

Because ammonia is a very toxic substance, you should take all necessary precautions when handling it. Your fridge should be evacuated immediately if you suspect an ammonia leak and you should call a professional to assess the situation.


It is important not to take RV fridges with ammonia leaks lightly. Therefore, you should always check the ammonia levels in your RV fridge and the surrounding area. In the event of a leak, it’s important to take action right away. If you want to check the levels of ammonia in your fridge, you can use an ammonia detector or a detection strip test. In the case of an ammonia leak, you should ventilate the area and call a professional for help.

Make sure you keep an eye on the area after you have fixed the leak and regularly check for signs of another leak. The dangers associated with ammonia leaks should be taken seriously and addressed as quickly as possible. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading this!



Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

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Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

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