Keep your RV looking its best with a thorough exterior cleaning in-between travel time, outdoor adventures, and overnight stays. Unless you enjoy washing vehicles as a pastime, this task may feel more like a grueling chore. However, with the right tools, a little know-how, and a bit of pre-planning, washing your RV will become a hassle-free part of your maintenance plan.
Why should you wash your RV?
Sure, it’s important to keep up appearances as you drive your RV down the road or keep it stored in your driveway. On the other hand, there are many reasons why it is a good idea to wash your RV that delve deeper than aesthetic appeal.
- A little dirt and grime on your RV’s exterior may not seem like such a big deal, but when debris is caked on for an extended period, this can weaken the protective coating and accelerate the weathered-look.
- Part of the process of washing your RV includes initially inspecting it for any potential repairs. Since you will be using a copious amount of water to do the cleaning, it’s critical to inspect seals around seams, vents, and windows. These should be watertight.
- Even though driving thru an automatic truck or RV wash station would be the most convenient option, it isn’t necessarily the most affordable one. Although your initial purchase of tools may be costly, the investment will pay for itself and then some as you continue to wash your rig regularly.
How often should you wash your RV?
Gander Outdoors suggests, “If you use your RV all the time and it gets dirty frequently, then you might need to wash it once a month. If you only use your RV a few times a year and store it in a relatively clean place, then you can probably get by cleaning it a couple of times a year.”
Ultimately, they explain, the number of times an RV is cleaned depends on how it is used and stored. An RV stored outside in the elements will need more frequent cleaning than an RV stored indoors. Whatever the situation, plan a cleaning schedule and regime and stick to it.
What tools will you need?
The following items are the basic tools needed to start the job:
- large bucket
- microfiber towels and/or sponges
- brushes with adjustable handles
- window cleaner with water/debris repellant like Rain-X
- cleaning /conditioning products based on those recommended by the owner’s manual
- hose with water supply
Regarding cleaner, it’s best to consult your RV manual as RV surfaces differ. Some products can be too abrasive on materials like aluminum and stainless metals. In general, painted metal clad RVs can be washed using standard car wash chemicals. Good quality RV wash-and-wax products are recommended for fiberglass RVs.
What about using a pressure washer? In short, pressure washing should be left to the professionals. Jerry Smith of Trailer Life explains the downsides of using a pressure washer. “High-pressure water can blow right past gaskets, silicone seals, and the overlap of sliding windows. It can also peel decals off with frightening efficiency. Don’t use more pressure than a garden hose with a sprayer can generate, and let a brush do the job of freeing up the dirt.”
Washing your RV: Step by Step
Step One: The Cleaning Space
Regardless if you are washing a trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome, step one is to assess and make any necessary changes to your cleaning area. Make sure you have adequate drainage. Park on a relatively flat surface since you will be climbing up and down a ladder. Plus, close all vents, windows, and doors tightly to prevent any water from entering the unit.
Step Two: The Roof
Start on the top. Don’t do double the work by starting on the sides and then moving to the roof. You’ll have to rewash the sides with any roof runoff. Let gravity do its thing. While on top, take time to inspect all seals around vents and seams. Depending on the condition of the roof, if there are touch-ups or complete repairs needed, complete those projects before tackling a wash.
After the troubleshooting, get busy washing the roof. Based on your RV manual, use the proper cleaning product for the roof material. Instead of standing on top with a soapy, slippery mess, use your ladder and extendable brush to safely scrub the surface from a distance.
Step Three: Sides, Slides, and Windows
Now it’s time to tackle the sides of your RV. Again, depending on the surface, use the appropriate cleaning products and, if applicable, conditioning/waxing products. Use your brush, washcloths, and or sponges to wipe off built on dirt and rinse.
Don Bobbitt of Axle Addict mentions, “RVs have gaskets around the windows, and also those flexible weather sealing gaskets around the slides. You should typically use a silicone-based spray cleaner and protectant on these gaskets. This will keep them supple and reduce the hardening effects of the sun. As always, though, you should consult your owner’s manual on the proper way to clean and preserve these gaskets.”
Ensure that your next road trip goes off without a hitch by wiping down and applying Rain-X. Rain-X provides a layer of protection, shielding against rain, snow, and sleet, along with bugs and other debris that splatters on the windshield. This helps immensely with all-around visibility.
Step Four: The Awning
An awning can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew since it is rolled up most of the time. Representatives of Home Depot advise using mild laundry detergent and lukewarm water or fabric cleaner for canvas awnings. To clean metal awnings, they suggest using a metal cleaning solvent and water.
Peruse any RV forum on suggestions for awning cleaning solutions, and you will find a myriad of tried and true methods. The following article from Camper Smarts lists nine products that have been used to clean RV awnings. Among the products mentioned are Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Awesome, and vinegar/water combination.
Step Five: Tires and Rims
Just like with the RV’s surface, use a cleaner that is meant to be used with the type of tire rim. Cleaning tires is altogether a different story as some products do more harm than good to the rubber. Using a mild detergent is the safest route. In addition to washing the rims and tires, use this time to thoroughly inspect your tires for wear and tear.
Step Six: The Underbelly
The last section, and most often ignored part, is the underbelly of the RV. Again, unless you are very familiar with using a pressure washer, avoid using it. Poor handling of the equipment could mean potential water damage and costly repairs. Depending on the severity of the filth, a simple spray down with a water hose and degreaser can do wonders. Once dry, some RVers choose to spray on rust-proofing products.
What if you can’t wash your RV where you are parked?
If you are a frequent traveler or full-time RVer, finding a place to wash your RV can be next to impossible. Many campgrounds do not allow this practice, so utilizing waterless cleaners or coming up with creative ways to minimize water use may come into play.
WinnebagoLife contributor Kenny Phillips sheds some light on this very grimy subject in the video below. He describes his method for washing his motorhome with little to no water.
The Dirty Truth About Keeping Your RV Clean
Opting to wash your RV regularly keeps your home-on-wheels looking its best. It can also help prevent unnecessary water damage or other disasters since you are inspecting the condition of the RV multiple times a year. The dirty truth about keeping your RV clean is simple. Be good to your rig, and you will reap many more miles and adventures than you could possibly handle!
About The Author: Natalie Henley and her husband, Levi, have been full-time RVers for over 5 years. They have also been Coach-Net customers for the same amount of time. They travel and workcamp around the U.S. in their 26-foot Itasca Sunstar motorhome with their two cats. They write for multiple RV-related publications and recently co-wrote “Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It.” You can follow their adventures on the road at henleyshappytrails.com.
Kathleen D. ~ “All the phone agents I’ve spoken with at Coach-Net have always been very helpful, they really do care. We accidentally left our RV electrical hooked up to our truck for too long and it killed our truck battery. Coach-Net was great; they came out and kick-started our truck. No more problems :-)”