Learning how to wash an RV is a key part of a RV lifestyle. The RV lifestyle blends the best of many worlds, offering you the freedom of adventure wrapped in the comfort of your own house. The only major downside, other than the cost of gas, is the amount of work they can entail. Your RV takes a beating on the road and its larger surface area presents a sizeable cleaning chore.
They have yet to make oversized car washes for RVs and I wouldn't advise you to try to fit your RV in and of the usual car washes - significant damage will likely occur! That being said, cleaning your RV does not have to be difficult or expensive. Follow the tips and tricks outlined below and your RV will be up and running - and looking good! - in no time at all!
Pick the Right Tools
The salesperson at the dealership will probably want to sell you the branded product for your RV to complete the package. While their cleaning equipment may be fantastic, they will more than likely be priced at a premium. You do need to be discerning with the tools you use but if you know where to look, you can find effective tools at a reasonable price.
Check the Manual
Before selecting your cleaning solutions, bear in mind the differences between RV sizes and body styles (e.g. fiberglass, metal). Depending on how your RV is built, certain cleaners may be great for one surface but degrade and strip the finish off another. If you don't want to lose all your bumper stickers and decals, pay attention to these details.
Your RV instruction manual can answer a lot of the questions about appropriate cleaners. It will tell you what cleaners are safe to use and any special care instructions unique to your RV. From there, you can shop around to fill your tool kit with the most cost-effective solutions. I always advise people try a new cleaner in an inconspicuous spot first.
Hose with a spray attachment: Any hose with a variable spray attachment is effective but more high-powered options are better for larger RVs. Reference the user manual if you are interested in power washing.
Soft mitts and brushes: Many RV finishes can scratch easily so it is critical you use non abrasive mitts and brushes to scrub tough spots that won’t come off with a sprayer. An extension brush is useful for larger RVs.
RV cleaner: Choose your exterior cleaner carefully and reference the manual for direction. Select a cleaner that works best with your RV’s material and finish and provides optimal levels of polish and protection.
Tire and rubber cleaner: RV-specific cleaners remove dirt and grime add without degrading the rubber of your tires.
Tire balm and protectant: A post-wash application, balms and protectants shine tires while providing UV and static protection to slow buildup of dirt and reduce wear.
Automotive leather cleaner: An automotive leather cleaner is essential to restoring the look of leather and reducing damage from sunlight and normal wear and tear.
Handheld vacuum cleaner: A quality portable, versatile and maneuverable vacuum cleaner is needed for many of the nooks and crannies common to RVs. Check out our list of great vacuums.
Keep everyday cleaning supplies on hand for the interior and other cleanup tasks. Bring buckets, rubber gloves, scrubbers, magic erasers and everyday cleaners like window spray and all-purpose cleaner.
Step by Step Cleaning Guide
How to Wash an RV - Step 1: Spray the Whole Thing
Close all of the doors and windows to your RV to keep water from penetrating to the interior. Everyone has forgotten this at one point or another - I can guarantee that that is not a mistake that many people make twice! Start washing your RV by spraying the whole thing top to bottom, including the undercarriage.
Depending on how it’s constructed, your RV body may be more susceptible to damage so avoid using anything more powerful than a garden hose. Use the spray attachment to adjust the power to an effective level. The soft mitts and brushes you should have on hand are what remove dirt from your RV that the sprayer cannot take off.
If you feel like power washing, research your RV and refer to the manual to see if this is recommended. Power washing may not damage the body but it can damage decals and critical seals around vents and ports.
Step 2 in the Washing Process: Wash the Roof
Keeping your RV roof maintained helps preserve its integrity and reduce the effects of weather exposure, protecting against rips, breaks, leaks and mold growth. Unlike cars however, the material used for RV roofs can vary and certain cleaners and techniques should be avoided to prevent damage.
You can sweep your roof before spraying if you prefer but this is often unnecessary. After rinsing the roof, use a brush or sponge to remove the stuck-on grime and dirt. Extension brushes are handy in this regard as they allow you to use a ladder instead of climbing on top of the RV. Roof cleaning should be performed 2 to 4 times annually.
RV roofs are primarily made of synthetic rubbers (TPO or EPDM), fiberglass and, to a lesser extent, metal. Each one requires a different cleaning method. Check your owner’s manual for maintenance instructions but if it is still unclear, follow these guidelines on how to clean each type of RV roof:
- Rubber: Rubber roofs are prone to corrosion from poorly chosen cleaners so you must pay close attention to product details and uses. Petroleum-free cleaners are recommended as they will not destroy the latex membrane. Reach out to local camping outfitters and your RV dealership to get their suggestions.
- Fiberglass: While generally requiring less maintenance than rubber roofs, fiberglass roofs can wear from exposure to direct sunlight and rain. Many common car washing products and techniques can usually be used on fiberglass roofs. There are also several products specifically for fiberglass roof cleaning that can be purchased at camping stores and dealerships.
- Metal: Aluminum is less common these days but, like fiberglass, cleaning is relatively easy. You can often use the same mild solution you use on the exterior of your camper.
After cleaning, make sure to check and restore your seals around vents, ports and other openings and apply protective coatings as necessary. Cover your RV as much as possible to avoid weather and sunlight exposure.
How to Wash an RV - Step 3: Wash the Body
Wash and scrub the exterior with an appropriate RV cleaner. Most RV bodies are fiberglass so finding the right cleaner does not entail too much scrutiny. Many common car washing solutions can be used effectively as well. As with the roof, a soft brush or mitt should be used to scrub tough spots.
While washing the body, pay special attention to the seals and gaskets around windows and other openings. These are essentially to keep out moisture but lose their effectiveness if the rubber is allowed to harden from exposure to heat and sunlight. A specialized silicone-based cleaner and protectant will remove grime, reduce mildew buildup and keep the rubber pliable, maintaining a tight seal and longer life.
Wash both sides of all windows to clear them entirely. Homemade solutions and standard window cleaner are both adequate options.
Cleaning an RV - Step 4: Wash the Tires
RV tires are particularly prone to wear and cracking from exposure to the elements and the simple fact that they are not used as regularly as your car. Cleaning the tires with water and soap helps remove harmful dirt and grime. Use a strong brush to clean all the crevices and rims.
Apply a recommended tire protectant after cleaning. Like rubber roofs, tires can degrade when protectants with petroleum, ammonia or alcohol are used so pay careful attention to the ingredients and recommended uses of the product you are considering. Use tire covers to protect against exposure while the RV is in storage.
Wash an RV - Step 5: Clean the Awning
Brush off any debris on your awning before starting the wet cleanse. Because of the material, sometimes water is all that is needed to adequately clean the awning. Use the soft brush again to touch up trouble spots. Apply care, as the acrylic coating can be worn off if scrubbed too hard.
Sometimes a chemical awning cleaner is necessary to get hard stuck-on grime. It is critical that you thoroughly rinse off any cleaners to avoid degradation while the awning is stored. There are also available protectants that can be used after washing to prevent dirt buildup and reduce susceptibility to breakdown.
Regardless of how intensive your cleaning solution, always be sure to dry out the awning before storing it. Awnings with any amount of moisture can easily develop mold and mildew while they are wrapped up in storage.
After the full body wash, perform the other upkeep routines. Empty the tanks, clean the storage spaces and clean the interior, particularly the refrigerator and anything with water hookups. Cleaning your RV can be a daunting task but if you follow the process, you will be ensuring the performance of your RV for years to come.