Washing the dirt and road grime off of your RV is a lot different than taking your car through a car wash. Try pulling your Class A (or any other motor home, for that matter) up to an automated car wash and you’re going to get a lot of nervous employees running in your direction, waving their arms.
We want to help you figure out how to wash your RV in the most practical and effective ways possible. In this article, you’ll find a few questions to ask yourself about your rig, a few necessary materials, and a few things to consider before you get started.
The Challenges of Washing an RV
Like we mentioned above, this isn’t like washing a car. It’s a lot more like washing a small house. With wheels. There aren’t an abundance of commercial washes to simply run your RV through, nor can you roll it up to a high school fundraiser and let them tackle it.
We’ll cover the following points:
- The size of your RV
- Changing water
- Pressure washers
- A fiberglass exterior vs. a metal exterior
- Paint and decals
- Rims and wheels
- Professional cleaning services
There are so many makes, models, and sizes of RVs. The most basic info you’ll get here is that cleaning a pop up camper will take a lot less time (and water, and soap) than cleaning a Class A motor home. Because of that, you will rarely find a campground willing to let you use enough water to wash your full RV. Scrub and rinse the bugs and dirt grime from the front bumper and windshield? Sure. But to wash the entire thing, you’re going to need to either be at home or find a very friendly person willing to let you use a pretty significant amount of water.
The dirt, sediment, and other road grime can do more damage to your RV than a lot of cleaners. Just like mopping the floor, if you don’t change your water regularly, you’ll simply end up pushing dirt and sand around. This can cause scratches in the body of your rig and leave you with a smudged, smeared RV body.
You may well pressure wash your home, but pressure washing your RV isn’t always the greatest idea. RVs often have overlapping layers or gaskets that aren’t as stable as those on a home might be, which could allow high-pressure water to leak in.
Anywhere there are areas sealed with products like silicone or other malleable materials, pressure washers can pull them loose and cause serious damage to the sealed area. A good brush and hose with a sprayer attachment will usually do the job just as well.
This isn’t to say you can’t or shouldn’t use a pressure washer. It’s just generally a good rule of thumb to maintain a safe distance and have a good working knowledge of pressure washers before you do.
The RV Body
RVs tend to come with three primary exteriors: metal, painted metal, and fiberglass. Each of these may require a special kind of washing solution or brush. We recommend always reading your owner’s manual for manufacturer suggestions to clean and shine your RVs, no matter what type of body they’re clad in.
Metal bodies are common on older RVs and trailers, as well as a certain brands today. They’re commonly aluminum and stainless steel. These are best cleaned with a pre-wash to remove the majority of grime and grit, then cleaned with non-abrasive cleaners and soft-bristled brushes and mitts.
Painted metal bodies can be treated just like your vehicle: standard car wash cleaners will do the trick, as well as some soft-bristled brushes.
Be aware with metal bodies, though. Because they’re clad and riveted, water from high-pressure washers can seep in between the seams. Keep your distance if you use a pressure washer. Otherwise, take care of stubborn stains and grime with elbow grease and a hose with a sprayer attachment.
Fiberglass bodies are more common in modern RVs because they’re lighter—inherently making them more fuel efficient. And though they’re on the lighter side, they’re still perfectly durable. Some are painted, and some feature different decals (like stripes or other decorations). For fiberglass, the best solution is a wash-and-wax product that both cleans your RV and protects it for the future. Most are environmentally friendly as well, which is particularly important if you’re planning to clean your RV in a campground. Again, if your RV has decals, avoid the pressure washer. It’ll peel them right off.
Awnings are generally pretty simple to clean. This is primarily because it’s difficult to get them dirty unless you’re camping in a particularly dusty area. Usually, it’s as easy as hosing off the fabric. Scrubbing should be avoided as it can remove the finish or weaken the fabric. Otherwise, just spray away any dirt or dust and let it dry before rolling it up.
Gaskets and Weather Seals
Every window, door, and slide in an RV has a gasket or flexible weather sealant. They’re rubber pieces meant to protect the RV from the elements. Keeping these parts clean helps preserve them and keep them in working order—meaning fewer replacements of both the gaskets as well as other parts.
Silicone-based cleaners help keep your gaskets from drying out. Many simply spray on and require no wiping or additional cleaning.
RVs tend to come with three kinds of wheels: painted rims, aluminum wheel covers, and chrome rims. Any basic wheel and rim cleaning products will do the trick on these, though each may require its own set of maintenance.
Aluminum wheel covers should be removed periodically to check for signs of rust.
Chrome rims may be easily scratched. You’ll want to avoid using any hard bristles or abrasive cleaners on these to keep them as shiny as possible.
Cleaning the roof of your RV may be the easiest or most difficult part of the entire process. Some RV roofs are walkable, while some aren’t. Check your owner’s manual or with your dealer before stepping foot on (or potentially through) the roof.
RV roofs come in two types: rubber and fiberglass. Rubber roofs are mostly a thing of the past, but are prevalent on RVs from the 80s and 90s. On RVs with this style of roof, you’ll often see black streaks on the roof or running down the sides of the camper. This is grime.
To clean a rubber roof, you’ll need appropriate rubber roof cleaning products from your dealer. Never use a sealant on the roof, as it prevents the roof from flexing appropriately and will cause further damage. Just give it a good cleaning every few months to keep it in good shape.
Fiberglass roofs, on the other hand, clean easily. Likely, you’ll be able to use the same cleaner you’re using on the rest of your RV on your roof.
When you’re on the road and in need of a cleaning, many campsites recommend cleaning contractors. They’ll come to the site with their own water source and clean your RV. They typically charge by the linear foot of your rig. So again: a Class A will cost more to clean than a pop-up camper.
Because of everything you’ve learned about the intricacies of cleaning your rig, you’ll know there are several questions to ask before you let a contractor start cleaning. Before you agree to a price, make sure you’re getting everything you want included in that price. Some questions to ask:
- Are your brushes soft-bristle brushes?
- What kind of detergents are you using?
- Will a pressure washer be used?
- Does the price include the rims, awning, roof, and windows?
Here’s the one thing to know: don’t fear cleaning your RV. It’s important for the longevity of your rig, and you’ll be happier with a home-on-the-road that’s clean both inside and out. There are dozens of options for the right tools you’ll need. If you’re looking for cleaning chemicals and washing solutions, you can find them online or at your local Camping World dealership.