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As a kid, I used to loath washing my parent’s RV. We did it regularly after each trip, so I learned how to wash an RV at a young age. Now that I’m older, I look around and my parent’s 2000 Fleetwood Bounder looks better than some modern travel trailers, both new and used, I see in our favorite RV parks.
Washing your RV may not be glamorous, but it’s an important part of maintaining your RV. It can extend the life of your RV as a whole, help you avoid costly fiberglass or paint repairs, prevent mold, and maintain seals and gaskets to keep your interior protected from the elements.
Plus, a clean RV is more visually appealing. With many RV parks only allowing RVs manufactured within the last 10 years (and reviewing older RVs on a case-by-case basis), washing and maintaining your RV’s exterior could be the difference between being turned away or enjoying a comfortable stay in your desired campground.
How To Wash an RV
Washing an RV is not like washing a car. It’s a lot more like washing a small house–with wheels. There isn’t an abundance of commercial RV wash locations to simply drive your RV through. Rolling up to a high school fundraiser and letting them tackle it is a lot to ask.
Before we get into the details, here’s a short overview of the steps for washing an RV:
- Park where you can easily access the roof and all four sides
- Assemble your RV cleaning supplies (brushes, cleaning solution, bucket, ladder, etc.)
- Mix your cleaning solution according to its instructions
- Work from roof to tires (top to bottom)
- Work in small sections to avoid soap drying before you can rinse
- Use a squeegee to prevent water spots on windows
We’ll also note here that you should always consult your owner’s manual for model-specific RV cleaning instructions.
Where To Wash Your RV
Because of that, you will rarely find RV parks that are willing to let you use enough water to wash your full RV. Scrubbing and rinsing the bugs and dirt grime from the front bumper and windshield is usually acceptable at a campground.
But to wash the entire coach, you’re going to need to be at home or find a very friendly person willing to let you use a pretty significant amount of water. If you’re traveling, stopping at a truck wash or a self-service car and RV wash is your best bet.
How Often Should You Change The Water?
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.
For smaller motorhomes under 25 feet in length, you should typically change your water halfway through the cleaning process. This means you can clean one side and the back of your coach before changing out water and adding more of your RV-friendly cleaning solution.
For longer RVs, you should change the water out 2-3 times to avoid scratching the body. Of course, you may need to refresh the water even more frequently if your RV is especially dirty.
Can You Pressure Wash an RV Rubber Roof?
Pressure washing your RV isn’t always a good idea. RVs often have overlapping layers or gaskets that can be damaged by high-pressure water, resulting in leaks. Areas sealed with silicone or other malleable materials can be pulled loose and seriously damaged.
RVs with metal bodies are also susceptible to damage from a pressure washer. Because they’re clad and riveted, water from high-pressure washers can seep in between the seams. And if your RV has decals, a pressure washer can peel them right off.
This isn’t to say you absolutely can’t use a pressure washer on an RV. It’s just a good rule to maintain a safe distance and have a good working knowledge of pressure washers before you do.
Typically, a good soft brush and a garden hose with a sprayer attachment will do the job just fine. Cleaning solutions made for RVs work to break down dirt and grime so that you don’t need that extra pressure to clean them off.
What is the Best RV Wash and Wax?
RVs tend to come with three primary exteriors: metal, painted metal, and fiberglass. Each of these may require a special kind of RV cleaner or brush (no, dish soap won’t suffice). We recommend always reading your owner’s manual for manufacturer suggestions to help you clean and wax your RV.
Metal bodies are common on older RVs and trailers, but they’re still used on certain brands today (think Airstream). They’re commonly aluminum and stainless steel and are best cleaned with a pre-wash that removes the majority of grime and grit. Then, you’ll want to use non-abrasive cleaners and soft-bristled brushes and mitts to remove the remaining residue.
Painted metal bodies can be treated like most vehicles. A gentle cleaner that’s made for RV use will do the trick, along with a soft-bristled brush. Stubborn stains and grime will require a bit more elbow grease, but they should come out with the pressure from a hose with a sprayer attachment.
Fiberglass bodies are more common in modern RVs because they’re lighter—inherently making them more fuel-efficient. Some are painted and some feature decals like stripes or other decorations.
For fiberglass, the best solution is a wash-and-wax product that cleans and protects your RV exterior. Most are environmentally friendly as well, which is particularly important if you’re planning to clean your RV in a campground.
How To Clean RV Awnings
Awnings are generally pretty simple to clean. This is because it’s difficult to get them dirty unless you’re camping in a dusty area. Usually, it’s as easy as hosing off the top and bottom sides of the fabric.
Gentle scrubbing may be needed for bird droppings or other residues that don’t come off after an initial rinse. Always use a soft brush with minimal pressure for this, and you can also consider using an awning cleaner to help remove caked-on grime. Most importantly, make sure your awning dries completely before rolling it up.
Treating Gaskets and Weather Seals
Every window, door, and slide-out on an RV has a gasket or flexible weather sealant. They’re rubber pieces that protect the RV from the elements. Keeping these seals and gaskets clean preserves them in good working order—meaning fewer replacements.
Silicone-based cleaners and lubricants keep your gaskets and seals from drying out. Many simply spray on and require no wiping or additional cleaning, but read the instructions carefully to make sure you apply them properly.
RV Rims and Tires
RVs tend to come with three kinds of wheels: painted rims, aluminum wheel covers, and chrome rims. The good news is that all three can be cleaned with the same RV cleaning solution and soft-bristled brush you use on the rest of your RV.
Here are a couple of additional considerations:
- Remove aluminum wheel covers periodically to check for signs of rust.
- Chrome rims are easily scratched. Avoid hard-bristled brushes and abrasive cleaners.
Your RV’s tires should also be cleaned with soap and water as you’re working on the rims. To shine your tires back up after they’ve dried completely, apply a tire and trim shine. For more tire care recommendations, read our guide to maintaining RV tires.
How to Wash an RV Roof
RV roofs come in two types: rubber and fiberglass. Rubber roofs are mostly a thing of the past, but they were prevalent on RVs from the 80s and 90s. Fiberglass roofs are more common on modern motorhomes.
To clean a rubber roof, you’ll need an appropriate rubber roof cleaning product. Check your owner’s manual for rubber roof cleaning instructions and clean your roof every few months to keep it in good shape.
Avoid roof sealants or coatings that aren’t specifically made for rubber roofs. Using a product that isn’t safe for rubber roofs will prevent your roof from flexing appropriately and cause further damage.
On RVs with rubber roofs, black streaks can also develop on the roof or the sides of the camper. To remove them, you’ll need a black streak remover made for RVs.
Fiberglass roofs are a little easier to clean. In most cases, you can use the same cleaner you’re using on the rest of your RV. Still, consult your RV owner’s manual for warnings related to roof maintenance before you select a product and start cleaning.
A Word of Caution About Getting on RV Roofs
Some RV roofs are walkable, but others aren’t. Check your owner’s manual or with your dealer before stepping foot on (or potentially through) your RV’s roof.
For walkable roofs, it’s a good idea to wear shoes with a good grip on wet surfaces. Also, keep in mind that your footwear will get wet. Find a spotter that can assist and keep watch as you bring a hose with a sprayer attachment up your RV ladder, along with an appropriate cleaning solution and a soft brush.
For non-walkable roofs, you’ll need a telescoping RV ladder to spray and clean from various locations around the sides of your RV roof. It’s also a good idea to have a spotter nearby during this process.
If you’re not steady on your feet or you’re simply nervous about heights, you can leave washing your RV roof up to trained service and care technicians. Find a Camping World Service Center near you to assist with your RV roof cleaning needs.
Where Can I Get My RV Washed?
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 small camper.
If you’re on the road and you need to come into a Camping World location for supplies anyway, inquire about our RV Spa Treatment. As you shop, our service technicians can wash and wax your entire RV, inside and out!
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 any contractor start cleaning. Before you agree to a price, make sure you’re getting everything you want to be included in that price.
Here are 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 motorhome, whether new or used, and you’ll be happier with a home-on-the-road that’s clean inside and out. There are dozens of options for the right tools you’ll need.
Do you have any questions or ideas to share about how to wash an RV? Let us know in the comments below!
If you’re still learning the ins and outs of RV maintenance, check out our downloadable RV ownership and maintenance booklet!