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RV Cleaning 101: How to Keep Your RV Investment Looking Brand New

All vehicles get dirty, but with cars, you can just run it through a carwash, but not so with an RV. So how do you go about cleaning your RV to keep it looking good? RV’s are very different than cars and have many more considerations to keep in mind when washing them. Today we’re going to be taking a look at RV cleaning 101 to make sure you can keep your RV looking great without damaging it.

Grab your rubber gloves and cleaning supplies, and let’s get started!

Why Is Cleaning Your RV Important?

There are several reasons why cleaning your vehicle is incredibly important. Ultimately, it boils down to helping maintain its longevity and value. RVs can be terrible financial investments. They depreciate incredibly fast, especially when owners don’t properly care for them. You want to do everything you can to take care of it by keeping it clean.

Doing so keeps dirt, grime, and other debris off the surfaces. This helps it look good for as long as possible. Keeping it clean and providing protective coatings prevents decals from peeling and cracking. This damage typically results from exposure to the sun and other weather elements.

Some RV parks and private campgrounds have vehicle appearance policies. If you don’t keep your camper looking good, they could turn you and your filthy RV away at registration. While it hasn’t happened to us, we’ve heard plenty of instances throughout the community.

Cleaning your RV is an excellent opportunity to investigate interior corners and surfaces. Damages from water and mold typically reveal themselves in small ways at first. However, these clues become more significant when they go unnoticed for extended periods. Regularly giving your trailer some TLC can save you some stress.

scrubbing an RV windwshield
When we are in Florida we need to wash the RV every month because of salt accumulation because were near the beach.

How Do You Avoid Damage When Cleaning Your RV?

Before we talk about how to clean your RV, let’s first talk about some things that can actually damage an RV when cleaning it. We have had many RV’s over the years and I can tell you from first-hand experience that its pretty easy to damage them when cleaning.

First of all, you need to keep in mind that every RV can leak. Unlike your car, RV’s have lots of holes cut in their roof and sides, and each one of these is a leak potential. Water damage is extremely common, and you don’t want to cause it. Before you wash your RV, be sure to inspect all seals on the roof, look at the windows, air vents, and any other penetration in the roof or side. If the seals look cracked or peeling, be sure to replace them before cleaning.

In addition, be very careful with pressurized water. Pressure washers can easily push water past seals or even lift up or rip rubberized roof sealants. If using a pressure washer, keep your distance and only apply pressure to areas without any seals.

Also, be careful if taking your RV to a truck wash. We wrote an entire article about truck washes for RV’s. They can be used, but you need to take a few precautions.

Lastly, avoid any abrasive cleaning tools for the exterior. The same goes for car cleaning, but many times, RVs have softer paints or gel coats that scratch easily. Use soft brushes only and spend more time scrubbing to get off stubborn debris. Repairing scratches will take you way longer than avoiding them in the first place.

can you use a pressure washer on an RV
We get asked a lot if you can use a pressure washer on an RV. You can but you need to be very careful not to cause damage or push water past seals.

How Often Should You Clean Your RV?

Keeping your rig clean is a constant battle. How often you should clean it will depend on several factors, primarily when, where, and how it’s used as well as how its stored. However, it’s a good idea to create a consistent cleaning schedule. One thing to consider when making your schedule is where you use or store your camper.

You can’t go to the beach without bringing back sand. Additionally, dust from gravel roads will coat all the surfaces. You can’t forget that bugs live everywhere. The more you expose your rig to these items, the more often you’ll need to clean it.

RV’s that are stored under trees are also likely to accumulate debris that can cause mold and mildew growth. Its important to clean the surface even if its not being used to prevent permanent damage.

It’s better to err on the side of caution and clean your RV too often rather than not enough. Instead of waiting too long to clean, do more frequent regular cleanings weekly or after each trip. Waiting too long will require more elbow grease, and more cleaning products for your RV, take longer, and could damage the various surfaces.

Aside from doing routine cleanings, it’s also wise to do deep cleanings occasionally. Doing these at the start and end of each camping season works out great for us.

What Does RV Detailing and Deep Cleaning Include?

RV detailing and deep cleaning are very different from routine cleanings. When you detail your camper, you go through all the areas with a fine-tooth comb. You thoroughly clean and maintain all surfaces inside and outside your trailer.

Like car detailing, RV detailing helps your camper look almost as good as new. The process typically includes cleaning the roof, washing and waxing the exterior, scrubbing your awnings, cleaning the tires and even washing the underside and mechanical components. Inside the rig, you’ll want to clean all the areas, including the carpets, appliances, and filters.

This can be a very time-consuming and physically demanding task. We’ll go into more details later, but it’s possible to hire professionals that will do all of this for you. However, you can save cash for camping fees and gadgets to enhance your experience by doing it yourself.

Man vacuuming motorhome interior
You would be shocked how easily dirt, sand, and dust from all of your adventures hides in your RV.

What RV Cleaning Products Should You Use?

Your RV cleaning products will depend on the materials you’re cleaning. It’s a good idea to gather the appropriate equipment and products beforehand. If you do, you don’t have to worry about delays from making multiple supply runs to the store.

For the exterior, some standard products you’ll want are an RV-safe exterior cleaner, mild soap or roof cleaner, microfiber towels, and RV wax. I know it may sound weird but we have always just used a biodegradable dish soap like Dawn to wash the exterior.

Additionally, you want to pay attention to your wheels and tires. A standard wheel and tire cleaner will do the job.

If you have plastics on the exterior of the RV that are fading, investing in a protection product is a great idea. We have tried lots of products over the years but have had the best luck with Cerakote trimcoat for these areas.

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Inside, you’ll want to have a glass cleaner, multi-surface cleaner, and upholstery cleaner. It doesn’t hurt to have some Magic Erasers on hand. They’re fantastic at cleaning various surfaces and help reduce the wear and tear on your elbows.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Extra Durable, Shoe,...
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Durable scrubber is 4X Stronger*...
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If you’re doing a deep clean, it’s also an excellent opportunity to clean your black tank. We’ve previously used Camco TST MAX RV Toilet Treatment and Happy Camper Tank Treatment and had great results.

Camco TST MAX Camper / RV Toilet Treatment...
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cleaning an RV with dawn
It might sound weird but Dawn dish soap is our preferred RV Soap

How to Keep Your RV Looking New for Years to Come

Keeping your RV looking new is a never-ending task. If you want to take care of your camper, staying on top of cleaning is crucial. Let’s look at some chores you’ll want to do regularly to be a good owner.

Invest in the Right Deep Cleaning Equipment

You can do the job effectively or efficiently with the right deep-cleaning equipment. If you take this job seriously, you will need to invest in some items for the interior and exterior of your camper.

You’ll need ladders, brushes, extension poles, squeegees, towels, and various hose attachments for the exterior. If ordering online, read reviews and do your research. While it may be tempting to save a few bucks, we learned long ago to avoid buying items twice. Sometimes the cheapest option only lasts for a short time. Doing the job correctly requires a premium product.

For the inside, you’ll need to purchase carpet and upholstery cleaners, a broom, a mop, and a vacuum. Thankfully, many of the products you use in your home are safe inside your camper. When in doubt, check with your manufacturer to avoid accidental damage.

Wash & Wax It Regularly

Just like a car, washing and waxing your RV regularly keeps it clean and protects it. However, it’s crucial to mention that many RV parks and campgrounds have policies against washing campers. They don’t want you wasting water or flooding their campsites.

If you’re somewhere that allows you to wash your RV, gather the supplies. You’ll need a cleaner like Camco’s Pro-Strength Wash and Wax and plenty of brushes, a squeegee, and towels. Depending on the size of your rig, you may even need a ladder.

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Camco 40493 Pro-Strength Wash and Wax - 32 fl. oz.
  • Provides a clean, shiny finish
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When washing a larger rig, it’s typically best to focus on one section at a time. Start with the roof by using soap and a soft-bristle brush. Scrub it down gently to remove the gunk, then spray it away. Be careful, watch your step, and remember that the roof can be slick once it gets soapy.

Once you finish the roof, pick a section to start. You may need to pre-treat areas to address bugs and other gunk. Adam’s Car Bug Remover is excellent for removing bugs, tar, and other items.

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After removing all the bugs, spray water over the section where you’re working. Mix the washing detergent with water in a bucket. Scrub the various surfaces with a soft-bristle brush. Avoid putting too much pressure, or you could cause scratches. Let it sit for a minute or two, and spray it with your hose. Repeat this process as you work your way around the camper.

When you finish, wipe down all surfaces with a dry towel. Letting water air dry can result in water spots appearing. You didn’t put in all that hard work to end up with water spots, did you?

pressure washing an RV

Windows, Frames, and Screens

Windows, frames, and screens are easy to overlook while cleaning. However, gunky screens can make your RV feel dirty and old. You can use a standard glass cleaner on the windows and frames. We’ve also found that using Q-tips is a great way to get into our windows’ small ledges and crevices.

The best way to clean your window screens is to remove them from the frame. You can run some soapy water through the screen and gently scrub them. It might surprise you how much dirt and debris is stuck on them. Let them air dry before putting them back in the window.

Clean Your Appliances

Remember to clean your appliances. This includes getting into the nitty gritty of your refrigerator, oven, and microwave. Additionally, your air conditioner will need a good cleaning to run efficiently.

To clean your air conditioner, start with the air filters. All you’ll typically need to do for these is wipe them down or run water through them. However, cleaning the coils on your air conditioner will require climbing onto your roof. Our National RV Training Academy friends have an excellent video that walks you through the typical process.

You have to clean your RV AC coils

Polish Wood

Manufacturers love putting lots of wood surfaces inside campers. Unfortunately, these pieces can dry out and begin to crack over time. If you run your AC constantly or spend significant time in arid climates, polish them regularly. They’ll stay clean, look better, and last longer if you do. 

Wood cabinets inside RV
Our RV has a lot of wood in it that needs oil and polishing every so often.

Don’t Forget Hard to Reach Surfaces

There are some areas on campers that are easy to miss. Some of the most common spots are awnings, awning toppers, and roofs. These areas are often out of sight and can be hard to reach. However, even though they’re not easy to access or you’re not staring at them regularly doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean them.

One of the easiest ways to clean your RV awnings is to extend them completely and spray them with a soap-water mixture; no need for other cleaning products. After coating the awnings with the mixture, roll them up and let them sit for 30 to 60 minutes. All you have to do is spray them down with your hose, and most of the grime will wash away with little trouble.

Consider Covered or Interior Storage

Many campers spend most of their lives outside, exposed to the elements. This can result in fading in the paint and cracks in the decals. When possible, covered or interior storage is an excellent solution. This keeps the harmful UV rays and water off your camper when you’re not using it.

Unfortunately, this type of storage is more expensive than standard storage options. However, if you plan to own your rig for years or sell it someday, it can be worth every penny.

Pro Tip: Store your RV safely under one of these 5 Best Motorhome Covers for Class A and Class C RVs.

Shoes Off Policy for Indoors

We would never wear our shoes inside a home, so our camper has a “shoes off” policy. This helps keep dirt and other pieces of nature from getting inside our home on wheels. Is it inconvenient sometimes? Maybe. However, it saves our RV’s carpet and helps it to look practically brand new after several years.

Most travelers want to avoid hauling around a giant vacuum. It’s often easier to take your shoes off before coming inside. However, be sure to bring them in if there’s rain in the forecast or if you’re in an area with dangerous critters like snakes and spiders.

Soapy RV from RV cleaning products
Properly cleaning your RV takes time. You can always rely on an RV detailing service to do it for you.

When in Doubt, Leave It to a Professional

Sometimes the best option is to leave it to a professional and not rely on your own cleaning products and detailing for your RV. However, expertise typically isn’t cheap. Unfortunately, RV detailing is one of those areas where it can be costly.

You can drive your RV through a truck wash, and they’ll clean it. This may not provide the best results, but it’s affordable. Costs depend on the size of your camper but are generally anywhere from $50 to $100.

Hiring a professional RV detailer provides some of the best results but can be costly. You can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to more than $500 each time they clean your rig. However, they’ll likely have the necessary equipment and get areas like skylights, air condition covers, and awnings that most others overlook.

Pro Tip: Before you drop your hard earned money on a professional cleaning, learn more about what all goes into RV detailing.

Protect Your RV Investment

If you’re like most RV owners, you want your camper to stay shiny. It’ll take some work and effort, but it can be worth it. The key is to stay on top of keeping it clean. Procrastinating will make it harder each time you go to clean. Set reminders on your phone or put cleaning your RV on your calendar so you remember. You and your RV can enjoy adventures for years to come.

Do you have an RV cleaning schedule? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Vicki Hardey

Monday 3rd of July 2023

Where can I wash my RV. I live in rental and will be traveling soon on a full-time basis. Where am I able to do the washing of my motorhome?

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 15th of July 2023

We always check to see if campgrounds allow it, sometimes they charge a small fee to allow it other times they dont care. Truck washes are also an option as we mentioned in the article.

Aaron

Sunday 2nd of July 2023

Never, ever use Dawn dish detergent to clean the exterior of your RV (or car). It's not formulated for such use and it will strip off any coatings you apply - wax, polish even SiO2 based protectants. I recommend any quality car wash shampoo. These products are pH balanced and gentle on the finish. They are formulated to remove road grime, bugs, sap, etc. while not negatively affecting paint protectors. Most of these shampoo products are designed to work with a foam cannon (which I also recommend) that covers your rig in a thick layer of suds to begin breaking down grime and safely carry away dirt particles when you start agitating with a soft microfiber mitt or pad on a pole.