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RV Exterior Paint 101: How Do You Paint the Outside of Your RV?

RV Exterior Paint 101: How Do You Paint the Outside of Your RV?

Are you thinking about doing a DIY RV exterior paint job? If so, we’ve got the lowdown for you. 

This DIY takes a lot of prep work and painting and drying time, but it can take your RV from drab to fab. Paint can drastically alter the look of an RV and make even the oldest rigs look new. An RV exterior paint job might even help you get your older model into RV parks that have a 10-year rule.

This article looks at the cost of a professional RV exterior paint job, the benefits of doing it yourself, and the steps you need to take to paint it properly. Let’s get into it. 

How Do You Paint the Exterior of Your RV?

Painting the exterior of your RV is not an easy or quick task. You can expect to spend a lot of time cleaning, inspecting, fixing cracks and defects, removing decals, priming, painting, and sealing your RV exterior. But if you put in the work, you may enjoy the result and the impact on your wallet.

Are you feeling up to the task, or do you think a professional should do it? Let’s see.

RV Exterior painting

Professional RV Painter vs. Painting Yourself

A professional RV paint job will look better than a DIY paint job, especially if it’s your first time. But is the cost worth it?  Professionals do use automotive paints that need to be sprayed in a paint booth.

Custom RV paint
Sometimes a DIY paint job will just add a bit of charter!

Painting your RV yourself will save you money, but it might cost you time. Where it might take a professional paint shop just a day or two, it might take you a week or longer between prep, painting, and dry time. 

But if the cost of a professional paint job is more than the cost of your RV, you might consider doing it yourself.

Professional RV exterior painter
While a professional has the experience and equipment to paint your RV, it will likely cost you a lot more than doing it yourself.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on the Outside of a Camper?

You’re going to want to use high-quality exterior paint, but the type will depend on lots of factors.

Many RVers swear by using regular exterior paint on their RV. Others recommend using marine epoxy or marine deck paint. You’ll want one rated for the outdoors that will easily grip your RV surface. 

For aluminum RV exteriors, use acrylic-latex or oil-based paints. Be careful when using oil-based ones, as these take a very long time to cure fully. Or you can use automotive paint for aluminum RVs. 

For fiberglass RV exteriors, you have a wide variety of choices, from marine coating to regular exterior house paint. 

With any type, first, you need to make sure you prep the surface to hold paint and use a primer. 

Paint cans and brushes
The type of paint you choose will depend on the exterior surface material as well as your preference.

How Much Does It Cost to Paint an RV?

Painting your RV yourself will save you money. The cost of hiring a professional RV painter will depend on its size, the current exterior condition, and the type of paint job you want. 

According to Coach Specialists of Texas, repainting an RV in the 26 ft range can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000. That’s the same price as buying a brand new one.

So, unless you have that kind of money to burn, try repainting it yourself. 

How to Paint Your RV Exterior

Now for the fun stuff: painting your RV exterior. The steps will vary slightly depending on the type and condition of your rig. But, each step is vital no matter what kind of RV you paint. 

Prep Your Surface

First things first, prep your RV exterior surface. Prep will vary from cleaning it with a degreasing cleaner to a full sanding. We recommend first cleaning to Scrub away all debris, including moss and lichen, tree sap, and chalk from old paint or roof material. 

RV pressure washing
Thoroughly clean your RV exterior before painting it. A pressure washer works well for this task.

After it’s clean, inspect your seams and around windows to look for any holes or cracks that you need to repair or reseal.

A last prepping step should be to go over the exterior with a solvent or degreasing-based cleaner to remove any oils. 

Pro Tip: You might want to hire an RV detailer to do the cleaning for you. Who knows, maybe after a good cleaning, you’ll realize your RV paint is in better condition than you thought.

With any RV, you need to rough up and prime your painting surface. Using fine sandpaper, lightly sand the area you’ll paint, and clean off the sanding dust. This will help your primer and paint stick to the surface and help avoid chipping and peeling later. 

Be careful not to damage your RV exterior when sanding; you only need to do it lightly.

Sanding an RV exterior before priming and painting
Before priming and painting, lightly sand the exterior surface of your RV.

lastly in the preparation stage will be to tape and mask off any areas you don’t want to paint. If you are using a roll or brush on paint you can just mask around the windows and doors. If however, you are going to try and spray the RV you will need to use plastic over all surfaces you don’t want paint.

Decals: To Remove or Not Remove

Decals are a tricky situation for many RVers. If you paint over decals, you will have a line in the paint in the shape of the sticker. Some people don’t mind because you can’t see the line from a distance. 

You may have some problems with your decals, though. For example, they may start to chip or peel off later and cause a large chip or defect in your paint job. But leaving them on is convenient and saves time. If your decals are in good condition and you want to save time, leave them be.

RV with decals
If your decals are in good condition, sometimes it’s easier to leave them on. But it’s up to you, and how you want your RV to look.

If you decide to remove your decals, be prepared to use a heat gun and paint scraper or razor blade to peel or chip off the stickers. Once you take them off, you’ll need to clean the area to remove the old adhesive and use a degreaser. 

Prime Your Surface

After your RV is clean and sanded its recommended to use a primer for the first base coat of paint. Depending on the paint you select you should have the option of a primer to go with it.

Paint (Finally)

When you finally paint your RV your going to want to try and do it where there is minimal dust and bugs. We recommend starting late morning and avoiding lights near the RV at night to not attract bugs. If possible painting inside is always best.

After you’ve prepped and primed your RV exterior, it’s time to paint. A latex-based exterior paint works well for those on a budget. It’ll hold up to the elements and the constant moving and flexing of an RV.  Latex paints will be soft however and scratch more easily.

A spray on automotive paint is a good option but will require more preping and can be very messy. Using respirators is required for spraying automotive paint as well.

Epoxy paints are a great choice but may require mixing and have limited working times. They will end up smooth and solid, but good planning needs to go into using them. Be sure you understand the directions before attempting them.

Affordable DIY RV Exterior Paint

Add a Protective Coating

Adding a protective coating is optional, but skipping this step may lessen the life of your brand-new DIY RV exterior paint job. 

Any type of clear exterior paint sealant should do the job, but make sure that your RV paint dries entirely before starting this step. 

What Tools Do You Need to Paint Your RV Exterior?

To prep your surface, you need to wash your RV with a power washer or a hose and sponge. Although, a power washer will do the job faster. You will need soap, a power washer, and a soft-bristled RV brush for cleaning.

Motorhome with ladder next to it
A ladder is helpful for cleaning or painting hard-to-reach places.

Once you wash your RV, you’ll need to seal windows and any cracks. You can do this with a paintable RV sealant like ProFlex. If you decide to remove your decals, you need a heat gun, a paint scraper or razor blade, Goo Gone, a degreaser, and a decal removing wheel

Pro Tip: If you’ll be painting your RV roof, check out our sealant recommendations: 8 Best RV Roof Sealants and How to Choose for Your Camper

You can choose between a few methods for applying paint. You can brush it on, roll it on, or spray it on — it’s up to you. For this, you will need rollers, brushes, or an automotive paint sprayer. A ladder is also helpful for both the cleaning and painting processes.

Rolling vs. Spraying: Which Is Best?

Should you roll, brush, or spray your RV exterior? Honestly, it depends. The method with the best results is the method that you feel most comfortable doing.

If rolling or brushing paint feels better to you, you’ll get better results than if you tried to learn how to use a spray gun for the first time. Spraying paint needs to be done just right or you will end up with uneven spots or worse and most common for first-timers is runs.  However, if you have experience with a paint gun or spray painting, you might have better results. 

Is Giving Your RV Exterior a Painted Makeover Worth It?

If your RV desperately needs a paint job due to chipped paint, decals, or discoloration, an RV exterior paint job is worth it. Or, if you want to give your RV character by adding a custom mural or painted design, you can do that too. 

Custom exterior paint on an Airstream RV
A custom paint job can really make your RV stand out!

However, if your rig is in decent condition and already looks nice, a paint job might cause more hassle and money than it’s worth. 

Only you can decide if undertaking a job this size is worth it. But if you need to do it, doing it yourself is worth it compared to the price you’ll pay a professional. Remember, you can’t paint your RV exterior in a day. Sometimes it might take a week or longer. This DIY takes a lot of work but saves you a ton of money.

Does the inside of your camper need a fresh coat of paint too? Here are 5 Easy RV Interior Painting Ideas to Spruce Up Your Camper!

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Michael Clark

Sunday 17th of April 2022

To guarantee that the first layer of paint clings to the RV's surface, use a bonding primer. The paint will produce ugly bubbles if the primer is not used. Furthermore, the paint will be susceptible to cracking and simple removal from natural elements like rain and strong winds.

Mark and Vickie

Saturday 25th of September 2021

Hi, we have decided to "re-do" the exterior of our Montana 5'er, hubby is just about finished removing the decals, and found that using a "adhesive" remover was a lot simpler and cleaner than using the rubber wheel. He removed the decals with the heat gun, then the adhesive with the remover, he found that using the remover spray out of the bottle, caused the product to "run" so he sprayed it on a rag, then rubs it over the adhesives. then using a plastic razor blades removes the adhesives from the camper going about 1- 2 ft. at a time. We plan on painting the areas that the decals covered. Now we a question... The rest of the RV as a case of Any oxidation would the pressure washer remove that or... do we have to use a oxidation removing wax like Meguires's marine oxixdation remover first prior the painting where the decals were ? Any advice would be appreciated. ...Vickie

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