Winter is coming. Which means you’re probably about to winterize your RV – before the temperatures drop below freezing point. Worried about the process? Don’t want to miss out on anything?
We’ve prepared a detailed checklist and step-by-step guide to help you out, so you can start next year's camping season in a fully operational RV.
In a nutshell, here are the 13 systems/steps you need to winterize in an RV –
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- RV water system
- Electrical system
- The tires
- Insect and rodent control
- RV’s exterior
- Propane tank
- RV’s interior
- A motorhome’s engine
- The RV roof
- Jacks and stabilizers
- The awning
- Moisture control
Keep in mind that, the instructions in this guide are general in nature. Some of the guidelines in this guide may not apply to your RV. Be sure to read through the owner’s manual of your RV for specifics before attempting to begin a winterizing process.
What Does Winterizing an RV Even Mean (And Why You Need To Do That)
RVs are meant to be lived in. They have electric systems, water systems, and appliances. Come winter, most people stop using their motorhome, travel trailer or 5th wheel. Owners either put their RV in a storage facility or just park it at home (check out our guide on making your own RV pad if that’s an option for you).
If you just leave your RV alone for several months, without any preparation, you’re going to run into trouble. This is even truer if the climate is extra cold and your RV will experience freezing temperatures. Whether you place your RV in a winter storage facility or park it outside on your own RV parking pad, you need to follow the RV winterizing checklist as closely as possible.
Here’s what could go wrong if you don’t properly winterize your RV:
- Pipes and plumbing will burst due to water freezing in the system.
- Batteries can drain and die.
- Pests could get inside and cause damage.
- The roof could experience weather-damage
- Tires can form flat spots and deteriorate
Of course, a lot depends on how, where and for how long you’ll be storing the RV but overall, these are things you should be worried about.
And the answer to all your worries is proper winterization. Just going through the following list, item by item, and making sure your recreational vehicle is properly stored for winter.
Fortunately, the steps you need to take to fully winterizing an RV are not hard to follow. If you don’t have the time or don’t want to deal with the headache, you can outsource everything to professionals. Most RV owners can winterize their rig on their own but if you find this too intimidating RV service stations (often found in dealerships) can take care of things for you, for a fee.
With that in mind, let’s dive right in.
Step #1 RV Plumbing Winterization Process
Draining your plumbing system is a critical part of winterizing your RV since plumbing repairs can be especially expensive.
A small amount of water left in water faucets, pipes, water filters, valves, pumps or holding tanks can turn into ice. When water turns into ice, there is expansion and a blowout. This is the reason why beer cans explode in freezers. Don't forget your RV may have both hot water and cold water systems, all included in its fresh water system. These, along with the black tank and drain lines, should all be addressed. If you have an outside shower, you need to winterize that system as well.
Only draining the water lines is not sufficient. You must clean out the entire plumbing system and make sure that it’s absolutely water-free.
There are two methods that you can use to completely drain and clean out your entire plumbing system.
- Pump RV antifreeze through the plumbing system
- Use compressed air to blow out the plumbing system
1. Pump RV Antifreeze Through The Plumbing System
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Especially dependable if done correctly. Antifreeze drastically lowers the freezing point of water and protects systems from the negative effects of ice formation.
WARNING: You must blow out the lines with compressed air first before you will fill the system with RV antifreeze. Automotive antifreeze tends to be toxic so make sure you use special non-toxic RV antifreeze, that's meant for pumping into the plumbing system.
You will need two to three gallons of antifreeze. This is dependent on the size of your rig.
There are two main ways to propel RV antifreeze through your systems:
- Utilize the internal water pump of an RV. If you choose to use this technique, then you will have to have a pump bypass kit installed in your RV. A pump bypass kit takes freshwater from the RVs freshwater tank, which is a place where you should never add antifreeze. If your RV has a water filtration unit, then you must bypass it too.
- Utilize an external hand pump.
How To Use an External Hand Pump
- After draining all the water out of the systems, you can blow out the system with compressed air. Remember, blowing out the system is ideal but not required. However, it is mandatory to bypass the water heater. If you do not bypass the water heater, then you will have to add an extra six to ten gallons of RV antifreeze to complete the process correctly.
- Connect the RV antifreeze bottle to the intake siphon on the hand pump. Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Then, connect the city water inlet to the output hose on the pump.
- Close all drain valves and faucets. Make sure that you open the warmer side of the highest faucet first. The highest faucet is usually the kitchen sink. Next, send the antifreeze into the system till it comes out of the faucet. It should be a bright pink color.
- Turn the warmer side off, then turn the colder side on and repeat. Leave the colder side off.
- Go through the previously stated process for other faucets and anything else that has a flow of liquid or gas from a container or pipe that can be controlled. The bathroom sink, toilet, and shower need to go through the previously stated process.
Utilizing Your RV’s Internal Water Pump
This process is almost the exact same process as the external hand pump process. The only distinction in the two processes is that the water pump bypass valve is utilized to send RV antifreeze into the pump and allocate it throughout the entire water system. Make sure that you read through the manufacturer’s RV pump bypass valve instructions.
2. Use Compressed Air to Blow Out the Plumbing System
This method is a little simpler than the antifreeze method that we previously stated. This method requires an air compressor and an RV blow-out-plug. You can purchase an RV blow-out-plug at most RV part stores and online stores. Amazon has a bestselling RV blow out plug.
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The main downside to this process is that there is no way to be 100 percent sure that all of the water has been ejected from the system.
Here are the steps to this process:
- Disengage your RV from an outside water source that it is connected to.
- Turn off all power sources connected to your RV. Make sure to turn off the propane too.
- Next, you need to bypass your water heater. Do not drain your water heater until later in this process. Also, it is important to know that some RVs are made with a factory-installed bypass valve. If your RV is not made with a factory-installed bypass valve, then you can attempt to install a cheap kit.
- Your owner’s manual will have specific winterizing instructions for your ice maker, refrigerator, washing machine, and dishwasher. Go ahead and knock out the winterizing processes for those appliances now.
- Next, open all faucets such as the shower, tub, and the outdoor shower if you have one. Then, open your system drain valves and allow the water to drain. Your owner’s manual will tell you where to locate the valves.
- Flush your toilet to drain any water from the plumbing system.
- Attach your blow-out-plug to a water inlet.
- Make sure your air compressor’s pressure is no more than 30 PSI or else you could damage your water lines.
- Attach an air compressor hose to your blow out plug. Then, turn on the compressor and make sure it blows out all of the water from the drain valves and faucets. When all of the water is blown out, shut off the air compressor and detach your blow-out-plug from the water inlet that you connected it to.
- Flush and purge your gray and black water tanks, completely drain the freshwater tank, then close all of the drain valves.
- Next, pour one quart of RV antifreeze into the black and gray tanks to shield the seals and drain valves from cold weather. Antifreeze for RVs should be a pink color.
- Repeat this process for your entire sink and shower drains. You should definitely add some antifreeze in the pipe traps too. Add a pint of antifreeze to your toilet bowl to guard its seals and flush valve from freezing.
- Turn the water heater drain valve (or plug) on and void the tank completely. Then, flush out any remaining residue with your water heater tank-rinsing wand.
- Make sure your drain plug stays open until spring.
After draining your plumbing system, you need to focus on other appliances and parts of your RV. Fortunately, the other appliances and parts are easier to winterize.
Here's a video about using compressed air for winterizing your RV's water system -
Step #2 Electrical System
Turn off your RV’s primary circuit breaker to protect the 120V AC system. Disconnect your rig from shore power. Disconnect and remove batteries from radios, clocks, detectors, and alarms too.
Make sure to read through the manufacturer’s instructions for portable or onboard generator storage. Block your exhaust pipe with aluminum foil or steel wool to keep pests from entering your RV.
Step #3 Winterizing the Tires
Your tires can form flat spots after a couple of months because of the thousands of pounds of weight that put pressure on them constantly.
If your RV has leveling jacks, which are different than stabilizing jacks, then make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on elevating your RV off of the ground for long periods of time.
An alternative method is outside jacks. If both of those options cannot be utilized, then you must redistribute the weight of your RV. You can do this by moving your RV around one-half tire revolution one or two.
Sand, dirt, and asphalt are bad places to park your RV. The oils in asphalt will damage tires.
Your RV must be parked on concrete or a paved surface to stop your tires from descending into the soft ground. Also, make sure that you set your parking brake.
Also, overinflating air pressure by two to five PSI right before winter may prevent you from having to inflate the tires after winter since the PSI will slowly decrease over time.
Step #4 Batteries
Remove batteries of any type if your RV is in a freezing climate, and store them in a warm and dry place. Always disconnect battery cables on the negative side first for safety reasons.
Make sure that you top off the fluid levels in maintenance-style batteries while wearing eye protection and rubber gloves. Your batteries need to be completely charged.
Step #5 Insect and Rodent Control
Look closely for any openings or gaps where insects, rodents, or birds may enter. Cover up any holes with some form of screening. Your vents need to be shielded with aluminum foil or cardboard. It's crucial that you keep pests out of the rig while you're away for the winter.
Step #6 Winterizing The RV’s Exterior
Make sure to inspect all of the seals around exterior windows and doors. You should re-caulk seals if necessary.
It’s always a good idea to oil all moving parts, including the slideouts, windows, and jacks. This should be part of your routine maintenance. In fact, winter or summer, make sure you read our list of 49 RV maintenance tips.
Step #7 Remove or Cover the Propane Tank
Cover your RV’s propane tank connection fittings with plastic bags and rubber bands to keep pests away.
External propane tanks should be removed in cold weather and stored in a shed or another sheltered location. Do not store it inside your RV.
Step #8 RV Winterizing: the Interior
Begin by cleaning your stovetop, oven, refrigerator, and cabinets. When you enter your RV after a long winter, you will feel better if it is cleaned. Remove any valuable items such as video games systems, TVs, expensive cutlery, and tools if your RV is stowed at a big storage lot.
Take out any beverages and food in your refrigerator and pantry. Bottled or canned foods and drinks can burst if they freeze.
Lastly, remove all bedding, clothing, and linens for laundering. Cleaning your RV’s interior in advance will make you feel better when you decide to use it in the future.
Step #9 Winterizing a Motorhome’s Engine
Top off the fuel tanks on your RV to inhibit the formation of condensation. Plus, adding a fuel stabilizer will deter some unpleasant issues.
Your engine needs to idle for five to ten minutes so that the additive can make its way through your system. Automotive antifreeze needs to be added to your radiator.
Next, do check-ups on your brake fluid, oil, and windshield washer solution. Your windshield washer solution needs to include a small amount of antifreeze, so make sure you buy the right windshield washer solution.
Step #10 The RV Roof
Closely inspect your roof for any leaks or damages that need to be repaired. Repair them as may be necessary.
Make sure all roof and plumbing vents are closed. Use an air conditioner shroud or a special air conditioner covers.
Step #11 Put the Stabilizing Jacks in Place
Place some wooden blocks underneath your jacks to stop them from freezing to your storage pad. Cover all pivot points with graphite or silicone spray to circumvent the formation of rust.
The stabilizing jacks of your RV should be lowered to hold your 5th-wheeler or trailer in a firm position while you are moving around inside your rig.
RV Jacks won't retract? Here's what to do
Step #12 Take Care of the Awning
Clean your awning after completely extending it using a special awning cleaner instead of laundry or dish soap.
Let the special awning cleaner completely dry off. There are firm, slip-on awning covers that can protect your awning’s fabric from cold weather.
Step #13 Moisture Control
This is the last step in fully winterizing an RV. All you need to do is open a container of moisture absorbent and put it on a level surface inside your RV.
A container of moisture absorbent will eliminate dampness, or moisture, from the air in your RV. This will prevent the formation of mold, corrosion, and mildew. You can buy moisture absorbents on Amazon or an RV store. If necessary, take some time to properly dehumidify the interior of your rig. Read this guide on how to keep moisture out of your RV and our list of best dehumidifiers for RV owners.
It is especially important that you winterize your RV if you are in a state where temperatures go below the freezing point. That’s when winterizing the pipes and entire plumbing system is crucial. However, even if you’re storing your RV for the winter in a warmer climate, you still need to follow the steps described in this guide.
That’s the only way for you to fully protect your RV from the elements. Your owner’s manual may also have some guidelines for certain parts and pieces of your rig, so don’t forget about that either. You can quickly get most of the items mentioned here, along with a printed RV winterizing guide when purchasing this RV winterizing kit from Amazon.
Take care to properly winterize your motorhome, 5th wheel, travel trailer or pop-up camper and you’ll be able to spend winter time preparing your springtime travel plans! Then, come spring, your RV will be ready for you, all fresh and clean.
Last but not least, let us know if you have additional tips and suggestions by leaving a comment below - thanks!