So you bought that brand new, shiny RV and want to keep it in tip-top condition. Or maybe you snagged a great deal on a used RV and it needs a little TLC. Cleaning the RV exterior will not only help it look better, it will also help it last longer.
And that means more amazing RV adventures in your future!
Now before we dive into our tips for cleaning the RV exterior, we’ll share a very strong opinion of our own. You will see LOTS of advice on the internet about amazing and cheap cleaning products to use on your RV. We strongly believe in only using products that are developed for RVs. Sure, these might cost a little more than that supersized bottle of AWESOME from the dollar store on the corner. But they are developed to be used on the specific materials that RV roofs, sidewalls, and awnings are built out of. Spending a bit more on cleaning products can protect that RV investment for years to come.
You also might be tempted to use your favorite automobile cleaning supplies on your RV. However, the exteriors of an RV are actually quite a bit different than the typical car or truck. Painted aluminum, decals, rubbers roofs, and awnings all require special cleaning products to avoid potential damage to your RV.
For more information on all the tips below, listen to The RV Atlas podcast by clicking the play button above. Or listen to the complete episode in your favorite podcast app.
Tip #1: Get the Right Supplies
RVs are tall and wide, so you need to get a flow through, extending brush to make cleaning the RV exterior as simple as possible. Flow through brushes allow you to attach a hose to the pole and reach the highest parts of your RV exterior.
You’ll also want to get the proper microfiber towels, plus a ladder if you need one to reach your RV roof. Make sure all your cleaning materials are at hand…you’ll definitely want a product for cleaning the RV roof, washing the RV exterior, waxing the RV exterior, and cleaning the awning. Additional options might include products for bugs and black streaks, slide maintenance, and tires.
Our guest on the show this week, Andy Bialorucki, provided this PDF with examples of the various product options from Thetford:
Tip #2: Use the “Top Down” Method
Make a big job a lot easier by using the “top down method” when cleaning the RV exterior. Start at the roof, then work your way down the RV exterior. Wash the awning before washing and waxing the sidewalls to avoid unwanted water streaks. You’ll also want to lubricate your slide outs before the sidewalls. Finish off by cleaning and shining those RV tires!
Tip #3: Take Care of Your Roof
Your roof is the first line of defense to protect your RV, so maintaining it is so important. RV owners should regularly remove tree sap, bird droppings, and residue from pooling water after rain. There are good products that combine rubber roof cleaner and conditioner. However, you can also get a higher end product like the Protect All line that has separate roof cleaner and treatment. Some folks like to use the Protect All at the beginning of the season, and then follow up with the cleaner and conditioner combo throughout the summer.
Tip #4: Scrub the Awning
RV owners know the awning is usually the grubbiest part of your RV. It catches tree sap, leaves, and pollen while protecting you from the elements at the campground. Then we often roll it in while gross and damp, creating a breeding ground for stains and mildew. The most important step in keeping your awning clean is regular maintenance. If you close it up in the rain at the campground, make sure you open it up for a quick wash as soon as possible. Never use bleach or abrasive cleaners as they can seriously damage the protective coating.
A foaming cleaning might be your best bet, as you can apply the product then roll up your awning to ‘soak’ for a little bit. Then unroll the awning and use your flow through scrubbing pole to attack those stubborn stains.
Tip #5: Wash and Wax the RV Exterior
If you keep your RV roof and awning clean, you’ll get a lot less of those awful black streaks on the exterior walls of your RV. However, they still happen and you’ll need a good, strong cleaner to get rid of that oxidation. One of Andy’s most important tips is to spot test any black streak cleaner you might use. It’s also extremely important to rinse the exterior quickly with water. Black streak cleaner needs to be strong to do its job, but can leave ‘white streaks’ behind if not used according to directions.
UV light is the biggest enemy to your RV exterior. Waxing not only makes your RV shiny, it also protects it from the sun’s damaging rays. Look for a product with Carnauba wax which will provide a great protective layer. Make sure you wax at least once a year, and then maintain your RV exterior with a more simple spray and wipe wax like Protect All throughout the camping season.
Tip #6: Stay on Top of Grime
Maintenance. Maintenance. Maintenance.
RV-safe cleaning products will work best when used regularly and consistently over time. Most RV owners get themselves into a pickle by ignoring black streaks, mildew, tree sap, and other grime. The longer these problems sit, the harder they are to clean. Plan on giving your RV the royal cleaning treatment when opening and closing the camper every year. Then make sure to have the correct products on hand for regular maintenance throughout the season.
And why should we worry so much about cleaning the RV exterior? Well, the better we take care of our RVs, the better they will take care of us on our adventures.
And here’s to many, many more RV adventures.
See you at the campground,
Stephanie + Jeremy
P.S. Want more great info on keeping your RV in the best condition? Check out our article on RV tank maintenance here!