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How to Clean and Get Rid of RV Water Stains

I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.

A water leak has caused wood rot beneath this fantastic fan that appeared only as a ceiling stain originally.

A water leak has caused wood rot beneath this fantastic fan that appeared only as a ceiling stain originally.

If you want to protect the fabric ceilings and curtains of your RV from water stains and/or learn the best methods for cleaning them away, you are not alone. Every RV owner I know, including me, absolutely hates them!

Leaks and condensation are the culprits that cause them, so dealing with those issues before they cause the damage is undoubtedly the main way to take care of this problem.

Water stains that appear on RV ceilings and drapes are ugly and difficult to eliminate.

Water stains that appear on RV ceilings and drapes are ugly and difficult to eliminate.

RV Water Stain Removal Advice

If you go on to some of the RV forums, you will always find owners asking what they can do to get rid of their water stains. It seems that everybody has his own product or technique that seems to have worked, but some of those I have seen would cause more damage than they would fix.

For example, several people suggest spraying bleach onto the affected area.

While there is little doubt that doing this would eliminate a stain, there is also little doubt that using pure bleach, or even a mixture of bleach and water, would eventually eat right through the fabric and leave a gaping hole in the area that was treated! Worse yet, the overspray would damage everything it touched, including carpets and upholstery.

Thus, it is important to consider the long-term ramifications of using any product or method before actually giving it a try.

Also, no matter which technique you choose to use, you should remember that fabric ceilings are glued to the underlying wood. If you put too much liquid on them or apply too much heat, the material will loosen, and the ceiling will need to be professionally stretched back into position or replaced. This is a very expensive fix!

When to Let the RV Professionals Do It

In cases where there are many stains, people generally choose to avoid the problems that go along with making a repair themselves and seek professional help.

While this is always a good idea in theory, when it comes to cost, doing this can be outrageously expensive. I once knew someone who got a quote from a dealership of $8,000 to repair her unit’s visible ceiling stains plus the hidden damage!

This story highlights the financial problems people might face when asking RV service departments to do work for them. They will tell you that there is no way for them to know if leaks did major damage without removing part of the ceiling fabric, but while this is true, the fact is that removal of the ceiling fabric may not be necessary.

Much depends on the extent of the visible damage and how long it has been there. My husband and I have had many coaches over the years that had water leak damage, but only one had major damage as a result. Even then, the only fabric that had to be replaced was within an upper cabinet.

The truth is that if you find and seal a leak as soon as you see a water stain and properly clean the damaged ceiling area yourself, you should incur no further cost.

However, if a leak has existed for a fairly long period of time, it is likely that a major repair will be required. This is not the type of repair job you should attempt on your own unless you are very handy.

NOTE: Never try to deal with black mold problems yourself!

Do Not Try to Dry Clean RV Curtains

Some people think that dry cleaning is the way to get rid of water stains on lined, pinch-pleated RV windshield curtains. The problem is that dry cleaners will not guarantee that their solvents will work, so you could be paying good money for nothing.

Getting rid of the stains yourself, depending on how bad they are, is fairly easy, as you will see in the directions I provide below. However, if my method does not work, you can easily and inexpensively replace them. How to Save Money on RV Window Treatment Replacements will show you what you need to do.

Skylights are prime areas for leaks that can cause serious damage to RVs.

Skylights are prime areas for leaks that can cause serious damage to RVs.

Forget Carpet Cleaning Services for Stained Ceilings

Because fabric ceilings are similar in structure to carpets, some people think they can be professionally cleaned and repaired by carpet cleaning services. This is not a good idea, because the chemicals they use might not be suitable, and if they wet the ceiling too much, they could damage or even destroy it.

Furthermore, if there is already underlying water damage, they could make it worse!

The Best Way to Clean RV Water Stains

As I stated earlier, many people have their own remedies for cleaning water stains from RV fabric ceilings and windshield drapes. I am sharing my own methods because after 50 years of owning and traveling in motorhomes and campers, I know that they work and will not damage your coach.

The product I have always used is Woolite Oxy Deep Carpet Stain and Odor Remover. I have tried others, but this one has proven to be the safest and most effective method of removing water stains from ceilings, drapes, carpets and even upholstery that I have found.

I always carry a bottle of it when we travel so that if stains appear, I can deal with them quickly. Here is what I do:

At the first sign of water damage, have one person use a hose on the outside of the RV, from the roof down, to help the person on the inside find the source of the leak.

Repair and seal the leak immediately, then use a dehumidifier to suck the water from the affected internal areas.

  1. Once the leak has been sealed and the ceiling and/or drapes are dry, spray some Woolite Oxydeep for carpet and upholstery on the ceiling and curtain stains.
  2. Let it sit there overnight.
  3. In the morning, vacuum off the residue.
  4. If the stains are not gone, repeat the process.

In most cases, this will eliminate the stains. At the very least, it will make them much less visible. (By the way, you can use this same technique on upholstered RV furniture.) This method should leave you with a dry RV that shows minimal or zero signs of water damage and produces no mold or mildew odors.


  • If the unit is dry but this method has not removed the stains, you may need to replace the ceiling and curtains.
  • If the unit is dry but still smells, the leak has gone on too long, and it is time to repair the mold or wood rot that has resulted. If you choose not to do this, eventually your entire structure will be ruined, so do not delay.

Do Not Try to Fix Black Mold Problems Yourself

A word of warning here: If the damage has existed for quite a while and has caused black mold, do not, I repeat, do not attempt to repair the problem yourself. This is a serious issue that only a professional should handle, because inhaling the spores from black mold can be extremely dangerous to your health.

  1. If you find black mold in your coach, close it up, and do not enter it again until the problem is fixed.
  2. If you must drive your RV to a repair shop, wear a mask, open all windows and close off the damaged area as much as possible.

How to Prevent RV Roof Leaks

Practice Preventive Maintenance

Frustrating as this type of problem may be, there actually are simple, easy to do ways to deal with it, the main one being to take steps to prevent water from infiltrating your RV.

Seal the Exterior

First and foremost, you should always make sure you properly and completely seal the exterior. This means caulking and/or taping the area around every

  • seam,
  • awning attachment,
  • hole,
  • screw,
  • bolt,
  • window,
  • door,
  • air conditioner,
  • roof vent,
  • refrigerator vent,
  • stove vent and
  • light

and checking each one of them regularly for cracks, rust and areas where water might seep in and cause damage. The attached video explains more about how to perform such a check.

Anything that attaches to the exterior of your RV is a potential source for leaks, but if you seal well, you should never see a leak!

Check Your Floors for Dampness

Make it a point to consistently check your floors, especially the areas behind sofas and beneath driver and passenger seats for dampness, as well as the insides of every closet, including the ceilings.

Sniff for Mildewy or Moldy Odors

Use your sense of smell to tell you whether there is water lying in your coach. Mildew and mold have very distinct odors, and you need to pay attention to them if the odor in your coach is “off”. A well-maintained motorhome or camper should always smell dry and be free of odors.

Keep Curtains Dry

If you have windshield curtains, keep them away from the glass as much as possible so that condensation does not touch them. If they are kept dry, there is no way they can become stained.

Keep Humidity at a Minimum

In addition to these steps, when using your unit do everything possible to keep humidity at a minimum and condensation from forming. You will find specific directions for doing this in How to Protect Your RV From Water Damage and Flooding, so make sure that you take the time to read it.

A Final Word Of Caution

No matter how fancy or expensive a recreational vehicle is, sooner or later, it's going to leak. When it does, those ugly water stains will appear, and it will be up to you to clean them and check for hidden problems as soon as possible.

Early detection translates into easy and inexpensive cleaning. It will also prevent the possibility of expensive and sometimes dangerous problems. Do not delay. Now is the time to examine your coach.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I prevent mildew from forming on my pleated shower curtains? Just installed new ones and must treat them.

Answer: It sounds like these curtains are fabric. If this is the case, use a plastic or vinyl liner between the tub/shower and the curtains. This will help to keep them dry. Keep the ceiling vent open when showering to help avoid steam in the bathroom. You may also have to take the pleated curtains down regularly and let them hang out in the sun. Sun will kill mildew. I don't know of a "treatment" you can use on the curtains, but spraying them with Lysol regularly may also help to keep mildew away.

© 2015 Sondra Rochelle