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How to Wash Your RV: The Best Tips on Cleaning Your Camper or Motorhome

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.

My Coach

My Coach

Cleaning Your Motorhome

The purpose of this article is to provide you with good information on how to clean your RV, motorhome, or other camper in an efficient and cost-conscious way.

As you all know by now, it's very hard to get your RV cleaned in many areas around the country, especially in some of the campgrounds with water restrictions.

The days when you could pull into a campground, hook up a hose to their water system, and then wash and rinse off your RV to your heart's content are pretty much a thing of the past.

Today, the typical campground will allow you to fill a bucket with water and clean the dirt and bugs from the front of your RV, and that is pretty much it. No way do they allow you to waste their water cleaning the whole RV.

Because of this, you will see a lot of RV owners using products and services that are aimed at allowing you to clean your RV in some very interesting ways.

Owner Questions

Before you decide on the best way to clean your RV, you have to ask yourself some questions to determine what are the best and most economical ways to take care of your RV.

Some of these questions are:

  1. How big is my RV?
  2. Is my RV metal?
  3. Is my RV fiberglass?
  4. Does my RV have decorative decals?
  5. How do I clean my RV's gaskets?
  6. What type of rims do I have on my RV?
  7. What type of roof material does my RV have?
  8. Is it worth paying someone to wash my RV?

Answer these questions and you can then decide on how to keep your RV clean in a safe and economical fashion. Read on for a detailed explanation of the possible answers to the questions above.

1. How Big Is My RV?

When you pul into almost any campground, across the country, you will see campers who use pop-up campers, and right beside them you will see RVers in large coaches up to 45 feet long.

This is part of the beauty of camping. The diversity of people at campgrounds, and each one's definition of "camping" is a big part of the fun you have when you go camping. Meeting different people, and having great conversations with everyone you meet is a major part of what I enjoy.

The guy with the large coach obviously has a lot more square feet of surface to clean than the other end of the camper spectrum: the guy with the small pop-up camper, who loves the basics of camping.

And, it is all about just how many square feet of surface area you need to clean.

Not only do the majority of campgrounds closely regulate the use of their water for cleaning RVs, but it is rare to find an RV car washing type of business that you can drive your RV through.

RVs, especially motorhomes, are tall and wide and long. And if you are lucky enough to find a specialized TRUCK/RV carwash nearby, it will be a lot more expensive to use than your standard car wash.

RV Scrub Brush

2. Does My RV Have a Metal Body?

Some RVs have a metal body. The most famous of which is the widely known Airstream line of campers.

The other major type of metal body is the older campers, typically made back in the seventies and eighties.


The Airstream camper is clad in aircraft-quality aluminum and stainless metals, and because of the material, requires special chemicals for cleaning and shining them. You must consult the owner's manuals for the proper way to clean these RVs appropriately.

I recommend that you go to the Airstream manufacturer's site and contact them for the right materials to use on these RVs. Or, if there is a dealer nearby, stop by and talk to them.

Painted, Metal-Clad RVs

As to the painted metal clad RVs, these can be washed with your standard, quality, non-caustic, car wash chemicals, of your choice.

One thing to note is that you should take care if you want to use a pressure washer on these metal-clad RV bodies.

Remember that often these RVs have metal siding overlapped, similar to siding on a house, and that high-pressure water can creep between the metal layers, and end up damaging your cabinetry and walls inside the camper, if they are old enough for the inner water seals to rot or tear.

So, take care to avoid this problem if you want to use one of these devices on your metal-clad RV. Keep the direct water pressure low by keeping the tip of the pressure washer a decent distance from the RV body. I would suggest at least 18–24 inches at the very closest.

3. Is My RV Body Made of Fiberglass?

Today most RVs, from the small ones to the large ones, are made of fiberglass, often with some strategically placed plastics, of course.

Unpainted or Partially Painted Fiberglass RVs

Most of the older ones, made in the eighties and through most of the nineties models, are made of fiberglass and are not painted, or sometimes they are partially painted.

The majority of the time, the unpainted part is your standard fiberglass white, in color, and the painted part is some accent color. Most of these have accent stripes, most of which are not painted, but are glue-on decals.

For these unpainted fiberglass RVs, I recommend that you use a good quality RV wash-and-wax product that you can purchase at your local RV dealer or camping outlet store.

They are designed to be safe for the RV body, and for the environment. There are several popular brands that you can purchase for these RVs.

Full-Paint RVs

Starting in the late nineties, the higher-end coach RVs had full body paint jobs, and were also covered with a clear-coat finish for extra protection.

The decorative stripes on these can be decals or paint, but almost always are totally coated with a clear-coat finish.

To clean these bodies, most camper owners use the same RV wash-and-wax products available at your RV dealer or camping supply outlets, and some even use their favorite automobile cleaning products.

RV Body Wash

4. Does My RV Body Have Decorative Decals?

Most RVs have decorative decals. These decals present problems of their own to the RV owner.

I recommend that you avoid having someone who is not familiar with decals use a pressure washer on your RV with stick-on decals.

The high pressure can pop small pieces of the decal away along the edges. Also, the pressure can cause an unevenly applied decal, that still looks good, to start to show a spider webbing of ugly micro-cracks.

I purchased an old fiberglass RV with decorative decals on it, and I got it for a great price, because the previous owner had it cleaned several times with a high-pressure washer.

When you walked up close to the RV it was very visible that the pressure washer had flaked the edges of the decal from the body. This left the body with a very ugly overall look and caused the owner to have to drop the price significantly to sell the unit.

I ended up with a great deal, but I had to have the decals removed and replaced at some considerable expense, before I sold it myself, when I was ready to move up to a newer rig.

Some of the older RVs have decals that have faded over time, and the colors are not as prominent as they once were. You can help slow this process if the wash-and-wax cleaner you use has UV blockers in them, so read the labels to be sure you purchase what is best for your unit.

5. How Do I Clean my RV's Slide and Window Gaskets?

An important part of cleaning your RV is the cleaning and preservation of the rubber gaskets that are open to the weather and specifically the sun.

RVs have gaskets around the windows, and also those flexible weather sealing gaskets around the slides. You should typically use a silicone-based spray cleaner and protectant on these gaskets. This will keep them supple and reduce the hardening effects of the sun. As always though, you should consult your owner's manual on the proper way to clean and preserve these gaskets.

Because my wife and I use our RV to travel in the winter, and only occasionally in the summer, I give all of my inner and outer slide and window gaskets a good spraying of silicone spray each spring and fall, when it is nice and cool.

RV Rubber Seal Conditioner and Cleaner

6. How Do I Clean My RV's Rims?

That depends on what kind of rims you have!

Some Campers Have Painted Rims

Cleaning these rims is relatively easy, and you can use any of the standard automotive rim and wheel cleaning products. I do recommend that you have those wheel covers removed once a year, and give the painted rims a good cleaning and wax sealing, taking care to look for the advancement of any rust, for future management.

Some RVs Have Painted Rims With Aluminum Wheel Covers

These wheels can also be cleaned and polished using standard automotive wheel cleaning and polishing products, that are available in automotive parts stores, specifically for aluminum.

Some RVs Have Chrome Rims

These wheels, also, can be cleaned using standard cleaners for chrome rims, and they can be polished with mechanical buffers, or by hand.

But check your chrome rims carefully. Some manufacturers have their rims coated with a clear protectant. This material keeps the rims looking shiny longer, but it is susceptible to being scratched or even peeled off if you use the wrong brushes or buffers.

When this happens, your rims will look bad, and you will need to have the protective layer removed, chemically, by a professional.

7. How Do I Clean My RV's Roof?

The vast majority of RVs either have a Rubber-like roof or a Fiberglass roof. there are some with metal roofs, and even some with roofs made with composite synthetic materials.

But they all must be cleaned as recommended by the manufacturer.

Rubber Roof:

Most RVs, until recent years, had rubber roofs. The roof material used was the same as that used on mobile homes. It was designed to flex where necessary, and last 15-20 years.

What many people don't know is this material is not actually rubber, but a composite, and is designed to flake.

By this I mean that the white (or black, if dirty) residue you have running down the sides of your rubber-roofed RV is the outer layer of the roof material flaking and washing away, thus allowing the roof to remain flexible.

Of course, those white and black streaks down the side of your RV are ugly, and they need to be cleaned off regularly. The white streaks are actually a particulate of the roof itself, but the black is actually just dirt from the roof.

The roof itself should be cleaned every couple of months and you need to make sure you use the proper rubber roof cleaning chemicals recommended by your dealer, or a camper supply outlet store.

These cleaners are designed to clean the roof, while not damaging the roof material itself.

Do not use any type of sealant on a rubber roof. These will cause damage to the roof material itself, and should be avoided.

Your Rubber roof is designed to flake over time, and this must be allowed to occur naturally, regardless of how much of a nuisance this is, when cleaning your RV.

Fiberglass Roof:

Most of the newer RVs have fiberglass roofs and are much easier to keep clean than the Rubber Roofs.

Check your owners manual for your specific RV manufacturers requirements, but typically, you can use standard automotive car wash chemicals on your fiberglass roof with no problems.

And, of course, there are several brands of fiberglass roof cleaners available at your local camping supply outlet stores.

Pressure Washing the Roof:

Pressure washers are often used on either type of roof, with no detrimental effects to the roof itself, if done properly.

Of course, be sure that the person operating the pressure washer understands that care must be taken when using these high-pressure devices around the ACs and other accessories mounted on the roof.

Care must be taken not to crack the sealant around vents, ACs, antennas, etc. These devices on the roof are generally sealed to prevent leaks. And, the sealing products, are often of soft, flexible materials such as silicone, and can be damaged easily, or even blown away, by direct water spray from a high-pressure sprayer.

And, actually, a rubber roof will clean just as easily with a soapy brush as with a pressure washer, with less opportunity for generating roof leaks around accessory items mounted on the roof.

8. Is It Worth Paying Someone to Wash My RV?

Many campgrounds have at least one contractor that they recommend that specializes in coming to your site and washing and waxing your RV.

Contractor RV Washing Services

These contractors usually have their own water supply, and typically they charge by the linear foot. By that, as an example, $6-a-foot means a 36-foot coach will cost $216.

(Please note: Add a TIP, and give it to them before they start, if they have a good reputation with other campers).

And ask if they take a check. Many want cash, but a check can be canceled if you find something wrong the next day. Cash is just gone after they pull away!

But, another point here is to be sure to get all of the details of the job spelled out, so it is perfectly clear to both you and the Contractor, what they will do. Here is a checklist of things you need to discuss before you commit to a price:

  • Does the price include washing the roof?
  • Will a pressure washer be used for cleaning the roof and body? And if so, is the operator experienced with roof accessories and stick-on body decals?
  • What detergent will be used on the roof?
  • What detergent will be used on the body?
  • Does the price include waxing the body? And if so, what type of wax will be used? And will the wax be hand applied and polished, or will it just be a rinse-off liquid?
  • Does the price include the wheels and rims? And if so, will the rims be polished? If so, by hand or with a machine?
  • Will the windows be washed separately with a window cleaner, and will they be wiped clean and dry by hand?
  • Will the price include washing your car also?

All of these affect the overall price, of course, but you will be surprised what can be added if you ask.

In Summary

From this information it is obvious that you have a decent array of option for cleaning your RV safely, and end up with a unit you are proud of.

But there is one other subject I feel I must mention. Often, when you walk around a campground, you will see that there are some RVers that are selling products that guarantee a clean camper using their cleanser chemical without the need for water. Just wipe on and wipe off!

Well, I used to own a Corvette, which as you know is a fiberglass body car. I babied my Vette, and I subscribed to a number of magazines that gave me a lot of good information on how to care for my Vette.

There was a very good article in one of these magazines that detailed how to keep your Vette body looking like new and in "Show" condition.

In this article, it stressed that the biggest enemy to a fiberglass body and its paint finish is the actual dirt on the vehicle.

The article went on to describe how you should use multiple buckets of clean water through the washing process. It stated that you should use a clean soft washcloth, and dip it into clean washing water/detergent and wash the dirt from the car.

And, it stressed that the washing water/detergent should be dumped, and the washcloth changed after cleaning just a small part of the Vette body.

The reasoning was that the dirt itself would scratch the paint finish, and repeated reuse of the dirty water and washcloth would just make this damage to the paint finish worse. Thus the need to change the water and cloth repeatedly when cleaning the Vette.

To this end, I question these waterless chemicals and a washcloth to remove road grime. I can only assume that my RV paint would suffer just as bad as that on my Vette, over time.

Take this with a grain of salt, as they say, but I would not use these cleaners on my RV, because I didn't use them or this process on my Corvette.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I clean the silicone sealant on my lance camper? It was white, and now it is black.

Answer: You did not provide very much information, so I don't know if you have a travel trailer or a truck camper. So, I am assuming you are talking about the sealant used on the roof around the AC, Vents, etcetera.

I would recommend using a soft brush and a standard household cleaner to remove this grime buildup. Do not apply very much pressure because this sealant can be torn or loosened and then need replacement.

© 2010 Don Bobbitt