How to Clean Your RV

an RV driving on a highway toward mountains

 

Tom Fowlks/Getty Images 

Being on the road often, driving and parking in the dirt, and traveling through various weather conditions all put your RV through a lot. The cleaner you keep your RV, the easier it will be to avoid the normal wear and tear from traveling throughout the year. (You should aim to wash the exterior of your RV at least once a quarter, if not more depending on how often you travel and where you go.) 

An RV seems like a lot of work to clean but doing little things frequently will make it seem like less of a daunting task and help you take pride in your ride.  

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    Read the Instruction Manual

    Your RV’s instruction manual is a treasure-trove of information that can give you tips and tricks for cleaning your RV’s exterior and interior. This includes what type of cleaners you should and shouldn’t use and any specialized care instructions. For further information, try your RV manufacturer’s website for extra tips on cleaning and making your RV sparkle. Failure to read the instruction manual could lead to damage to your RV’s surfaces and finishes. 

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    Most RV materials aren’t any different than other types of vehicle or living material. It’s easy to want to purchase the brand-name cleaner or solution that’s made exclusively for RVs, but the truth is many common and generic household cleaners work perfectly well to keep your RV sparkling including dish soap, window cleaner, even distilled white vinegar. Those fancy products at the RV superstore are appealing, but they're typically more expensive. 

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    The small interior of an RV means several nooks and crannies that can quickly fill up with food debris, dust, and whatever else your adventures track in. A normal vacuum cleaner is too bulky for most RVs so invest in a high-quality handheld vacuum. Talk to other RVers and read reviews to find the best match for your RV. Always look for a vacuum with a hose attachment to reach the smallest parts of your ride. 

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    You don’t want the window to your surroundings to be clouded with filth and grime, so clean both the inside and outside of your windows to see clearly. If you have a smaller RV, this can easily be accomplished by any window cleaner and a clean microfiber cloth. If you have several large windows, you should consider an extendable squeegee, or you can take the easy route and get yourself a membership at an oversized local carwash. 

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    The window and door seals of your RV are typically made of rubber, which can attract dust and dirt. Regularly clean your window and door seals with mild dish detergent or a specialized cleaner. In this case, you might want to spend a little more on a cleaner that won’t just clean, but also moisturize seals to keep them lasting longer. This is especially important if you’re driving it in the arid American west or southwest which can dry out seals. 

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    Your gray and black water tanks can be the source of many nasty odors, and while tanks don’t directly affect your RV’s appearance, a poorly maintained tank will bother you while hanging inside and outside your ride. Dump and flush your tanks as necessary to keep your whole ride refreshed. Keep a pair of strong rubber gloves, a hose, a bucket, and other necessary items stored away exclusively for dumping and cleaning your tanks. 

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    Mold and mildew are major enemies of RVers, and they thrive in moisture, so reduce moisture within your RV. This includes running your air conditioning in humid environments, opening windows and doors when possible, and buying moisture-absorbing packets for closets and storage areas. If you have an item that reeks of mildew, avoid detergent as it can feed the critters. Wash mildew-smelling clothing in a washer with a couple of cups of distilled white vinegar to kill off the bugs and leave your clothes smelling fresh. 

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    Nothing can make your RV look like an old tin can faster than rusted, old propane tanks. If you tend to refill your tanks, consider swapping them out if they’re looking decrepit or give them a fresh coat of paint if they’re still in great condition. Like painting the door can quickly change a home’s overall appearance, so can showing off clean, bright tanks. 

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    Tires are obviously a big part of your RV’s exterior, and nothing makes your adventure wagon look better than sleek, shiny, black tires. Most commercial tire cleaners are perfectly suitable for RV tires, so just read some consumer reviews first. To get the prettiest tires, simply rinse your tires, scrub them with a natural brush and tire cleaner, and finish with a tire shine spray. If you drive a big rig, you can fast-forward the tire cleaning process by taking your ride through an oversized vehicle wash. 

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    Don’t Forget the Roof

    The roof of your RV is one of the most important parts to maintain to avoid interior leaks and other issues. Many modern RV roofs are constructed from membrane roofing, but you still see plenty of metal roofs on the road. If yours is metal, you can wash like you would your RV’s exterior, but if your RV is made of modern membrane roofing, it’s recommended to use specialized cleaner found at RV and camping stores. A twice-yearly cleaning of a membrane roof is usually enough to keep it in good shape. Take this time to inspect the roof for any tears, cracks, rips, or other damage. 

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    Magic erasers can pick up trace dirt and stains that even powerful cleaners can’t touch. Magic erasers are essentially blocks of incredibly fine sandpaper, so be certain they won’t damage your RV’s surfaces or materials before use. RV forums are a great place to find tips and advice that you may not be able to find on your manufacturer’s website, like using magic erasers for cleaning. Pro Tip: You can buy a large box of generic "magic erasers" on Amazon for much cheaper than buying name-brand in the grocery store. 

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    It can be easy to forget about last night’s leftovers or the ‘catch of the day’ in the back of your RV fridge, but stinky items can stink up the small space of an RV. Be careful about what goes in your RV’s fridge and clean out its contents often. If you’re cleaning out your RV for the season, leave several reminders to clean out the fridge or you’ll have something very stinky to come back to when you’re getting your RV out for the season. It happens more often than you’d think.

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    Clean Out The Storage Area

    Your RV’s storage areas can hide nasty messes and smells. It can also host mold, mildew, and other nasty critters. Clean out your RV’s storage areas, including external storage, often to avoid build-up of any dust or the accumulation of dirt and debris. Always check the nooks and crannies of your RV’s storage areas to make sure nothing is left behind that can turn to stink. 

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    Your RV’s undercarriage can be a source of grease, mud, and whatever else your RV has picked up over the miles. By cleaning your undercarriage, you reduce the chances that the nasty residue beneath your ride winds up on your or your RV’s exterior. Cleaning the undercarriage can also reduce gas and noxious odors. Manually washing your undercarriage is a tough task, but fortunately, many oversized car washes offer undercarriage cleaning for a small fee. 

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    A poorly maintained RV is much more likely to give you cleanliness issues. Smoky exhaust, loose oil, and other nasties from a neglected RV can paint the side of your ride a nasty color. By properly maintaining your RV’s inner workings you can reduce noxious smoky odors and choke up the air around you and your RV’s exterior. 

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    It’s easy to get out on the road and go two, three, or even four weeks without changing your lines and mattress. Those dirty linens can leave you feeling grimy and can fill up with sweat and dead skin cells. Always travel with two sets of linens for a quick sheet-change. If your mattress is smelling musty, take all sheets off, spray the mattress with a mixture of water and lavender essential oil, and allow the mattress to air out for several hours, preferably overnight. 

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    Think About Power Washing

    Some RVers swear by power washing their RV; others would never attempt it. It comes down to personal preference and the type of RV you own. Power washing can cause damage to the roof and paint job of some models, depending on how they are built and what they're made of. Refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines on cleaning your RV’s exterior, and consider calling your dealership to ask what they recommend.