Winter is right around the corner which means it’s time to think about storing your RV. Many RV owners neglect some of the important tasks that should be done before putting their RV into storage which can lead to costly repairs (not to mention a major headache).
It’s necessary to winterize your RV before putting it into storage or if you’re not going to be using your RV for a long period. These winterizing procedures are necessary for all of your RV’s systems and components to ensure they all continue to work properly.
Why it’s important to winterize your RV
The number one most critical tip for storing an RV is to have it properly winterized. I can’t emphasize this enough. RVs are expensive. So, why not take care of your rig even when you’re not using it?
If you will be storing your RV where the temperatures will be below freezing you need to take special precautions to prevent certain components and parts from breaking and cracking that can result in costly repairs. Winterizing your RV is an inexpensive way to prevent significant repair costs, since it:
- Protects your water lines
- Protects your battery
- Takes care of your tires
- Stops rodents and pests
How to winterize your RV for storage
Winterizing your RV water system
First, you need to prepare your RV’s water system for freezing temperatures. If you do not winterize your RV plumbing properly it could result in damage not only to the water system, lines, and tanks but also to the RV.
The last thing you want is to pull your RV out of storage only to discover interior water damage, cracked tanks, or split connections and hoses because you didn’t take the proper precautions.
It’s best to winterize your RV while you’re at a full hookup site so you can utilize the sewer, water, and electricity during the winterization process.
Step 1: Always read your owner’s manual for RV and model specific winterizing guidelines.
Step 2: Disconnect your RV water hose from outside water source.
Step 3: Disconnect and remove all inline water filters including water filters under the sink and your residential refrigerator.
Step 4: Drain your fresh water holding tank.
Step 5: Flush gray and black tanks throughly and empty completely.
Step 6: Open the kitchen hot water faucet to evacuate the hot water and pressure from the hot water system. You should allow the hot water tank to cool before draining the water heater to avoid injury.
Step 7: Make sure you open the pressure relief valve and remove the drain plug. Drain the water heater.
Step 8: Turn on all faucets (both hot and cold), showers (inside and outside), and toilet valves. Open the low-point drain lines under your RV to empty all water lines. Using your RV water pump will help evacuate most of the water out of your water system. However, don’t allow your pump to run dry. Immediately turn off the water pump once all water is completely evacuated from the lines. Then, close all faucets and cap off all drains.
Step 9: Before putting RV antifreeze into your water system you’ll need to bypass the water heater. Otherwise, you’re just going to waste your antifreeze. You can do one of two things: Either disconnect the water intake line coming from your freshwater holding tank and connect one end of the tube to the water pump inlet and the other end into the jug of RV antifreeze. Or, you can install a water pump converter kit.
Step 10: Add the prescribed amount of RV/Marine antifreeze according to your RV owner’s manual. Typically, it will take at least 2-3 gallons depending on the size of your RV.
Step 11: Turn on your water pump to pressurize the water system and cycle the antifreeze through the lines. You should begin with the faucets closest to the water pump. Then, open both hot and cold faucets until the antifreeze comes out of the faucet. Do this with every faucet, shower, and toilet.
Step 12: Pour at least a pint of anti-freeze into all sink and shower drains. Also, pour the same into toilets and flush to keep any residual water from freezing and cracking your tanks. Make certain all faucets and valves are closed.
Step 13: Secure your water heater if it has an electrical heating element. This will help alleviate the damage if your RV is plugged into electricity in storage.
If you do not want to use antifreeze, you can evacuate the air from all water and sewer lines. This will prevent water hoses, connections, and components from expanding, freezing, cracking, or breaking. Be aware that this is not the preferred method.
CAUTION!! ONLY USE the PINK or ORANGE RV ANTIFREEZE! Never use automobile antifreeze (green; ethylene glycol) in your RV water system or any RV holding tanks. Also, never carelessly dump auto antifreeze down any drain (even storm drains) or allow it to dump into the ground.
Winterizing your RV Electrical System and Batteries
Protecting your RV’s electrical system for storage is just as important as your other RV components. It’s wise to unplug any appliances while they’re not in use. Your motorhome, travel trailer, or fifth wheel batteries are subject to freezing temperatures. Batteries are expensive and their life can be greatly extended through proper care and maintenance.
Step 1: Turn the battery switches to OFF. Also, turn the inverter OFF if your RV is equipped with one.
Step 2: Remove all batteries from your RV.
Step 3: Store batteries in a warm, dry area on a battery charger and maintainer.
If your RV will be stored in a climate-controlled warmer environment, you can just keep your batteries on a battery tender also known as a trickle charge.
Winterize Lead-Acid Batteries
Step 1: Check the fluid level before putting your camper in storage.
Step 2: Top off your lead acid batteries with distilled water only. This will ensure the batteries are fresh and ready to reinstall for the next RV camping season.
Step 3: Put your lead acid RV batteries on a trickle charge.
Winterize Lithium Batteries
Step 1: Ensure you secure all switches before disconnecting power to your lithium batteries. Make certain that they are truly disconnected from stereo, CO2 sensor, and any other emergency sensors.
Step 2: Disconnect the main positive and negative wires that supply your lithium batteries. Even after bringing your RV out of storage, you should have plenty of charge in the batteries.
For both, lead acid and lithium, it’s imperative to unplug and remove your batteries if your RV will be stored outside below freezing temperatures. You’ll need to store your batteries in a heated garage, basement, or room but away from heat sources and moisture.
Now it’s time to thoroughly clean your RV. Personally, if you’re putting your RV into storage or kept outdoors, I would remove all bedding, pillows, and anything that could be torn apart and used as nesting material for rodents.
Windows, fans, and screens
Remove and clean all window and fantastic fan screens. Clean fan blades and mechanisms using a detailing kit.
Vacuum and scrub out window mechanisms and sliding window troughs. Lubricate mechanisms. Clean windows using an acrylic window cleaner and scratch-free, soft microfiber cloth.
Finally, you’ll want to close your window blinds or pull down the window shades. This will help keep the sun’s UV rays from degrading the inside of your RV; the wood finishes, furniture fabrics, curtains, and carpet.
Discard all food and contents from your refrigerator and turn the refrigerator off.
Drain and purge the ice maker water line (residential refrigerator). Disconnect the water line to prevent mold growth in the tube.
Remove refrigerator filter. Unplug refrigerator if possible.
Scrub all surfaces, drawers, and racks with mild soap and water. Dry the interior thoroughly. Place two or three charcoal desi packs on refrigerator racks to absorb moisture and odors.
Leave refrigerator cracked open to allow ventilation.
Cabin and closets
Through use, the inside of your RV (cabin) becomes dirty from everyday use, cooking, and outdoor elements. So, part of winterizing your RV is cleaning the cabin thoroughly before putting it into storage.
Wipe down all walls and doors, countertops, and surfaces using a damp rag (not wet!) with a hot soapy water solution. Use the same solution for inside cabinets and drawers. Allow them to dry thoroughly.
Place a moisture absorber pack in each drawer and cabinet.
Remove all the grit and grime that may have accumulated throughout the camping season in every crack, crevice, and corner including those hard-to-reach places. Vacuum and/or sweep all bare floors and carpets thoroughly. This includes the insides of closets, bathrooms, laundry area, and entry landing. Don’t forget to pull out and/or get underneath all furniture if possible.
Follow up with a damp mop and hot water soapy solution allowing the areas to dry thoroughly.
Sprinkle baking soda on the carpets to absorb odors. Place charcoal air purifying packs in corners to keep moisture and odors minimal.
Pest intrusion prevention
The last thing you want is to open your RV next camping season to find spiders, bugs, and anything bigger (live and/or remnants) that used your RV for party central. So, it’s important to prevent pests from entering.
Inspect all locations where pests (insects, spiders, mice, squirrels, snakes, etc.) can enter and plug them completely.
Also, remove anything that pests may see as a food source or anything they can nest in such as paper products.
Place anti-pest devices in all spaces including the basement and behind the basement wall to keep bugs, mice, ants, etc. from having an ongoing party in your RV over the winter or while it’s in storage.
Moisture, mold, and mildew prevention
To help eliminate moisture that would promote mold and mildew, place desiccant packs in each drawer, cabinet, and closed compartment. For larger contained spaces, put in multiple desi packs. You can also use damp rid moisture absorbers to help mitigate moisture issues.
RV exterior care
After you’ve cleaned the inside of your RV, it’s time to clean, dry, inspect, and protect your RV exterior and components.
Wash, dry, and protect
Part of winterizing your RV should include giving your motorhome or camping trailer a good bath. Wet wash your RV completely using baby shampoo or quality RV detergent and clean water. Pay particular attention to dirt streaks originating from your roof, slide tops, lights, and windows.
Clean your roof thoroughly using the same RV soap. Clean, inspect, and repair any components on your RV roof, vents, air conditioner, caulking, and the seals around all exterior doors and windows.
Clean your awnings and slide toppers and allow them to dry before retracting. While they’re deployed, inspect for rips or tears. You can repair them while you winterize your RV or put it on your list when you de-winterize your RV or bring it out of storage.
Inspect all exterior surfaces for cracks, chips, or blemishes. It’s also a good time to check all seals, gaskets, and caulk and apply as needed. Protect and lube all RV seals and gaskets using a UV protectant.
Clean your tires using an RV wash and a soft bristle brush. I recommend not using the brush that you use on your RV roof or fiberglass. Then, go over your tires with a good quality tire protectant such as 303 Protectant.
Clean your RV windows inside and out. If your RV has acrylic windows instead of glass make certain you use the correct window cleaner and good quality scratch-free cloth so you don’t scratch your windows.
Lastly, wax your RV exterior using a quality product such as Meguiar’s.
Cover your vents
Every year, water damage occurs due to RV vent covers breaking under the weight of snow and ice (or due to deterioration from UV rays).
Anyone storing an RV should cover their vents. I suggest installing the economical Camco RV Roof Vent covers. They are made from UV stabilized resin and allow air to keep moving and protect the vent opening from water leaking in.
Do NOT use tarps
Many RV owners are unaware that tarps do not breathe and create condensation on the areas you are trying to keep dry. Unfortunately, the freeze-thaw cycles make the situation worse leading to water damage (even when large snow packs are eliminated).
Before putting your RV in storage, lubricate each moving part with spray silicone. Lube all door locks and the legs of your hydraulic level-up system and electric stabilizers.
Winterizing your generator
It’s important to run your generator at least one hour under load monthly anyways. But when you’re winterizing your RV, it’s important to give it one last exercise before putting your RV to bed for the season.
Step 1: Run your generator for an hour under full load.
Step 2: Drain the old oil, replace filter, and add in new oil.
Step 3: Run new oil for another ten minutes under full load to check for leaks and pressurize.
Step 4: Check hoses and connections around the tank and pump for leaks and weeping fluid.
Final inspection after winterizing your RV
After you’ve completed winterizing your RV, now is the time to conduct a final RV inspection before buttoning your camper up for hibernation.
Ensure the propane tank valves are CLOSED.
Cover the tires of the RV to prevent damage from UV rays and to mitigate degradation and dry rot.
Latch and lock every cargo or basement door.
Make sure no tree branches or overhead wires are touching or have the potential of rubbing the roof of your RV.
Ensure your TV antenna is properly secured.
And lastly, you must park your RV safely. Be sure to stabilize your RV so it doesn’t move. Use leveling blocks to take pressure off your tires and wheel chocks to keep your tires from rolling.
Final thoughts on how to winterize your RV
Your RV is now ready for storage. Be aware, these RV winterizing tips are not all-encompassing. There may be other tasks specific to your RV manufacturer, model, setup, or personalization that needs attention. So, it’s important to read your RV owner’s manual for details pertinent to your specific motorhome or towable.
Once you finish winterizing your RV, you can now relax and start marking off the days until you can pull your camper out again for the spring and de-winterize your RV.
Other articles you may want to read:
- Winter is Here: What to Do with Your RV?
- The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Mice Out of an RV
- The Ultimate Guide for Winter Camping
- Yes, You Can De-winterize your RV: Here is How
My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.
—W. Bruce Cameron