RV Vacations For Dummies
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Keeping the RV camper as clean as possible day by day while on the road is easier than going through the equivalent of spring cleaning every week or two. A rechargeable vacuum is very helpful for cleaning as you go.

cleaning an RV ©welcomia/Shutterstock.com

Cleaning outside the vehicle

Although car owners are accustomed to wielding a hose in the driveway or in one of the little wash-it-yourself bays at a car wash, cleaning the outside of a motor home by yourself is akin to bathing an elephant; you can’t do it in a short driveway or the average car wash even if you want to. Even using a coin-operated car wash with an extra-large bay is difficult but doable if the facility has enough height clearance. It’s easy to run out of quarters and patience long before the job is done. Most campgrounds don’t allow you to wash the vehicle at the campsite. Always check and comply with the rules.


For a big-time RV wash, which you want to do after the vehicle has been in storage or slogged through some dusty terrain, look for a truck wash. You’re going to find these on interstate highways adjacent to popular truck stops. Simply get in line behind the trucks; check for enough overhead clearance; and ease your way into the wash bay, where an energetic team armed with hoses cleans your RV, soaping, rinsing, wiping, and (optionally) waxing until your home on wheels is sparkling. For this service, which takes 30 minutes after you get into the bay, expect to pay $30 to $100, depending on the services you select. Be sure that all the windows and roof vents are closed tightly before you pull into the wash bay. While the truck wash crew cleans the outside, you can do some cleaning inside: washing windows and mirrors, and polishing the woodwork and cabinetry.

Dusting and debugging

To cut down on costly full-vehicle wash jobs, you can use a dry mop from the supermarket. Each evening, after settling in, do a quick once-over on the exterior with the dry mop to get the day’s dust and grime off. Include the windshield and the vehicle’s front end, scrubbing with a wet brush or windshield scrubber to remove the bugs that accumulated during the day’s drive. Putting the job off until morning lets the bugs solidify into something like cement and doubles your job of cleaning.


Before waxing your RV, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for exterior care. Modern motor homes with painted surfaces don’t require waxing at all.

Whether you own a motor home, travel trailer, or fifth-wheel, waxing an RV is a big expensive job if done professionally. Many campgrounds and RV-supply stores offer waxes and protective materials. The work is up to you. To spread the joy around: Wax the front of the vehicle one day, half the driver’s side a few days later, the rest of the driver’s side more days later, and so on. After a week, you’ll have cleaned the whole vehicle. you need to do it regularly if waxing is required to save the finish of your exterior. Waxing is much cheaper than a new paint job.

Cleaning inside the vehicle

Keeping the interior clean is a matter of tidying up daily. Regular tasks, such as cleaning the windows and mirrors, can be done when you stop to fill up with gas. A tank that takes 50 gallons or more of gas takes 10 or 15 minutes to fill, giving the navigator enough time to clean some of the following:
  • Woodwork: Spray polish wood cleaner repels dust and keeps wood surfaces looking clean.
  • Upholstery: RV upholstery is usually tough and hard to stain. I find that spot-cleaning with a spray upholstery cleaner (one that comes with a brush attachment) does the job well.
  • Glass: For windows and mirrors use a spray-and-wipe glass cleaner and a paper towel to make them spotless and shiny again in no time.
  • Floors: A portable vacuum cleaner that can run on rechargeable batteries is handy for quick cleaning or even heavy-duty cleaning in an RV.

Spot-cleaning spills on the carpet is not a problem because carpets in motor homes are stain-resistant. I put a washable rug over high-traffic areas including the residential entrance, front of the sink, beside the bed, and between the sofa and easy chair.

  • Kitchen: Wiping up kitchen spills when they happen helps keep the galley clean. I clean out the refrigerator when I bring the RV back home from a trip, and wipe it clean it once a week on the road. I always give the sink a quick wipe-over daily.

Holding tanks

RVs have two holding tanks — one for gray water (the water from the kitchen and bathroom sinks and shower) and one for black water (the waste from the toilet). Maintenance of these tanks requires using a liquid or powder made for RV tanks that deodorizes and dissolves solids. RV manufacturers recommend using biodegradable toilet paper, which breaks up more readily in the tank. Look for RV-approved toilet paper, septic-tank-approved, and septic-safe when you choose a brand.

If you’re not on an extended stay, keep the black-water outlet closed when you’re hooked up to the sewage drain in a campground. The gray-water outlet can remain open. When the gauge informs you that it’s time to empty the tanks, close the gray-water outlet to allow water to build up in the tank, and empty the black-water tank first. Flush out the tank at the end by pouring three gallons of water in the toilet. When finished, close the black-water valve. Next, run about a gallon of fresh water into the gray-water tank from the kitchen faucets; then open the gray-water valve. This flushes the hose as the gray-water tank empties. Close the valve, unhook the hose, and flush the hose again before storing. Wear disposable rubber gloves when handling sewage hoses and fittings.

Storing your RV

When you live in a city condo or a homeowner-association development, needing an RV storage area is often a fact of life. Many people in suburbs and cities face parking limits for their RVs as well. Smaller units, like a folding camping trailer or truck camper, can be stored in garages, and a van camper may be kept in the driveway as it resembles a family car. But motor homes and trailers often need to be stored somewhere away from the residence. Outdoor-storage fee average $75 to $100 a month for a 36-foot motor home. Covered or indoor storage can cost twice as much.

When storing the vehicle, do the following:

  • Clean and defrost the refrigerator, leave the door open, and put an open box of baking soda inside.
  • Disconnect the coach and vehicle battery.
  • Empty the holding tanks, leaving a bit of water and deodorizer in the tanks to keep the seals moist. Add 2 gallons of RV antifreeze when you’re storing the vehicle where temperatures fall below 40°F; one surprise hard freeze can do a lot of damage.
  • Close the propane-tank valve.
  • Draw all the shades and close the windshield curtain to keep the shaded and interior cooler.
  • Lock all doors and outside compartments.
  • Fill the lead-acid batteries to the top of the split ring with distilled water.

When you store an RV in a cold climate, drain all the freshwater supply tanks, add some nontoxic RV antifreeze to the black-and gray-water holding tanks after they’ve been emptied and cleaned, empty the water heater, and pump antifreeze into the supply lines to each faucet. If you’re not well versed in doing these jobs, I recommend using the services of a licensed plumber, camping-supply store’s service department, or an RV dealer that offers this winterization service. If the work is done properly, the annual cost of about $200 can save you many costly repairs in the spring.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Dennis C. Brewer has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business from Michigan Technological University and is the author of several books. As a self-described traveler and snowbird, Dennis is a lifelong camping and RV enthusiast. He and his wife, Penny, visited 43 states in their Fleetwood Class A Motorhome so far.

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