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RV Spring Cleaning Part 1: 8 Tips for Cleaning Your RV Exterior

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pressure washing RV

Spring has sprung and now is the perfect time to get started on spring cleaning your RV. After all, you’ll want it to sparkle and shine on your next road trip. However, cleaning your home on wheels can seem overwhelming. There’s not only the interior to worry about, either. Have you ever washed and waxed a motorhome before? You have to keep the paint job, aluminum and decals in mind when you do. That’s one of the big differences between spring cleaning a house and an RV.

You should also be aware that different products and methods work for different types of RVs. In fact, there are cleaning technicians who make a living out of cleaning people’s recreational vehicles. At least you know there’s always the option of hiring a professional. However, you’ll feel more accomplished if you do it yourself, so check out our RV spring cleaning tips below. We’re here to help you avoid damage or mishaps along the way.

1. Close All Openings Before You Wash

There are a few steps you need to take before you turn on the hose to start your RV spring cleaning, or else you may end up with a disaster on your hands. First, close all vents, doors and windows. Don’t forget to close the range exhaust flap and any other openings that could allow water to get into your RV.

2. Start with an Exterior Rinse

Rinsing the exterior of your RV with water is a good way to remove grime and debris that may scratch the surface once you begin washing with a mitt. Make sure to rinse the roof and underside of the vehicle, as well. Starting at the top and working your way down is typically the easiest way to wash your RV.

3. Avoid Abrasive Cleaning Products on Aluminum and Stainless-Steel RVs

RV spring cleaningIf you have an aluminum and stainless-steel motorhome or trailer, such as an Airstream, make sure to wash your vehicle with a very mild non-abrasive soap or detergent. You always want to avoid using abrasive cleaning agents or chlorine on these types of surfaces.

Pro tip: Don’t wash your Airstream in direct sun. Soap up and rinse in the shade or on a cloudy day when the aluminum is not fiery hot. Otherwise, you may burn yourself.

It’s important to use a soft, even fluffy, mitt. Otherwise, you could easily make scratches all over your beloved and otherwise shiny RV without even noticing until it’s dry. Take the same precaution when choosing a bristle brush. Choose one with the softest bristles and always make sure to wash with the grain of the metal, not against it. Essentially, you should always avoid using a hard bristle brush or an abrasive mitt.

You can, however, use a pressure washer at about 20 inches or farther away. Keep in mind that hard water it’s best to avoid using hard water when washing an aluminum vehicle. If all you have access to is hard water, you may want to invest in a water softener that can attach to the faucet.

4. Pressure Washing an RV is Different than a Car

Pretty much all RVs are made out of metal or fiberglass. These materials are different from those on a car. For example, let’s say you’re planning to wash your Airstream. A pressure washer will affect the metal exterior on it differently than a car. This is because the siding on many RVs have layers of metal that water can get in between. That can cause mold or damage to cabinets, walls and appliances.

To avoid this from happening, use the pressure washer at a farther distance from the RV than you would a car. Keep the tip approximately 20 inches away so that the pressure will be less severe and not strong enough to get past the first layer of metal.

Pro tip: Most RVs have a painted metal body that can be washed with the same gentle detergent you’d use to wash a car.

5. Use the Recommended Aluminum and Stainless-Steel RV Wax

RV spring cleaningWaxing is something people either love or hate doing. However, once you’re done polishing an aluminum and stainless-steel RV with fine-grit polish, the results are a brilliant shine. Put in the time to get every inch of your vehicle while working in small circles. If you do a thorough job, re-polishing in a few months shouldn’t take longer than an hour.

Airstream recommends two brands of waxes in particular: Glare and Walbernize. Both types of wax are great because they’re long-lasting and detergent resistant. However, Glare is an especially magical find for those who don’t enjoy the task of waxing. It’s a non-stick high-gloss polish that bonds to the vehicle’s paint to hold up even when you wash. This means you only have to use it about once a year instead of every few months. Another great thing about Walbernize is that it can be used on chrome or glass. Wash your RV as often as you like after waxing until you notice that water spots remain on the surface after drying it.

6. Washing and Waxing Painted Metal RVs

Painted metal RVs are another common type of RVs that people own. The good news about these is that you can use any quality car detergent you want as long as it’s not abrasive. Most full-paint RVs from the late ‘90s are covered in a finish that is meant to provide a layer of protection. Even decals are usually painted over with this clear coat.

RVs that have decals without the protective covering over them pose a bit more of a problem to RV owners. Using a pressure washer could easily damage the decals by fraying it along the sides. For this reason, many RV owners hire someone with experience to do their washing for them.

If you have a new vehicle with bright and beautiful decals on it, then you need to be very protective because they do fade over time. One way you can tremendously slow down the fading process is by using wash-and-wax cleaners with UV blockers. Parking in the shade as much as possible helps, too. Also, make sure any cleaning and waxing products you choose are specifically meant for your type of vehicle.

7. Preventing Spots and Streaks

RV spring cleaningIt’s best to clean dirt and grime off your vehicle immediately upon returning home from a trip. Dirt is the biggest enemy of fiberglass. If you find sticky things like sap or resin on your RV, wash and wax those areas as soon as possible.

Additionally, asphalt can easily get onto the exterior of your vehicle, and it is often very difficult to wash off. If you encounter this problem, just dab a little kerosene on a piece of cloth and wipe gently, making sure not to scratch the surface of the rig. Afterwards, rinse with water and use a soft squeegee to dry the unit. Finally, use a chamois (“shammy”) or very soft and plush piece of cloth to shine the RV and prevent streaks and water spots. For tougher stains, you can also try lime and scale remover products, but use them sparingly and gently.

8. Tips for Washing Your RV at the Campsite

If you think you can show up at the campground, hook up a hose and wash your rig to your heart’s content, you’re wrong. You may get a bucket of water and that’s about it. That water, however, should suffice to get rid of the bugs, dirt and grime that accumulate even when you’re not driving long distances. If you clean that stuff off right away, a good wash later on should take hardly any time at all.

At most campgrounds, the owners of the campsite will recommend contractors who wash RVs for a living. These cleaning technicians come to the site with their own products and water to wash and wax your RV. These professionals usually charge by linear foot. Also, try to avoid using an RV cleaning technician who doesn’t come with recommendations. Most cleaners ask for cash in return for their services, so if something goes wrong, you’ll likely end up stuck with the problem.

Whenever you hire someone to wash your RV for you, be clear on what their charges cover so that there are no surprises. Here are some questions you should consider asking:

  • RV spring cleaningDoes the price include the roof?
  • Does the price include waxing?
  • Are washing and polishing the wheels and rims included?
  • Will the windows will be cleaned and dried?
  • Have they worked on vehicles with decals before?
  • If you have an aluminum RV, do they have experience cleaning this type of surface?
  • What type of detergent do they use? Is it gentle?
  • What kind of wax will be used? Hand polish or liquid rinse?

Protecting Your RV

The most important precaution you can take to protect your recreational vehicle is having the right RV Insurance. Your home on wheels is not the same as your car. It requires specialized coverage that will protect your RV when the unexpected happens. For more information about your RV Insurance coverage options, speak with an Insurance Specialist at (866) 501-7335.

The information in this article is obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes. It should not replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.