Do you want to know how to winterize a camper? This comprehensive guide takes you step-by-step through winterizing your RV, from protecting it from rodents and draining the water tanks to protecting your plumbing from the cold.
For many camper owners, the beginning of October marks the end of another season of travel.
As the nights draw in and autumnal hues give way to bare branches and grey skies, it’s a sure sign winter is on the horizon.
Unless you plan to live in the camper in the winter months, now is the time to pack everything up and prepare it for winter storage.
This post provides a step-by-step guide on how to winterize your camper van.
We’ll cover what it means to winterize an RV and what you need to get the job done so you can return in spring, ready to hit the road once more.
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How to Winterize A Camper For Trouble-Free Winter Storage
Eventually, winter comes knocking at your door.
If you hang up your keys and kiss camping adventures goodbye until spring, it’s time to prepare your RV for the cold months ahead.
Here’s a complete guide to winterizing your RV so you can rest assured it will be in tip-top shape when the warmer weather returns.
1. Unpack The Camper
While packing an RV is exciting, unpacking is a bit of a drag!
It may be tempting to leave your RV packed and ready to go for the spring. But, there are quite a few benefits to unpacking it and taking everything out for winter storage.
One of the main benefits of unpacking your RV camper for winter storage is that it will help protect your belongings from the cold weather.
If you leave food items, soft furnishings, clothes, and valuables in your RV during the winter, they could be damaged by the cold temperatures.
If you have a dedicated space in your garage or home for gear, so much the better.
- Take out all valuables, including the contents of the safe.
- Take out all food items from cabinets and the fridge/freezer.
- Remove anything that could succumb to the cold air, including soft furnishings, curtains, bedding, books, and clothes.
Ensure any items you leave in the van over winter can’t be damaged if exposed to extreme cold.
By taking everything out of your RV and storing it in a warm environment, you can rest assured knowing that your belongings are safe and sound.
2. Deep Clean Your RV
Another benefit of unpacking your RV camper for winter storage is that it will give you a chance to give your RV a good cleaning.
After spending all summer on the road, your RV will likely need deep cleaning.
This is especially true if you have pets or children who may have made a mess inside the RV.
Keeping an RV clean is essential to enjoy the whole camping experience.
Not only does it keep the interior looking fresh and inviting, but it also helps to prevent the buildup of dirt and grit that can damage surfaces and components.
However, deeper cleaning is often required before storing an RV for winter. This will help to prevent mold and mildew from forming, and it will also make it easier to clean when you take it out next spring.
Taking everything out of the RV will give you easier access to all the nooks and crannies that need to be cleaned. It will also give you a chance to vacuum and shampoo the carpets.
Trust us – your RV will thank you for giving it a good cleaning before putting it into storage!
Deep cleaning prevents bugs and rodents from sniffing out rogue crumbs and makes the camper trip ready for next year.
Read more: How To Stop Mice Camping In Your RV
If it’s warm enough, open up all the doors and windows. It helps to eliminate the smell of cleaning products and dries things off faster.
Start on the ceiling and work down, vacuuming or sweeping as you go.
- Clean roof vents
- Wash the windows
- Wipe down walls and doorways, especially areas where dirt can accumulate
- Vacuum and clean cabinets – inside and out
- Switch off, disconnect and clean all fitted kitchen appliances – stovetop, oven, microwave, etc
- Defrost and deep clean the refrigerator and freezer, leaving the door ajar to keep it dry, fresh and mold-free
- Clean the bathroom, including the walls, sink, shower tray, and vents
- Vacuum and clean floors
Top tip: Place boxes of baking soda in the fridge and enclosed spaces like cabinets to help absorb moisture and odors. That will help keep it fresh and dry.
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3. Winterize Portable Camping Toilet
Portable toilets are essential for camping trips. However, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria and other contaminants if they are not properly cleaned.
That’s why it’s essential to deep clean your portable toilet before storing it for winter.
Not only will this help keep your RV clean and fresh, but it will also prevent any unpleasant smells from developing over the winter.
Winterizing a portable camping toilet is pretty much the same as emptying it but with a deep clean.
Here’s a detailed list of what you need to do to deep clean your camping toilet:
- Empty the portable toilet.
- Use a brush and soapy water to scrub the inside of the bowl, paying particular attention to any stubborn stains or buildup.
- Use disinfectant to sanitize the bowl, then rinse with clean water.
- Thoroughly clean and rinse the holding tank.
- Add cassette tank cleaner. You’ll need to mix it with water. Follow the guidelines on the bottle for the correct measure. Leave it to sit for at least 24 hours.
- Empty the cleaning fluid and allow the cassette to dry thoroughly, leaving all vents open.
- Use seal lubricant on rubber seals to ensure they don’t crack or deteriorate over the coming months. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Finally, put the lid back on the toilet and store it in a cool, dry place until spring.
4. Winterize A Composting Toilet
Winterizing a composting toilet doesn’t take much effort at all.
- Simply empty the “pee pot” and give it a deep clean by rinsing it in a light vinegar and water mixture.
- Allow it to dry thoroughly before returning it to the toilet.
- For the solids box, you can make a call on whether to leave the material or empty it.
- Leaving the composting material unused for months allows decomposition to continue.
- Once the temperatures plummet, any moisture in the compost will freeze, but there’s plenty of space in the holding tank for this not to cause any damage.
- Towards the end of the winterizing jobs, you’ll switch off the camper’s electrical system so the composting toilet fan won’t work.
- So long as you’re not replenishing it with fresh deposits, the contents will continue to dry out, so when you return in spring, it’ll be fresher.
- If you’d prefer, empty the contents and deep clean the box.
- Finally, disconnect its electrical supply.
5. Winterize Your RV Water System
If storing your RV in an area where the temperature drops below freezing, it’s essential to winterize your RV water system to prevent damage from ice expansion.
The water system is the most critical part of winterizing a camper. If not done correctly, you could end up with a hefty repair bill come spring.
There are two ways to prepare the hot and cold plumbing system for winter temperatures:
- Antifreeze – fills the water lines so any residual water can’t freeze solid.
- Air – dries the water lines to rid them of any moisture.
How To Winterize Your RV Water System With Antifreeze
In areas where winters are long and cold, antifreeze is the most popular way to winterize the water system.
The good news is that winterizing your RV water system is easy and inexpensive to do with antifreeze.
Antifreeze does freeze. But, it only turns gloopy, so it doesn’t damage delicate pipes and other plumbing components.
Follow these steps to winterize your RV with antifreeze:
1. Drain Your Entire Water System
The aim here is to get all the water out of your system, including:
- black waste,
- gray water, and
- hot & cold freshwater.
Start with the black tank. Empty it as usual and use gray and fresh water to rinse it thoroughly.
Using a clear sewer hose will help you see when it’s running clean.
You must empty the gray water tank, too.
Any remaining debris could result in bacteria buildup over winter, so cleaning the black and grey water tanks is crucial. Use a cleaning wand or black tank cleaning fluid to get the job done.
Ensure the freshwater tanks are empty. Next, open all the faucets throughout the camper, including any outdoor showers. Keep them all open until they run dry.
It’s important to drain the water heater, but first, ensure it is cold and not under pressure. Then, turn off the water pump, disconnect from city water and open the hot water faucet until it runs dry.
Then open the pressure relief valve, and any water from the heater should empty.
If your water heater runs on the mains electricity supply, disconnect it when it’s empty, so there’s no risk of accidentally switching it on. It could destroy the element.
Dumping all that water will, of course, empty into the grey water tanks, so ensure you empty it before disconnecting and storing your sewer hoses.
Use the low point drains to remove water in the lines and tanks.
2. Remove Filters, Bypass The Water Heater & Freshwater Tank
Most RV water systems have at least one inline water filter. However, because antifreeze could damage them, it’s best to bypass or remove all inline water filters.
This method of protecting camper water lines from freezing uses a LOT of antifreeze.
If you also fill the water heater, you could easily use 3 or 4 times more antifreeze, and this stuff isn’t all that cheap.
A water heater bypass kit does what it says on the label – it bypasses the heater, so you don’t need the extra gallons of antifreeze.
Install the water heater bypass kit and switch it to bypass.
You don’t want to fill the fresh water tank with antifreeze, either. Some RVs include a bypass valve so you can draw antifreeze into the system without it passing through the tank. Switch it to the correct position.
Alternatively, you can install a water pump converter kit. It’s a permanent fitting that makes bypassing the water tank easy.
3. Pump Antifreeze Into The System
You’re about to pump antifreeze through the entire system, so it needs to flow freely.
Carry out some final checks to ensure:
- All the tanks and lines are empty,
- Open all the drain valves, and low point drains, and
- Open all faucets and shower heads.
You can now attach a pipe to the water pump converter kit and submerge the other end into antifreeze. Next, turn the pump on to prime it. The pump will begin to siphon the antifreeze.
Then open the faucets one by one.
Work through the water system, running each faucet until the antifreeze pours. You can then switch off the faucet. Continue until the antifreeze has reached every faucet and you’ve closed each.
Don’t forget the toilets and shower heads.
Finally, pour a little antifreeze into each drain and sink to protect the drainage system.
How To Winterize An RV With An Air Compressor
Winterizing a camper with an air compressor is less expensive and doesn’t use so much antifreeze.
- The first steps are the same as the antifreeze method – cleaning and draining all the onboard holding tanks, though you don’t need to fit a water heater bypass kit.
- Open all faucets or taps.
- Connect the air compressor to the water inlet valve with the blow-out adaptor
- Slowly increase the pressure but don’t go over about ten psi (certainly no more than your pump) for fear of damaging the pipes
- The remaining water will splutter out of the taps and toilet.
- Depending on how your water system is plumbed, you may need to connect a bypass kit so air can reach the hot water pipes from the cold water system too.
- Once no more water is being blown out, the system is dry.
- Finish the job by pouring a cup or 2 of antifreeze down the sinks and shower drains.
Is Blowing Out RV Water Lines vs. Antifreeze A Better Option?
Meh, it’s as much down to personal preference as anything else. Both methods will protect the camper water system.
But when it comes to de-winterizing the camper in spring, all that antifreeze must be drained.
While it’s not toxic and so safe in your water system, it’ll take a hell of a lot of flushing and baking soda to get rid of the residual taste.
6. Winterize The Camper’s Electrical System
One of the most important things you need to do before storing your RV camper for the winter is to winterize the electrical system.
RV batteries may discharge quickly in cold weather, so preparing them for the conditions is important.
Some batteries fair better in colder climates, but none are great in freezing temperatures. If storing the RV without a shore power connection, isolate the battery from all inputs and outputs.
Remove the leisure batteries and store them somewhere cool and dry.
Turn off and unplug all electronics, electrical appliances, and gadgets. For example, you may want to turn off the main breaker or disconnect the battery to avoid accidental power surges.
A good understanding of your camper’s electrical system.
Everything you need to know about campervan electrics. Now available in ebook and paperback!
Learn how to design, size, install and troubleshoot your camper’s electrical system.
7. Isolate Propane Tanks
Propane gas has a super low freezing point, so it’s unlikely to freeze in the tanks.
However, it’s good practice to disconnect the propane tanks for any appliances before you put your RV in winter storage.
Switch off all the propane tanks. If you use the portable bottles, disconnect them and remove them if possible.
For fixed propane tanks, shut off the isolator valve.
8. Close All External Vents & Outlets
When storing your RV during winter, it’s important to close all vents, windows, and doors.
Walk around the camper to check all external vents and exhausts. They make the ideal entrance halls for unwanted winter squatters like bugs and rodents.
You can buy mesh vent covers to prevent this or stuff them with steel wool. Just remember to unplug them all when de-winterizing in spring.
It’s a good time to double-check that all window and roof seals are also intact.
In addition to preventing infestations, closing up your RV will help protect it from the elements and make it secure.
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9. Wash The Camper
Give your camper a well-deserved external valet. Clean all mirrors, wheels, and inside the wheel arches and treat her to a wax treatment.
Cleaning the camper’s exterior before it goes into winter storage helps to protect it from the elements.
It’s just as important as cleaning the interior when preparing for winter storage.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to cleaning your RV’s exterior:
- Start by giving your RV a good wash. Use a gentle soap and get into all the nooks and crannies. Don’t forget your awning, roof, and solar panels.
- Rinse it off well and let it dry completely.
- Next, Wax On, Wax Off – give your RV a good wax job. This will help protect the paint from scratches and other damage.
- Now it’s time to polish those headlights! Clean them with a glass cleaner and then use a polishing compound to make them shine bright.
- Finally, clean and shine the windows and mirrors.
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10. Park & Store
Your camper is winterized now, and it’s time to park her in a winter storage spot.
If you have metal fuel tanks, fill them up. The fuel helps protect the inside of the tank from rust buildup. In freezing temperatures, use cold weather fuel additives.
When storing your RV, it’s best to park her level and use axle blocks to position the wheels off the ground.
This prevents flat spots on the tires from being parked in the same place for a prolonged period.
If unable to jack her up, use wheel chocks or leveling blocks to ensure she’s parked level.
Then disconnect the starter battery so it isn’t flattened by your alarm system, clocks, and so on.
Cover the camper with a winter camper cover. Avoid plastic tarps if possible because they don’t allow the air to circulate so well and could lead to problems.
If the camper is parked outside and the wheels are exposed, consider fitting tire covers to protect them from frost.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can attach your RV skirting to provide an additional layer of insulation to the RV underbelly.
If possible, pay a visit to your camper occasionally to check up on her.
A quick inspection will put your mind at rest that there are no leaks, unpleasant smells from a forgotten rogue tomato, or a family of pests moved in.
If you find any problems, you’ll have a fair warning to resolve them before the spring, which will be here before you know it!
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Why Do You Need to Winterize Your RV?
You may have heard that you need to winterize your RV before storing it for the season. But why is this?
Essentially, it comes down to two things:
- protecting your RV from freezing temperatures, and
- preventing any unwanted critters from taking up residence.
When water freezes, it expands. That can cause severe damage to your RV’s plumbing system and any appliances that use water (like your fridge or washing machine).
By winterizing your RV, you empty all the system’s water so it can’t freeze and cause damage.
Preparing your RV’s electrical system for cold weather is also essential. Most RVs have a battery bank to power 12v DC appliances.
But, cold conditions can affect the lifespan of some batteries. So it’s vital to disconnect and store them when your RV is not in use.
Rodents and bugs could move in as you move out, and you may need to add fumigation to your job list before spring break.
So if you’re getting ready to put your camper in winter storage, make sure you take the time to winterize it first.
Returning to a long list of problems in spring is not the best start to the season.
Taking these simple steps to winterize your RV will go a long way towards protecting it from the elements.
That will help ensure it’s ready to hit the open road when warmer weather rolls around again!
What Might Happen If You Don’t Winterize Your RV
Winterizing your RV is essential to keeping it in good condition – and avoiding costly repairs down the road.
- Your RV’s plumbing could freeze and burst, leading to costly repairs.
- Freezing cold temperatures could damage appliances like your fridge or washing machine.
- The lifespan of your RV’s battery bank could be shortened if they’re left connected in cold weather.
- Your RV could be more susceptible to critters taking up residence if it’s not winterized correctly.
- Your RV insurance may not cover any damage that occurs as a result of not winterizing your RV
So if you’re thinking about skipping the winterization process, you may want to think again.
How Much Does It Cost To Winterize An RV?
The cost of winterizing an RV camper will vary depending on several factors.
- First, if you plan on doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you.
- Second, the size of your RV camper.
- And lastly, the location of where you live.
On average, most people spend around $100-$200 to have their RV professionally winterized.
For those who choose to do it themselves, the cost is usually around $50-$75 for the supplies needed (antifreeze, etc.). Of course, these prices can vary depending on the size of your RV and where you live.
RV Winterizing Kit
There are a few accessories you need to complete the task of preparing a camper for winter storage.
You can buy RV winterizing kits, but these tend to focus only on the accessories needed to prepare the water system for freezing conditions.
For each step in the guide above, we’ve listed everything you need.
You probably already have most of these items though there are a few specific accessories too.
RV Winterizing Checklist
Now that you know why and how to winterize your camper, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect your investment.
Preparing your RV for winter doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By following this simple guide, you can rest assured that your RV will weather the winter months without any issues
Please share your tips and experiences on winterizing your RV camper in the comments below!