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WINTERIZING YOUR RV — A step-by-step time-proven system to get the job done right!

October 15, 2010 by · 29 Comments 

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It is hard for me to believe that winter’s cold winds and freezing temperatures are just around the corner for those of us that live in Central Virginia.  Golly, in some of our northern states freezing temperatures have already arrived!

OK – those of you in southern Florida, the southwest and other warmer climates can laugh, but a good part of the country is going to get cold.

This, of course, means winterizing your RV.  Even if it is still relatively warm where you are, you should be planning and preparing to put your camper away for the winter.

The major issue with campers and freezing temperatures is the water system.  Hundreds or even thousands of dollars in damage can result if freezing water expands in water lines, the pump, potty flush valve, faucets, water heater and drains.

I have winterized all of our campers each winter over the past three decades.  So, I’ve had a lot of practice in what works, and what does not.

This is my step-by-step winterization process.  Hopefully it will help readers new to the process complete winterization easily and efficiently.  This can also make opening the camper back up in the spring much easier and less time consuming.

  • Begin your winterization as you leave your last scheduled camping trip to drive home. Drain all of your holding tanks into the sewer dump at the campground.   Flush your black water tank until the water coming out is clean.  You can use a short clear plastic sewer hose extension installed at the dump valve so that you can see when the waste water is clean.   Open your low point fresh water drains and all of the inside faucets.    Leave the water heater drain alone for right now – the water in the tank is probably HOT and could burn you in the draining process.   The up, down and rolling movement of the camper on the way home will help to complete the fresh water draining process – but it will not shake all of the remaining water out of the system.

  • Remove all perishable and freezable items. While it may be obvious that you can’t leave milk in the refrigerator through the winter,  many other items in your camper that can go bad or freeze are often overlooked.   For example,  be sure shaving cream,  first-aid kits,  lotions,  insect repellents,  sunscreen,  tooth paste, spray cleaners, OTC medications, toilet chemicals, glues, liquid wax, dish detergent, etc. are boxed and moved inside for the winter.  Your OTC medications like aspirin and antacid should be added to your home medicine cabinet and used – or disposed of safely.   Letting them sit in a storage box until next spring and then putting them back into the camper will result in a less effective medication due to aging.   Rotate caned goods through your pantry rather than storing them so that the “Use By:” dates are not exceeded.

  • Clean the Refrigerator. Turn the refrigerator off and allow it to defrost.  Remove all door shelves and inside racks.  Wash the interior toughly with a good kitchen cleaner, one with a small amount of bleach works best.  Wash the door racks in hot soapy water and dry.  Wipe out the freezer section as you did the refrigerator part.  Be careful of the sharp metal fins near the top of the refrigerator as they can cut your hand.  When cleaning is complete, prop the door(s) open with rags or hand towels so air can circulate inside the fridge over the winter.

  • Remove LCD TV Sets. LCD displays can be damaged by extremely low temperatures.  If your area is subjected to extreme cold this one step could save you hundreds of dollars next spring.   It also makes the camper less attractive to thieves, an important step if you are storing your camper away from home.

  • Remove Tissue and Paper Towels.  Field mice love to use tissue, napkins, toilet paper and paper towels as nesting materials.  We all hope mice will not invade our campers while they are in storage, but it is not uncommon for these small furry creatures to take up residence inside a camper during the colder months.  It is a good idea to leave the cabinet doors and drawers open so that  dark nesting spaces are minimized.  If mice are a concern, never leave any food behind and read my previous Mouse Attack! blogs.

TOP - New anode rod. BOTTOM - Anode rod needing replacement.

  • Drain Your Water Heater. Be sure the water is not HOT.  There is a plug that must be removed with a socket wrench at the bottom of your tank.  It is accessible from the outside after opening the water heater outer door.  This plug may also contain your anode rod, which acts as a sacrificial metal to keep your aluminum tank from getting full of pin holes.  If the rod is over 1/2 gone,  you will need to replace the drain plug/anode rod with a new one before the spring opening.

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  • Pump RV Antifreeze Into Your Water Lines.    I know some people do not like to use this stuff, but it is the only sure way to be sure there is no water left behind to freeze.  The pink RV antifreeze is rated as non-toxic if used as directed.   Do NOT dilute the pink antifreeze – use full strength.  NEVER, NEVER use automotive cooling system antifreeze (green, yellow or red) in a RV water system. Automotive antifreeze is toxic  and difficult if not impossible to flush out of a RV water system.First, close all of the camper’s faucets and low point drains.  Hopefully,  your water heater has a by-pass valve installed that should be operated according to your owner’s manual.   If not, there are by-pass kits that can be purchased and installed.  

There are several different methods for getting the antifreeze into your water lines.  The proper thing to do is consult your RV’s manual to learn which of these methods is best for your RV.   Some RV’s have a factory installed hose connected by a two-way valve going to the water pump so that you can just put the  hose end into the antifreeze container and turn the valve to pump antifreeze into your water lines.   Others advise to disconnect the intake hose to the water pump, attach a new temporary hose section to the pump then put the open end of the new hose into a container of antifreeze – then turn on the RV’s water pump.   Lastly, antifreeze can be poured directly into the fresh water tank and then pumped through the RV water lines.  This last method generally uses more antifreeze than the others.   Depending on the size of your RV,  you will need from 3 to 6 gallons of antifreeze.  If you do not have a water heater bypass,  it will take an additional 5 to 10 gallons.  Thus, a water heater bypass valve system can save you a lot of money in antifreeze.

Start with all of your faucets closed, pump the pink antifreeze from a clean 3 to 5 gallon bucket or water jug into your water lines until your electric pump shuts off.   Do not allow the antifreeze container to become empty during this entire process or your pump will pick up air and need to be re-primed.

Go to the faucet closest to the water pump and open the cold water side.  Let it run until only pink liquid comes out.  Close the cold water faucet and do the same for the hot side.  Repeat this process for all of the remaining faucets, shower and the toilet until all you see is pink liquid.  Do NOT forget to service an outside shower.   Using an empty container, return to your outside low point drains and drain the pink liquid out of your water lines – there is no point leaving it in the lines since you have purged them of all freezable water.

Take some of the recovered antifreeze and pour  it into your sink and shower drains so that the traps will not freeze if they should contain any water.

Wipe any pink antifreeze off of the shower walls, bathtub or sink bottoms as it will leave a stain.

Dump any pink liquid out of your toilet bowl; wipe the bowl dry and pour in one half of a cup of mineral or baby oil (do not use vegetable oil as it will spoil).  This will keep your toilet bowl valve seal from drying out.

Lastly, remove any water line filters such as a drinking water filter in the kitchen or a whole house filter installed elsewhere.   Discard these filters.  Do not try to save them for next year.

The small amount of water left sitting in the bottom of your water heater tank should not cause any harm if it freezes.

Don’t forget to be sure your “white” fresh water supply hoses have been drained of all water and are stored with the ends  screwed together.

OPEN your gray water holding tank dump valves and catch any water and antifreeze that comes out in a bucket for proper disposal in your home’s toilet.  DO NOT open your black tank valve unless you are positive that the tank is clean and empty.  If you did not clean and empty your black tank at your last camping or dump site, you have a big problem.   You will need to add antifreeze to the tank via the toilet to prevent freezing and potential damage to the dump valve.

  • Wash your RV outside, starting with the roof.   Use recommend cleaners for the roof and camper sidewalls.  Don’t forget the wheel wells where mud can collect.  Clean all mildew from your awning with a detergent and bleach solution or commercial awning cleaner – rinse well and allow to dry.  Pay particular attention to your tires and wheels and getting them clean.  If possible, wash the inside sidewall of the tire too.  Removing any road oil or other accumulated rubber damaging dirt is beneficial.  When the tires are clean and dry, adjust air pressure to the maximum recommended on the sidewall (they will naturally loose air over the winter) and cover the tires so that they are not exposed to sunlight.  Try to place the tread of the tires on a smooth hard surface rather than dirt or gravel.  Some pressure treated wood boards or concrete patio blocks under the tires may be helpful.

    TYPICAL TIRE COVERS

  • Clean the inside. Vacuum the carpets and furniture.  Clean any hard surface floors.  Clean the shower stall and tub along with sinks and the potty.  Clean the oven and stove top.  Do not leave any grease, dirt or residue behind that can turn into a permanent stain or attract insects – like that half eaten PB&J sandwich hiding behind the couch!  Additionally, this makes the spring opening much easier!
  • Check for rust. Anything that is showing signs of rust now will be worse in the spring.  Light rust can be covered with paint from “rattle cans” without removing the rust.  Heavy rust should be sanded or chemically treated before painting.  Look carefully at your frame, tongue (on a TT), the carrier under your propane bottles, your battery tray.  If you have a sewer hose bumper check for chips or nicks on the underside.  The inside of the bumper may be uncoated and rusting.  An old trick is to make a mop from foam or rags tied onto a long stick, dip into enamel paint and literally “mop” the inside of the hose bumper with paint.
  • If the camper is a trailer that is going to be stored outside, cover the front tongue jack with a heavy plastic trash bag and tie the bottom with duct tape or rope.

Spray the the coupler with WD-40 or marine fogging oil and cover with a plastic bag or wrap with aluminum foil.

Spray the corner jacks (scissor jacks?) with WD-40 or marine fogging oil on the screw shaft and pivot points.

  • Be sure all propane tanks are turned OFF.   Better yet, remove them to a open shed or outbuilding with the plastic tank cover off.  This will reduce the possibility of condensation that causes rusted tanks and holders.
  • If your camper is where it can be plugged into electricity you may be able to leave your battery(s) installed. If you KNOW that your charger/converter has a float charge function you may leave it turned on.  If you do not know if your charger has a float function turn it off, disconnect the batteries, and hook up an optional low current float charger.  If you have a battery ON-OFF switch on your camper,  remember that if  it is turned OFF the camper’s converter/charger cannot maintain the battery(s) over the winter.  If your batteries have removable caps, be sure the cells are full.  Add distilled water if needed.

Typical Battery Float Charger

If you are in doubt about any of the above or electricity will not be hooked to your camper, remove your batteries and store them in a well ventilated area that is not subjected to freezing temperatures.    A semi-heated garage is the best storage environment.  Use a float charger in a well ventilated area during the winter or conduct a 2 hour charge with a 2-6 amp conventional battery charger once a month.  Again, be sure to do this in a well ventilated area.  Check water or electrolyte level and add distilled water if needed.  Of course, you cannot do this on sealed batteries.

    Batteries without a full charge can freeze and be ruined in cold weather.  Batteries that just sit will naturally discharge and  accumulate a white crust on the plates inside of the battery that will shorten their life span.  Stored batteries will need “tending” as described above.

    • If possible, cover the camper roof. The best covers are the waterproof yet breathable commercial covers.  But, “blue tarps” can be used IF they are installed so that air can circulate under them.  It is a BAD idea to lay a blue tarp directly onto the roof surface because they trap moisture underneath and do not allow easy drying of the protected surface.  Many ingenious ideas using PVC pipe to make tent-like bows have worked for some campers willing to go this route.  Gallon jugs or 2-Liter drink bottles filled with sand and tied to the tarp grommets may help to secure it so that the wind does not turn it into a sail.

    If your roof vents are covered so that they will keep rain and snow out, it is a good idea to slightly open the vent to allow for air circulation inside the camper.

    If your camper is stored on dirt it can be beneficial to use a ground cover as a vapor barrier under the camper.  Again,  plastic or blue tarps held in place with rocks or blocks will prevent ground moisture from causing additional frame rusting or moisture from collecting in the camper’s flooring.

    • Elevate your front jacks so that one end of the camper is taller than the other. This will aid in water run-off and help to keep the rolled up awning drained of moisture.

    • If you carry a portable electric generator,  put the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer into the tank and fill it with fuel to prevent condensation from forming inside the tank.  If possible, run the generator monthly during the winter to keep everything inside lubricated and gum free.
    • Lastly, inspect the camper on a regular basis. Go inside throughout the storage seasons.  Inspect for any signs of water leakage, vermin infestation (mice),   and always be sure to pat “her” gently on the counter top or side and tell her that it will soon be spring again,

    This is the longest, most comprehensive blog I have written to date.  I know I’ve probably forgotten something – so check back to see if there are any edits or additions.  Maybe readers will add additional beneficial comments?  I’ll do another blog in March on my procedures for bringing a camper out of moth balls for the summer fun!

    Comments

    29 Responses to “WINTERIZING YOUR RV — A step-by-step time-proven system to get the job done right!”
    1. Gerald Beeler says:

      Hey Professor, what about winterizing a washer/dryer?

    2. professor95 says:

      Hi Gerry,

      A dryer does not need winterizing! (Just joking – I know Gerald – he is a member of our Cedar Creek Club).

      I have a Malber W/D combo and follow the manufacturer’s direction’s for the machine itself, which does NOT call for antifreeze to be pumped into the washer. As for the water lines, I disconnect them at the washer, place the ends over a bucket and turn them on long enough to run antifreeze out the ends of the hoses. Using a long neck funnel, I then pour what is in the bucket down the washer drain drain pipe winterize the trap – which is often forgotten.

      I have received many comments via private e-mails adding to or asking questions about winterization. A few are really good and need to be added.

      From G.R.: We use cheap gin rather than pink antifreeze

      From A.J.: We put a bypass on our whole house water filter so we do not need to fill the holder.

      From R.W.: Don’t forget the city water line. It can hold some water. Just use a funnel and pour a few ounces into the city water inlet.

      From K.K.: We always use a blow-out plug first. But, we have a big air compressor at home to hook to it.

      From R.T.: I have an extra Shurflo pump I connect to the city water inlet and put the suction end into a bucket of antifreeze. Connect to a battery and everything is treated.

      From P.K.: Why do you leave the filters in then throw them away? My answer – stored (used) filters can grow bacteria. One year is their normal life expectancy. Some drinking water filters are one piece and the element cannot be removed, so to get antifreeze into the drinking water faucet you must leave it in place.

      From B.J.: Any bleach in the water system from sanitizing (like the fresh water tank) will ruin the pink antifreeze and keep it from protecting. I know, I learned this the hard way.

      From L.L.: Do not buy cheap discount priced RV antifreeze of a unfamiliar brand. I did and it froze. Stick with major brands you KNOW will work like Camco or Peak.

      MORE?

    3. professor95 says:

      Three more comments via my private e-mail account on the Woodall’s Forum I thought readers would enjoy.

      From David: We just have our RV hauled away to the dealer at the end of the season. Then, the next spring, buy a new one. Saves a lot of trouble, but it does get expensive.

      From Barb: We just move south when winter arrives and live in the sun until it gets hot – then we move back north where it is cooler.

      From Mack: Way too much trouble for me to do. I keep my RV in a heated garage all winter.

    4. It is not always possible to check the trailer through the winter. Ours stays at the park, which is closed from Thanksgiving (mid-October) till May. I find that It is important to leave some vents open for air circulation, so the interior does not get damp and moldy. Also,leave some mouse traps around, so that mice won’t get into everthing in your trailer.
      Beata

    5. jimjan says:

      Great list Professor! I like the comment about the by-pass on the whole house filter housing.
      See you at Willow Tree.

    6. Keith says:

      Hey professor, great article!

      I have a brand new (and small, 16′) travel trailer and I live in Charleston, SC. I plan on camping hewre until Mid November but I also have plans to go to Florida (St. Augustine) in February. I was wondering what you feel about winterizing in warmer climates. It may hit freezing temps at night for a few weeks in February but never throughout the day. I was wondering if just blowing the system out & draining the hot water tank, fresh water and gray water (I have a cassette toilet) between trips would be adequate?

      I inmstalled a hot water bypass kit today but still have not added a syphon kit yet since I was reading in some places that I may be overkilling the winterizing.

      Any help you could offer would be much appreciated.

      Keith

    7. professor95 says:

      Keith,

      Some water can be trapped in water lines even with blow out – air can move OVER water rather than push it out In addition to blow out be sure to do the elevate and rock trick to facilitate draining. This should be easy with a 16 footer. A few drops of water left in a line hopefully will not expand enough to break a pipe – PEX water lines as used in today’s campers will expand some before they split open. Unfortunately, ABS (black) drain lines do not.

      Put antifreeze in your drain traps.

      Put enough pink antifreeze into your cassette toilet water tank to pump into the flush valve.

      Added info:
      I spent one full winter living in my unwinterized camper. Many on this blog have done the same.

      As long as the water heater is turned on (LPG or electric) it will not freeze.

      If you keep heat inside the camper the inner water lines and drains are OK.

      An outside shower should have an inside cut-off added.

      Low point drains (outside) can freeze, as can your “white” water line and piping in unheated or insulated space. Many longer term campers place a perimeter underpinning around the bottom of their camper and add some heat near these items – such as light bulbs. Low wattage heat tape and open cell pipe insulation can help a lot too.

      When I was gone during the day, I always opened all cabinet doors so as to not trap cold air that would later condense into moisture.

    8. Scott Westenberger says:

      Could you recommend something to remove black streaks every year i spend countless hours trying to remove black streaks of of my trailer . The only thing that i find that really works is if i use a wax with a cleaner in it.
      Thanks Scott

    9. Francey says:

      I do have to question the logic in jacking up one end of the rv to provide for water runoff.
      My refrigerator information tells me to keep the rv level as much as possible to protect the
      refrigerant circulation.
      Perhaps you mean just a tiny bit; only enough for encouraging runoff, which seems like a good idea.
      Novices need to know of the damage that can be done to refrigerators if tilted too much.

    10. Nina Soltwedel says:

      Francey…You are right; keeping the RV level while the refrigerator is running is paramount. However, when winterizing your rig, the refrigerator will be turned off. Thus, having the RV tilted to encourage runoff will not harm the refrigerator.

    11. Lance Henrickson says:

      Very useful information. Thanks. But what about winterizing a (Dometic) refrigerator with an ice maker and a drinking water outlet?

    12. David Robinson says:

      I’ve heard that hydraulic pads should not be down for long term storage.

    13. Mel says:

      I have found a product called “fresh cab” to keep rodents out of RV’s, sheds, vehicles, etc. It is available on the internet or in many hardware stores. It smells like Christmas trees and comes in small packets that you just place inside the vehicle. So easy and smells sooo good!

    14. Blue says:

      Use dryer sheets inside your stored tailer. Place them in drawers, under the mattress, in cabinets, and just place them on the couch, etc. The critters that we want to keep out, stay out and it helps to keep the place from becoming too stale smelling.

    15. Donna Munger says:

      How about an article on winterizing your RV for folks who will be using their RVs in the winter? Here in the Puget Sound area we have very few days that are below freezing, but we still get a few very low temperature nights. I have a fully equipped class B motor home and like to use it as my regular vehicle several mornings a week. What should folks like me do?

    16. ABrose says:

      Great advice regarding RV winterizing.
      Two comments from me – we have stored our MH for the past two winters in central Alberta – temperatures have been as low as -30C, and so far, we have not had any problems with the two build-in LCD TVs.

      Regarding mice, inspect your unit for every possible point of entry. Fill any gaps, no matter how small, with steel wool and spray foam insulation. We also keep mouse traps, mouse poison and dryer sheets in our unit – so far, touch wood, no uninvited critters.

    17. Very good, very easy. It's a must to take care of winterizing if you want clean, healthy water lines for the next season. Like Nike says: "Just Do It".

    18. Very good, very easy. It's a must to take care of winterizing if you want clean, healthy water lines for the next season. Like Nike says: "Just Do It".

    19. Great post and great help to those who are new to rving, and to those in or going to a warner climate from those of us who can not (shame on you) oh just joking. But us in NY and other cold areas will be wishing for spring to come sooner that later.

    20. Nina says:

      In the past 8 years, I only emptied hot water tank, all water (faucet) and drain lines in our 24′ trailer, never put any anti-freeze in the system. No problem when the summer came every year. We live in Fraser Valley, B.C. where winter in the past 8 years often reached -10C and even lower. Comments?

    21. Our trailer in florida got moldie last year when we closed it up how do we prevent that.

    22. Robert Malo says:

      Help on winter leaving for Florida

    23. Robert Malo says:

      Question,
      I plan to leave in febuary with my new 26' travel trailer and here in Quebec in Feb, we will have 4 ´ snow. Also my travel trailer will be parked on the yard on side of the house.

      Dose someone have experiance if we can plan a trip of travel trailer in winter snow to head to Florida?

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