Ultimate Guide to RV Cleaning and Detailing

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Ultimate guide to RV and motorhome cleaning and detailing.

I bet you’ll agree when I say caring for an RV is a challenge!

A worthy challenge, but a challenge none the less!

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure and pain of helping restore and maintain many of these beautiful beasts. I’ve compiled some great RV cleaning and detailing tips in this guide to help you as well!

The first thing you’ve probably discovered about your RV, Motor Coach, Motorhome, or Toy Hauler is that they have a variety of different materials on their exterior. These materials include glass, plastic, fiberglass, gel coated fiberglass, painted and clear coated fiberglass and sheet metal, polished aluminum and stainless, and even rubber!

Each of these materials requires a special touch to restore them and provide lasting beauty and protection.

The foundation of caring for all of this is a thorough and proper cleaning.

There are a few key rules you need to follow:

RV Cleaning Tips

Mornings and evenings are your friend. In order to avoid water spotting you need to do your washing at a time that the sun isn’t beating down on you. Extremely few people are fortunate enough to have covered storage for their RV or camper with room to wash.

Wash and dry one side of your RV at a time. This means if you’re washing the roof you are going to wash and dry it before moving to the sides, front, or back. This will reduce water spotting from your soap and rinse water drying too fast in the heat/sun.

Begin with the roof. You don’t want to clean and dry the sides of your RV and have your roof water and dirt running down it. It also allows you to tackle the most exposed part of your RV before the morning light gives way to the hot afternoon sun.

Basic RV Cleaning Tools

Pick up some tools to expedite the washing process. These land yachts are no easy task. Work smarter, not harder. I recommend at minimum you pick up:

A quality pole mountable brush head such as a Mr. LongArm Very Soft Flow-Thru Brush

Wide green brush for use on pole to wash side of RV

This particular brush head has extra soft synthetic fibers that won’t scratch the delicate finishes on an rv such as clear coat, gel coat, and high polished aluminum. It also has a rubber bumper around the head that helps prevent any damage to your RV’s finish should you accidentally bump it.

A pole mountable water blade is another must have

Yellow squeege for use on the end of pole to wipe water off of RV

This device allows you to squeegee off most of the water from your RV saving time and reducing the chance of water spots. The least amount of time you have to spend soaking up water with a towel the better [you will feel]!

Don’t worry about scratching your pride and joy. The material of this water blade will not harm any finishes as long as they are washed and rinsed beforehand.

A quality microfiber chenille wash mitt for the wheels such as these from The Rag Company

Blue microfiber chenille wash mitt wiping side of vehicle.

These wash mitts are made of quality chenille microfiber and won’t scratch the highly polished finish of your wheels. The Rag Company is a proven brand and their product are outstanding, especially for the price.

A quality and highly absorbent drying towel such as The Rag Company Platinum Pluffle

Two grey Microfiber Waffle Weave Drying Towels.

These towel will reduce the amount of drying time considerably when used after the water blade. They are highly absorbent and scratch safe allowing you to completely dry a side of your RV without needing to slow your pace.

A pack of quality general purpose glass, mirror, and chrome microfiber towels.

Green Microfiber Glass Towels

These are great for wiping down windows, mirrors, chrome and polished accessories (ladders, handles, mirror housings, etc..), and cleaning around door jambs and storage compartment jambs.

A quality car wash shampoo such as Gel-Gloss RV Wash and Wax.

Red jug of Gel-Gloss Wash and Wax RV Shampoo.

Gel-Gloss is readily available and cleans well. It is super slick, thick foaming, and affordable! To top it all off, it does not contain petroleum distillates which means it’s safe RVs with rubber (EPDM/TPO) roofs. It has a strong cleaning action and leaves behind a light layer of carnauba wax.

With these materials, you should cut your cleaning time literally into a tenth. If you can use a pressure washer along side these tools you’re in even better shape. To me that’s money well spent.   If you happen to also own a boat, these products will work great there as well. Double bang for the buck!

What if You Live in a Water Restricted Area?

If you have to abide by water restrictions, or do not have access to water such as at a campground or in the wilderness, then I recommend you check out a Water Wash system. You find them in kits like this Waterless Wash Wax Kit from Aero Cosmetics. No hose or pressure washer is required and you’ll still be able to maintain your RV or Camper.

Blue jug and spray bottle of aero cosmetics waterless wash with a stack of blue microfiber towels.

RV Roof Cleaning Tips

RV roofs come in two flavors, rubber membrane (EPDM/TPO) and fiberglass. Rubber RV roof cleaning requires some special care.

You don’t want to use any strong cleaners or chemicals that contain petroleum distillates on a rubber RV roof. It will break down the roof. Other than that the cleaning process is simple. Wash. Rinse. Dry.

Rubber roofs don’t require any special protection afterward, though some may be applied to make future maintenance easier. A proven protectant is Dicor Roof Guard.

Jug of Dicor Rubber RV Roof Protectant

Regular maintenance is the key here. If you have mildew and other things growing on your roof, you waited too long!

As for fiberglass RV roofs, cleaning is pretty straight forward. Any decent shampoo and cleaner will suffice here. Fiberglass does have the tendency to oxidize if left unprotected. If your roof is oxidized (usually chalky or ashy in appearance and texture) then you’re likely going to need a stronger cleaner such as Davis Fiberglass Stain Remover.

Purple jug of FSR Fiberglass Stain Remover

After the roof is dry, take a moment to inspect it for cracks, tears, or peeling and missing caulk.

If your roof is clean and intact then you’re ready to move onto the sides.

RV Side Cleaning Tips

When cleaning the sides of your RV, start with the right and left sides and work from front to back. The worst dirt and grime accumulation usually gathers on the front, back, and rearward side panels.

Remember to clean and dry one full side at a time.

Save wheels and tires for last. Do not use the same mop on your wheels and tires that you use on the sides. You will heavily contaminate the mop and may not be able to clean it all out. This will cause you to damage the rest of your RV during your next cleaning.

Once you’ve cleaned your RV, you most certainly need to protect it.

Do I really need to wax my RV, Camper or Trailer?

Yes! These toys are all covered in either plastic, fiberglass, gel coated fiberglass, or clear-coat paint. All of these materials oxidize when exposed to the elements. The more they oxidize the worse they look and the more brittle they get. Waxing your RV ensures it will stand the test of time.

You have two options, you can wax it or you can seal it with a sealant. There are two main differences between a wax and a sealant. Waxes contain natural compounds and has a relatively short lifespan on your RV (a couple to a few months). A sealant contains mostly synthetic compounds and has a relatively long lifespan (several months to a year).

Some argue that wax looks better than a sealant but that is debatable and most RV owners are more concerned with lasting protection (remember these things are TOUGH to clean!).

With that said, I tend to lean towards a sealant (sometimes labeled as a synthetic wax) when shopping for a protectant.

What is the best wax or sealant for an RV?

Since the areas of your RV that you are wanting to wax are most likely made of fiberglass or gel coat the real question you should be asking is what is the best wax or sealant for fiberglass or gel coat. See the next section for that information.

What is the best wax for RV fiberglass or gel coat?

There are two main types of waxes and sealants. There are cleaner waxes and sealants and finishing waxes and sealants.

The difference between these two compounds is that cleaner waxes and sealants contain abrasives and solvents to help remove oxidation and smooth surface imperfections and finishing waxes and sealants do not.

To understand which you need we need to know what condition your RVs paint and fiberglass is in. Fiberglass and clear coat are both prone to oxidation. Fiberglass is more prone to oxidation and it’s tougher to remove. Signs of oxidation are rough surface texture, chalky appearance, and yellowing.

If you have a light case of these symptoms, you need a good cleaner wax such as Meguiar’s M5032 Marine / RV One Step Cleaner Wax.

Blue Bottle of Meguiars M5032 Cleaner Wax

If your oxidation is really bad you may need to start with Meguiar’s M4916 Marine / RV Heavy Duty Oxidation Remover and follow it up with a finishing wax or sealant.

Blue bottle of Meguiars 49 Marine and RV Oxidation Remover

If your RV is already in great shape and just needs to be protected, a finishing sealant such as Collinite #845 (it’s labeled as a wax but is mostly synthetic and lasts several months)

Bottle of Collinite #845 Liquid Insulator Wax

This wax is also non-staining so it’s safe on any decals you may have on your rv.

What is the best way to apply wax or sealant to an RV?

Honestly, the easiest way is going to be with a dual action buffer. Yes you can apply it by hand, and it will work fantastically, but that’s a long day of wiping on and wiping off. DA buffers are extremely safe to use. Combine that with the fact that today’s gel coats and clear coats are extremely durable and you really can’t mess it up with just wax.

If you are willing to foray into the world of machine application, I highly recommend the Adam’s Swirl Killer 21mm Long Throw dual action orbital polisher. The long throw makes short work of large surfaces like those found on RVs. It’s affordable, reliable, and quiet. It just flat works.

Man using a black orbital polisher on the side of a car.

Combine that with a red Lake Country waxing/finishing flat pad and you’re ready to rock.

Beyond that, you’ll have to consult the directions on the bottle of wax or sealant that you buy. Most will require applying the wax or sealant to a surface with a soft cloth or applicator, letting it sit and dry to a haze, and then buffing it off with a soft towel. I go over this in more detail in my Ultimate Guide to Wax .

How to Polish RV Aluminum and Other Metals

These days most polished metal found on RVs and motor homes is clear coated or clear powder coated. When this is the case the steps for cleaning and protection will be same as for the rest of the RV. It’s only when it’s bare metal that special steps need to be taken.

How to determine if RV or motor home wheels are polished and not clear coated?

Take a small dab of metal polish, any kind will do, and rub it into an inconspicuous area with a soft cloth. If the cloth turns black after a short while, then it is bare metal. If it doesn’t then it’s clear coated.

When it comes to bare metal, I prefer to use Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish on a quality microfiber towel (learn more about microfiber in my Ultimate Guide to Microfiber) or buffing ball

Red and white jar of Mothers Mag and Aluminum Wheel Polish

Polishing metal with this polish is very simple. Rub the polish into the metal until the towel turns black. Turn to a clean part of the towel and wipe the polish off. Repeat.

Once you’re finished polishing, you can protect the polished surface with the same wax or sealant you used on the body.

How to Protect and Maximize the Life of RV Tires

Tires are an often overlooked aspect of RV ownership from a maintenance perspective. This is shame because poorly maintained tires reduces their life and we all know how dangerous a tire failure while piloting an RV or motorhome can be!

Just cleaning tires isn’t enough. You need to protect them.

A tires worst enemy is the ozone and UV rays. Tires do contain ozone and UV restive chemicals but these chemicals can only work their way to the surface of the tire when the tires is used. As we all know, most RV tires sit for a majority of their life.

The best thing you can do for you tires is keep them shielded from UV. You can accomplish this by applying a protectant such as 303 Aerospace Protectant for Vinyl, Plastic, and Rubber.

Bottle of 303 Aerospace Protectant for Tires

This is different than most tire “dressings.” This protectant is water based, contains UV inhibitors, and drys to a matte “new tire” finish. You have to be careful of most tire “dressings” because they contain silicones, petroleum distillates, alcohols, and other solvents that actually damage the tires.

You can also buy tire covers and install them every time your RV, Coach, Trailer, or Motorhome isn’t moving.

White RV Tire Covers

My preference is to do both! You’ll maximize the life of your tires which will keep you and your family safe and keep money in your pocket!

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4 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to RV Cleaning and Detailing

  • at

    I am wanting to clean my 2011 RV Montana and was wondering if I could use E-Z House Wash.

    The rv has decal and don’t want to use something that will hurt the decal.

    What cleaner would you recommend.


    • at

      I would not use E-Z House Wash. That product contains an acid which is what helps it remove stains and mildew from home siding. It most certainly will compromise your decals after extended use. As for what I would use to clean it, if you’re just trying to wash it and don’t have any problems like black streaking or mildew growth then something like Gel-Gloss Wash and Wax is perfectly safe.

      If you do have black streaking or mildew you may need to resort to a product like RVTech Streak-X.

      Before you buy anything for streaking I want to point out that “black streaks” are not equal and what works on one RV may be totally ineffective on another. The black streaks are contaminants suspended in the water that runs off the roof after rain or morning condensation. What those contaminants are varies by area and time of year. Typically it’s chalk from rubber or painted roofs mixed with dirt from trees and pollen. However, it may include industrial fallout from smoke stacks, chemicals vented into the air, rail dust, etc… These extra chemicals in the dirt can be a challenge to remove because a product that works on one may not on another.

      If these contaminants have sat on the RV for a long time it’s also possible they have been etched into the surface.

      If the solvent you choose doesn’t work you may need to rub them out with a cleaner wax like Meguiar’s M5032 or polishing compound like Meguiar’s M4916 (both of which will be safe on your decals). Unfortunately, that’s the only thing that works in some situations.

  • at

    Hello- Do you reccomend the 303 for protecting the decals on a 5th wheel trailer. It is one year old and I want take steps to protect the finish from the Arizona sun. Thanks

    • at

      I would recommend a paint sealant on the decals rather than the 303. 303 is really meant for more porous surfaces like plastics and rubbers. It would probably leave a streaky finish as well. I’ve honestly never used 303 on the decals before so I cannot honestly say what the actual outcome would be.

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