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How to Winterize an RV Camper

Updated on February 4th, 2024

Are you a new recreational vehicle owner and need to know how to winterize an RV camper? RV winterization is a way to prep your camper’s plumbing lines and holding tanks, so they don’t freeze and crack during freezing weather. Not only does winterization protect the water lines, but it also prevents damage to other RV components.

To learn the correct way to winterize an RV, follow the guide below, so your camper is ready for new adventures in the spring!

The Importance of RV Winterization

When any recreational vehicle sits for months during cold weather, all types of damage can occur if you don’t prepare it to handle the weather extremes.

Even if you live in a hot locale, the climate can take a crazy turn and catch you off guard, freezing your camper’s critical components, causing cracks, leaks, and costly damage.

RV winterization is more than prepping plumbing lines to prevent freezing, it’s a general term that also covers all the other elements of your RV during times of storage such as the:

  • Tires
  • Awning
  • Roof and window seals
  • Sewer connections
  • Engine
  • Battery bank
  • Furniture and upholstery

Winterization can help you avoid issues when you know how to store your camper during the off-season correctly.

When Should You Winterize an RV Camper?

You need to winterize a camper before you store it, especially if you plan to leave it stationary during the winter months when temperatures can plummet below freezing.

Most RVers tend to park their camper in the late fall, but some stop taking it out once kids return to school in late August or September.

The key is not so much when you winterize your RV, but that you complete the task each time you put it in long-term storage so it won’t incur damage.

A camper being used in the winter by the lake

Supplies to Winterize an RV

Each year, you’ll need winterizing supplies. Some you will install permanently within the camper, while others you’ll need to replace as you use them.

Expect to use the following camper winterizing supplies:

  • Water heater bypass kit
  • 2-3 jugs of non-toxic antifreeze
  • Waste tank cleaning kit and solutions
  • Water pump winterizing conversion kit
  • Pest repellants
  • Plastic bins
  • Desiccant products
  • All-weather caulk and spray foam
  • Tire, awning, and AC covers
  • Tire blocks
  • Fuel stabilizer
  • Window and vent insulation

Steps To Winterize an RV Camper

RV winterizing isn’t as daunting as it first appears. We suggest you make and save a checklist specific to your RV so you never miss a critical step.

If you don’t want to DIY your RV plumbing line winterizing, you can hire out the job for about $150 to an RV dealer service center or a mobile recreational vehicle technician.

If you’re going to perform the winterizing yourself, you’ll need to have the owner’s manual for each appliance on hand to reference to protect it from freezing weather.

Please remember that not every camper will need all winterizing steps below, and your RV owner’s manual should detail what steps to follow.

1. Remove Water Filters and Bypass Filter Water Lines

The first step is to deal with any water filtration system inside your RV. You want to remove all the filter inserts and turn the valves that will bypass the water lines that run to the units.

You don’t want any antifreeze running through a water filtration system, as it will damage the components.

2. Drain the RV Freshwater Tank

Locate and pull the freshwater storage tank drain valve. Some plugs are inside the RV near the tank base, while others you’ll find under the RV.

To help the tank drain faster, open any sink faucet in the RV, allowing air into the plumbing lines.

3. Drain and Clean Waste Water Holding Tanks and Sewer Hose

Before you winterize your RV camper, you want to dump your waste tanks at an appropriate dumping station or sewer drain. you’ll want to thoroughly clean and sanitize both the black and grey tanks.

Some RVs come with a tank-washing system you can use, while other campers will require you to use a tank-washing wand kit to make the task easier. We recommend the Camco RV Flexible Swivel Stik that attaches to the end of a garden hose.

Close waste tank dump valves and pour your cleaning solution and freshwater into your tank until it’s about 3/4 full and let it sit for an hour or so.

Drain out the solution and use the wand to blast away any remaining debris clinging to the insides of the tanks. If you cannot directly access your tanks via the toilet flange or shower drain, you can use a backflushing adapter on your exterior sewer drain line.

Once your tanks are clean, close the valves, fill the tanks again with water, and add a gallon of bleach. Let the solution sit overnight or at least 12 hours, then drain the tanks once again.

Lubricate exterior drain valves with a non-petroleum-based product to keep them operating smoothly.

Remove the RV sewer hose from its compartment for cleaning.

The easiest way to clean the hose is to have another person help you hold both ends of the sewer hose above the middle section and pour some cleaning solution into one end along with some water.

Moving each end of the hose up and down, run the cleaning solution back and forth along the sewer hose’s length without letting the fluid spill out. Once clean, drain the liquid into an appropriate sewer line and use a hose to rinse out any remaining debris.

4. Drain RV Water Heater

Turn off and cool down your water heater before you begin to drain the tank.

Use your manual to locate and remove the water heater drain plug you access through the RV’s exterior water heater panel. The plug looks like a large bolt with a hex head near the tank base and will unscrew from the unit.

Once the drain plug is out, find the pressure relief valve and flip it open.

The majority of RV water heater tanks hold six gallons of water, so it will take several minutes to empty. Once dry, return the drain plug, and close any RV faucets.

A white camper water heater with a blue background

5. Bypass the Water Heater

Locate your water heater bypass valves. If your camper doesn’t have this feature, you can install a kit.

The kit will fit valves into the water lines that run into your water heater, so when you shut them, the water will run through a separate water line and bypass going into the water heater tank.

There is no need to fill your water heater with gallons of antifreeze, so bypassing the unit is the best option.

6. Add Antifreeze to RV Water Lines

You can use your RV camper water pump to quickly push antifreeze through the plumbing lines to keep them from freezing before you winterize it.

Some RVs have a winterizing tube on their water pump, or you can install a converter kit.

The technique is to connect one end of the tube to the inlet side of the water pump and the other tube end into a container of antifreeze. Hold the tubes secure, turn on the water pump, and let the pump suck the antifreeze from the container and pressurize your RV’s plumbing lines.

It helps to pour several gallons of antifreeze into a clean five-gallon bucket before you begin, so you don’t have to stop and move the tube to a new container as one empties.

Slowly open the nearest faucet, working the cold and hot taps until antifreeze comes out, then shut the tap. Move to the next fixtures and repeat the process. Don’t forget to work the shower (indoors and outdoors if your RV has it).

Flush the toilet until you see antifreeze appear. Fill the bowl halfway and flush this down into your black tank. Refill the toilet with several inches of antifreeze and leave it.

Turn off the water pump and open an interior tap to relieve pressure in the plumbing lines.

Go outside, open the freshwater intake plug, and remove the screen. Use the end of a screwdriver and push in on the valve until you see antifreeze. Let go of the valve, replace the screen, and screw on the cap.

7. Finish RV Antifreeze Treatments

Lastly, go around to each sink and shower drain and pour in a cup or two of antifreeze.

Ensure the toilet flange is completely submerged in antifreeze by several inches. We recommend wrapping the top of the toilet in cling wrap to deter the evaporation of the liquid during storage.

8. Deal With RV On-demand Water Heater, Dishwasher, Washing Machine, or Ice Maker

If your RV comes with any of the above non-standard appliances, you’ll need to follow the owner’s manual or look online for specific winterizing instructions. Don’t assume you know what to do, as each model may get damaged from antifreeze.

9. Shut Off All RV Propane

Shut off the valve to all propane-run appliances such as the furnace, refrigerator, range and oven. The water heater propane should already be shut off.

Close and remove any external propane tanks so you can store them in a safe location away from the RV.

10. Protect Against Pests

An empty RV is a haven for pests and rodents looking for a way to escape the weather. Please don’t give them a cozy home to reproduce!

We suggest you remove all food items from your RV camper prior to winterizing it. Even remove loose couch cushions, pillows, and other bedding if you can, as the material is great for nesting.

If you can’t remove some items, try to place them in thick plastic, lidded totes to deter pest infiltration.

Do a complete deep cleaning and vacuuming of the entire camper. Wash the floors, counters, and walls with a sanitizing cleaner.

An rv propane stove being cleaned

Open all cabinet or cubby doors and search for holes that could allow pests to enter. Fill all gaps with caulk or spray foam.

Spray or spread a bug-killing and rodent-repelling product that offers long-term protection, and place desiccant products like DampRid around the camper.

Tucking a box or two of inexpensive fragrant dry sheets all around the camper inside cabinets, drawers, in the furniture, and cab area of motorhomes will deter mice as they don’t like the smell.

11. Protect Interior Surfaces

The sun beating through your RV windows all winter can fade or crack furniture, curtains, plastic, and other surfaces.

Most RVers use rolls of inexpensive insulating material cut to fit inside each window and vent opening. The material looks like silver bubble wrap and is available at any RV or home improvement store.

Close all shades and curtains over the insulating barrier, but consider cracking a window or roof vent slightly if you can do so safely open to allow some fresh airflow to deter mold growth.

12. Protect RV Exterior and Tires

Don’t forget you need to cover your air conditioner unit, tires, and awning to keep them from UV damage if you store your camper outdoors.

Invest in high-quality, weather-resistant covers found at any RV supply store.

Roll tires onto wooden or plastic blocks to prevent damage if the RV sits on dirt or grass. You can use curved parking blocks to hold tire shape and prevent flat spots from forming.

13. Stabilize Motorhome Fuel

If you own a motorhome, don’t forget to stabilize the fuel using a product for diesel or gas.

Condensation inside the fuel tank will happen during storage, and adding a stabilizer will protect against the contamination that will form after the fuel sits for a few months.

RV Winterization Wrap Up

We hope you use the information above to protect your RV during winter storage so that you can resume camping without damage to your plumbing system or other RV components.

How to winterize an RV camper isn’t tricky, but it does take time to accomplish. Don’t rush the process. The more care you take to do it right, the easier it will be to hit the road next camping season!

Related Questions

  1. What are the potential consequences of not winterizing your RV camper?

Not winterizing your RV camper can lead to significant damage, especially to the plumbing system, as residual water can freeze, expand, and cause pipes to burst.

Additionally, the harsh winter conditions can degrade the exterior and interior of the RV, including the battery, seals, and appliances, leading to costly repairs and reduced lifespan of the vehicle.

  1. How does the process of winterizing an RV camper differ depending on the specific model of the RV?

The process of winterizing an RV camper can vary depending on the specific model of the RV, primarily due to differences in plumbing systems, water heaters, and other appliances that may be susceptible to freezing.

For instance, some RVs may require bypassing the water heater during winterization, while others might have specific procedures for draining water lines or protecting onboard appliances, so it’s crucial to refer to the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s guidelines for model-specific instructions.

  1. What are some common mistakes people make when winterizing their RV camper and how can they be avoided?

Common mistakes people make when winterizing their RV camper include neglecting to drain and flush the water system, which can lead to freezing and damage, and forgetting to check and seal any leaks or cracks that can let in cold air or moisture.

These can be avoided by thoroughly draining, flushing, and adding antifreeze to the water system, inspecting the RV for any structural issues, and using sealant to fix any leaks or cracks before the winter season begins.

  1. Can you provide a checklist of all the supplies needed to winterize an RV camper?

Sure, to winterize an RV camper, you’ll need antifreeze, a water heater bypass kit, a water pump converter kit, an air compressor, and non-toxic RV antifreeze.

Additionally, you’ll need basic tools like a wrench and screwdriver, RV cover, moisture absorbers, and rodent repellents to ensure your RV stays in good condition throughout the winter.

  1. What are some additional steps to take if your RV camper has non-standard appliances like an on-demand water heater, dishwasher, washing machine, or ice maker?

If your RV camper has non-standard appliances like an on-demand water heater, dishwasher, washing machine, or ice maker, it’s crucial to ensure they are properly installed, maintained, and powered, which may require professional assistance.

Additionally, you should check if your RV’s electrical system can handle the load of these appliances, and consider upgrading your power supply or generator if necessary.

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