How to Dewinterize Your RV

Dec 14, 2020 | Maintenance & Mods

How to Dewinterize Your RV

Get road ready in no time with these tips for dewinterizing your RV. Uncover your rig or get it out of storage, and let’s get to work.

By Rob Cochran

Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Winter is behind you, and you’re ready to get your RV prepped for the first trip of the season. If you’ve properly winterized your vehicle, much of this process is going to feel like winterizing in reverse. We’ll walk you through what you need to know, and how to do things like removing antifreeze and sanitizing your water system. 

In this article:

The dewinterizing process should take a few hours, unless your battery needs a major reboot, and can also be done at a service center. Here’s what you need to know about dewinterizing your rig. 

When Should I Dewinterize my RV?

Exactly when you decide to dewinterize is up to you, but make sure temperatures are consistently above freezing before you do. If a late cold snap happens to come through after you’ve already dewinterized, you can always keep the RV warm inside until it passes—just make sure all your holding tanks are empty. Also, make sure to give yourself enough time to charge your batteries and check your tires before you hit the road.

RV in background of meadow during springtime

Dewinterizing Your RV Exterior

Start by getting the exterior of your RV looking fresh. 

  • Give the exterior of your rig a good wash and wax
  • Look for any cracks, cuts, or holes on your roof and seal them with the recommended sealant once your rig is dry. If your roof looks like it’s aging, you can apply a recommended roof treatment or have it evaluated by a qualified repair center. 
  • Inspect vent caps, stink pipe vent covers, and air conditioner shrouds for damage or bird and wasp nests. 
  • If you have solar panels, give them a good cleaning so they can operate at peak performance.
  • Look at all of the body seams of your RV, as well as the seals around your doors and windows. Open all windows and doors to make sure they are in working condition. 
  • Wash gaskets with soap and water to remove dirt and resin from the gasket material, which can cause sticking. Then apply a UV protectant.
  • Clean your awning material if you have one. Check that it’s deploying and retracting properly, and lubricate moving parts as recommended.
  • Look under your rig for any spider webs or animal nests. 
  • Check for damage to any plumbing, wiring, or gas lines. 

If any of the above items seem to be out of sort, contact an RV service center.

Woman on top of RV cleaning roof

Getting Your RV Battery Road Ready

What you need to do to get your batteries ready depends on what you did with them during winter. If you kept them charged, they should be good to go. If not, you’ll need to recharge them.

Start by inspecting your batteries and cleaning up any corrosion around the terminals. Inspect your batteries and use hot water and baking soda to clean any corrosion you find around the terminals. Check for cracks and replace any cracked batteries.

A battery can lose about 10 percent of its charge for each month it’s in storage. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few hours (or longer) to charge them. The size of the batteries and how they were winterized will impact the length of charge time.

How to Reinstall Your Battery

If you stored your batteries away for the winter, it’s time to reinstall them. 

  • Spray both terminals’ ends with hot water and baking soda solution (or a commercial battery contact cleaning product) to keep them from corroding. 
  • Attach and tighten the red (positive) battery cable. Next, attach and tighten the black (negative) battery cable. 
  • Double-check that all your cable connections are tightened.
Man checking battery in RV trailer

How to Charge Your RV Battery

If you have a motorized RV, you will have batteries for both the chassis and the house portion of the RV. Make absolutely sure you connect your batteries properly. If you’re uncomfortable working with them, an approved RV repair facility can perform this maintenance. Before charging, check fluid levels. If the water level is below the plates, top off your water levels before charging (see the following section). 

Caution: Always keep flames and sparks away while charging since off-gassing could cause the battery to explode.

To charge the chassis battery:

  • Keep the battery charger in the “off” position as you connect it to the RV charger.
  • Connect the red cable to the red indicator on your RV, and then connect the black cable to the black indicator. 
  • Check that voltage is set to 12 volts. Set your power to “charge.”

The house batteries will begin charging as soon as you plug the RV into a 110V receptacle. Leaving the RV plugged in overnight will ensure a good charge for operating all of your 12V items, such as jacks, slide-outs, and lights.

Top Off Your Battery Water Levels

Another aspect of maintaining your battery is topping off your water levels. Again, you should do this after fully charging the battery unless the water level is already below the plates—if this is the case, do these steps before charging.

Adding distilled water to battery
  • Check the water level and add distilled water as necessary to the point where the water just covers the plate. Never use any water with minerals in it, including tap water, as this can damage the battery. You should keep the battery plates covered at all times.

Checking Your RV Tires

One of the most important steps in keeping your rig and tow vehicle safe on the road is inflating your tires to the proper air pressure. The last thing you want is accelerated tread wear, uneven handling, or a blowout. Tires normally lose about 2 to 3 psi for every month they’ve been in storage. 

Man Filling Tires on RV
  • Check each tire, including the spare, for cracks along the treads and sidewall. 
  • When the tires are cold, check the pressure of each tire with an air inflation gauge. Inflate them to the correct pressure, according to manufacturer guidelines. 
  • Make sure the lug nuts are tightened to manufacturer specifications.

Dewinterizing Your RV Interior

Now it’s time to check the interior. 

  • Investigate for evidence of any unwanted inhabitants like mice, squirrels, or spiders—starting with any mouse traps you may have left.
  • Clean the RV interior by vacuuming the carpets and wiping down surfaces and cabinets. Replace your towels and linens.
  • Air out your vehicle by opening the doors and windows. Look closely for signs of damage. 
  • Check for discoloration on your ceiling; it’s a sign of a water leak you’ll need to take care of.
  • Open your refrigerator and cabinet doors. If you smell anything unpleasant, that could be a sign of mold.
  • Change your air and water filters. 
  • Rinse or vacuum your window screens.
Replacing air filter in an RV

Check your owner’s manual for anything else specific to your model. If you have any unpleasant smells, consider using a small dehumidifier next offseason. 

Dewinterizing Your RV Plumbing

You have three main tasks when it comes to restoring your water system:

  • Removing RV antifreeze from the system. (Note: If you used compressed air to force the water out of the system when you winterized, you can skip this step.)
  • Sanitizing the system so it’s safe for you to use.
  • Refilling your water heater for use.
Plumbing hose connected to RV

1. Remove the RV Antifreeze

Make sure you properly remove the antifreeze that you put into your RV during the winterizing process: 

  1. Make sure all of your faucets are closed. 
  2. Reconnect any water lines that you may have disconnected while leaving your water heater in “bypass” mode. 
  3. Connect a water hose to your rig’s city water inlet and turn on the water supply. Check for leaks by looking and listening for any water drips.
  4. Starting with the faucet farthest away from the water source, turn on the cold water, and then the hot water, until it runs clear. Repeat this at each faucet, shower, and toilet, as well as the outside shower and low point drain. Your antifreeze is most likely a pink color, so the pink water draining out is natural.
  5. After a few minutes, the water will run clear in every faucet. That’s when you can turn off the water supply and disconnect the hose from the city inlet. 
  6. Fill your fresh water tank with enough water for you to flush each faucet again. Turn on the water pump and repeat the flushing at each faucet as you did before.

2. Sanitize Your Fresh Water System

Failing to properly sanitize your fresh water system can lead to illness and, in some extreme cases, death. Sanitizing your water system correctly is critical. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Close the drains and install drain plugs.
  2. Take a quarter-cup of household bleach for every 15 gallons of water that goes in your fresh water holding tank. Mix the bleach with water into a 1-gallon container. Now, pour the mixture into your tank.
  3. Run water at each faucet until you smell the bleach mixture, then close the faucet and let the mixture sit.
  4. After 8 to 12 hours, drain the fresh water tank and fill it up with fresh water.
  5. Run each faucet until you can’t smell any bleach.
  6. Drain the remaining water from the tank.
  7. If you still smell bleach, refill the tank and repeat until you don’t smell anything.
Panel for checking water system in an RV

3. Refill Your Water Heater

  1. Install any water filters that may have been removed and turn the water heater bypass off.
  2. Install the drain plug or anode rod in the water heater drain (if removed).
  3. With the pump running, let the water heater fill with water. (You will need to open the “hot” tap on a faucet to allow air to escape while filling.) Note: Never turn on your water heater if no water is in it.
  4. If you didn’t dump your black and gray water tanks when winterizing, do it now. 
  5. Clean your black water tank with your RV’s built-in flushing system. If you don’t have one, you can use a flushing wand or product.

Check for Leaks

It’s crucial to find any water leaks before going camping. 

  • Crawl under your sinks with a flashlight and look for any cracks in the drain traps. Turn on the water and let it run while inspecting for leaks.
  • Shine your flashlight anywhere water might leak, like around your toilet base and behind the waterline.

While you’re on the lookout for leaks, make sure there aren’t any in your water pump. 

  • Shut off the outside water and ensure you’re just using your RV water tank. 
  • Turn your system on, making sure all the faucets are closed. Give it a few minutes to reach full pressure, and it should stop running. 
  • Wait and listen. If the pump doesn’t start again, you’re all good.
  • If it doesn’t stop, you might have a leak in the line or within the pump. Listen for a few minutes before you determine whether this is the case, then make sure to get it fixed.

This is also a good time to check if anything is leaking past your dump valves. 

  • With water in the tanks and dump valves closed, remove the dump valve cap. No water should come out. 
  • Reinstall the dump valve cap and open one of the dump valves. No water should drip from the cap. 
  • Add treatment chemicals and a small amount of water to black tanks. 
  • Take a quick look at your sewer hose to make sure it’s not damaged.

Checking Your RV Propane Tanks

Check your propane system by looking for dried out or cracked seals and hoses. When you test your system:

Man checking propane tanks outside a travel trailer
  • Turn off all LP items before you begin.
  • Turn on the leak detector inside your rig. Most LP detectors are hard-wired to a 12-volt system so it should already be on. Test to verify.
  • Slowly, open the valve on your tank all the way. Smell for leaks. 
  • Apply a soapy water solution on the valve and regulator and watch closely for bubbling or spurting.
  • Make sure that mice haven’t chewed on your wires and hoses.

Togo Tip: Your LP gas system needs a gas pressure operating test and a leak test once a year. Head on over to an authorized RV repair facility to inspect your LP tanks, hoses, and LP pressure.

Testing Your RV Appliances

Make sure your RV appliances are running properly with a quick check:

  • Inspect the outside access covers of your water heater and fridge to ensure they’re clean and debris-free.
  • Test all propane gas appliances by lighting and running them for a while. Think there might be a leak? Turn off the propane and head to an RV service professional.
  • Check that your rig’s appliances operate correctly in the LP gas mode. Check your fridge, then turn it off and keep the doors open so it can return to room temperature before you test it in electric mode.
  • Test all of your other appliances in electric mode. 
RV stove

Next, you’ll want to test your GFI (or GFCI) receptacles (plugs) for proper operation. You’ll find these types of receptacles in the bathroom or kitchen area near water sources. If it detects any change in the flow of electricity (for example, a short from water) it trips the circuit and kills the power. 

  • Push the reset button on the receptacle. If it clicks and stays, you’re good to go. If it keeps popping out, you’ll need to contact a professional. 
  • While you’re checking your receptacles, you might want to also use a polarity tester to verify all outlets are grounded properly.

How to Check Your Generator

Here’s what to do with your RV generator before hitting the road: 

  • Check the oil level and get it serviced according to what’s in your owner’s manual. 
  • Inspect the generator exhaust system for any damage before you start it; you never want to run a generator with a damaged exhaust system.
  • With the generator running, turn on the A/C to make sure it is properly supplying power to the RV.
  • If you didn’t use a fuel stabilizer in the fuel system and the generator won’t start, or if it continues surging after you start it, head to a service facility.

Safety Systems

Lastly, run a safety check on your systems:

  • Replace the batteries in your safety devices, including the carbon monoxide detector, smoke alarm, and LP gas leak detector. If you removed any batteries or fuses from these devices, it’s time to re-install them.
  • Test these devices to make sure they’re working. 
  • Inspect your fire extinguishers to ensure they’re ready for an emergency. Replace or recharge the extinguishers as needed. 
Carbon monoxide detector in an RV

All items mentioned above should have a manufacture or expiration date on them. Check and replace if they are outdated.

Togo Tip: Make sure your license plate is current, as well as any passes you might need for state or national parks.

Dewinterizing Your Motorized RV

Follow the steps outlined above: Check your battery, tires, interior and exterior, and restore and sanitize your water system. See below for additional steps for motorized RVs:

  • Open up the hood and look for any bird nests, cobwebs, or critters. 
  • Check your engine oil and transmission, steering, brake, and windshield fluids. Top them off as needed. 
  • Turn on the engine and test your headlights, brake lights, running lights, and emergency lights. 
  • Drive around the block and test your turn signals, steering, and brakes. Listen for any strange noises that might require a trip to a certified RV service center.

Dewinterizing Your Towable RV

Follow the steps outlined above: Check your rig’s battery, tires, interior and exterior, and restore and sanitize your water system. See below for additional steps for trailers: 

  • Hitch your trailer and double-check that your linchpin is completely secure. (Reference your owners’ manual for any considerations specific to your model.)
  • Drive your tow vehicle around the block with the hitched trailer.
  • Check your brakes and turn signals. 
  • Listen for any strange noises that need to get checked out. 

What You Need to Dewinterize Your RV

Here’s a list of the items and supplies you’ll need to dewinterize your motorhome, travel trailer, pop-up camper, or fifth wheel. You can find these at most RV parts stores, hardware stores, or online retailers.

Filling up water tanks in an RV

Items

  • Air compressor
  • Air filters
  • Battery charger
  • Damp sponge
  • Flashlight
  • Garden hose
  • Household bleach
  • Latex gloves
  • Potable water
  • Propane tanks
  • Rag
  • Safety glasses
  • Timer
  • Tire pressure gauge

Supplies

  • Wash and wax cleaner
  • Waterproof sealant/caulking
  • UV protectant
  • Silicone spray or lubricant
  • Spare fuses and light bulbs
  • Toilet chemicals

You’ve readied your ride by inspecting it from top to bottom and sealing up any leaks. You’ve charged your battery, inflated your tires, refreshed your water system, and filled up on propane. Now you’re ready to hit the road for the season. 

When the weather winds down, make sure you properly winterize your vehicle. When that time comes, be sure to check out our guide on How to Winterize Your RV.

RV TravelWinterization

Rob Cochran

Rob Cochran is the Head of RV Service at Togo RV. With over 30 years in the RV service industry, he’s passionate about making life better for RV owners and technicians. He’s an RV Industry Association Master Certified RV Technician and the Education Chairman for the Florida RV Trade Association. In addition to working in the industry, Rob has been RVing since 1993, which is when he purchased his first camper.

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