Everything You Need to Know About Maintaining the Exterior of Your RV

Sep 7, 2020 | Maintenance & Mods

Everything You Need to Know About Maintaining the Exterior of Your RV

Looking for some insider tips on how to maintain the exterior of your RV? My motorhome is more than 10 years old, but it still looks brand new thanks to many of these pointers.

By Mark Polk

Actively maintaining the exterior of your RV will help extend the life of the vehicle and protect your investment. If you aren’t properly and regularly cleaning your RV, it can be very difficult to get that new look back again. To maintain the exterior of your RV, make sure you’re performing routine cleaning, inspections, and preventive maintenance. It’s not difficult to maintain an RV exterior—you just need to know what to look for when inspecting it and the best methods to keep the RV’s exterior clean.

If you want to learn more about maintaining the exterior of an RV and keep it looking brand new, read on for some tried-and-true tips that I’ve gathered over the years. 

RV Exterior Washing and Waxing

How often should you wash your RV?

If you want to keep your RV looking new, you should wash it after each trip you take. The sooner you remove all of the bugs, dirt, and grime, the easier it is to keep the RV’s exterior clean. If you store your RV uncovered outside, wash the exterior when black streaks start to appear. When you wash your RV, also take some time to inspect the exterior. Look for anything that is out of place or in need of attention. It’s best to address exterior problems as soon as possible. 

What should I use to wash my RV?

How you wash your RV will depend on the type of siding on your rig. If the exterior of your RV has corrugated aluminum siding, you can wash the exterior with the same car wash soap you use for your vehicles. If the exterior of your RV has fiberglass siding, use soap formulated for fiberglass. To maintain a gel coat, or glossy finish, look for cleaning products that are recommended for boats. 

Avoid using harsh or abrasive cleaners that can damage the surface of the RV or the graphics on the exterior of the RV.

Can I wash my RV at a truck wash? 

There are truck wash facilities around the U.S. that have RV wash services. Some offer a hand washing RV service, which is recommended for the exterior of your RV. Try to avoid truck wash services that use extremely high water pressure or locations that are not familiar with RVs. High water pressure can damage taped-on graphics, and you don’t want high water pressure getting in exterior vents like the furnace and water heater.

How do I get dead bugs off my RV?

Dead bugs are difficult to completely remove from the exterior of an RV, but there are products made specifically for the job. The sooner you tackle the chore, the easier it will be. Spray plenty of water directly on the dead bugs; the more soaked they are, the easier it is to remove them. 

Do I need to wax my RV?

Waxing an RV is similar to waxing a car. When you use a wax formulated for the surface of your RV, it adds a layer of protection against the sun’s damaging UV rays. Waxing your RV is quite an undertaking though, so you may want to consider hiring a service to do it for you. If you do, make sure they are familiar with cleaning and waxing RVs. If you decide to tackle the job yourself, select a wax designed for RVs and test it in an inconspicuous area first. Avoid using wax on any taped graphics on the RV. 

Do not attempt to wax an older RV with fiberglass siding that is oxidized (a type of damage caused by exposure to the sun, which leaves a chalky film on the fiberglass). You will need to remove any oxidation before waxing the surface.

How often should I wax my RV?

The frequency of waxing your RV depends on a few factors. Start by asking yourself these questions: 

  • Is the RV stored inside or outside?  
  • If it is stored outside, is it covered? 
  • How often do you use the RV? 
  • Is the RV constantly exposed to the sun and other damaging elements? 

The more time your RV spends exposed to the elements, the more often you will want to add a layer of protection by waxing the exterior. If the RV is stored inside, waxing once a year may be sufficient. If stored outside, waxing every season is a better bet. 

To see if your RV exterior needs waxing, pour some water on it. If the water forms puddles on the surface instead of beading, meaning that the water runs off the paint freely, it’s most likely time to wax it again.

What is the best wax to use on an RV?

You should use a wax formulated specifically for RV surfaces. If your RV has corrugated aluminum siding, use a car wax formulated for metal surfaces. For fiberglass siding and glossy gel coat finishes, use a wax formulated for those types. There are also spray-on waxes that are easy to use, but the downside is that the wax finish doesn’t last as long as conventional wax. 

For gel or clear coat finishes still in good condition, look into using cleaners and waxes for boats.

How do I get black streaks off my RV?

Stubborn black streaks should be removed as soon as you see them on the exterior of the RV. The longer black streaks stay on the surface, the harder they are to remove. If you use a black streak remover product, always read the instructions first. There are lots of options on the market with varying directions; some say to spray it on a dry surface and let it sit for a minute, while others instruct you to add it directly to a bucket of water and clean the surface using a soft bristle brush. The product will be most effective when you follow the directions.

rv driving along dirt road
Photo: oksana.perkins / Shutterstock.com

What is the best black streak remover?

I use a product called Reliable 1 Super Spray All-Purpose Cleaner. It works on black streaks and on other difficult cleaning jobs. Follow the directions and avoid using it directly on any graphics. Based on my experience working at an RV dealership, black streaks are easier to remove from fiberglass and gel coat finishes than from corrugated aluminum siding. If you clean the surface frequently, it’s easier to keep black streaks at bay. 

How do I keep my RV from fading?

The first line of defense against fading is to keep your RV clean and wax the surface. Constant exposure to the elements will damage the exterior of any RV. Ozone and ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun start to take their toll, which is first evident by signs of fading paint. It also causes products like rubber and vinyl to dry out, crack, and start to deteriorate. If your RV is stored outdoors, the best thing you can do is to keep the RV covered when you aren’t using it. A cover will help protect the RV’s finish and other components.

How can I make my RV last longer?

RVs require maintenance and upkeep for longevity. Storing your RV indoors will help extend its life. If that’s not possible, the next best thing is to have a roof, like an RV carport, over the RV. If you must store your RV outdoors, use an RV cover. In addition to where and how the RV is stored, routine cleaning and inspections are a must. One of the biggest RV maintenance issues is water damage. If you periodically inspect the RV for signs of cracked or missing sealant and reseal those areas, your RV will last longer. 

If you’re not comfortable working on the roof of the RV, have a reputable RV service facility do the inspections and work for you.

RV Exterior Roof Maintenance

person on top of rv inspecting roof
Photo: Element Three

How often should I clean my RV roof?

Your RV roof won’t need as much cleaning if the vehicle is stored indoors. If the RV is stored outdoors, try to avoid parking it under trees. At a minimum, you should inspect and clean the RV roof prior to storage, and again after storage if it’s stored outdoors without a cover.

Inspect the seams and sealants on the RV roof two to three times a year. If the roof is dirty, it’s time to clean it.

How long should an RV roof last?

The type of roofing material used on your RV will impact how long the roof lasts. The most common types of RV roofs are made with rubber products like TPO and EPDM. Other types of RV roofs are fiberglass or metal. From a warranty standpoint, roofs can be warranted for 10 or 12 years. 

EPDM roofing membrane oxidizes and slowly sheds layers from the membrane until it looks black rather than white. The color change is an indication that its life cycle is over. Regardless of type, your RV roof will last much longer if you routinely clean and inspect it, as well as reseal the seams and seals as required. 

How much does it cost to seal an RV roof?

The price for sealing an RV roof depends on the condition and size of the roof as well as who does the work. Sometimes, all the roof needs is a good inspection and some minor touch-up sealing to fix any cracked or missing sealant. If you plan to do it yourself, it will cost you a Saturday afternoon and the price of the supplies.

If an RV service center does the work, it will likely cost a few hours of labor plus supplies. If the roofing membrane has reached the end of its life cycle, and you want to reseal the entire roof, it will take additional labor and supplies. I have resealed numerous RV roofs, and the process typically takes the better part of a day (depending on the size of the roof), a gallon or two of cleaner/primer, and a few gallons of roof coating.

Related What to Expect When Replacing Your RV Roof

How often should you seal your RV roof?

You should inspect and touch up any cracked or missing sealant on your RV roof at least twice a year, and more frequently if you travel often in the RV. Normal wear and tear, like road vibrations and flexing can cause sealants to crack and separate. You only need to recoat the entire RV roof when it’s damaged or at the end of its life cycle.  

What is the best RV roof coating?

I produced how-to video projects with Dicor for years and had the opportunity to test all of their RV roofing products. Dicor offers reasonably-priced products ranging from a tube of sealant to a brand new roofing membrane. Another brand that sells RV roof coating products and services is RV Armor. They professionally apply a thick rubber coating over the entire RV roof and offer a lifetime guarantee. It’s more costly, but if you own an RV and plan to keep it for many years, it’s worth looking into. 

Is Flex Seal good for RV roofs?

Flex Seal is only good for RV roofs as a quick and temporary repair for unexpected damage, like a tear in the roofing membrane. If your RV roof has water damage, the damage needs to be repaired before sealing the area with any product. If you apply roofing repair tape or Flex Seal over a water damaged area, it might prevent more water from getting in, but the existing damage will continue to spread further into the RV’s ceiling or walls. I take a roll of RV roof repair tape (Flex Seal serves the same purpose) with me for emergency repairs. 

How long will Flex Seal last?

I’ve heard of instances where people use Flex Seal as a temporary fix for their RV, and more than a year later it’s still in place. Although some have success with it lasting for a long time, I consider the product as more of a temporary emergency fix. 

RV Awning Maintenance

What is the best way to clean my RV awning?

When it comes to RV awnings, there are two types of fabric: vinyl and acrylic. To clean an acrylic fabric, periodically hose the awning off to remove any loose dirt and dust. Avoid scrubbing acrylic fabrics to prevent removing the water-resistant protection. 

While acrylic awnings allow air to circulate through the fabric, vinyl awning fabrics are tightly woven and don’t allow for as much circulation. They are susceptible to mildew if dirt and dust collect on the fabric. It may be necessary to scrub stubborn stains from vinyl fabric using a brush and awning cleaner product. Always let the awning fabric dry completely before storing it. 

Look for awning brands that use high-quality PVC material and that come with specific cleaners for the fabric. 

What should I use to clean my RV awning?

You can clean your awning hardware with the same soap you use to wash the RV. For general cleaning, you can use a mild dish soap and water. There are plenty of options for awning fabric cleaners, so choose a cleaner designed for use on your specific awning fabric. For dirty or stained vinyl fabrics, scrub it with a brush and use an awning cleaner product. Don’t scrub an acrylic awning fabric. Scrubbing an acrylic fabric can remove the water-resistant protection. To remove stubborn stains from an acrylic fabric, use a sponge or soft cloth with a cleaner designed specifically for the fabric.

Can I use bleach to clean my RV awning?

Check the awning owner’s manual or search online to see what the awning manufacturer says about using bleach to clean the fabric. Don’t use bleach on your awning unless it is recommended by the manufacturer. Some might say to use bleach diluted in water to clean the fabric, while others recommend not using bleach at all. 

RV Exterior Covers

Should I use an RV cover?

If your only choice is to store your RV outdoors, then I highly recommend using an RV cover. A cover not only protects the RV roof and the RV’s exterior finish, but it also helps protect all of the plastic, vinyl, and rubber components on the RV.

Related How to Measure, Choose, and Purchase a Cover for Your RV

How long do RV covers last?

RV covers can last for years if they’re installed correctly. Purchase a quality RV cover and follow the installation instructions. When you store the RV cover, make sure it’s clean and dry.

What is the best quality RV cover?

When I owned a Class C motorhome I stored it outdoors and did a lot of research prior to buying an RV cover. I personally chose an ADCO cover, which offers useful features and benefits along with proper RV fit. The material is breathable to help prevent mold and mildew, and the top is water-resistant to protect the roof. 

Do not use a cheap blue tarp to cover your RV as it will not properly protect it.

Should I use RV tire covers?

Tire covers are an affordable, effective way to protect your RV tires. Plenty of RVs sit idle outdoors for long periods of time. Tire manufacturers add treatments to tires that work their way to the surface of the tire, but only when the tire is in use. A tire sitting in storage without those treatments will get damaged by the sun. If your tire’s sidewall has lots of small cracks, then you most likely have sun damage, which will ruin tires. However, tire covers will prevent this from happening. 

Related The Ultimate RV Tire Buying Guide

What are the best RV tire covers?

The exact type of tire covers will vary depending on your vehicle, price point, and preference, but there are a few things you should specifically look for in tire covers. First, buy tire covers that have a light color—white is best. A dark tire cover draws more heat from the sun, in turn making the tire hotter. Next, make sure you purchase the correct size tire cover to properly fit it. If you have a travel trailer or fifth wheel, you can purchase dual axle tire covers designed to cover both tires on each side of the trailer, which is more convenient than separate covers. 

Final Thoughts on RV Exterior Maintenance 

Maintaining the exterior of your RV is not that difficult, and it pays off in the long run. Periodically inspect the exterior of your RV and take action immediately when you discover a problem. Keep the exterior and roof clean and try to avoid long term exposure to the sun’s damaging rays. Follow these simple tips and your RV will be looking new again in no time.

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Mark Polk

Mark Polk is the founder of RV Education 101, an RV video and information company. Mark, an avid RVer himself, has an extensive background in the RV industry as an RV educator and expert in his field. His best-selling book, ‎titled The RV Book, has sold over 50,000 copies to date. Mark has helped educate millions of RV owners through his popular online RV video and e-book courses, and YouTube channels.