How to Winterize a Camper The Best Way

How To Winterize a Camper Step-By-Step: Checklist

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For us campers who want to store away our RV during the colder months of the year, it’s important we winterize it.

If you don’t, you’ll find your camper damaged when you uncover it in the spring. Pipes hold moisture, and they’re likely to freeze if not winterized.

When we started winterizing our RV, we couldn’t find any comprehensive guides. Luckily for you, our guide below walks you through winterizing your camper step-by-step.

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What You Will Need Before Winterizing

Make sure you have the following gear to hand before you follow my step-by-step tutorials:

  • Holding tank cleaning flush wand.
  • Drain plugs hand tools.
  • Water heater bypass kit (if one not already installed on the water heater).
  • Water pump converter kit or tubing to connect to the water pump’s inlet.
  • Non-toxic RV antifreeze.
  • Cloth and surface cleaner for cleaning internal surfaces.
  • Moisture absorbers or dehumidifier.
  • Waterproof sealant.
  • Silicone caulk.
  • Soap and water to clean the outside.
  • RV wax.
  • Awning cleaner.
  • Stabilizer and leveling blocks or wheel chocks.
  • Camper jack.
  • RV storage cover.
  • Tire covers.

I’ve suggested specific versions of the above items in each step below where necessary.

You can winterize your RV either with antifreeze or air compression. If you choose the antifreeze option, you’re good to go with the list above.

But, if you choose air compression, you’ll also need:

For me, the easiest method is with the air compressor. But, to expel all water from the system, I recommend you use the antifreeze method.

No matter the choice, it’s winterizing isn’t that hard, and it shouldn’t take too long.

How Hard Is It To Winterize a Camper?

If you have basic knowledge of how your RV water system works, it’s not going to be hard to winterize your camper. Even if you’re not too familiar with your RV’s inner workings, it shouldn’t be too difficult if you follow the steps in my guide. It’s definitely doable without professional help.

How Long Does It Take To Winterize a Camper?

It’ll take a few hours to winterize a camper. Winterizing your plumbing system might take 30 minutes to an hour if you grab all the required equipment in advance. You then have to clean the surfaces and protect the outside, so add an hour or so.

Winterizing Your RV Step-By-Step

winterizing RV

Method 1: RV Winterizing With Antifreeze

Winterizing your camper’s plumbing system with antifreeze is the most standard option. You’ll need to start by draining your water tanks manually as much as possible.

Step 1: Clean Out Gray and Black Holding Tanks

Ensure you flush and drain the tanks. If you don’t have a built-in flushing system, clean the black tank with a flush wand or use equipment, such as Flush King, to clean out both tanks.

Step 2: Disconnect the Outside Water Source

Now disconnect from any freshwater that may fill your freshwater tank. If not, your freshwater tank will fill up with water and freeze in the winter.

 

Step 3: Make Sure To Turn the Water Heater Off

Drain the water heater if you’re using a storage water heater.

If the water’s hot, turn the water heater off the day before you plan to empty the water heater tank, so you don’t burn yourself.

 

Step 4: Empty Water from Water Lines and Turn the Water Pump Off

First, you need to open all faucets in the RV. The faucets include taps, toilet, shower and bathroom fixtures.

Use the water pump to force water out, but once the system’s drained, ensure you turn it off. Empty as much water from the lines as possible.

Note: You might need hand tools for drain plugs when opening some valves on your camper. I recommend the Camco RV Water Heater Drain Plug.

Step 5: Turn All Faucets Off

This includes the water pump. You need to turn the faucets off, so the antifreeze doesn’t escape.

 

Step 6: Bypass Water Heater Lines

Note: Skip this step if you already have a bypass installed!

Turn on the water heater’s bypass valve.

Now’s the time to install a bypass on the water heater using a bypass kit, such as the Camco Supreme Permanent Bypass Kit.

Using this device means that you don’t have to fill your water heater with antifreeze, only your pipes. This makes it faster to drain your system, including the water heater in the spring.

 

Step 7: Add Antifreeze To Lines

First, connect your transfer pump. For this, connect your converting water pump kit or tubing. Make sure you use a non-toxic antifreeze specifically designed for RV use. These are safe to put into your freshwater tank.

You’ll need about 1–3 gallons (2.8–7.6 liters) of antifreeze.

When you use antifreeze, you lower water’s freezing point. The exact freezing temperature depends on the antifreeze-to-water ratio in your pipes. But, unless you live in extremely cold climates where temperatures are -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 degrees Celsius) and lower, you don’t need to worry about this.

Even though antifreeze is unlikely to freeze in your pipes, keep in mind that antifreeze evaporates when mixed with water, even though it takes longer for it to do so.

 

Step 8: Turn on Faucets until Antifreeze Comes Through

Open the cold and hot valves slowly and wait for the antifreeze to appear. Turn them on one by one.

Repeat this process on all faucets, and replace the bottle of antifreeze as needed. 

Remember to also flush the toilet to allow the antifreeze to get through the water system.

 

Step 9: Close off All Faucets

Open one faucet to release pressure, and then close it again.

Also disconnect your transfer pump at this stage.

When you turn the water on again in the spring, make sure the faucets are closed.

 

Step 10: Clean the Inside of Your RV Thoroughly

Now that you’ve winterized your RV’s plumbing system, it’s time to get down and dirty.

When cleaning your camper, do the following:

  • Remove any food. Otherwise, you might attract pests or find moldy food in your RV in the spring.
  • Defrost the fridge and freezer to avoid water damage.
  • Wipe down surfaces, such as countertops, kitchen appliances, bathroom equipment, as well as the floors.
  • Clean any sheets and curtains to avoid attracting bugs.
  • Clean your air conditioner (AC) filters. Otherwise, dust might form here and decrease the AC’s effectiveness.

 

Step 11: Turn off the Propane and Store Tank

To turn off the propane tank in the RV’s outside compartment, turn the shutoff valve all the way to the right.

If you have portable propane tanks, remove them from your camper.

 

Step 12: Disconnect Appliances

Disconnecting any electronics in the RV includes TVs, kitchen appliances, water pump and other small electronics.

Leaving them plugged in can have several negative effects. For instance, if there’s a power outage or lightning in the area, it can increase the voltage going to the appliance and overload it, potentially causing a fire.

In general, you should also remove anything that can freeze or be damaged by cold temperatures.

 

Step 13: Place Moisture Absorbents Throughout

Placing dehumidifiers throughout your camper will prevent condensation, which otherwise can lead to corrosion, rust, musty smells, and even rot.

 

Step 14: Fix any Roof Leaks

Check that there aren’t any leaks or holes in your roof to prevent snow, dust and water from entering your camper, which can either freeze or cause water damage to the inside.

You can fix any potential leaks with a waterproof lap sealant for small areas or invest in a full-coverage sealant for a larger area.

 

Step 15: Cover All Vents and Holes

Make sure you cover all holes on the outside as well as the inside of your RV. You’ll also have to cover inlets, outlets and your exhaust guard. This is to stop air, moisture and pests from getting into your RV.

Consider silicone caulk sealants to properly close any holes around windows, air conditioners or vents.

 

Step 16: Clean the Awning 

Once you’re confident you’ve sealed the RV, methodically wash the outside.

There are special RV awning cleaners you can use, such as the Camco Awning Cleaner.

Once you’re done cleaning, wait for the awning to dry before rolling it back up.

You can wash and wax your RV at this stage. 

 

Step 17: Wash & Wax Your RV

Wash and wax your RV at this stage. This will prevent any ingrained dirt from forming.

When the RV’s dry, apply your wax. Meguiar’s Pure Wax Carnauba Blend is a good choice for this since the manufacturer designed it for RVs.

 

Step 18: Stabilize your RV and Take Weight off Tires

Find a secure spot to park your camper for the winter. Ideally, this is a level surface.

When doing this, stabilize the tires with leveling blocks or wheel clocks. This will prevent them from getting flat spots. An alternative is to remove the tires from the camper altogether.

Also, use a camper jack, such as the Camco Olympian Stack Jacks, to prevent your RV from moving.

 

Step 19: Turn off the Circuit Breakers

This will prevent damage to the electric system in your camper. If left on, there might be fire hazard risks if there’s a thunderstorm, for example.

 

Step 20: Disconnect Batteries

When disconnecting the batteries, ensure you store them at room temperature in a warm and dry place and consider covering them.

Batteries stored at freezing temperatures won’t work as efficiently. This is why we remove them from our camper during winter.

 

Step 21: Cover Up Your RV, Including Tires

Use an RV storage cover to cover the camper’s body. Also, put on some tire covers.

This will further prevent water damage to your vehicle.

Also, the paint might fade from ultraviolet (UV) rays, or the wind, bird droppings, and tree sap can damage the camper if you don’t cover it.

Method 2: Winterizing Your RV With Air Compressor

While winterizing your camper with an air compressor looks the same in large, there are a few different steps to follow when it comes to the plumbing system.

  1. First, follow steps 1–5 as stated above.
  2. After this, connect the blow-out adapter to the water inlet.

You can get a cheap blow-out adapter for under $10, such as this one from Vibrant Yard Company.

Step 6: Connect the Air Compressor to the Blow-Out Adapter

Now, you need to connect your air compressor to your blow-out adapter to use it. If you don’t have an air compressor, there are many high-quality ones, such as the Craftsman Pancake Air Compressor.

Also remove any inline filters.

Step 7: Turn the Air Compressor On

Set the pressure to between 30–40psi. The city water inlet allows for approximately 60psi, but you minimize the risk of damaging your water lines by keeping the pressure slightly lower.

After this, turn on the air compressor to remove any residual water in the lines.

Step 8: Let the Air Out of All Faucets

Ensure you let air out of the faucets, including the toilet’s low point drains, until no more water comes out. Only then will you know that most water is gone from the pipes.

Remember that you have to flush the toilet as well.

Step 9: Turn off the Air Compressor

Turn off the air compressor to stop using unnecessary electricity. After turning it off, disconnect it from the adapter. Then, turn off all faucets.

When turning the water on again in the spring, all the faucets should be closed.

Step 10: Pour Your RV Antifreeze

Be sure to pour it into each sink, shower drain and toilet bowl, allowing it to drain into the black tank.

You won’t need a lot of liquid, perhaps 1 cup (0.25 liters) for each sink and 2 cups (0.5 liters) for your toilet and shower drain, respectively.

This is to ensure that your pipes’ bends and curves don’t freeze since these parts might still store some water.

Step 11: Follow the Antifreeze Steps From Above

Now continue by following the antifreeze method above from step 11.

RV Winterizing Checklist

Now that you’ve read our step-by-step guide to winterize your RV, here’s a checklist to make sure you’ve completed all the steps before storing your camper away.

RV Winterizing FAQs

At What Temperature Should You Winterize Your RV?

Generally speaking, you'll want to winterize your trailer when temperatures stay at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or lower since this is when water starts freezing.

Note that temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius) during the day can reach below 32 degrees at night. In this case, you should also winterize your camper.

It's also smart to do this before the temperature reaches below freezing to completely avoid any freezing in your water system. Aim for late fall, and you should be good.

Do You Have To Use Antifreeze To Winterize an RV?

You can winterize an RV without antifreeze, but it's not something you should do.

Even though antifreeze contains chemicals, the antifreeze specifically designed for RVs is non-toxic and safe for humans. This is why you can pour it into the water lines and tanks in your camper. It can even be in your freshwater tank.

Even if you use the air compressor method, I still recommend using a few cups of antifreeze to protect the parts of your pipes that tend to store water, such as the bends and curves.

If you don't use antifreeze after using an air compressor to get the water out from your pipes, your pipes will most likely not burst, but the remaining water can still freeze and cause damage.

What Happens if You Don't Winterize Your RV?

If you don't winterize your camper, the water in your pipes will freeze, potentially causing them to burst. If they don't burst, they might be damaged in other ways, resulting in expensive plumbing costs to fix the water system.

How Long Can You Leave an RV Winterized?

Depending on the weather, how much antifreeze you use, and what RV you have, those 2 cups of antifreeze you poured into your toilet might last you anywhere in between 4 months to several years.

In general, you can keep your RV winterized for a year or two without any major problems. But your camper will definitely be fine throughout all the winter months.

What Should I Remove From RV for Winter?

One important thing you should remember is to remove the batteries in your RV. They might be damaged if you leave them in below-freezing temperatures. This also includes other batteries in your camper, such as those in remote controls, flashlights or other electric appliances.

Remove fabrics from your RV, too. If you want to keep them stored in the camper over the winter, wash and dry them thoroughly first.

Conclusion

RV winterizing

So, how did you find the tutorial?

We need to clean out our RV to prevent any pests from entering the vehicle while it’s stored away. We also turn off and disconnect all electronics and the water heater, so they don’t get damaged. Then we remove batteries and other cold-sensitive items.

If we—or you—don’t do this, we risk damaging our RV while we’re not using it.

To prevent any damage to the pipes, winterizing our plumbing system is also vital. We prefer using the antifreeze method since it cleans out all the water from the water system.

But, what do you think?

Let us know in the comments below, and share this article with someone who you think could benefit from knowing how to winterize their RV.

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