Fall might be the best time of year for camping, RVing, and road trips. But in many parts of the country, winter’s cold weather is soon to follow. Although there are hardy souls that keep camping and RVing even when the temps drop and the snow flies, many campers need to ready their RVs for “hibernation” in late fall. We’ll show you how to winterize a camper so that it stays in top shape during the cold months and will be ready to go again in the spring.
What is Winterizing?
Winterizing a camper simply means to prep it for being stored (and unused) over the winter. Depending on the type of camper you have and where it’s stored, the individual steps may be a bit different but the basic principles are the same. Deep cleaning and draining the plumbing system are the two main things you’ll want to take care of as you prep your camper for storage. (Because who wants to deal with frozen pipes, mold, and mice?)
Why Should I Winterize My Camper?
If you live in a place where it gets cold in the winter and you don’t plan to use your camper during that season, you’ll want to winterize. “Cold” in this case means that temperatures regularly drop—and stay—below freezing.
Not winterizing a camper can often lead to unexpected (and costly!) repairs in the spring. An unused camper can be a very appealing winter home for mice and other animals. And any water left in the pipes or appliances could freeze and burst.
How to Winterize a Camper
There are a number of steps in winterizing a camper. If you plan on completing each step, here are the supplies you’ll need:
- Protective gloves
- Black water tank cleaner
- Water heater bypass kit
- 2–3 gallons of nontoxic RV antifreeze
How To Winterize a Camper – Important Cleaning Steps
You likely clean your RV after every trip, but now’s the time to deep clean!
1. Remove excess items from the camper.
While there are certain things you may want to store in the camper, try to keep these items to a minimum. You’ll likely want to clean and prep these things in the spring anyway. And in the (hopefully rare) event that the camper leaks or has mold over the winter, you won’t have damaged gear too.
2. Remove all food from the camper.
Some people leave nonperishable items like canned goods in their campers over the winter, but we ask, why risk it? Any food item could potentially freeze or attract pests. It’s better to get them out of the camper and refresh your food supply in the spring.
3. Vacuum all surfaces.
Vacuum all floors, cupboards, storage areas, and upholstery. You don’t want to leave any crumbs that might attract pests.
4. Wash and disinfect all surfaces.
Use disinfectant spray or wipes to clean all hard surfaces including floors, countertops, sinks, tub, toilet, cabinets, and the inside of the refrigerator.
5. Close vents and windows.
This step doesn’t necessarily count as “cleaning” but it’s still important. Make sure that all vents and windows are tightly closed and latched.
How To Winterize a Camper – Drain and Prep the Plumbing System
This next section is the most important part of prepping your camper for winter storage. There are a few different methods for draining a camper’s plumbing system, but we’ll walk you through one of the easiest DIY methods that uses nontoxic antifreeze.
1. Read your RV’s owners manual.
The following steps can be used with most campers but it’s always a good idea to read the manual for your specific RV in case there are special considerations.
2. Remove in-line water filters.
If possible, remove any in-line water filters so they won’t be damaged by the antifreeze. Plus, the filters may need to be changed anyway.
3. Drain the black and gray water tanks.
Once you’re hooked up to a sewer dump, drain the black water tank, followed by the gray water tank.
4. Clean the black water tank.
Since it’s a breeding ground for bacteria, you’ll want to clean the black water tank after it’s been emptied. This video tutorial from RV Geeks will walk you through the process.
5. Drain the water heater.
Before draining the water heater, you must let it cool down first. Make sure the water heater has been turned off for several hours before attempting to drain it. (Otherwise, you may get burned by hot water.)
Once you’re sure the water has cooled, you need to de-pressurize the system: disconnect the heater from a water source, turn off the water pump, and turn on a hot water faucet. Next, open the pressure relief valve and remove the drain plug to let the water out.
6. Drain the other water lines.
Make sure the valve is open on the gray dump tank, then open all the hot and cold faucets in the camper as well as the hot and cold drain lines. Use the water pump to force any remaining water out of the system. Then close all valves and faucets. Close the gray tank valve and disconnect it from the sewer line.
7. Bypass the water heater.
You won’t want to fill your water heater with antifreeze so be sure to bypass it before proceeding to the next step. Many RVs have a bypass already installed. See your owner’s manual (and accompanying diagram) for instructions. If your RV doesn’t have a bypass, you can get one installed. (Otherwise you’ll be wasting antifreeze.)
8. Bypass the fresh water tank.
If your RV has a winterization valve on its fresh water tank, turn the valve to bypass the fresh water tank. If you don’t have a winterization valve, disconnect the line that goes from your fresh water tank to the water pump. Then connect tubing from the water pump to a gallon of nontoxic RV antifreeze. This way, the antifreeze won’t get into your freshwater tank.
9. Run antifreeze through the plumbing system.
If you completed step 8, you should now have a piece of tubing that’s connected to your water tank on one end and submerged in a gallon of nontoxic RV antifreeze on the other. Turn on the water pump to pull the antifreeze into the system. (The level of antifreeze in the gallon jug will drop.)
One at a time, turn on each of the camper’s faucets, let it run until antifreeze comes out, then turn it off. Repeat with all the other faucets, toilet, kitchen sprayer, and any showers or outside taps. Once you’ve run antifreeze through the whole system, shut off the water pump and make sure all the faucets are closed.
10. Pour antifreeze down the drains.
Pour about one cup of antifreeze down each of the camper’s drains.
After deep cleaning and draining the plumbing system, you’re done! In the spring you’ll need to “de-winterize” which includes flushing all the antifreeze out of your camper’s plumbing system but until then, you can rest easy and dream of next year’s camping adventures.