Keeping your RV looking its best is well worth the effort. There’s nothing worse than a dirty RV sat out in front of your home. Thankfully keeping an RV cleaning isn’t that much different from how you would clean your car. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t pull you Class A (or any other motorhome for that matter) up to a bog-standard automated car wash. Well, you could, but you are going to have a bunch of nervous employees running in your direction, screaming STOP! I’m going to show you exactly how to wash an RV with a pressure washer. It takes out loads of the effort required. You can do it frequently and do it from the comfort of your own home.
Challenges you will face when you pressure wash an RV
There are some challenges that you are going to face when you wash your RV. This isn’t exactly like washing your car. Think of it more like washing a small house—a small house with wheels. Plus, due to how your caravan or RV is put together, you need to take special care when using your pressure washer. It’s easy for someone to be a little too enthusiastic with a 3000 PSI pressure washer and the wrong nozzle tip. The end result isn’t going to be pretty, and neither is the repair bill.
I’m going to cover the following points.
- The size of your RV
- Pressure washers
- A fiberglass exterior vs. a metal exterior
- Paint and decals
- Rims and wheels
- Professional cleaning services
With so many makes and models and sizes of RV’s, it’s almost impossible to really detail how to clean each of them. Instead, I’ll focus on the popup camper version, while this will take a lot less time, effort, water, and soap than cleaning a Class A motor home. The principals will be the same.
You’ll also find that it’s rare for a campground to allow you to use the amount of water you would need to wash your full RV. Instead, you’ll most likely be allowed enough to scrub & rinse away any grime and bugs that have attached themselves to your windscreen and front bumper. To wash the entire RV is going to need to be done at home, or if you are lucky, you may find a friendly person who’s willing to let you use a significant amount of water.
When using a pressure washer, you want to ensure that you use the right PSI range and also the right nozzle tips (and I’ll go into what they are soon). You need to do this because RVs often have overlapping layers and gaskets that high-pressure water can sneak behind and cause damage.
Areas that have been sealed with products such as silicone and other malleable materials can actually be made loose by a high-pressure pressure washer. This can lead to serious damage to those sealed areas. A good brush attached to a light-duty pressure washer will do the job.
When you pressure wash your RV, you want to focus on light-duty pressure washers, anything up to 1500 pounds per square inch (PSI). However, I actually suggest going lower and aiming for something which produces up to 1200 PSI. I suggest taking a look at these entry level pressure washers.
Your RV’s body
An RV is usually made from one of three main exteriors. Metal, painted metal, or fiberglass. Each of these materials may require a special cleaning solution or brush. I highly suggest reading your owner’s manual for suggestions on how to clean and shine your RV, regardless of the body type.
Metal Bodies: These are the most common on older trailers and RV’s. That’s not to say you won’t find these in use today. Various brands still produce metal-bodied RV’s.
These are commonly aluminum and stainless steel. I suggest cleaning these with a pre-wash, which will loosen the majority of the grit and grime. You can then clean the RV thoroughly with a non-abrasive cleaner and a soft-bristled brush attached to your pressure washer.
Fiberglass bodies: A fiberglass body is what you’ll commonly find on modern RVs because fiberglass is light, and a light body means more fuel efficiency. While they are light, that doesn’t mean these things aren’t durable; you’ll often find them painted and decorated with various decals such as stripes or other decorations. When cleaning an RV made with fiberglass, stick to low pressure, pressure washer. I prefer to use a cleaner that not only washes but also applies a layer of wax at the same time. This will not only clean your RV but protects it for the future. I suggest something such as this wash and wax from Karcher.
Painted metal bodies: A painted metal-bodied RV can be treated almost exactly the same way you would with a standard pressure washer car wash. When you use a pressure washer, make sure to take care around any seals; these are clad and riveted, so you need to keep your distance and take care; otherwise, water can seep in between the seams.
Regardless of the body type, I highly suggest getting yourself an extension wand for your pressure washing. In my opinion, this is the only way to be successful when washing the roof when you are washing an RV. If you are looking for specific roof cleaning products, to be honest, I just use the same product I use for the body; regardless, if your RV is one of the ones with rubber roofs, rubber roof cleaning isn’t any different.
Remember to take care around the seals and caulking.
When it comes to awnings, these things are very simple to clean. They are also rather difficult to get dirty, well asides from dust and bird poop. A simple spray from your pressure washer should be enough to dislodge and remove the dirt. You want to avoid using elbow grease as scrubbing can remove the finish and even weaken the fabric.
Gaskets and weather seals
Every door, window, and slide on an RV has a gasket or some form of flexible weather seal. These are usually made from rubber and are there to protect your RV from the elements.
You really want to keep these clean as it helps to preserve them, meaning they’ll last longer and keep the inside of your RV dry. Plus, by preserving them, you save money by not having to replace them as often.
I suggest using a silicone-based cleaner as this will keep your gaskets from drying out. I personally spray these on after I’ve cleaned my RV—no need to wipe away.
RV’s come with a range of different wheel types, but three are the most common. Painted rims, aluminum wheel covers, and chrome rims. You can use any basic wheel and rim cleaning product, but I suggest looking for acid-free products.
If you happen to have aluminum wheel covers, you should check these once or twice a year for any signs of rust. Dealing with rust quickly means it won’t spread.
When it comes to chrome rims, well, these are easily scratched and tarnished. You want to avoid using anything with a stiff or hard bristle and very much avoid any abrasive cleaners.
When washing your RV, cleaning the roof may be the easiest job, well for those of you that have RV roofs that are walkable. The ones that aren’t such are some fiberglass RVs. It can become a very difficult job, though with a pressure washer extension wand this is made much easier. Before you step onto the roof of your RV, please check your owner’s manual. The last thing you want to do is step on the roof and immediately fall through!
You’ll find that most RV’s roofs come in two forms. Rubber and fiberglass. The rubber roofs are prevalent on RV’s from the ’80s and ’90s and are basically a thing of the past. With a rubber roof, you’ll often see black streaks on the roof and then down the sides of the camper. This is actually grime, which has mixed with rubber particles.
When you clean a rubber roof, you need to use the right style of cleaner. Never use a sealant as this can prevent your roof from flexing properly, and that can lead to further damage.
However, fiberglass roofs are easy to clean; just use the same stuff you used on the rest of the RV. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with the products I’ve used on the body being used on either roof, but then I don’t use sealants.
If you are on the road, it can be a pain to get your RV clean. Carrying all the gear on top of everything else may mean you need a travel trailer, and travel trailers don’t come cheap. But don’t fret. Many campsites actually recommend cleaning contractors.
These contractors will come to the camp side with their own water source and products and give your RV a professional clean. They typically charge on a linear foot basis. So a popup camper will cost less than a Class A.
Before you let the contractor loose, make sure to ask the following questions and make sure you get getting everything you want to be included in the quoted price.
- Are the brushes you are using soft-bristle brushes?
- What kind of detergents will you be using?
- Will you pressure wash my RV, is there any pressure washing involved?
- Does the price include the rims, awning, roof, and windows?
Worried that your pressure washer is too powerful and could harm your seals? Well let me tell you about a secret method… the foam cannon, or the black nozzle tip. These are incredibly low pressure, designed to spray foam soap onto a surface, not for high-pressure cleaning. If you are worried, then using your foam cannon will be your best bet and will give you a beautifully clean RV.
1. Can I use a pressure washer on my RV?
Hopefully, this article has covered that, but yes, yes, you can but use a low-pressure pressure washer, something around 1200 PSI.
2. What can I use to clean my fiberglass RV?
I suggest a cleaning product that contains wax. This will clean and protect your fiberglass.
3. Can I wash my RV with Dawn dish soap?
No, that’s never a good idea. The name itself suggests washing of dishes and the like, these types of products contain chemicals that will strip away grease and oils, and those chemicals can cause damage to your gaskets and seals.
Hopefully, you’ve learned the intricacies of pressure washing your rig. Look, don’t be afraid to pressure wash; if done right, it will save you time and extend the longevity of your home on the road. There are many products and cleaning solutions and also many ways to clean your rig.
For me, a low-pressure pressure wash does the job perfectly; it doesn’t matter if you are washing an RV with a rubber roof. I find that a good wash and wax product and is all I need to ensure that my RV and my travel trailer look top-notch at all times, and my paint shines.