How to Winterize an RV

How to Winterize an RV – Save Yourself a Ton of Trouble

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Last Updated on November 14, 2021 by Jessica Lauren Vine

If you’re trying to learn how to winterize an RV, you’ve probably learned RVing is one of the most enjoyable and relaxing pastimes that millions of Americans have come to enjoy. All good things must come to an end, however, and if you live in the north, that time has come. Unfortunately, you can’t just park your RV for the winter and expect everything to start up like normal when spring comes around. Before you can shut things down for the season, you’ll have to winterize it to ensure that nothing goes wrong during the winter or the camping season to come.

There are several different ways to winterize a camper. One of the ways that we’ve covered in a previous article is with compressed air, but that’s not the only way. In this article, we’ll look at how to winterize an RV using the compressed air method and a few others. Not everyone has access to the same tools and appliances so it’s important to have options when it comes to winterization.

How to Winterize Your RV with Compressed Air

First off, let’s review how to winterize your RV using compressed air. For the sake of time, I’ll touch on the main points and give you the link for the full article about how to use compressed air for winterization. Let’s dive right in!

  1. Drain your tanks and water lines.
  2. Close the drains and faucets you just opened once they’re completely drained.
  3. Set and adjust the PSI to fit your air compressor.
  4. Blow air out of your water heater lines.
  5. Pick one faucet and open up the warm side and blow air through.
  6. Do the same with the cold side and repeat with all the faucets.
  7. Follow proper instructions for each of your appliances.
  8. Dump RV antifreeze down your sinks, toilets, and showers.

The compressed air method is a great one for winterizing your RV, but not everyone has access to air compressors, blowout plugs, or water pressure regulators, all of which you’ll need. If you’re missing one or more of these items but still need to winterize your RV, here are a few other options.

How to Winterize Your Rv Without an Air Compressor Method 1.

Before starting the winterizing process, the first thing you should always do is check your owner’s manual and make sure that there aren’t specific instructions for your particular unit. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start the winterizing process.

Drain the Black and Gray Water Tanks

You’ve done this dozens of times if you’ve ever spent an extended period of time camping. You can drain your tanks at a campground or at a dumping station, but either way is the same. Hook up your sewer hose from the RV to the sewage pipe and open your black and gray water tank valves one at a time. Make sure that every last bit of both tanks is drained and empty because anything that’s left behind will freeze and could cause problems when you go camping in the spring.

Water and waste left behind is also a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and other nasties that can cause diseases if inhaled. Once they’re drained and emptied, perform a black tank cleanse by hooking up a hose from a faucet to the black tank hookup on the side of your RV. Run water through the system until the water comes out clear through your sewage hose and turn the water off. Once again, give your system time to completely drain so that nothing gets left behind. We’ll discuss how to drain your freshwater tank later in the article.

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Drain Your Water Heater

Next up in the draining process is the water heater. Your hot water heater should have a plug on the outside of it that you can pull and let any water inside drain out. Before doing this, make sure that the water heater is turned off and there’s no power running to it. If you drain your hot water heater tank without turning it off, you’ll likely ruin your water heater’s heating element. Without this element, your water heater won’t work when you go to start it up again. Here’s how to properly drain your water heater without causing problems.

  1. Turn the water heater off and give it a few minutes to cool down, thus removing any excess pressure.
  2. Use a socket wrench to remove the outside plug, then move inside to the pressure relief valve.
  3. Open the pressure relief valve for thorough draining.
  4. Make sure that the water is cool before draining it because hot water has built-up pressure that could cause issues.
  5. Once the water heater is drained, hook a water hose up to the city water connection and run water through the system for a few minutes to remove any sediment in the water heater.

Bypass the Water Heater to Continue

Once the water heater is drained and cleaned, you’ll need to bypass it before continuing. The rest of the winterizing process includes dumping antifreeze into your system and you don’t want any getting into your water heater. You can access the bypass valve inside your RV where the water heater is, but you’ll probably have to remove a service panel of some sort. Remove the panel and adjust the water line valves as needed to successfully bypass the heater. If you’re lucky, your camper is equipped with a water heater bypass kit which makes this process extremely easy.

Don’t Neglect the Freshwater Tank

Not everyone uses their freshwater tank system, but if you do then make sure to drain it before continuing. Follow the same procedure that you did with the black and grey tanks. Once your freshwater holding tank is drained completely, it’s time to move onto the water pump and antifreeze steps.

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Utilize the Water Pump for the Antifreeze Process

For the process of actually pumping antifreeze into your water system, you’ll need, surprise surprise, your water pump. You’ll also need a siphoning hose or a winterization kit of some sort to complete the process. There are several different ways to get antifreeze into your water lines and I’ll explain each one.

Selector Valves

Unless you own a high-end or luxury RV, it’s likely that your camper doesn’t have a selector valve preinstalled on it. You can optionally install one yourself, but it requires some plumbing work that most people aren’t comfortable with. If you have the option of using one of these valves then turn the selector knob to the winterize option. Next, connect a hose to your city water port and place the other end into a jug of antifreeze. Let antifreeze get sucked into your system until the lines are full of the pink liquid.

Winterizing Kits

Another great option for winterizing is to use a winterizing kit, which sometimes comes preinstalled on your camper. Even if it doesn’t, however, it only takes about 20 minutes to install one after the fact. If you plan on having to winterize your RV fairly often, it might be worth the time to install a winterizing kit.

To use one of these kits, make sure it’s installed on the water line connecting your freshwater tank to your water pump. This line will likely be located near the water heater behind the access panel that conceals it. Winterizing kits consist of a valve and a hose. To use this, simply attach the hose to the open port on the kit and then flip the valve to the winterize position. This will your RV’s water pump to suck the antifreeze through the system and fill your water lines.

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Winterizing Hand Pumps

Using the hand pump method is a little tougher than the other two options, but it gets the job done nonetheless. For this method, you’ll effectively act as the water pump for your RV. Connect the hand pump hose to the city water connection on your travel trailer. Next, take a second hose and connect it from the handpump to a jug of antifreeze and start pumping. Rather than utilizing the water pump on your travel trailer, you’re manually pumping antifreeze into your water lines. Like I said before, this way is harder and takes a little longer, but it works just the same.

Open the External Hot and Cold Faucets and Drain the Lines

After you’ve pumped antifreeze into your water lines, start opening each of your faucets until pink liquid dumps out. Start with the outside faucets and shower if you have any on your rig. Open both the hot and cold sides of your faucet and shut them once pink starts flowing.

Do the Same with the Internal Faucets and Water Lines

Following the same procedure as with the outside faucets, do the same on the inside of your camper. This includes the kitchen sink, the bathroom showers, and the bathroom sinks as well. Open the hot and then the cold sides and run until pink antifreeze comes out.

Pour Antifreeze into Your P-Traps and Drains

Now that your water lines are taken care of, it’s time to make sure your drains are as well. The best way to get antifreeze into your drain lines is by pouring some straight down into them. You’re not filling the black and grey tanks or anything but make sure there’s a decent amount sitting in each of your drain lines. This includes the sinks, the toilets, the showers, and the bathroom lavs. Each of your drain lines should have a p-trap in them so by pouring directly down the drainage point of each sink and shower, you’ll fill the p-traps as well.

Following these steps to a T will keep freezing temperatures from damaging your rig.

Don’t Forget About Your Batteries

Well, that step concludes the process of winterizing your RV’s plumbing system, but to properly winterize an RV, there’s more to it. Most travel trailers have one or more batteries connected to them that control their hitches, stabilizers, and lights inside the RV. To properly winterize your batteries, make sure they’re fully charged before disconnecting them. A fully charged battery has a better chance of surviving the winter than a partially charged one or one that’s completely dead.

Disconnect the fully charged battery and store it in a cool, dry place so that moisture doesn’t cause the terminals to rust and deteriorate. If you have a motorized RV, you’ll also need to winterize the engine and anything containing fluids before storing it for the winter. Add fuel stabilizer on your engine and pour vehicle or RV antifreeze into your windshield, transmission, brake, and engine oil ports.

The Propane Tanks Are Next

Taking care of your propane tanks isn’t difficult, but it is important. Make sure that your tanks are full of propane and cover them with blankets to protect them from the freezing temperatures of winter. Make sure that your tanks are stored in a cool, dry place and away from anything combustible to avoid a fire hazard.

Clean Up the Inside and Outside of Your RV

Once every part of your RV is winterized, it’s time to make final preparations in getting your camper ready for winter. Nobody wants to jump into their rig when spring and summer come around only to find dirt, grime, and nastiness awaiting them. Taking some extra time to clean and wash your RV before storing it will make you feel a whole lot better when you resume camping.

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A few things to make sure you clean when conducting your winterizing deep-clean are:

  • The refrigerator
  • The stove
  • The microwave
  • Your bathrooms
  • Your kitchen
  • Any other areas where food and moisture might gather

With all of these areas cleaned up and the outside washed off, it would also be wise to take some time to examine your seals. Check every window, door, and caulk joint to make sure that it’s still waterproof and doesn’t need to be fixed.

Winterize the Rv Using a Combination of Compressed Air and Method 1

Another option when it comes to winterizing your RV is to use a combination of the method I just described and incorporate compressed air. To do this simply follows steps 1 through 4 of draining all your water tanks and RV’s water lines. Before putting non-toxic RV antifreeze into your RV water system, however, use an air compressor to blow out all the drains and water lines. This simple combination is the best and most thorough way to winterize your RV and prepare it for winter.

How Long Does It Take to Winterize Your RV?

The process of RV winterizing sounds like a lot, but it really doesn’t take all that long to do. From start to finish, you can have the job done in anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on how thorough you want to be. It’s always best to be as thorough as possible, but the main thing is to make sure nothing freezes or gets ruined when you want to start camping as the weather changes.

Do I Need Help to Winterize My RV?

If you follow the steps in this article and the related one about RV winterizing using compressed air, you should be able to complete the job yourself. If you have worries or problems, however, never be too proud to ask for help. Stubbornness and thinking that you know more than what you do is a good way to hurt yourself or damage your RV.

Other Considerations Before Storing for the Winter

Draining your system and pumping antifreeze into your water system is the most important part of winterizing, but there’s more to be done. We’ve already discussed taking care of your batteries, RV engine components, and propane tanks. There’s a good chance, however, that your RV appliances will require special care and actions to properly winterize them. The best way to do this is to look at the user’s manual of each appliance and read the section about winterizing. Here are a few of the main ones to take care of.

  • Air conditioners
  • Washing machines
  • Water pump
  • Refrigerator
  • Ice maker
  • Anything else you can think of that has water running to it or that condenses water.

What Happens If You Don’t Winterize the RV?

The importance of winterizing your RV can’t be overstated. It’s a crucial part of making sure that frozen pipes and damaged appliances don’t ruin your camping experiences. If you don’t plan to do any winter camping, then completely and thoroughly winterizing your RV is essential. It will prevent freezing over of your plumbing system as well as water damage from leaks in your seals.

Final Thoughts

No matter what method you opt to use to prepare your camper for winter storage, it’s important that you pick one and follow the instructions. This is especially important for those who live in an RV and travel frequently during the spring, summer, and fall. Your RV is your home and you should take care of it the same way you would care for your house.

Whether you live in your RV or only take it out once a year, the importance of winterizing can’t be overstated. Most RV parts stores or your RV dealer will have everything you need to get the job done and articles like this one will walk you through the process. Don’t let laziness or not knowing how to care for your camper ruin RVing for you. With a little research and manual labor, you’ll be able to enjoy your RV for many years to come!

Don’t forget to read our articles on how to check camper wheel bearings and about when it is the best time to sell an RV.

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