How to Winterize a Travel Trailer RV

For avid campers, not even the winter can hold them back from camping adventures. This is the time to explore snow-capped mountains and enjoy the thrill of less-crowded campgrounds. Winter camping can be a great experience. However, you need to be well-prepared when heading out camping in the winter because the cold may catch you by surprise.

Those of use who do not camp in the winter (and who live in regions that experience below-freezing temperatures during the winter months) will need to winterize our campers before the temps plummet. Winterizing your travel trailer for the cold winter months is not too difficult and can be completed in just a couple of hours.

RV interior

Here are some quick tips on how to winterize your RV.

Drain your black and gray water tanks

Make sure that you have no water inside any pipes in the RV. Water will freeze and expand and this could result in burst pipes. (Which will not only cost you a small fortune to repair, but also runs a real risk of damaging the interior of your camper.) Start by disconnecting all outside water sources to the rig and then bypass the water heater. (You can pick up a water by-pass kitOpens in a new tab. for that.)  Connect an air valve adapterOpens in a new tab. to the city water supply port. Open all the faucets in the camper and use compressed air to blow all the water out of the lines. You may have to open and close lines multiple times to ensure all of the water is out. DO NOT use too much pressure or pressurize the water system with the compressed air. Damage to the piping can result. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for winterizing your water heater at this time. (Install a new anodeOpens in a new tab., if it has one, in the Spring to extend the life of your water heater.)

Drain your plumbing system

These tanks can end up being breeding grounds for bacteria if not cleaned.  Perform a thorough tank cleaning at the end of every camping season. After you clean the tanks, make sure you drain all water from them. Do not dump them on the ground as they are full of waste water and need to be responsibly emptied (plus it will smell really bad). You can use a toter tankOpens in a new tab. to empty them into, then take the tank to a dump station, instead of taking the whole camper. Dump stations can be found at most campgrounds and some highway rest stops. Usually there is a small fee to dump, around $5-$10.

Unplug appliances

If you have appliances such as washing machines that use water in your rig, you should consult the manufacturer’s manual before unplugging them for the winter in case there are any particular recommendations for cold weather storage. Similar to the pipes mentioned above, if water gets clogged in the lines inside these machines, it could freeze, expand, and cause damages that would be expensive to repair.

Fill the system with antifreeze

In lieu of removing all the water from the plumbing lines, you can fill the system with antifreeze. You must use specific antifreezeOpens in a new tab. made for winterizing water systems. (DO NOT USE AUTOMOTIVE ANTIFREEZE, IT IS POISIONOUS!) Antifreeze can easily be added to the water system by using a hose attachmentOpens in a new tab. at the electric water pump. The hose will dip into the bottle of antifreeze. Turn on the pump and open each faucet until the water turns the color of the antifreeze, usually pink. Though you will be flowing antifreeze into the drain lines, you will want to add antifreeze directly to shower drains (indoor and outdoor showers) and sinks to fill the drain trap. Don’t forget the toilet! Flush your camper toilet until you see antifreeze coming through the water line. Then add antifreeze down the toilet drain. Adding antifreeze to your camper water lines and drains will ensure that all water gets drained effectively from the rig. It also keeps the pipes from expanding when the temperature drops below freezing.

Close all faucets

Keep every faucet closed after you have applied the anti-freeze and relieve and pressure the pump put on the system. This will effectively keep the water and ice out of the pipes. Service all locks and hinges as well. You can apply grease or motor oil on these locks to keep them working well and protected from rust and other elements.

Cover your RV wheels

Your RV wheels will benefit from protection against the elements. You should protect the wheels from the sun in summer as well as from the cold in the winter. Use a tarp that is waterproof and one that can reflect the sun’s rays. In the winter, this tarp will keep the temperature on the wheels warmer, preventing them from freezing out. You can skip the tarp and grab wheel coversOpens in a new tab. if you’d rather.

Protect the exterior of the RV

The exterior of the RV can be protected by applying a wax coat to keep water out of the RV. Be sure to check for cracks where water can seep in and cause destructive rust to the RV. These cracks should be sealed before you apply the wax coating. It’s an extra expense, but many RV owners opt to further protect their campers by covering them with RV winter coversOpens in a new tab..

Disconnect power and batteries

Disconnect your batteries and save them in a dry place. You can cover the ends of the electrical cables with electrical tape to avoid exposing them to the elements during the harsh winter months. If your RV has a lot of these cables, label them first so that when it comes to re-connection, you will have an easier time knowing what goes where.

Rodent protection

When the weather turns cold, critters like mice love to seek a warm place to live, like your camper. We have placed bars of Irish Spring soap around the camper (in cabinets and drawers, etc) and that has worked well as a cheap deterrent. You can also try fabric softener sheets!

Protect from dampness

In order to keep your camper smelling showroom new always make sure all windows, doors and other outdoor access areas are closed. Open the refrigerator and wipe out any moisture. I like to leave the refrigerator open all winter. Place moisture absorbing containersOpens in a new tab. all around the camper. I put one in the refrigerator and in each room. Check them often over the winter and replace when the beads have all dissolved.

We hope this guide is helpful to you as you winterize your own rig! Are there any other tips or tricks that you include in your winterizing routine that you’d care to share? Leave us a comment and let us know!


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