Winter Wanderland

27 Essential Steps to Winterize Your RV

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Winter Wanderland

winter wanderland

Unless you’re taking your RV someplace warm for the winter, it needs to be prepped for the cold, when unused pipes are as likely to burst as they are in an apartment and animals might be looking for a warmer place to hide out. Keeping plumbing and heating systems safe when it gets to be freezing isn't difficult, but it takes some effort. Here are just some of the important steps you'll need to take to make sure your RV is ready.

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read the manual

You'd think this would go without saying, but read your RV’s manual. Mark Polk at RVEducation101 says it can save time and effort. Some RVs have built-in winterizing controls, so give the manual a look before taking any other steps.

Remove Filters

remove filters

If you have inline water filters, Polk says you'll want to remove those. If you have a filter in your sink faucet, there is usually a bypass hose to install when the filter is removed.
Drain The Water Tanks

drain the water tanks

Handling the fresh water holding tank is as easy as finding it and draining it out; draining and flushing the gray and black water holding tanks is a little trickier and way more gross. You're going to have to go to an RV dump station (state and national parks often have them), but if the RV doesn’t have a built-in tank flushing system, you're going to want to pick up a tank-flushing wand (starting at less than $10 on Amazon) and use it at the dump station.

Drain The Water Heater Tank

drain the water heater tank

Before taking this step, make sure the tank isn't hot or pressurized. Disconnect all water from the RV and switch the 12-volt water pump to “off.” You can also open a hot water faucet to remove pressure on the system. Once the water heater tank is cool, remove the drain plug or anode rod and open the pressure relief valve at the top to help the tank drain faster.
Drain The Rest

drain the rest

Open all the hot and cold water faucets, the toilet valve, and even the outdoor shower (if you have one) to take remaining water out of the plumbing lines. Find the low point in water drain lines and remove the drain plugs for cold and hot water lines. The RV's 12-volt water pump will help force out most of the remaining water, but turn the pump off as soon as the system is drained to prevent damage. You can recap all drains and close all faucets or, if you're still nervous, you can …
Blow It Out
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blow it out

While Polk notes that products such as the Flush King ($47 on Amazon) can help here, Jeff Adams at suggests something a little stronger. By using an air compressor, a blow out plug ($5.50 on Amazon), and your water heater bypass, you can disconnect power and propane, connect the plug to the city water inlet on the outside of the RV, connect the compressor to the plug and run the compressor until all water is blown out.

Install A Water Pump Converter Kit
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install a water pump converter kit

A converter kit, or winterizer kit ($12 from Camping World), isn't essential, but it is helpful. The next step is one of the trickiest, and the converter kit keeps you from wasting time and resources.

Introduce Antifreeze
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introduce antifreeze

Yes, you put antifreeze in the water system. It isn't the same toxic kind used in vehicles. This non-toxic RV and marine antifreeze (well-reviewed products start below $10 at Walmart) can be added to the system with a converter, with a hand pump ($18 from Walmart), or by disconnecting the inlet side of the water pump from the holding taking and running a hose right into a jug of antifreeze.

Drain The Water Heater Tank

repressurize the system

Turn on your RV's water pump and start pumping antifreeze through the system. Starting with the closest faucet, open your sink, shower, and outdoor shower faucets slowly until the pink antifreeze appears. After all faucets are accounted for, flush the toilet until antifreeze appears.
Introduce Antifreeze
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finish antifreeze

Turn off the water pump and open a faucet to release pressure. Go to the city water inlet, remove the small screen over it, and push the valve with a small screwdriver until you see antifreeze. Put the screen back, go back into the RV and pour a cup of antifreeze down each drain. Pour a few cups into the toilet and flush it down the holding tank.
Shut Down The Heater

shut down the heater

If your water heater has an electric heating element, make sure it's turned off if you aren't using the RV. That will protect the element from overheating if the RV is plugged in while being stored.
Close All Faucets

close all faucets

Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but close the faucets. Leaving one open is a great way to introduce moisture and cold into the system and undermine all the work you've just done. If you've removed plugs to drain water, put those back as well.
Check Appliances

check appliances

If your RV has frills such as a laundry machine or ice maker, consult their manuals to see how to winterize them. Some laundry machines and ice makers will survive fine after being drained and blown out, but you'll want to avoid using RV antifreeze in them if it's a washer-dryer combo.

Tend To Tires

tend to tires

Tires can get flat spots if just allowed to sit on one spot for months, Adams notes. If your RV has stabilizing jacks (and not just leveling jacks), you can raise it off the ground for extended periods, but will have to put wood blocks underneath to keep from freezing to the ground. You'll also want to coat jacks' pivot points with graphite spray to prevent rust. If stabilizing jacks aren't an option, try to at least move the RV half a tire rotation every couple of months. Always park on a paved surface and use emergency brakes and/or wheel chocks.
Prep The Engine

prep the engine

If you own a motor home, top off the fuel tanks to prevent condensation and add a fuel stabilizer while letting the engine idle a few minutes. Check the level of automotive antifreeze in the radiator and do the same for the oil, brake fluid, and windshield washer solution. Make sure the last one is formulated with antifreeze.
Check Batteries

check batteries

This all depends on the type of battery. Fluid levels in maintenance-style batteries should be topped off (wear eye protection and rubber gloves), while all batteries should be charged fully. If you're in a place with freezing temperatures, remove batteries of any type and store them in a dry, warm location. Otherwise, disconnect the cables (negative side first) to keep charge and keep them safe.
Power Down

power down

Protect the electric system by flipping off the RV’s main circuit breaker. Disconnect your RV from power and take batteries out of clocks, radios, detectors, and alarms.
Block The Tailpipe

block the tailpipe

Keep out pests by blocking the exhaust pipe with steel wool or aluminum foil. But leave yourself a reminder that you've done it, which will avoid issues in the spring.
Prepare The Propane

prepare the propane

This is a good time to top off all propane tanks. External tanks should be removed and kept out of sub-freezing elements, but never store them in an RV. Cover the tank connection fittings on the RV with plastic bags and rubber bands to keep out critters.
Clean It Up

clean it up

Rodents and other pests love when you leave oven grease, old food, and even cardboard in your RV. Clean the oven, stovetop, refrigerator, and cabinets, vacuum the interior, put new baking soda in the fridge and thaw and dry the freezer completely. Also, if you keep a TV, video game system, or tools in the RV, now is a good time to stash them elsewhere.
Strip The Linens

strip the linens

Any clothing, bedding, towels, and other linens you don't plan to use soon should be taken inside, washed, and stored. If you have winter-weight linens and plan to get out during the season, now is a fine time to use them.
Complete Pest Control
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complete pest control

If you've put off fixing screens or plugging gaps in your trailer, don't put it off any longer. You can cover vents with cardboard or aluminum foil, but smaller holes can be addressed with screening.
Check The Roof

check the roof

You aren't going to want to get up there and fix leaks in the winter. Close your roof vents, check your plumbing vents, cover your air conditioner (if you have one), and give the roof a once-over for leaks.
Seal It Up

seal it up

Caulk is indispensable this time of year. Check the seals around your doors and windows and use caulk or epoxy to fill gaps. Disconnect, clean out, and store your sewer hose and put bumper caps back into place.
Address The Awning
Mitigate Moisture
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mitigate moisture

If you want to run a dehumidifier in your RV, that's up to you. Most RVs are fine if you open a container of moisture absorbent ($6 on sale at Camping World) dehumidifiers and put it on a flat surface inside. You'll be happy you did when you aren't attending to mildew, mold, and rust in the spring.

Give It A Home
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give it a home

You can use an RV cover (between$64 and 425 on sale at Camping World, depending on size) but they tend to trap moisture and take a toll on vehicles’ exteriors. Canopies and shelters (starting at $463 at eCanopy) are better, but can be troublesome with neighborhood associations or just picky neighbors. RV storage is the best option but, unsurprisingly, tends to be the most expensive as well.