Steps To Winterize Your RV For The Winter

Last Updated on August 13, 2021 by Christina

Winterizing your towable RV, such as a travel trailer or fifth-wheel, and/or winterize-rvmotorhome is a bittersweet affair. On one hand, you have to do it so your precious baby will survive the cold weather ahead. On the other hand, it means the end of the camping season.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing sweet about it. It’s all bitter.

Regardless, it’s one of those jobs that you have to do. So put the cider down, roll up your flannel sleeves and let’s get to work.

Probably the most important thing you do to winterize your camper is to make sure the water in the pipes don’t freeze. To do this, you remove as much water as possible from the pipes, and then add RV antifreeze so any remaining water doesn’t freeze.

I don’t know about you, but I do much better when I have a checklist to go by. So let’s start with a checklist.

Winterizing the Water System

  1. If you haven’t already – and I don’t know why you would have after the last camping trip – drain the black and gray water tanks. Clean the black water tank at this time with a “wand” attachment at the end of a hose.
  2. Drain the fresh water tank. This is crucial because it not only removes water that could potentially cause your pipes to freeze and burst, but also saves you from getting sprayed when you open the drains or unscrew the plug on your water heater.
  3. Drain all water from the system at the low point drains.
  4. Drain hot water heater and leave the drain plug open. This is a good time to clean the inside of the tank with a “wand” attachment at the end of a hose.
  5. Remove all the water from your water heater and drains by blowing compressed air into the city water inlet. NOTE: Some people opt to not do this step. It has been reported that blowing compressed air into some RV’s lines can cause them to come loose, split or burst. For what it’s worth, I don’t do this step and have never had any issues.
  6. If you have a water filter, remove it and install a filter bypass. This will prevent antifreeze from ruining the filter. If you plan on replacing the filter at the start on next season, you can skip this step and leave the filter in place.
  7. Add RV antifreeze – never use automotive antifreeze – to your RV. There are a few ways you can do this:

One: Find the water pump and disconnect the suction side of the pump. Install a hose with fitting onto the pump and insert the other end of the hose into a jug of RV antifreeze.

Two: Install a Tee bypass valve in the water line between the fresh water tank and the pump. Run a hose from this valve into your jug of RV antifreeze.  This accomplishes the same as the first method, but without having to mess with the water pump.

Three: Use a manually operated siphon pump to do the same task. Drop the pump into your jug of RV antifreeze and its hose into the city water inlet on your RV.

  1. Turn the bypass valve on the water heater to the bypass position. If your water heater does not have a bypass valve, I strongly recommend you install one. If you prefer not to, then do one of these two options: either fill the water heater with antifreeze (it will require about six gallons) or disconnect the lines from the rear and install an inline fitting to manually bypass.
  2. Move RV antifreeze through your whole system. Turn on the pump and run RV antifreeze through both the hot and cold side of all faucets in the sinks, through the shower faucet and hose, and through the toilet and outside shower. This requires about 1.5 gallons of antifreeze.
  3. Add RV antifreeze to the water heater. Turn the bypass valve back to the normal position or reconnect the lines on the back of the water heater and pump the remaining half gallon of antifreeze into the water heater.
  4. Add RV antifreeze into the city water inlet to protect the check valve.
  5. Add RV antifreeze to the black and gray tanks to winterize their check valves.
  6. For added measures, I leave all faucets in the open position. Probably overkill, but it helps me sleep at night.
  7. Clean all sinks, tubs and showers thoroughly because RV antifreeze can stain.

General Winterizing

  1. Thoroughly clean the camper, inside and out, top to bottom. During this process, check for any issues that need to be addressed, such as tears in the roof, failing seals around doors and windows, or anything else that needs your immediate attention.
  2. I leave DampRid on the counter to pull any moisture from the air.
  3. Some people use mothballs, dryer sheets and other measures to prevent critters from hibernating inside the RV. That’s up to you. Some people swear by them. I never have done this and have dodged a bullet – so far.
  4. Cover your tires to protect them from the sun.
  5. Remove the propane tank(s) and battery(s).
  6. Remove cargo and equipment. This might only apply to me because I store my camper off my property, but I don’t want someone breaking in and stealing my stuff.
  7. When parking your RV for the winter, be sure the RV is not too close to trees, where it could be damaged by tree sap, bird droppings or falling branches. Also, if possible, park on something other than the bare ground, which can prematurely age the tires. I park on large planks of treated lumber.
  8. Finally, leave your RV at enough of an angle so water can easily wash off the roof, rather than pool.

One final message: Don’t be a stranger. Visit your RV often enough to make sure everything’s okay. Plus, she’s your baby, and she gets lonely during the long winter. Say hello once in a while. Then call your mother. She misses you, too.

See you next week when we talk about Scary Ghost Stories to Tell Around the Campfire.

Rick Kessler

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Great Lakes region. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and the Gr8LakesCamper blog.