For weekend and part-time RVers, fall is an awesome time to take your RV out and enjoy those cool, crisp nights and brilliant fall colors.
However, winter is around the corner, and RV winterization will soon be a top priority.
Properly winterizing your RV is the key to placing it in its winter slumber so it will be ready, willing and able to hit the road once those first signs of spring arrive in a few short months.
Compressed Air and The Pink Stuff
While your RV is in storage, it will be susceptible to extreme freezing temperatures during the winter months. And the winter of 2021 proved to us that almost no one here in the US can escape.
Unless you plan on heating your rig continuously, your water lines could freeze and possibly split open. This could mean an indoor flood come springtime, or sooner.
To protect your water lines, there are two methods for winterizing: blowing them out with compressed air or filling them with RV antifreeze.
Note: Both methods require some RV antifreeze. The blowout method just requires far less antifreeze since it will only be used in drains and holding tanks, and not to fill all of your water lines.
The Blow Out Method
This method is usually reserved for those who are located in slightly warmer climates or climates that only see a few nights of temperatures below 32 degrees each winter.
The following are general steps to get you through this process. You will need an RV blowout adapter to perform this task, along with a standard oilless air compressor and one or two gallons of RV antifreeze.
1.Open your low point drains located under the RV. Once they quit draining, close the low point drain valve or retighten the cap on both the hot and cold lines.
2. Open the kitchen sink, bathroom faucet, toilet flush, shower faucet, and any outside showers or water spray ports.
Be sure to cycle both the hot and cold sides on all the faucets to get any residual water out, then close every one that you opened.
3. If you have any water in the fresh water tank, open the low point drain for the tank and empty any remaining water.
4. Connect the RV blow out fitting to your city water inlet and charge your air compressor, being sure that you adjust the outlet pressure on the compressor to between 40-60 pounds of pressure (PSI).
Connect the compressor air hose to the blowout fitting and the air compressor. This will pressurize your water lines and your hot water tank to the compressor’s outlet pressure.
5. Slowly open the kitchen sink cold water valve and let the pressurized line empty into the sink. Be sure to wait until the sink quits spitting and sputtering before you close the valve (the faucet will blow only air).
Once this is done you can repeat for both hot and cold sides of every plumbing fixture inside the RV and the toilet flush (don’t forget those outside showers!).
6. Turn off your air compressor and disconnect it from the RV.
7. Empty your holding tanks and dispose of the waste properly.
8. Pour RV antifreeze in every sink (about ¼ gallon total per drain) to protect the P-traps, and pour antifreeze into the toilet (be sure you open the toilet and pour about ¼-1/2 gallon into the black holding tank also).
This will keep the toilet and any water left in your holding tanks from freezing. It will also protect the seals and keep them conditioned while the RV is in storage.
If you live in warmer climates that don’t see a ton of subfreezing weather and you plan on camping over the winter, this is the method for you.
The Antifreeze Method
For those that live further north or who live in mountainous areas that see snow and sub-freezing temperatures throughout the winter months, RV antifreeze is the method to use.
RV antifreeze is made of ethanol, propylene glycol, or a mixture of both. It raises the freezing temperature to prevent your plumbing lines from freezing. The following are general steps on how to winterize your RV with antifreeze.
Depending on how big your RV is, it may take up to 6 gallons of antifreeze to fill all the plumbing lines, fixtures, and holding tanks for protection.
Follow these steps for the “full” RV antifreeze method:
1.If you have an inline water filter, you’ll need to bypass this by either removing the filter element or removing the filter housing and replacing it with a bypass piece of plumbing.
2. With this method, RV antifreeze does NOT belong in the water heater. You will need to turn the water heater bypass valve located near the back of the water heater.
This will bypass the water heater and prevent any antifreeze from entering the water heater.
3. Remove the water heater drain plug (or anode rod if you have a Suburban brand water heater) and drain the water from inside the water heater.
Using a cleaning wand, clean out the mineral build-up at the bottom of the tank and replace the plug or anode rod, leaving the water heater empty for the winter season.
4. Drain any existing water from the freshwater tank using the low point drains located under the RV.
5. Open both the hot and cold water low point drain valves (or remove caps) under the RV and then close when it is empty (or replace the cap if removed).
6. Be sure to flush the toilet and open both hot and cold water faucets in the kitchen, bathroom, and shower (don’t forget the outside shower!) to remove any residual water from the system.
7. Be sure your holding tanks are empty. If they are not, be sure to empty them properly to remove as much residual water as possible.
8. Find the antifreeze inlet, or the water pump converter kit (you may need to install one if your RV did not come with a kit or port on the exterior of the RV).
Stick the inlet tube down into the jug of RV antifreeze. Turn the water pump on and begin opening each valve on each plumbing fixture inside the RV, allowing the pump to pull RV antifreeze into the system. Leave each valve open until pink antifreeze exits the faucet for at least 3-5 seconds.
Repeat for each plumbing fixture, both hot and cold including the toilet and any outside showers or spray ports. Replace the jug of antifreeze with a fresh one should it go empty during the process.
9. Take ¼-½ gallon of antifreeze and pour it down each drain inside the RV, including the toilet.
This will allow antifreeze to fill the P-traps in each sink and into both the grey and black holding tanks. (be sure to open the toilet valve to allow some of the antifreeze to enter the black holding tank).
The antifreeze method is the most reliable method and is highly recommended if you live in a colder, subfreezing climate during the winter months.
Part of the winterization process also includes caring for the interior of the RV. Be sure to remove any food products from inside the RV, along with any other items that you may not want to attract any furry four-legged friends or insects.
Also, remove any items like bathroom or beauty products that you do not want to freeze. We also take this opportunity to wash all of our bedding and wipe down all cabinets and clean the bathroom and shower stall.
A clean RV will be much easier to de-winterize and prepare for another camping trip next season, especially on short notice. You will be glad you put in a little effort up front, trust me!
The exterior should also not be ignored during winterization. It’s your RV’s first defense against the outside elements. I like to wash our RV – roof and sides, front cap, and rear wall. This will remove any existing dirt, revealing any possible issues or seal breaches.
Repair any seals that are cracked or showing signs of degrading and apply a good coat of wax to the front cap, sidewalls, and rear wall. Condition all slide seals, and apply lubricant to all moving slide and jack parts.
Trust me, there is nothing worse than starting off the camping season with an uncooperative (or leaking) slide!
Now that your RV is fully ready for the “ravages of winter”, storing it will be the final step.
Covered storage is best at protecting your RV from the winter elements. If you do not have the option or resources to build or pay for covered storage, a fabric cover can be almost as good and give similar protection.
We have a cover specifically made for a fifth wheel that we cover ours with. It provides protection from the elements but allows us to keep the RV at home in case we want to take a quick trip or a long winter vacation to some warmer climates.
No matter your RV type or your location, winterization is a process that we all have to go through. Taking the time to accomplish the task properly will absolutely pay off for you in the end, I guarantee it.
Happy winterizing, and we hope to see you on the road!
Nick and Kelsey Hensley are part-time RVers and full time adventure seekers. Nick is a Rocket Scientist by day and a Certified RV Technician by night. Kelsey works as a freelancer, photographer and digital ninja. With their two kids, the Hensleys road trip across the country every summer on their quest to see all 62 National Parks. On the weekends you can find this nerdy crew at a campground, historic site, or checking out the newest restaurant in town.