Completing all the steps required to winterize an RV is a big job, but it’s necessary to prevent damage from occurring while your rig is in storage over the winter. And, when you break it down into small steps, the whole process starts to feel more manageable.
In this article, we’ll cover the steps to take in order to protect your RV’s plumbing, keep humidity and pests out of your rig, protect your battery system, and generally keep your RV in good shape during the winter.
How do you winterize a RV (step-by-step)?
Step 1: Drain and Flush Black and Gray Water Tanks
First, you need to empty out the black and gray water tanks at a dump station. Leave the hose connected a bit longer than usual to make sure everything drains out, then flush both tanks. If your tanks don’t have a built-in flushing system, use an external flushing system and a cleaning wand to be sure everything is cleaned out properly.
Step 2: Drain and Flush the Water Heater
Make sure your water heater is turned off and give any hot water in the reservoir a chance to cool down. Then, drain all of the water out of your water heater by removing the drain plug. Flush the heater and replace the plug once all the water has drained out.
Step 3: Open All Faucets and Remove Drain Plugs to Drain Fresh Tank
Then, get all of the water out of your fresh water tank and plumbing system by opening all drain plugs and opening all hot and cold lines. Leave these open for at least 15 minutes to be sure all the water has drained out. You can use your water pump to help with this process, but be sure to turn it off once the water pressure gets low, as running your pump dry can damage it.
If you have water filters in your plumbing system, be sure to remove them before you introduce antifreeze to the lines. This is also a good time to check your water filters and purchase new ones if necessary so you’ll be ready to hit the road in the spring once you’ve de-winterized.
Step 4: Close All Faucets and Replace Drain Plugs
Once all the water has drained, remember to close all of your faucets and replace the drain plugs – this is a very important step so you don’t end up with antifreeze all over your RV!
Step 5: Bypass the Water Heater
Next, activate the water heater bypass system. Most RVs have a system already installed but if not, you can purchase and install one yourself or have a professional put one in for you. This will prevent antifreeze from filling your water heater, which wouldn’t damage it but it would mean that you need to use several extra gallons of antifreeze.
Step 6: Put RV Antifreeze in the Plumbing System
To complete the winterization of your plumbing, connect your system to antifreeze. You can do this by installing your water pump converter kit which will pump antifreeze, or you can disconnect a water intake line and stick it straight into a jug of antifreeze. Then, turn on whichever faucet is closest to your pump, letting it trickle until you see the colored antifreeze.
Turn on both hot and cold faucets to ensure that the antifreeze gets into both lines. Then repeat this process on all other plumbing fixtures – shower heads, toilet, other sinks, outdoor shower, etc.
You will likely need several jugs of antifreeze to complete this process, so keep an eye on the level in the jug as you go. Finish by pouring a cup of antifreeze down every drain and into the toilet so it gets into the plumbing lines that lead to the gray and black tanks and into the tanks themselves. Make sure all of your faucets are closed when you’re done.
Step 7: Unplug Any Power-Draining Devices/Turn Off Battery Bank
Once your plumbing is taken care of, make sure that your battery system is ready for storage by disconnecting any power-draining devices or, if you have the option, switch your battery bank switch to ‘store’ mode. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to winterize your battery bank and electrical system.
Step 8: Turn Off Propane
Ensure that your propane is turned off at the supply valve so it doesn’t leak into your rig while it’s in storage.
Step 9: Remove Food from RV
Remove all food items from your RV’s cupboards, pantry, etc. This will help keep bugs, rodents, and other pests from getting into your RV and creating a mess. Leave all cabinet doors open for better air circulation.
Step 10: Turn Off and Clean Out Fridge
Make sure your fridge is completely turned off, and remove all food from there as well. Then wipe down the inside of your fridge to remove any remnants of food and food smells. Leave the fridge and freezer doors propped open so air can circulate into the compartments.
Step 11: Use Dehumidifiers and Rodent Traps/Repellent As Necessary
Depending on where you are storing your RV, you may want to set up dehumidifiers and/or spray bug and rodent repellent around the exterior of your rig where critters might get in. You can also set up mouse traps if you wish, but if you won’t be regularly checking in on your RV, you could come back to a very unpleasant situation if a mouse has been sitting in the trap for months.
Step 12: Cover Your Tires
If you are storing your RV outside, be sure to cover your tires to prevent sun damage, rust, dirt, etc. You may just wish to cover your entire RV, but if not, be sure to at least cover the tires.
Step 13: Winterize Your Generator
If your RV has a generator built in, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to winterize it.
Step 14: Consult Your Owner’s Manual
Finally, be sure to consult your RV owner’s manual to determine the exact steps that are necessary to winterize your specific rig. The process can vary a bit from rig to rig, so it’s always best to follow the owner’s manual instructions.
Additionally, if you have appliances like an ice maker or a washing machine in your RV, they may need specific attention when you are winterizing. Your owner’s manual will have detailed instructions on how to handle preparing these types of appliances for storage.
What You’ll Need to Winterize Your RV
Before you get started with winterizing your RV, it’s a good idea to gather everything you need so you can get it all done in one go. Here’s what you will likely need:
- Basic tools (drill, wrenches, screwdriver, pliers, etc.)
- A flashlight
- 3-4 gallons of RV antifreeze
- An antifreeze siphoning kit (unless your RV is already equipped with a pump conversion kit)
- A water heater bypass kit (unless your water heater already has a bypass option)
- A towel to soak up any water than might escape during the draining process
- Mouse/bug repellent
- Tire covers or an RV cover
- Access to a dump station
- Tank flushing system (unless your RV is already equipped with one)
RVing During the Winter
The previous steps are all assuming that you are winterizing your RV for storage over the winter, but what if you plan to actively RV throughout the winter? Well, your preparations will depend on what the weather will be like.
If you are planning to follow a snowbird route and enjoy the relative warmth of the southern part of the country during the winter, you likely won’t need to do much in the way of winterizing. However, if you’ll be RVing in other parts of the country where it will be very cold, you’ll need to do a bit more prep work.
Some RVs are designed for four-season use, and they come with tank and pipe heaters, cabin heating systems, sealed underbellies that help keep heat in, and the capability to drive safely in the snow. Even so, it’s important to be aware of the limitations of your RV and the temperature range in which it can safely and comfortably operate.
You will need to swap out your coolant for antifreeze, ensure that your fuel doesn’t get too cold and gel, and ensure that you always have enough power to keep your tank heaters on even while driving to prevent your plumbing from cracking and leaking.
If you plan to boondock in the winter, you will likely need a generator or full hook-ups in order to keep all of your heating systems operational and be comfortable in your RV.
Alternatively, you can winterize your RV’s plumbing and then continue to use your RV for camping, but it will essentially be a glorified tent at that point and you will of course not be able to use any of the plumbing.
Professional RV Winterization
If the whole winterization process is too complicated or too labor-intensive for you, you can always hire a professional to do it for you. RV shops and outfitters like Camping World typically offer this service.
It can be worth it to pay a professional if you aren’t confident in your abilities to successfully winterize your rig yourself, as the service is likely much cheaper than having to replace a burst pipe and repair all of the ensuing damage if something goes wrong.
As a full-time RVer in my skoolie, I don’t do much to winterize my rig since my partner and I travel snowbird routes for the most part, finding warmer weather in the winter. In fact, we don’t even have a space heater in our RV, much to the horror of almost anyone who asks.
However, we love sleeping in the cold and find that a couple of extra blankets is plenty to keep us comfortable even on nights when the lows drop into the 20s.
We have a simple fresh and gray water tank setup (no black water tank) with all components inside the bus rather than mounted below the floor where things are more likely to freeze. If the daytime highs are so cold that we are worried about stuff freezing, we just move on to a warmer place.
We built our bus out specifically with this in mind, so we didn’t spend a ton of money on heating sources, insulation, tank heaters, etc.
Finally, let’s look at some FAQs:
Should you leave faucets open after winterizing an RV?
No. You want the antifreeze to stay in the lines, so you need to have all the faucets closed after winterizing the plumbing.
Do you put RV antifreeze in the freshwater tank?
Generally no, you would use your water pump converter kit which will pump antifreeze straight out of the jug, or you can disconnect a water intake hose and place that straight into the jug of antifreeze.
How long does winterizing a camper take?
It really depends on how big your RV is, how many different systems you need to winterize, and where you plan to store it. For example, if you have a 40-foot Class A that you plan to store all winter in Minnesota, you’ll need to spend considerably more time winterizing it than you would if you had a small travel trailer that you are storing for a couple of months in Arizona.
Do you need to winterize an RV if it’s stored inside?
You do not need to winterize the plumbing of an RV if it will be stored inside a temperature-controlled building. However, you’ll still want to remove all food from the rig, clean out your fridge and cabinets, prop them open, and properly prepare the battery bank and electrical system for storage.
Can you winterize an RV when it’s already below freezing?
Yes, you can winterize your RV when it’s already cold, but it’s better for the system to do it before the temperature drops below freezing. Depending on how cold it actually gets, your plumbing system could be seriously damaged by just a single night of below-freezing temperatures.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!