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No More Road Grime: Essential Tips on How to Wash an RV Effectively

Embarking on a journey in your recreational vehicle is an exciting and adventurous way to explore the world around you. Whether you're driving through picturesque landscapes or camping in serene natural environments, your RV serves as both a means of transportation and a comfortable mobile home. However, with the extensive mileage covered and the diverse environments encountered, your RV is bound to accumulate road grime, dirt, and dust. Washing an RV is an essential aspect of its overall maintenance and upkeep. While the aesthetic appeal of a clean RV is immediately apparent, the significance of regular cleaning extends far beyond mere appearances. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide on effective methods for washing your RV, thus ensuring its optimal condition for years to come.

Why Regular Washing is Essential

The imperative for regular RV washing transcends cosmetic considerations and serves many functional purposes that are integral to the vehicle's long-term performance and value retention. Below are some key reasons that underscore the importance of maintaining a regular cleaning regimen for your RV.

  • Prevents Oxidation and Corrosion:When an RV is exposed to environmental elements like rain, snow, and road salts, the risk of oxidation and corrosion increases. Metals may begin to rust, while materials like fiberglass can oxidize, causing a chalky residue on the surface. Regular washing removes these corrosive elements, thereby mitigating the risk of material degradation.
  • Enhances Visual Inspection:A clean surface allows for a more effective visual inspection of the RV's exterior. This enables early identification of issues such as cracks, leaks, or rust, which can be promptly addressed before evolving into more serious, costly repairs.
  • Preserve Paint and Finish:Road grime, bird droppings, and other contaminants can be abrasive to your RV's paint and finish. Regular washing eliminates these contaminants, thus protecting the surface and maintaining the vehicle's aesthetic appeal.
  • Maintains Resale Value:An RV that has been consistently well-maintained and cleaned is likely to have a higher resale value than one that has been neglected. Proper cleaning is a visible indicator of responsible ownership, making the vehicle more attractive to potential buyers.
  • Enhances Aerodynamics:Accumulated grime and dirt can subtly alter the aerodynamic profile of your RV. Though the effect might appear negligible, over time, this could lead to decreased fuel efficiency. Regular cleaning helps to maintain optimal aerodynamics.
  • Contributes to Safety:A clean RV also means clear windows and mirrors, contributing to better visibility and, subsequently, safer driving conditions. A thorough wash can also help identify and remove hazards like wasp nests or other debris lodged in vents or other cavities.
  • Regulatory Compliance:In some jurisdictions, there are regulations concerning the cleanliness of large vehicles like RVs, especially concerning the potential spread of invasive species through mud and other debris. Regular cleaning ensures that your RV complies with such regulations.

Regular washing is an indispensable aspect of RV ownership, contributing to the vehicle's appearance and functionality, safety, and long-term value.

Understanding the RV Exterior

Understanding the composition of your RV's exterior material is a prerequisite for choosing the correct cleaning products and techniques. Different materials have unique properties and susceptibilities that dictate the types of cleaners that should be used and the application methods. Below is a breakdown of common exterior materials used in RV construction and considerations for their care.

  • Aluminum:Aluminum is a lightweight metal commonly used in older RV models and some modern variations. It's known for its corrosion resistance but can be susceptible to oxidation, leading to a dull appearance over time. Aluminum-specific cleaners are available that remove oxidation and restore shine. It's critical to avoid using acidic or highly alkaline solutions, as these can cause etching or staining on aluminum surfaces.
  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass is a composite material frequently used in newer RV models. It's highly durable but can develop oxidation, manifesting as a chalky surface residue. Specialized fiberglass cleaners are designed to remove this oxidation without damaging the material. Moreover, some cleaning solutions contain wax to provide a protective layer after washing.
  • Gel-Coated Fiberglass: This is a fiberglass variation with a gel coating to provide an added layer of protection and shine. While the cleaning process is similar to that of standard fiberglass, one must use non-abrasive cleaners to prevent damaging the gel coat. A dedicated gel coat cleaner and conditioner are often recommended.
  • Painted Surfaces: Painted exteriors generally consist of a metal substrate covered with layers of paint and a clear coat. Automotive shampoos designed for painted surfaces are usually safe and effective for these RVs. It's advisable to avoid using abrasive pads or brushes to prevent scratching the clear coat.
  • Vinyl or Decals: Many RVs feature vinyl graphics or decals, which require special care to prevent peeling or fading. A vinyl-safe cleaner is recommended, and one should avoid using high-pressure washers on these areas to prevent lifting the edges of the decals.
  • Mixed Materials: Some RVs feature a combination of the above materials, requiring a multifaceted approach to cleaning. In these instances, using the least aggressive cleaning solution across various materials may be prudent.

Identifying the exterior material of your RV is a foundational step in choosing the correct washing solutions and methods. This ensures the effectiveness of your cleaning efforts and safeguards the integrity and longevity of the materials. 

Gathering the Right Cleaning Supplies

Equipping yourself with the proper tools, cleaners, and materials is a prerequisite for an effective and efficient RV washing process. The following list categorizes the essential items you may require, considering their utility in addressing specific tasks and materials.

Cleaning Solutions:

  • General Automotive Shampoo: A pH-balanced soap designed for automotive exteriors, suitable for painted and gel-coated surfaces.
  • Aluminum Cleaner: A specialized cleaner intended for aluminum surfaces, which can remove oxidation and restore shine.
  • Fiberglass Cleaner: A cleaner designed specifically for fiberglass exteriors, capable of removing oxidation and other residues.
  • Gel Coat Conditioner: A dedicated cleaner for gel-coated fiberglass surfaces designed to preserve the integrity of the coating.
  • Vinyl-Safe Cleaner: A mild cleaner to be used on vinyl decals without causing fading or peeling.

Brushes and Applicators:

  • Soft-Bristle Brush: A brush with soft bristles for general cleaning without scratching the surface.
  • Hard-Bristle Brush: A more abrasive brush suitable for tackling stubborn grime or heavily soiled areas, though caution should be exercised to avoid surface damage.
  • Microfiber Mitts: Soft RV wash mitts made of microfiber material for effective, scratch-free cleaning.
  • Extendable Handle: A long handle that can be attached to brushes, aiding in reaching high or hard-to-reach places.

Additional Tools:

  • Pressure Washer: A machine that produces a high-pressure water jet, useful for pre-rinse and removing loose grime; it should be used cautiously to avoid surface damage.
  • Garden Hose with Nozzle: A hose with adjustable nozzle settings can be helpful for rinsing the RV.
  • Bucket: A container for mixing cleaning solutions.

Drying Materials:

  • Microfiber Towels: High-absorbency towels for effective drying without leaving scratches or lint.
  • Chamois: A natural or synthetic leather material renowned for its drying capabilities.

Protective Gear:

  • Rubber Gloves: To protect your hands from the cleaning solutions.
  • Safety Glasses: Protective eyewear to safeguard against accidental splashes of cleaning solutions.

Optional Items:

  • Ladder: For reaching elevated areas safely.
  • Tire Cleaner: A specialized cleaner for RV tires and wheels.
  • Wheel Brush: A brush designed to effectively clean the crevices and details of wheels.

By assembling the appropriate cleaning tools and materials, you are better positioned to undertake a comprehensive and effective washing routine for your RV. It's advisable to consult manufacturer guidelines or professional sources to tailor your selection based on your RV's specific materials and conditions.

Preparation Steps

Before initiating the washing process, adequate preparation is essential for safeguarding the RV's various components and optimizing the effectiveness of the cleaning. The following steps provide a structured approach to ensure your RV is ready for a thorough wash.

  • Remove External Accessories: It's advisable to detach any removable external accessories, such as bike racks, spare tire covers, and exterior-mounted grills. This enables unobstructed access to all surface areas that require cleaning.
  • Close Windows and Seal Vents:Ensure that all windows, vents, and other openings are securely closed to prevent water intrusion, which could result in interior damage.
  • Inspect the RV Surface:Conduct a visual inspection of the RV's exterior to identify areas that may require special attention, such as stubborn grime, bird droppings, or tree sap. Make a note of these areas for targeted treatment during the washing process.
  • Pre-Treat Stains and Spots:Pre-treat stubborn areas identified in your visual inspection with a specialized cleaner appropriate for your RV's material. As per the product's instructions, allow the cleaner to sit for a few minutes to break down the contaminants.
  • Position the RV:Place the RV in an appropriate wash location, considering drainage and water runoff regulations in your jurisdiction. Select a spot that offers shade if possible, as direct sunlight can cause soap to dry quickly, complicating the cleaning process.
  • Prepare Cleaning Solutions:Based on the RV's exterior material and the type of grime to be removed, prepare your cleaning solutions in buckets as instructed. Make sure to have separate buckets for different cleaning solutions to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Assemble Tools and Protective Gear:Gather all the necessary tools, brushes, and protective gear within arm’s reach. This streamlines the process, minimizing interruptions during the washing cycle.
  • Test Pressure Washer Settings (If Applicable):If you plan to use a pressure washer for pre-rinsing or cleaning, test the pressure settings on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure it does not damage the surface. Make adjustments as necessary.

Early preparation can create a more organized and effective washing process. Proper preparation minimizes risks, protects vulnerable components, and ensures that you are ready to address the specific cleaning needs of your RV’s exterior material.

Steps for an Effective RV Wash

Once the preparatory steps are completed, you can proceed with the actual RV wash. The following sections outline a systematic approach to ensure a thorough and effective cleaning process.


  • High-Pressure Rinse: Use a pressure washer or a garden hose with a nozzle to rinse the RV from top to bottom. This step loosens dirt, road grime, and other loose debris, subsequently making it easier to clean the surface. Always aim the water at a downward angle to minimize the risk of water intrusion through seams or vents.

Applying the Cleaner:

  • Solution Application: Apply the cleaning solution prepared in your bucket using a microfiber mitt or soft-bristle brush. Start from the top and work your way down to prevent dirty water from running over already-cleaned areas. Dip your cleaning tool into the bucket frequently to ensure it remains saturated with the cleaning solution.

  • Stubborn Areas: For areas pre-treated for stains and spots, use a hard-bristle brush to scrub gently. Always be cautious to avoid causing surface damage.


  • Rinse Off Soap: After the cleaning solution has been adequately applied and any scrubbing of stubborn areas is complete, it's time to rinse the RV. Again, use a pressure washer or garden hose with a nozzle. Ensure to remove all soap residues thoroughly, as any left-over soap can cause streaking or film.


  • Initial Drying: Using a chamois or microfiber towel, pat down the RV to remove the bulk of the water. This step minimizes water spots and prepares the RV for final drying.

  • Final Drying: Employ dry microfiber towels to wipe down the surface, ensuring it's completely dry. Pay special attention to seams, corners, and other areas where water might accumulate.

Wheel and Tire Cleaning:

  • Wheel Cleaning: Use a specialized wheel cleaner and wheel brush to clean the RV's wheels. Ensure that the cleaner is compatible with the material of your wheels, whether they are aluminum, chrome, or another material.

Final Inspection:

  • Inspect the RV: Conduct a final walk-around to inspect for any missed spots, streaks, or remaining grime. Address these as needed.

By adhering to these cleaning instructions, you maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your cleaning efforts. This not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of your RV but also contributes to its longevity and performance. 

Special Attention Areas

Certain areas of an RV are more susceptible to accumulating dirt, grime, or corrosion and thus require special attention during an RV wash. Identifying and adequately treating these areas can prevent long-term damage and maintain the integrity and performance of your RV. Below are key areas that necessitate focused care.

  • Roof: RV roofs are a critical area often exposed to various environmental elements. Depending on the material—be it rubber, fiberglass, or metal—it's important to use an appropriate cleaner. Excessive accumulation of debris, such as leaves or pine needles, can lead to water pooling and eventually cause leaks. Therefore, it's advisable to sweep or blow off debris before washing and to inspect for any signs of damage or wear. A soft brush on an extendable brush handle can be particularly effective for RV roofs.
  • Wheels and Tires:Wheels and tires often bear the brunt of road grime and brake dust. Specialized wheel and tire cleaners are formulated to remove these substances safely. A dedicated wheel brush can help get into the crevices and lug nuts. Always ensure the cleaner you choose is compatible with your wheel material, as some cleaners may corrode aluminum or other metals.
  • Undercarriage:The undercarriage is exposed to road salts, grime, and other corrosive elements, making it a critical area for thorough cleaning. Use a pressure washer fitted with an undercarriage cleaner attachment to remove accumulated grime effectively. A long-handled brush can suffice for a manual cleaning for those without access to a pressure washer.
  • Awnings:RV awning is another area that requires special care. RV awnings are prone to the growth of mold and mildew due to moisture retention. A specialized awning cleaner can help remove these organic growths and prevent premature degradation.
  • Seals and Seams:The seals around windows, doors, and other openings can accumulate loose dirt and may suffer from UV degradation over time. Use a mild, non-abrasive cleaner to clean these areas gently, and consider applying a UV-protectant product to prolong their lifespan.
  • Slide-Outs:If your RV has slide-outs, these mechanisms should also be cleaned and inspected for any signs of grime or wear that could interfere with their operation. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning and lubricating these components.

By giving special attention to these areas, you are not just ensuring a clean-looking RV but also taking proactive measures to maintain its functionality and longevity. Always consult your RV’s owner manual for specific guidance on cleaning and maintaining these sensitive areas.

Post-Wash Steps

Once the thorough washing of your RV is completed, there are several important post-wash procedures to undertake. These steps aim to not only enhance the appearance of your RV but also protect its exterior surfaces from the rigors of environmental exposure.

Drying Methods:

  • Towel Drying: Utilizing high-absorbency microfiber towels, pat down the surface of the RV to absorb residual water. Ensure the towels are clean to prevent scratching or the transfer of grime onto the surface.
  • Chamois: To achieve a spot-free finish, a chamois, either natural or synthetic, can be employed. Drag the chamois over the surface, allowing it to absorb the water.
  • Air Drying: If available, a forced air dryer designed for automotive use can efficiently remove trapped water from crevices and complex geometries, like mirrors and grills.

Applying Protective Coatings:

  • Wax or Sealant: A protective layer of wax or sealant can be applied to painted and fiberglass surfaces to offer a layer of UV protection and to repel water and grime. The application process usually involves using a microfiber padto apply the product, allowing it to haze, and then buffing it off.
  • UV Protectant for Rubber and Plastic: A UV protectant spray is highly recommended for rubber components like seals and for plastic elements such as trim or vents. This will prolong the life of these materials and prevent premature fading or cracking.
  • Metal Polish: For metal components, especially those made of aluminum or chrome, a specialized metal polish can be applied to protect against oxidation and restore luster. Always test a small area first to ensure compatibility.

Final Inspection:

  • Quality Check: Perform a final walk-around of your RV, paying attention to any spots that might have been missed during the initial wash or the application of protective coatings. Touch up as needed.
  • Functional Test: After washing areas like slide-outs or retractable components, it’s prudent to operate them to ensure that no cleaning residues interfere with their proper function.
  • Documentation: Keeping a log of your maintenance activities, including washing and applying protective treatments, can be useful for warranty purposes and for planning future maintenance.

By diligently executing these post-wash steps, you optimize your RV's aesthetic appeal and contribute to its long-term durability and value. 

Dos and Don'ts

As you wash your RV, adherence to certain best practices and avoidance of common mistakes can significantly impact the outcome. The following guidelines serve as a quick reference to ensure you operate within recommended parameters.

The Dos:

  • Read Manufacturer Guidelines: Always consult your RV's owner’s manual for specific instructions regarding cleaning materials and safe methods for your RV’s exterior.
  • Test Cleaning Products: Before applying any cleaning solutions or protective coatings, test a spot on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure compatibility with your RV's material.
  • Use Soft Cleaning Tools: Opt for microfiber mitts and soft-bristle brushes to prevent scratching or damaging surfaces.
  • Wash in Sections: To prevent soap from drying prematurely, especially under sunlight, wash and rinse your RV one section at a time.

  • Pre-Treat Stains: Target stubborn stains or grime with specialized cleaners before washing the entire area.
  • Rinse Thoroughly: Ensure all soap residue is completely rinsed off to prevent streaking or film formation.
  • Dry Completely: Use high-absorbency towels, chamois, or forced air dryers to dry the RV entirely, focusing on areas where water might accumulate.
  • Protect and Seal: Apply protective coatings like wax, sealants, or UV protectants to prolong the life of your RV’s exterior.

The Don'ts:

  • Avoid Abrasive Cleaners: Products that contain abrasives can scratch or dull your RV’s exterior, especially on painted or fiberglass surfaces.
  • Don't Rush: The RV wash process should be thorough. Cutting corners may result in uneven cleaning and may even cause damage.
  • Don’t Use Household Cleaning Products: Household cleaners may contain chemicals too harsh for your RV’s specific materials.
  • Avoid High-Pressure Damage: When using a pressure washer, be cautious not to set it too high, as this can strip paint or damage seals.
  • Don’t Ignore Nooks and Crannies: Places like seams, slide-outs, and undercarriages are often neglected but are crucial areas that need attention.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Whenever possible, avoid washing your RV under direct sunlight, as this can cause cleaning products to dry quickly, leading to streaks.
  • Don't Mix Chemicals: Never mix different cleaning chemicals, as this can result in harmful fumes or adverse reactions that may damage your RV.
  • Don’t Forget Personal Safety: While not directly related to the RV, failing to wear appropriate protective gear like gloves or eye protection could expose you to risks.

By adhering to these Dos and Don'ts, you can enhance the effectiveness of your RV washing regimen, avoid common pitfalls, and contribute to the longevity and aesthetic appeal of your vehicle.

Maintenance Between Washes

In addition to regular washes, engaging in periodic maintenance activities is prudent to help your RV stay cleaner for longer durations. This not only enhances your vehicle's aesthetic appeal but can also extend the intervals between comprehensive washes. Below are several tips to maintain your RV's cleanliness between washes.

  • Regular Spot Cleaning:It's advisable to conduct spot cleaning of specific areas that are prone to quick soiling. This could include the wheels, front grill, and exterior windows. Use a mild cleaner and a microfiber cloth to wipe down these spots, thereby preventing the accumulation of grime.
  • Use of Protective Covers:When the RV is not in use, especially for extended periods, protective covers can serve as a barrier against dust, bird droppings, and environmental elements. Make sure to use covers that are breathable to prevent moisture accumulation.
  • Parking Strategy:Where you park your RV can significantly impact how quickly it becomes dirty. Park in shaded areas whenever possible to minimize exposure to bird droppings, tree sap, and harsh UV rays. However, avoid parking under trees known to excrete sap or under bird perches.
  • Regular Sweeping:The roof and awnings are areas where debris accumulates. Sweeping these areas can go a long way in preventing the buildup of leaves, twigs, and other debris that could lead to staining or water pooling.
  • Quick Rinses:A quick rinse with clean water, especially after a long drive, can remove loose dirt and prevent it from becoming caked on. This is particularly effective for the undercarriage and wheel wells, often exposed to road salts and grime.
  • Interior Care:While the focus here is primarily on the exterior, maintaining a clean interior can also contribute to an overall cleaner RV. Use floor mats to trap dirt and reduce the grime transfer from the interior to the exterior during entry and exit.
  • Utilize Wheel Chocks:Placing wheel chocks when parked can prevent tire spots and kill two birds with one stone by enhancing safety. The chocks prevent the RV from rolling and the tires from accumulating dirt from the soil beneath.
  • Periodic Inspection:Regularly inspect seals, seams, and other vulnerable areas for signs of wear or accumulation of grime. Early detection and cleaning can prevent more significant issues down the line.
  • Protective Sprays:Consider using water-repellent sprays on windows and other areas prone to water spots. These coatings create a barrier that makes it difficult for dirt and water to adhere.

By incorporating these maintenance tips into your routine, you can extend the duration of your RV's cleanliness, reducing the frequency of intensive washes and thereby preserving the integrity and longevity of your vehicle. 

Choosing the right cleaning products is crucial as you strive to keep your RV in top-notch condition. Poli Glow, a trusted name in the realm of detailing, presents a noteworthy option for RV enthusiasts seeking effective solutions. Among its product lineup, Poli Wash™ and Poli Wash Pro™ stand out. Poli Wash™ offers a dependable solution for regular cleaning, catering to surfaces like fiberglass, gel coat, and paint. For more demanding cleaning tasks, Poli Wash Pro™ steps in with its heavy-duty formula, capable of tackling stubborn marks, oxidation, and deeply embedded dirt. Whether you're handling routine maintenance or dealing with tough grime, Poli Glow's cleaning products are tailored to maintain your RV's impeccable appearance while safeguarding its longevity.