How I Wash, Wax and Detail the RV

Introduction

Every six months or so I wash, wax and detail the RV. Occasionally between this it may get a quick wash if it gets very dirty or dusty, usually after a couple big rainy drives or a desert windstorm. Below you will learn the methods, tools, and products I use to carry out the task.

Safety First

Just a few words about safety. To clean and wax the RV can involve ladders and time on the roof. If you’re not physically up to the task don’t try it, instead pay for the service. Falling off an RV roof can seriously injure or kill you. Working at that height shouldn’t be considered lightly. Up on the roof, I use a boating type deck shoe with very good gripping soles and stay in the middle, avoiding as much as possible being near the edges.

Also take your time and be organized this not a place to be tripping over things. When climbing the ladder to reach high areas it’s a good idea to have someone hold the ladder for you. Always have someone around so if you do fall they can quickly get help.

Up on the Roof

It’s best to clean the RV from the top down. First thing I do is head up on the RV’s roof.  I remove my vent covers and wash the EDPM rubber roof with a mixture of Dawn dish detergent and hot water using a soft bristled brush on an extension pole. I generally do a 6’x6’ section at a time starting from the front and working back. Sometimes a second or third washing is needed to get all the dirt off.

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For any heavily soiled areas or stubborn stains, I use a full-strength application of spray on Rubber Roof cleaner. I also go along and clean out the gutters really well removing any stuck debris. Finally, I will inspect all the sealant around the roof vents, air conditioner and all roof seams for signs of cracks or deterioration.


RV Roof Clean

Next the Sides and Back

With the same long-handled soft brush, I will do all the RVs side walls and back using a standard RV washing soap. I pay special attention to the seams where the wall joints, storage bay doors, marker lights, and appliance outlets are. This is where the majority of the dirt and grime will accumulate, sticking to the silicone sealant. I give these areas a good scrubbing, not hard enough to damage the seal but enough to clean out the dirt and leave the seal looking nice and white again.

Waxing the RV

Hard at work hand buffing the beast

The Front

The front of the RV, in my case the fifth wheel fiberglass cap, demands a little more specialized cleaning. This is where during road travel all the bug abuse takes place. Sometimes the carnage can be enormous! The best defense against super stuck on bug guts is a very well waxed front cap. The best method I have found to remove the squashed little buggers is with a dryer sheet. First wet down the area and the dryer sheet and if you have a decent wax underneath they will come off fairly easily. To access the higher areas just put the dryer sheet under the brush and scrub.

RV Wash and Wax photo

Wheels and Undercarriage

For the undercarriage hardware and tires I’ll use a little stiffer brush and scrub of any dirt and debris from the landing jacks, stabilizers, slide rails, steps, rear bike rack and bumper, suspension parts,etc. Then give everything a really good rinsing at high pressure and an application of dry type lubricant to avoid attracting dirt. My favorite is Protect-All Slide out Dry Lubricant. The wheels get a good cleaning with soap and water, then some  UV protectant on the tires and aluminum polish for the mag wheels.

RV Wash and Wax photo

Windows and Slide Seals

After a general clean with the soap and water, the windows get a wiping with Windex glass cleaner. Then all the rubber seals for the windows and slide outs get a coating of rubber conditioner such as Protect-All slide-out rubber seal treatment. This is a good time to check bug screens for holes and tears, window hardware functionality and inspect the slide out seals.

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OK, Let’s Wax the Beast

Waxing the RV is a huge task. Compared to a car it has a massive surface area. So once a year I will do the job with a paste type, wipe on and buff off type wax and then in between I use an easier spray on and wipe off express wax. I use a paste wax called RV, Boat & Aircraft Wax P-38-Q. It’s a high-quality product and gives a long-lasting coat. The spray-on wax variety I like is called Protect-All Surface Cleaner. It does a great job fast. Both of these waxes have proved to be safe on my units decals and plastics with no signs of fading in the four years I’ve had the RV.

For application and buffing, I prefer to use some soft clothes versus an electric buffer. My unit has a Filon type coating and I’m not 100% sure if it could be damaged by too aggressive of buffing so I error on the side of caution. The front fiberglass cap as mentioned before gets some extra attention, usually 2 or 3 coats to make it super slick.  I find while waxing it’s a great time to have a detailed inspection of all the areas of the RV surface and seams for any problems that may be missed with a quick look. Because everything is freshly clean it makes it easy to spot that little crack in sealant or loose trim, allowing me to nip a potential problem in the bud.

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Admire Your Great Job!

There, what a beautiful RV. It is now time to crack open your favorite beverage and sit back and admire that gleaming rig. Best to let it all soak in quick because that next rain, dust storm or mud covered adventure is on its way. Generally the dirtier the RV gets the more fun your having. Smile  Cheers, Ray.

Cougar Fifth Wheel photo

St. John River, New Brunswick Canada

 

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  • Thomas Lake

    I operate an RV wash/waxing business in Delaware. I’ve not gotten into the detail part yet…just a basic ‘make my RV clean and shine’ business. To your point, SAFETY is the utmost importance! Getting on top of the roof can be intimidating and dangerous. I, too, use a set of special shoes that help with surface stability/grip. I also use extended wands that will prevent me from too much movement from the centerline of the roof.

    With that said, let’s move on to the wash. I use a wash that is only a wash (excellent surfactant properties), and never a combination of wash/wax products. Why? Because most wash/wax products contain a combination of a polymer and carnauba wax. The carnauba wax can reduce the cross-linking of the polymer wax to the vehicle’s surface. And for those who are a bit confused about the semantics of waxes…a polymer is a sealant, not a wax. It does have ‘waxing properties’ since it does give a shine to the vehicle. It also, gives superior protection from elements and UV rays (anywhere from 5-6 months).

    Carnauba wax, on the other hand, is very labor intensive to apply and normally requires reapplication every month to three months depending on many variables. While carnauba wax gives a very deep, lustrous shine, it can lose it’s protectant properties/visual appeal in a very short time. An ambient temperature of 85 degrees F may create a surface temperature of 185 degrees F, the melting point of carnauba waxes.

    The polymer wax (sealant) is very easy to apply and provides excellent protection as noted above. In a direct way, the application of a polymer means less work, better protection, less time on the ladder, which in turn reduces the event of bodily harm or premature introduction to ‘RV Heaven’.

    Here’s the line-up that I use to wash/wax my customers’ RV’s:

    1. Meguiar’s Gold Class car wash
    2. Aero Cosmetics Wash Wax All (a water based polymer sealant that conforms to Boeing aircraft washing [spec. D6-17487P & D6-7127M)].

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      Thanks for the great info Thomas.

  • Ken

    Ray,
    Great information! Well written and very thoughtful. I like the product suggestions as well. I’m an RV professional and your work here is commendable.

    Suggestion – A way lighten the heavy load of time required for this task could be to do one side of the RV each month. This month the Driver Side. Next month the Passenger Side. And the following month the Front and Rear Ends along with the Roof. Localizing the effort may make the task seem less daunting.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com Ray

      Nice tip Ken, thanks! Some rigs are massive these days.
      That made me think of something else. If an RVer spends a long time in camped one spot, like a seasonal site, they might want to apply wax more often on the sun exposed side of the rig, for UV protection. Especially in sunnier climates like the US southwest desert.

      • Ken

        Ray,
        That would go miles toward limiting the comment…My RV looks great…well except for the side that gets the sun. So I too suggest more frequent application of a UV Blocking Wax to that side of the RV. Also, and I know this isn’t possible for everyone, one can minimize overexposure to a single side by rotating the RV and keeping tabs on the direction the coach faces when parked. Rotating the RV or asking the park or storage folks for a site facing the opposite direction can help minimize sun exposure.

  • http://www.loveyourrv.com Ray

    Hi Brooks, it’s usually a whole day affair for a thorough job. Usually an hour or so to wash everything and then the time consuming part waxing and polishing can take several hours. I enjoy myself and take it at a leisurely pace with a few stops to enjoy a cool beverage. :)

  • http://www.epdmcoatings.com/rv_roof_repair.html RV Roof Leaks Repair

    A good rule of thumb for either geographical and environmental regions is to wash your RV as often as needed to maintain a clean appearance and wax your RV at least once a year or more often, like twice a year as this will ensure the exterior doesn’t deteriorate plus looks new throughout the year.

  • http://livelaughrv.wordpress.com Ingrid

    Great info. As soon as the weather in CO improves, cleaning of the RV is high on the list. Six months ago we had it done in AZ (nice) but there are no such businesses around here :-(

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      It’s a never ending struggle to keep them clean, especially when moving around a lot. I just got all the embedded desert dust off and now the beast is covered in road grime from traveling the rainy 101 highway. Oh well, it’s actually a decent work out cleaning the thing.

      • Brooks

        There was no mention how long you took to wash and wax it.