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How to Winterize an RV

These are a bunch of RVs parked at a parking lot during winter.

It can be a lot of fun to camp in your RV during the fall months. The leaves are turning beautiful colors and the air is crisp and clean, yet it is still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors. Keep in mind, though, that the beautiful autumn months mean that winter is right around the corner and you will need to winterize your RV for the months you will not be camping or traveling.

Winterizing your RV is imperative to avoid any damage to it, so it will be ready to go for you again in the spring. There are two main processes you can use to winterize your RV, including the antifreeze method or the compressed air method. Details of each process are listed below.

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Reasons Winterizing is Important

Before conducting either one of the methods that you choose to winterize your RV, you will want to make sure all the windows and vents of your camper are closed and that everything is shut off. You should properly store your battery in a safe, warm, dry place and clean out your refrigerator and freezer very thoroughly.

Basically, winterizing is the process of draining your entire plumbing system to protect it from freezing and becoming damaged during the very cold winter months. If your pipes or water lines have ever frozen at your house you understand how detrimental this can be. Your RV is no exception in the fact that you do not want the pipes and water lines to freeze and your RV is not even remotely as insulated as your house is which means it is more prone two suffering damaged pipes and water lines.

You should make sure that you winterize before you store your camper for the winter or before you go on a trip that will include cold weather camping. Whether you are using your RV over the winter or not, you will need to ensure that it is winterized. This is especially important if you are using an RV storage facility that is not heated to store your camper for the winter months. You can purchase a winterizing kit for your RV or use the RV winterization methods below.

There are three rules of thumb that you should follow to know when to winterize your camper. These include if the temperatures are going to be consistently at 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below you cannot insulate in heat the undercarriage of your RV or you don’t have heated tanks for it, or you are boondocking and can only run your furnace at certain times throughout the day and night.

Here are the two processes you can use that will help you learn how to winterize an RV.

Antifreeze Method

A bottle of anti-freeze being poured into the engine.

The antifreeze method is the easiest for winterizing the plumbing in your RV with RV antifreeze. It comes in pink gallon jugs and you can purchase it at camping stores or places like Walmart. The pink kind of antifreeze is RV/Marine antifreeze which is nontoxic. You will want to make sure you use this kind since you’re running it through your drinking water lines and will need to ensure you are not using automotive antifreeze or any other type that would be toxic to you and your family when you fire up your camper again in the spring.

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You are going to need two to three gallons of nontoxic RV antifreeze and the amount you need will depend on the size of your rig. Obviously, the larger your rig the more antifreeze you will need. You will also need a water heater bypass kit if your RV does not have one already installed along with a black tank flush wand or nozzle. You need some basic hand tools that you will use to remove and reinstall the water heater drain plug and a water pump converter kit or tubing to connect the inlet side of the water pump.

Drain the System

A close look at the tank valve of an RV being hand-pumped for drainage.

The first step in the process is very basic in something you should do every time you’re going to store your RV, even if it’s not going to be during the winter. You will need to drain every tank in the RV and disconnect and drain your freshwater hose along with making sure your water is turned off.

Be sure to connect it to a sewer dump then empty and flush the gray and black holding tanks to ensure they are clean and ready for RV storage. If your RV does not have a built-in black tank flush then you will need to use a tank cleaning wand or a flush nozzle to rinse out the inside of the tank.

You can then open the low point drain on your freshwater tank to be able to drain all the water from that tank also. You will need to make sure you close this valve when you are done doing this process and you do not put any antifreeze into the freshwater tank so after you do this you are done with this part of the process.

Be sure to turn off your hot water heater and then wait a few hours before you move on to the next step.

Drain the Camper’s Hot Water Heater

You are now ready to drain your camper’s hot water heater and there will be several gallons of water that will rush out which is why you want to make sure the water is cooled down and not hot so you do not get scalded.

Also, make sure that your system is not pressurized and it is disconnected from the water source. You can then turn the water pump off in open the hot water faucet before you start draining.

After you’ve done all of that, you can open the pressure relief valve and take out the drain plug or anode rod. The water heater will then drain onto the ground very swiftly so watch out. You can now clean your water heater if you were planning on doing that. After the water is completely drained, place plumbers tape around the threads of the anode rod or the drain plug then reinstall it.

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If you have inline water filters that are used for your drinking water inside your RV, you should remove them at this point and turn any valves so that you bypass those lines before you continue moving forward with this process.

Drain Interior Lines

This is a foam freeze protector for the water valve of an RV.

You are now ready to drain the interior lines so you can open the great tank dump valves and turn on all of the hot and cold faucets. Be sure to remember to do this in the kitchen, any outdoor shower you have, and the toilet. Look for any low point water drains then use the water pump to push any remaining water out of the lines. Be sure to wait to turn off the pump until the system is completely dry so you will not cause damage.

Put the caps back on all the drains in close all the faucets and be sure to close your gray tank valves and disconnect them from the sewer. You can now rinse and store your sewer hose.

Bypass the Water Heater

Many RV campers have a bypass kit already installed and you’ll know this by reading your owners manual. If it does have one, your manufacturer will provide you with a diagram to follow and the system is usually accessible in your RV behind the removable panel, through the basement area of your RV, or behind the water heater.

Be sure to bypass your water heater so that none of the antifreeze goes into your fresh water tank.

You can now use the antifreeze to pump it through the lines of your RV and if you do not have a system already pre-installed, you can use a water pump converter kit or disconnect the line coming from the fresh water tank to the water pump and replace it with tubing that you fill with RV antifreeze. Your goal is basically to draw antifreeze directly into your RV’s water lines but not into your fresh water tank.

You are now ready to run antifreeze through your water lines and can turn on the water pump to pressurize the system. You will be able to see the level of the antifreeze decrease as it is drawn into the lines. You can now open up every faucet in your camper, one at a time, to run the antifreeze through the entire system. You will need to do this through both the hot and cold valves and keep the faucets open until you see the pink antifreeze then shut them off.

You can then run in a freeze through every line, including the drinking water tabs, the toilet flush and toilet wand, any interior or exterior showers as well as the kitchen sprayer. When you are all done, you can turn off the water pump. You can then pour antifreeze down all the drains in your camper and you are done with the process and ready for winter.

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Compressed Air Method of Winterization

A metal gun with a red tube for compressed air application.

This method is more thorough, but it is a longer process. You will still need to have nontoxic RV antifreeze on hand along with a tankless air compressor. You also need a blow-out plug to connect the air compressor to the freshwater system and an adjustable water pressure regulator that will allow you to attach the inline with the blowout plug which will help protect your system from becoming overpressurized. You will need to set the regulator at 50 PS or below and you should consult the owner’s manual of your RV to find the right setting for your RV camper.

You can now do the first two steps of the antifreeze method to get your system completely drained along with your water heater but in this method, do not put the drain plug or anode rod in your hot water heater back on.

You can now close the pressure relief valve on your hot water heater and connect your air compressor to the freshwater inlet. Be sure that you have the pressure regulator or an adjustable air compressor so you do not over pressurize your water lines

You can then turn on the air compressor and pump the compressed air throughout all of the lines and holding tank. You will probably see more water come out of the drain plug as it drains from the hot water lines and once you are done, you can replace the anode rod or drain plug and ensure that your hot water heater is shut off for storage. You can now repeat the process of bypassing your freshwater tank and removing and bypassing any inline water filters also.

Now make sure your water pump is turned off, open your low point drains, and open all of your faucets in the RV to their warm setting. After no more water is coming from the drains close the MOF and shut off the faucets.

You can now open all of the faucets one at a time on both the cold and hot water settings and blow the compressed air through the system until there’s no more air coming out of the faucet. You may need someone to help you with this because it will be easier to do.

To drain your water pump be sure to turn on the outdoor shower nozzle if there is one and then turn on the hot water pump. Do not let it run too long because your fresh water system is already dry and you just want to make sure it’s completely drained you can then use the compressed air to blow out the line. You can now pour antifreeze down all of the drains in your RV like you would have done in the antifreeze method.

After completing either one of these methods your RV winterizing is completed and it should be safe and winterized throughout the cold weather months so that you will have a joyful camping experience when spring arrives once again.