Winterizing Your RV or Camping Trailer

Written By: Jerome Tyson

Last Updated: 2021-01-13

As the days get shorter and the nights grow colder, every serious RV’er is reminded of how they have to make the difficult choice of whether they should park their RV for the winter or if they should simply roam around until they find greener pastures (literally). If you fall in the latter category, we’re envious. But those of us who are faced with the difficult choice of calling it a season, must follow that decision up by taking the steps necessary to winterize their rig. 

Disclaimer: Follow your RV's manufacturers recommendations - this is only a generic guide to highlight the general steps that may or may not apply to you.

When it comes to winterizing, a lot of the work goes into protecting the plumbing system in your RV and rightfully so. Your RV is likely going to spend a lot of nights outdoors in subfreezing temperatures and you do not want the water remaining in your plumbing to freeze and expand in the lines causing them to crack and leak when the weather starts becoming benign come spring. It will be handy to have a number of supplies related to this as described below:

Equipment You Will Need

General Instructions for Winterization

DISCLAIMER: You should follow the instructions outlined in your RV’s user manual - period. Each trailer is different, but should you remain adamant to do it yourself, you can follow these general steps outlined below:

  1. First, remove and bypass inline water filters if you have any.
  2. Drain all the water from your fresh water holding tank.
  3. Drain out and flush the holding tanks (usually grey and black). Some RV’s have a built-in flushing system for your holding tanks. But if your RV didn’t come with one, you can clean it out with a wand.
  4. Next, make sure that the water heater isn’t hot and is not under pressure. Also make sure that no water is connected to the RV and the 12-V water pump (if equipped) is turned off. Once confirmed, remove the drain plug and open the pressure release valve to drain the water heater.
  5. Turn on all hot and cold faucets, toilet valves and outside shower.
  6. Open the low point drain lines. There should be one for hot and cold water each. If you have a water pump, it will help force the water out but turn it off as soon as the system is clear of all water.
  7. Recap all drains and turn off all the faucets.
  8. Now you want to run antifreeze in your water lines but before you do, you must by-pass the water heater. Without having a by-pass kit installed, the water heater will fill up with antifreeze before it goes through the lines wasting gallons of antifreeze.
  9. Install a water pump converter kit or disconnect the line coming from the fresh water holding tank into the water pump. Connect one end of a clear tubing to the inlet side of the pump and put the other end into a gallon container of non-toxic RV antifreeze.
  10. Turn the water pump on to pressurize the system. Start with the faucet closest to the pump and slowly open the hot and cold valves until they start running antifreeze. Close the valve and move on to the next faucet replacing antifreeze containers as necessary. Do this for all faucets including the outside shower if your RV is equipped with one.
  11. Flush the toilet until antifreeze appears there as well.
  12. Turn the water pump off and open a faucet to release the pressure.
  13. On the outside of your RV, locate the city water inlet and remove the small screen over the inlet. Push in on the valve with a screwdriver until you see antifreeze. Replace the screen cover.
  14. Pour a cupful of antifreeze down each drain, toilet and flush into the holding tank.
  15. If your water heater is equipped with an electric heating element, turn it off.
  16. Shut off all the faucets.
  17. Now that majority of the plumbing related items are taken care of, wrap things up by putting your battery on tender, removing the propane tanks, sealing up the trailer by covering all vents and holes to keep the critters out, check for and repair any broken seals around windows, doors and the skylights and remove any food and laundry before covering your RV with a tarp or ideally, some sort of breathable material so that mold doesn’t grow on any of the surfaces.
  18. If tires are left to hold weight in spot (i.e. while parked) over a long duration, they can grow weak. Consider taking the pressure off them.
  19. Consult the owner’s manual to determine how to winterize your specific icemaker and washing machine (if equipped).
  20. While visiting your washing machine and fridge etc, make sure that there is no food or laundry left behind. Also, be sure to remove all valuables from the RV.
  21. Walk around the RV and cover all vents and holes with some type of mesh guard including the tailpipe. This is to ensure that no birds, rodents or critters take up habitat anywhere in your RV. You can also place rodent repellent around the exterior of your rig. 
  22. Cover your RV with a tarp or ideally, some sort of breathable material so that mold doesn’t grow on any of the surfaces.
  23. Again, keep in mind that some RVs come with built in winterizing controls therefore make sure to read your owner’s manual.
  24. After following the steps above, your RV should be in good shape to hit the road once the grey skies scatter and the sun shines through the cloud once again.

Happy RVing!

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