Winterizing Your RV

10 steps to protect your rig this winter.

Connie Hays  |  12.11.2016

If you’ve procrastinated on winterizing your RV, don’t wait any longer! If you live in a cold climate, you need to take several steps to prepare your RV for the winter months. The biggest task is winterizing your RV plumbing. This involves draining all the water, blowing it out with compressed air, and filling the plumbing system with RV antifreeze.

I’ve broken the winterization process down into 10 steps. You need to do them all (or take your RV to a dealer and pay them to do it). NOTE: Every RV is different. For detailed directions beyond the highlights you can learn more by reading your Winnebago owner’s manual to find the locations, parts, and procedures you’ll need to winterize.

1. Winterize your RV plumbing

(A) You need to drain the holding tanks first. Connect the macerator hose to a drain in the garage floor. You must get ALL the water out of these tanks before winterizing. Otherwise, the tanks will freeze and be damaged.

(B) Next, drain the fresh water tank in the same way.

(C) Now it’s time to drain the water heater. To start, remove the cover of the water heater. IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING: First, pull the pressure release valve to ensure that all the pressure is out of the tank. Then drain the tank. Some RVs (those with steel tanks) will have an anode rod. You loosen this to drain the tank.

(D) Use an air compressor to blow out the plumbing. Don’t go over 30 PSI or you could damage your plumbing. Use a pressure adapter to attach the incoming water hookup to the air compressor. Blow out all the remaining water in the water heater.

(E) Next you need to bypass the water heater. The water heater location may vary depending on your model. Most water heaters have a bypass loop which you can activate by turning on the bypass valve and turning off the input and output valves to the heater.

(F) Now you’ll need to go around and, one by one, open every faucet inside the RV and leave it open until nothing but air comes out. You should only open one faucet at a time, so that all the air pressure is directed to clearing that water line. Note that hot and cold need to be drained separately, even if the sink has only one faucet handle. If it has only one handle, you need to rock it all the way to left until all the water is gone, then do the same thing all the way to the right.

For the toilet, hold the flush button lever just a little until nothing but air comes out.  You will need to clear the outside shower this way, too.  Once you have blown out all the faucets, you can disconnect the air compressor from the city water intake.

(G) Now it’s time to put RV antifreeze into your plumbing.

IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING: Do NOT use automotive antifreeze. It is highly toxic. It will kill you when you use your RV plumbing again in the spring, even if you think you’ve rinsed out all the antifreeze.

RV antifreeze is pink. It isn’t toxic. You can safely put it in your RV plumbing system.

Here’s how to do it. Consult your RV owner’s manual to figure out where the water pump is on your model. Most recent Winnebago products have an antifreeze bypass that draws antifreeze into the plumbing, but not the main water tank. Refer to your owners manual or search online videos to see how to pump antifreeze into the plumbing system.

When you’re ready to pump RV antifreeze from it’s jug, then go one by one, to each faucet and run hot and cold separately until they show a flow of pink. Do the same thing with the toilet and outside shower.

(H) Now it’s time to replace the cap or anode rod on the water heater. Seal the threads with Teflon tape or pipe dope before screwing it in. Close up all water tanks as well.

(I) Pour some antifreeze down every drain in the RV. That’s it—you’re done with the plumbing part.

2. Remove food and personal items

Use common sense and good hygiene here. Any type of food left in the RV will attract mice and bugs, so clean out every food storage area completely. Take all cold food out of the fridge and freezer. Even dry goods in cans, bags, and plastic containers have to go. The cans could freeze and explode, and mice can chew through plastic. If there is any food left in your RV, mice WILL find a way in, even if you take all the sealing precautions mentioned below (Step 5).

Take out all laundry and cloth products as well. If these have any type of food residue on them, they will attract pests even if you’ve removed all your food.

Lastly, remove any valuables, just to be on the safe side.

3. Clean the inside of your RV thoroughly

Wipe down every surface, especially those that might have food residues on them. Vacuum as necessary.

Thaw your freezer completely and let it dry out with the door open. Leave the freezer and fridge doors open and block them open so they don’t close. Put a fresh, open box of baking soda in each place where food is stored to keep everything odor-free for spring.

4. Turn off electrical systems

You need to turn off your RV’s water pump, water heater, and other electrical appliances. Throw the main circuit breaker to the OFF position. Remove all batteries from small appliances.

5. Cover all vents and openings

Block the exhaust pipe with steel wool. Rodents love to crawl in here. You should also cover all vents and openings with screening. Close all roof vents and make sure the roof is in good repair. Check window seals for caulking failures and repair them as necessary.

Basically, you need to seal the RV so that mice and insects can’t get in. You don’t want to find a surprise in the spring.

6. Take weight off tires

If you leave your RV parked on its tires all winter, the tires could develop flat spots. If they are under-inflated, or if they lose some air over the course of several months, the sidewalls could begin to crack, which will make the tires unsafe to ride on in the spring.

Basically, you need to take some weight off your RV tires while the vehicle is parked for the winter. You need to park it on a hard, level concrete pad. Do NOT park on asphalt. Roger M, a blogger over at RV Tire Safety, warns that this can cause damage to the rubber. He suggests parking your tires on 2×8 planks.

Also, don’t park the RV on bare ground, mud, grass, or gravel. If your RV has leveling jacks, you can use these to raise your rig off the ground. Follow your owner’s manual. If you RV doesn’t have leveling jacks, you can use external jacks, as long as they are heavy duty and you’re parked on hard, level concrete.

The goal is to lift some pressure off the tires. However, you don’t want your tires hanging in the air! They should still be in contact with the ground. Set the parking brake and block all four wheels in the front and the back.

Note: You CANNOT use stabilizing jacks to park your RV for the winter.

If you don’t have any jacks you can use, you will need to move your RV occasionally. The goal

is to rotate the tires about one half rotation. Just start the RV, put it in drive or reverse, and let it creep forward or backward about 3 feet. You can do this 2-3 times during the winter, and your RV will be fine.

You should always creep forward in the same direction. If you creep forward for the first rotation, then creep backward the same distance for the second rotation, you could end up with the tires in the same position as when you started, which would cancel out what you just did.

7. Cover your tires

You’ll want to cover your tires with white RV tire covers. Along with taking the weight off the tires, covering them will help prevent cracking and dry rotting.

8. Cover your RV with a breathable RV cover

You need to keep your RV covered, but make sure you use a breathable cover. You don’t want mold and mildew forming under there when the temperature is above freezing. Cover your RV and tie down the corners of the cover. This will protect your RV all winter.

9. Keep the roof clear of snow

Unlike the roof on your house, your RV roof can’t hold the weight of snow. Any time you get fresh snow, you should clean the roof off as soon as possible. This will be easier before the snow has a chance to compress under new snow–or, even worse, before it partially melts and freezes solid again. Use a short step ladder and a shovel, and be careful.

10.  Fix things now so they will be spring ready

Don’t put it off. Buy any replacement RV parts you need and do repairs before you winterize.

The Bottom Line

While every RV is different, you can follow these basic steps (modified to fit your model), and you’ll be in good shape for winter. Stay safe, and here’s to camping again in the spring!

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  1. Ray Hartman Posted on 12.18.2016

    Hey Doug, you are correct that this and many others do fall short but realize, every rig can be different and one article can not cover them all.
    I am pretty sure every manufacture explains how to winterize their models, Winnebago seems to do a pretty good job of this. I too have residential refrig. w/ice maker, dishwasher and washing machine, all of which have isolation valves and ways to drain. We pump RV antifreeze thru out the rest of the system and just drain the above.

  2. Doug Davidson Posted on 12.17.2016

    This article, like so many others fall way short when talking about winterizing a rig that has residential fridge with ice maker and water dispenser. Blowing air through the system will likely work for the water dispenser, but what about the ice maker? Ours also has a dishwasher and I have to wonder the best ways to winterize this as well. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  3. Jim Morse Posted on 12.17.2016

    Hey Walter, thanks for valuable information. As an RVer since 1968, I totally agree with all of your advise on Winterizing. But I’ll tell you one thing, when it comes to that by/pass valve, I sure wish Winnebago had told me that in the Owners Manual when I was winterizing my 1st Winnebago about 10 years ago, I could have saved about 3 or 4 gallons of antifreeze from running out of my 10 gallon water heater on the ground, that I had taken the drain plug out of before I opened the by-pass valve. In fact the next time I was at my trusty RV repair facility, I even told them about it and they did a complete investigation and couldn’t find out why it happened, and they are a Winnebago, Itasca Dealer. Thanks again Walter, it doesn’t make any sense to me why it works that way, but I’ll trust the opinion of one who has proved it to be true. The next time I want to winterize my Motor Home with the Red Stuff, that will surely be my method, fill the plumbing system with the red stuff and then drain the hot water tank.

  4. Walter Szczepanik Posted on 12.17.2016

    Winterizing the plumbing by blowing out all water with compressed air and winterizing using Antifreeze are two completely different processes.
    Using compressed air:
    Once the tanks, including the hot water tank, are empty and the lines have been blown out and you have put antifreeze in the drain traps you are done; any residual water left in the system can freeze but will not be enough to burst anything.
    Winterizing with antifreeze:
    Once you have all tanks drained and the pink antifreeze flowing in all faucets you’ve also protected the drain traps. The only bug-a-boo is the hot water tank. I’ve owned two Winnebago’s, with manufacture date 10 years apart. Neither one has had a on/off valve at the inlet or outlet of the tank, just a by-pass valve. To winterize with this system, I’ve found out the hard way, do not drain the hot water tank, open the bypass valve, fill the plumbing system with the pink antifreeze, then drain the hot water tank. If you drain the hot water tank before putting the antifreeze in you will fill the tank with antifreeze first; in my case that is 6 gallons.

  5. Henry L. Coffman Posted on 12.17.2016

    Article ok for storage, but what steps need to be taken to winterize for us that live in it full time?