Van Life Cleanliness: Minimal Supplies, Maximum Clean

Tips for keeping a tidy tiny space – even with an adventure dog!

Katharine & Humberto Gunn Katharine & Humberto Gunn  |  08.20.2018

When we first moved into our RV, a Class B Winnebago Travato van, we had huge hopes of living a more minimalist lifestyle where we would be able to replace “stuff” with experiences. While it is true that we are able to get by with a lot less physical belongings, we were not prepared for the difference in cleanliness that we would have to get used to.

Realistic Expectations for Clean

While we don’t consider ourselves “neat freaks” by any means, in van life our outdoor experiences tend to get dragged in more easily than they would in normal house life. We also have the additional difficulty of trying to keep our space clean while having an adventure dog who likes to track all of the remnants from her adventures inside. Our ultimate goal is to be able to keep everything clean(ish) while having to store as few things as possible. No longer can we have an entire cabinet full of cleaning supplies; everything we bring into the van needs to have a place and fulfill multiple needs.

Our first step towards van cleanliness was to lower our standards several notches from “Clean and Pristine” to “Campy-Chic.” Once we figured this out, we were able to minimize van sweeping from 10 times a day to two times (maybe), which left more time for fun outdoor experiences. We have compiled a bare-minimum list of things that help us to clean the van while taking up minimal space.

van cleanlinessGraphic created by Katharine & Humberto Gunn, www.AdventureGunn.com.

Cleaning Supplies for Everyday Use

  1. Paper Towels – We have less than three rolls in the van at any given time, and it usually takes us over two weeks to go through a single roll, since our space is so small. No bulk-buying of anything for us!
  2. Contractor Paper Towels – For more heavy-duty messes, like dirt and caked on mud. They cost more than regular paper towels, but can be wrung out and used several times.
  3. Swiffer Duster – The van gets exceptionally dusty, especially in dry climates. ie: Utah. There have been so many times when we have a coating of red dust on every horizontal surface in the van.
  4. Lysol Wipes – We use these to clean almost all of our surfaces including “mopping” our floor. Cleaning our wet-bath floor is a two-wipe job, and our main living area floor is a four-wipe job, typically.
  5. Spray Bottle of Cleaning Solution – We filled an eight-ounce bottle of all purpose cleaner when we started our journey. 25,000 miles later and we have yet to use the entire bottle of solution.
  6. OXO Palm Brush for Dishes – This is our only kitchen cleaning utensil. It’s great because we can clean every kitchen item with it (eliminating the need for sponges or steel wool) and it holds the soap for us, so we don’t have to keep a bottle on our countertop.
  7. Old Toothbrushes – When our old toothbrushes wear out, we keep them and reuse them to clean the tiny crevasses of the van. They also help us clean the undersides of our shoes, so we’re not tracking so much dirt into the van.
  8. Camco Telescoping Broom & Dustpan – This was my #1 favorite purchase at the beginning of our trip. We mounted ours in a very accessible location with Velcro to encourage us to sweep as often as possible.
  9. Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castille Soap (Lavendar) – This is a great all-purpose soap to have as you can clean just about anything with it, including: skin, hair, dishes, laundry, dogs, etc. Some Travato owners even use it to wash their vans. We like the lavender scent because it’s calming, and a natural mosquito deterrent. And it beats having different soaps for different purposes.

van life cleanliness for dogsGraphic created by Katharine & Humberto Gunn, www.AdventureGunn.com.

For Pet Fur/Dander

  1. Fur Vacuum – This purchase was our largest purchase for cleaning, both size-wise and cost-wise. But it is a game changer if you live in a confined space with constant plumes of fur-floof everywhere. I did not want this at any costs, and Humberto actually had to sneak this into the van, but after the first fur cleanse, I was sold. We have the Bissell 1782 Pet Hair Eraser Cordless Hand and Car Vacuum. There are others out there, but this was the first one with good reviews that was under $50 and readily in-stock at Walmart & Target.
  2. Evercare Magik Brush – This is the BEST lint brush we have ever owned, and it’s reusable, so you never have to buy another lint brush again.
  3. Evercare Pet Hair Pick-Up Mitt – This came with the Magik brush, so is nice to have, but is not necessary to pick up if you already have the brush.
  4. Kurgo Loft Bench Seat Cover – The best way to protect our van from our rascal of a wet dog is to keep her seat constantly covered. We love this cover because it is meant for a standard car, but easily adapts to the size of our van’s bench seat.
  5. Microfiber Towels – After a long day of swimming, we attempt to dry our water dog before she comes back into the van. We use microfiber towels because they dry quicker and take up less space than regular towels. We can also wring them out multiple times before they get waterlogged.
  6. Baking Soda – When our dog starts to smell a little swampy, we wash everything that touches her body, ie: leashes, collar, harness, towels, with baking soda. Added bonus: you can store it in the fridge to suck up fridge odors.

van life cleanliness

For Exterior

Our exterior cleaning routine for the van is fairly minimal. We carry zero cleaning supplies for the van’s exterior, other than a few microfiber towels. We clean the bug-splattered exterior windows almost every time we stop at the gas station.

But for major cleaning, we go to do-it-yourself car washes with tall bays. They provide you with water and soap and charge you based on your time needed for each wash-type. If you’re willing to do everything yourself, it’s a good option and we only spent about $15 on our last wash. Just make sure to be quick to maximize efficiency. It helps if it’s a hot day too! There are truck/RV washes such as Blue Beacon that will wash your entire rig for you, but we would rather do it ourselves. (For other DIY RV washing tips, check out this video tutorial by a fellow contributor).

Overall, the products we listed are the only supplies that we keep in our van to keep it in tip-top shape. Other than the vacuum, everything is compact and can easily be tucked away. There are definitely people with a lot more, and a lot less, but we found that this combination of supplies is what works for us with our current rig. What are your best cleaning tips for living in a small space?


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7 Comments

  1. Kelli Posted on 08.30.2018

    Thanks for the great info. I love your graphics/photos!

  2. Tom Kniest Posted on 08.28.2018

    Are the brushes at those self serve car washes (as pictured in the article)and water pressure guns safe to use on the exterior of my 2018 Winnebago Trend?

  3. Barb Smith Posted on 08.26.2018

    Great article. We have traveled for over 40 years in a motorhome and no matter how big they were, the cleaning supplies stayed the same. I agree that Wipes are the most versatile tool to carry and I also use them on my floors. But since I have carpeting and a shedding cocker I also carry a spray bottle of carpet cleaner for spot cleaning.

  4. David Lennon Posted on 08.25.2018

    Wonderful article with great tips for a clean rig. Many thanks.

  5. john Posted on 08.25.2018

    how do u clean off dryed on bugs mosquetos etc

    1. Brooke Baum Posted on 08.26.2018

      Hey John, One of our other contributors made this helpful video about washing the outside of your rig that might be helpful: https://winnebagolife.com/2018/04/wash-your-rv-with-little-water. Personally, my husband and I had good success using Bugs N’All on our RV. :) – Brooke, GoLife Editor

  6. Tev Brannan Posted on 08.25.2018

    We have a furry kid too with lots of hair. I’ve found a roll of black gorilla tape to be very helpful in getting to those hard to reach places in crevices and even on the fuzzy carpet at the front step. Of course we use it for a bunch of other things too so it’s a good item to have on hand.