How to Winterize Your RV Correctly (Step-by-Step Guide)


winterize your RV lg

RVs can be a lot of fun. But they can also be a lot of work and require a lot of preventative maintenance. One of those responsibilities is preparing your RV for the winter. So below is how to winterize your RV:

Of course, many people love to still use their RV in winter.

And while there are some precautions to take when using your RV in wintertime, my step-by-step guide below is designed for people who will be parking their RV for the duration of the cold weather and not using it.

Let’s get into each step.

1. Drain the gray and black water tanks

The first step in the RV winterization process is to clean out the black tank and gray tanks. Your RV water system is susceptible to a huge damage in cold weather. The black water tank and grey water tanks of your RV could freeze up in the winter.

It can also cause a lot of bacteria to grow in the tank. Worse than that, it can cause leaking. This is because the cold weather causes the metal joints in the RV plumbing system to shrink. So, there is a chance that dirty water may seep out of the joints.

You will need to take the RV to a dump station, remove all the dirty water from the RV and clean out the holding tanks. There should be no remaining dirty water in the RV. After that, clean out the RV sewer hose.

In this recent article on my site, I talk all about cleaning out your RV sewer hose. It is a must-read guide for anyone looking to winterize their RV.

2. Drain and clean the hot water heater

The second step to winterizing your RV is to drain out the hot water heater. Your hot water heater will be full of sediment. This can cover the heating element and anode rod. This makes the heater work harder since it is less effective and insulated by the sediment.

And then it can cause the heating element to burn out. And a new heating element could cost you a couple of hundred dollars. It is a good idea to drain the water heater tank at least once per year, even if there is not much water in there. It will extend the life of the heater.

All hot water tanks are different, so check with your manufacturer on how to do it. but as a general rule, water heaters will have drain valves, bypass valves, and a pressure relief valve.

Turn the heater off, and when it is cool, connect the city water inlet to the heater. Then remove the drain plug and open the pressure relief valve. Then water will drain out. There might not be much water but allow it to drain for a couple of minutes.

Then re-assemble the heater. Cold weather can cause a lot of damage to water tank heaters. So, it is important to stay on top of the maintenance.

3. Install a water heater bypass kit

The next step to winterize your RV is to install a water heater bypass kit. In the winter months, you are going to have to add anti-freeze to your RV water lines. This is because the freezing temperatures will freeze up the water pipes. Then you can’t use them for anything, and it might even cause damage to them.

Before you add anti-freeze, you are going to have to install a water heater bypass kit. This will make sure that anti-freeze does not get into the water heater. Some RVs will already have a water heater bypass kit installed.

You can find a water heater bypass valve for quite cheap. And it can save you many gallons of anti-freeze over the winter. You can get a water pump converter kit for around $30.

4. Pour anti-freeze into your RV water system

Before you continue with your RV journeys, you are going to have to get some anti-freeze into your RV water system. This can be done by following a few basic steps. In the colder months, the cold faucets and cold-water lines will freeze up.

When the water freezes in your RV plumbing system, that’s a huge problem. Because now you can’t use the water in the RV. Luckily, it is quite simple to add anti-freeze to an RV.

Locate your RV water pump. Then connect some clear tubing to the inlet side of the pump. Put the other end into some RV anti-freeze. Then you need to pressurize the RV water system by turning on the pump.

You need to go to a faucet in the RV and turn it on. Slowly open the hot and cold sides of the faucet until you get some anti-freeze appearing.

Make sure you use enough anti-freeze. You should be using a one-gallon bottle of anti-freeze. Also, make sure that you are using non-toxic RV anti-freeze to keep your water system nice and clean.

5. Run water through the faucets, shower, and flush the toilet

You need to make sure that the anti-freeze is running through the system of your RV. Otherwise, you could get ice in the pipes at one part, which affects the flow of water all over the RV.

To do this, you need to start with the closest faucet. Run the hot water faucet, and cold water, until you see some anti-freeze. Then go to the freshwater system (some RVs will have a faucet for drinking water only) and do the same there.

Ensure that anti-freeze has reached the kitchen sink, shower drain, and toilet bowl for proper winterization.

Also, if your RV has an outdoor shower, check that too. Outside showers get notoriously icy with RVs, so it is important to make sure you keep that in tip-top shape too. You should also not forget to run water through the washing machine and dishwasher to prevent water damage.

6. Bring the propane tanks indoors

Propane is used to power RVs, but in the winter, the cold weather can damage your propane tanks. This is because the cold will shrink the metal, and rain can cause rust. This can cause leaks, which is incredibly dangerous.

Make sure that you keep the propane tanks in good shape. Keep them out of direct sunlight, and store them in a room-temperature, dry place. Avoid keeping them in your camper, as that will get super cold in the winter.

Propane tank storage is really important, so take it seriously. You may want to store the propane lines indoors too. Otherwise, they may crack.

Of course, larger RVs have built-in propane tanks that can’t be moved, so this step is for smaller campers that use portable propane tanks.

7. Protect your RV tires

RV tires are expensive, so the winter is a good time to look after them. An excellent way to protect your RV tires is to use RV tire covers. These can save you costly repairs when winter camping. It is quite easy to put them on, and they can also prevent your brakes from rusting.

So, if you are using your RV and need to do an emergency break, the tire covers will help keep them in working order.

The whole outside of your RV is susceptible to weather damage. So, check your owner’s manuals as well as your RV dealer for what protection your RV needs. Tire care is an important part of RV maintenance.

Most RV owners need RV tire covers, and you can get them at most RV parts stores. 

If you want to learn more about RV tire covers, check out this recent article on my site. I talk about whether RV tire covers are good value for money and how to use them.

If you live in a warmer climate, then you probably won’t need them. When you use your RV for the first time after winter, check the air pressure of the tires using an air compressor. If you don’t have an air compressor, you can use a hand pump with a pressure gauge.

8. Open the water faucets and remove the drain plugs

You need to drain water from your freshwater tank. The freshwater tank can freeze up in winter, and this will cause the pipes to crack. Empty the cold lines and hot lines of your RV to ensure the water source and drainage do not freeze up.

You don’t want your RV to turn into an ice maker! When draining the RV, you should have your pump running, as this will speed things up. This is because the pump will pressurize the system. However, when you notice that the water pressure is low, turn the pump off.

If you run a water pump with not enough water, it can cause wear and tear on the pump and damage it. Never ever run your RV water pump dry (with no water).

You will need to open the low-point drains of your RV. The drain plugs are quite small, and they will freeze up really fast if there is water in them. You may also want to run water through your inline water filters and then replace them after winter.

When you have emptied your water faucets, have a bucket under the faucet. This will stop water dripping into your RV water holding tanks.

9. Cover vents and holes on the RV

One of the next steps is to cover all holes. Cover the roof vents, the AC, the exhaust pipes, and ensure all windows are shut. Check the flat spots on the roof of the RV for damage. You have no idea how many people have had to repair this kind of damage when RVing.

RV Winterization Basics For Beginners

Conclusion

In this article, we have gone over a checklist of information you need to consider for RV winter storage. Your primary concern should be stopping damage to your water system from freezing. This can be done by emptying and draining the RV of water and putting anti-freeze in the system.

You should also cover the tires of your RV with tire covers. Ensure that there are no propane tanks in or outside the RV over winter, as they could get damaged.

The most important thing to remember is that you will have to check your RV before using it again after winter. You will need to thoroughly inspect absolutely everything for damage.

All it takes is for a small issue to go undetected, to ruin your next camping trip.

You don’t have to take a break from RVing over the winter. It is possible to camp in your RV over winter, but you will have to take certain steps. In this recent article on my site, I have a complete guide to winter camping in an RV.


Colorado Winter RV Park by vicki watkins is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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