Extend the Life of your RV’s Exterior

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March 9, 2009

If I said it once I said it a hundred times, RV’s are a major investment like your house or automobile. To protect your investment and get many years of reliable service and use from your RV there are certain measures you need to take. One important measure is maintaining the exterior of your RV.

I recently started a new series of short RV videos titled “Mark’s RV Garage.” These videos will demonstrate after-market product installations, RV care & maintenance and other topics of interest to RVers. Watch this episode of Mark’s RV Garage for some tips on maintaining the exterior of your RV.

Over time the roof and exterior of your RV begin to show signs of wear, caused by the constant exposure to the elements. Ozone in the air and ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun start to take their toll, which is first evident by signs of fading paint. The ozone in the air also causes products like rubber and vinyl to dry out, crack, and start to deteriorate. The UV rays from the sun make this aging process happen quicker. If at all possible you should try to keep your RV covered when not using it, to help protect it from Mother Nature.

Maintaining the exterior of your RV contributes to extending the life of the RV and protecting your investment. If you let your RV go, without cleaning it for periods of time it can be very difficult to get that new look back. Maintaining the exterior of your RV primarily consists of routine inspections, cleaning and lubricating items on the RV.

Exterior finishes begin to deteriorate over time. To extend the life of the exterior wash the RV frequently using a mild soap and water solution. You should always try to wash your RV after returning from a trip. Do not use harsh or abrasive cleaners. When washing the RV avoid spraying water directly into any appliance vents.

Metal sidewall finishes require routine maintenance to keep black streaks cleaned from the surface. If black streaks remain on metal sidewall finishes for prolonged periods of time it can be extremely difficult to clean or remove them. Use a commercial black streak remover. Test all cleaning solutions on a small portion of the RV’s graphics before using them.

Waxing the exterior of your RV can be a difficult job, but it will help extend the life of your RV. Wax the exterior with a quality wax formulated for the type of exterior surface your RV has. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Exercise caution when waxing around graphics taped on the RV. You should wax the RV when water no longer beads on the wall surface.

Water damage on an RV is similar to progressive damage to a tire. The outside of the tire looks fine, but the internal damage over a long period of time causes the tire to fail without any warning. The outside of your RV looks fine but the internal damage caused by water over a long period of time can result in the entire roof, floor or wall rotting away without you knowing it. Inspecting any and all sealants can help prevent expensive repairs caused by water damage. You must look very closely for any cracks, gaps, and loose or aged sealants. Inspect the roof, sidewalls, end caps, moldings, windows, compartments and anywhere the manufacturer cut a hole in the RV. Inspect the interior for any signs of water damage. Look for discoloration or wrinkles in the wall panels or wallpaper and feel for any soft spots on the walls, around all windows, doors, vents, slide outs, or any other openings that were cut in the RV sidewalls.

Note: Always use the proper type of sealant to make repairs; if you’re not sure what type of sealant to use talk to an authorized RV repair facility. Have any water damage repaired immediately.

RV manufacturers use different materials to construct RV roofs. Consult your owner’s manual for the type of roofing material used and for the type of soap or detergent required to clean the roof. Keeping debris such as leaves, tree sap and branches off of the roof will help to extend the life of the roofing material. You should clean and inspect your RV roof several times a year.

Caution: Exercise caution whenever you are on the roof of your RV. A fall can result in serious injury or death.  For RV roofs not designed to be walked on it may be necessary to use 2’ X 4’ or 2’ X 8’ pieces of plywood to distribute your weight evenly across the roof rafters. If you are not comfortable working on the roof of your RV, have your roof maintenance performed by an authorized RV service center.

When cleaning the roof keep the sides of the RV rinsed off to avoid soap residue, streaking and any damage to decals, graphics or the paint finish. Never use cleaners containing petroleum solvents, harsh abrasives, or citric based acids on rubber or vinyl roofs.

Cleaning the roof is only part of maintaining it. Every time you clean the roof you need to inspect the sealants around all of the openings and the seams on the roof. Water will take the path of least resistance and if there is the smallest opening it will find it. You need to thoroughly inspect the roof sealants for potential leaks and reseal any areas of the roof seams and around openings where you suspect a leak. Check with your RV dealer for sealants that are compatible with your roofing material.

Happy Camping,

Mark Polk

RV University

Leave a Reply


  1. Lu Porter

    How can you refresh decals on the side of a motorhome that are faded and cracked. We wash the home after each trip and wax it 3 or 4 times a year.

  2. I’ve had water damage in the past and it’s the absolute worst. Can trash an entire RV or camper. Definately want to watch out for any sign of water stains.

  3. Walter Smallwood

    My travel trailer is stored at home facing the West and the front of the previous trailer I had, developed a lot of decal damage from the UV sun rays over a period of about 2 years. This damage only occurred on the area facing the afternoon sun. Any suggestions on a way to minimize the damage on the new RV, just purchased and stored in same location. I don’t think I am interested in a cover because I have read so much negative feed back about them.

  4. Tom C

    I have a problem with water stains on the exterior paint below the water heater door. I had a leak from the water heater and in just 1 week, the hard water caused white scale to form where the water dripped. I just using car wash detergent and a soft scrubby but it would not come off and it looks like crap. I am claening it up to get it ready for sale. Any suggestions?

  5. Many of the larger body repair shops will do roof inspection and repair. One thing to watch out for is the “Reseal Special” where silicone caulk is simply put on the edges of all insert moldings. This does little to seal your Coach or trailer and can actually trap moisture making matters worse than before.
    If a leak is found or just suspected,removing the moldings and reapplying them with putty tape is the proper way to reseal your RV. As for waxing,any good spray wax such as Turtle Wax Express Shine should have no ill effects on the decals. Paste wax will tend to build up at the edge of the decal and in some cases, when unevenly applied,cause streaks in the darker colored decals. And as Mark said,You can’t beat EternaBond tape for a positive and lasting seal job on roof seams.

  6. Big Reds F-150

    On our stick and metal TT, All Gell Gloss products work very well. Would not guess it’s a 2004 model. Just sold it and took it to Naples FL for the happy new owner

  7. Harris Schultz

    Just a comment about “high quality wax.” I was talking with an engineer of a company about a cleaning issue once and used the phrase, and he asked what is high quality wax – wax is wax.

    On the issue of black stread removers – do they strip the wax off fiberglass/decals? None of the store bought products says one way or another.

  8. Hi Mark I,M trying to find HMH Hytrolic Fluid for my Leveling Jack,s the local RV Dealer told me to use Dextron automatic trans. fluid the good Book tells me NOT to use it it stains I,m getting ready for my Alaska Trip and my Resv.is low.
    PLEASE advice ASAP on this THANKS

  9. Tom

    I just replaced my tires on 2003 Itasca Sunrise. Its the 19.5 wheel setup and I wonder what to torue the lugs. It has a 5/8 wheel studs.

    Thanks Tom

  10. Jim


    I live in central Pa. and I am trying to find a source for the fiberglass side panels, what I want to do is replace the aluminum siding on my 5th wheel with some smoother fiberglass. Can anybody help me out or point me in the right direction?
    Thanks in advance.

  11. Larry,
    I’m not sure what tape you are referring to on the roof, but whenever I need to reseal roof seams I personally use a product called eternabond. You can visit the site at http://www.eternabond.com and once you are there go to RV products.

  12. Carol

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll have to ask around.

  13. TXBrad

    Might check “Camping World ” for cleaningdetailing an RV. The stores here in Texas Metroplex offer this service & price by the foot.
    TX Brad Craig

  14. Larry

    Our RV has a rubber roof and the tape around the edge has been coming off. Looks like Tuck Tape, but what type of tape is it, and where is the best place to get it, please?

  15. wally birchmier

    thank you for your prompt reply. sounds like i just lucked out by not not getting the streaks as i didn’t test anything – just slapped the wax on. again thanks for the answer.

  16. Dan

    To Carol,

    There are usually detailing companies that post ads on camoground bulletin boards that will do this work. I usually ask at the desk if I am going to be at a location for any length of time. They will usually tell you if there is anyone around that will do this work. They won’t recommend anyone because of the liabilities but will usually tell you if a unit has been done recenylt that you can go look at. I don’t personnaly recommend truck washes because they use some pretty harsh chemicals. The outfits that do this kind of work will charge by the foot and will do both wash and wax or just wash if that is what you want. God luck

  17. Ron

    My motorhome has fiberglass walls, front cap and rear cap. However, they are painted and gelcoated. When I wax it, I’m waxing the paint/gelcoat , not the fiberglass. I use regular auto cleaners and waxes. Should I be using waxes formulated for fiberglass?

  18. Wally,

    It depends on the decal itself. I have seen some decals that once the wax is on them you can’t get it off (it leaves streak marks) and other decals, like yours, that are not affected by waxing. This is why I recommend testing it in an inconspicuous area of the decal first.

  19. Carol,

    I would recommend you contact some local RV dealer service departments. Many dealers offer this service for a fee. (Not sure about waxing though)

  20. wally birchmier

    question for mark: it seems that the more i read, they claim it is bad to wax the decals on your rv. why is this? i have a 2004 and have waxed the decals at least once a year if not more and have yet to notice any change in them.

  21. Carol

    Thanks for the great article and a reminder of how important it is to protect your RV investment. I do have a question for you, though. I cannot clean my RV well — I want to get up close, but can’t climb a ladder and am sure there are many others out there that are handicapped in some way so as to prevent them from maintaining the upkeep to the outside of their RV. I bring my car to a carwash or detailer, but have not seen advertising for similar services for RVs. Is there anywhere we can go to have the outside of the RV washed and waxed?