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How to Winterize an RV: Everything You Need to Know

There’s nothing quite like dining outdoors on a warm evening after spending the day sightseeing and adventuring in your RV.

However, not everyone has the luxury of wonderful, temperate weather year-round.

If you need to hibernate your RV for the cold weather but aren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place!

Winterizing an RV to keep your pipes from freezing and cracking can seem intimidating. Keep reading for a simple step-by-step guide on how to winterize an RV!

An RV motorhome in winter with snow on the ground. Knowing how to winterize an RV is part of RV camping.

Tools You May Need

The first step to winterizing an RV is ensuring you have all the tools you need to begin. Depending on your make and model and what you may have already equipped your RV with, you may need slightly different things.

If you choose to use antifreeze, ensure you have roughly three gallons of non-toxic marine antifreeze. If you don’t want to use antifreeze, you’ll need an air compressor to blow out the waterlines.

Woman getting jug of pink marine antifreeze off store shelf.

You’ll also need tools to tinker with the drain plugs on your water system, such as wrenches, pliers, and a drill. If you have a comprehensive toolkit, you probably already have them on hand.

You will probably also need a water pump converter kit (sometimes called a winterizing kit) to introduce the antifreeze into your water system.

Lastly, you’ll need a heater bypass kit, either seasonal or permanent. Again, it will depend on what your RV’s water heater is already equipped with.

Once you’ve gathered all your tools, you’re ready to winterize your RV!

How to Winterize An RV: Step by Step

1. Drain and Flush Black and Gray Water Tanks

Man hooking up a hose for an RV blackwater tank dump.

The last thing you want is waste water sitting in your RV during cold weather. Neither bacteria nor frozen pipes are your RV’s friends.

It’s crucial to drain both the back and grey holding tanks, starting with the black tank. Once they’re empty, clean the black tank with the appropriate cleaner.

2. Drain and Flush the Water Heater

Next, you’ll want to ensure your water heater is empty and dry. To do this, you’ll need to turn the heating off and let it cool.

Once the water heater has cooled, let the remaining water drain out.

3. Bypass the Water Heater

Vented cover for an RV hot water heater.

After the water heater is cool and empty, you’ll want to bypass the water heater. If you add antifreeze to your tanks, you don’t want any of that to get into your water heater.

Depending on the make and model of your RV, it may come with a water heater bypass system already installed.

If not, many different bypass systems or RV winterizing kits are available. Typically, they are very user-friendly and easy to install.

4. Drain the Fresh Tank

An RV freshwater tank cap.

After you’ve drained the waste water holding tanks and cooled off and drained the water heater, it’s time to move on to your fresh water tank.

To ensure this is done correctly, you’ll want no water pressure – opening the faucets before draining the tank will help.

After the fresh tank is empty, remember to close all open faucets.

5. Add in Antifreeze or Blow Out the Water Lines and Open External and Internal Valves and Faucets

At this point in the process, you have a decision to make.

The first option is using marine antifreeze to keep your pipes from freezing in cold temperatures. This a pretty fool-proof way to ensure your RV comes out the other side of winter unscathed.

However, lots of folks prefer different solutions. Even though marine antifreeze is non-toxic, you’re still introducing antifreeze into fresh water lines where you drink and shower.

If you also want to avoid using antifreeze, your second option is to blow out the water lines instead.

For this, you’ll need an air compressor and likely a second person to help you with the toilet, making it a slightly more expensive and involved process than using antifreeze.

You’ll need to attach the air compressor to your main water line, open all the faucets in the RV, and then turn the air compressor on at 30 psi.

An RV toilet.

For the toilet, you’ll need to flush and hold the toilet while the air compressor blows all the water out.

Either way, this step will ensure your lines and pipes are safe from freezing and cracking.

Both internal and external valves and faucets should be open for this process, regardless of the option.

If you blow the lines out, the remaining water should begin to leak out of the faucets from the water lines, leaving them dry and safe from freezing.

If you use antifreeze instead, the water leaking out will begin to run pink, letting you know the antifreeze has made its way through the system.

6. Pour Antifreeze Down Drains

A kitchen sink in an RV.

Even if you blow out the water lines, you’ll still need to pour a small amount of antifreeze down any drains (sink, shower, or toilet).

In this process, the antifreeze won’t actually enter the water lines. Instead, it will just keep the drains from freezing over.

7. Prep the RV for Winter Storage

Covered RV storage ports.

Finally, you’ve finished winterizing your RV’s water system!

If you haven’t already, now is the time to find a safe, dry, covered place to store your RV over the winter. Exposure to snow, ice, and the wind isn’t great for the exterior and extremities of your RV, either.

Other Steps to Winterize An RV

A man cleaning an RV root.

The most extensive (and expensive!) damage that will be difficult to repair when the warmer weather comes around is the damage to your water system and pipes.

However, it’s important to learn how to winterize an RV in other ways!

Prep the Tires

An RV tire cover on a tire.

Tire covers are a great way to help preserve the rubber on your tires. If you’re leaving your RV on grass or dirt, prop the tires up with wooden blocks so they don’t get stuck as the ground freezes and thaws repeatedly throughout the season.

Also, make sure you have some tire chains handy for inclement weather!

Manage Batteries and Propane Sources

Closeup of a propane tank valve and hose hooked up to an RV.

Before you put your RV away for the winter, you’ll want to make sure you’ve disconnected any propane sources (or solar power if you have it) and removed the batteries.

If you remove equipment from the RV in this step, store it in a cool, dry place where it will be safe from the elements.

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning to prepare for winter doesn’t sound quite right, so think of it as cleaning in preparation for spring!

You won’t want to leave food, drinks, toiletries, textiles, or anything that will age poorly or be impacted by the cold in your RV.

Clean and declutter the interior of your RV before you stow it away, and keep all your non-perishable things together in a cool, dry place – you’ll thank yourself when warmer weather comes around!

Winterizing the Exterior

Man making repairs on an RV roof.

The first thing you want to do is closely inspect the exterior of your RV for any gaps, cracks, loose screws or panels, holes, or rusting parts. Pay special attention to the roof, where water, snow, and debris can easily collect.

If you have weatherized strips or caulking, make sure there are no issues with that, too.

You don’t want any moisture or freezing air inside your camper, allowing rust and mold to thrive.

You can also get some wax or sealant to help further protect your RV’s exterior. If you’re concerned about a cold snap, you can also insulate the windows and pipes.

How to Winterize an RV FAQs

A small camper trailer covered for the winter.

What does it mean to winterize an RV?

Winterizing an RV means preparing an RV for winter. Just like you take extra measures to keep a home or building safe from the elements, you need to do the same for your RV, especially if it will be sitting stagnant for a few months while you wait for warm weather to come back around!

What happens if you don’t winterize your RV?

If you don’t winterize your RV, you could face expensive damages and issues due to inclement weather.

Your water lines and tanks are especially susceptible to damage, so draining and flushing your water system is crucial in winterizing your RV.

How cold does it have to get before I winterize my RV?

If the temperature drops below freezing (32° F) and sustains that temperature, your pipes and waterlines will likely freeze.

But just because the temperature isn’t technically below freezing doesn’t mean your RV is totally safe from winter weather.

Wind and moisture can still damage your vehicle as it sits, so protecting your RV regardless of temperature is a good idea.

An RV tire on a leveler block on grass.

How long does an RV stay winterized?

Depending on your methods and antifreeze type, your RV can stay winterized for up to two years.

But remember, the longer it sits, the longer it may take to get the RV up and running again.

Do I have to use antifreeze?

Many people who winterize their RVs are dubious about using antifreeze in the places where they get their drinking water. Though marine antifreeze is non-toxic, it’s understandable that you may not want to use it.

If this is the case, you can blow out your water lines instead, using compressed air to ensure your water system is fully flushed out and dried.

However, you do have to use just a little antifreeze on the interior drains, but it won’t move through the water system.

Wrapping Up How to Winterize an RV

An RV travel trailer parked next to a house for the winter with snow on it.

You can take just a few essential precautions to ensure your RV stays safe and secure through its winter hibernation.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be more ready to go when spring comes around!

For recommendations for the best tools to help winterize your RV, check out our list of The Top 5 Best RV Winterizing Kits of 2023.