Winterize an RV [A Beginners Guide With Videos]

The winter months are near, and you want to learn step by step how to winterize an RV? Winterizing your camper is not too difficult if you follow step-by-step instructions that are clear and concise. In this beginner guide to winterizing an RV, you’ll find all the steps you need to successfully prepare your RV for winter storage.

This is a comprehensive guide to RV winterizing, so I’ve broken it down into manageable steps. I’ve curated the best videos on the subject to help you along. Let’s get started.

What You Will Need To Winterize your RV

  • Non-Toxic RV Anti-Freeze: The amount you will need depends on the layout of your RV’s plumbing. Plan on needed about 3 gallons of antifreeze, give or take a few quarts. I recommend the RecPro RV Non-Toxic Anti-Freeze, available in a 4 gallon pack on Amazon. DO NOT USE AUTOMOTIVE ANTIFREEZE.
  • Water Heater By-Pass Kit: Some, not all RVs, come with a built-in water heater by-pass, but if yours doesn’t you’ll need a kit to by-pass the tank. The Camco Water Heater By-Pass Kit is the one I recommend. Make sure you get the right length for your tank.
  • Holding Tank Cleaning Wand: To clean sediments out from your RV water heater, a cleaning wand is recommended. Camco’s cleaning wand is one of the best and most affordable available.
  • Water Pump Converter Kit: This allows you to use the RV water pump to inject anti-freeze into your pipes easily. This Camco Permanent Pump Converter Winterizing Kit is the one you want to use.
  • Basic Hand Tools: To remove drain plugs and loosen obstructions that may be in the way you’ll need some basic tools such as adjustable wrench, pliers, screwdrivers etc.

Steps To Winterize an RV

Now that you have on hand all the supplies you’ll need, we can begin to winterize your RV.

As you can see from the list, it’s not overly expensive to winterize an RV. It’s important however to have these supplies on hand before you get started, as it will allow you to get your RV winterized without any delays.

I highly recommend you read your owner’s manual to learn about any winterizing guidelines that may be specific to your camper.

Familiarize yourself with all the steps below before you begin.

Step 1. Disconnect any outside water source

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to disconnect any outside water source. You will also want to disconnect any inline water filters or bypass them if they have a bypass.

Step 2. Drain Your Fresh Water Tanks

Draining your fresh water tank is a simple process and should take too long. There is usually a single hose coming out from the underbelly of the RV. There is a valve you turn to let the water out. That will easily and quickly drain your fresh water tank.

Step 3. Drain and Flush Gray and Black Holding Tanks

Some RVs have a tank flushing system built-in, so simply engage that to clean the tanks. If your RV doesn’t have a tank flushing system, you’ll need to do it manually.

You’ll need to drain the gray and black water tanks and using a wand clean out the insides. You can also want to lubricate the termination valves with WD-40.

Make sure to dispose of the content at a proper dump station.

Step 4. Drain Your Hot Water Heater

Never drain your hot water tank when the water temperature is hot or under pressure.

First, turn-off the breaker to your RV water heater as a safety precaution. This will prevent ensure the water heating element on/off switch doesn’t get turned on accidentally with no water in the tank.

When you are sure the water is not hot, go outside your RV and open the panel to access the water tank.

Next find the water heater drain plug which is typically located near the bottom of the tank. Loosen the drain plug using an adjustable wrench and remove it. Be careful when removing the drain plug as it is usually made of plastic.

On Suburban brand of water heaters the drain plug is also an anodized rod, remove it and the water inside the tank will start to run out.

To help the water drain quicker, open the pressure relief valve at the top of the tank.

Step 3. Drain your water system

Open all faucets, both hot and cold, inside and outside your RV. Don’t forget the toilet valve and if you have an outside shower it too needs to be open. Now it’s time to drain your RV water lines.

First, you need to locate the low point water line drains. They are usually located underneath your RV near the water heater.

Here is a video showing you the typical location of the low point water line drain valves plus an easy tip to modify them for future use.

Next, run the water pump for a bit to help force any water out. Turn the water pump off as soon as the water has drained. Be careful not to run the water pump without any water in the system for too long, or you might ruin the pump.

Step 4. By-pass your water heater

In this step, we’re going to bypass your water heater. By doing this, you avoid having to fill your water heater with antifreeze, which can save you as much as 6 to 10 gallons of antifreeze. Some RVs come pre-equipped with a bypass system, but many do not. If yours does not have a bypass system, then you will need to purchase a kit and install it. I recommend this one by Camco.

Step 5. Add anti-freeze (Non-Toxic RV Anti-freeze)

Let’s add the antifreeze. There are typically two ways to add antifreeze to your travel trailer. You can use a water pump conversion kit and add the antifreeze from the inside, or you can use a hand pump and add the antifreeze from the outside.

To check your progress, you will need to open up one faucet at a time. Begin with the kitchen faucet and open up the hot water and keep it open until antifreeze is flowing through it.

Once the output from the hot water faucet is flowing with pink antifreeze, you will know that antifreeze is in that system, and you can close the faucet.

Do the same with the cold faucet side. Do this with all faucets working from the highest which is usually the kitchen faucet to the lowest which is typically the bathroom in the shower and finally flush the toilet until antifreeze flows into the bowl.

How To Add Antifreeze to an RV Water System Video

Step 6. Pour anti-freeze in the shower and all sinks

At this stage of the process, you will want to add about one or two cups of antifreeze into the shower drains and kitchen sink drains. Don’t forget the toilet bowl as well. If you have an ice maker, washing machine, or an outside shower, you will want to winterize those as well. For those accessories, check your owner’s manual on how to winterize them.

Step # 9– You now are done winterizing your travel trailer

Once you have completed all the steps above, go through your RV and make sure all faucets are closed.

Here are some additional tips before you place your travel trailer and storage.

  • Clean out your refrigerator and pantry and remove anything that can spoil will not attract rodents.
  • Perform a thorough cleaning on the interior of your travel trailer.
  • Perform an exterior inspection and check for areas that might need caulking or repair.
  • Your sewer hose will probably need cleaning before you start it.
  • Thoroughly wash the exterior of your RV and wax.
  • Wash the awning with an awning cleaner. Let it dry completely before you roll it up.

Below is a video showing the winterization of a typical travel trailer.

Is RV antifreeze bad for your water heater?

RV antifreeze is non-toxic and safe for aluminum or steel water heater tanks. However, I advise not adding antifreeze to your water tank, simple because it’s not need if you properly drained your hot water heater.

What is a water heater bypass?

A water heater bypass is an extra piece of plumbing (hoses, fittings and valves) that allows you to bypass the water heater when adding antifreeze to your water system during the RV winterization process. This can save yo a bit of money since a water heater can hold 6 or more gallons.

How long does it take to winterize an RV?

If it’s your first time winterizing an RV, it can take an hour or more. However, once you become familiar with the process of RV winterization, it should take you about 20-30 minutes.

How much does it cost to winterize an RV?

If you go to your RV dealer for a basic winterization package, it can cost anywhere from $200 to $350 depending on the size of your RV and the class of your RV.

Why is RV winterizing important?

If you have ever experienced busted pipes due to freezing in your home, then you know the mess and expense that is incurred. The same goes for an RV. If you don’t winterize, you run the risk of frozen pipes that may burst, causing water damage to your RV.

Summary

Winterizing a travel trailer is not a difficult task. We do encourage you to check your owner’s manual to make sure that you are following the precise step for your particular travel trailer.

Caution: The steps above are very general, and some may or may not apply to your particular travel trailer. Check your owner’s manual for the exact steps needed to winterize your travel trailer, or hire a professional to do it for you.

Don’t own a travel trailer just yet? If you are thinking of buying one in the near future, check out our top-rated travel trailer brands post.

Ray Roman is the co-owner/author of Go Travel Trailers. He is the main contributor of content and an avid researcher of travel trailers and the RV lifestyle. He loves fly fishing, vacationing in Red River, NM, and spending time with family and friends.

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