Whether you are a professional detailer looking to add RVs to your service menu, or just an RV owner needing some advice, there are a few things to keep in mind when washing an RV vs a car or truck.
From the equipment to wash methods, to the actual surface of the RV, there are a few tips and tricks to know about that are slightly different than a car or truck.
In this blog, I’ll break down 9 essential RV detailing tips to be aware of.
Tip 1: Purchase the right equipment for detailing an RV
If you are a detailer, starting with a high-quality pressure washer is really a must-have for washing larger vehicles like RVs.
To start, my recommendation is to find a gas-powered pressure washer with wheels like the Simpson MegaShot 3000-PSI unit. If you don’t already have a skid unit, check out my post Building a Pressure Washer Skid Unit for Detailing.
There are a few other products that you will want to pick up as well that I will describe later.
Products to consider when detailing an RV
- Gas-powered pressure washer
- Large water tanks for mobile detailing (check out my tank size guide here for more)
- Gel gloss for finishing
- Cleaner wax for protecting
- Large 5-gallon bucket for roof cannon
- Foam cannon for your pressure washer
- Water deionizer for preventing water spots
Tip: Since you’re dealing with a rather tall vehicle, having the option of using a pressure washer can make it faster to apply soap with a foam cannon, but you need to be careful not to apply too much pressure.
Washing an RV as a hobbyist?
As an RV owner, you can probably get by with a simple electric pressure washer that produces around 2,000 PSI at max. You’ll find gas pressure washers generally do a better job at using more water and cleaning slightly better (due to more pressure), but these 5 electric pressure washers I recommend perform really well for the price.
As long as you don’t need to blast mold or mildew (and keep your RV pretty clean) an electric pressure washer can be a great choice.
As a word of caution, you want to use a wide-angle sprayer tip and avoid decals and trim pieces. Custom vinyl lettering or accents are expensive, so I would not recommend using a pressure washer if you are washing an RV with a lot of vinyl.
Tip 2: Understand how to clean an RV roof
Unlike cars, RV roofs are typically made out of some type of rubber like EPDM (Ethylene Propylene-Diene Monomer). These are mostly white and are usually the dirtiest part of an RV, which is why they require special attention.
You want to be extremely careful when cleaning your roof standing up and even consider handwashing using kneepads if you prefer.
Use the right product for cleaning plastic roofs
Many people will use regular dish soap or a product like Purple Power, which isn’t the best product for plastics. Both contain degreasers, which can really dry out rubber and plastic over time causing cracking.
For cleaning an RV roof, I recommend you pick up a jug of RV rubber roof cleaner that is specifically formulated to both clean and protect your roof from UV rays.
Many of these RV roof cleaners are two-step in nature like the Pro-Tec RV roof products and provide one product for cleaning and another for UV protection (which can help prevent fading and cracking).
In addition to most roof cleaners, using a standard wash and wax soap can add some additional protection. Waxes and sealants are great for preventing cracking as protectants, just make sure you use what your RV manufacturer recommends based on the material.
Prepare before cleaning the roof of an RV
If you’re only used to washing cars, just know that washing an RV roof can be a different experience you need to be prepared for. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Be sure to wear comfortable shoes that can grip when wet.
- Use zip-ties to secure your water hose to something – a hose can be difficult to manage when you’re 8 feet off the ground.
- Close off vents to avoid water entering the cabin
- Do not stand on the roof
- Be careful around antennas and any seals to prevent damage or leaking
- Work front to back, and avoid putting weight on the front cab (which may not be able to support your weight)
Tip 3: Take your time
As a detailer or owner, you need to know that RVs can take about 6-8 hours to wash and detail thoroughly if you are one person. Be sure to take breaks, have fluids on hand if it is hot, and try to work in the shade if you can.
Because RV washing can take a while to clean, you can also expect to pay more (or charge more) for these services as opposed to a car wash.
$150-$250 is not unreasonable for a complete exterior wash and detail that includes washing tires, polishing chrome, and everything else. If you plan to clean the interior, that’s usually another $100-$200 depending on the level of service your customer is requesting.
Setting the expectation as a detailer
As good practice set expectations for what the client can expect based on what they are willing to pay you. RVs are large, and it can be very easy to miss a 1-inch spot under a ladder (for example). Be sure the client understands the nature of washing RVs and how getting them clean is much different than a car.
Tip 4: Use products recommended for each RV surface
RVs these days are made from a variety of materials from aluminum (rare) to fiberglass, to aluminum. Below are a few RV-specific products I found on Amazon you can use. These have pretty good reviews and are formulated for washing gel coats and RV materials, unlike normal car wash soaps.
Keep in mind you may need to ask your dealer or manufacturer what chemicals are safe to use if removing mold or other hard-to-remove substances. White vinegar (for example) is a pretty safe and effective method to remove mold from RV roofs.
Gel-Gloss RV – Click to View on Amazon
This all-in-one wash and wax is one of the most popular concentrates for cleaning RVs. It’s biodegradable but does not remove previously applied wax. If you wash a lot of RV surfaces (including aluminum), this product has you covered.
Aluminum cleaner and restorer by Star Brite- Click to View on Amazon
If you have a lot of shiny aluminum or chrome, start with an aluminum cleaner. This product by Star Brite is ideal because it helps restore luster to metal while also cleaning it. Ideal for Airstreams or metal surfaces, this one even comes with a sprayer for convenience.
Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax – Click to View on Amazon
To help remove stubborn black streak marks or areas you may have missed from washing, having a wax with some cleaning properties like this Meguiar’s product is great to have on hand after you finishing washing just to touch things up.
This product is designed for RVs and can be applied with a polishing pad.
Tip 5: Don’t worry about drying your RV
Since drying RVs are essentially impossible to do on a hot day due to evaporation, it’s usually not worth your time as long as you use the right products. Especially if you have a metal Class-A RV in a dark color, water spots can be pretty difficult to prevent.
Many owners find that using wash and wax products can help reduce the appearance of these spots, but another solution is to treat your water source itself.
Consider a spotless water system for some RVs
By far the most common portable water purifier for auto enthusiasts is the CR Spotless Car Wash System you can find here on Amazon. It basically removes those hard minerals in your water using filters that can be replaced after several washes.
Tip 6: Use a foam cannon to apply suds
Applying suds using a foam cannon or gun can really help save time if you prefer not to dip a brush in to a bucket of suds. You can use a foam gun with your standard garden hose, or a cannon with a pressure washer. Click here to learn all about foam cannons/guns and my recommendations.
Although dirt is best removed by my hand, an RV can usually get pretty clean if the product you are using can create a thick foam. Even if you plan to go back over with a long brush, it can speed up the process of applying soap to such a large surface.
Tip 7: Purchase a long wash brush for traditional washing
A wash brush with an extendable pole is really ideal if you plan to charge more per vehicle and do not need the speed and convenience of a foam sprayer.
While I generally don’t recommend washing cars with any kind of brush, RVs are a bit of an exception as long as you use a soft fabric brush, avoid bristles, and keep it clean.
Tip 8: Use lamb’s wool to avoid scratching
Many manufacturers of RVs recommend lamb’s wool for washing, which is generally a great choice for cars as well. RVs get pretty dirty, and a stiff-bristled brush you may have washed your car with can cause scratching and is generally not recommended in the RV community.
Opt for either a soft lamb’s wool mitt for those hard-to-reach areas, or a soft brush head made of wool or microfiber material to attach to an extendable pole.
Tip 9: Consider a truck wash
If you don’t use your RV frequently (and don’t want to worry about equipment) another tip is to consider a truck wash. If you haven’t heard of a truck wash before, these are pretty similar to full-service car washes but designed with larger bays to fit RVs and semi-trucks.
You can find truck washes just about anywhere, and usually start at around $50.
It’s also not a bad business to start if you are a detailer working near a tourist hub.
Blue Beacon is one of the most popular chains with locations all across the United States that I’ve heard good things about. Avoid truck washes that use mechanical brushes, and always make sure that these washes have the qualifications to wash your RV safely.
While these services typically won’t provide the level of cleanliness you can achieve on your own, they are much more practical if you are traveling.
Washing an RV can be a time-consuming task, but essential to maintain your investment. RVs are also a pretty good service to offer as a detailer if you live in a touristy area with a lot of recreational vehicles.
Check out my guide on cleaning aluminum diamondplate toolboxes if you have other metal surfaces that need cleaning on your RV. Hope it helps!