All Washed Up

By Chris Hemer
April 22, 2015
Filed under Feature Stories, Gear


Cleaning Every Part of Your Motorhome this Spring is Easy with These Specialty Products


Everyone knows how to wash a car. It’s paint, plastic and glass for the most part, and caring for it can be as simple as running it through the carwash. Motorhomes, on the other hand, are a different story; depending on the style and manufacturing method, they can be made of metal, gel-coated fiberglass, painted fiberglass or all of the above, and have a roof made of fiberglass, thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) or rubber. Properly caring for your coach not only keeps it looking good, but prevents oxidation and other damage that can lead to expensive repairs later on. In this article, we’ll touch on the products designed specifically for RV exterior cleaning and care, along with tips on how to do it right. Several companies were sourced throughout this article, with one or more products used as an example. But most of these companies offer a complete line of RV care products, so don’t forget to check their websites for more information.

Top Down

Protect All was one of the originators of RV detailing products, and its popular Rubber Roof Cleaner and Rubber Roof Treatment products are available in 32-ounce spray and 1-gallon containers.

Protect All was one of the originators of RV detailing products, and its popular Rubber Roof Cleaner and Rubber Roof Treatment products are available in 32-ounce spray and 1-gallon containers.

No matter who you talk to, the experts agree that the best way to clean your coach is from top to bottom, which makes perfect sense. Sweep the roof of any heavy debris like pine needles or leaves, then hose it down, and follow up with the awnings, walls, and finally, the glass.
If you’ve got a rubber roof, which most motorhomes do, you’ll want to use a cleaner designed specifically for this surface, like Thetford’s Rubber Roof Cleaner and Conditioner, which uses nonpetroleum cleaning agents and a UV inhibitor that protects the rubber membrane and helps prevent the chalking that can occur over time.

How often you tend to your rubber roof depends on the environment and/or conditions in which you live, but generally speaking, it’s a good idea to clean/condition the roof at the beginning and end of each season, minimum. If you live in an area with strong sunshine, the UV-inhibiting aspect of a rubber roof treatment is particularly important, and if it’s parked outdoors, dirt can accumulate quickly. Under these circumstances, it may be necessary to clean/protect the roof several times a year.

While dirt can indeed harm a motor­home’s roof over time, UV light is actually its biggest enemy. The polymer that the membrane is made of degrades or “chalks” after being exposed to UV light for long periods of time. The most obvious signs that the rubber is breaking down are the grayish-white streaks that may run down the side of the coach. As the roof ages, it can also lose some of the chemicals that keep the membrane flexible and waterproof.

Camco offers a variety of products that will help you get started cleaning the most common problem areas on your coach, including the rubber roof and awning. Its mildew stain remover works on awnings, headliners, chair cushions and more.

Camco offers a variety of products that will help you get started cleaning the most common problem areas on your coach, including the rubber roof and awning. Its mildew stain remover works on awnings, headliners, chair cushions and more.

Besides keeping the roof in good condition, another very compelling reason to clean your roof are those dreaded black streaks. Regardless of whether you’ve got a rubber, TPO or fiberglass roof, you’re likely to experience them at one time or another — but what are they? Essentially, black streaks are a combination of soils, oxidation and nonwater-soluble oils used in the manufacture of rubber roofs, rubberized sealers and plastic parts on the RV’s roof. They can be darn near impossible to remove with common soap and water, but Camco, Protect All and Thetford offer products that can easily remove them — provided they’re not too far gone. As fiberglass ages, it develops hairline cracks which can absorb the black gook running down the sides, making it much harder to remove.

Although all RV exterior detailing product manufacturers offer different formulations to address the same issues, they can all agree on one thing: A rubber roof treatment system can only protect a rubber roof that is in good shape — it can’t bring a neglected roof back to life. So at minimum, make sure you treat the roof twice a year and wash it off whenever you clean the rest of the coach.

Cleaning the awning shouldn’t pose much of a problem, because it spends most of its time rolled up or protected by an aluminum wrap, away from the elements. But during long stays or full-timing, it’s only a matter of time before the awning gets dirty or worse yet, covered with bird droppings, sap and other debris. Thetford, Camco and Dometic offer products designed specifically for cleaning awnings, and removing the stains that affect them most. Like the roof, the first step should be to hose the worst of the dirt and debris from the awning, then spray the product onto the surface and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Finally, scrub the surface gently with a brush and rinse it off with a hose and allow to dry completely before retracting.


Dometic’s Ultra Red Cleaner is a concentrated, heavy-duty cleaner formulated to remove dirt and grime as well as black streaks. Once you’ve removed the worst of the rig’s exterior stains, Dometic also offers its Wash ‘N Wax product that safely cleans the surface and dries without annoying spots. RV awning cleaners, like Dometic’s Premium RV Awning Cleaner, are designed to remove stubborn stains from both fabric and vinyl awnings.

Exterior Walls

With the roof and awning cleaned, the next step is the exterior walls. While it is common practice to use household dish detergent for this purpose, RV and car care product manufacturers advise against this for one simple reason: It strips the surface of any waxes that you may have applied earlier. Specialized washing soaps offered by a variety of companies like Camco, Dometic, Thetford, Protect All and others are all designed to clean away dirt and grime while leaving the thin film of wax intact. In between washes, there are also a variety of “waterless car wash” products designed to rid the surface of the light dirt film that can accumulate over a few days, and spray-on “touch-up” wax products to keep a layer of wax on the surface in between waxing.

It’s no secret that reaching the upper half of any RV can be a challenge, and constantly moving a ladder down the side of the coach just won’t do. The easiest and safest way to get to hard-to-reach areas is with an extension pole system. Adjust-a-Brush, Shurhold and others offer such systems to make washing easier.


As its name implies, Thetford’s Premium Rubber Roof Cleaner and Conditioner cleans and conditions the roof, and also protects it with a UV blocker. The product is designed to remove common grime as well as tough leaf and mildew stains — even bird droppings. The nontoxic, biodegradable formula contains no petroleum distillates.

Like any automotive finish, an RV’s surface, whether painted or gel-coated, should be waxed on a regular basis to prevent surface oxidation. How often depends, again, on the severity of your environment, but figure it should be waxed whenever the rubber roof is treated, or at the beginning/end of every travel season, minimum. One of the easiest ways to apply a wax product over a large surface is with an orbital buffer, not a rotary buffer. In the wrong hands, a rotary buffer can quickly burn through paint/gelcoat, causing more harm than good. Apply a small amount of wax to the pad, then begin applying the product. Remember, less is more when it comes to wax; if you apply too much, it will splatter and dry elsewhere, requiring more work to remove it. Let the wax form a light haze, then use a clean bonnet on the buffer to remove the wax and polish the surface. It’s quicker and a lot easier. If you notice wax in some nooks and crannies, you can use a detailing brush specifically made for the purpose, or even a common soft-bristle toothbrush will do the trick.

Your motorhome was a big investment. Caring for it now will keep it looking good for many years to come.


Camco Manufacturing Inc. |800-334-2004 |

Dometic USA | 800-544-4881 |

Protect All Inc. | 800-322-4491 |

Thetford Corp. | 800-543-1219 |


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