Cleaning a motorhome is a task that is unlike any other. In addition to areas such as the
painted or gel-coated finish, the tires, aluminum/chrome and rubber roof, there’s the
residential side of the unit that needs attention. The variety can be dizzying;
contemporary motorhomes may contain fabric upholstery, leather, faux leather, laminate,
solid-surface or stone countertops, carpet, tile and wood. Clearly, there isn’t one process
or product that can do it all, but there are a variety of RV-specific solutions that can
make cleaning and detailing your coach easier.
In this article, we’ll focus on the
products, how they work, and useful tips on cleaning your coach for maximum results with
minimum effort. 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 check their Web sites for more information.
matter who you talk to, the experts agree that the best way to clean your coach is from top
“It sounds like a simple concept, but I see RVers struggle with this all the
time,” said Fred Tomczyk, manager of marketing services for Thetford Corp. “Start with the roof,
then do the awning(s), the walls, and finish up with the glass.”
Thetford manufactures a
variety of RV-specific care products, including its Rubber Roof Cleaner and Conditioner.
“Proper care and cleaning are the most important aspects of getting the longest life out of
your rubber roof,” said Mary Burrows, chemical development manager for Thetford Corp.
“Owners should keep the roof clean and never use petroleum products, abrasives or sharp
objects on the rubber roof. Thetford’s Rubber Roof Cleaner and Conditioner cleans the roof
using very effective nonpetroleum cleaning agents. It also contains a UV inhibitor to
protect the rubber.”
How often you tend to your rubber roof depends on the environment
and/or conditions in which you live. According to Burrows, the roof should be
cleaned/conditioned at the beginning and end of each season, minimum. “In areas with strong
sunshine, replenishing the UV inhibitor regularly is very important,” she says. “And if it
is parked under trees or near a busy road, more dirt will accumulate, so the roof may need
to be cleaned/conditioned four or five times a year under these conditions.”
If you don’t
maintain your rubber roof, you may be faced with more than an ugly topside. “The surface of
a rubber roof is degraded by heat and light – particularly UV light,” explains Robert
Flowers, a chemist for Camco. “The
polymer the membrane is made from degrades or chalks after being exposed to UV light for
long periods of time. As the surface breaks down, it normally is seen as a grayish-white
streak. As the roof ages, it can also lose some of the chemical that makes the membrane
flexible and waterproof.”
Companies such as Dicor,Protect
All and others make rubber-roof cleaner/protectant products as well. Although their
formulations may differ, 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.
Under normal use, cleaning the awning isn’t much of an
issue because it spends most of its time stored, 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. Both Thetford and Camco offer
products designed specifically for cleaning awnings and removing the stains that affect
“Thetford’s Awning Cleaner contains special cleaning agents that are designed to
lift the soils that can stain awnings, without any bleach additives,” said Burrows. “The
product is sprayed into the surface, scrubbed with a brush and rinsed clean. If the cleaner
can sit on a soiled surface for a few minutes, it will make the cleaning job even easier.”
Camco’s Flowers says that the company’s Full Timer’s Choice awning cleaner is formulated to
clean the awning without actually penetrating the material.
“A good awning has a
waterproofing chemical applied to it to meet the performance requirements of the
application,” he explains. “A product that fully penetrates the awning will cause it to
lose its water-repellency.” Camco recommends that the awning first be flooded with water to
remove as much dirt as possible. Then, the product is applied and the awning is rinsed
The Dreaded Black Streaks
Aside from keeping the roof in good
condition, another very compelling reason to clean your roof is the dreaded black streaks.
Regardless of whether you’ve got a rubber, thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) or fiberglass
roof, you’re bound to get them. 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 near impossible
to remove with common soap and water, but Camco, Protect All and Thetford all offer
products that can easily remove them – provided they’re not too far gone.
ages it develops hairline cracks,” Burrows explains. “Black streaks can get into these
hairline fractures and actually stain the fiberglass surface.” Once this happens, it is
still possible to get the black streaks out, but it will require a lot more effort.
can help prevent black streaks from forming; however, it is important to remember not to
wax the surface if black streaks exist. “Waxing over the black streaks makes them more
difficult to remove,” says Flowers. “A lot of RVers use a wash-and-wax product, which is
good, but they should remove the black streaks first.”
the roof and awning cleaned, the next step is the exterior walls. Although 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 Camco, Thetford,
Protect All and car-care specialists including Eagle One, Mothers
and Meguiar’s 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. Shurhold, for one, offers three different RV Kits (Basic, Intermediate
and Deluxe) that contain a telescoping handle (up to 9 feet), a soft brush and
stainless-steel squeegee, among other items. Mary Moppins offers a unique, patented mop head that uses a
hook-and-loop fastening system to hold common terry towels, which can be used to wash
and/or dry the coach, as well as its EZE Squeegee, both of which attach to an extension
pole. California Car Cover Company offers
its California Water Blade, a giant squeegee (12 or 18 inches) made from medical-grade
silicone that can also be affixed to an extension-pole kit.
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. “Moderate to severe oxidation can occur within 24 to 36
months,” says Ken Neuman, Protect All’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Light
oxidation can be removed with a simple wax product, but more serious oxidation can require
some real rubbing and scrubbing.”
One of the easiest ways to apply a wax product over a
large surface is with an orbital buffer, not a rotary buffer, which can quickly burn
through paint/gelcoat if used by inexperienced hands. 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 dried 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.
the inside of your motorhome isn’t a lot different from caring for your house, with one
exception: more and different surfaces in a smaller area. As mentioned earlier, one coach
may have carpet, fabric upholstery, leather/Ultraleather, tile, stone and fiberglass in one
comparatively small unit, each with a different cleaning regimen. Considering the amount of
storage space some RVs have, it doesn’t make sense to carry a multitude of cleaning
products, not to mention a bucket and a mop.
Mary Findley, owner of Mary Moppins, has a
unique solution to this problem. A nationally recognized cleaning expert and author who
began cleaning homes professionally in 1983, Findley’s first revelation was the
aforementioned hook-and-loop mop head that holds common terry towels, effectively
eliminating the need for mop and bucket. Next came her own line of cleaning products with a
unique twist: They use all nontoxic ingredients.
“I was having breathing problems from the
chemicals that I used while cleaning houses,” Findley explains. “And if a house is
enclosed, just think of all those chemicals in a small space like an RV. I did some
research and found that many lung problems, including cancer, emphysema, asthma and others,
may be caused by breathing a concentration of chemicals over time.”
After years of
researching various green-certified suppliers and studying material safety data sheets on
each one, she finally settled on five products that would not only safely clean surfaces on
the inside, but the outside, too: Advantage, Benya, CleanEz, TerraPlus and LeatherCare, all
of which are contained in her RV Cleaners Kit.
Advantage is a waterless wash that
emulsifies dirt and polishes at the same time; Findley says it can also be used to clean
and provide improved water sheeting and prevent water spots on the windshield and in glass
showers. Benya is designed to safely clean natural stone surfaces such as marble and
granite, plus engineered stone and solid surfaces; it also cleans glass and removes smudges
on appliances, according to Findley.
CleanEz is a highly concentrated, multipurpose
cleaner. “CleanEz does a great job cleaning multiple surfaces – toilets, carpet,
upholstery, even clothing,” she says. “Plus, it can be diluted to various strengths for the
cleaning requirements at hand.” For heavy dirt, Mary Moppins offers TerraPlus, which is
designed to remove grease or oil, heavy water spots, soap residue build-up, even black
streaks and rust. LeatherCare, as you might guess, is designed to deep clean and condition
leather, but also synthetic leather and vinyl.
As you can see, no matter what your cleaning
dilemma, be it inside or out, there is a company out there that makes a product designed
for your RV. Now you can make a clean start on your travel season.