The Ultimate Guide to How to Winterize a Camper or Travel Trailer

Man applying sealant around his camper windows to winterize it

The Ultimate Guide to How to Winterize a Camper or Travel Trailer

Through the spring, summer, and fall, you enjoyed amazing adventures in your camper. As the traditional camping season draws to a close and winter arrives, however, you may have already decided that winter camping isn’t for you. To make sure that your camper is ready to use again when spring comes around again, you need to know how to winterize a camper and prepare it for storage. Make sure you follow these critical steps to ensure that your camper is safe and protected through the winter months.

What are the steps for how to winterize a camper? The basic checklist includes these steps:

  1. Drain and Clean Your Water Tanks
  2. Drain Your Water Lines and Hot Water Heater
  3. Winterize Your Plumbing System
  4. Wash Out the Sewer Hose
  5. Clean Out Your Camper Completely
  6. Empty the Refrigerator
  7. Unplug All the Electronics
  8. Make Sure Your Propane Is No Longer Connected
  9. Seal All the Gaps
  10. Clean the Awning
  11. Wash and Wax Your Trailer to Have It Looking Its Best
  12. Choose the Right Location for Your Camper
  13. Tuck Your Camper in for the Winter

What’s the Difference Between an RV and a Camper?

An RV and a camper are incredibly similar since both can help RVers have adventures with their family while bringing a little piece of home along for the ride. Typically, however, an RV is its own vehicle and requires its own winterization checklist. But a camper is dragged behind a truck or other large vehicle. Some common types of campers include:

General Campers

Campers, in general, are trailers attached behind a vehicle. These large trailers have space for sleeping and cooking.

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are designed to offer more room for sleeping and storage. When you think of living on the road, you might be imagining life in a travel trailer.

Pop-Up Trailers

Pop-up trailers fold down into a much smaller size for easier hauling, thanks to the canvas construction of some of the walls. They often do not contain as many amenities as a full-size camper.

This guide is about how to winterize a camper, specifically, which is different from other recreational vehicles and structures.

What to Do Before You Start Winterizing Your Camper

Before getting started on the process of how to winterize a camper, schedule any needed maintenance. This is a great time to fix any problems you might have had throughout the seasons since you won’t need your travel trailer again until camping season swings around again. This is also a great time to:

  • Schedule having a professional put in a water heater bypass kit or a water pump converter kit.
  • Take care of any upgrades.
  • Have your camper evaluated.

How to Winterize a Camper

Step One: Drain and Clean Your Water Tanks

Your camper holds two key water disposal tanks: one for black water, which contains human waste and cannot be safely reused for any other purpose, and one for gray water, which contains all the runoff from your showers and your sink. It will also have a fresh water tank or holding tank for unused water.

Start the process of how to winterize a camper by draining these tanks completely before the end of the season arrives. You’ll need to plan to clean them out with a special black water tank cleaner and cleaning wand. Keep in mind that both black and grey water tanks can contain bacteria, which could breed over the winter and create a toxic mess if you don’t clean them out properly. Liquid left in those tanks, like any other water in your camper, can also freeze, causing its own set of problems.

Step Two: Drain the Water Lines and Hot Water Heater

Once you’ve cleaned out the black and gray water tanks and cleaned out your wastewater, you’ll need to clean out your water lines and hot water heater. Since you probably will not have the heater running or power going in your camper over the winter, drain the lines. If you leave water in them, they could freeze and even burst, leaving you with an expensive mess to clean up when spring arrives. Instead, make sure they are all drained completely.

You should not drain the water heater while it’s hot or under pressure. Instead, you should turn everything off, wait for it to cool down, and then open the drain plug at the bottom of the tank. You don’t want hot water coming out of the drain! Allow it to empty completely.

Then, make sure you’ve turned off your water pump, and open all of your faucets. Leave the faucets open while the water slows to a trickle then disappears. This simple step will help ensure that no water remains in your water system while you’re winterizing your camper.

While you’re draining and protecting your camper water system, make sure you drain and empty your washing machine, drain the outside shower, and check your dishwasher. The key goal behind many of the steps of how to winterize a camper is removing all possible traces of fluid. You don’t want anything remaining in the water lines as freezing temperatures hit.

Step Three: Winterize Your Camper Plumbing System

When it comes to your motorhome’s water system, you have two choices for winterizing: antifreeze, or compressed air. Both methods will help protect your pipes against freezing throughout the winter. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.

How to Use Antifreeze to Winterize Your Camper’s Plumbing System

Antifreeze can help prevent your lines from freezing and ensure that any fresh water remaining in your water system will not freeze and leave you with a serious mess over the winter months. Before you add antifreeze, make sure you bypass the water heater: if antifreeze makes it into the water heater, it can cause damage and even result in the need to replace it.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Camper:

Some campers come with a water heater bypass already installed. If you don’t know whether or not yours has one, make sure you check with a professional before adding antifreeze! If yours does not have one, a water heater bypass kit, also known as a bypass valve, can ensure that you can protect your travel trailer for the winter.

Make sure you buy non-toxic camper or RV antifreeze since it will need to be a special grade to ensure the integrity of your camper. On average, you will need two to three gallons of antifreeze to effectively winterize your system.

Turn off all the water faucets and make sure your water heater is turned off, too. Then, add antifreeze to the tank and, one by one, turn on all of your faucets until you see antifreeze. While the faucets remain open, open the city water inlet, remove the screen, and apply mild pressure to the soft screen with a screwdriver. Once you see coolant, you can replace the screen and cover.

While you’re working on your cold water lines, pour a little antifreeze down the drains, too. Once you’re done, make sure all of the faucets are fully closed and that the heating element of the water heater is turned off. The antifreeze will help protect your plumbing system throughout the winter months.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Camper:

If you use antifreeze to winterize your camper’s plumbing system, keep in mind that you will have to blow out the antifreeze again at the end of the winter or before you use water in the camper again.

How to Use Compressed Air to Winterize Your Motorhome’s Plumbing System

Your plumbing system is one of the most important parts of your camper to consider during the winterizing process — and compressed air will certainly help you do the job. Not only can it prove less expensive than using antifreeze, but you also won’t have to worry about having to blow out the antifreeze before the next season. Follow these steps:

1. Make sure you have the right materials on hand for how to winterize a camper plumbing system.

To winterize your camper’s plumbing system with fresh air, you will need:

  • An air compressor
  • An adjustable pressure regulator (an important element of your air compressor)
  • A blow out plug that fits into the city water inlet of your camper
2. Make sure you’ve already flushed and drained your black and gray water tanks.

You don’t want to proceed with this part of the process until those tanks are empty and clean. If you planned to skip that part of the process, you may want to go back and make sure your black water tank and gray water tank are empty.

3. Drain the fresh water system, if you haven’t already.

Make sure you have opened all exterior low point drains, in addition to opening all of your faucets and showerheads. The toilet pedal can also help flush additional water out of the system. Only when you have removed as much water as possible from the system should you progress with your compressed air winterization. You should also:

  • Make sure the water pump has been drained.
  • Remove any inline water filters.
  • Check the water heater to make sure that it’s been drained.
  • Turn on or install the bypass valve for your water heater, if needed.
4. Attach the air compressor to the city water inlet on your camper.

Use the blow out plug and make sure that you have a solid fit. Once you have attached the air compressor, turn it on. Limit the pressure to a maximum of 40 psi. Too much pressure could cause you to inadvertently damage internal travel trailer parts, including your water lines.

5. Open each hot and cold faucet and water fixture one at a time.

Starting with the fixtures closet to the air compressor and working your way around the camper, open each water fixture and watch water splutter out until only air gets released from the faucets. Close each one when you’re done. Make sure to open:

  • Hot water settings
  • Cold water settings
  • The showerhead
  • The toilet sprayer
  • The toilet, which you should flush until you have removed all water from the system
6. Turn off the compressor.

You can go ahead and disconnect the compressor and put it away when you’re done.

7. Use a little antifreeze.

While you won’t need to use as much antifreeze as if you were planning to use it as your primary winterization method, you should pour about a cup of antifreeze into:

  • Shower drains
  • Sink drains
  • The toilet
8. Remove all low point drain plugs.

Don’t forget the water heater drain plug! Taking out the drain plugs will ensure that no water remains in the system, where it could sit or freeze over the winter months.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Camper:

You can’t expect to get every drop of water out of your system using compressed air. Plan to use a cup of antifreeze per water fixture to prevent any remaining water from freezing and causing problems for your camper over the winter.

Step Four: Wash Out the Sewer Hose

In addition to washing out the tanks and flushing out the system, make sure you wash out the sewer hose! Many camper owners choose to keep the sewer hose stored outside the vehicle, and you may forget to clean it, especially if you’re hurrying through the process of how to winterize a camper. Make sure you wash out the sewer hose to prevent bacteria from building up and growing over the winter months.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Camper:

Consider connecting one end of the hose to the other to form a loop while storing it for the winter. This will help protect your camper by keeping the hose sanitary and contained throughout the winter months.

Step Five: Clean Out Your Camper Completely

Once you’ve taken care of winterizing your motorhome’s water system, you should take steps to ensure that it’s prepared for the winter in other ways, too.

During the winter months, chances are, you won’t be in your camper at all. That could mean that you would miss thieves or vandals breaking in. If you have any valuables in your camper, now is the time to remove them! Don’t forget jewelry and other expensive items. You should also:

  • Strip all of the beds
  • Wash all sheets and blankets
  • Remove all food from the cabinets, including nonperishable items or kitchen staples.
  • Make sure that you’ve removed any important or sentimental items that you might use for the rest of the year. Also, remove anything that could be damaged over the winter — photographs, for example.

Even canned goods should be removed from the camper during the winter to prevent freezing. Empty the cabinets and shelves and start from scratch when spring arrives and you’re ready to go camping again.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Camper:

Cockroaches can survive in temperatures of 15 degrees Fahrenheit, which means they could creep into your camper if you leave anything that will attract them over the winter months. Removing all bedding and curtains (as well as all food particles) will help protect your camper during the winter.

Step Six: Empty the Refrigerator

The last thing you want to do is open your camper in the spring, only to notice a foul smell or, worse, bugs coming from the refrigerator. While many pests do die off in winter, some bugs only die off in extreme temperatures. To keep your camper in the best possible condition during the winter months, remove anything that could tempt bugs and other small pests.

Empty the contents of the fridge. Open the freezer, remove all food items, clean out the ice maker, and make sure that it’s turned off. Defrost the freezer, unplug the unit, and clean it out, if needed. Wipe down any spills that may have gone ignored throughout the spring and summer when you were busy enjoying your travel trailer.

Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Camper:

Make sure that you prop open both the fridge and freezer doors. Even a little moisture left can lead to mold and mildew growth, especially during a warm spell. Prop something against the doors to keep them open, if needed.

Step Seven: Unplug All Your Electronics

To help protect the integrity of your electronics throughout the winter, make sure you go through the camper and unplug all of them. This includes:

  • TVs
  • Stereos
  • DVD or Bluray players
  • Charging stations for your phone
  • Your coffee maker
  • The water pump
  • Your microwave
  • Anything else plugged in throughout the camper

Keep in mind that extreme cold can be hard on electronics. If you live in an area that sees dramatic temperatures during the winter, you may want to consider removing some of those items from the camper and storing them in a climate-controlled location throughout the winter.

Step Eight: Make Sure Your Propane Is No Longer Connected

During the winter, when you won’t be in your camper, you might not notice a propane leak. Before winter arrives, remove your portable propane tanks and cap the lines. If you have an onboard propane tank, make sure you shut it off completely before you leave your camper for the winter.

Step Nine: Seal All the Gaps

Man checking the electrical panel of his camper for gaps and holes

Small gaps in your camper could lead to big problems over the winter months, when pests may begin to creep in. Seal all the gaps throughout your camper to protect your investment.

Take a look at:

Outside Outlets

Take a look at inlets, outlets, exhaust guards, and anything else that pests might see as an entryway during the cold winter months. Mesh screens can help cover some openings. If you’re particularly worried about pests, especially small ones, you may even want to use shrink wrap to cover those areas. This will prevent pests from making their way inside and ensure that your camper will remain pest-free throughout the winter.

Gaps Around Windows and Doors

In addition to your efforts to find any holes in your camper that could open an invitation to pests, make sure you take a look at your windows and doors. Are there any gaps that could invite them inside? If you can feel outside air, chances are, there’s a gap somewhere. Also, if you can see daylight, you may need to fill in those gaps! Lap sealant will not only deter insects; it will also prevent water from leaking inside over the rainy winter.

Cracks on the Roof

As your camper gets older, or if it’s seen some extreme weather over the spring and summer months, you may want to consider taking a look up at the roof. Do you notice any cracks starting to form? What may not be noticeable when you’re using your camper regularly may prove a much larger problem during the winter, when heavy snowfall or the melt/freeze cycle could cause those gaps to widen.

You can install a full-coverage sealant to take care of as many of those cracks as possible and extend the life of your roof, or you may choose to use lap sealant in that area, as well.

Step Ten: Clean the Awning

Woman cleaning the awning of her camper trailer

Your awning offers great coverage during the hot summer months when you might want to enjoy sitting outside your camper and chatting with family and friends. Look for special camper or RV awning cleaner, rather than using dish detergent or commercial cleaners.

Roll the awning out and clean the fabric. Pay particular attention to any cracks or tears, which could indicate that you need to repair or replace the awning.

Step Eleven: Wash and Wax Your Camper to Have It Looking Its Best

During the summer, you might not take the time to wash and wax your camper between one adventure and the next. Many camper users struggle to keep the external area of the camper clean since it often won’t fit through a traditional car wash. To make your camper look its best, however, take the time to wash and wax it before storing it for the winter.

Go over your travel trailer from end to end, washing as you go. Pay particular attention to the windshield and grills, where bugs may splatter throughout your drive. This is also a great chance to note any dings or problems with the paint, including chipped areas where rust could creep in and destroy your investment. Finally, add a coat of wax to help protect the paint and have your camper look its shiny best.

Step Twelve: Choose the Best Location for Your Camper

Once you’re done with the basic process of how to winterize a camper, you need to choose the ideal location for your camper to stay for the winter. You want a convenient location where you can check on your camper occasionally throughout the winter, especially following extreme weather. At the same time, you need a location that will allow your camper to sit flat throughout the winter months. Stabilizers can help prevent your camper from moving as you’re winterizing and throughout the winter.

Step Thirteen: Tuck Your Camper in for the Winter

Putting your camper under a cover for the winter can protect it from the elements and help prevent it from getting struck by debris. While your camper is certainly designed to sit outside for long periods of time, you want it to remain as safe as possible — and to extend its lifespan so that you can enjoy adventuring with your family for many years to come. Choose a camper cover that is sturdy but somewhat breathable. Consider using rags to pad sharp areas if needed to help reduce holes in your camper.

Are you struggling with the process of how to winterize a camper? If you have trouble figuring out how to winterize a travel trailer, motorhome, or camper, a local camper store or service station can help with the task and make it easier. Need a place to store your camper for the winter? Just like when storing a car, check out local storage options, including people who might be willing to allow you to borrow space in a driveway or under a carport for the winter.

Additional Winterization Resources


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