How to Winterize an RV or Travel Trailer

It’s a pain in the neck but failing to winterize an RV or travel trailer is far bigger headache (and costly) in the long run.

What is the purpose of winterizing?  The primary reason is to keep the water lines, water tank, water heater, and water pump from freeze damage.  Water expands as it turns to ice and will easily burst anything trying to contain it causing massive water damage, ruined carpets, swollen particle board decks, and expensive repairs bills the next spring.

Almost all new RVs and travel trailers come with instructions on how to winterize them.  It isn’t hard, but you do need to be thorough.

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The tools and supplies you will need are:

  • RV Antifreeze (non-toxic). Usually is pink in color.  In most situations two to three gallons will be enough. DO NOT USE TOXIC AUTOMOBILE ANTIFREEZE.
  • A flashlight to locate drain valves and petcocks.
  • Wrench or pliers to remove the drain plug on the water heater.
  • RV antifreeze fill hose or attachment.
  • Water heater bypass kit (If one isn’t installed already.)
  • A spray wand to clean the grey and black water tanks.
  • A garden hose.

Before you start buying anything, check to see what the manufacturer already installed to make winterizing your RV or travel trailer easier.

In most cases, a bypass system of valves has already been installed on the water heater. This prevents the need to fill it with six gallons of RV antifreeze.  The bypass valves may be hidden behind kitchen cabinets or under built-in furniture.

Some manufacturers also install all the hoses and valves needed to draw antifreeze right from the jug and pump it into the system.  Read the manuals and follow the instructions.

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Steps to Winterize an RV (Some may not apply to your rig.):

  • Turn off the water heater, both electric and gas heaters.
  • Drain and remove or bypass all fresh water filters.
  • Drain the fresh water tank.
  • Drain the black and grey water holding tanks.
  • If possible, use the wand to spray down the interior of the holding tanks to remove any stuck-on solids from the level sensors.
  • Lubricate the holding tank valve shafts with silicone or WD-40.
  • Drain the water heater by removing the drain plug. Leave the plug out.
  • If installed, open all petcocks that allow the water lines to drain.
  • Open all faucets to break the vacuum and allow water to drain.
  • Don’t forget any outside showers or faucets.
  • If you desire, you may carefully blow out the water lines using an adapter and an air compressor. Do not over-pressurize!
  • After all water is drained, close all faucets.
  • Disconnect the suction hose that feeds water from the fresh water tank to the water pump. Install a short hose to allow the pump to draw from the antifreeze jug. (Many rigs have three way valves already installed to allow changing the suction from the fresh water tanks to the antifreeze jug.)
  • Turn the water pump on and pressurize the system with antifreeze.
  • Open each faucet one at a time until pink antifreeze comes out. (Keep an eye on the antifreeze jug to assure that it doesn’t run dry or start sucking air.)
  • Repeat at each faucet from closest to farthest away from the pump. Don’t forget the inside and outside showers.
  • Flush the toilet until pink antifreeze comes out.
  • Run enough antifreeze down each sink and shower drain to fill the trap.
  • Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines of your rig had a dishwasher or ice maker.
  • Once all lines are flushed, turn off the pump and open a faucet to relieve the pressure.

Don't forget to put antifreeze in all drain traps.
Don’t forget to put antifreeze in all drain traps.

The RV or travel trailer is now winterized.  Some additional steps you may want to take:

  • Remove all food and drinks that can freeze and break.
  • Clean out the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Remove all medicines and toiletries that can be damaged by freezing.
  • Make sure the cabin batteries are fully charged, then disconnect them. Dead batteries can freeze.
  • Fill the fuel tank to minimize moisture condensation.
  • Install fuel stabilizer into the fuel tank and run the engine and generator long enough for the stabilized fuel to reach each engine.
  • Close the gas valve on the propane tank if you are not going to need the heater or refrigerator running.
  • Cover the rig with a proper cover or tarp to protect it from storms and UV damage.
  • Cover the tires to protect them from UV damage.
  • Check the engine antifreeze strength. In Indiana, the minimum strength should be minus 5 degrees F.
  • Install rodent protection.

Don’t risk risk unpleasant surprises come spring.  Follow these steps to winterize an RV or travel trailer and you’ll be ready for carefree adventure when warmer weather finally returns.

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Alan Garbers
Alan James Garbers – Alan is passionate for the outdoors. He enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing, photography, writing, woodworking, and more. He loves exploring the BWCAW in northern Minnesota, roaming the deserts of Arizona, or hiking the mountains of Colorado. He has lived in Minnesota, Hawaii, Mississippi, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Indiana. From hunting rattlesnakes to black bear and fishing for catfish to muskie, he loves it all. Since 1989 his writing credits have included Indiana Outdoor News, Indiana Game & Fish, Muzzle Blasts, Outdoor Guide Magazine, Fur-Fish-Game, Boundary Waters Journal, Boys’ Quest, Fun For Kidz, Mother Earth News, Cricket, Small Farm Today, American Careers, Arizona Hunter & Angler, Old West, and others. Fiction credits include StarTrek Strange New Worlds Anthologies IV, V, and 08. Alan recently complied an anthology of his popular column, Behind The Badge: True Stories of Indiana’s Conservation Officers. It is available in e-reader format and found at Amazon and other on-line book retailers. Alan is a member of AGLOW and HOW.


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