By Mark Polk

If I said it once I said it a hundred times, RV’s are a major investment like your house or automobile. To protect your investment and get many years of reliable service and use from your RV there are certain measures you need to take. One important measure is maintaining the exterior of your RV.


I recently started a new series of short RV videos titled “Mark’s RV Garage.” These videos will demonstrate after-market product installations, RV care & maintenance and other topics of interest to RVers. Watch this episode of Mark’s RV Garage for some tips on maintaining the exterior of your RV.

Over time the roof and exterior of your RV begin to show signs of wear, caused by the constant exposure to the elements. Ozone in the air and ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun start to take their toll, which is first evident by signs of fading paint. The ozone in the air also causes products like rubber and vinyl to dry out, crack, and start to deteriorate. The UV rays from the sun make this aging process happen quicker. If at all possible you should try to keep your RV covered when not using it, to help protect it from Mother Nature.

Maintaining the exterior of your RV contributes to extending the life of the RV and protecting your investment. If you let your RV go, without cleaning it for periods of time it can be very difficult to get that new look back. Maintaining the exterior of your RV primarily consists of routine inspections, cleaning and lubricating items on the RV.

Exterior finishes begin to deteriorate over time. To extend the life of the exterior wash the RV frequently using a mild soap and water solution. You should always try to wash your RV after returning from a trip. Do not use harsh or abrasive cleaners. When washing the RV avoid spraying water directly into any appliance vents.

Metal sidewall finishes require routine maintenance to keep black streaks cleaned from the surface. If black streaks remain on metal sidewall finishes for prolonged periods of time it can be extremely difficult to clean or remove them. Use a commercial black streak remover. Test all cleaning solutions on a small portion of the RV’s graphics before using them.

Waxing the exterior of your RV can be a difficult job, but it will help extend the life of your RV. Wax the exterior with a quality wax formulated for the type of exterior surface your RV has. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Exercise caution when waxing around graphics taped on the RV. You should wax the RV when water no longer beads on the wall surface.

Water damage on an RV is similar to progressive damage to a tire. The outside of the tire looks fine, but the internal damage over a long period of time causes the tire to fail without any warning. The outside of your RV looks fine but the internal damage caused by water over a long period of time can result in the entire roof, floor or wall rotting away without you knowing it. Inspecting any and all sealants can help prevent expensive repairs caused by water damage. You must look very closely for any cracks, gaps, and loose or aged sealants. Inspect the roof, sidewalls, end caps, moldings, windows, compartments and anywhere the manufacturer cut a hole in the RV. Inspect the interior for any signs of water damage. Look for discoloration or wrinkles in the wall panels or wallpaper and feel for any soft spots on the walls, around all windows, doors, vents, slide outs, or any other openings that were cut in the RV sidewalls.

Note: Always use the proper type of sealant to make repairs; if you’re not sure what type of sealant to use talk to an authorized RV repair facility. Have any water damage repaired immediately.

RV manufacturers use different materials to construct RV roofs. Consult your owner’s manual for the type of roofing material used and for the type of soap or detergent required to clean the roof. Keeping debris such as leaves, tree sap and branches off of the roof will help to extend the life of the roofing material. You should clean and inspect your RV roof several times a year.

Caution: Exercise caution whenever you are on the roof of your RV. A fall can result in serious injury or death. For RV roofs not designed to be walked on it may be necessary to use 2’ X 4’ or 2’ X 8’ pieces of plywood to distribute your weight evenly across the roof rafters. If you are not comfortable working on the roof of your RV, have your roof maintenance performed by an authorized RV service center.

When cleaning the roof keep the sides of the RV rinsed off to avoid soap residue, streaking and any damage to decals, graphics or the paint finish. Never use cleaners containing petroleum solvents, harsh abrasives, or citric based acids on rubber or vinyl roofs.

Cleaning the roof is only part of maintaining it. Every time you clean the roof you need to inspect the sealants around all of the openings and the seams on the roof. Water will take the path of least resistance and if there is the smallest opening it will find it. You need to thoroughly inspect the roof sealants for potential leaks and reseal any areas of the roof seams and around openings where you suspect a leak. Check with your RV dealer for sealants that are compatible with your roofing material.

This information is an excerpt from our RV Care & Maintenance DVD

Happy Camping,
Mark Polk
RV Education 101