When Should You Winterize Your RV?

As we enter the chillier part of the year, more and more RVers are getting their rigs ready for storage. And a big part of this process? Winterizing the RV. But when should you winterize your RV? At what point will your rig be damaged if you haven’t yet winterized?

In this article, we will discuss the answers to these questions so you can make sure your RV is equipped to take on the challenges of winter and emerge ready to camp when the warmth of the spring rolls around.

Is RV Winterization Necessary?

You may be wondering if you even really need to winterize. Maybe you have an RV that claims to be a four-season rig, or perhaps you live somewhere that doesn’t see a lot of snow. Unfortunately, for the most part, RV winterization is indeed necessary despite these things.

Winterizing your RV ensures the water lines and tanks don’t freeze during the cold winter months. Frozen tanks and water lines could cause some pretty serious damages that you don’t want to deal with once the spring camping season rolls around, so winterizing is definitely the way to go.

The only exceptions to this rule?

  • If you live in a warm climate that simply does not see freezing temperatures.
  • You live in your RV full-time and plan to head to a southern spot that is sunny year-round.
  • Or…the RV is stored in a climate-controlled space.

If one or more of those is true for you, you can likely get away with skipping the RV winterization process. That said, there are a scarce few places in the US that are truly warm enough for this, and most storage facilities are not climate-controlled, so you will almost certainly need to plan on winterizing your rig.

Most RV’s are not made to sustain cold temps. A proper winterization during the fall can save you time and money in the spring. 

When You Winterize Depends on Where You Are

Just as whether you need to winterize your RV depends on where you happen to be located, so does when you winterize. Obviously, the further north you live, the faster it’s going to get cold, and the colder it’s going to get. For this reason, those who live in, say, Maine and Washington State will have to winterize their RVs long before those who live in Texas, for example.

In any case, most people will need to winterize sometime between October and December of each year. Just be smart about it and make sure your rig is fully winterized before any freezes come through your area. Not sure when that might be? It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so the earliest you can get it done is best.

Its a good idea to check your RV monthly during the winter months. Keep an eye out for ice, leaks or signs of rodents. 

Other Factors to Consider when Deciding When to Winterize

It seems like the smart thing would be to winterize the RV in early October no matter what…right? Well, there are some things that you might want to take into consideration before you do that.

The Winterization Rule of Thumb

Still not sure when to winterize your RV? The super simple and solid rule of thumb is that RV lines will begin to freeze anytime the temperature falls below 30°F for more than 20 or 30 minutes. If you keep this rule in mind and schedule your RV winterization around it, you will be safe.

Is the RV being used occasionally?

Fall is a beautiful time to go camping. If you’re still taking the RV out on weekends, you aren’t going to want to winterize and de-winterize every single time you head out.

Obviously, if the temperatures are dropping below 30°F at night, you really don’t have a lot of choice and you may even be left camping in a winterized camper and using bottled water rather than the onboard water system. That said, if your area is not yet seeing those kinds of temperatures, you might want to hold off on winterizing your RV for a few more weeks to reduce the amount of work you do before and after each camping trip.

Is the RV in constant use?

An RV that is lived in full-time will be able to withstand slightly lower temperatures for a slightly longer amount of time than an RV that is sitting empty. This is because the people in the RV will be running the furnace, which helps keep the water lines warm. In fact, many RVs come equipped with enclosed underbellies that are designed to be kept warm when the furnace is run.

If your RV is being used constantly, you can probably wait a little longer to winterize it. If you live in a relatively mild climate and the RV will be lived in full-time, you might even get away with skipping the winterization process, but this can be risky. If you go this route, make sure the underbelly is kept warm with work lights, and consider adding some sort of skirting to the rig.

Is the RV stored indoors?

As mentioned above, if your RV is stored in a climate-controlled space, you don’t need to winterize at all. But what if you store your RV in a space that is enclosed but not climate-controlled, such as a garage? In this case, you can delay winterization a bit, as the RV will stay a little warmer than if it were outdoors. However, you will likely still need to winterize the RV before it gets too terribly cold.

It might help to keep a thermometer in your garage to see how much warmer the space actually is, making sure to winterize the RV before the garage temperature drops below 30°F for more than half an hour.

How to Winterize Your RV

By now you should have a pretty good idea of when to winterize your RV. The next question? How do you winterize a trailer or motorhome?

Fortunately, the process is fairly simple and the vast majority of RV owners will be able to take care of this bit of maintenance themselves:

  1. Turn off the water heater.
  2. Disconnect from water.
  3. Dump the freshwater tank.
  4. Turn on your water pump and run all faucets until the lines are empty.
  5. Close faucets.
  6. Dump and clean the waste tanks.
  7. Drain the water heater tank by removing the plug. (Be sure the water is cooled completely first! You don’t want to burn yourself.)
  8. Replace water heater plug.
  9. Open all exterior low-point drains.
  10. Close the drains again.
  11. Remove any inline water filters.
  12. Turn the water heater bypass valve to close the water heater tank off from the rest of the system.
  13. Drop the end of one of your water pump intake hoses into a jug of RV antifreeze.
  14. Turn on the pump.
  15. Open the cold side of the faucet nearest the pump and let it run until it runs pink.
  16. Close the cold side.
  17. Run the hot side of the faucet until it runs pink as well.
  18. Close the hot side.
  19. Repeat this process on every faucet in the RV, working your way away from the water pump and making sure to replace the bottle of antifreeze as needed.
  20. Flush the toilet until you see antifreeze.
  21. Pour a cup of RV antifreeze down each sink, the shower, and the toilet.
  22. Be sure to consult your owner’s manual for information on winterizing ice makers, dishwashers, clothes washers, etc.

It’s also possible to winterize your RV water system without antifreeze if you have access to an air compressor.

About Chelsea Gonzales

Chelsea Gonzales has been living in an RV and traveling with her family for 7 years now. She road schools her two children, using various travel experiences as lessons in history, science, geography, and more. During their time on the road, the Gonzales family has had the pleasure of touring the 48 contiguous United States as well as parts of Canada. They have learned a lot along the way and Chelsea is happy to share some of that knowledge through her writing.