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Ask Bob Livingston: Cleaning Your RVs Exterior

Ask Bob Livingston: Cleaning Your RVs Exterior

August 14, 2019


RV owners have become conditioned to detail the exterior of their trailers, motorhomes and tow/dinghy vehicles before heading out on a trip or putting them in storage. Those that are more particular will have the fiberglass, metal or painted surfaces waxed twice a year, whether professionally or accomplished by themselves. In many cases, though, cleaning is ignored while on the road.

RV parks generally prohibit cleaning (or servicing, for that matter) on a site, which is understandable. Using park services (primarily running water) and making a mess is always an issue. No one wants to park on a pad that cannot be hosed off properly, and depending on the season, water conservation measures might be necessary. These restrictions complicate the process and finding suitable locations to clean the RV can be problematic.

One trick I’ve embraced over the years is to take advantage of rainy days. If our truck and fifth wheel have picked up dirt from wet roadways, and the layer of dirt is not too heavy or gritty, I’ll grab a couple of microfiber rags (the yellow ones from Costco work well and are relatively inexpensive) and a raincoat and wipe down the rigs.

Many times, water beaded on the surface from an overnight storm will provide enough moisture to do the job. It’s a quick and easy process, and if the rigs have been waxed regularly, the water will bead up nicely and offer a good cushion for dirt removal. Use caution here; if there is not enough water to suspend the dirt particles, the paint can be scratched.

When rainwater is not available, I go into my arsenal of cleaning products carried in the RV and pull out some that I’ve come to rely on after years of trial and error. When the surface is lightly soiled (think film) and the weather is dry, a good waterless detailer dispensed from a spray bottle, is perfect for a quick cleaning. There are many products on the market designed for this purpose and you’ll see car buffs using this stuff at shows to keep their vehicles shiny.

A go-to brand for me is Eagle One’s Wipe & Shine, which is available at many auto parts stores. While not inexpensive, the spray-on, wipe-off process is easy, and the formula is designed to leave a protective layer after buffing dry with a microfiber towel. There are other similar targeted products available at Camping World and supply stores.

When covering larger surfaces, I found products from Simple Reflection work well. This company displays proprietary products at popular RV shows and sells online. The Cleaner and Protectant is a spray-on, wipe-off product that cuts through grime quickly and easily. Higher surfaces can be reached when applied via the company’s pressure sprayer (or similar sprayers available at home improvement stores and online) and worked with an extension pole and applicator that holds a microfiber towel. The company’s extension pole has excellent balance and when extended, will reach well beyond the roofline. And the applicator is flexible, allowing the microfiber towel to maneuver in difficult spots; the towel is held on with hook and loop material. Extension pole products from Swobbit also work well, and there are others earmarked for RVs.

I’m all about convenience when it comes to cleaning and removing bugs, especially those that have dried on the surface, is not my idea of a fun time. Over the years I have experimented with dozens of products and procedures to remove these pests, and Simple Reflection’s Bug & Streak remover is one of the best on the market. The spray-on liquid turns to foam when dispensed from the company’s bottle and sticks to the surface long enough to soften the bugs. After 30 seconds or so, the bugs can be wiped off easily with a microfiber.

If the bugs have been allowed to dry and become hard, using a Love Bug Eraser can team up with your favorite product or even works well with plain water.

Cleaning bugs off the front of a fifth-wheel is hard work and installing a Bugg Banner is a bug-cleaning game changer. The material is mounted to the front of a fifth wheel using a clever system of brackets and rope, and covers the front cap. Only a small portion of the surface is exposed to the elements, and that area can usually be reached while standing on the ground. I’ve run this banner for 16,000 miles, it stays in place perfectly and can be cleaned by throwing in the washing machine.

While rinsing with running water after soaping up with a suitable cleaner is the best defense against extra dirty surfaces, one-step products are more environmentally friendly, and are usually allowed in an RV park. My latest discovery is Optimum No Rinse Wash & Shine, a product recommended by a professional detailer. The solution is concentrated and 1-gallon jugs can be found online. You’ll only have to add 1 ounce of solution to 2 gallons of water, so the product is very cost effective. A microfiber towel is used to clean the surface, which is dried with another microfiber towel. It’s a back-to-back process, so the surface is dried immediately after cleaning. It’s best to use a well-soaked towel to fully suspend the film and debris.

And one last detail: it’s hard to beat Stoner Invisible Glass (available at auto parts stores and some home-improvement stores) when it comes to cleaning windshields and other windows.

Over the years, I have collected a plethora of products to keep RVs and vehicles looking sharp. While the ones above are my latest favorites, I never back off from searching for new products that make life on the road even more convenient.

It’s my nature; I’m obsessed with clean.



Bob Livingston recently retired as the group publisher and senior VP for GS Media and Events, publishers of Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines and their respective websites. Bob has written technical and lifestyle articles and books for 45 years, and penned the popular technical question and answer monthly column, Tech Topics, in Highways magazine, the 1.5-million-member Good Sam Club’s official publication, for more than 20 years.

He created and appeared on the weekly television show, RVtoday, and directed the programing and production during its five-year run on cable TV. Bob was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2014. He keeps his hand in the RV industry as a consultant to a number of companies working on product development and marketing projects. Bob and his wife, Lynne, live full time in their fifth wheel.


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