Simple Steps to Winterize your RV

As the temperatures drop and the seasons begin to change, there are many things people must do to adequately prepare themselves for winter. As autumn ends, RV owners need to be prepared to winterize their RVs each year to protect them from potential damage during the colder months. 

Winterizing your RV’s plumbing system is a great place to start. This is a two-part process because it involves preparing both the automotive part of the RV and the “house” part of the RV for the cold. Winterizing the automotive portion is typically as simple as replacing your current coolant solution with antifreeze. However, in order to winterize the house portion, you must follow quite a few more steps. 

Why winterize your RV’s plumbing, you might ask? Failure to winterize your RV could cause the water in the lines and the pipes to freeze. Once the water freezes, it will expand and crack your pipes, which can be costly and time-consuming to repair. Play it safe by planning to winterize your RV each year, as soon as the temperatures begin to drop into the low 40s or high 30s. Reference this list whenever you are ready to safely prepare your RV for winter storage.

1. Gather materials.

The first thing you will need to do is gather your materials. To start, you need 2-3 gallons of non-toxic RV/Marine antifreeze and some simple tools to remove the drain plugs. Depending on what your RV is already equipped with, you may need a few other tools, as well. You will need a water pump converter kit, or just some basic tubing to connect the antifreeze to your system. In addition, your RV may already have a water heater bypass kit built into it, but if it doesn’t, you will need to buy and install one (more on that later). Finally, you need to purchase a tank cleaning wand and flushing system if your RV does not have one built in. Once you have collected your materials, you are ready to begin to winterize your RV.

2. Remove water filters.

Because you will be pumping antifreeze through your water system, you need to remove any inline water filters that are installed. This will ensure that they are clean and ready to use when you install them for trips next spring. Now is also a great time to replace your filters if they have expired.

3. Drain and flush black and gray tanks.

At a dump station or your campground sewer hookup, empty out your black and gray tanks. Leave the hose connected for a bit longer to ensure everything drains out. Then, flush out both tanks. If your RV does not have a built-in flushing system, you can use your cleaning wand and external flushing system to clean out the tanks.

4. Drain the water heater tank.

Next, drain your hot water heater by removing its drain plug. Be sure to switch this off before draining it, allowing the water to cool before you begin. Replace the plug once it has fully drained.

5. Open all faucets and remove all drain plugs. 

This will allow your water to drain from the tank. Be sure to open both the hot and cold lines and leave them open for a minimum of fifteen minutes to ensure all water has drained out. Leaving your water pump on during this process is helpful in draining the water quicker. Just be sure to turn off water pump once the water pressure is low. This will ensure there is no damage to your pump, which can be caused by running it with no water in the tank. 

6. Close all faucets and replace drain plugs once water has drained entirely.

It’s important to remember this step before you start pumping antifreeze into the system.

7. Bypass the hot water heater

Most RVs come with a hot water heater bypass kit already installed. This mechanism ensures that the hot water heater does not fill with antifreeze, which is unnecessary. This wouldn’t harm the heater, but it would waste 6-10 gallons of antifreeze, depending on the size of your tank. If your RV does not have its own bypass system, you can purchase and install one yourself or have the work completed by a local professional.

8. Connect the system to antifreeze.

Next, you need to install your water pump converter kit to allow your RV to pump antifreeze into your system. If you would rather not install a new device, you can disconnect one of your water intake lines and drop it directly into the jug of antifreeze. You may need to connect more tubing in order for this method to work.

9. Turn the water faucet closest to the water pump on.

Turn just the cold faucet on and let it slowly trickle until you start to see pink. Then, turn on the hot faucet until you see pink, as well.

10. Repeat this process for all sinks.

Move to the next sink and repeat this process until you have antifreeze flowing from all the faucets, both hot and cold. Replace the antifreeze jugs when necessary. Don’t forget your outdoor shower if you have one.

11. Flush the toilet until you see antifreeze.

Once you see antifreeze, you can be sure the toilet and septic system have been properly winterized.

12. Pour a cup of antifreeze down each sink’s drain and into the toilet. 

This will ensure that the antifreeze makes it into all of your plumbing lines and into the gray tank. Flush the toilet to ensure some of the antifreeze makes it into the black water holding tank, as well.

13. Prep the RV for final storage.

Turn the hot water heater heating element off and ensure all faucets are closed. Now your RV should be good to go.

14. Consult your owner’s manual for information regarding your ice maker and/or washing machine.

Since each ice maker and washing machine can be quite different, the instructions for winterizing these vary. It’s best to follow specific instructions to make sure these are properly prepared for winter.

Once you have completed these steps, your RV’s water system is officially ready for winter storage. Keep in mind that there are some other tasks that must be completed before your RV is officially ready for winter. Be sure to check back for our next winter preparation guide, where we’ll discuss important next steps.

How do you prepare your RV’s plumbing system for winter? What steps do you take? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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  1. Steve
    12th December, 2020

    I am wondering why the antifreeze is needed. Much like when the hot water tank is emptied and safe from freezing, I wonder why I can’t just drain all my lines and tanks of water (even blow with air to assure emptiness) and be safe from freezing lines. I’m new to RVing so I’m not saying I’m right – this is a serious question. By not using antifreeze I get to use my motorhome more often, impulsively, in Dec, Jan, Feb and March.

    1. Sam Leash
      29th December, 2020

      Hey Steve, great question. The antifreeze method is most commonly recommended, but I actually don’t use it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to anyone, as it is not the proper method for winterization. However, I have never had an issue with it, and it appears that you haven’t either. So I suppose it is best to just do what is best for you. 🙂

  2. SamNDave
    11th December, 2020

    Winterize ?! We’re from Texas — it finally cooled off ! It’s RV season in Texas !

    1. Sam Leash
      29th December, 2020

      Sounds like you’re enjoying some great weather!

  3. Stan Shiderly
    11th December, 2020

    Just for the newbies, but it bears repeating. SHUT OFF POWER TO WATER HEATER BEFORE STARTING. Forgetting this can burn out electric heat elements vert quickly. And it’s easy to overlook.

    1. Sam Leash
      29th December, 2020

      Yes, this is an important detail. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gary
    11th December, 2020

    Another line to winterize is for the city water intake. This one can be tricky.
    After everything else is flushed with antifreeze, turn off the pump and open a faucet to relieve pressure in the system. Then pry off the screen in the intake fitting and push in the little button inside the fitting. This is the check valve that keeps water from flowing out when the onboard pump is used. These valves are notoriously delicate so be sure there is no pressure in the system or the valve will jam open. Since these valves are sealed and non-repairable you’ll have to replace it.

  5. Jane McCabe
    10th November, 2019

    Hi Sam. I enjoyed your article on winterizing your RV. I Am a brand new RVER, single woman, traveling during the winter. I was in New England for 6 weeks with temps of 35-60. I’m heading south to winter in Arizona. Temp this am was 19 degrees F. My RV is 2018 but I bought it used so came with no manuals and dealership left me hanging. So please forgive my lack of knowledge. Seems other campers all tell me something different. I have a class b coachman CrossFit with a truma combi furnace and water heater. I usually camp for 3 days then 1 day on the road. What is your advice for me please? And big thanks. Jane

    1. Sam Leash
      14th November, 2019

      Hi Jane! I honestly don’t have a ton of experience with cold weather RVing, as I do my best to avoid freezing temperatures. Here’s a link to another great article on cold weather RVing. Hope it’s helpful! https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/winterize-rv