No doubt you, like most other RV fans love the camper life and the freedom it offers you (as well as the big savings on travel and accommodation expenses).
This means that you always make the time, and put in the effort, to keep your rig in tip top shape.
That being said, when is the last time you cleaned your RV’s roof, or even thought too much about it at all?
The chances are it’s been quite a while, if ever. When something is out of sight it tends to stay out of mind. However, in the case of your RV roof that could be a big mistake.
Why RV Roof Care - and Cleaning Your RV Roof - Is So Important
The roof of your RV is one of its components that is, unless the vehicle is garaged, is exposed to the elements at all times. When you go camping in 90+ degree heat. If you enjoy the rather different – but still fun – experience of fall and winter camping it’s exposed to the cold, rain and potentially even snow.
So, what might happen?
Oxidation is one thing. In time, and without proper care, oxidation will begin to damage the roof of your RV. For those not familiar with the process oxidation is the chemical reaction that results in rust, and in the case of rubber, which is a major part of most RV roofs, perishing and rot.
If the roof of your RV is compromised in this way all kinds of bad things can happen. Water may begin to seep into the RV, down into the structure of the ceiling and the walls, leading to destructive mold and mildew. It may also seep onto various electrical components, resulting in damage and posing a potential fire risk.
Obviously an electrical short, or even fire, is hazardous to the health of the humans that use your RV, but mold and mildew isn’t great for their health either. In a confined space like an RV it can cause allergies, make respiratory problems (like asthma) worse and the very least stink up the air. And all this damage will depreciate the resale value of your vehicle too.
So, there are lots of good reasons to take the time to wash your RV exterior roof at least once a year – once every six months if you are a frequent traveler.
But what’s the best, and safest, way to do so? That’s what we are going to run through here, step by step.
Determine Your RV Roof Type
Ideally you should have asked about the type of roof your RV has when you ought it, but lots of people don’t, so you are not alone if you didn’t.
Most middle market RV roofs are one of two types of rubber covered wood.
Some make use of a rubber called ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) and some – usually older models – feature something called thermoplastic olefin (TPO) in their construction.
While both are a form of rubber there are some noticeable differences between the two and they do need to be washed – and cared for – in a slightly different way.
The most used – and most say more reliable – material is EPDM. This is because it’s usually cheaper on the manufacturing end, is lighter and resists UV light damage. It’s also usually a little more durable than TPO as it is completely synthetic while TPO does have ‘natural’ elements.
TPO is gaining popularity though, so if yours is a newer RV that may very well be what your roof makes use of. Its popularity is not just down to the fact that it is a little bit ‘greener’ but also because it is mold and mildew resistant and designed to be cooling, something that can be a big plus if you go RVing in the summer and are trying to minimize energy bills related to cooling use!
To determine what your RV’s roof is made from before you plan to wash it you can ask the dealer you bought it from or, if they are not available, look it up by model number.
How to Wash An RV (Rubber) Roof
1. Plan to Stay Safe
Washing your RV roof will involve climbing up onto it. Therefore, you need a plan in place to get up there safely, do the job safely and then get back down in one piece once you are done.
It’s fair to say that washing your RV roof is not without its hazards.
Climbing – and walking – on a roof – even a relatively low one like an RV – carries inherent risks, and when you add soap and water and other cleaning products into the mix those risks increase.
That’s why it is always best to work in pairs – one person to work on the roof, one to act as a spotter – and that you dress for the job, ensuring you are wearing shoes or boots that have a good grip and that you take care not to walk on wet spots once you get going.
Ensure that yours is a stable ladder and hoist all the cleaning supplies you are going to need up to the roof once you are up there. DO NOT try to climb the ladder with a bucket in your hand!
If you are concerned about walking on the wrong part of your RV roof stick as close to the areas above the side walls of your RV as possible as this is where the roof is at its strongest. And by the way, if your RV does not have a ladder attached to it, there is a good chance that it’s not designed to be safe to walk on at all, so you should leave all roof cleaning to a professional.
This video explains a little bit more about this:
2. Rinse Your Roof First
Before you start climbing up to your RV roof to wash it, rinse it from the ground, using a hose with a nice powerful jet.
This will help loosen a lot of the debris that may be up there and will often ‘knock’ a lot of it off. Do this a few hours before you plan to start washing the roof in earnest so that everything has time to dry and you are not left trying to navigate an already wet roof.
Use a hose, not a power washer, as the latter can often be too powerful for use on RV roofs and can end up doing more damage than good. It’s likely your hose job won’t do a great job of reaching every corner but that’s OK, that is what you’ll be going up to do later.
If you’re confident your RV has no tears, cracks or other minor damage, we recommend using this lightweight jet pressure washer from Amazon at the lowest setting of 1300 PSI or lower on your roof.
If you’re in doubt, stick with the hose and leave the power washer for another task.
3. Gather Your Tools
You are going to need tools to get this roof clean, and those should all be assembled and readied beforehand.
At the very least to do a good job you should plan to gather up all the following:
When it comes to the right cleaning solution many people find that their Owner’s Manual offers product recommendations. If you still have the manual, and it does, don’t dismiss the suggestions as simple product placement.
Any cleaner that has petroleum in it can pose a risk to the rubber on your RV roof, whether it is TPO or EDPM.
This is because not only can these types of cleaners cause swelling and cracks when directly applied but also because they loosen adhesives, which can lead to all kinds of trouble down the road.
If you want to make use of a safe commercial solution, then something like Thetford’s RV Roof Treatment from Amazon is great for most EDPM roofs, especially as it also contains a protectant that will help your roof stay cleaner once it’s washed.
If yours is a TPO roof, or you are still not sure just what kind it is, or you want to save money, then you can go the very simple route and use good old fashioned dish soap and lukewarm water. If you think you are going to encounter some stubborn grime – if you have not washed your RV roof in a long time, or have never done so before – then a simple solution of white vinegar and water is a safe, and quite effective, way to deal with that.
4. Check for Roof Damage First
Remember we said that washing your RV roof was a great chance to look for any damage? That is just what you should do before you start the washing process.
What are you looking for?
Holes, cracks, cracked caulk are all possibilities. If you do find any damage do not be tempted to think to yourself that you’ll fix it later. Fix it now – or plan to have it fixed – so that it does not get forgotten, something that is very easy to do.
5. Work in Sections
As you wash the roof, work in sections.
Clean front to back whenever possible so that you’ll be able to climb down the ladder once you are done without stepping on any wet patches and ruining all your hard work, or, more importantly, risking injury to yourself.
Plan to work in 3’ x 3’ sections (approximately). Use a spray bottle to apply your chosen cleaning solution, and then the long-handled mop to clean. If you need to attack stubborn grime use the vinegar solution directly and scrub it away with the soft bristled hand brush.
6. Rinse Again
Once you have cleaned as much as you can, climb down (carefully) and then take up your hose and rinse off the roof again. Do so with clean, cold water and then make sure that your leave your RV out in the fresh air to dry, as if you garage it right away it may not dry properly and that nasty mold could creep up after all, as it sometimes only takes 24-48 for some molds and mildews to start to form.
After following all these steps, you should be left with a nice clean RV roof and one that will help your vehicle as a whole stay in great shape for as long as possible. Plan on repeating the process at least once a year – maybe before you take your first road trip of the year – and more often is you have the time or travel a lot.
One final note.
If you are scared of going up on the roof of your RV don’t do it. At a height scared people are not safe people. And that’s OK, not everyone has a head for heights. If that’s the case for you leave the job to a professional. It may cost a little more but it’s impossible to put a price on your health and safety so it will be an investment well worth making.
For more advice on living in an RV, check out these posts: