RV De-Winterizing Checklist: Get Ready for Camping

About the Author

Tom Davidock

Tom has been working in the outdoor recreation and environmental fields for over 25 years and writing about for the past 15. Whether it's camping, or RVing, Tom provides first-hand kneowldge of the information outdoor enthusiests need to enjoy adventures on the road. Tom has had his content featured in industry-leading news publications including RV Business, RV News, and RV.com. Tom is also the author of "Used RV: The Complete Guide for Buying a Used RV."

When of the best days of the year is the one when you take your camper out of winter storage and ready it for your first camping trip. It’s at this point when you need to undo all of the winterizing steps you completed at the end of the camping season, plus a few extra things. Below is a step-by-step checklist that will make the process quick and easy, ensuring you don’t forget anything.

Here’s a qucik list of the detailed de-winterizing checklist for each of the following category:

  1. Electrical System: Replace and service RV batteries, check the circuit panel, plug into shore power, and test lights, appliances, and outlets to ensure they are functioning correctly.
  2. Interior of Your RV: Do a good spring cleaning, check for signs of mice, open slides fully, and air out the RV by opening windows and air vents. It also involves inspecting for leaks or water damage, especially around windows, roof hatches, and vents​​.
  3. Exterior of Your RV: Check and test your awnings, stabilizing jacks, and tongue jacks, as well as inspect exterior storage compartments for leaks or signs of mice infestation​​.
  4. Propane System: Open the valves of propane tanks, test propane appliances, and check propane fittings for leaks​​.
  5. Water System: Connect the city water hose, open the sink and shower valves, check the water heater and anode rod, turn off water heater bypass mode, test ignition for the water heater, fill and drain holding tanks, and sanitize the fresh water system​​.
  6. Heating and Cooling: Test the propane furnace, turn on the air conditioner, and check RV vents for signs of mice are key steps in this section​
  7. Travel and Towing System: Check hitch connections, check tire pressure and fill if needed, check brakes, and check and fill fluids.
  8. Supplies and Gear: Restock your camping essentials and safety supplies.

Step-by-Step Checklist:

Electrical System

Since some of the de-winterizing steps require power, the first step to de-winterize your RV is to get it reconnected to the grid and/or battery.

  1. Replace RV Batteries:
    • Carefully reconnect the fully charged battery, ensuring the terminals are clean and connections are tight. If you notice any corrosion, clean the terminals with a solution of baking soda and water.
  2. Check Circuit Panel:
    • Once connected, check the circuit panel to ensure there aren’t any tripped breakers and replace any fuses that have blown. Chances are that everything is as you left it, but it’s possible that an unexpected load could have been applied to a circuit upon reconnecting everything.
  3. Plug into Shore Power:
    • Before plugging in, inspect the power cord for frays or cuts, repairing or replacing if necessary. Connect to a power source and confirm that the RV is receiving power. When connecting, it’s always best to turn the breaker off on the power supply before plugging in, then flip the breaker once it’s connected.
  4. Test Lights, Appliances, and Outlets:
    • Turn on each light switch and appliance individually to check their functionality. Don’t forget to check both the 120V outlets with a simple outlet tester and the USB ports if available. If you notice one that’s not working, check the breaker and or wire connections to ensure there isn’t any corrosion or that mice didn’t chew any wires.
  5. Test 12V Appliances:
    • Ensure that all appliances that operate on your RV’s 12-volt system, such as the water pump and thermostat, are working correctly.
Cleaning RV Toilet

Interior of Your RV

Next, start with the interior of the RV by cleaning, addressing any mice issues, introducing fresh air, operating slides, and inspecting for water leaks or signs of damage.

  1. Spring Cleaning:
    • If you’ve cleaned everything at the end of the season, this step should be quick and painless for all surfaces, vacuum carpets, and mop floors. Check for any signs of mold or mildew and treat accordingly. Upholstery and curtains might need airing out or washing if they smell musty.
  2. Check for Mice Signs:
    • Inspect all nooks, drawers, and hidden spaces for mouse droppings or nests. If you find evidence of rodents, clean the area with a disinfectant and consider setting traps before setting off. It’s not uncommon for mice to get into your RV over the winter months, but it’s important to clear out any signs of mice and, if possible, seal up any holes where they got in.
  3. Open Slides Fully:
    • Ensure no debris is blocking the tracks. If your owner’s manual calls for it, use the appropriate lubricant for your slide-out mechanisms and extend and retract each slide-out to ensure smooth operation. Ensure to open the slides completely before retracing them.
  4. Open Windows and Air Vents:
    • Remove any covers placed over vents for winterization. Check screens for tears and repair as necessary to keep insects out. It’s a good idea to air out the RV after it’s been sitting all winter.
  5. Inspect for Leaks or Water Damage:
    • One of the leading causes of leaks is from snow and frozen water on the RV. If your RV was stored outside, pay close attention to areas around windows, roof hatches, and vents. Any soft spots, discoloration, or peeling material can indicate a leak. This is also a good time to inspect seals and caulking and replace them if necessary.
Extending RV Awning

Exterior of Your RV

After readying the interior of the RV, move outside of the RV to ensure all components are operating correctly and there isn’t any damage from water or mice.

  1. Test Awnings:
    • If your awning sat closed all winter, open it up completely and let it completely dry before retracting it. If it has stains or it’s dirty, clean the awning fabric with a recommended cleaner and check the arms for smooth operation. Look for any rips or tears and assess if repairs or replacements are needed. Check out our complete guide to cleaning your RV awning here.
  2. Test Stabilizing Jacks and Tongue Jacks:
    • Before heading out for your first camping trip, operate all jacks, including the stabilizing jacks and tongue jack. If they’re powered, open and close them with a fully charged battery. If annual, do it by hand. Lubricate moving parts with a high-quality lubricant, particularly one that is silicon-based, to prevent dust and dirt from collecting on the gears. Extend and retract each jack to ensure they’re working without issue.
  3. Open Storage Compartments:
    • Inspect each of the exterior storage compartments for signs of leaks or mice infestations. Clean out any leftover debris and make sure the doors close and lock securely. If they don’t, check that the wood didn’t swell from water or that the hinges didn’t seize up.
RV Fix Propane

Propane System

Since many of you’re RV appliances rely on propane, it’s important to properly test the system to ensure there aren’t any propane leaks and that propane flows freely to the correct locations.

  1. Open Valves of Propane Tanks:
    • Do this in a well-ventilated area. Listen for any hissing sounds that could indicate a leak before using any appliances. Open the valves slowly, as doing so quickly can create a propane supply lock in the lines. This is also good practice whenever replacing a propane tank.
  2. Test Propane Appliances:
    • Start with the stove, which will help purge air from the propane lines, and then proceed to light the pilot on the furnace and refrigerator, ensuring each ignites and reaches the proper operating temperature and stays lit.
  3. Check Propane Fittings for Leaks:
    • Apply a soapy water solution or a propane leak detector solution to all connections and look for bubbles that would indicate a leak. Tighten or replace fittings if necessary.
RV Outdoor Shower

Water System

One of the more involved steps of de-winterizing your RV is getting the water system up and running. You will need to remove any antifreeze and air from the lines and turn it from winterizing to operating mode. This process isn’t difficult, but you will need to review your RV manual to ensure you follow the steps specific to your RV and appliances. You will need to ready both water sources, including city water and your fresh tank.

  1. Connect City Water Hose:
    • Use a potable water hose, connect it to the city water connection, and ensure all faucets are closed before turning on the water source. Pay extra attention to the hose connection to ensure there aren’t any leaks and that your rubber seals are properly seated.
  2. Open Sink and Shower Valves:
    • Start with the valves farthest from the water source to ensure all water lines are flushed and purged of air. If you use non-toxic RV antifreeze when winterizing, run the cold water until the pink fluid turns clear. Don’t forget the outside shower if your RV has one.
  3. Check the Water Heater and anode Rod:
    • If you didn’t do this in the fall, check the water heater anode rod and replace it if necessary. If it’s more than half corroded, it’s the perfect time to replace it to prevent tank damage. Wrap the threads with Teflon tape before screwing in the new rod.
  4. Turn Water Heater Bypass Mode Off:
    • Once all of your fixtures are running clear and purged of air, turn the water heater into operating mode instead of flipping the bypass valve from winterizing mode. This will start to fill the water heater tank. You’ll want to ensure the hot water faucet is open on the sink or shower to allow air to be purged from the water lines and tanks. Once it’s full, water will begin to flow from the faucet. Repeat this step for each hot water fixture to ensure all air is purged from the lines.
  5. Test Ignition for Water Heater:
    • Once you’re sure the water heater is filled, turn it on and check for proper ignition and heating. If using propane, check to ensure the pilot light is lit and stays on. If you don’t have a pilot light on the water heater, ensure the electric start igniter lights. If not, check propane lines and tank levels.
  6. Fill and Drain Holding Tanks (Black Tank and Gray Tank):
    • This helps to ensure that all waste and gunk is removed from the system. This is especially true for the black water tank, which can sometimes be hard to completely clean at the end of the RV season. Consider adding a cleaning solution to thoroughly clean the tanks. I suggest filling and draining the tanks until wastewater flows clean.
  7. Sanitize Fresh water System:
    1. The first thing to do is fill the freshwater tank with clean cold water. Add a small amount of bleach (about a cup) and fill the tank to the top water level. I recommend letting the bleach solution sit in the tank for an hour or two and then run the tank empty through all of your lines and fixtures. You will need to turn on the water pump to do this. Once empty, the next step is to fill the fresh water tank again and run the water through all lines and fixtures to rinse everything out. You can also use a sanitizing solution found at RV stores if you don’t want to use bleach.
Cleaning RV AC

Heating and Cooling

It’s best to ensure your RV’s heating and cooling system is operating correctly before you need to rely on it. You’ll need to test each system individually, including the furnace, air conditioner(s), and vents.

  1. Test Propane Furnace:
    • After making sure the furnace vents are clear, turn on the furnace and check for an even flow of warm air. You may need to adjust the thermostat to ensure that the furnace ignites. If it doesn’t, check the propane levels or check out our furnace troubleshooting guide.
  2. Turn on the Air Conditioner:
    • To test the cooling system, turn the thermostat to cool and adjust as needed. Clean or replace air filters on the AC unit inside the RV. Also, inspect the cooling fins and condenser coils for dirt or damage. This step will involve getting on the roof and taking off the RV cover. While it’s good to do this at the start of the season, ensure you do it before using the AC regularly.
  3. Check RV Vents for Mice Signs:
    • If debris falls out when the fan is turned on, you may need to check further for pests and clean the ducts. It’s not uncommon for mice to make nests inside the ductwork and vents. If you notice issues, you may need to conduct a deep cleaning or, at a minimum, run the vents until all debris is out of the system.
RV Tires

Travel and Towing System

One of the most important steps in getting your RV ready for travel is to check the components needed for towing or driving. This includes inspecting tires, brakes, and electrical components.

  1. Check Tire Pressures:
    • Inflate tires to the manufacturer’s specified pressure. Check for any signs of dry rot or damage that may have occurred during storage. Proper tire pressure is essential for safe driving.
  2. Check hitch connection, including trailer wiring:
    • Before heading out on the road, check the hitch connections and wiring. Ensure all break and hazard lights work as they should. If not, inspect the wiring and bulbs. You should also lubricate your ball for a travel trailer or fifth-wheel hitch when connecting, especially when doing so for the first time of the season.
  3. Check Brakes:
    • Perform a brake test at a low speed in an open area. Listen for any unusual noises and ensure that the vehicle stops in a straight line. Also, don’t forget to ensure your brake controller is working correctly when stopping. It’s possible for brakes to seize up when sitting for a long time. It’s not uncommon to hear some noise coming from the axles when moving for the first time, but it shouldn’t last, and if it does, be certain to have them inspected before taking your RV on the road.
  4. Check Motorhome Fluids
    1. If you have a motorized RV such as a class A, B, or C, be sure to perform regular vehicle maintenance, including checking fluids, such as the oil level and coolant, before running the engine. 

Supplies and Gear

  1. Restock Necessities:
    • Go through your checklist of camping supplies. Check the expiration dates on all perishables, medicines, and first aid supplies.
  2. Safety Gear Check:
    • The last thing to do is Inspect your fire extinguisher to ensure it’s fully charged. Test the smoke alarm and the propane and carbon monoxide detectors, replacing batteries if necessary.

By taking the time to carefully go through each of these detailed steps, you can be confident that your RV will be ready for the season. While these simple steps will apply to most RV owners, be sure to read your owner’s manual to ensure you didn’t miss anything specific to your rig. Best of luck and happy camping.

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