Cleaning your RV awning is one of those tasks RV owners tend to think about while sitting outside at your campsite, looking up, and realizing it looks a little grungy. RV awnings are typically one of the first things we set up when camping, one of the last things to get put away. Also, since many of us usually pack up in the morning, sometimes the awning doesn’t have ample time to dry and can inevitably be put away while it’s still a little wet.
We also don’t typically get a good look at the top of the awning, which can accumulate dirt, debris, and other gunk from the campground. However, at some point, most of us will realize this and decide it’s time to give it a cleaning.
How do you reach your RV awning to clean it?
One of the more challenging aspects of cleaning your RV awning is getting access to it- especially the top side. You want to put your awning into the lowest, downward-facing position at the steepest angle. Most awnings will adjust in a way that will allow you to access the top of it. For manual awnings, you will need to lower the arms by adjusting the support brace. On a power awning, a part of the arm will adjust, usually by pushing or pulling on a segment of the arm, dropping it to the steepest angle. This is typically the same way that the rain dump feature works. Some more advanced awnings my have unique features that will allow you to automatically set it in this position.
Adjusting your awning to this position shouldn’t require significant force. If you’re unsure how to do it, look for your awning model number, usually located on the awning frame, and google for specific instructions. Once you figure it out, your awning should be at a steep angle allowing you to see and inspect the condition of the top side. Most retractable awnings will allow you to do this. However, much of the awning will be out of arm’s reach, so you’ll still need some tools to access it for cleaning.
What types of grime are typically on an RV awning?
The difficulty of cleaning your RV awning will depend on the dirt, grime, and gunk that you need to remove. If you let it go for a long time, you’ll need to use a little more elbow grease to clean it. However, regular cleaning (once or twice during the camping season) should make this process quick and easy.
A few types of grime are typically found on RV awnings, and each may require a slightly different cleaning method.
Dirt: The easiest type of stuff to clean off your awning is good-old dirt. Many campgrounds can be dusty, especially if camping on or near gravel roads. Since the awnings will typically get wet from the morning dew or during a rainstorm, dirt, dust, and road grime from the campground will settle on this wet fabric and build up over time. If let go for a year or two, it can take some scrubbing to get it off. However, if you clean it regularly, it should come off without much effort.
Tree Sap: One of the most annoying types of awning gunk to get rid of is tree sap. If you’re camping under pine trees and notice a lot of needles on the ground by your campsite, it’s quite common to have droplets of sap take up residence on your awning. These sap drops will also act as glue and attract dirt and dust. Cleaning sap will take a little more effort and may require using a more concentrated awning cleaner solution.
Bird droppings: The great thing about an awning is that it keeps you out of the elements when sitting outside. However, mother nature won’t shield the top of your awning from things like bird poop. Luckily, this will come off easily with a simple cleaning unless it’s been sitting for a long time.
Mold and Mildew: Many RVers have experienced the feeling of opening their awning at the start of a camping trip and seeing black mold stains or black streaks running along their awning fabric. The cause of this is almost always retracting your awning while it’s still wet. When the moisture sits on the fabric, rolled up, for an extended period, mold can form. The good news is that you don’t have to take down and replace your awning; you can easily clean it, usually even if it’s pretty nasty.
Proper care for your RV awning
The best strategy for having a clean awning is to take care of it. Most awnings are made of a sturdy vinyl fabric that will last years and years of use (and even some abuse). However, if neglected for too long, you can be in store for a more robust cleaning effort or, in extreme cases, may even need to replace it if it develops holes or a tear. Regular cleaning should be quick. The entire process will take less than 30 minutes.
The best practice for maintaining your RV awning is to let it dry before you retract it. While this sounds like a no-brainer, it isn’t always possible if you’re leaving early in the morning or during a wet-weather day. If this is the case, you can retract it wet, but be sure to open it up when you are home to let it dry out.
I try to make a habit of looking at the weather the day before I leave. If there’s a chance it will be wet; I may retract the awning the evening before while it’s still dry. This saves some time and headaches down the road.
The other thing to do before you retract your awning is to clean off any leaves, branches, pine needles, or other gifts from nature before you retract it. You can lower your awning and use a broom to sweep stuff off. However, a battery-powered leaf blower is one of the best for the job. I keep one in my RV for all my camping trips. In addition to keeping other areas of your campsite tidy, it makes quick work of clearing off your RV awning.
RV Awning Material
Most RV awnings are made from either vinyl or acrylic fabric. They both have advantages, but vinyl is the more common one you’ll find on RVs. Let’s look at both options:
Vinyl fabric is the most common material used in RV awnings. It’s strong, resistant to tearing, provides UV protection, and is sturdier in heavy winds and rain. It has more of a plastically feel and is generally easy to clean. Vinyl material is heavier than Acrylic but typically lasts long due to its heavy-duty nature.
Acrylic fabric is another popular option for RVs. This material has more of a fabric-type feel to it. If you picture a patio umbrella or outdoor furniture, this is the same material they’re commonly constructed with. Acrylic fabric is also very strong but much lighter than vinyl. Since it’s a woven fabric made from synthetic fibers, it also is more porous. While it’s typically treated for rain protection and works well, it can absorb stains or dirt more easily than vinyl. Cleaning tough stains will be more akin to scrubbing a tablecloth to release it.
RV Awning Cleaning Tools
While you probably have some cleaning tools available in your RV that you can use on your awning, you may decide to purchase a few additional items to make the process much easier and quicker. Below is a list of items I like to keep on hand for cleaning my awning.
Cleaning an RV Awning
Once you have access to the RV awning, the tools you need, and selected a cleaner (we’ll discuss some options below), the next step will be to do the work and employ a little bit of elbow grease.
4 Simple Steps to Cleaning Your RV’s Awning
Step 1: Prepare your tools.
Before tackling the project, get everything organized and ready for the job. Once you start, you’ll want to try to finish it in one session. Give your awning a visual inspection and note any excessively dirty areas. Come up with a plan of attack and try to follow it. It’s easy to miss a spot or two if you jump all over the place.
Step 2: Start on the top and work your way down.
Just as you would with a car, start cleaning the higher sections of the awning first so you don’t have dirty water running over clean sections as you rinse it. Start by spraying down the awning with clean water and try to keep it wet while you work.
Step 3: Start cleaning.
The cleaning method will largely depend on the severity of the job. If the awning is just dusty, a simple mopping technique, or even a quick spray with the hose, may take care of it. However, if you have some mold or sap deposits on it, you’ll likely need to break out the scrub brush. I’ll cover the different methods below. Congrats! You now have a clean RV awning.
Light dirt or dust
If you stay on top of cleaning your awning and do so a couple of times per season, chances are you’ll only need to do a quick wash, wipe and rinse. Start by filling your bucket with your favorite awning cleaner. For mild jobs, some simple dish soap will do the trick.
Take your hose and wet down the awning. Next, break out the mop, dip it into the bucket of water and cleaning solution, and mop your awning. You’ll want to apply pressure and if there are some heavily soiled areas, use a scrub pad. You can also use a car cleaning sponge/brush too.
Move the mop or brush up and down the awning, starting at the top. Once you cover a large section, spray it down with the hose to rinse and see if you got all the grime off. Repeat this process for the entire awning and tackle any trouble spots individually. Repeat the steps for the underside of the awning.
Tree Sap and Bird Droppings
If you have some buildup of tree sap or bird droppings on the awning, you’ll likely want to use a little more aggressive cleaner. Start by cleaning the awning as stated above but be ready to use more scrubbing action where in the buildup areas. If the tree sap is stubborn, one technique is to take some rubbing alcohol and supply it to the sap area. Gently massage it into the sap with your hand or a cleaning tool, and it will start to break down.
Once the sap is dissolving, be sure to give it a little scrub to remove any that may have soaked into the pores of the fabric. It’s best to tackle each tree sap deposit individually (or a small section at a time). Once all of the sap is removed, you may want to give it another mopping or scrubbing to make sure it’s uniformly clean. Repeat the steps for the underside of the awning.
Mold, Mildew stains, or Algae buildup
If you’re dealing with mold or algae buildup on your awning and have darker black or green staining, you’ll want to address this a little differently. First, you’ll want to use a cleaner formulated to remove mold and mildew growth. You can make your own cleaner with just some bleach and water, but you want to ensure it’s properly diluted to prevent any discoloration or damage to the fabric.
The best way to tackle this job is to use a spray bottle or power sprayer to apply the cleaner. Just be sure it doesn’t contain any residual chemicals that can damage the fabric. Start by wetting the awning and spraying the cleaner on the affected area. The key is to make sure that it doesn’t dry before cleaning it. Once you apply the cleaner, follow the instructions on the bottle for how long it should sit (or about 10 minutes for a bleach solution). After it has time to work, you’ll likely need to scrub the areas to release the grime from the fabric.
Once you feel comfortable that it’s gone, give the awning a rinse. It’s a good idea to give it a final wash with dish soap after the initial rinse to clean up any missed areas. Repeat the steps for the underside of the awning.
Step 4: Let Dry
After fully cleaning your awning, the last thing you want to do is allow it to dry before retracting it. Let it open for several hours in the sun to ensure that all water has evaporated.
Optional Cleaning Method:
Another quick option for cleaning your awning for lightly soiled awnings is the wet, soap, and roll technique. Start by fully extending your awning and wet it down with a hose. Next, spray some cleaner of your choice to the entire awning (top and bottom). After it’s fully covered, roll in your awning and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. This will give time for the cleaner to penetrate the dirt and help it release.
After it sits for a while, fully extend your awning and rinse off the cleaner. For lightly soiled awnings, this may be all you need to do. However, if you have some heavier dirt buildup, you may need to tackle that separately with a scrub brush.
Tough to Remove Stains:
It’s possible that the staining may not come off, regardless of how much scrubbing you do. Don’t throw in the towel yet. There’s one more “Magic” technique you can try. Break out a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and have at it. Magic erasers are actually extremely fine abrasive materials (think sandpaper) that are fine enough not to scratch or damage a surface but aggressive enough to remove stains.
If you’re tackling a severely stained awning, this method can take a long time and be difficult to reach some of the higher-up sections. Luckily, Mr. Clean has a Magic Eraser Mop that can make lite work of a time-consuming job. They do a great job at tackling stains that other tools and cleaners can’t.
Using a Pressure Washer
As mentioned above, a pressure washer may be a potential tool to help clean your awning. However, it can also damage your awning. Therefore, power washing your awning should only be done at low pressure. If you’re unfamiliar with using one, I suggest you don’t start practicing on an RV awning.
However, if you’re a pressure washing pro and feel comfortable safely spraying your awning, then give it a shot.
The most difficult part of cleaning an awning is scrubbing. It can be time-consuming, tiring, and leave you sore for a few days. Luckily, several great products are available to make this task much easier.
One of my favorite tools for this job is an inexpensive scrub brush drill attachment. If you have a cordless drill for about $20, you can have a powerful scrubber. If using this method, charge up a couple of batteries and give it a go. They work great.
There are also several different cordless cleaning scrubbers on the market as well. While less powerful than a drill, they may be more than adequate for an awning cleaning project. One of the benefits of some of the models is the long-reach arm. The ability to power scrub the hard-to-reach sections of the awning will be a huge time saver.
Cleaning Acrylic Awnings
You can use many of the same techniques listed above for acrylic fabric awnings. However, you may want to opt for a stiffer brush, which will allow you to get into the material better. Also, you’ll want to pay closer attention to the type of cleaning solution you select. It won’t be much of an issue if it’s a mild soap-based cleaner. However, you’ll want to avoid any bleach solutions or harsh chemicals as they can cause discolorations on color awnings. An Oxy-Clean solution works great on acrylic fabrics.
Best Awning Cleaners
Selecting the best awning cleaner can be confusing since many different brands are available. However, all the ones I listed below have great product reviews and will work well for most cleaning applications.
Additionally, you don’t always need to use a specialized awning cleaner when giving it a quick wash. If you only have middle dirt and grime on it, you’ll save a lot of money by just using some regular dish soap and water. The awning cleaner products available on the market today are best used when you have heavier staining, mold, mildew, or stubborn grime.
Let’s take a look at some of your options.
1. Easy DIY Solution
Soap and Water
Unless really dirty, a simple solution of tap water and dish soap makes a great homemade RV awning cleaner that will handle a typical cleaning job. Like your dishes, some brands may work better than others. One brand that I highly recommend is Dawn Platinum dish soap. This soap has excellent grease cutting power, which works exceptionally well with awning dirt, stains, and road grime.
Simply mix 3-4 gallons of water with about ¼ cup of the dish soap, and you have a cheap, effective, and easy-application solution.
2. #1 Best Seller
The Camco Awning Cleaner is one of the most trusted amongst RVers. It’s also the best cleaner that’s proven to safely remove mold stains, dirt, tree sap, and road grime without damaging the awning. It’s also great for different types of awning fabrics, including both vinyl and acrylic. It also works great on other outdoor fabric furniture like chairs, umbrellas, tents, etc. Pop-up campers will also appreciate it for safely cleaning the tent section of the RV.
To use, you simply mix four oz. of cleaner with 1 gallon of water, apply to a wet awning, and scrub or sponge the grime away. When you’re done, simply rinse it off.
- Versatile and good for use on any outdoor fabric.
- Good for mold, mildew, tree sap, and road grime.
- Removes mold stains, dirt, tree sap, and road grime.
- Widely available at most RV accessory stores (and Amazon)
- Affordable Price
3. Best Protectant Cleaner
Star Brite Premium RV Awning Cleaner & Protectant with PTEF is great for removing those tough stains that other cleaners can’t get off. It’s safe on all awning fabrics and doesn’t require a lot of heavy scrubbing. The great thing about this cleaner is that it provides a layer of protection after you clean the awning. This will help to create a barrier from future staining and harmful UV rays, which can weaken the fabric.
Simply spray it evenly over the entire section to be cleaned and allow it to penetrate for 30 seconds. Next, use a cloth, sponge, or soft brush and gently rub the area to lift dirt before rinsing the entire area thoroughly. The easy-to-use spray bottle is also great for spot treating areas or tackling stubborn stains. For extreme mold and mildew staining, you may also want to try the Star Brite Mold & Mildew Stain Remover and Cleaner.
- Works great on tough stains
- Good for spot cleaning
- Safe for all RV exterior fabrics; won’t discolor or stain
- Protectionon from future staining and UV rays
4. Best Multi-Cleaner
While 303 Multi-Surface Cleaner isn’t marketed directly at awnings, it does a great job on them. The great thing about it is that you can also use the same solution to clean all other parts of your RV (if you want). It’s a popular choice for RVers looking for one product that can be used for multiple cleaning purposes.
Simply spray the cleaner on the surface until wet, then wipe up or rinse clean. For best results on fabric, apply the product and use a soft-bristle brush to agitate the soiled surface before wiping up dirt or stain with a damp cloth. For extremely dirty surfaces, increase the soak and agitation time.
- Cleans all types of fabric and vinyl.
- Safe to use on other RV parts.
- Doesn’t leave any residue after rinsing.
- Versatile cleaner: safe for chrome, upholstery, plastic, metal, aluminum, rubber, stainless steel, paint, and more.
5. Popular brand name in RV Cleaning
The Thetford Premium RV Awning Cleaner is a biodegradable solution specifically formatted to clean awnings. However, it is also safe on rubber and plastic, making it a great product to use around your rubber roof. It’s an effective cleaner that can remove tough stains, bugs, and bird droppings. It also offers UV protection post cleaning.
To use the product, just spray on the soiled areas and allow the product to penetrate for a few minutes. Scrub with a cloth or a brush and rinse or wipe with a damp cloth. For stubborn stains, use a nylon brush.
- Can be used on any awning or fabric, including natural fibers.
- Protects against UV rays
- Chlorine-free and color safe
- Non-toxic, non-flammable, biodegradable, and smells good
6. Trusted RV cleaning product manufacturer
If you go into any RV store, you’ll likely see the Dicor name in the cleaning and sealant product aisle. Dicor is one of the leaders in RV products and offers a great awning cleaner. This powerful strength awning cleaner is specifically formulated to remove stubborn stains caused by leaves, bird droppings, tree sap, and more from your RV awning. The RV cleaner is safe on all fabric, vinyl, and acrylic awnings.
Simply spray it onto the awning, let it sit for about a minute, and scrub away the grime.
- Strong cleaner designed to target stubborn stains.
- Safe on all awning fabrics
- Easy to find in RV stores
7. Good concentrated cleaning formula
The Valterra Awning Cleaner is a concentrated cleaner you simply mix with water. This little bottle will last a long time. The clear works very well and is safe for all awning fabrics.
Simply mix the cleaner with fresh water and use a sponge, mop, or scrub to remove the grime. When you’re done, simply rinse off the awning.
- Safe for use on all awning fabrics
- Concentrated formulated
- Removes dirt, mold, mildew, and tree sap from RV awnings
8. Excellent User Reviews
The Korkay RV Awning Cleaner is an industrial-strength cleaner specifically formulated for RV awnings & RV bodies. It also works great on boats, trailers, water toys, and outdoor toys. This is a great choice if you’re looking for a do-it-all cleaner.
To use, simply spray it on, brush clean, and rinse away. It’s safe for all painted surfaces, including ones with decals & pinstriping, gel coat, fiberglass, hard vinyl, soft vinyl, and rubber.
- Made in the USA
- Works fast and is very versatile
- Safe on painted surfaces, gel coat, fiberglass, hard vinyl, soft vinyl, rubber, decals, and pinstriping