Knowing how to winterize a camper, travel trailer, or RV can not only make you more self-sufficient, it can also save you some of your hard-earned cash. And with a little research, winterizing is available to people of all DIY levels. This guide provides the basics for how to winterize a travel trailer on your own — so get out your tool belt (and the items listed in our tool list below) and let’s get to it!
Why Winterizing Your Travel Trailer is Important
Before getting into the specifics of how to winterize a camper, it’s important to understand the why. The winterization of a camper helps protect your trailer from damage caused by the cold as you store it over the winter months. The plumbing of your vehicle is particularly at-risk; when the temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius if you’re abroad), pipes that have not been winterized may freeze and burst. Outside of plumbing, winterizing other parts of your vehicle helps keep it in good shape for when you take it out again in the warmer months.
It may be tempting to skip winterizing your camper, but if you live in or plan on traveling to anywhere where the weather gets cold, doing so significantly increases the likelihood that you’ll face costly repairs in the long run.
Cost for Winterizing Your Travel Trailer
As we’ll discuss more in-depth momentarily, winterizing consists of preparing several components of your camper, trailer, RV, etc. so that they stay in good shape in the colder months. The largest lift in winterization involves preparing the plumbing for freezing temperatures, either by using antifreeze or an air compressor. You should also factor in the cost of some basic exterior and interior maintenance. As with many DIY maintenance projects, you incur up-front costs your first year of winterizing that you won’t have to account for over the following years.
Below is a chart that provides estimates for exterior and interior maintenance as well as the different types of plumbing winterizing methods. Keep in mind that these are just estimates and that they were made with the specifics of our TAXA habitats in mind — costs will vary depending on what equipment you already have and the type of camper or trailer you own.
As you can see, DIY winterizing your camper over the first year can cost you between $90 and $210 depending on the type of winterizing you opt to do, and between $30 and $45 each year after that.
The cost of professional winterizing is comparatively steep over time. However, some people may find professional winterizing services worth the peace of mind they provide. Winterizing done poorly (or not at all) will inevitably lead to greater costs than winterization done right. And winterizing does take time — about half a day once you get into the rhythm of doing it.
Long story short, knowing how to winterize your camper can save you a big chunk of change over time. But if you have minimal free time, professional winterizing might be worth the expense.
How to Winterize Your Travel Trailer Yourself
As you read the following guide, keep in mind that every RV, camper, and trailer is different. What applies to one RV might not apply to another, and the same can be said for different types of campers and travel trailers. The best way to avoid confusion is to skim the following steps, check the manual of your vehicle or trailer to see what applies to you, then re-read through the steps again in depth.
Gather Your Winterizing Tools & Equipment
The following basic tools are good to have on hand when you’re winterizing any type of camper, travel trailer, or RV.
Necessary tools for most winterizing operations:
- The manual of your vehicle or trailer
- Cordless power drill (with #2 square tip driver bit)
- Socket wrench and 1-1/16″ socket
- Crescent or open-ended wrenches
- Antifreeze (3-4 gallons)
- Needle nose pliers
- Sewer hose (likely came with your vehicle or trailer)
- Siphoning kit for your pump (if vehicle/camper did not come equipped)
- Water heater tank bypass system (if vehicle/camper did not come equipped)
- Anode rod (if current rod is sacrificed)
Optional tools for winterizing operations:
- A cleaning wand (if camper doesn’t come with built-in holding tank flush system)
- Black tank cleaning solution
- Vinegar solution for cleaning out hot water tank
- Rubber gloves
If you’re going to winterize your RV or camper with the compressed air method, you will need a tankless air compressor, a blow-out plug, and an adjustable water pressure regulator. Please note that this guide covers the anti-freeze method only.
Winterize the Plumbing of Your Travel Trailer
As mentioned above, the plumbing is the most likely part of your trailer to break if not winterized properly. Here are the steps to complete this process:
1. Drain and Flush Black and Gray Tanks
The gray tank holds wastewater from the shower, kitchen sink, and bathroom sink of an RV or camper. It may also catch food particles that escape down the kitchen drain. The black tank catches water flushed down the toilet. It’s generally best practice to empty both tanks after any trip, but you will definitely need to do so before packing your camper away for the winter.
To drain the black and gray tanks:
- Go to the nearest RV dump station and pull up to the dump tank. Emptying your black and gray tanks in an undesignated area is environmentally dangerous and may result in fines.
- Turn off the water pump.
- Hook up the sewer hose, making sure you leave some slack. Some people find it helpful to put a brick on the hose so that it doesn’t move as much when the water starts draining.
- If you can drain each tank separately, drain the black tank first. Otherwise, drain both tanks into the dump tank.
- If your RV or camper comes with a built-in holding tank flush, use it to flush out the tanks. If not, use a cleaning wand to clean the black tanks. If desired, use a black tank cleaning solution.
Draining, flushing, and cleaning these tanks will help reduce bacteria buildup and cut down on nasty smells. If the water in these tanks freezes when they haven’t been drained and flushed, it can be an absolute nightmare to clean.
2. Prepare, Drain, and Bypass the Water Heater
Just like it’s not a good idea to leave water sitting in your black and gray tanks, it’s also not wise to let the water go stale in your hot water heater over the winter. You will need to do some preparation to drain the water heater safely, and then we recommend bypassing the water heater now (instead of later) so that you get your water heater all taken care of at once.
To prepare the water heater:
- Hook up the city water but leave the water turned off.
- Turn off the water pump and any other water coming into the vehicle or trailer.
- Turn off the water heater’s heat source. This might be either the propane gas supply or the power to the tank’s electric heat supply or both.
- Open the pressure valve on the top of the water heater and/or run the faucets to relieve pressure.
- Wait until the water has cooled and the pressure has been released before moving on to the next step.
To drain the water heater:
- Make sure the water has cooled by turning on the hot water faucet and seeing what temperature the water runs.
- If it is cool (and you’ve double-checked that you’ve released the water pressure), remove the anode and/or drain plug. Step back so that water doesn’t get on you.
- Let the water drain.
- If you haven’t drained your water heater in the past year, turn on the city water and take this opportunity to flush it for 2-3 minutes to remove any built-up sediment.
- Check the anode rod* to see if it is sacrificed. If it is 75% sacrificed or more, make a note that you will need to replace it in the spring (or before your next trip). Do not replace the anode rod now.
*The anode rod intentionally attracts minerals like iron and limestone in the tank of your water heater. This causes the anode to degrade, but keeps the interior of your water heater intact, thus the name “sacrificial anode.” If your anode has been sacrificed, you will need to replace it — but wait until you hit the road again so that it’s not degrading unnecessarily while your RV or camper sits in the garage.
To bypass the water heater:
- If you haven’t checked already whether or not your camper comes with a bypass system, do so now. If it does, follow the instructions in your manual for how to use it properly. If it doesn’t, you will need to buy a kit.
- In order to bypass the water heater, you will need to access it from the inside of your vehicle where it is likely hidden behind a panel. Use your cordless power drill to remove the panel.
- Follow the instructions on your bypass kit, which should include helpful diagrams.
Failure to bypass your water heater will result in filling up the tank with gallons of wasted antifreeze. The antifreeze serves no purpose in the water heater and will just need to be drained when you want to go on your next trip.
3. Drain the Fresh Water Tank and Low Point Drains, Bypass the Fresh Water Tank
Last but not least, it’s time to drain your freshwater tank. This is the easiest tank to take care of, but it’s just as important to take care of as the other ones.
To drain the fresh water tank:
- Make sure that the water pressure is turned off.
- Remove the plug from the fresh water tank and any low-point drains.
- Let the water drain.
- Run the faucets as you do this to help facilitate the flow of water.
- When the water has finished draining, don’t forget to turn off all faucets and plug the tank and low-point drains.
If your RV or camper does not have a winterization valve, you may want to disconnect the line that runs from the freshwater system to the water pump to bypass it. Not everyone opts to bypass allowing antifreeze into your freshwater system, but most people don’t like the thought of chemicals in their freshwater system.
4. Flush the Water Lines with Anti-freeze
Now that you’ve emptied all the tanks of standing water, it’s time to flush the system with anti-freeze. Just like it does in your car, anti-freeze will keep all of your pipes safe when you store your RV, camper, or trailer over the winter. Make sure you’ve completed steps 1-3 before attempting this part of winterizing.
To flush the water lines with anti-freeze:
- Ensure that all of the interior and exterior faucets are initially turned off.
- Turn the water pump off.
- If you haven’t already, check whether or not your camper comes with a preconfigured winterization valve. If it does, turn it to the right setting. If it doesn’t, install the water pump converter kit you purchased using the instructions in the kit.
- Once you’ve got your water pump and anti-freeze connected, turn the water pump back on.
- On the inside of your camper, starting with the valve closest to the water pump, open the faucet until antifreeze begins to flow from it. Most RV anti-freeze is pink, so watch for a pink color to begin flowing from your faucets.
- Do this with all the sinks, showers, and other faucets on the inside of your camper — both the hot and cold sides. Shut off one faucet before moving to the next one. If applicable, don’t forget other appliances, including washing machines, ice makers, etc. Flush the toilet over and over again until you see antifreeze.
- When you’ve finished the inside, do the same on the outside. Starting with the lowest valve on the exterior of your camper (typically the low-point valves), open the valve and wait until the water flowing from it turns pink. Move up and get all other outside valves, including hot and cold shower faucets. Don’t forget to shut the faucet off once you see anti-freeze.
- When necessary, replace the antifreeze jug feeding the converter kit with a full one.
5. Final Plumbing Winterization Steps
You’re almost finished! To make sure all your hard work isn’t for naught, make sure you follow these final steps.
To wrap up your plumbing winterization:
- Pour antifreeze down the drains (sometimes called p-traps) of every sink, shower, and toilet in your camper so that the exterior termination pipes don’t freeze.
- Double-check that the water heater is still turned off from when you drained the water heater. It should not be left on over the winter.
- Double-check that all faucets are closed.
Congratulations! You now know how to winterize your camper’s plumbing. This is arguably the most important and most difficult part of winterizing. But if you’re putting your camper away for multiple months, it’s wise not to stop here. Keep reading for more information on how to fully winterize your camper to avoid any other sources of potential damage.
Perform Winterizing Maintenance on the Interior, Exterior, & Chassis
Now that we’ve taken care of the internal plumbing systems, it’s time to ensure that your living space and exterior are protected from any unwanted effects of the cold.
Interior Winterizing Maintenance
- Turn off any propane and electrical systems. Store propane tanks indoors.
- Remove all food.
- Remove extra clothing and blankets.
- Remove all batteries from clocks, remotes, sensors, etc.
- Remove all electronics, including TVs, tablets, and laptops.
- Prop open your fridge and freezers to allow for airflow.
- Place ant and roach traps where food may have slipped.
- Spread out and prop up cushions so that air can reach as many sides as possible. If you don’t want to deal with this, at least consider investing in an anti-condensation mat for your mattresses to avoid mold.
- Spread out containers of moisture-gathering beads.
- Clean the floor, walls, and all other surfaces, including toilets, sinks, showers, shower curtains, etc.
- Close window shades to protect upholstery from sun damage.
- Close all vents and windows (if the latch is on the inside).
- Check doors, windows, vents, and ceilings for cracks. You’ll want to do this on the outside as well. Use sealant where appropriate so that pests don’t make your camper their winter getaway.
Exterior Winterizing Maintenance
- Close all vents and windows (if the latch is on the outside).
- Wash the exterior, including the roof, tires, wheels, and the underside of your trailer, including the frame. Remove all mud and accumulated debris.
- Check the exterior for cracks and apply high-quality wax or a protectant formula compatible with the composite of your exterior shell.
- Extend the awning and clean it by sweeping away branches and leaves and washing it with a mild soap. Allow it to dry completely before retracting the awning.
- Follow the same process you did with your awning for any other pop-out components on your camper.
- Replace A/C filters if applicable.
- Lubricate all locks, hinges, and grease fittings on the axle hubs.
- Retract the front step if you have one.
- Consider purchasing a cover for your camper and/or for your tires. At the very least, you should cover your A/C unit.
Chassis, Tire, and Engine Winterizing Maintenance
- Batteries: If you have an RV, you will need to decide what to do with the battery over the winter. In general, the best course of action is to charge them completely, remove them, and then store them in a dry area (on wooden blocks, never on a concrete floor). Always check your manual for information on how best to remove and store batteries.
- Gas: If you have an RV, add a protectant to your gas and run the engine to make sure it’s dispersed completely. Ignore this step if your RV runs on diesel.
- Jacks: No matter what kind of camper you have, it’s not good to leave it sitting all winter long with the tires bearing weight in only one place. There are many ways of handling this issue, but the preferred method for TAXA habitats is to raise the leveling jacks.
- Oil, Air Filters, etc: If you’ve been putting off routine maintenance, now is a great time to check the oil, replace air filters, and even check the engine coolant.
- Tires: Set the parking brake, then check the tires for any damage. If they’re in good shape, set the tire pressure to the maximum amount indicated on the side wall. Make sure that you’ve used leveling jacks so that tires don’t acquire flat spots. Chock the wheels, then cover the tires if you have covers.
Adventure All Year Long with a DHPL Travels Trailer
Whether you’re winterizing your camper for multiple months at a time or just getting it prepared for a short stint in your garage, we hope this guide to how to winterize your camper proved helpful.
At DHPL Travels, our trailers are built to help you adventure year-round, whenever you’re called by the great outdoors. With designs inspired by NASA’s space engineering principles, our campers are both easier to store than the average travel trailer and provide some of the best cold-weather camper capabilities for overlanding, boondocking, camping, and other types of adventures.
To learn more, check out our stories about winter camping in DHPL Travels trailers, including a short video on Jason Webber’s trip through the Adirondacks, or simply start exploring which trailer is best for you today.
Need answers to technical questions? DHPL Travels has you covered. Speak to a technical expert or shop replacement parts today.