The measure of cleanliness is one of those hard-to-pinpoint values where perspective and expectation determine success. The working environment required for producing potato chips is much different, than say a foundry. Both places require an organized and "clean" environment to maintain quality, safety, and efficiency, however the measurement and scale of "clean" is quite different for each process.
So, what does that have to do with washing an RV? If you look at all the products at the auto or RV parts store you'd think washing the rig was an extremely complicated process. Row upon row of soaps, suds, polished, waxes, and sealers, all claiming to produce the best and brightest finish. In our opinion some of the products are worth the cost, and some are just…well…hogwash!
Okay, here’s the first lesson in cleaning. Cleaning generally means removing anything that is covering, concealing, or contamination a specific surface. Remember when mom or dad, or you for that matter, said "clean up your room"? Well, I think we all know what that that meant. No clothes on the floor, bed tidy and neat, no dirty dishes, gunk, and soda cans loitering on the dresser or desk.
The second lesson is understanding what the underlying surface is, and what containments are covering it up. Why is this important you ask? Well, different surfaces require different cleaning processes just as different contaminants require different cleaners. A product that removes organic stains like tree sap may not be effective on mineral stains caused by hard water. To be honest this is one reason there are so many RV washing products.
The third lesson is not to make the stain worse or impart damage to the surface being cleaned. A liquid cleaning solution should chemically interact with a containment and break its bond to the surface. The cleaning solution then captures the contaminant and suspends it in the liquid, emulsifying is the technical term. If all goes as planned, you simply hose off the cleaning solution and the contaminants go with it! This works well to remove 80% of the grime, the rest will take a little more effort.
The first order of business is a list of "do nots".
1. Do not use a pressure washer on your RV. This will push water into the walls wherever there is missing caulk, a failed gasket, or other imperfection in the waterproofing.
2. Do not start by getting physical with sponges, brushes, or rags. An aggressive start can push dirt into the surface, cause scratching, etc.
3. Do not wash in the bright sun. Plan accordingly and move the rig to keep the side you are working in the shade.
Got all that? Good, now we move onto the meat and potatoes. Here's our preferred process for washing the rig.
Tools and materials needed:
1. Water supply, hose, adjustable spray head.
2. Stool, Ladder, or scaffold.
3. Small handheld sprayer with a 50:1 mix of distilled water and basic dish detergent (no added fragrances, lotions, etc.). Distilled water is used to prevent "water spots" caused by minerals in tap water)
4. A second hand-held sprayer filled with just distilled water, for rinsing.
5. Soft brush on an extension pole. A bucket filled with a 30:1 ratio of basic dish detergent and distilled water.
6. No-scratch kitchen type scouring sponge.
8. Small container of bug and tar remover.
9. Good supply of clean (ideally new) micro-fiber towels.
- Elbow Grease
Here's the step-by-step process.
1. Pick a side to start and divide the wall into 3 or 4 manageable sections.
2. Lightly wet down a section with the hose.
3. Use the sprayer with the detergent solution to saturate the area with a layer of suds. (This is like the presoak at the car wash).
4. Let the suds work for a few minutes, and the hose off with the regular water supply.
5. Take a quick look at the surface and see if there any larger deposits or stains and gently go after them with a microfiber cloth and bug and tar remover. You can also use the kitchen scour pad. Rinse the area.
6. Dip the brush into the soapy bucket and gently lather up the section you just pre-cleaned. Follow up with a focused scrubbing of the wall. I prefer a combination of swirls and horizontal strokes. Take time to get in all the nooks and crannies.
7. Rinse the wall with the hose.
8. Let things drip dry for a minute. Then saturate the surface using the sprayer with the pure distilled water. Use the squeegee to gently pull the water down the wall and windows.
9. Follow up with a clean microfiber cloth to dry the surface and remove any remaining residue. Keep an eye on the cloth as you want to change cloths as soon as they show any dirt.
This should give you squeaky clean siding. Keep in mind that the outer layer of fiberglass RV siding is called gelcoat and is not like the paint on a car. Gelcoat is porous. Gelcoat oxidizes and fades over time. Even after a great washing the siding may appear dull and chalky. A good coating of wax or sealer will improve the look and offer some protection, however there are specific polishing, waxing, and sealing steps that can be done after washing.
There may also be a wax or coating on the RV from previous waxing and sealings. This basic wash process may not remove the wax or sealer and may leave a splotchy look. To get the coach to its best possible finish and keep it clean and looking good for an extended time you may need to polish the gelcoat and follow with a wax it or polymer sealant. Read our article about Restoring Fiberglass Siding for these additional polishing, waxing, and sealing steps can revitalize the look of your coach.
Squeegee water from the windows & walls, then dry.