A child filling the sink with antifreeze chemical

A Guide To Winterizing Your RV (Temperatures And More)

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As an RV owner, you know you need to winterize your RV when cold weather approaches to withstand sub-zero temperatures. Preparing your RV for winter is an essential step in preventing damage and the high cost of repairs. I do this myself every winter (sometimes more than once if we get a surprise freeze). This article will explain the actions you need to take to winterize your RV.                                                                                                   

Just so you know when it is time to winterize your RV you first need to know, what temperature will your water lines freeze. 

In other words, what overnight temperature should you winterize your RV? 

As a general rule, RV water lines will likely freeze when the temperature is below 32 degrees F for 20 hours or below 29 degrees for 3-4 hours.  However, anytime the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water in the lines could freeze.

The cost of paying for winterizing an RV can run up to hundreds of dollars depending on the size and model. However, I do it myself and found it to be relatively easy.  This article will explain how you can do this yourself and save a few bucks. 

Related Content with more details about winterizing your RV:

How you go about winterizing an RV depends a lot on where you live, the climate, and other factors like where exactly you plan to store it (inside or outside).

Pro tip: When you first buy your RV, it will help record yourself doing the walkthrough because later, you can use that video for reference when you need to winterize the vehicle.

While you’re at it, since it will be nearing winter (I assume) because you are reading about winterizing, please do check out the following for winter destinations and tips.

At what temperature should you winterize your RV?

How long does it take for RV pipes to freeze?

To be safe, anytime freezing (below 32 degrees F) nightime temperatures are forcasted its time to winterize your RV. However, it likely takes 24 hours below 32 degrees or 3-6 hours below 25 degrees before RV lines begin to freeze and burst.

There are four zones in the USA that will typically drop below zero in the winter and thus require winterizing your RV. These zones are already laid out for the purposes of agriculture, so we’ll look at these same zones according to the USDA: Zones 3, 4, 5, and 6. 

The signal to winterize is 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) which is the freezing point of water. Depending on which state you live in, this could range from October to December, with central US states like Michigan to Kansas typically experiencing frost sooner than either of the country’s east or western shores.

Time Of Year/RegionAverage Annual Extreme Minimum Temperature Range
Zone 3-30 to -40
Zone 4-30 to -20
Zone 5-20 to -10
Zone 6-10 to 0
Zones in the US and average temperatures

Simple Steps To Properly Winterize Your RV

A child filling the sink with antifreeze chemical
  1. Clean the interior of your RV. Remove everything that doesn’t serve a purpose, and empty the drawers and cupboards. All the beddings should be cleaned, including towels and other linens. Electric appliances should be unplugged before cleaning.
  2. You should empty the refrigerator, so if you have to defrost the freezer, start there and empty it.
  3. It would help if you examined the RV for possible openings that might create an opportunity for water, or bugs or mice to get inside in the cold season. If you find an opening, plug it with non-rusting material to prevent rodents from entering your unit.    Read more about preventing mice here
  4. Cedar chips, smelly soap or dryer sheets placed at the entrance to the RV will help prevent mice and  insect infestation.
  5. Clean the exterior of your RV and eliminate debris that gets into the slides and seams. It can cause leaks if left unchecked. 
  6. Check that the vehicle’s exterior doesn’t have any damage that requires repair before winter kicks in. Call and schedule repairs as early as possible.
  7. The RV’s freshwater reserves should all be entirely drained, including water in the holding tanks, toilet, water heater, and waterlines. 
  8. Get some RV antifreeze into your water system.
  9. , and if you don’t plan on using paid storage, ensure that the exterior of the RV is covered to prevent leaks. 
  10. RV tires should also be covered to prevent rot. Damage.
  11. All RV doors, windows, slides, and storage compartments should be locked or sealed throughout winter.  

How To Protect Your RV In Winter

A child readying a funnel for pouring antifreeze chemical

Here are the questions you have with the answers you need for winterizing your RV. Let,s get this wrapped up with some tips, tricks, and questions answered about your asset’s winterization.

1. Protect Your Pipes From Freezing Temperatures

It is probably the first place you want to start when preparing your RV for winter. The RV’s plumbing is highly vulnerable to freezing, and when this happens, the pipes can burst or crack – either way, you don’t want to start installing new plumbing after every winter.  It is possible to leave your RV plugged in during the colder months and use a tank heater to keep the water from freezing.               

This isn’t generally an option, so start by emptying all the water from inside your rig. As long as there’s water inside, low temperatures will cause it to freeze, which isn’t good for your plumbing. 

Start by opening the low water drain lines to your freshwater holding tank. Drain your waste tanks to a proper facility. 

Now you have 2 options for removing water from your interior lines.  1. Then use your compressor or have a professional blow out your lines. 2. Pump RV antifreeze through your water system inside the camper. I do it myself and pump RV antifreeze.      

Do whatever it takes to keep your RV dry before the temperature drops.

2. What Temperatures Do RV Water Lines Freeze?

As a general rule, RV water lines will likely freeze when the temperature is below 30 degrees for 2-3 hours.  However, anytime the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water in the lines could freeze. 

There are several factors at play here, so it’s not likely that all RV water pipes will start freezing at the same temperatures. That said, you should pay attention when the weather drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.   I took my camper out of the early season and de-winterized everything.  After parking back in storage, I checked the weather and was up all night worrying about the low temperatures that were forecast that night. 

The important thing to know about when your RV water lines will be damaged is both temperature and duration.

What you, consider doing is using RV antifreeze, which is safe for aluminum and steel tanks. If for some reason, you didn’t winterize the RV on time, and the temperatures drop to freezing, you may still be able to save your plumbing if you run the heater on low. It may be a bit costly but may keep you from having to pay for complete plumbing the next time you want to take your rig out.

3. Should I Blow Out The Pipes Or Use Antifreeze?

There are a couple of ways you can keep your pipes safe in the cold:

  • Pump antifreeze into the lines to keep from freezing, or
  • Use compressed air to blow out the water from the pipes.

You will find that antifreeze works better than pressurized air because you can never really get all the water out using air. Some water level always remains. It means that some of your plumbing, and possibly water tanks, may be damaged by the cold despite all your efforts. 

Plus, it can be hard to get the correct pressure if you are doing this at home.  Too high pressure will damage your systems.   

When you go to a store or online to purchase antifreeze for your RV, make sure that it’s non-toxic and made explicitly for RV plumbing. Generally, RV antifreeze is pink.  My travel trailer takes 3-4 gallons to winterize.  

When preparing to use your antifreeze, don’t drain the water heater when it’s still hot or under pressure. 

There’s a pressure valve on the outside of the tank that should be opened to release pressure and left open while the drain plug is removed. You will find these valves on the outside of the RV at the water heater access door. You might want to use a rinsing wand to remove additional water and residue from the tank before closing the release valve. 

You can then add antifreeze to either the holding tank or directly through the water pump.  I use a funnel to fill the holding tank and then use the pump to circulate it through the water lines. 

Of course, you wouldn’t need to do any of this if your RV was parked indoors where temperatures don’t drop below zero.

4. How Much Antifreeze Do I Need?

A bottle of Freezeproof RV antifreeze
Freezeproof RV and Marine antifreeze

On average you will need between 3 and 5 gallons of RV antifreeze to adequately winterize your water systems.

Here is an estimate of the amount of antifreeze you need based on your rig size:

  • Small RV or trailer without water tank or toilet – 1gallon
  • RV under 18 ft. – 2 gallons
  • RV 18-28 ft. – 3 – 4 gallons
  • RV 28-40 ft. – 4 – 5 gallons

It takes at least a couple of gallons to clear out water from a medium-size RV. Larger RVs will need more, and you can probably do fine with just 1 gallon if dealing with a smaller van.

If you did not bypass the water heater, which means you will have to purchase much more antifreeze to keep it safe (probably 6-10 gallons more).

5. Inspect The RV Properly Before Putting It Away For Winte

Climb onto the roof of your RV to check the cracks, holes, cuts, or any openings where water might leak through. Use a proper sealant if you find gaps, and inspect this sealant at least once a year.

6. Open Air Storage Of RV Is Horrible For Your Vehicle

If possible, always get your RV into a garage instead of open storage because the cold will not be kind to your RV’s exterior. But if that’s not possible, the other option is to store it under some structure that can keep it safe from the elements even if you can’t do anything about the cold. Purchase a good-quality RV storage cover to protect the exterior and the tires should also be covered.

7. Store Your RV Where Tires Won’t Move 

Put your RV on the emergency brake and apply the wheel chocks to keep it from moving. Also, take some of the pressure off the tires during winter. 

Common RV Winterizing Questions (FAQ)

Can You Winterize RV Without Antifreeze?

Winterizing an RV can be completed with the compressed air method, antifreeze method, or a combination. Using compressed air to blow out the entire water system you will not need to add RV antifreeze.

What makes antifreeze worthwhile for RV winterizing is that it does a better job protecting your plumbing and water tanks than attempting to blow out the water to prevent freezing.

If you plan on plumbing and water tanks than attempting to winterize without antifreeze, expect to spend more time using compressed air to empty your outdoor shower head, gray and black water tanks, faucets, toilet, tub, etc. Open the lowest point in your plumbing to let the water drain out. 


How Cold Does It Have To Be For RV Pipes To Freeze?

When temperatures drop to around 30°F, the possibility of RV plumbing freezing increases rapidly. Water freezes and expands at 32°F causing pipes to burst.

Anything below 32 degrees it is necessary to empty all water and foodstuff from the vehicle in preparation. You can prevent this by storing the RV indoors in a garage where you can control temperatures.    

Can You Live In RV In Winter?

Winter camping is quite common, and it’s still possible to use your RV during winter but with several adjustments.

For instance, you may choose to camp in your RV and not use water or use tank heaters to keep water flowing and the rig’s interior warm and cozy. But if you’re not plugged and don’t have a massive supply of generator fuel, you must be prepared to handle the cold using other means. Some people pump gallons of antifreeze into their water tank to pump the water and use it to flush the toilet.   

Final Thoughts on Winterizing your RV

Before thinking of traveling during the cold months, make sure you completely winterize your RV. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of somewhere with frozen pipes.

Here are some winterizing resources to read more about it.

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