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How to Store a Travel Trailer or Camper for the Winter - Cover

How to Store a Travel Trailer/Camper for the Winter

If you're here reading about camper storage, you likely either a) have never done this before, or b) have done this before, and it didn't go as planned. Maybe you came back after a winter away to discover the dreaded mice droppings in your cabinets. Or maybe your battery gave out around the time you were singing Christmas carols and sipping eggnog. Or worse, you didn't winterize your plumbing, and you came back to a burst pipe and dreaded water damage (shudder). Fortunately, most unpleasant spring surprises are preventable with the right measures. Below, we've answered the most common questions we receive about proper RV storage practices. But we've also gone a step further to make it easy for you and created a handy printable checklist for your convenience—that is, everything you should do for your RV (inside and out) to prepare it for the off season. Now, does every camper out there diligently complete these steps each year? No, and you can take or leave the advice below. There will be people who don't prepare for storage and never had a dead battery or found mice in their camper (we call those the lucky ones!). But we're etrailer.com, and you come to us for the best advice, so these are the best ways we've found to take care of your RV so that it's around for many adventures to come. Let's get started! In this article:PLUS: Preparing Your RV for Storage (The Mother of All Checklists)

How to Blow Out RV Water Lines and Winterize the Water System

This is a big one. If you do nothing else on this list, winterize your plumbing if you live in an area where it drops below freezing. You do NOT want to deal with pipes that freeze and burst as soon as the cold weather hits! This kind of damage is expensive and labor-intensive to fix. Winterizing your camper, on the other hand, can be done during a free evening after work. There are two ways to winterize your system: the air compressor method and the antifreeze method. (You can also do both!) We've created an entire step-by-step guide on winterizing your plumbing, so you can check that out for all the tips and details. But at a 10,000-foot view, winterizing your plumbing consists of the following steps: Air compressor method:
  • Drain your fresh water tank
  • Drain and bypass your water heater
  • Open your faucets to drain remaining water
  • Attach your blowout plug, set your compressor to 25-30 PSI, and pump air into your camper (make sure to leave at least one valve open while doing so)
Antifreeze method:
  • Drain your fresh water tank
  • Drain and bypass your water heater
  • Pump antifreeze into water lines
  • Open your faucets until antifreeze comes out
  • Pour antifreeze into P-traps
Learn More: How to Winterize & Dewinterize Your RV
R-Pod Camper with Cover

Should You Cover Your RV in the Winter?

Yes. It's generally not a good idea to leave your RV at the mercy of the elements. Ideally, we'd all have a roomy, climate-controlled indoor space to store our RVs for the winter, but that's a luxury most of us don't have. If you're storing your RV outdoors for the winter, we highly recommend using a breathable cover designed for your camper size and style (fifth wheel, travel trailer, etc). Here are some of the biggest threats your RV can face if you leave it unprotected in the wild:
  • UV rays. Over time, UV exposure can cause seals to crack, your rubber roof to dry out, and your exterior wall designs to fade.
  • Rain and snow. It's best to keep moisture away from your RV as much as possible. You don't want a torrential downpour or melted snow backing up on your roof or leaking inside.
  • Critters. Encourage your local wildlife to find a nesting location that isn't your RV.
It's important to use a cover suited for your climate and storage situation. The cover description should tell you what it's made for (ex: moderate climates, wet climates, all-season use, long-term storage, short-term storage). You can check out our article here on choosing the right cover for your camper. TIP: It's also a good idea to cover your tires! You can find tire and wheel covers to fit just about any tire size. This goes a long way in protecting them from the sun's harsh rays, which cause deterioration over time. Should You Tarp Your RV In the Winter?You may be tempted to grab the cheapest blue tarp at your local hardware store, and I get it—a quality RV cover can set you back a couple hundred bucks. But using a cheaper tarp not designed for RV use can cause more damage and expense in the long run. Think of it as protecting your investment. If you protect your RV during storage, it's much more likely to retain its value long-term. What makes an RV-specific cover better than a tarp?
  • RV covers are designed to be breathable and let moisture escape. Tarps are not designed this way, so moisture can become trapped beneath them and lead to mold growth, especially during the off season.
  • RV covers are designed to fit snugly around RVs. Tarps—even if you tie them down—usually stay somewhat loose. They flap in the wind, and this flapping against your RV can damage the walls.
  • Many RV covers provide easy access to your doors and storage areas with the cover on. The only way to access the interior of your RV with a tarp is to remove it.
R-Pod Camper with Cover

Should RV Batteries Be Removed?

You don't necessarily have to remove your batteries, but we recommend it. To state the obvious, you want these pricey powerhouses to last as long as possible, and that means showing them a little TLC. Here's the best way we've found to ensure a battery's long, productive life: 1. Remove your battery from your RV prior to storage 2. Store it in a clean, dry place 3. Place your battery on a smart trickle charger/battery tender to maintain it What exactly are we trying to prevent? Well, there are three main dangers to RV batteries during the winter: overcharging, undercharging, and freezing (we'll dive into these topics more deeply below). You don't have to remove your batteries, but you should do your best to prevent any of these fates from befalling them, whether that means bringing them inside or leaving them where they are. This is also a good time to inspect your battery for signs of corrosion. If any is present, mix up a solution that's 1 part baking soda to 6 parts water, then use this solution and a wire brush to clean the terminals. If you have wet-cell batteries, you should also check the water level and add distilled water, if necessary.
NOCO Genius Battery Charger Charging Camper Battery
Battery FreezingLead Acid, Gel, & AGM Batteries It takes really cold temps for most fully charged batteries to freeze (about -80 degrees F). There aren't many places it gets that cold. However, a discharged battery can actually freeze at around 20 degrees F, and there are lot of places that see those kinds of temps (it's about that temperature in Missouri right now, where I'm writing this article). As your battery loses charge, it becomes more susceptible to freezing. (Think of a full charge like your battery's personal winter coat!) There's little danger of your battery freezing in your basement on a charger, so this is the best way we've found to simply not worry about battery issues all winter. But if you choose to leave your battery with your RV in a location that sees below-freezing temperatures, you definitely want to keep your battery fully charged at all times to protect it against the cold. Lithium Ion BatteriesLithium batteries are known for holding their charge during storage, losing only about 1-2% charge per month. But there's a big caveat with lithium batteries—charging them in temperatures below 32 degrees F can permanently damage them. If you leave your battery outside during the winter, definitely bring it inside and let it warm up first before charging it. However, you can also bring your lithium battery indoors and place it on a multi-stage charger designed to work with lithium batteries (the NOCO Genius is one such charger) to give it a healthy maintenance charge all winter.
Lead Acid Battery Freezing Points (-80 degrees F at full charge; 20 degrees F when discharged)
Battery UnderchargingLike I mentioned above, letting your battery discharge leaves it more susceptible to freezing temperatures. But that's not the only risk.Did you know leaving your batteries undercharged (below 12.5%) or dead for long periods of time can cause them permanent damage? You can thank the process called "sulfation" for that. (Yay, science.) Essentially, when your battery stays discharged for weeks or months on end, sulfate crystals start to form on your battery's plates. Sadly, your battery likely won't recover from this, and you'll never get the same performance out of it as you used to. It pays to keep your batteries properly charged! Again, you don't have to remove your battery to keep it charged. But we recommend disconnecting it from your RV to prevent parasitic drain from appliances and using a smart charger.
Discharged, Frozen RV Battery
Fully Charged RV Battery
A fully charged RV battery is the best defense against freezing and sulfation.
Battery OverchargingOkay, so you can just plug your battery into the nearest charger and forget it, right? Not quite. Leaving your battery plugged into just any charger isn't the best idea, either. This is because your finicky battery is also susceptible to overcharging, which can cause—you guessed it—irreversible damage. Basically, your battery is like Goldilocks; it doesn’t like overcharging, doesn't like undercharging, but likes things just right. The best way to keep your battery charged without overcharging it is to use a multi-stage (or "smart") charger like the NOCO Genius.If you have access to shore power, your other option is to simply leave the battery connected and keep your rig plugged in all winter. In this case, your RV's converter will transform the AC shore power into DC power, which will in turn charge your batteries. Just make sure you have a multi-stage converter (most newer RVs have this). These converters will charge your batteries, maintain time, and shut off as necessary to avoid overcharging.
AC Shore Power to Converter to DC Battery
When it comes to RVs, every camper is different. Some people have access to shore power all winter, some carefully clean their batteries and store them on trickle chargers each year, and some disconnect the battery and forget about it until spring. It's up to you, your environment, what kind of chances you want to take with your battery, and what you feel comfortable with.

How to Keep Mice Out of Your RV During Winter Storage

Prepping your interior for storage mainly consists of two action items: cleaning and mouse prepping. If you've had your RV for any length of time, you've probably developed your own cleaning routine. But my advice here is that if you're not deep cleaning, you should be. Partially because you'll appreciate your clean camper come spring, and partially because cleaning and mouse defense often go hand in hand.After all, there's one main reason mice are so determined to get inside your camper: food. So don't leave even a trace of crumbs behind for them. Remove the food from your refrigerator and pantry, wipe down all surfaces, and vacuum/mop your floors. There are also a variety of specialty RV cleaners to remove any trace of a fun-filled camping season (like where your toddler spilled that cup of applesauce on the carpet). With all this said, you can do everything right and remove every morsel of food from your camper...and still get mice. That's why there's a long list of products RVers everywhere use to keep the mice at bay, with varying success. Some of these defenses include:
  • Dryer sheets
  • Irish Spring Soap (grated into shavings)
  • Steel wool barriers
  • D-Con poison
  • Fresh Cab® Rodent Repellent
  • Peppermint oil
  • Moth balls
  • Traps
  • A cat (not recommended, though your cat would probably enjoy it)
Just keep in mind that there are different types of mice and no one-size-fits-all solution. (My coworker Jamie can attest to this—read about her experience below.)
mouse
Jamie's StoryOnce upon a time, there was a camper named Jamie (whom I happen to work with). Jamie owned a camper that she left in her field-adjacent campground year-round. And since this was in a magical woodsy land called the Midwest, mice were plentiful. Every winter, Jamie would go full Cinderella, cleaning until her camper was spotless and crumb-free. But despite her best cleaning efforts and the fact that she always covered her rig, those pesky and persistent little mice would come back year after year. (And despite what Disney's Cinderella would have you believe, mice don't wear cute little shirts, but they do leave lots of droppings behind in the cabinets.) So Jamie turned to the internet for help. "Try peppermint oil!" it told her, so she did. "Try Fresh Cab®!" it urged, so she tried that too. Year after year, though, she'd return to her camper come spring to find that mice had moved in while she was away. Finally, after years of searching far and wide for the magical solution that would actually work for her, Jamie found it: steel wool (she assures me she got this from a local store and not some strange species of steel lamb). She went to work, shoving the wool into every tiny opening and crevice a mouse could possibly find to crawl in through. This includes where the water heater and wiring come in, under her shower/sink, etc. Mice can't chew through steel wool, so if you manage to plug up all the entry points, there's no way for them to get in.The next year, Jamie returned to her camper come spring, and she found...nothing. No droppings. No tiny teeth marks. Just her camper, exactly how she left it. And she lived happily ever after (or at least, she no longer had to clean up mouse poop every spring).

How to Keep Moisture Out of Your RV in the Winter

Depending on your environment, you might find that moisture and mildew have a tendency to collect inside your stored camper. The main ways to combat moisture are a) keep the air dry and b) make sure air can circulate.Here are some of the most common solutions to RV moisture/mildew problems:
  • Leave your vents open and use a vent cover to keep the weather/critters out (MaxxAir covers are a popular choice).
  • Use a breathable cover designed for RVs. Cheap tarps don’t allow for the necessary airflow, so moisture tends to become trapped beneath them.
  • Use a dehumidifier (make sure to use one designed to work in colder temperatures).
  • Use DampRid or Dri-Z-Air to absorb moisture. (I also recommend an Odor1 Eliminator to kill any musty odors.)
You'll want to check on your RV periodically to see how your solution is holding up (at least every couple of weeks). Over time, you'll get a feel for how often you'll need to empty your dehumidifier, or whether you need to replace your DampRid containers.
Roof Vent Cover
Roof Vent Cover
Pictured: MaxxAir Roof Vent Covers

Preparing Your RV for Storage (The Mother of All Checklists)

So far we've gone over the most common questions about storing an RV for the winter. Now you know how to handle everything from mice to moisture, but we want to leave you with a more complete list of good winter storage practices. You can download a printable version of the checklist here.

#1: Plumbing Winterization

If you do nothing else on this list, please winterize your plumbing! Burst pipes are expensive disasters to fix. Check out our step-by-step guide on winterization for additional tips and guidance. Here's a look at the essential steps:
  • The air compressor method
    • Drain fresh water tank
    • Drain and bypass water heater
    • Open low point valves to drain water
    • Attach blowout plug and pump in air until lines have no water left
  • The antifreeze method
    • Drain fresh water tank
    • Drain and bypass water heater
    • Pump pink RV antifreeze into water lines
    • Open sink valves until antifreeze comes out
    • Pour antifreeze into P-traps
  • Consult owner's manual to winterize other appliances if necessary (ice maker, dishwasher, washer/dryer, black tank flush, macerator, etc)
Pouring RV Antifreeze in Sink

#2: Tires & Wheels

  • Inspect tires for wear and tear
  • Inflate tires to the recommended PSI
  • Check brake pads, repack bearings
  • Drive onto blocks or boards to keep tires out of grass/gravel (helps prevent dry rot)
  • If not using a full RV cover that protects your tires, cover your tires with a storage cover
Covered Tires on an RV

#3: Batteries

  • Remove battery and place it on a smart charger
  • Clean battery with baking soda/water mixture and wire brush if needed
  • Refill wet cell batteries if needed
RV Battery Charger

#4: Interior

  • Wipe down all interior surfaces
  • Remove perishables and clean fridge/cabinets
  • Sweep, vacuum, and mop floors
  • Prop refrigerator and cabinet doors open
  • Use preferred mice-prevention method (steel wool, traps, peppermint oil, etc)
  • Use a small dehumidifier or DampRid to absorb moisture
  • Use an odor eliminator to absorb/eliminate musty storage odors
Vacuuming RV Floor

#5: Exterior & Seals

This is a good opportunity to do all those maintenance tasks you put off the rest of the year!
  • Wash your sidewalls with soap and water or RV-specific cleaner
  • Check seals around windows, doors, roof, water heater, storage compartments, etc. Reapply sealant to any spots where the old sealant is cracking or peeled away
  • Clean your roof with a designated RV roof cleaner (check out our how-to guide for tips!)
  • Inspect your roof for cracks, dents, and peeling sealant; reseal if necessary
  • Clean your awning of any tree sap, bird droppings, leaves, or other gunk. You can use dish soap and water, or you can use a cleaner designed for RV awnings. Check out our guide on cleaning your awning. Just remember to let it dry completely before rolling it back up, or you'll have a moldy science project waiting for you come spring.
  • Cover rig with breathable RV cover
RV Cleaning Supplies

#6: Fuel

  • Add fuel stabilizer to generator and motorhome (if applicable)
  • If storing in a public place, remove propane tank or use tank lock to discourage theft or tampering
Fuel Stabilizer
Amber S.
About Amber S.As a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training classes for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article. At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ContentRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated on: 2/22/22

Chet

1/1/2024

All very good points especially for someone just starting out in the world of RVing. However, most who live in areas that experience freezing temperatures and need to winterize have done so (or attempted to). This article would be more helpful if released in September and not the end of December as I have received it.

Etrailer Expert

Jenny N.

1/2/2024

@Chet A valid point for sure. I appreciate it.


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