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Matt Johnson

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Dewinterize a Travel Trailer

MattGlamperGear
Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Mar 27, 2023Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Are you ready to hit the road this summer with your RV or travel trailer? If so, it’s important that you dewinterize your travel trailer to ensure everything is running smoothly. This includes checking all systems and appliances, cleaning the interior and exterior, inspecting for damage, and replacing any worn parts. Fortunately, we’ve put together an easy-to-follow checklist of everything you need to do in order to get your camper back on the road safely. With just a little bit of preparation and care, you can make sure that your next camping trip goes off without a hitch.

The importance of dewinterizing.

We get it. You’re anxious to hit the road this summer but before you can do that, you have to dewinterize your travel trailer. Fortunately, dewinterizing is a relatively easy process and once it’s done, you’ll be ready for another season of adventures.

Chances are, unless you’re a snowbird or a winter camper, your rig sat in the cold for months. If you were smart, you completely winterized your camper to protect it.

Now you have to dewinterize your travel trailer or RV before hitting the road. This is essential because if you don’t, it can cause significant damage to your trailer and its systems.

After all, you’re heading out to a state park or other campground to enjoy your time and not to spend it dealing with repairs.

Tools and supplies you’ll need.

While dewinterizing a camper doesn’t take all that long to do, you will need a few tools and supplies to do it correctly.

Maybe we’re just a bit too organized, but we find it best to get everything together before jumping into this little project.

Here are the essentials for getting your camper ready for camping season.

  • Fresh water hose: For filling up the fresh water tank and flushing the water lines.
  • RV antifreeze: For winterizing the water system, including the water pump, toilet, and faucets.
  • Battery charger: To charge and maintain the RV’s batteries.
  • Wrench or pliers: For removing drain plugs or opening the hot water heater access panel.
  • Screwdriver: For removing and replacing anode rods in the hot water heater.
  • Rubber gloves: For protecting your hands while working with antifreeze or other chemicals.
  • Eye protection: For protecting your eyes from antifreeze or other chemicals.
  • Bucket: For catching any water or antifreeze that may spill during the winterization or dewinterization process.
  • Sewer hose: For dumping the black and gray water tanks.
  • Tank sanitizer: For sanitizing the black and gray water tanks.
  • Flashlight: For working in dark or tight spaces.
  • Paper towels or rags: For cleaning up spills or wiping down surfaces.

It’s worth noting that the specific tools and supplies needed may vary depending on the RV’s make and model, as well as personal preferences and the particular steps involved in the dewinterization process.

What gets dewinterized?

When you dewinterize your RV, you don’t just flush the tanks. You will want to go over several systems to ensure they’re in tip-top shape for your next camping trip.

To keep it simple, we like to work from the inside out on the camper. Just a preference, but we like finishing up and hooking it up to the tow vehicle ready to hit the road.

The systems and functions you’ll want to check include—

  • Fresh water system. This includes the water pump, water lines, faucets, and the rest of your plumbing system.
  • Hot water heater. Check for adequate pressure and inspect the anode rod (if applicable).
  • Sewage system. Flush the tanks with clean water and sanitize them using a tank sanitizer like Camco’s TastePURE.
  • Battery maintenance. Make sure the RV batteries are fully charged and check their voltage levels.
  • Electrical systems. This includes your carbon monoxide detector, air conditioner, refrigerator, and any other electrical accessories and safety devices.
  • Propane appliances. For safety, check the propane system and connections. This includes propane appliances and external tanks.
  • Tires and axles. Don’t forget to check your tire pressure, wheel bearings, and brake system before you hit the road.

By dewinterizing your RV, you’ll be able to enjoy all the comforts of home, even when you’re far from it. And with a little bit of elbow grease and some basic tools, you can have your rig ready for summer in no time.

Fresh water system.

To get your fresh water tank and lines ready for usage, you’ll first want to flush them out. Start by filling the fresh water tank with clean water and then open all of the faucets one at a time until water comes out. This will allow any remaining antifreeze or debris to be flushed out of the lines.

Be sure to run water through both the city inlet as well as the freshwater holding tank. For the city water, run the water through for at least five minutes. As for your holding tank, fill it at least three times and run the RV water pump through all faucets. Of course, this can take a while since your fresh water tank holds anything from 30 to 50 gallons of water.

Once everything is thoroughly flushed, don’t forget to replace any water filters if your camper is outfitted with them.

Does this sound like overkill? Maybe. But remember that you’re going to shower in this water and possibly drink it, so you want your RV water system to be cleaned well and there to be no remaining RV antifreeze in the tanks or lines.

Hot water heater.

Flushing and refilling the hot water heater tank is an important part of dewinterizing your RV, as it helps to remove any sediment or debris that may have accumulated in the tank.

Here are the steps to flush and refill the hot water heater tank and replace the anode rod if necessary:

  1. Turn off the propane or electric heating element to the hot water heater and allow the tank to cool down completely.
  2. Locate the hot water heater access panel on the outside of the RV. Depending on your RV’s make and model, this panel may be secured with screws or clips.
  3. Open the hot water heater access panel and locate the drain plug or petcock at the bottom of the tank. Place a bucket or container underneath the drain plug to catch any water that comes out.
  4. Using a wrench or pliers, remove the drain plug or petcock and allow the tank to drain completely. Once the tank is drained, close the drain plug or petcock.
  5. If the anode rod is accessible from the outside, remove it using a socket wrench or pliers. If the anode rod is not accessible from the outside, you may need to remove the water heater completely to access it from the inside.
  6. Inspect the anode rod for signs of wear or corrosion. If the rod is less than 50% depleted, it can be reused. If it is more than 50% depleted or shows heavy corrosion, it should be replaced.
  7. Close the hot water heater access panel and turn on the propane or electric heating element to the water heater.
  8. Wait at least 20 minutes for the tank to heat up before using the hot water.
  9. Turn on the hot water faucets in the RV to remove any air from the system, then check for leaks around the drain plug and anode rod.

Since every RV hot water tank is different, always refer to the RV’s owner’s manual for specific instructions and recommendations regarding flushing and refilling the hot water heater tank and replacing the anode rod.

Sewage system.

Drain all Antifreeze and Flush Tanks to Thoroughly Dewinterize your Travel Trailer

If you’ve flushed the freshwater system thoroughly, there’s a good chance your sewage system is good to go as well. After all, that fresh water needs to go through the sewage system anyways.

However, it’s always a good idea to check the sewage system for any signs of leaks or blockage when you dewinterize your travel trailer.

Ensure the water flows freely with the valves open. Also, check your sewage hoses for any signs of deterioration. If you find any cracks, holes or tears in the hoses, replace them immediately before using them. The last thing you want when you dump your tanks is for the hose to start spewing waste water all over the place because it was dry-rotted.

Last but not least, make sure your holding tanks are empty and free from debris before hitting the road.

Battery maintenance.

Although you may only camp at campgrounds with full hookups or use an RV generator, it’s still a good idea to check your RV battery and make sure it’s in good condition.

Check the water levels and add distilled water as needed to keep the battery cells topped off. Check for any corrosion or leaks around the terminals, then clean and tighten them if necessary.

Be sure to charge up your RV battery before heading out on your camping trip. This will ensure that it is ready to go and will last as long as possible while you are on the road.

If your RV batteries are in really bad shape, you might need to look into buying a set of fresh batteries. We find that they typically last around five years, which is a bit longer than the manufacturer claims. It might be due to their minimal use on them compared to other batteries.

Electrical system checks.

All of your water systems are good and functioning and your battery is topped off. Now it’s time to make sure that everything that makes you comfortable and safe is working properly.

Start with the lighting in your RV. Check all of the interior and exterior lights and make sure they are working properly. If any bulbs are burned out, replace them with new ones to ensure that you can see your way during the night.

Next, check all of your receptacles for proper voltage readings. Make sure that nothing is grounded or shorted out. Often times mice will chew the wiring of these outlets when your camper is in storage. It’s a pain, but you don’t want to burn down your camper on your first trip out.

You’ll also want to check all the fuses and circuit breakers. These are the main components that help keep your RV safe from power surges or electrical fires. If any of these components appear to be damaged, replace them immediately.

Check your carbon monoxide detector and air conditioner filter. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, now is the time to get one installed and make sure it’s working properly.

The last thing you’ll want to check when you dewinterize your travel trailer is your generator (if you have one). Ensure it starts and runs properly, then check the oil level in the engine and add more if necessary. Most generator manufacturers recommend you run it at least once a month, and if it was in storage for the last six months, I’m willing to bet you haven’t fired it up for a while. Now is a good time to do so.

Propane appliances.

Test the Burners with Propane

One of the most important things to check before taking your RV out for a camping trip is the propane system.

Start by inspecting all of the connections on the propane tanks and make sure they are tight and secure. Make sure that there are no signs of rust or corrosion on any of the fittings, as this could cause an unsafe leak if you were to use the tanks.

Next, check the regulator on your tank and make sure it is reading the correct pressure. This will allow you to ensure that all of your propane-powered appliances are functioning properly.

Finally, test each appliance to make sure they are all working correctly. Things like stoves, water heaters, furnaces, and even refrigerators can be tested to ensure they are working as intended.

Tires and axles.

Check the Air in your RV Tires

Now that you’re done with the interior of your RV, it’s time to move outside. The tires and axles are the most important parts of your RV, so they should be checked thoroughly before you hit the road. Many accidents have been caused by RV tires blowing on the highway or axles snapping from rust.

Start by checking that all of your tires have adequate tread depth and pressure. It’s a good idea to check them while they’re cold as well as when they’re hot after driving a few miles. If they look worn or have too low of pressure, replace them as soon as possible. Each brand and style of tire is different, so check out the pressure rating on the sidewall to ensure you’re putting in the right amount of air.

Next, check the condition of your axles and suspension system. Look for any rust or signs of deterioration that could cause a breakdown while out on the road. Make sure all the nuts and bolts are tight, and if necessary, have them greased and lubed to prevent rusting.

Safety precautions.

When you dewinterize your RV, it’s a good idea to take a few safety precautions. These include checking the fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detector and any other safety equipment you may have on board.

Also, be sure to inspect the brakes and steering for proper operation. Make sure that all of the brake lines are in good condition, with no signs of leakage or damage. Additionally, check any emergency chains on your RV, as these can rust and become useless if you ever need them.

Tips and tricks to get the job done right.

Share any additional tips or tricks you have learned while dewinterizing your travel trailer, such as how to remove stubborn stains or smells from the water system.

Spray WD-40 or PB Blaster on moving joints.

One thing I like to do at the beginning of the camping season, and it typically holds up pretty well, is spraying PB Blaster on moving joints. Items such as landing legs, doors, and drawers. It will help take the squeak out of them when you’re using them.

Use a trickle charger on your batteries.

It’s a good idea to purchase a battery maintainer or trickle charger to keep your batteries charged up when you’re not using your RV. This can also help extend the life of your batteries by preventing them from being over-discharged.

Always use RV-safe antifreeze.

I always recommend that everyone use RV-safe antifreeze when they winterize their camper. This makes it really easy when it comes time to dewinterize because you can just let it flow down into a septic tank or city sewage. So the next time you go to winterize that fresh water holding tank, drop non-toxic RV antifreeze in it.

Change out all air and water filters.

Since you’re on a roll with preparing your travel trailer for the camping season, now is a good time to change out all of the air and water filters, regardless of when you last changed them. Filters get clogged up after a while, so it’s always good to replace them with fresh ones in order to keep everything running smoothly.

RV and travel trailer dewinterization checklist.

To help you get your travel trailer or camper back on the road for the summer, we’ve put together a quick dewinterization checklist. This RV dewinterization checklist includes everything we’ve discussed and makes it easier for you to go through each of your systems.

We’ve even put together a printable dewinterization checklist so you can print it out and put it in your rig.

Water and plumbing system.

  • Remove the water heater bypass valve.
  • Open all faucets, including showers and outdoor showers, to clear out antifreeze.
  • Reconnect or install any water filters.
  • Flush the system with fresh water and a cleaning solution.
  • Inspect the water pump and water lines for any leaks or damages.
  • Install drain plugs.

RV exterior.

  • Check for any damages, such as cracks or dents.
  • Wash the RV thoroughly to remove any dirt or grime that accumulated during storage.
  • Replace any damaged or missing parts, such as awnings or seals.
  • Check for tire pressure and condition, and replace if necessary.
  • Grease bearings as necessary.
  • Check all lights, including running lights, brake lights, and turn signals.

RV appliances.

  • Test all appliances to ensure they are working properly, including the stove, oven, refrigerator, and microwave.
  • Check for any propane leaks near the tanks and on appliances with an LP detector.
  • Inspect the furnace and air conditioning units.
  • Check the battery and replace it if necessary.
  • Test all smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and any other safety devices.

Interior Clean-Up

  • Clean the interior thoroughly, including the floors, carpets, and surfaces.
  • Replace any damaged or worn-out furniture or bedding.
  • Check for any pests that may have entered during storage.

Ready to hit the road?

With this comprehensive RV and travel trailer dewinterization checklist, you’ll have everything you need to get your camper ready for the summer. From spraying WD-40 on moving joints to replace air filters and checking all safety devices, there are many steps involved in making sure your travel trailer is running smoothly. Taking these precautions will help ensure that your next camping trip goes off without a hitch.

We always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So the more you do to get your rig back into shape for the summer camping season, the better off you’ll be.

MattGlamperGear

Matt Johnson


Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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