Whether you want to believe it or not, your RV/trailer/camper/tow vehicle has feelings and a personality. When it’s covered with pitch, bug guts, bird doo, mud or just road grime, and the tires look like they’re about to be recycled at the local flea market, you can see the frown on its face. It’s a scientifically unproven fact that a clean truck runs and pulls better. Got it, unproven, but a clean ride does wonders for the self-esteem.
Our personal truck and camper may be different from yours, but it has all the places that need cleaning, and we know about them, because we drive this truck on roads where we are sure you would never go. The result is, we have become experts at finding the best and easiest ways to clean things.
Aside from personality, we’re talking value. It would not be difficult to lay down close to $90,000 on a high-end loaded Ford F-350. (Yes, I checked!) Unless you’re planning on getting a new one every year, it makes sense to take care of it. High-end campers like the Lance or Bigfoot aren’t cheap, nor are fifth-wheels with four slide-outs or even a luxury four-wheel-drive van like the Sportsmobile.
If I’ve made my point, let’s get down to business. For lack of a better term, you can run your truck through one of those automatic truck washers you see on the highway. But if you’re even a little bit of a perfectionist like we are, you’re much better off doing a thorough Spring Cleaning yourself.
First you need to rinse off the chunks. Soap comes later. For all the fancy gadgets out there, it’s hard to beat the ordinary garden hose hand sprayer. An inexpensive powerwasher speeds things up and saves water. Carrand makes the Water Snake that can redirect the adjustable spray in any direction, and is great for getting under the frame. The telescoping wand and 3-position off-hi-low thumb switch make reaching the roof without a ladder easy.
With the big stuff rinsed off, we move on to the fun part. A couple of years ago we found the Grit Guard bucket. It has a big grate in the bottom that allows sand and grit to fall through instead of turning your wash mitt or brush into a piece of wet sandpaper. The new accessory called the Washboard makes it even more effective. Great idea. Add soap and water. No worries.
We no longer use dish soap because it tends to strip the wax off our paint. Many companies have products specifically for washing vehicles. We tried several including Turtle Wax M.A.X. Power, Meguiar’s Deep Shine, Armor All Ultra Shine Wash and Wax, Protect All Quick and Easy, Thetford RV Wash and Wax, Simple Green Wash and Wax. They all do a great job but we question the “Wax” part, though those that say wax does tend to make the water sheet off which makes drying easier. Some claim to be “rinse-free” or “self-drying”. Maybe. We prefer to rinse and dry by hand. We’re not in a hurry. Meguiar’s is fun with its foaming action. Our favorite again is Armor All for its sheeting ability.
Cleaning Tip: When the washing is completed, remove the spray handle from your hose and let the water run across the roof, hood and side panels. The running water tends to collect the majority of the droplets as it flows over the surface. There will be much less water to have to dry off.
Using a selection of the products mentioned here can have you making fifteen trips to the garage and back to your RV. A very cool tool is the Bucket Taxi. It has big wheels that even roll on gravel, and little pockets for stuff like a wheel brush and a Water blade, or a cold beer, and the center will carry a full Grit Guard bucket of soapy water. We just load it up and pull it behind us. It can save you a lot of walking.
If your motorhome or dinghy is dirty, and I don’t mean a little dust, you can’t clean it with a hose. An old rag will work, but there are special products that can vastly improve and speed up the job. Clean Tools and Carrand offer great wash mitts made of some combination of natural wool, polyester, nylon or even bamboo. Maybe a bug sponge will help with the guts on your grill.
Note: For those pesky bug splats, use cut pieces of old nylon pantyhose. It does not scratch the paint and the small interstices catch and lift-off the bug goo.
Wash mitts and gloves are important for details, but for big jobs, like a full-size truck and camper, a brush works wonders. Carrand’s Deluxe Quad Head has a 10” Flow-Thru no-spin locking head that carries loads of soapy water. It has the longest extension, 71”, and some people will like its slide off/on water control. Other brushes are designed for wheel wells and tires.
There are many specialty products by Simple Green, Mothers, Rain-X, Thetford, Protect All, etc., that can de-grease your engine, take bugs and tar off, clean awnings and remove black streaks. Many of these will also take your wax off. Got “love bugs”? They’re really nasty. We’ve heard folks in Florida spray cooking oil on their hoods and grills to keep the little buggers from sticking when a hatch occurs.
Next, and perhaps one of the most important steps, is drying. If you’ve done a good job with quality soap like any of those mentioned above, followed by a thorough rinse, gravity will do some of the work. In any case, grab a Flexible Water Blade or the 14” Long Reach Water Blade by Griot’s Garage. If you’re still drying your truck with an old bath towel you may be listening to 8-track tapes. Whatever these blades leave behind, we use a Carrand Rain-X Swiper Pro Drying Towel or an Absorber by Clean Tools. Both have replaced all our chamois. The Swiper Pro sucks up water like magic. Both can be tossed in the washing machine and reused hundreds of times. Zero lint!
Note: Don’t press too hard on that water blade thingee. Seriously, if it catches some grit it can leave a nice scratch mark that you’ll have to buff-out.
Over the years, we have noticed an interesting phenomenon. If you can’t clean your RV, at least clean the tires and wheels. For some reason, clean rubber makes everything look better. In case you haven’t noticed, wheels used to be pieces of stamped steel with cheap plastic hubcaps. Today, wheels are chrome or polished aluminum works of art and engineering. There are several spray-on “wheel cleaners” by Armor All, Griot’s Garage, Simonize and Stoner that claim to remove most of the brake dust and road grime from rims with just a hose. Only Turtle Wax and Mother’s specifically say “wheel and tire”. Mothers All Wheel and Tire Cleaner was the clear winner in our tests on very dirty wheels, but honestly, there’s no magic. If you really want to get crud and brake dust off your wheels, you need a brush that can reach into places where you may not want to stick your fingers. Several companies make special tools just for this purpose. Carrand, Braun Brush, and Griot’s even make a little brush to get lug nuts clean. Braun Brush has an angled brush to get behind the spokes and clean the brake disks and calipers. To get tires really clean, our guaranteed tire method is a bead of Soft Scrub and/or a little Simple Green, with a stiff bristle brush and elbow grease. (Natural bristle is the best if you can find one.)
Once your tires are clean and dry, there are many products that will put the “new” back on old rubber. Your choice will depend on how much shine you want. Personally, we don’t care for the shiny look produced by some, so original Armor All, Vinylex by Lexol, and Mothers Vinyl and Rubber Care gave us that “new tire” appearance. All require you to buff off the excess if you want that matte finish of new rubber. The handy Wheel Shield keeps the spray off your rims. You can make your own out of cardboard.
If you’ve let your aluminum wheels become scratched or pitted, there are some great tools and products that will give them back a blinding shine. X-Treem, Flitz, and Mothers—to name a few that work well. Flitz and Mothers have drill-powered buffing wheels. We really like the Mothers Cone PowerBall for getting into hard-to-clean spokes. Choosing the right polishing product can make all the difference.
If you have a few miles on your vehicle, chances are it has some nicks, scratches, and rock hickies. Mother’s, Turtle Wax and Meguiar’s have kits that may help those ugly battle scars disappear. To avoid those problems in the first place, we use Xpel Paint Protection for grills and hoods. These are computer-designed custom-cut sections of special transparent film. They are easy to apply and they really work to keep bugs and gravel from nicking your paint. Many patterns are available for vans, trucks and motorhomes.
Sunlight, UV rays, and the elements can degrade the plastic lenses of modern headlights just sitting in the RV campground, reducing their output by 30% or more. Headlight restoration kits like those from Mothers, Griot’s Garage and Turtle Wax all do the job. We especially like Mother’s kit that comes with a drill-powered PowerBall that takes the labor out of it. Once the lens is cleaned and restored to its original clarity, Xpel makes precision custom-cut, optically clear PVC headlight protection kits.
RVs have a lot of glass. For the outside, a good coat of Invisible Glass with Rain Repellent or Griot’s Garage Glass Sealant really does keep everything from sticking, even rain. If the glass is just a little dirty, one of the several spray cleaners will work. Invisible Glass Cleaner has always been our favorite but Mothers Speed Foaming Glass and Screen and Safelite AutoGlass Cleaner have a unique advantage. They spray on as a foam so they don’t run when we do inside windows. Invisible Glass Lens Wipes work for everything small like mirrors, GPS screens and those things on your nose. We carry a stash of them in the glove box.
Hard water spots can be a real problem. An easy and extremely effective solution is Griot’s Garage Glass Polish. Applied by hand or with their 3” orbital buffer, your windshield will look like new.
We all know how difficult it is to get the inside of a windshield clean. Now there are two products that make that awkward job almost fun. The inShield Wiper slips on the back of your hand and gets those hard to reach corners. The Reach and Clean wand by Invisible Glass can clean where your hand has never gone.
A great alternative for the outside glass is mixing two gallons of water, one cup of ammonia, 2 pints of rubbing alcohol, and 2 tablespoons of hand dishwashing liquid. We use this with a 20” long-handle combination squeegee and scrubber by Carrand. Around home or the RV park, the mixture keeps for months. We carry the squeegee and scrubber on the road. It saves paper towels and we avoid the greasy wash sticks often poking out of gooky soups in service stations.
Turning our attention to the inside, if you’re lucky enough to have a real leather interior, it needs special care. Leather cleaning products run all the options from Armor All’s Leather Wipes for a quick clean-up to others by Stoner, Turtle Wax and Mothers that are one-step spray and wipe. If you really want to give your leather the best care, the two-step cleaner and conditioner kits by Mothers and Lexol take more time but they are worth it. Special application pads from Lexol and Griot’s make application much easier.
Cleaning the dash and instrument panel can be difficult with all its nooks and crannies. We recently discovered Cyber Clean, a weird kind of squishy synthetic membrane developed in Switzerland. When it is pressed on and into those impossible-to-reach places, like AC vents and around radio buttons, it picks up dirt and dust like a magnet. Both Carrand and Braun Brush offer the auto enthusiasts special brushes for detail work like vents. A Q-Tip can also do the job.
Note: Compressed air works wonders to blow away dust in those hard-to-reach places. You would be surprised at what you can’t see that is under your seat(s). Blow the stuff out with your compressed air. Use the air to blow dust off of the AC vents.
For the bigger areas like the dash or vinyl seats, Mothers, Meguiar’s, Vinyl, and Turtle Wax have come out with specific interior detail sprays. Turtle Wax has a spray that “seeks and destroys odors” and two interior foaming products that come with handy brushes for carpets, mats and upholstery. The little compact Carrand Auto Spa vacuum has all the necessary tools and features in an easy-to-store size and it really sucks!
Frankly, keeping your interiors clean is easier than cleaning them. For that purpose, Covercraft makes SeatGloves, SeatSavers, Sofa-Savers and Canine Covers. Their durable poly-cotton fabric is easy-on/easy-off, and can be cleaned in the washer/dryer anytime they’re dirty.
Everything is spiffy now. What about a good wax job? There are so many choices from companies like Mothers, Protect All, Griots Garage, Turtle Wax, and Meguiar’s; it can boggle your mind. What waxing and polishing amounts to often is how much work you want, how long you want it to last, and what results you want. That doesn’t mean you have to use Mother’s original Clay Bar or their new Speed Clay 2.0 or Griot’s Garage Fine Surface Prep Mitt treatment, but if you do, you will be amazed at the results. We tried all three; they work wonderfully.
Some products claim to do everything in one-step: wash, clean, wax, and polish. Others may involve different products for each of those steps. If you’re in a hurry, try one of the spray-on waxes from Meguiar’s, Griot’s or Mothers. They seem to really do a good job but may not last as long as those that require more work.
With any wax, polish, cleaner, or sealer, application is half the secret and often twice the work to do it right. Griot’s Garage has 3” and 6” Random Orbital polishing and buffing tools that take out the labor. Carrand now offers an Auto Spa buffer, good for big jobs. Mother’s has a full kit that contains everything, including their Power Orbital Polisher, cleaning, waxing and polishing compounds, and a supply of extra pads. Orbital polisher/buffers produce professional results with no chance of damaging your paint. We like to finish up with micro fiber cleaning, drying and polishing cloths. You should have a few of these around before you start a serious wax job.
This may seem like way too much work, so part of the secret of how to keep an RV of any size clean is dusting it off before it needs more attention. The Original California Car Duster picks up dust like a magnet, and they offer an extra wide model for RVs.
Any of the spray-on detailers like Meguiar’s Quick Detailer, Mother’s Showtime or Turtle Wax Clean and Shine can be used with a micro fiber cloth to produce quick results. We love the Clean Tools Glosser damp wipes with carnuba wax in resealable pouches.
Most of this information is about dirt, and how to get it off your RV, but the real trick is to keep it off in the first place. Even if you have a garage big enough for your rig, paint attracts dust like flies on dead meat. The easy answer when you’re not on the road is to use a Custom Covercraft Weather Shield cover. Our truck and camper can sit for months under sun, rain, snow, tree pitch, and bird doo. When we pull back the Covercraft Custom fitted cover, the most it might need is a quick pass with the California Car Duster.
So now you know a few of our secrets. It’s time to get to work! Your Dodge Ram, motorhome or trailer will love you and smile. As soon as elbow grease comes in a spray bottle, we’ll let you know.
by Gary Wescott