It’s that time of year again! When the weather warms up around here, we start to get the bug. I’ve already begun planning for our summer trips, and I want to make sure our pop up camper is ready for the long haul. Because I get asked quite frequently how we get our camper ready for the season, I thought I’d share our process with you. Keep in mind that this is just what works for us. Your spring cleaning process may be completely different than ours, but I thought sharing our system with you might help those newbies going through their first camping season.
Our spring cleaning to-do list is quite long, so I’m breaking it up into two separate posts. Today, we will be talking about all the things we do to the exterior of the camper to get it ready for the summer. Next week, we’ll talk about the interior. It seems like a lot of work, but we are usually able to knock both the exterior and interior maintenance out in two weekends or less. I promise, it isn’t that bad–and you can always break these up into individual projects and work on a task here and there. Just remember that some of these things are quite important and should be done at least once a year, so don’t neglect your maintenance. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig in! 😀
Clean and Waterproof the Canvas
The very first thing–and I would argue one of the most important–we do is clean and waterproof our camper canvas. Pop up camper canvas is pricey, so I want to make ours last as long as possible. We have fabric canvas. The top section (around the windows) is made of Sunbrella fabric. The bottom (green stripe) and tops of the bunkends are vinyl. If you have “canvas” that is completely vinyl (like the canvas on our Rockwood camper), you’ll follow a slightly different process.
To make sure our fabric tenting doesn’t suffer unnecessary wear, we clean it well to remove dust and debris before it works itself into the fibers of the canvas. Once we are satisfied that our canvas is clean, we spot check the waterproofing. When your waterproofing is still good, the water should bead off the fabric. We’ve demonstrated what it should look like in the video below.
If the fabric has begun to absorb water, you’ll need to apply a good waterproofing product. We love 303 High Tech Fabric Guard. It is easy to apply, relatively inexpensive, and it is recommended by Sunbrella, the manufacturer of our canvas fabric. Best of all, it works great! If your canvas is vinyl, DO NOT use the High Tech Fabric Guard on it. You won’t need to waterproof vinyl, just protect it from sun damage. Need more info on how to care for your canvas? We’ve detailed just how we clean and waterproof our tenting in a post you can find here.
Clean and Protect the Vinyl & Windows
Once we’ve got the fabric cleaned, it’s time to give all the camper vinyl some love. If you have all vinyl tenting, you can use this method to clean your canvas. We clean all the black marks and dirt from the tops of the bunkends with a Magic Eraser and a good cleaning solution. We like either 303 Multi Surface Cleaner or LA Totally Awesome Cleaner (also available at DollarTree). Once we’ve gotten the vinyl clean, we condition it with either ProtectAll (also available at Walmart in the RV aisle for much cheaper) or 303 Aerospace Protectant. I like both, and it really just depends what I have on hand. Want more details on how we clean and treat our vinyl? Check out this post.
To clean and protect the windows, we use ProtectAll. We have been so happy with how well it has worked for us. When we first got the camper, the windows were disgustingly dirty and yellowed. One application of ProtectAll, and they looked new again. In fact, our windows looked so amazing that we put that project on our yearly spring cleaning to-do list. This prevents the windows from becoming dry and brittle. We have also used a similar product called PlastX, and it works pretty well, too, so if you can’t find ProtectAll in your area, that is another option. You can read more about our window cleaning process here.
Clean the Exterior and Apply Seal Protectant
With the canvas and vinyl out of the way, we usually close up the camper and get to work on the exterior. This is usually a pretty big job. Those front panels are almost always covered in squished bugs and road grime, and they are a little difficult to clean. 😛 We’ve found that LA Totally Awesome cleaner and a Magic Eraser work wonders on the bugs and dirt. I was skeptical at first, because the Totally Awesome cleaner really is only $1 at DollarTree, but that stuff rocks! Once the exterior is clean, we usually apply wax to the paint. We like 303 Quick Wax, because it is so easy to apply, and it makes my little PUP shine.
Then we apply a seal protectant to the roof seal to keep it from drying out and cracking–because those suckers are expensive, too. You could probably use just about any rubber protectant here, but I love 303 Rubber Seal Protectant because it comes in an easy applicator bottle. The product is only applied to the areas I want it to be, and I don’t have to worry about overspray or drips. It works great, too. My roof seal still looks brand new, and it is over three years old! Here is a post on how we clean and care for the exterior of our camper, if you’d like to see more.
Inspect, Grease, and Repack the Trailer Bearings
If this is something you’ve never done before, you should definitely put it on your annual to-do list. Greasing and repacking your bearings is essential to ensuring that your wheels keep moving freely and don’t overheat and seize. It sounds pretty intimidating, but I promise it is much simpler than it sounds. Don’t believe me? Check out this post for a tutorial with all the details. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities to do this job yourself, it usually isn’t too expensive to have it done at your local trailer or RV repair shop. Either way–have it done!
Note: While you are down there working on your bearings, it is probably a good time to inspect the tires for excessive wear and make sure they are properly inflated. You’ll also want to make sure your spare tire is in good condition, just in case you need it.
Grease the Lift System and Inspect the Cables
Sadly, I don’t have a picture or a tutorial of this yet. Taking pictures of the underside of the camper is pretty difficult, but this step is important enough that I just could not leave it out. Because each manufacturer uses a different lift system, you’ll want to consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions. Justin also inspects the cables while he is under the trailer greasing our whiffle tree (Coleman lift system). It doesn’t mean we won’t snap a cable unexpectedly, but it is nice to see what shape they are in so we can potentially head off any disasters. 😉
Check and Charge the Battery
Although it technically isn’t spring cleaning, battery maintenance is still on our spring to-do list. We want to make sure our battery is ready for camping season and won’t leave us without power when we need it most. We keep our battery on a trickle charger to maintain it–we use the BatteryMINDER 2012–and make sure it lasts as long as possible, but we still visually inspect it for corrosion, low electrolyte fluid, and outer case damage. If you’d like more in-depth information, check out our battery tutorial here.
Clean and Flush the Fresh Water System
I will freely admit that I am a little paranoid when it comes to the water in our fresh water tank, so this is a biggie for me. We clean and sanitize the tanks in our pop up camper at least twice a year, sometimes more often. It’s a good idea to start this task first thing in the morning to allow the tank sit for a few hours while you are completing other tasks. You can come back at the end of the day to drain and flush the system.
We start by draining the hot water heater (if you have a pump sink, you can skip this step) and fresh water tanks completely. Then we refill the tanks with potable water, adding 1/4 cup of bleach for each 15 gallons. Since we have an 11 gallon tank, I add just a little less than 1/4 cup of bleach. Next we turn on the pump and run both the cold and hot water faucets until we smell bleach. From there, we turn off the water and let the bleach water sit in the tanks for 12 hours. After 12 hours has passed, we drain the tanks and refill them with fresh water. Then we open the faucets and let them run until we no longer smell bleach.
We usually check the anode rod in the hot water heater while we are maintaining the tanks. The anode rod is a metal rod in your hot water heater than is used to attract corrosive elements in your water that could damage your tank. It protects your hot water tank from becoming corroded and should be inspected periodically to make sure it is in good condition. Ours has always looked good, but if yours looks pretty corroded or eaten away, you should replace it.
Caution: You should never drain your hot water tank when it is hot or under pressure. We always make sure the camper is unplugged and the water heater turned off before we drain the water from our tank.
That about sums up the first part of our spring cleaning series. I’d love to hear what’s on your spring cleaning to-do list. Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to swing back by later this week for part two in the series, where we talk about all our interior spring cleaning tasks. 😀
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