Everyone wants good weather when they go camping! Blue skies and bright sunshine make an RV trip much more enjoyable than clouds and rain. But that sun can be HOT, and on a summer day, you may find yourself searching for shade to keep cool. This is where an RV awning comes in. RV awnings are standard on nearly all RVs. However, they come in different sizes and colors. Some are motorized while others require manual assistance.
Since we all love our RV awnings, it’s important to keep them in good shape. While awnings don’t require a ton of maintenance, there are some things you can do to prolong their life. Here are some tips to keep that RV awning in top shape!
It’s important to know what type of awnings your RV has. Different RV awnings serve different purposes. Small window and door awnings keep you safe from the rain or the glare of the sun. Slide-out awnings keep the tops of your slide-outs free of debris and rainwater. And patio awnings create extra living space when you want an outdoor shelter. After all, part of the fun of camping is eating breakfast with your toes touching the soft grass!
It is possible to replace your existing awnings, but if you learn to maintain an awning, you can expect it to last many years.
Manual vs. Power Awnings
Manual awnings generally pull out from the top of the RV with two arms at the front and back of your camper. To ensure the awning stays taut, be sure to lock the arms into position.
Power awnings, on the other hand, typically deploy with some sort of button or switch inside your RV. Some are equipped with sensors that automatically retract or lower depending on the level of wind or rain, but check your manual if you’re unsure.
The Pros and Cons of an Electric RV Awning
An electric awning is nice to have when it comes to ease of use. Additionally, many electric awnings offer a weather sensor feature, which will pull the awning in if it senses high winds and won’t allow rain to collect on the top of the awning. That said, this type of awning does have some cons to go along with that ease of use.
- The motor can go out, making it difficult to use the awning.
- The weather sensor is often over-sensitive, pulling the awning in when you’d like it to stay out.
- Many users find it difficult to adjust electric awnings to suit them.
Another type of awning is the pop-up camper awning (or bag awning). These awnings are almost always found on pop-up campers and are almost always added as an aftermarket feature. Unlike the awnings mentioned above, these canopies have legs that hold them up and are set up a bit differently. We recommend this video to learn how to set up this style of awning.
RV Slide Out Awning Benefits
Another type of awning your RV may have is a slide-out awning. If your RV doesn’t have this kind of slide-out topper, we highly recommend looking into getting one. Why? Well, we find that these little awnings are extremely beneficial for several reasons.
Here are the top three benefits of an RV slide-out awning:
- Catches debris, keeping it off the slide and thus preventing any from being pulled indoors when the slide comes in.
- Keeps bright sunlight off of the slide, helping regulate the temperature in your RV.
- Protects the slide from rain, helping prevent the ever-so-common slide leaks that can cause so much damage.
If you’ll be installing your awning, be sure to heed the old saying and measure twice, cut once. That means taking the time to consider the proper size awning for your particular RV. For a trailer travel awning, for example, you’ll need a much smaller awning if you’ve got a teardrop trailer than you will if you have a fifth wheel. A small awning on a larger trailer tends to look awkward, so price out your options and, if necessary, save up before purchasing.
1. Know your Fabric
RV awnings are made of two basic types of fabric: acrylic and vinyl. There are pros and cons to both.
Vinyl awnings are not porous and are usually coated with a substance that helps prevent mold and mildew. Mildew resistance does not mean mildew-proof so keep that in mind. Vinyl awnings are especially susceptible to mildew when exposed to heat and high humidity. It’s important not to scrub the protective substance off. To clean a vinyl awning, use a soft brush, dish soap, and water to gently remove dirt and debris. After rinsing, you can use a protectant spray designed to protect against UV rays, dust, and dirt – be sure the spray is safe to use on vinyl.
Acrylic is a porous, breathable fabric that allows air to circulate. It can be trickier to clean because dirt, liquids, tree sap, and other contaminants can sink into the fabric. Acrylic awnings are not waterproof, but they generally dry within a few hours of getting wet.
Acrylic canopies can also have a water-repellent finish, and you want to be sure when you clean that you don’t scrub that off. To clean an acrylic awning, use a stiff brush, water, and soap. After rinsing, you can use a protectant spray designed to make your awning water-repellant. Be sure the spray won’t damage the fabric of your awning.
2. Keep it Mildew and Dirt Free
If you unroll your awning after storing it for a lot of time you may discover that mildew or stains have developed. A simple hosing from time to time can keep your awning clean from these mildew and dirt stains. Never scrub an acrylic awning since it can remove the water-retardant finish. Aim for approved cleaners and apply them on the fabric with a sponge or a soft cloth.
3. Apply Cleaners
Some regular cleaners don’t have the same effect as an aftermarket commercial cleaner made especially for awning fabrics. Choose the right one for your type of fabric and begin cleaning. But don’t use oil-based or abrasive cleaners! Use the ones recommended by manufacturers and make sure you read the instructions carefully.
Most awning cleaners are easy to use. Simply apply to the awning — both on the inside and the outside — and let it sit to soak in. You can even roll the awning up to distribute the cleaner over the entire surface. After several minutes, gently scrub the awning fabric and then rinse it on both sides. You will be amazed by the outcome.
You can also use a simple solution of dish soap and water to clean your RV awning.
Be sure to rinse your awning completely when you’re finished, getting rid of any remaining cleaning solution.
Give your RV awning time to completely dry after cleaning. Do not apply heat to dry your fabric as this can damage it.
4. Do a Thorough Inspection
You never know when you will encounter awning problems. A thorough inspection is necessary to discover tears or excessive wear. Take a look at the awning hardware and the bottom awning brackets support. Look at the lag screws in the awning brackets, and the end caps to ensure a secure mount. Don’t try to remove the end caps! Also, you don’t want to find anything broken or discover loose rivets. Enlarged holes or broken rivets can cause a lot of trouble, so be sure to check the arm pivot holes. Make sure the awning rail is securely mounted to the side of the RV.
5. Never Leave RV Awnings Unattended
After you clean and inspect your awnings you can head off on a trip. You choose a great camping spot, roll out your awning, and retire for the night. This can be a dreadful decision if there’s an unexpected downpour in the middle of the night! Awnings cannot withstand a deluge of liquids, and heavy rain can cause a lot of damage to an RV awning. Keep your awnings tucked in, or after a heavy rain, lower one end to allow the water to run off the awning. Excessive weight can damage the fabric and cause costly damage.
A large patio awning is the most likely to be damaged. Strong wind gusts can rip the awning off, sometimes with pieces of your motorhome attached to it. When you go in for the night or leave for a hike, store your awnings in the travel position to prevent unwanted damage.
It’s also a good practice to tie the awnings either to a stake in the ground or to the bottom awning brackets on the side of the RV. This way you will keep them safe from sudden wind gusts. Remember, it’s always cheaper to prevent damage than to have to repair or replace!
6. Keep Your Awnings Dry
You don’t want to store awnings when the fabric is wet. It will increase the chances of mildew and could deteriorate the material over time. Let the awnings sit in the sun for a while and dry off completely on both sides. After the awning is dry, you can apply an awning protectant. You’ll want to be sure the protectant was formulated for the particular type of material – acrylic or vinyl – that your awning is made from. Then store your awning until your next trip!
7. Consider Insurance
You don’t want to have an undesirable surprise if your awning blows off and shreds your motorhome. A lot of insurance providers will keep awnings out of the coverage when an accident happens. If your insurance doesn’t cover awning damage, you may want to look into a separate policy to cover your RV awnings.
RV Awning FAQs
How often should you clean your RV awning?
You should clean your motorhome awning at least once a year. Definitely clean it before you store it for long periods such as over the winter. You should also clean it when it starts looking dirty or dingy, after parking under trees where you get tree sap or bird droppings on the canopy, and if you see signs of mold or mildew. A good rule of thumb is to clean your awning every few months while you’re using your camper, or more often if it needs it.
What should you clean your RV awning with?
Along with the supplies we mentioned above, you may want a few specialty products for cleaning your awning. You can find awning cleaners to use in place of soap and water if you like. You can also use an awning protectant, formulated for the fabric of your particular awning. The protectant will guard against UV rays, keep dirt and debris from penetrating the fabric, and make your awning water-resistant.
Finally, if you’re trying to get tree sap out of your awning, you may want to bring out the big guns. You can try isopropyl alcohol, turpentine, Clorox clean-up spray, peanut butter, or Formula 409 to get stubborn spots of sap out. Before trying any of those solutions, be sure to test them on a small area that won’t be noticed to ensure the solution won’t ruin the fabric of your canopy.
Should I pressure wash my RV awning?
While it is possible to pressure wash your RV awning, you need to be really careful. The hard pressure on your fabric – especially on a vinyl canopy – could ruin it. If you’re very careful and make sure you don’t damage your awning while pressure washing, it can be done. The safest bet, however, is to wash it as we outlined above.
How else should I care for my awning?
One of the best ways to keep your RV awning clean is to do what you can to avoid getting it excessively dirty in the first place. When choosing a campsite, always be on the lookout for sap-producing trees that can create hard-to-remove stains. (They can also affect your roof’s finish, so you have lots of incentive to avoid parking beneath them!)
It’s also important that you maintain a regular cleaning schedule so that your awning doesn’t get so dirty you can’t clean it without damaging it. Plan on cleaning the awning at least once a season. However, it’s really a better idea to clean it at least once a month, or even every time you camp if you use the awning heavily.
We hope this article about how to clean your RV’s outdoor canopy will help you maintain a pristine, working awning for many years and camping trips to come. Although cleaning an RV awning is no one’s idea of a party, you’ll thank yourself for your hard work next time you’re relaxing in the shade in your camping chair with some hot dogs on the grill. Complete your now clean setup with some RV awning lights and make yourself comfortable in your outdoor space.
RV Awning Parts
Every once in a while, you might find yourself needing to replace old or missing camper awning parts. Many of them, such as mounting brackets and lift handles, can be found online and shipped directly to your campsite. You can also buy replacement arms, roller tubes, tension knobs, and pull straps.
Once you’ve installed your trailer awning, you can start adding accessories. For extra shade, try purchasing an RV awning shade, which provides privacy and helps block sunlight and UV rays. You can even create your own “front porch” with a screened room shade.
Other accessories can help protect your awning so you can avoid a costly RV awning replacement. An RV awning de-flapper helps protect the awning fabric from rips and tears while preventing it from flapping in the wind. If you do get a rip in the RV awning fabric, however, you can always turn to awning repair tape, which provides a quick fix for any tears.
One way to inject some style into your RV window awnings is to add some awning lights. LED light strips can add a colorful glow to the outside of your camper and are generally waterproof so they can become a permanent fixture. Globe lights or twinkle lights are also popular options for decorating your awning, although they’ll need to be taken down each time you pack up your campsite to leave. String lights add a warm, hip vibe to your camper or trailer while providing an ambient source of lighting. Or you can try these festive, camper-shaped lights to really stay on theme!
Awnings are a great item to have on your RV. If you take good care of them, periodically check for problems, tie them down, and let them dry before rolling up, they should last a long time.
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