When you’re living in the limited space of a motorhome, every square foot counts. And that includes your outdoor living space. Plus, getting outside was part of the reason you took up camping in the first place, right?
Of course, no one wants to sit outside with the hot sun beating down all day. That’s why the vast majority of trailers and motorhomes come equipped with a camper canopy or awning, which you can pull out to provide shade for your front porch living area. It’s a whole lot easier to while away those long summer days when you’ve got a little bit of shelter from the elements.
But like everything else on your rig, your RV awning isn’t invincible. And if you want it to last for as long as possible, it’s important to keep up with proper maintenance — which, yes, means you need to keep it clean.
If you’ve owned a rig for even a short amount of time, you’re familiar with the fact that your entire motorhome requires regular maintenance. From checking for water damage to oiling moving parts to simply keeping things clean and shiny for the next camping trip, maintenance helps ensure your vehicle will continue operating in proper, working order for many years to come. It can also save you from having to replace your awning, which can be pricey, if you take care of the one you have.
But how the heck do you clean an RV awning, anyway? It’s such an easy to-do to overlook, most of us never really think about the logistics.
But we’re going to walk you through how to clean an awning on a camper step by step, so you can rest assured your canopy will last as long as possible.
How to Clean RV Awning: Step by Step
Although cleaning your RV canopy might seem difficult at first, it’s really not that complicated. In most cases, all it takes is some good old soap, water, and elbow grease!
1.) Check the manual
As with any RV maintenance, it’s best to begin by checking your user manual to see if there are special instructions for caring for your awning.
2.) Find a shady spot and gather supplies
You’ll want some shade while you work, so if possible, find a shaded area. Grab a ladder, a hose with access to water, gentle dish soap, a scrub brush, and a bucket. You can also use an RV awning cleaner formulated for your type of awning.
3.) Open your awning
Open your awning completely and lower it as much as possible. You may need the ladder or a brush with a long handle to reach all of it.
4.) Clear dirt and debris
Before you begin washing your awning, clear off any big debris. You can use a leafblower or clear the awning using a long brush. Rinse the awning on both sides with a hose to loosen dirt.
5.) Prep your cleaning solution
You can use a simple solution of dish soap and water, or you can use your RV awning cleaner solution and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Mix your solution in your bucket. 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.
6.) Scrub away
Using your scrub brush and cleaning solution, work on any dirt and stains that are left after you rinsed your canopy. Be careful not to scrub off any protective coating on your 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. After it’s 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!
How to Clean Camper Awnings
Don’t roll up a wet awning
One of the most important – and easiest – ways to prolong the life of your awning is to make sure you don’t it up while it’s wet and leave it that way. If you roll up wet fabric, mildew can set in and rot away the cloth, ruining your RV canopy. Make sure to always let your motorhome awning air dry before you roll or pack it up to store. Keep in mind that humid areas will also dampen your awning and you may have to take some extra time to get it completely dry.
Also, if it does rain while your awning is up, be sure you have it tilted to allow water to run off instead of collecting in the middle. This will prevent strain from the weight of the water on your canopy, and can help it to dry faster afterward.
Know the type of awning you have
Most motorhome awnings are made of one of two materials – vinyl or acrylic. You’ll need to tweak your cleaning routine slightly, depending on which of these materials you’re cleaning.
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. It’s important not to scrub this 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 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.
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 of time such as over the winter. You should also clean it when it starts looking dirty or dingy, clean it after parking under trees where you get tree sap or bird droppings on the canopy, and clean it 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, to guard against UV rays, to keep dirt and debris from penetrating the fabric, and to 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 awning stains. (They can also have an impact on 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 never gets so dirty you can’t clean it up without doing damage to the surface. Plan on cleaning the awning once a season — but 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 and regularly camp under tree-shaded areas.
If you unroll your awning after storing it for a lot of time you might have an unexpected surprise. Mildew or stains might have developed. A simple hosing from time to time can keep your awning clean from mildew and unwanted dirt stains. Never scrub an acrylic awning since it can remove the water-retardant finish. If you really have to, aim for approved cleaners and apply them on the fabric with a sponge or a soft cloth.
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 bracket support. Look at the lag screws in the awning brackets, and the end caps to ensure a secure mount. But don’t try to remove the end caps! Spring tension can hit your hard, so everything has to be fixed before you go on the road. Also, you don’t want to find anything broken or to discover loose rivets. Enlarged holes or broken rivets can cause a lot of trouble, so be sure to check the arm pivot holes. Also, make sure the awning rail is securely mounted to the side of the RV.
Remember, awnings cannot withstand large amounts of liquid. Heavy rain can cause a lot of damage to an RV awning. You should always 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.
The large patio awning is the most likely to be damaged. Strong wind gusts can rip the awning off with pieces of your motorhome attached to it. When you go in for the night or leave for a hike, store your awnings in a 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!
Lastly, 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 you don’t have insurance, you need to make a separate one to cover the RV awnings. No one wants to pull cash out of their pocket in order to pay for an awning repair.
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, not having to worry about whether or not your awning is going to quit working unexpectedly. Complete your now clean setup with some RV awning lights and make yourself comfortable in your outdoor space.
(And let’s be honest — not seeing any stains while you’re hanging out under there is a nice bonus, too!)