Your RV's roof is the only barrier between you and the Great Outdoors. Much as we RVers love the outdoors, it is also a perk of the RV lifestyle to have that roof over your head when you are sleeping or during a period of inclement weather. So it is a good idea to keep it clean. Not only will a clean camper roof look good but removing dirt and debris can also make your roof last longer.
How Often Should You Clean Your RV Roof?
Experts advise that you should wash your trailer roof at least twice a year. If your RV is parked under trees that shed leaves, needles, or sap, consider doing it more often than that. The shade is nice, but your camper roof cleaning process will be easier without that debris, especially the sap, which can be extremely troublesome to remove.
Warm, moist climates tend to encourage the growth of mold, so RVs living in areas where that occurs should also think about a trailer roof cleaning or motorhome roof cleaning three or four times annually.
RV Roof Types
Because RVs can have one of several roofing materials installed, it is important to know which one you have so you can select the right chemicals and processes to clean your trailer's roof. The most common RV roofs (in order) are EPDM rubber membrane roofs, TPO rubber roofs), fiberglass roofs, and aluminum roofs.
EPDM (short for ethylene propylene diene monomer) rubber roof membranes consist of an approximately 1/4" thick spongy rubber sheet with a rough surface. TPO roofs are rubber but feel more like a sheet of plastic. Fiberglass and aluminum roofs are simply sheets of material covering the RV roof deck and have either a smooth or pebbled surface texture.
Most travel trailers and fifth wheels use rubber roofs, and the vast majority are EPDM rubber. Higher-end motorhomes and fifth-wheel trailers, plus clamshell trailers and tent trailers are more likely to have fiberglass or aluminum roofs.
Cleaning The Roof
Rubber roofs are tough, but you must be careful when cleaning them. Harsh or abrasive chemicals can damage the membrane's surface. The roof surface can react poorly to harsh chemicals. This is particularly true for ones that have a petroleum distillate base.
To start your RV roof cleaning, sweep all the loose dirt and debris off the roof's surface. Make sure that you get all the little bits in nooks and crannies around the vents and other rooftop installations. While you are doing that check for cracked and missing sealant sections.
Remember where they are so you can touch those areas up after you finish your cleaning process. See our article "All About RV Roof Inspection Refurbishment and Replacement" for more information.
Before you start cleaning, thoroughly wet the roof and the sidewalls, front wall, and back wall of the RV. As you clean the roof, you are going to dislodge a lot of dirt that will flow down the walls to the ground. Having the walls wet and keeping them that way will prevent black streaks from forming.
For rubber roofs, we recommend a high-quality RV rubber roof cleaner. These normally come in 32 oz. spray bottle, but you can buy 1 gal. refills as well if you have a large roof.
Using a cleaner designed for your rubber roof will prevent damage that can be caused by more abrasive cleaners.
The process for applying cleaners will vary, but most of them involve spraying the cleaner on the roof, allowing it to act to dissolve the dirt, scrub with a soft brush, then hose off the roof. It is best to do a small section at a time to prevent the cleaner from drying onto the roof.
Be careful on the wet roof so you do not slip and fall because it is a long way down. If you are not comfortable up on the RV's roof, the process can be done with a tall ladder and a long-handled brush.
There are various RV Roof Protectants available that you can apply after it is clean to the surface of the roof. These will minimize roof damage from the sun's UV rays. The most common one is made by Dicor.
The process for fiberglass or metal roof cleaning is much the same, but you can use cleaners that are formulated for those surfaces. There are special stain removers available to get tough stains off fiberglass surfaces if you need them.
After a fiberglass or metal roof is clean, applying a coat of auto wax will help leaves and other debris to slide off more easily. The downside is that you will slide off more easily as well, so you will have to take more care with your step after you wax the roof.
Fiberglass Roof Oxidation
After cleaning, you can also get a protectant designed for fiberglass types of roofs that will prevent oxidation which can cause fading of the roofing surface. Before you apply the protectant, you will have to first make sure any oxidation present is removed first.
If the oxidation is minor, you can use a single-step wax from Mother's or Meguiar’s. Pick one that contains a mild or medium abrasive. Apply it, again in one small area at a time, let it dry, then buff it shiny using a soft cloth or buffing pad with a circular motion. Use an orbital sander with a buffing pad installed to make the job easier.
For a more severely oxidized roof, you will need a polish containing a stronger abrasive. For stubborn areas of oxidation, you may have to revert to using a rubbing compound. Because this is the harshest of the abrasive cleaners, use it sparingly and with care because you can remove the surface's natural sheen. If you are not comfortable using these more powerful cleaning agents, you might want to get a professional detailer to do the work.
Fiberglass Roof Protection
Once you remove the oxidation, you can simply apply a protectant. This is the minimum finishing touch you should do for a fiberglass roof.
For protectants, we recommend 303 Aerospace Protectant, which is used extensively in the aviation industry. A protectant like this will protect your fiberglass from sun damage. This will also help to eliminate black streaks from running down your sidewalls because the dirt will slide off the roof instead of sticking. If you use a protector, you will not be able to apply anything else to the surface, but this may be sufficient to protect the roof surface.
You can also apply a coat of paste wax to a fiberglass or metal roof. Again, Mother's and Meguiar's are our recommended brands. These product lines have an excellent reputation among classic car enthusiasts.
Finally, you also have the option of applying a rubberized coating in the form of paint to the fiberglass surface. Dicor makes an excellent product for coating fiberglass roofs.
Maintenance of everything on your RV increases its life. A little work regularly prevents more serious problems down the road. This is especially true when it comes to your roof. Proper cleaning and protection of your RV roof will help it do its important job of keeping water out of the interior of your coach.
The entire cleaning process will only take a short period of time and will save a lot of money over the need to repair or replace your roof in the future.
RV Part Shop has a wide selection of roof cleaning products and high-quality roof protection products. Visit our Cleaning Supplies Category to see all the available products.