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Meterological Detailing – How to Keep your Roadtrek Clean on the Road

| Updated Sep 21, 2013

neptunePeople often express disbelief that I've been fulltiming for three years when they see my rig. It just doesn't look like it's an orphan of the road – it usually has a bit of a sparkle to it. Not necessarily blindingly clean and shiny, but definitely presentable in almost all circumstances. There's no chase vehicle full of detailing elves following me: I do it myself with car detailing techniques I used back when I was land-based.

Having been in the car repair and maintenance business myself at one stage of my life, it bothers me to have a dirty car. I notice it when I look at my vehicle, and it makes me uncomfortable. It's the same feeling you have when you need a shower.

Normally, people clean their Roadtreks before or after a trip, and just let the dirt accumulate while they're on vacation, but my “trip” is entering its 38th month now, so I need an interim strategy. One thing that's different about fulltiming is you have no place to store all the large bulky items you can easily keep handy in a sticks and bricks house. You also have no source of running water.  Here is my advice on how to keep your Roadtrek clean on the road.

Ignore the cat and check out the beading on the windshield – that's what Rain-X will do for you. I love that stuff.

My supplies consist of a long-handled soft bristle brush the previous owner left in the van when I bought it, my regular dishwashing liquid, a decommissioned cotton bath towel now dedicated to car use, a chamois, and some Rain-X window treatment and Turtle Wax paste wax, both available in most stores. That's it.

Although I don't have a hose and faucet handy, one thing I do have is internet, and I use it scan the weather radar, looking for rain headed my way.  What I'm hoping for is intermittent showers. Once the surface of my Roadtrek is wet and there's a break in the rain, I spring into action.

My long-handled soft bristle brush. I have no idea where to get one - this one came with my used Roadtrek.
My long-handled soft bristle brush. I have no idea where to get one – this one came with my used Roadtrek.

Grabbing my long-handled soft brush, I wet it and put a couple of drops of dish detergent on it. You don't need much, just enough to break the surface tension and leave a slightly soapy film on the paint surface. Too much soap is a bad idea, especially if you aren't confident of the reliability of your rinse water supply. What you're doing is loosening the dirt on the surface and getting it suspended in the water. If the film breaks and the water starts beading up on the paint instead of sheeting, you're out of soap and need more.  I can usually do the whole van with two or three reapplications of a couple more drops of dish detergent to the brush.

After I've loosened the dirt on the paint surface, I go back inside and let Mother Nature do the hard work. What I'm hoping for is steady rain to rinse the loose dirt off the vehicle. If the rain isn't immediately forthcoming and I didn't read the radar correctly, I sometimes have to go out and re-brush the surface before it dries. What you don't want to happen is for the soapy water to dry on the surface, re-attaching the dirt particles to the paint.

Once I get a good rinse and the rain has passed, I'll put a half gallon or so of water of my precious fresh water supply in my bucket and wet the chamois. Rinsing the chamois frequently, I dry the surface of the vehicle. This eliminates spots which form when water droplets dry on the paint surface and window glass. Any remaining dirt is picked up by the chamois and rinsed away.   Now the paint surface is clean, dry, and ready to wax or just look pretty between waxings.  I use the Rain-X every month or two to keep the water beading up on the windshield.

If I'm in a desert area with no rain in sight for weeks and the park ranger isn't looking, I'll wet the paint with the water at the fresh water fill and do a fast version of the wash. Again, the principle is the same: get it wet and use soap to break the surface tension and suspend the soil particles so the subsequent rinse will wash them away. I don't like wiping the surface with a chamois or towel unless I know the dirt is gone – the paint will get fewer surface scratches that way.


RV Lifestyle

Published on 2013-09-21

20 Responses to “Meterological Detailing – How to Keep your Roadtrek Clean on the Road”

October 18, 2014at8:22 pm, Linda Saylor said:

Winnebago maybe.

October 18, 2014at8:21 pm, Orlando Camacho said:

This is my dream, to retire have RV and travel the roads with my sweetheart Linda Saylor..but with a bigger RV than this a home like RV…bigger

September 26, 2013at11:39 am, Bryan said:

I have read that dish liquid is fairly harsh and will remove any wax on your vehicle. If you have waxed it that is.

September 23, 2013at4:24 pm, Doofus said:

Unless you really enjoy waxing your rig over and over again, I recommend AGAINST using dish soap on your Roadtrek or any other vehicle. Dish soaps are designed to cut through oil/grease so, yes, they will get rid of road crud. But waxes and polishes are petroleum based so they get removed as well when using dish soap. Car washing liquids that don’t so readily strip off the wax that you (or somebody) worked so hard to apply are readily available and no more expensive than dish soap. Over time, dish soap will permanently dull your finish.

September 23, 2013at7:23 pm, Campskunk said:

you’re absolutely right about dish soap vs. commercially available car wash soaps. dish soap will take the wax off much faster. for people who only wax their car a few times a year, it’s not a good option. i’m in a position where i need the superior dirt and tar removal properties of dish soap because my rinse is rain, not a hose. the looser i can get those dirt particles the better. i rewax my Roadtrek every six weeks to two months, and much of the wax is gone by the time i do so. like i said, i’m retired and don’t have much to do 😉

September 23, 2013at1:35 pm, Rick Ashworth said:

I use a product called “The Solution” and it really works. Just spray it on and wipe it off. At first I was horrified to see it used out in the desert where I thought for sure it would scratch the daylights out of the paint, but not a single scratch. In addition to cleaning the surface to a perfect shine, it leaves some sort of wax-like film that is very slippery…..the bottle, when placed on the slope of the hood, just slides off. It is a bit spendy at $40 a gallon, but sure does work. Advertised in the FMCA magazine classified section.

September 21, 2013at2:50 pm, John said:

I find a long handle string mop is great for the roof and also the sidewall. Since they fit in a bucket it is easy to wet.

September 21, 2013at1:53 pm, Maureen said:

Hmmmm, I wonder how Windex Outdoor Window cleaner would work. I sometimes use this on my car because the container attaches right to the hose and it makes a quick clean job plus when ready for the rinse before and after the soaping, I just switch over to the rinse indicator. I started using the product on the outside windows, especially the second floor windows, because I don’t want to bring out the ladder. Does a great job on my windows so started using it on the car. Now, I may be doing the wrong thing so I’d appreciate some feedback from you experts.

September 21, 2013at2:09 pm, Campskunk said:

i don’t see anything in the precautions about car paint however, this is loaded with surfactants and will definitely take the wax off your car. the windex glass cleaning tool does have a precaution not to use on cars, but that’s a cleaning pad, probably embedded with stuff that will scratch your paint, plus this solution. the trick in washing a car is to take the dirt off and leave the wax, and this is basically a glass cleaning product designed to take off everything.

September 21, 2013at6:20 pm, Maureen said:

Thanks Campskunk….didn’t know that. So perhaps dish deterent in an empty container would be easy route for me.

September 21, 2013at6:24 pm, Campskunk said:

yeah, and you don’t have to use much either. less soap means the wax will stay on longer. auto paint sits out in the elements like glass does, but it’s more susceptible to chemical and mechanical insults than glass is. glass is basically rock.

September 21, 2013at11:59 am, Sandra said:

I have a feeling that this is probably a really dumb question but…. If there is such a thing for RV’s, can a car wash be used

September 21, 2013at12:32 pm, Campskunk said:

that’s not a dumb question. most commercial car washes that pull your car through won’t take vehicles as big as a Roadtrek. ask them and see what they say, though. the self-serve car washes where you feed the machine quarters and spray it yourself are also available and will fit your Roadtrek. my prejudice is for hand washing, since high-pressure water as a substitute for a brush or cloth to loosen the dried-on dirt is bad for your pinstriping, door seals, etc. of course, i am tall and retired, so that may account for some of my prejudice. there are longer-handled soft bristle brushes that will allow you to reach everything but the roof.

September 21, 2013at11:59 am, Judi Darin said:

Here is Portland the rain is dependable. However, I have never used dishwashing liquid on my Trek. I’m going to try this! I live alone and I’m not very tall; I can see the roof of my Trek from an upstair window of my house and it bothers me to see so many leaves there. It’s parked behind a side gate at my house and there are many trees. I have not yet figured a fast and easy way to remove the leaves. Suggestions?

September 21, 2013at12:26 pm, Campskunk said:

i use dishwashing liquid for its ability to loosen dirt, and leave a clean surface after the rinse with no film. there are commercially available car wash soaps that will make your wax job last longer, but i have nothing to do but putter with my car all day since i’m retired, so i don’t mind the extra wax job a year or so. if those leaves are wet (and in Portland they probably are), i would try getting high enough to wash them off with a stream of water from a good nozzle on a garden hose. maybe a ladder or something. if they’re dry, try a leaf blower.

September 21, 2013at9:50 am, Sandra said:

Thank you for that information. I have to admit, for me, that was a big question. I would love to hear how others keep their RT’s clean.

September 21, 2013at10:38 am, Alice said:

Hello CS
Right now I have a build up of some sap from a tree in the yard, I really don’t have a plan to climb on the roof since I have no attached ladder and I don’t want to break my neck, any ideas?
Also my van will be parked for 6 weeks while I’m in NY do you think it is worth buying a cover? I always wondered what do yo do with the dirty cover?
any and all thoughts will be appreciated!

September 21, 2013at11:52 am, Campskunk said:

it depends on what kind of sap it is. for pine/fir/cedar type trees (evergreens), i use Avon Skin So Soft (see? it’s good for everything!) or any oily cream. grease based things are better for the paint than solvents, such as mineral spirits or denatured alcohol, which will also work, but don’t leave them in contact with the paint long, and re-wax afterward because they’ll strip all the wax off. auto stores also sell tar remover products that work well. nothing is going to spray on from the ground, though – you need elbow grease and need to watch what you’re doing not to harm the paint, so you’ll have to get up there somehow.

for non-evergreens, most “sap” is really aphid droppings, a sugary mess. soap and water works best for this stuff. you might be able to reach it with a soft brush on a pole from the ground.

my personal opinion on car covers is that they’re only good for storing a Roadtrek outdoors over the winter. they are too much trouble to get on and off and store when not in use for much else. i got one with my Roadtrek, and threw it away when i hit the road. i sure don’t need it now 😉

September 21, 2013at8:00 am, Mike Wendland said:

These are great tips. To wish, I’d add these very cool cloths we are selling on the Roadtreking Store. They are simply amazing. All you have to do is get them wet, wring them out and they remove grime, dirt, bugs, streaks, are great for mirrors, window, interiors. If we ever coordinate our travels so we are not at opposite ends of the country I’ve got some for you.

September 21, 2013at8:02 am, Campskunk said:

thanks, Mike! my cleaning cloth collection is getting a little disreputable and could use some refreshing.

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