How to Clean Your RV Awning the Easy Way
Posted: August 26, 2022
Categories: Maintenance & Upkeep
How to Clean Your RV Awning the Easy Way
Out of sight, out of mind, right? Unfortunately, this is not a good principle to live by when it comes to your RV awning fabric. In fact, a neglected awning can quickly deteriorate and turn into a bigger problem, leading to mold, mildew and the need for a complete replacement.
Keeping your RV awning clean is one of the best ways you can take care of your investment and promote long-lasting use. In this guide, we’ll show you how to clean your RV awning the easy way – and we mean EASY! We’ll also provide recommendation on how often to clean your awning, the tools needed for the job, which awnings this method will work for, which cleaners to use, some things to avoid when cleaning and some secrets for success.
How Often Should I Clean My Awning Fabric?
One of the first questions that comes to mind when thinking about awning care is the question of regularity: how often should I clean my awning? The easy answer is, about once a month during camping season.
The more accurate answer is, it depends.
There are a few different factors that come into play when determining how often you should clean any camper awning.
If you camp in an especially dusty or windy area, you may need to clean it more often. If you set up camp under some trees where sticks, bird droppings and bugs are prevalent, you should clean it more often. If you don’t use your awning much during any given season, cleaning isn’t as necessary.
One helpful rule of thumb to follow is, if you know your awning is dirty, don’t neglect it. Take the time to care for your awning properly, and it will serve you for many seasons to come.
Tools & Supplies for Cleaning Your Awning
No matter which awning you’re planning to clean – whether it’s your patio awning, a window awning or a slide topper – you’ll need a ladder. A ladder will allow you to clearly see and access the top surface where the primary cleaning action will take place.
We recommend using a fold-out A-frame ladder, rather than an extension ladder. An A-frame ladder is able to stand independently and won’t require you to lean against your RV.
2. 5-gallon bucket
A bucket will be used to mix and hold your cleaning solution. Any clean bucket will work, but a 5-gallon pail is recommended. It’s the perfect size for carrying around your work area, while still holding a sufficient amount of solution.
3. Clean water & hose
Tap water will work just fine for cleaning your RV awning, but the key is to make sure it’s clean water and that it’s a consistent source. You’ll need water to mix with soap for your cleaning solution, and you’ll need water for rinsing at the end.
A hose is also needed for the rinsing step. You’ll want a way to get the water up high enough to spray the top of your unfolded awning, and you’ll want a steady flow to promote good rinsing action.
4. Bristle brush with sufficient reach
For the actual scrubbing step of the process, we recommend using a bristle brush. Any type of soft bristle brush will do, but you need to make sure it has an extended handle with sufficient length to reach to the middle of your outstretched awning.
At no point during the cleaning process do you want to lean out over your awning or place your weight on it. Instead, you should use a long-handle brush to clean those tough-to-reach spots. If you’re strategic with where you move your ladder, you only need a brush that reaches to the middle of the awning.
5. 1/4 cup of dish soap
Next, you’ll need dish soap. The best homemade RV awning cleaner is everyday dish soap and water. We recommend using 1/4 cup per 5-gallon bucket of water. You can use a measuring cup to measure out exactly how much dish soap you’ll need, or you can simply estimate.
Keep in mind, it’s better to err on the side of too little soap. This will simply result in a watered-down solution that may not be quite as effective as it could be with the full 1/4 cup. If you err on the side of too much soap, you may find the rinsing step will take extra time and effort and possibly result in soap streaks left behind.
6. Bonus upgrade! Portable pressure washer
If you prefer to upgrade your cleaning toolset, a handheld, portable pressure washer is the way to go. You’ll need to be careful not to set the pressure too high so as to damage your awning, but a pressure washer can streamline the soaping step and rinsing step.
We recommend the Lippert Power Pro Max battery-powered pressure washer. It’s compact yet powerful, and it is easy to carry around your work area.
6 Steps to a Clean RV Awning
Step 1: Mix soap and water
After you’ve gathered the supplies you need, begin by mixing your soapy water solution. First, fill up your 5-gallon bucket with clean water. Warm water can help improve the cleaning action, but cold water is okay too.
After the bucket is filled almost to the top, pour in your 1/4 cup of dish soap. Then, using your bristle brush, mix the soap and water together until the solution is thoroughly combined and suds appear.
Step 2: Fully extend your awning
The awning must be extended all the way out so that every area of the top surface is exposed. Make sure you have enough room for full extension and that you’ll have space to move your ladder around your awning as you clean.
Step 3: Brush on soapy water mixture
Carefully position your ladder, and place your bucket nearby. Climb up the ladder, and using your bristle brush, start applying the soapy water mixture to the top of the awning.
Don’t worry too much about scrubbing. Simply apply the soap solution, and make sure it’s applied liberally. You’ll want to cover every inch of the awning.
Reposition the ladder around the awning as needed to reach every area.
Step 4: Retract the awning and wait
With soapy water all over the awning, now it’s time to roll it back up. That’s right! Without rinsing, retract the awning completely. This serves two purposes. 1) It allows the soapy water to break down dirt and debris on the fabric, and 2) it applies the solution to the underside of the awning as well.
With the awning completely rolled up, the next step is to simply wait. Five minutes should do the trick – plenty of time to go grab a cold beverage – but more time can be taken for especially tough grime. Just don’t wait so long that the soapy water dries up.
Step 5: Extend the awning again and rinse
After five minutes or so, roll the awning back out to fully expose every inch of the fabric. Then, using your hose (or power washer), rinse the fabric thoroughly. All soap should be rinsed off so that the awning drips clear, clean water.
Don’t forget to rinse the underside as well!
Step 5: Dry or repeat if needed
If your RV awning is sufficiently clean after rinsing, you can leave it extended and allow the sun and open air to dry it out. Be sure it is thoroughly dried before retracting for long-term storage.
If dirt persists and the awning isn’t quite as clean as desired, grab your bucket and brush once more. Reapply the soapy water mixture, scrubbing the fabric more thoroughly, and repeat from step 3. You can repeat as many times as necessary.
RV Awning Cleaning Instructions PDF
If you’d like to take these instructions with you or file them away with your other RV maintenance resources, a PDF can be downloaded, using the link below. Click the button to open the PDF. Then, save or print the RV awning how-to sheet for your own records.
Does it Work for all Awning Types?
The steps laid out above can be applied to virtually any RV awning – patio, slide topper, window awning, door awning. Every configuration is different – some roll up, others fold. Your slide-out awning may require a more creative approach than your patio awning. However, the cleaning steps will be the same. This method can also be applied to your residential or commercial awning!
Power vs. Manual
The same cleaning steps can also be used whether you have a power awning or manual configuration. Power obviously makes it easier to extend and retract the arms, but make sure to take extra care around the electrical components. While they may be built for outdoor exposure, you still want to protect the life and operation of your awning.
A Note about Awning Cleaning Solutions
The step-by-step instructions of this how-to guide are designed to be as simple as possible so that any RVer can take proper care of their awning. As such, we recommend using common dish soap as the primary cleaning agent.
Dish soap is mild enough that it will not damage the fabric. It is also common enough that it can be purchased from a variety of stores. And yet, it is also a surprisingly powerful cleaning agent, able to break down and clear up dirt, grime and debris effectively.
However, for some jobs, you may wish to use a more powerful cleaner, especially if widespread mold and mildew have wreaked havoc on your awning. In this case, there are several cleaning solutions out there that can be used, even some that are specially formulated to attack mold and mildew stains. Just be sure to follow the awning manufacturer’s recommendations when choosing a cleaner. You don’t want to damage the fabric and create a bigger problem!
For spot cleaning vinyl, try this:
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Your Awning
As simple as the process may be, there are still things that can go wrong. The list below offers tips for things to NOT do when cleaning.
Don't put weight on your awning
RV awnings are designed to support their own weight and to weather the elements. They are NOT designed to support the weight of a person. When cleaning your awning, it is important that you don’t place any of your weight on the awning as it may result in damage or injury. Use your ladder and bristle brush to reach as needed.
Don't brush the awning arms or hardware
While the RV awning arms, hardware and moving components are designed to be outside and exposed to all types of weather, it is best to keep those parts as dry as possible. What you don’t want is for the moving parts to be drenched in water and for rust to set in. Instead of scrubbing dirty awning hardware with your brush and soapy water solution, try using a damp rag to wipe down the components as needed.
Don't skimp on soapy water
When applying your soapy water mixture to the top of your awning, it is important that you use a generous amount. Dish soap and water are cheap, and if you run out, you can easily mix up another batch. If you don’t apply enough solution to the awning, you will likely end up repeating the step and taking up more of your valuable time.
Don't overspray cleaning solutions
If you’re using a common dish soap, overspray is less of a concern. However, if you’ve opted for a stronger cleaning solution, be careful that you don’t overspray. Cleaners typically contain chemicals that can cause eye and skin irritation. Overspraying can create a cloud of chemical mist that can harm you, your loved ones and pets nearby.
Don't shortcut on rinsing
Rinsing your RV awning is one of the most important steps in the process. Using a hose hooked up to your tap is perhaps the best method, supplying you with a steady flow of clean, pure water. If you don’t rinse the fabric well enough, soap can linger and cause streaking, as well as spreading to wildlife areas when exposed to rain. Put in the extra effort to rinse thoroughly the first time.
Don't store your RV with a wet awning
Whether you’re parking your RV for long-term winter storage or simply leaving it in the driveway until next weekend, it’s never a good idea to roll up and let be a wet awning. When damp fabric is rolled up, it seals in the moisture, and this can quickly lead to mold, mildew and a horrible smell. Then, when you unroll it next weekend, guess what you’ll be doing again? Cleaning! Instead, save the hassle and give your awning plenty of time to dry.
Secrets for a Successful Cleaning
Set a regular reminder
It’s best practice to regularly clean your RV awning, but all too often, most of us just forget. Out of sight, out of mind, right? To help you remember, set a recurring reminder in your phone or on your calendar. We recommend cleaning once a month during camping season, but this can be adjusted depending on how often you use your awning.
Clean on a cloudy day
While it might seem counterintuitive when it comes to letting your awning dry out, choosing to clean on a cloudy day is actually very helpful during the rest of the cleaning process. When you have the sun beating down on your awning, it gets hot, and when you apply soapy water to a hot awning, the water tends to evaporate very quickly, leaving behind a soapy residue. The fact is, you’ll be working against yourself (and the sun), trying to clean on a hot, sunny day. Work smarter, not harder, and choose an overcast afternoon instead.
Prepare to get wet
Cleaning an awning involves movement and water, meaning to some degree you’re going to get wet. If you’re drenched from head to toe by the end, something has probably gone wrong. However, you should prepare to have damp patches on your shirt and shorts. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting wet and a little dirty.
Sweep off large debris first
Before you apply any water or soap to your awning, take a moment to brush it off, especially if you notice debris. Leaves, sticks, bird droppings and bugs can all be prevalent on a dirty awning, and when you add water, they tend to stick. Brushing them off with a dry broom first requires much less effort.
Soak it longer for tough grime
If you have a fair amount of bird droppings or other tough grime, you can make things easier by adding time to the soaking step. Let the water do its job! Oftentimes, water can break down dirt and grime with amazing effectiveness if you just give it a little more time. Instead of scrubbing harder or repeating steps, refill that glass of lemonade, wait a while, and make your soapy water mixture do the work for you.
Use warm water
Speaking of breaking down dirt and grime, another trick to increasing effectiveness is to use warm water instead of cold. Warm water catalyzes a faster reaction. If you have cold water from the spigot, one trick is to leave your hose out in the sun for several minutes, and then fill your bucket. The sun will heat up the water in the hose without any extra energy required.
Wear eye protection
As mentioned already, cleaning an RV awning involves a fair amount of spraying and sloshing water. Add bird droppings to this equation, and you can imagine how helpful eye protection becomes. You don’t want that dirty, grimy water getting anywhere near your eyes! Plus, other debris can get kicked up while you sweep, scrub and rinse. Play it safe and throw on those safety glasses!
Quick Tips about Spot Cleaning
While it’s always a good idea to clean your RV awning regularly, not every cleaning requires the full treatment. If you unroll your awning, climb up your ladder and notice only a few dirty patches, consider a quick spot cleaning.
To spot clean, simply grab a damp rag and wipe or scrub the dirty areas as necessary. Just remember to follow the proper safety recommendations, and don’t wait too long before your next full cleaning.
When Your Awning is Beyond Basic Cleaning
Sometimes cleaning isn’t the solution. Whether it’s an unfortunate result of neglect or just thorough use, there may come a day when you realize that your RV awning has seen better days. That’s right: it may be time for a replacement.
The good news is that a worn-out awning doesn’t necessarily mean you need a complete replacement of the entire assembly. In most cases, if the arms and other hardware are in good working order, you can simply replace the awning fabric. Shop for the size and color you need, and follow our awning fabric replacement guide for helpful tips.