There are around 550,000 caravans and 225,000 motorhomes in current use in the UK (The NCC, 2020). Caravans and motorhomes spend a lot of time sitting still, often parked under or near trees, or near the sea, where saltwater corrosion is always a threat. In this article, we’ll not only look at how to clean your caravan but also how to protect it against the elements. (Unless specified otherwise, ‘caravan’ refers to both touring caravans and motorhomes.)
Caravans are different from cars due to the way they are painted/finished. Where cars are usually metal or plastic panels, with paint protected with a clear lacquer, caravan panels tend to be made of fibreglass or a similar composite. This not only helps reduce weight but keeps down the cost of production, which would be passed on to customers.
Caravans are not painted but instead use a gel coat. These are polyester resins, which provide colour and protection to the fibreglass structure (du Plessis, 1964). These surfaces can be easily burnt through using machine polishes and compounds. For this reason, I advise against using products such as T-Cut on your caravan, as these can cause damage.
Products You Will Need
The first thing to note is that most car care products are safe to use on caravans, so you don’t necessarily need to buy a whole separate group of products. Let’s take a look at some of the products I find work well on caravans.
These aren’t the only products available. You can experiment with products you already have and see what works for you. That’s the great thing about detailing, there’s such a large selection of products available, everyone will be able to find products that they like best.
- Non-acid non alkaline universal wheel cleaner
- pH balanced, Proven number 1 in independent test
- Easy to use colour changing formulation
- Powerful water-based APC (all purpose cleaner) Safe for virtually all automotive and domestic surfaces (always spot test before use) Biodegradable…
- Item Package Length: 5.7 cm
- Item Package Width: 10.4 cm
Another Bilt Hamber product, Auto Foam is an economical and high performing snow foam, which also has corrosion inhibiting properties. While it’s designed to work through a snow foam lance, it can also be applied using a pump sprayer.
Read: Full Bilt Hamber Auto Foam Reveiw
- auto-foam is the result of extensive in-house research and development. auto-foam will reduce even further the possibility of damage to paintwork by…
- auto-foam is a new generation premium quality, foaming water-based pre wash treatment, designed to soak and saturate soiled vehicle paintwork prior to…
- auto-foam is made with biodegradable compounds, is extraordinarily tough on soil and grime, yet harmless to paint, its non-caustic formulation ensures…
For your contact wash, you’re going to need shampoo, a bucket and a wash mitt. You’ll also need a ladder to reach the roof of your caravan, as this is where the worst grime often builds up.
If you’re going to be using ladders to get the job done, remember safety is key, as a fall from height can cause some serious injuries. Make sure the ladder is on solid ground, the rungs are clean, keep both feet on the ladder, and don’t use the top step of a stepladder (I bought an extendable microfibre mop as soon as I finished this job.)
What shampoo you use will depend on what sort of wash you are doing. If your caravan has no form of sealant or wax on it, I recommend reaching for Meguiar’s Car Wash Plus.
This shampoo works a bit differently to most others. Instead of adding some to a bucket of water, you apply a small amount to your wash mitt, rinsing the mitt with clean water after each pass. This shampoo easily cuts through bugs, tar and other grime while being safe on your paint. It will, however, strip wax, so don’t use it every time, or if you have had a ceramic coating applied to your caravan.
- It’s a car wash PLUS a whole lot more!
- Cleans tough dirt & grime
- Removes bugs & tar and removes light stains in your paint
If you’re doing subsequent washes, I’d recommend Autoglanz Bubblicious Bodywork Shampoo. Autoglanz is a relatively new detailing company based in Wales and they’re gaining a reputation for making very high-quality products. This product just works like a normal shampoo, add some to a bucket of water, agitate and you’re ready to go.
- Assists in preserving the finish and appearance of your vehicle
- Contains special additional ingredients which form a glossy water-repellent barrier
- Lifts traffic film without harm to polished paintwork and trim
You’ll also need a wash mitt; I recommend the Kent Car Care Microfibre Noodle Wash Mitt. It’s cheap and cheerful but provides excellent cleaning power while also being safe on paintwork.
- Soft noodle surface – to attract and lift dust and dirt whilst protecting paint, chrome and other surfaces
- Mesh surface – to help remove stubborn stains and grime from windscreens, hub caps, headlights and bumper bars
- One size fits all with non-slip elastic cuff
For harder to reach areas, I recommend using a microfibre mop. Bizarre as this may seem, it’s far safer for the surface of your caravan than say, a nylon brush, which will leave lots a micro-swirls.
To dry your caravan, you might want to grab a microfibre drying towel, (not a chamois leather, these can mar your paint.)
Polish and Protect
After spending so much time washing your caravan, you’ll want to protect it as much as possible. The product I recommend is an old faithful, Autoglym Super Resin Polish (SRP). This both acts both as a cleaner and protectant and I apply this by hand using a microfibre applicator.
- Super Resin car polish removes light scratches, scuffs and marks while providing long lasting protection and outstanding shine
- Easy to use car polishing product suitable for all paint types and all paint colors
- Buff to a deep shine with an Autoglym Hi-Tech Finishing Cloth or Mitt for
Super Resin Polish does have protective qualities, but for increased longevity, you might want to apply a wax layer. I’ve used Fusso Light by Soft 99 in the past with great results. This will last significantly longer than a traditional wax and will keep water sheeting from your paintwork for many months.
If the thought of applying wax by hand after you’ve spent a few hours polishing seems daunting, or you have time constraints, there are a few products that can be sprayed on and still provide good protection, saving you time and energy.
KKD Purity X is a polymer sealant that can be applied using a foam lance. It combines good hydrophobicity with longevity, and at maximum concentration can provide up to 6 months durability.
- Krystal Kleen Detail Purity X Advanced Polymer Concentrate Sealant. Supplied in 150ml bottle.
- PURITY ‘X’ is an extremely concentrated blend of siloxane polymers. It can be used as an aid to the wash process during the final rinse or can be…
- At dilutions of 10:1 it can be used as a conventional sealant. Apply to the panel via applicator, wait to haze and then buff clear. This will provide…
If you don’t have access to a pressure washer, an even easier option would be a spray sealant such as Gtechniq C2 V3, which is a ready to use spray sealant, which also provides UV protection.
- DIRT AND WATER REPELLENT: For unrivaled protection and a premium finish to your car’s bodywork, look to Gtechniq and their dirt and water repelling…
- EASY TO APPLY: If you’re unfamiliar with applying a ceramic coating, then the C2 Ceramic Sealant. Ensure your car is thoroughly clean and dry, and…
- SCIENTIFICALLY WEATHER TESTED – extensive tests both in the lab and real world, show the coating gives outstandingly high levels of swirl resistance…
Marine coatings can also be used on caravans, these tend to be more expensive, but are specifically designed for gel coat surfaces. Gtechniq have a range of marine coatings which may be worth looking in to.
How to Clean a Caravan
We’ve amassed quite a shopping list so far, but it’s worth noting that all of the aforementioned products can also be used on cars, so any purchases won’t go to waste. It’s best if you can do this in the shade. If that’s not possible, avoid working in the hottest part of the day.
Start with the Wheels
As with cleaning cars, I like to start with the wheels as this gets what is often the dirtiest part of the job out of the way first. If your caravan has alloy wheels, check out our helpful article on how to clean your alloy wheels. If your caravan has plastic hubcaps, spray your wheel cleaner onto the surface of the wheel and agitate with a detailing brush.
You can then spray some Surfex HD onto the tyres and scrub with a hard brush. I find a mix of 4 parts water and 1 part Surfex HD has more than enough cleaning power to clean tyres.
Cleaning tyres not only improves the overall appearance, but any tyre dressing we apply will last longer on a clean tyre. Rinse the wheel down with either your hose or pressure washer and move on to the next wheel.
Move onto the Prewash Stage
Start by grabbing your safety glasses and use your hose or pressure washer to give the caravan a rinse to remove any loose debris. Next cover the caravan in your snow foam. Leave this sitting for a few moments and rinse off.
If you’re using a pressure washer to rinse, be careful not to hold the tip too close to any decals or seals. A loose seal might let some water in and cause damp to become an issue, especially on older caravans.
Keeping your lance approximately 18 – 24 inches from the surface will prevent the damage of seals and decals. If your has any greenery growing from the roof, now is the best time to remove as much as possible.
Full Contact Wash
With your prewash done, it’s time to don your wash mitt and whatever shampoo you choose to use and get cracking with the contact wash. Pressure washing alone won’t remove all traces of dirt from the surface, so this is a necessary step.
After each pass, remember to wash your mitt out with running water from the hose, or if you prefer, have a separate bucket full of clean water. I prefer to use running water but keeping the mitt clean is the main thing.
With the caravan clean (or as clean as you can get it), dry the surface using a microfibre drying towel.
Finally, Polish and Protect
The motorhome you see pictures off belongs to a customer of mine. As you can see, the roof creates a huge amount of dirt and grime that you need to remove. Failure to do so can cause issues to the bodywork later down the line.
If you plan to use a polish such as SRP, apply a small amount of product to a microfibre applicator and work in small overlapping circles.
Spread the product thinly. Once you see it start to haze, simply buff away with a clean microfibre towel. Work your way around the vehicle, most surfaces can be polished including plastic windows, but avoid touching any rubber seals.
SRP is a highly versatile product, so you will likely be able to work around most of the caravan before you need to buff off. You can also apply this product via a machine polisher which will make it less work on your arm if you decide to do this.
With the vehicle polished, make a cup tea and admire your work so far. You can choose to stop here if you like, but it’s best to add some longer-lasting protection.
Before I start the next step, I grabbed some panel wipe to remove any of the residues from the polish. This isn’t essential and may seem counter-intuitive, but any wax or sealant will bond best to clean, bare paint i.e. no polish residue present.
I wanted to give my customer’s vehicle protection for as long as possible, so I opted to take the time to include this step. It’s an optional step, and you’ll still get good results if you skip it, but you’ve come this far, and you may as well see the job right.
We’re now ready to apply our protection. If you’re using a paste wax, lightly dampen your applicator pad (can be wax or foam) and apply a small amount of wax to it. Less is more here, if you place your pad into the wax and turn it 90 degrees, this should be enough wax to cover an area of about 1 square metre.
It’s easiest to work in small sections. Everyone has slightly different ways of doing things, but I find working in an area of about 1 metre squared at a time is easiest. Gently apply the wax using small overlapping motions. You don’t need to use too much pressure, just enough to transfer the wax onto the paintwork.
For more info on this, I’ve written a step by step guide on how to apply car wax, which I thoroughly recommend that you check out.
Each wax has a different ‘curing time’, i.e. the time you wait for it to bond to the paint. For most waxes, this will be between 5 and 15 minutes but check the instructions on whatever product you’re using.
Once you think the time required has passed you can do a ‘finger test’. Wipe one finger through the wax, if it comes off clear, it’s ready to buff off, if it smears off, you can leave it a few minutes more.
To buff off, use a clean, microfibre cloth and gently wipe away any residue. Repeat around the caravan. Everyone will miss some residue when wiping off, so a good tip is to look along the line of the caravan from back to front to spot. This is better than looking directly at the surface.
Finishing Touches to trim and externals
Congratulations on making it this far!
Spending the time to polish and protect your caravan will prolong the usable life and is a great way to take care of your investment.
There are a few final things you can do to spruce up the exterior, plastic trim can sometimes become faded due to sun bleaching. CarPro Pearl is an easy to use a product that can be used to dress trims and tyres. It can be used neat or can be diluted to suit your needs.
Applying a trim and tyre dressing takes very little time compared to the rest of the job, but it makes a big difference to the appearance. You can also apply a rubber dressing such as Pearl to rubber seals around the windows of your caravan.
Now feel free to step back and admire your hard work.
Specific Points for Motorhomes
Everything I’ve talked about so far in my guide on how to clean a caravan can also be applied to Motorhome cabs. However, these are usually from a van and therefore have paint instead of gel coat. These can often go a faded off-white over time, so motorhome owners may want to do some additional polishing on their cab.
First, you may want to clay bar your cab to remove any contamination in the paint, this will give you some guidance on the best way to use a clay bar.
You can use a product like Super Resin Polish, or if your paint is quite faded, you’ll get better results with a compound like Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound. You can apply this in the same way you apply SRP. After polishing, follow the same techniques mentioned above to protect the paint.
How to Clean a Caravan Summary…
We can sum up this article with a few key points to remember:
- Regular cleaning and protection of your caravan or motorhome are essential to keeping it looking good for as long as possible.
- Safety first; don’t use ladders unless you are confident you can do so safely and remember to take regular breaks when working on your caravan. Jobs are much bigger than working on a car and can take as much as 5 times the amount of work.
- Many car care products can be used on caravans, but it is best to avoid traffic film removers and abrasive compounds.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article, if you have any comments, questions (or criticisms), you can contact me through my website at eastantrimdetailing.co.uk
How do you clean the inside of a caravan?
You can use standard household products to clean the inside of your caravan.
How do I get my caravan to shine again?
Thorough cleaning of your caravan, followed by polishing and waxing, will help to restore your caravan to original shine.
Can you stand on a caravan roof to clean it?
Standing on your caravan roof can cause seals to be weakened and leaks to occur. You should check with the vehicle manufacturer before standing on your roof.
How do I get rid of green algae in a caravan?
A thorough prewash will help to break down green algae. You can use snowfoam, or a citrus pre-wash to eat away at the algae. Then rinse using a pressure wash or a garden hose. You’ll then need to do a contact wash. You can learn all the steps to this in the article.
What is the best caravan cleaner?
I like to start with Bilt Hamber Auto Foam as a prewash, and then use a standard car shampoo to wash the surfaces.
Can I use car wax on my caravan?
Yes, you can, it will help preserve the appearance of your caravan. Car wax can be applied is the same manner as you would to your car. Layering the wax will create even stronger protection.