RV Awning Cleaning and Care

Awnings are a great feature to have on your RV. There are different types of RV awnings and they have different purposes. There are Window awnings that provide shade and keep rain away from your RV windows. There are Slide-out awnings that protect the slide-out roof from debris and water. There are Patio awnings which extend the living area of your RV’s outdoor world. The patio awning provides shade and cover when you want to sit and enjoy the great outdoors. The awnings on your RV should last for years if you do preventative maintenance and cleaning.

The most important part of your awning is the fabric. The fabric used on RV awnings is usually one of two types, Acrylic or Vinyl.

Acrylic

Acrylic fabric is a woven cloth that lets air circulate through the fabric. This air circulation allows the fabric to dry quickly when wet. Acrylic fabrics are water repellent, but not water proof. If you have ever gone tent camping (remember those days, how did we ever survive without our microwaves and flat screen TV’s) you know that you shouldn’t touch or rub the inside of the tent fabric if it is wet. Touching the fabric while wet, allows water to seep through. The same applies to an Acrylic awning fabric.

Vinyl

Vinyl awning fabric is mildew resistant but, not mildew proof. Mildew can form on the fabric, but mostly on the dirt and dust that collects on the fabric. It will be worse in high temperature, high humidity areas and certainly if the fabric is left stored wet. The biggest discipline with RV awnings and the most neglected, is having to open the awning fully and allow the fabric to dry completely. Ideally, this needs to be done every time the awning fabric gets wet. If you do not do this, you run the risk of mold and mildew. You say, “Well that’s fine, but my rig is stored in Florida or Arizona for half the year, how would I do that?” Well, that is the dilemma for most “part-timers” or even those who store at home. Either you have to pull the rig out from your parking space to have enough room to open the awning fully, or it’s just too inconvenient to do this every time it rains (Oregonians). I get it, but understand the “nature of the beast” with fabric awnings is that you run a greater risk of mold, mildew and deterioration when they are left wet and rolled up.

Awnings can also have an aluminum or vinyl wrap weather guard that protects the awning fabric when it’s in the stowed position. These are great if your RV came equipped with this cover, but not so great if you want to have this cover after the fact. The aluminum covers cannot be retro-fitted to your existing awning. You will have to purchase a whole new awning with the aluminum cover connected. The cost can be significant depending on the length of your awning, $1000.00 +, OUCH!

Cleaning

Before you do any maintenance on your RV awnings, take the time to read your Owner’s Manual and familiarize yourself with the Manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations concerning awnings. This is especially helpful if you can’t sleep or if you have exhausted all the reading materials you brought with you.

Any time you open your awning, you will need to inspect the awning fabric for any signs of mildew or stains. To prevent dirt from embedding into the fabric, you should hose your awning fabric off monthly. Avoid scrubbing harshly on awning fabric, especially on the underside. Scrubbing can remove the water retardant finish on Acrylic fabrics and can damage the material on any awning fabric depending on what you use to scrub the fabric with. It is recommended to use a very soft bristle broom or soft bristle scrub brush if you do choose to clean the fabric in this manner (some stubborn stains, mold or mildew, may have to be scrubbed, more on this later).

Before you choose the scrubbing option, try to clean your awnings this way first:

Mix a combination of mild dish detergent (recommend the blue Dawn dish soap) and water in a 5 gallon bucket. Using a soft bristle broom or long handled brush, apply the soap mix to the top of the awning ONLY, allowing it to be saturated. Remember, do NOT do any scrubbing yet! Roll up the awning and let it sit for at least 20 minutes, this will allow the soap to breakdown the dirt and to penetrate through to the bottom of the fabric without disturbing the waterproofing underneath. After your 20 minutes or so, extend the awning out fully and thoroughly rinse both sides, being careful not to blast the fabric with the water. Allow the water to sprinkle on or flow over. Once thoroughly rinsed, inspect the fabric again for stains and/or molding. If you find that there are stubborn spots even after this soaking process, then we will address further cleaning in a moment. If the awning is clean, then allow the awning to DRY COMPLETELY before rolling back up to stowed position.

Never use oil based or abrasive cleaners on awning fabrics. Never use after market cleaners on your awning fabric, no matter how much the Salesman or the product description tells you how using this cleaner will make your fabric last longer. It is a ploy to sell you something that will never work as good as dish soap, and in fact, most of them can damage the fabric and/or speed the deterioration.

If you discover some stubborn stains after cleaning your fabric as recommended above, then you can do the following. Add ¼ cup of liquid bleach to a minimum of 2 ½ gallons of water along with the dish soap (Blue Dawn). Apply this to the stain (only on the top of the awning fabric) and gently scrub with a soft bristle brush in a circular pattern for several rotations. Let this stand for a few minutes, but do not let it dry. Rinse off and inspect. If you still see residual staining, you can try adding some baking soda powder to the area and then applying the dish soap/bleach mix and gently scrubbing again in a circular motion several times and then rinse immediately.

Additional Tips

Check with your RV insurance provider to make sure your RV awning is covered in the event of any damage or deterioration. Know what type of fabric your awning is, different fabrics have different applications and withstand exposure differently. (check your Owner’s Manual or ask your Dealer to find out what type you have). Know how long your awning and/or awning fabric is covered under warranty. Some insurance companies require separate coverage for RV awnings. Since awnings and awning fabric can be costly if not covered by insurance, make sure you protect your awning fabric and your investment with an Awning Pro-Tech Cover.