Meals & Cleanup in a Winterized RV

Many people park their motorhomes in the winter. And of those that still use them, many do not cook in them except for perhaps using the microwave.  This is understandable since cleaning up is more of a challenge without running water, using the gray tank and having an operating water heater, but it is not difficult with a bit of planning.  Of course, if you are looking for an excuse to eat at a restaurant…

Wipe Dishes OffHere is how we do it in our Roadtrek.  The cooking part is not much different, but we do try to minimize things that need washed.  Paper plates and bowls we use year around (except for when we have guests), but plastic forks and spoons and paper cups are a nice winter accessory.  Microwave in the bag vegetables also minimize clean up.  For soup you can microwave in paper bowls vs a dish or a pot on the stove.  So when dinner is over we may only have a skillet, a sharp knife and a serving spoon to wash.  Although at breakfast there is the microwave bacon pan as well.

Collapsible BowlWe wipe all food or grease off the items to be washed with a paper towel.  We put about 2 inches of water in our collapsible bowl from the jug on the counter.  We microwave it (assuming shore power or generator) until it is hot and with some dish soap and sponge clean all the items.  Rinse them as best you can in the soapy water and pour the water into your dish pan lining the sink (that keeps water from going into the gray tank).  Our collapsible bowl has a small handle and a pouring spout to make this easy.

Drying DishesRinse the bowl and add some more water and heat it in the microwave.  Rinse anything that fits the bowl in the bowl and then use the bowl to pour rinse water over the skillet or bigger items to rinse them (over the dish pan).  Place them on the drying mat.  Then dry all the items and return to storage.  Microwave the dish sponge to sanitize it.  Wipe out the microwave.  Not too much harder than cleanup when you are not winterized.  Most of the time you can broadcast the gray water in the dish pan in a snow drift.

If you don't have shore power or a generator, heat the water in a pan on the stove and do the same thing.  Don't let cold weather keep you from using your RV in the winter.  Winterizing doesn't mean the end of the season.  You just need to adapt to the conditions.

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4 comments

  1. J. Gilbert

    Really like these specific how to details on kitchen practices. I look forward to your contributions and don’t know how I missed this one earlier. Talk to me about the paper plates. Seems a stack of plates would take up a lot of room.

  2. Jim

    I need to travel with my TRAVEL TRAILER from Orlando FL to Michigan in a few weeks. The temperature in Orlando could be between 50 – 70 degrees. Michigan may be 20 degrees. It will be about 3 days of driving.
    My wife prefers to use the bathroom in the travel trailer vs using the truck stop bathrooms. My question is, could I put about 10 – 20 gallons of RV antifreeze into the fresh water supply tank and use the toilet flush in cold weather?

    • Cal Murphy

      My guess is that your plan will work for 20 degrees and likely even colder. My wife, daughter, family dog, and I have lived most of the last year (and winter) in NE Washington and N Idaho in our small Pastime 840LT camper. We are looking for property to buy to call our permanent home, but we did a lot of skiing from ski area parking lots last year too (and will soon depart for more of the same, given our recent snow storms).

      Reportedly the inland NW had its worst winter in 20 years last year but we still used nearly all the self-contained systems of our small camper (all but the outdoor shower) and I have learned a few things in winter full-timing, even though I previously used the camper for non-full-timing, winter camping too. We have seen -20 to -25F on a couple of consecutive nights and a few days in row that didn’t even break into the teens. The key is insulation (which is limited in a truck camper) and managing and paying for heat BTUs (propane and electricity). There’s just no way to do winter full-timing without buying some BTUs, which I actually now find to be easier than the management practices described in this article. It’s not all that expensive either, when compared to the energy needs of an average size conventional house.

      Every RV is different, but maybe you can learn or discover something from the following:

      1. Rock salt helps to keep the black water tank from freezing but our tank will survive freezing and has frozen a few times, even with salt. The problem is it is impossible to dump (or even easily open the slider dump valve) when frozen. I now try to dump it when half-full. This allows me to heat up a big stock pot of brine water to pour down the toilet and directly into the black water tank before I drain it. We also carry a small 1500 watt cube shaped heater, 1600 watt heat gun, and a 1600/2000 watt Yamaha inverter generator. More than once I’ve had to pull the insulation from the back of the septic dump drain access and setup a shroud made from cardboard boxes do direct heat from the cube heater into the black water tank area. I used the heater to thaw the tank enough to drain it a little and add more hot water from the toilet above. It can take a few hours to thaw (this was sub zero weather at night) so best to not let it get full (and freeze) before dumping!

      2. The gray water tank is under the range and oven and against interior wall of the camper so it receives more heat from the interior of the camper than the black water tank. However, I’ve still had two problems with it. The dump plumbing actually exits the camper vessel with about a 1 foot ABS elbow to get to the dump valve at the rear of the camper. I froze this ABS elbow once and it cracked. Now it is wrapped in fiberglass insulation AND I always dump about 1/2 gallon of RV anti-freeze down the sink after emptying the tank. The anti-freeze with both keep the ABS pipe from freezing and also conduct heat down from the tank when the tank. I believe the anti-freeze never fully mixes with gray water and it actually saved the ABS elbow pipe when I once fully froze my gray water tank! Luckily, nothing broke and now I manage my interior heat better to keep the gray water tank from freezing.

      3. Managing BTUs. We have a catalytic safety heater but I’ve never hooked it up. It doesn’t have a thermostat so I prefer the OEM furnace, which I often run with the thermostat set to minimum (~ 50 F) when the camper is moving or parked. I’ve never had a problem running the propane furnace or refrigerator when moving but you’ll have to make this decision for yourself. Some furnace heat is essential to keep enough heat in the camper to keep tanks from freezing during day long drives. My hot water heater tank is under the kitchen sink so it’s easy to keep warm. This is good, because the hot water heater often “blows out” in the wind or while driving so I usually don’t run it until we need hot water.

      The cabinet door to the freshwater pump and tank door remains open near the floor of the camper. The wet bath door is bungied open and the cabinet door in the wet bath also is open. The cabinet leading to the hot water tank is propped open too. You must know where your tanks and plumbing lie so you can figure out how to provide enough heat enough of the time to keep stuff from freezing. The vent near the floor, which routes to my black water tank area, is also open. Someday I will install another vent to the gray water tank area so I don’t have to run the cube heater electric heat against this wall so much or so often. When stopped, I use the generator (or occasionally, RV park shore power, but we don’t frequent them very often) to run the cube heater on the floor and pointed to deflect heat into various interior bays on the other size of interior walls. Heat can be applied to tanks and plumbing by opening cabinet doors, drawers or vents.

      4. All windows and sky vents are covered inside the camper using aluminized “bubble wrap” insulation panels and blue masking tape. I always have plenty of blue tape around and perfer the “long term” variety of blue tape to duct tape, which is too sticky. The amount of heat loss through windows is unacceptable for human occupation in the deep of winter without the insulation panels. We also bought a thicker and better mattress for the cab-over bed and sacrificed some headroom there. Truck campers and class C cab-over beds are at a big disadvantage compared to class A motorhomes in the winter. Heat just floods out of a cab-over!

      5. A small utility trailer provides more heating options (generator and additional fuel), though we often travel without it (but with our Yamaha generator stowed against the front camper bulkhead and bungied to the fold-down seat). In the coldest weather, the camper’s 40 lb propane tank is only good for two to three days, and that’s usually with a liitle supplemental electric heat from the generator. Using a small utility trailer in tow, we can carry another 80 lb propane tank and carry a week or more of BTUs (propane and generator gasoline). I found the hose and fittings require to assemble an “extension hose” (like an extension cord) for the 80 lb tank. When camped, I place the larger tank outside the camper and use the extension hose to supply the tank with propane, instead of the camper tank. I save the camper’s 40 lb tank contents for travel days, as much as possible.

      6. Outdoor shower (brrrr!) Obviously we don’t use it during the cold months. I remove the shower wand and stow it, open the facets (water pump off), drain the hose, and close the facets. I’ve never had anything break in cold weather, after I started doing this simple prep, but I did lose a shower wand previously when it froze.

      7. I installed a block heater in our Ram Cummins diesel truck engine. I use the generator for pre-heat days!

      I might be forgetting a few things so maybe I’ll update this post later but I hope the above is useful to you.

  3. Gene Bjerke

    We only take short, weekend trips in the winter. We use a minimum of water since all we have is bottled. Since we “plumb” the water pump into a gallon of anti-freeze, we flush the toilet with anti-freeze. We don’t worry too much about the small amount of water that goes into the grey tank. We can run in a little anti-freeze in from time to time, but we figure that if the water freezes it will simply expand into the empty space in the tank. We dump tanks more frequently, always on a day above freezing (we live in Virginia), but we don’t flush the tanks, figuring there will be some of the anti-freeze left in the macerator pump. So far no problems.