Wash your rig with dish soap?


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

When RVtravel.com ran a video that espoused the idea of cleaning RV exteriors with water and liquid dish soap, it didn’t take long for a reader to respond. We were well chastised for the suggestion. “Dish soap is known to soften automotive paint,” came the comment. “Never ever, ever use it on a painted surface.”

To these writers, who’ve been using Dawn in a bucket on their trucks and cars for years, it was a “new wrinkle.” But you learn something new every day, so we set out to find out the facts behind the stories. And it’s hard to pin down a truly authoritative “horse’s mouth” on the subject while there are, admittedly, a lot of other horse’s parts ready to spout off on the matter.

The consensus of opinion from what we’d consider the professional sources seems to boil down to this, as lifted from autos.com: “Dish washing detergent, for the most part, is safe for car finishes. Nothing in dish washing detergent will actually harm your vehicle’s finish, but there are some differences between dish washing detergent and soap that is made specifically for vehicles. One of the differences is that some of the ingredients in dish washing detergent will also effectively strip the waxes and polishes you may have applied in the past off of your vehicle’s paint.”

Will you “hurt the paint”? Doesn’t sound like it. Will you make yourself more work? Pretty likely. If you want a shiny surface, you’ll be back to rewaxing after you wash your rig with liquid dish soap.

But hang on — How many of us have RVs with a finish job like on our toad cars? Not too many. In fact, the swing in industry is to fiberglass with gel coat. What about using liquid dish soap? Here again, the consensus is similar: It won’t actually harm the rig itself, but dish soap will wipe out any wax, leaving you with a need to rewax to get that old shinola back.

If you have a fiberglass-sided rig that’s been seriously neglected, a bit of bleach and dish soap in your water bucket may actually clean the nastiness off the rig. And then you’ll have an opportunity to build up your biceps doing the Mr. Miyagi (“Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off” — from “The Karate Kid”).

In any event, if you want to preserve the wax finish, spend a couple extra bucks and pick up soap designed for auto or fiberglass washing.



6 Thoughts to “Wash your rig with dish soap?”

  1. Bob Lambert

    I read where Spic N Span was good to clean a rubber roof. Mine had some areas that had turned a darker color, so I tried it, rinsing very well, then washing the RV sides with Blue Coral wash n wax. Seemed to work very well, better than anything else I’ve ever used.

  2. Bob Godfrey

    I once had a discussion with a representative from Dicor about how best to clean my rubber roof and I was told that Dawn dishwashing liquid was as good as anything to clean the rubber roof. Just be sure to rinse the sides of the RV well immediately so that the soap does not harm the wax job.

  3. John Ahrens

    I suggest check your rig’s owner’s manual. Tiffin recommends using baby shampoo to clean the outside. They also recommend using sheepskin, no brushes or fabrics with plastics. Microfiber is made from polyester, a plastic.

  4. Curt L Coffee

    What about the rubber roof

    1. Nathan

      I have been using about half a cup All HE Laundry detergent, half cup bleach, in about 3 gallons of water. I mop it on with a car wash mop let is sit for a few minutes and rinse. The roof comes out very clean with little effort. I use the same solution in a 2 gallon garden sprayer on the awning. Spray on, roll up, wait 5 – 10 minutes then rinse.

      1. Nathan

        I forgot to mention I have a vinyl roof though.

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