By Mark Polk
RV Education 101
Awnings are a great feature to have on your motorhome. There are several different types of RV awnings and they serve different purposes.
Window and door awnings provide shade and keep rain away from your RV windows or entry door. Slide-out awnings help to protect the top of the slideout from debris and water. And patio awnings can extend the living area of our outdoor world.
The awnings on your motorhome will provide years of reliable, trouble-free operation if you take the time to do a little preventive maintenance and cleaning.
Here are my top 7 tips for extending the life of your RV awnings.
1. The first step to maintaining your awnings is to understand more about the different types of awning fabrics. Fabric used on RV awnings is one of two types, acrylic or vinyl. Acrylic fabric is a woven cloth that lets air circulate through the fabric. This air circulation allows the fabric to dry quickly when it gets wet. Acrylic fabrics are water repellent, but not waterproof. If you have experience tent camping you know that you shouldn’t touch the underside of the tent when it’s wet. Touching the wet fabric allows water to seep through the fabric. The same applies to an acrylic awning fabric. Vinyl awning fabric is mildew resistant, but not necessarily mildew proof. Mildew can form on the dirt and dust that collects on the vinyl fabric. The mildew will be worse in high temperatures, high humidity and if the fabric is stored when it is wet.
2. When you open the awnings for the first time each year, or if an awning has been stored for a while, you will need to inspect the awning fabric for any signs of mildew or stains. Remember that vinyl awnings will mildew. To prevent dirt from imbedding in the woven fabric of an acrylic awning fabric, you should simply hose the fabric off on a routine basis. Avoid scrubbing acrylic awning fabric. Scrubbing can remove the water retardant finish. For stubborn stains, blot the approved cleaner on the acrylic fabric with a sponge or soft cloth.
3. For more difficult stains or mildew on a vinyl awning fabric, use an aftermarket commercial cleaner made just for awning fabrics. One method that seems to work well is to spray the inside and outside of the awning fabric with the appropriate cleaner and then roll it up and let it sit for several minutes. This distributes the cleaner over the entire surface of the awning fabric and allows the cleaner time to work. Open the awning and thoroughly rinse both sides of the fabric. It may be necessary to scrub stubborn stains with a brush on a vinyl awning fabric before rinsing. You can clean the awning hardware with the same cleaner you use to wash the RV.
Note: Never use oil-based or abrasive cleaners on awning fabrics. Clean and thoroughly rinse both sides of the awning fabric. Carefully follow all awning and cleaner manufacturer directions.
4. Inspect the awning fabric for any tears or excessive wear. Talk to your RV dealer about what materials to use to repair or patch the awning fabric. While the awning is out, inspect the awning hardware. The bottom awning brackets support most of the load from the awning. Check the lag screws in the awning brackets for secure mounting. Inspect the arm pivot holes for any enlarged holes or broken rivets in the handles. Check for a warped roller tube. If the roller tube is warped it will be noticeable when you roll the awning out. Inspect the awning end caps for secure mounting and any broken or loose rivets. Make sure the awning rail is securely mounted to the side of the RV.
Caution: Never attempt to remove the awning end caps. Spring tension can result in serious injury. Have any damaged or broken parts repaired before using the awning.
5. In addition to cleaning and inspecting your awnings, there are a few things to keep in mind when using the awnings, especially the patio awning. Always lower one end of the awning to allow for water runoff. The weight from water pooling on the awning fabric can cause extensive and costly damage. Any wind gusts over 20 miles per hour can also cause extensive damage to the awning and to the motorhome. Never leave the awning out unattended. If everyone is leaving the campsite, store the awning in the travel position. When you go to bed, store the awning. Even when you are at the campsite you should use awning tie downs to prevent any sudden damage caused by high wind gusts or a sudden storm. You have the option to position the awning arms straight down and stake them to the ground, but you will get better support if they’re attached to the bottom awning brackets on the side of the RV. Remember, it is much easier to prevent damage to your awning than it is to repair it.
6. Never store the awning when the fabric is wet. Allow enough time for it the fabric to dry completely, on both sides, before storing the awning.
7. Check with your RV insurance provider to make sure your RV awning is covered in the event of any damage. Some insurance companies require separate insurance coverage on the RV awnings.