The Big Caravan Spring Clean
Words and photos Rod Farrendon
Caravanner and writer Rod offers his advice on spring cleaning your caravan – meticulously, from roof to stabiliser pads
I like to look on the spring-clean as all part of the maintenance of our caravan; the non spanner and grease gun part. Let's face it, we've invested a fair bit of money into these homes-from-homes. I can't see us changing ours (a Bailey Unicorn Valencia) as it's as near to our perfect caravan as I think we'll get, but if we did decide to change it, I would hope to get a price that related to its condition.
As we mostly go off grid, our vacuum is 12v and a pretty good job it does, but when the caravan is on the drive, for a major clean, Kim gets out the big gun, in every nook and cranny, every crumb and dog hair is sought out. Not that I'm a messy eater, but the odd crumb or chocolate chip does go astray and probably ends up down the side of the seats.
If you leave this it can encourage pests like mice (they have a great sense of smell) or even ants to break in and cause havoc – and all the while you are thinking your caravan is safely tucked away in storage.
While on the subject of smell, Kim has her own way of dealing with residual cooking smells and the like. Obviously venting is the main thing to do and our Maxxfan does a fine job there, but we have always had dogs and, way back in the early '80s, one of our dogs developed a severe rash on her chest and belly.
We stopped using the carpet freshener and it cleared up, so sprinkling or spraying chemicals onto carpets and upholstery is out. Kim uses wipes in the caravan for convenience and easy storage, furniture wipes, antibacterial surface wipes and bathroom wipes, so any smells and out they come, smells disappear and the furniture gets a good polish too.
Recently I had the idea to put one of those hanging tree car fresheners in the caravan while laying it was not being used for a couple of months. When we next opened the door, we were greeted by a pleasant and light vanilla aroma.
Next inside job is down to me. I like to give the blind tracks a silicone spray once a year and I've found a light spray that's ideal and non-staining: 'Tableau dry lube' – you can find it in most hardware stores – is great on drawer runners and inside locker and door hinges as well.
While you are in and out of lockers, it might be a good idea to do your own damp test. You can't use a meter on Alu-tech (the inner wall lining is GRP), so smell and touch is my method, reach into the far corners of lockers, under fixed-beds and under seats, feel for any moisture or mould and sniff, if you do find any, the chances are it is condensation and just needs a good airing.
I found some dampness once under the bed at the head, and traced it to an unsealed shower lining fixing. I sorted it myself, but if you do find any dampness or mould, it might be best to get it checked by your caravan dealer or service engineer.
On the exterior, I go about the wash down much the same as the car. There are, however, certain taboos. The first and foremost is the pressure washer. I have one and it is for cleaning the patio. I would not even let it look at my caravan. Yes, you can stand further back when using it to reduce the force, but why take the risk?
Good old-fashioned elbow grease is the answer. Anything that has a strong petroleum base is another concern for me; degreasants for example, the type you might use on a car engine, could breakdown the sealants and mastics used in the build of your caravan.
I know petrochemical ingredients are in many the everyday things we use, but just check the labels and warnings before use. If it says a product has been developed to do the job, then all should be OK; if it then causes an issue you have got a comeback, but always read the small print.
I'll give you an example. I bought a bottle of black streak remover from a supermarket, designed for the job of removing stubborn black streaks? It was OK, no better or worse than other products I've used.
After I had used it, I read the directions of use: "Do not allow the liquid to run onto decals or aluminium". Forgive me if I misinterpret this warning, but my caravan is made of aluminium and is covered in decals. Anyway I didn't use it again, just in case.
Cleaning the roof
Now, for what I suspect is the most hated job of all, or, it could be that many us out there think WW3 is coming and this is a good way of avoiding the attention of the Luftwaffe? Stand on a motorway bridge and you'll get my meaning. Yes you've got it, cleaning the roof.
I like to use a ladder leaning against the caravan. I feel it's a wee bit safer than steps and you can put a lot more of that elbow grease behind the brush. I have wanted one of those telescopic ladders for ages. I just bought one on eBay for £52. Always use some form of protection between ladder and caravan; I have cable-tied some foam to the top.
Make sure at least one rear steady is down before you start; you may not be as light as you thought and you could tip the caravan. Give the caravan a good hose down first, to remove abrasives like grit and bird lime, then go to work.
I use an extendable soft brush and here a spray-on dilution of Muc-Off caravan and motorhome cleaner. If I'm using a shampoo solution, I keep the bucket on the ground and dip the brush in from the ladder. For the awkward areas under the sky lights I find a four-inch soft paint brush works well and, for the green algae all along the edge growing on the sealant, I used a soft nail brush and mild surface cleaner rinsing well afterwards.
Down on ground level and the going gets easier, a good hose off again and I thoroughly wash the rest of the caravan, except for the windows. The awning rail might look OK now, but what's lurking within?
There are specialist brushes for the job, but I like to use a butterfly brush on a piece of string: Here's how: Cut a piece of cloth sort-of butterfly shape tie some string in the centre. Douse with cleaner and draw through the rail, rinse the cloth and draw through wet a few times more. It's quite effective.
With the wash brush well rinsed to remove anything that might scratch and a cleaned fresh bucket of shampoo/water mix, do the acrylic windows and rinse. This is when you can see if there are any scratches on them. There are many ideas out there for removing scratches on acrylic windows, from a baking soda/vinegar paste to T-Cut.
Recently I tried out some leftovers I had lying around in the garage; it worked a treat and it's made for the job. This is Turtle Wax clarifying compound. It's part of an acrylic headlight lens restoration kit; I had it left over after doing the headlights of a little run-around of mine, but there are products out there specifically designed for removing scratches from caravan windows. So, if you're not sure, play it safe.
Rubbers – there are many them on a caravan. The one we think of mostly, because, if it isn't working, we tend to leave a blue trail to the chemical waste point, is the toilet cassette seal.
Thetford makes a silicone spray to keep this in good condition. The others are on every window, the main door, outside lockers and, of course, the tyres.
Sunlight, heat and petroleum are some things that can degrade rubber; think, tyres needing replacing even though they still have good tread and gas hoses need replacing at regular intervals because the LPG breaks down the rubber lining of the hose.
I like to use silicone grease to maintain all my caravan's rubber seals. Food grade or water board authority approved silicones are good. Carlube does a 70g-tube that can be bought from most motor factors and there are many silicone sprays about.
You can use olive oil on the toilet seal to keep it lubricated if you have nothing else, but I wouldn't use it elsewhere; it is washed over regularly in the loo so should be safe from mould growth, not so on the windows and locker doors.
I impregnate a piece of cloth with the grease and wipe round all rubber seals. It doesn't take long. Then, lastly, I use the cloth to wipe round the toilet seal before discarding. You can use a silicone spray instead, but aerosols need a propellant to push the product from the can. This is usually propane or butane.
Cleaning the stabiliser pads is on the to-do list. I take the hitch lock ball put a cloth over it, spray with brake cleaner, insert, click down the locking handle so the green gauge is showing (not the clamp handle) and twist around a few times. Keep it clean and there will be no grunting or groaning from the tow ball.
Last on this list, but not necessarily on my list – I can always find something that needs doing – is to go round all locks and hinges and give them a squirt of silicone.
It looks a lot, folks, but it has taken me longer to write this, than it did to do the job. Look after your caravan and you'll enjoy many years of great holidays with it.
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