RV Living – The Low Down on Dirt

by Wendy on May 10, 2016

by Mary Findley of Mary Moppins

Over the years, formulas for exterior paint changed due to the change of governmental regulations. Lead based paints received the boot and were replaced by more Human friendly bases such as polyurethane and water. Yet the exterior care of these new finishes failed to evolve along with these changes. Folks continue to use liquid dish soaps and heavy duty degreasing agents on surfaces that no longer tolerate these chemicals. Oxidation and dull finishes soon leave the owner perplexed as to their cause.

Mary combines years of professional cleaning experience with hundreds of hours researching the care of various surfaces. This research is then matched to the right combination of cleaning agents and tools to insure these surfaces remain in top condition. Let’s review the correct method to clean the exterior of your RV.


Since 2003, VOC regulations prohibit the use of lead in paint, which hardened the paint to detour oxidation. To combat oxidation, a polyurethane coat is applied over the paint or added to the gelcoat to protect against the elements.

Paint manufacturers advise against the use of harsh degreasing cleaners and liquid dish washing soaps. The degreasing agents in these cleaners leave a residue on the sealant that is difficult to rinse clean. Eventually they soften the sealant, which leads to oxidization. Take a trip down memory lane back to the days when conscientious housekeepers used a heavy duty cleaner to mop their kitchen floors. The sticky residue left on the floor eventually softened the finish and destroyed the shine – the precise reaction of clear coat finishes.

Baby shampoo provides an effective yet gentle cleaner. Without the heavy degreasing agents, it cleans without fear of leaving a residue to gum up the clear coat or gel coat finish. Add a quarter cup per five-gallon bucket of water. Additionally, toss in a half cup of ‘made from grain or corn’ distilled white vinegar to your wash bucket. Increase the vinegar to two-thirds cup if water spots are visible as you dry.

NOTE: Do not use vinegar that says “Food Grade” or “Safe for Pickles.” It is made from petroleum and should never be consumed or used for cleaning purposes. Look for the words ‘made from grain or corn.’

Vinegar serves two purposes. First it boosts the cleaning ability of the baby shampoo or any cleaner so you don’t need as much. Next vinegar is slightly acidic, which neutralizes the alkaline in the water to prevent water spots from forming. The acid in vinegar will not damage the paint like muriatic or phosphoric acids that are often mentioned in magazine articles.

The right tools for the job: Since the introduction of lead free paints, Lambswool is the recommended product to wash a motorhome, vehicle, boat or other people movers. The Lambswool carried by Mary Moppins is used by many RV manufacturers including Tiffin, Newmar and Newell and their dealers. Specifically designed to fit our four-way swivel pad holder, it allows you to safely wash your coach from the ground. Mary Moppins also carries a 100% Lambswool hand mitt for your vehicle.

Do not mistake Lambswool with imitations. Read the package label carefully. The front of the package reads ‘Lambswool’ while the small print on the back states “made from man-made fabrics” or similar wording. Imitation pads are made from 100% polyester or plastic. Plastic scratches and will scratch the finish off your coach, vehicle, boat, floor, cabinets and furniture. The scratches are so minute that they are barely noticeable- at first. For this reason, avoid the use of microfiber cloths, towels and pads as they are made from 80% polyester.

Likewise avoid brushes. Even though you may not see brush marks now, the damage happens as the bristles wear down. One washing and your coach is fine but the next washing leaves it covered with scratches. Use Lambswool wash pads to avoid these issues.

Use only 100% cotton towels to dry your coach. Be cautious of terry towels made in Taiwan or China. They are not checked for fiber content as they enter the States and generally contain up to 30% polyester.

Add the vinegar to the wash bucket then wash in the morning or evening to prevent water spots. Water spots eventually etch the paint like they do glass shower doors. Prevention becomes the key. Start with the roof (directions below) then wash one side at a time, rinse, and dry quickly first using Mary Moppins EZE Squeegee followed by a towel placed over her Cleaning Head. If caught immediately most water spots buff off with a damp terry towel and light elbow grease.

For water spots that have set a bit and your RV is more than six months old, rub with a damp cloth and a 1000 grit polishing compound like Mary’s RenewzIt. For paint under six months old bring straight distilled white vinegar to a boil. Wear gloves and wipe the vinegar on with a soft cloth. Keep the area damp for 10 minutes then buff with a soft cloth dipped in water.

To remove oil and grease remember Mary’s #1 rule of cleaning: Give your product time to work. Dab a bit of a concentrated cleaner like our CleanEz – never an orange based cleaner or one with petroleum distillates – onto a damp, soft cloth. Apply to the oil spot and wait 10 to 15 minutes before rubbing lightly to remove the oil. Rinse immediately. Remember always rub parallel to the ground. Never rub in circles or vertical unless you like that fresh swirl mark look.



“When this old world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face—I climb way up to the top of the stairs and all my cares just drift right into space …up on the roof.” It takes a brave soul to climb on the roof of their RV to sing this 1962 Drifters melody especially if the vocal chords need tuning. However, Rvers must drift up to the roof to clean it or they end up singing the blues when problems arise. Let’s look at the right way to clean and care for roofs to prevent damage.

Remove any twigs and other debris prior to washing. Grab a stiff bristle toothbrush or dampen a 00 or 000 steel wool pad along with Mary Moppins diluted CleanEz or an organic all- purpose cleaner to scrub the gaskets around vents, skylights and fans. Rubber naturally oxidizes and requires scrubbing three to four times a year to prevent gaskets from drying and cracking.

NOTE: Take care not to splash an all-purpose cleaner onto rubber roofs. The reason will be explained in a moment.

Should you park under a tree that drips sap; the roof ends up with a case of hives. Removal is tedious but necessary to prevent permanent stains. Freeze tree sap by applying ice until the sap is hard enough to be gently removed with a plastic scraper held flat against the roof. Take care not to gouge the surface. Use concentrated Clean-Ez on a metal or fiberglass roof to remove any remaining sap.

Next hose the roof to rid it of any further dirt particles.

Rubber roofs require different cleaning methods than fiberglass and metal roofs. What works for one causes havoc for the other. Clean metal and fiberglass roofs as you do the sides of your RV using Mary Moppins Lambswool Wash Pad, a capful of baby shampoo and a half cup of distilled white vinegar per a two-gallon bucket of water.

Apply a petroleum distillate free protectant like Mary Moppins’ Advantage on metal and fiberglass roofs more frequently than the rest of your coach. The sun’s heat dries roofs quickly resulting in rapid oxidation and chalking that drips down the sides. However, frequent application of a protectant results in a slick roof. To prevent falls purchase a pair of boat shoes made by Merrill or Teva called Non-Skid. Made for clambering around wet boat decks, the soles on these sandals have a death grip on slick surfaces without marring the finish. They also provide excellent traction when climbing on ladders.

TIP: Protectants differ from wax in that they contain polymers rather than carnaubas wax. Polymers leave a surface slick so dirt and bugs slide right off.

Rubber roofs require fastidious attention. Ignore them and they leak leaving water stained ceilings and mold issues in their wake. Dicor, one of the manufacturers of the ethylene propylene diene monomerand, EDPM, roofs, formulates their own line of cleaners and protectants. Theirs are the only products I recommend as the use of others product, except powdered laundry detergent to clean a roof, can void the warranty. Call 800-837-2059 for assistance.

It matters little whether an RV is stored indoors or outside, rubber roofs oxidize and must be scrubbed three preferably four times a year to prevent damage to the membrane. Use a slightly aggressive scrub pad along with powdered laundry detergent or Dicor’s cleaner. Scrub pads are rectangular and come in various colors. White are non-abrasive, followed by yellow, red, blue, grey, green, brown and black. Look for red pads. Mary Moppins carries them as do most janitorial supply stores.

Never use a liquid cleaner other than Dicor, on a rubber roof. The membranes are only 1/8th inch thick and attached to the roof with adhesive. Liquids penetrate through the porous membrane and reach the base where they soften the adhesive. Water now has a way into the interior where it damages various surfaces.


To Wax, Seal or Protect

 If ever there were a smorgasbord of options concerning care of an RV, it certainly surrounds the use of wax and protectants. Let’s solve the confusion.

What is the difference between wax, protectants and sealants? Wax is made from Carnauba. The problem with Carnauba is that it penetrates the clear coat, paint or gelcoat reaching the fiberglass and seals it. Fiberglass must breathe or it suffocates and turns yellow over time. Carnauba does not yellow metal but it dulls the paint.

Advantage is specially formulated for Mary Moppins to contain polymers or protectants. Polymers sit on the surface to protect the clear coat and paint against UV ray damage. In addition, they make the surface slick. Dirt and bugs slide right off including the back of rear view mirrors.

Furthermore, paint companies specifically state not to use products that contain petroleum distillates. Distillates can deteriorate the finish, which in turn causes the paint to oxidize. Unfortunately, companies are allowed to put small amounts of distillates in a product without stating so on the bottle. You must read an MSDS (material safety data sheet) to determine if a product contains distillates. Type in ‘MSDS sheet for Ultra Wax by XYZ company’ into a browser on your computer. Look for the words: aliphatic hydrocarbon, mineral oil, hydrocarbon or petroleum, which are alternative names for petroleum distillates. Mary’s Advantage is formulated without petroleum distillates as stated on the bottle.

Sealants, like Mary’s RenewzIt, are only necessary if the coach or vehicle is oxidized, scratched, has swirl marks, water spots or foggy headlights. Alternately look for a 1000 grit polishing compound that states “heavy duty cleaning” or “oxidation remover.” After removing the oxidation, wait 24 hours then apply Advantage or a polymer based protectant to guard against further oxidation and restore the color and shine. Re-apply the protectant in three months then again six months later to re-establish a protective coat.

Remember when applying a sealant or protectant, work with the grain of the paint, which is left to right. Circular motions leave swirl marks. Avoid the use of cloths that contain polyester, especially microfiber. Allow Advantage or your protectant to haze over then remove it with a second 100% cotton cloth like Mary’s Baby diapers or old cotton t-shirts.

Test for oxidation: Test your coach or tow vehicle every six months for oxidization by pouring a bit of your protectant on a soft, white cotton cloth. Rub one spot for a bit. Any paint that appears on the cloth indicates oxidation. If you apply wax three to four times a year then your wax contains a distillate or silicone that has damaged the finish. Remove the oxidation with a sealant like RenewzIt or a new paint job is in your future.

If you apply a protectant once or twice a year, check the content of your protectant for distillates or silicone and increase the application to two to three times a year. Keep a keen eye out for oxidation on your roof. Wash it four times a year and test for oxidation every six months. Apply a protectant three times a year to keep ahead of oxidation.

A buffer is generally required to remove oxidation, swirl marks and scratches as it gives even results when compared to hand buffing. Cyclo is my favorite buffer. It is used by several of my detailers and highly recommended. Made here in the USA, their customer service is as outstanding as their products. www.cyclotoolmakers.com or 303-485-1990.

Use sheepskin buffing pads on oxidized paint, scratches and swirl marks. The paint must be cured a year before sheepskin is safe to use. Foam pads are the choice for light scratches, swirl marks or newer paint. Avoid the use of microfiber pads. Spray the sheepskin or foam pads lightly with water then add a drop or two of RenewzIt.

Keep the pads moist with water to prevent the polishing compound from drying too quickly. Then buff off the compound. The next day a film will generally appear on the finish. The RenewzIt continues to pull out the oxidation from the paint. Repeat with the RenewzIt to remove the remainder of the oxidation. Wait 24 hours then apply Advantage or a polymer based protectant.

NOTE: Do not use RenewzIt or other sealant or oxidation remover on uncured paint. Mary is working with her supplier to develop a polishing compound for use on new paints.


Please call Mary with any interior or exterior cleaning questions. She is here to help solve problems. Her seminar videos are posted on her website.   

Mary Findley is a veteran cleaning expert, cleaning consultant to the RV industry, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning and owner of Mary Moppins. Mary’s cleaning tips appear in magazine such as Better Homes and Garden, Roughing It Smoothly, Beaver, This Old House, Woman’s World and other national publications.

Mary Moppins Co. is now for sale. Reach Mary at 541-607-9498.


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