One of the best ways to ensure that you’ll be able to stay cool in your RV in the summer heat is to practice good RV AC maintenance. Regularly maintaining your rig’s AC unit(s) means that when the ambient temperature climbs, your air conditioner(s) will be ready to jump into action to cool down your rig.
But the time to maintain your RV AC units is not when you’re sitting in sweltering heat and humidity, but long before you begin your summer travels. So today, just in time for the summer camping season, we’re bringing you some simple RV AC maintenance tasks that you can tackle to get your rig ready to be cooled when the dog days arrive!
- 1) What RV AC Maintenance Tasks Can I Do Myself?
- 2) RV AC Maintenance on the Roof
- 3) RV AC Maintenance Inside the RV
- 4) Check the Operation of your AC Unit(s) and Stay Cool!
What RV AC Maintenance Tasks Can I Do Myself?
There are a number of RV AC maintenance tasks that most RVers can do themselves, though this definitely differs from person to person. Some of these tasks require getting up on your RV’s roof, for example, and that’s not something that everyone is comfortable with. So you’ll need to be the judge of what’s appropriate for you to handle on your own.
But not only are there several RV AC maintenance tasks that just about anyone can do from inside the rig, but the tasks on the roof are also relatively simple. So if you prefer not to climb up there (or are unable to do so), you may have a friend or family member who can help. There may even be a mobile RV repair person nearby who can check these tasks off your list. Let’s take a look!
RV AC Maintenance on the Roof
Before you head up onto the roof of your RV, make sure you have a proper ladder available. Many RVs of course have them built-in, but you’ll still want to be sure you’re comfortable and safe on it.
If you use a stepladder or an extension ladder, we recommend having someone else on hand to hold it securely and spot you. They may also be helpful in handing up tools you may have forgotten (saving unnecessary trips up & down) or to lend a hand with the actual RV AC maintenance itself.
You most likely can walk around (cautiously!) on your RV’s roof, but depending on the design of your RV, you may need to place some boards on your rooftop to distribute your weight properly for roof work. Do so with appropriate care for the roof itself and, more importantly, for your own safety.
Important note: RV AC shrouds (and other rooftop items) are common places for bees, wasps, and hornets to build nests. Please be aware of the potential for their presence when undertaking any RV AC maintenance (or other) tasks on your RV roof. Be on the alert if, while on the roof, you see any such pests buzzing around your air conditioner(s).
Clear Out Any Debris Around the Rooftop Unit
Debris from trees and travel tends to collect around your rooftop AC units and can have difficulty blowing away. The first RV AC maintenance task you’ll want to accomplish is to remove any accumulated debris from around the AC unit itself.
You can use a brush or a small broom to sweep away debris on and around your rooftop AC unit(s). Just be careful not to get too aggressive, as you could damage the seals that prevent water from being able to enter your RV’s roof around the opening the air conditioner sits on top of.
Remove and Clean the Shroud (Plastic Cover)
Once again be mindful of the potential for bees as you remove the plastic shroud that covers your AC unit, and clean the shroud itself. You can hose off the shroud and scrub it lightly with a brush if necessary, making sure to clean vent areas well.
Note that the shroud screws MAY OR MAY NOT all be the same size. If yours are different sizes, be sure to note which screws were removed from which holes, and store the screws in a plastic tub or bag so you won’t lose them. (TIP: use your smartphone to take a quick picture of the screws in place, so you know which go where)
Replace the Shroud if Necessary During RV AC Maintenance
If your AC cover is damaged, it may be time to replace it as part of this year’s RV AC maintenance. These things are made of plastic and they don’t last forever, especially if they come into contact with tree branches, large pieces of hail, etc. Plus, the persistent UV rays from the sun can do a number on them over the years. If they’re cracked and brittle, it might be time to replace them.
Check your RV owner’s manual and make a note of your AC unit’s manufacturer to be sure the new shroud you select will fit appropriately.
As an example, this is a commonly used RV AC shroud:
- Features A Built-In Rear Fin Guard
- Made From Extra Thick, Extra Tough Uv Protected Plastic
Clean the Coils and Fins
There are two sets of coils built into your rooftop air conditioner that are crucial to the efficient operation of the unit. If these coils are clogged or dirty, your RV AC may not cool well.
The condenser coil is on the outside and can usually be seen from the back of the air conditioner (depending on the model, even with the shroud in place… look through the holes/slats in the shroud to see the coil inside).
The second coil is the evaporator coil. It’s located deeper inside the air conditioner but may also need to be cleaned (though the condenser coil on the outside is easier to access). This coil is responsible for removing the heat from the interior air the air conditioner pulled in while running… and if your interior filters aren’t doing their job (or haven’t been regularly cleaned), dust and debris can clog the coil up.
Cleaning the coils and fins is a project that should probably be done at least every couple of years, depending on how much you travel in your RV (and how often you run it, and your air conditioners, in dusty environments).
PLEASE NOTE that this task will get your roof wet, and a wet RV roof is a slippery RV roof. Use extreme caution when on the roof of your RV, and never hesitate to call a friend or a professional for help. Better to contact a helper than to spend your summer recuperating from a bad fall instead of traveling and camping!
What you’ll need:
- Cordless or manual screwdriver (bring a Phillips and a flat blade just in case)
- Small tarp or a couple of garbage bags
- Spray cleaning solution (we recommend either Simple Green Aircraft Cleaner, which is safe for the delicate aluminum fins or AC coil cleaning spray)
- Soft brush
- Shop-vac (not essential, but helpful)
- Hose with spray nozzle, set to a light spray pressure
- Small lunch baggie or another container such as a small tub with a cover (for holding small parts like screws).
What you’ll do:
For this RV AC maintenance task, you’ll want to turn off all power to the air conditioner by disconnecting the RV’s power cord and disconnecting or shutting off the 12-volt batteries. You’ll want both 120V AC and 12V DC power for the air conditioning unit turned off.
You’ll be able to clean the exterior condenser coil fairly easily by removing the shroud/cover of the AC unit. However, if the evaporator coil also needs to be cleaned, you’ll need to dismantle the interior shroud to access that coil. (Note: the screws may be hidden/located under the insulating tape.)
- Cover all electrical connections using plastic.
- Using your towel and garbage bag(s), cover the air vent leading into the interior of the RV so that dirt, debris, and water don’t enter the cabin (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT).
Note that the fins are somewhat fragile, so take care not to bend or damage them during the following steps.
- Do a dry cleaning using your shop vac (if you have one handy) and/or your soft brush. Brush the coils to loosen dirt and debris and vacuum or sweep it up. Remember that the coils are very delicate. Don’t bend them!
- Lay your towel down in the area and carefully spray your cleaning solution onto the coils, and allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes, or as instructed on the cleaner. You’ll want to avoid soaking your roof with the cleaning solution. That’s particularly true if you’re using an AC coil cleaner, especially if you have a TPO or EPDM roof (which are commonly referred to as “rubber” roof materials). Abide by any warnings on the bottle of cleaner.
- Be sure your garden hose sprayer is set to a gentle spray, and carefully spray the coils to flush out dirt, dust, and debris. If your AC coils have not been cleaned in many years, you may have a lot of build-up to loosen and remove, and in this case, you may need to repeat the process a few times until the coils are clean and the area is free of obvious dirt and debris.
- If you brought up a shop vac, use it to remove excess water from the coils and the entire area of the AC. If you don’t have a shop vac, you can use a fan or some compressed air (from the inside out!) to dry the coils. Just be extremely careful not to damage the delicate fins.
Check & Straighten Cooling Fins
Checking and straightening cooling fins can be an important part of your RV AC maintenance because bent fins restrict airflow and reduce cooling efficiency. Straighten any bent cooling fins carefully using an AC fin comb like this one:
- Heating & AC Fin Comb
- Package Dimensions: 1.778 L x 22.86H x8.382W(centimeters)
All of the steps for cleaning condenser and evaporator coils are laid out in our post, “RV AC Not Cooling? 6 Tips to Make it Work Better”.
RV AC Maintenance Inside the RV
Not everything needed to properly maintain your RV’s air conditioners happens on the roof. For the following RV AC maintenance tasks, you’ll be working from inside the RV.
Remove the Cover
First, you’ll want to remove the interior cover(s) from your RV AC unit(s). Look for recessed screws located along the outer edge/corners of the interior cover.
Clean or Replace the Air Filter(s)
Cleaning or replacing the air filters is an important part of RV AC maintenance.
Note that if you have a through-the-roof air conditioner (that has a large, square air distribution unit in the ceiling commonly known as a “Chill Grill”), the filter is usually behind the cover. If, instead, your RV has ducted AC (many smaller inlets/outlets in the ceiling of the RV), typically each return duct has its own small, foam filter.
Some RV AC air filters are disposable and must be replaced with new filters, while others are washable.
You can clean your AC filters using a small vacuum or soft brush (a soft toothbrush works well). If your filter is very dirty and is washable, wash it using warm water with a small amount of vinegar or a mild laundry detergent (like Woolite). Never use bleach as it can damage the filters.
Rinse the filter thoroughly in clean water and allow it to dry completely before returning it to the AC housing.
Dust/Clean/Vacuum the Interior Vents & Fan
With the popular “Chill Grill” style A/C units, use a vacuum hose and/or brush to clean out the interior vents and the fan inside the interior AC housing unit. A damp rag will also do, especially with the smaller openings on ducted AC systems. You’ll just need to rinse & ring it out as needed.
If you find a tremendous build-up of dust, because this hasn’t been done for a long time, you’ll probably want to vacuum up as much excess dust as possible before wiping or brushing.
Inspect Carefully for Evidence of Leaks
While you’ve got the cover off, be sure to look around the area – particularly around the edges – for any evidence of water leaks, past or present.
If you see evidence of mold or mildew, you can use vinegar to clean it, but be sure to address the leak itself! There’s a closed-cell foam seal that sits underneath the rooftop air conditioner, sealing it to the roof. This is the most likely source of a leak.
Replace Aluminum Sealing Tape if Damaged
If the aluminum sealing tape is damaged, it should be replaced. This will ensure a better seal which is very important. Air leakage around the ducting can (and usually does) reduce AC performance substantially.
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Check the Operation of your AC Unit(s) and Stay Cool!
Once you’ve completed these RV AC maintenance tasks, reconnect your RV’s 120V and 12V power sources and check the operation of your AC unit(s) to make sure your RV is getting nice cold air so you can stay cool in your RV throughout the summer!
If you don’t happen to have a working AC unit in your RV, check out our tips on how to stay cool in your RV without air conditioning.
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