5 Experts On Why To Avoid Car Washes With Your RV

Washing your car is a relatively straightforward task, but washing your recreational vehicle is a little more complicated. If you’re thinking about driving your RV through a standard automated car wash, think again.

There’s a good reason why you should avoid a car wash with your RV.

Avoid car washes with your RV, as they’re not designed for tall vehicles. RVs range between 10’ and 14’ (3.04 to 4.26 m). Car wash bays range from 7’ to 10’ (2.13 to 3.04 m), so there’s not enough clearance to safely wash your RV. You may damage the RV and be liable for damage to the car wash.

In this article, I’ll discuss using a standard car wash on an RV and what could happen if you attempt to pull your vehicle through the bay.

In addition, I’ll walk you through how to safely and efficiently wash your recreational vehicle. Read on to learn more.

Can You Use a Car Wash on an RV?

After a long trip with your motorhome or travel trailer, it’s probably due for a thorough cleaning.

If this is your first time owning an RV, you’re probably unsure of how to clean such a large, bulky vehicle.

Before you head out to your local car wash with your RV, I’d like to warn you that your RV won’t fit

You can’t use a car wash on an RV. Most car washes rarely accommodate vehicles taller than 6 ½’ (1.98 m). The bays range from 7’ to 10’ (1.8 to 3.04 m). Trying to squeeze even the smallest RV through one of these bays is sure to result in damage to your RV and the car wash itself.

Below, I’ll look at four of the most popular RV types along with their average heights to explain why you cannot pull these vehicles through a standard car wash.

Travel Trailer (10’-11’ or 3.04-3.35 M)

Travel trailers, often referred to as caravans, camper trailers, campers, or tourers, are by far the most popular recreational vehicles in the United States.

These RVs are non-motorized and designed for towing on a truck’s bumper hitch. 

Once you arrive at your destination, you can unhitch the travel trailer.

The average travel trailers range between 10’ and 11’ (3.04 to 3.35 m), but some may stand as high as 12’ (3.65 m).

Needless to say, a travel trailer is roughly one-and-a-half times the height of what a standard car wash can accommodate.

Fifth Wheel RV (10’-13’ or 3.04-3.96 M)

Similar to travel trailers, fifth-wheel RVs attach to the back of a truck, but differently.

While travel trailers use a bumper hitch to connect, fifth wheels employ a u-shaped coupling and pinbox.

The pinbox attaches to the fifth wheel coupling, which is a hitch in the bed of a truck, similar to the way tractor trailers work. 

While most sources agree that travel trailers are the most popular RV type in the U.S., it appears that fifth-wheel RVs are preferred by the older population.

Fifth wheel RVs tend to stand taller than travel trailers. On average, they range from 10’ to 13’ in height (3.04 to 3.96 m). 

Even if you’re using a 10’ (3.04 m) fifth-wheel RV, it cannot fit into a standard car wash bay.

The highest clearance on most standard car washes is also 10’ (3.04 m), so you’d literally scrape the top as you pulled the RV through.

Class C (10’ or 3.04 M)

Unlike travel trailers and fifth-wheel RVs, Class C recreational vehicles are motorized. 

They’re built directly onto a large van frame or truck chassis and include an attached cabin.

You can simply drive the vehicle to and from your destination without connecting it to another vehicle.

This is precisely why Class C RVs are often referred to as “mini motorhomes.”

Class C recreational vehicles are the smallest of the four RVs included here, but they vary from vehicle to vehicle.

On average, they stand around 10’ (3.04 m) tall.

Despite their smaller size, Class C RVs are still too tall for a standard car wash.

Class A (13.5’+ or 4.11+ M)

Like the Class C RVs, Class A RVs are also motorized. The main difference is that they’re incredibly large.

They often feature luxurious living spaces and may have a full home-like layout that includes a kitchen, bedrooms, living room, and bathroom. 

Some even offer large, jacuzzi-style tubs!

Because of the Class A’s large size, they’re rarely towed, and in fact, most people tow their cars with their Class A RV.

These are the tallest of all RVs here, standing, on average, around 13.5’ (4.11 m) tall, but some may stand as high as 14’ (4.26 m) or more.

It goes without saying that Class A recreational vehicles are not suitable for standard car washes.

They’re far too tall. Instead, you’d need to find a designated RV wash with a clearance of 15’ (4.57 m) or higher, depending on the exact height of your Class A.

Car Washes and Cars, Trucks, and RVs: A Quick Recap

Below, I’ve organized a table showing the average height of several different vehicles, including the four RV types mentioned above and the average car wash height:

Vehicle TypeAverage HeightCar Wash HeightWill It Fit?
Standard Car5’-6’ (1.5-1.8 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)Yes
Standard Pick-Up6.3’ (1.9 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)Yes
Full-Size Hummer6.5’ (1.9 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)Questionable
Cargo Truck7.5’ to 9’(2.2 to 2.7 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)Questionable
Travel Trailer10’ to 11’ (3.04 to 3.3 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)No
Fifth Wheel10’ to 13’ (3.04 to 3.9 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)No
Class C10’ (3.04 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)No
Class A13.5’ to 14’ (4.1 to 4.2 m)7’-10’ (2.1-3.04 m)No

As you can see, most car washes accommodate only standard cars and pick-up trucks.

Even a full-size Hummer and standard cargo truck are questionable.

Whether or not they would fit depends on the exact clearance height of the specific car wash bay. 

None of the four RV types would safely fit into a standard car wash.

What the Sources Say About RVs and Car Washes

While standard car washes do not have enough clearance to fit a recreational vehicle.

You can perform a few web searches and discover videos and websites that showcase people taking their RVs through automatic washes, but these aren’t “car washes.” 

They’re customized, large wash bays designed explicitly for larger vehicles, including RVs.

The sources below show that there are designated service stations for washing RVs and other large vehicles:

SourceCan You Use a Car Wash on an RV? Comment
RVing with Andrew SteelNo, standard car washes do not fit most RVs.You can only use designated RV or semi-truck car washes, like Mega Wash in Ashland, VA.
Great Escapes RV SupercenterNo, standard car washes do not fit most RVs.You can only use designated RV car washes, like the Great Escapes RV Supercenter’s in-house RV wash in St. Louis, MO, Mountain Home, AR, or Springfield, MO.
RV LifestyleNo, standard car washes do not fit most RVs.You must choose a car wash that accommodates large vehicles and has an appropriate clearance height for your RV.
WestmaticNo, standard car washes do not fit most RVs.Companies like Westmatic provide customized car washes for washing RVs, buses, trucks, and more.
Crew Car WashNo, standard car washes do not fit most RVs.Most standard car washes cannot wash vehicles taller than 6.9’ (2.1 m).

Car washes are not only not suitable for RVs, but should also be avoided with motorcycles. I have written an article about all the reasons that you can check out here.

How Do You Wash an RV? 

Now that you know better than to drive your recreational vehicle through a regular car wash, you’re probably wondering how you wash your RV.

Well, there are multiple ways to ensure that your RV stays clean.

You can wash an RV by taking it to a professional detailing service specializing in RV detailing, visiting an automatic RV self-service or automatic wash, or handwashing. Hand washing is the best method, as it provides a more thorough cleaning.

How To Wash an RV by Hand

Before you suds up your recreational vehicle, there are several items that you’ll want to obtain. It’s best to keep these items on hand, especially after a long trip in your RV.

Here are the products that I recommend for washing your RV:

  • Silicone-based RV sealant
  • Specialized RV Soap
  • Foam cannon
  • Pressure washer
  • Scrub brush (18” or 45.72 cm) with soft, flag-tipped bristles
  • Chamois cloth (several)

Next, I’ll walk you through the steps for washing an RV by hand:

  1. Inspect your RV. Walk around your vehicle and examine all the screws and seals, including the gutter and wiper seals. Keep an eye out for any loose screws, holes, or cracks. If the RV includes a ladder, carefully climb on top and inspect the seals there as well. If it doesn’t have a ladder, the top of the RV may not support you, so do not attempt to climb up there. Check any slide-outs as well.
  2. Seal any holes or cracked seals. While inspecting your RV, make a note of any worn, torn, or cracked seals or loose screws. Then, walk back through and tighten any screws and apply a silicone-based RV sealant on any cracked or torn seals. Allow the product to dry completely before washing the RV.
  3. Fill the foam cannon. Using the instructions on the soap packaging, fill the foam cannon with the appropriate ratio of soap and water. For extra filthy RVs, opt for a heavy-duty biodegradable RV soap. For maintenance washes, use a waterless RV wax wash, as these simply spray on and wipe off, providing a protective light wax.
  4. Start on one side. Use the foam cannon to spray soap on one side of the RV. Don’t work in direct sunlight, because if the soap dries, it leaves a residue.
  5. Scrub away dirt with your long brush. Using your large RV scrub brush, scrub the side of the RV, making sure to get the windows and any nooks and crannies.
  6. Rinse well. After scrubbing away the dirt, rinse off the soap using a pressure washer.
  7. Repeat steps four, five, and six until the RV is thoroughly cleaned. Ensure that you’ve washed all four sides and the RV’s roof if you have a built-in ladder. Be extremely careful when standing on the RV. Water and soap make the surface slippery, so wear slip-resistant shoes, work in small sections, and move slowly and mindfully.
  8. Dry the RV. Many RV owners skip this step simply because it’s somewhat impossible to reach every inch of the RV with a cloth. However, if you choose to dry the RV, invest in a chamois cloth wand, which makes reaching high spots a lot easier. Take care when drying the roof, being careful not to fall.

Tips for Washing Your RV

An important tip when washing your RV is to keep your scrub brush, microfiber cloths, and chamois cloths off of the ground.

Allowing them to sit on the ground increases the likelihood of picking up dirt, debris, or small rocks that may scratch the paint on your RV.

Additionally, do not use standard bath towels. While they may feel soft to the touch, they’re far more abrasive than microfiber.

Not only could they leave microabrasions on your paint, but they may leave behind unsightly lint and fibers.

Prepare Your RV for Winter

If you’re washing the vehicle to prepare it for winter living, there are other things you’ll want to do. 

According to North Dakota State University, you should:

  • Ensure that all heaters work correctly. Don’t bring in fuel-burning space heaters, as these require adequate ventilation. Instead, ensure that all included heating sources that burn fuel have proper ventilation. Additionally, stock the RV with a fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Periodically ventilate the RV. Cooking, showering, and even breathing create moisture in the air. Moisture build-up can lead to mold and mildew. Keep the RV humidity levels low by regularly opening vents or doors and windows. If possible, invest in a hygrometer.
  • Add insulation. Before packing up the RV, seal all windows with plastic film and add curtains. Attach weather stripping to the doors and place a quilted blanket over it when it’s not in use. Seal the ceiling vent with an easily removable cover so that you can ventilate the RV when needed. Use caulk to seal gaps around the plumbing. Finally, install skirting to keep the heat inside of the RV.

Key Takeaways

Taking your RV to a standard car wash is not a good idea. Here’s why and what you can do instead:

  • Car washes are not designed to accommodate large vehicles, including RVs.
  • There are designated self-service, and automated RV washes available.
  • Alternatively, you could hire a professional RV detailing service instead.
  • The best way to ensure a thorough clean is to hand wash your RV using specific products.

To avoid damaging your expensive RV and paying for damages to the car wash, stick with designated RV wash spaces, detailers, or the DIY method.


Jeff Setter Travel: What’s the Average Height of an RV?

Cornell Law School: LA Admin Code – Travel Trailer Definition

Taylor Francis Online: The RV Lifestyle: An Exploratory Research Approach

Thor Industries: RV Types

Trail and Summit: What is the Difference Between Class A, B, and C Motorhomes?

Great Escapes RV Center: RV Wash

RV Lifestyle: Where To Get Your RV Washed

Westmatic: Automatic Truck Wash

Crew Car Wash: Vehicle Restrictions

Back Country RV Center: Tips for Washing Your RV

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge