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How To Wash Your Camper Van - Correctly

I'm sure, like me, your campervan is probably your pride and joy and one of the most expensive things you've ever bought. Taking care of your campervan is probably one of the things you try to do regularly, but are you doing it correctly?


Well, I've put together a simple guide on how to do this properly. A well-loved campervan will always be worth more and attract more enquiries, better offers when selling, than one that has been unloved and had a quick wash before it goes on sale.


This guide is to help you make sure that you know how to wash a campervan correctly and this is transferable to your car. With over 12 years of detailing experience, and for those of you who don't know what that is, it's the art of being able to wash a vehicle to a point where it looks immaculate every time and sometimes better than when it comes out of a factory. So whether you're washing your VW California, Auto Sleeper, or Ford Transit Conversion


Stage 1 - Campervan - Pre-Wash - Snow Foam 


I always start with snow foam and highly recommend this. Using snow foam is a highly effective pre-wash technique that loosens and lifts dirt and grime from the campervan's surface, making the washing process safer and more efficient. You can consider a Traffic Film Remover (TFR), which you will see typically at supermarket campervan washes, but these are extremely strong and have the ability to damage the paint if used incorrectly. Also, if you’ve had a ceramic coating, they can strip them off.


Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use snow foam on a campervan:

Gather Your Supplies:


    • Pressure Washer

    • Snow Foam Cannon

    • Snow Foam


Choose the Right Snow Foam: Select a snow foam that suits your cleaning needs. Some formulas are designed for heavy-duty cleaning, while others are more gentle. Consider the level of soiling on your campervan and select a product accordingly.


Prepare the Equipment: You'll need a foam lance or foam cannon, which attaches to your pressure washer, and a bottle of snow foam concentrate. Ensure your pressure washer and foam cannon are in good working order.

Mix the Snow Foam Solution: Follow the manufacturer's instructions to mix the correct ratio of snow foam concentrate with water in the foam cannon's bottle. The typical ratio is often around 1 part snow foam to 9 parts water, but this can vary. With some snow foams, you can put in more when the campervan is dirtier.

Rinse the Campervan: Before applying snow foam, rinse the campervan thoroughly with plain water using a hose or pressure washer. This initial rinse helps remove loose dirt and debris, preventing scratching during the washing process.

Apply Snow Foam: Attach the foam cannon to your pressure washer. Adjust the nozzle for the desired foam thickness and spray pattern. Apply the snow foam to the campervan, covering all surfaces from top to bottom. Ensure even coverage, and don't forget areas like wheel arches and under the sills.

Let It Dwell: Allow the snow foam to dwell on the campervan's surface for the time recommended by the product instructions, usually around 5-7 minutes. Avoid letting the foam dry on the campervan, as this can leave residue. If it's a sunny day, you may need to work in sections or keep the campervan wet to prevent drying.


Rinse Off: After the dwell time, thoroughly rinse the campervan with clean water from a hose or pressure washer, removing all the snow foam. Start from the top and work your way down, ensuring all foam and loosened dirt are washed away.


Stage 2 - Cleaning the Wheels


This is probably the most tedious bit I personally find, so get a kneeling pad if you can. This means you can work that wheel at the right level and not kill your back in the process of doing so.


  • Gather Your Supplies:

    • Wheel Cleaner: Choose a cleaner that is suitable for your wheel's finish (aluminium, chrome, painted, etc.). Ensure it's safe for the type of wheels you have.

    • Soft Brushes: Obtain a variety of brushes; soft-bristled for the wheel faces and smaller, stiffer brushes for tight spaces and lug nuts.

    • Bucket of Water: Have a bucket filled with clean water for rinsing your brushes.

    • Hose or Pressure Washer: For rinsing the wheels and tyres.

    • Microfibre Towels: For drying the wheels after washing.

    • Wheel Wax or Sealant (Optional): For added protection after cleaning.


Cool Down and Rinse: Ensure your wheels are cool to the touch before starting. Hot wheels can cause cleaning products to evaporate too quickly and potentially damage the wheel's finish. Rinse the wheels and tyres thoroughly with a hose or pressure washer to remove loose dirt and debris.


Apply Wheel Cleaner: Spray your chosen wheel cleaner liberally on the wheel and tyre, making sure to cover all areas, including the back of the wheel if accessible. Follow the instructions on the wheel cleaner for how long to let it sit (usually a few minutes). Some cleaners will change colour as they react with the brake dust.


Scrub the Wheels: Start with the softest brush and gently scrub the wheel's face, working your way around all the spokes, rim edges, and other accessible areas. Use smaller brushes or a designated lug nut brush to clean around the lug nuts and in other tight spaces. If you can reach, use a long-handled brush to clean the inside of the wheel barrel.


Rinse Thoroughly: After scrubbing, thoroughly rinse the wheels and tyres with clean water, ensuring all cleaner and loosened grime are washed away. It's important to remove all the cleaner to prevent residue from drying on the wheel.


Dry the Wheels: Use clean microfibre towels to dry the wheels completely. Water spots can form on the wheels if they're allowed to air dry, so it's important to manually dry them for the best results.


Apply Protection (Optional): After the wheels are clean and dry, you can apply a wheel wax or sealant. This will not only make the wheels shine but also protect them from brake dust and road grime, making them easier to clean next time.


Stage 3 - The Wash Your Camper van 


If you speak to anyone who is fanatical about cleaning a campervan, you’ll hear about the two-bucket method, which is what I’d recommend. It’s a highly effective technique to minimise the risk of scratching and swirling on the paintwork during the wash process. This method involves using one bucket for your soapy water and another for rinsing your wash mitt or sponge, keeping dirt and grime separate from your clean, soapy water. You can also use a microfibre on a pole; try to avoid brushes as they will create scratches over time and make the paint dull and flat.


Here's a step-by-step guide on how to execute this method effectively:

  • Prepare Your Supplies:

    • Two Buckets: One will be filled with clean water (rinse bucket), and the other with a mixture of campervan wash soap and water (wash bucket).

    • Grit Guards: Place a grit guard in the bottom of each bucket to trap dirt and prevent it from mixing back into the water.

    • Quality Car Wash Shampoo: Use a soap formulated for automotive paint that is gentle and designed to lift and encapsulate dirt.

    • Wash Mitt or Sponge: A high-quality microfibre wash mitt is preferred for its ability to safely trap and remove dirt.

    • Hose or Pressure Washer: For pre-rinsing and rinsing the vehicle.


Pre-Rinse the Vehicle: Thoroughly rinse your vehicle with a hose or pressure washer to remove loose dirt and debris. This initial step prevents you from rubbing these particles against the paint and causing scratches during the wash process.


Fill Your Buckets: Fill one bucket with clean water (this will be your rinse bucket) and the other with a mix of water and your chosen campervan wash soap (your wash bucket). Ensure the grit guards are properly placed at the bottom.


Wash the Vehicle in Sections: Dip your wash mitt into the soapy water bucket and begin washing the vehicle from the top down. Washing from the top ensures that dirt and soap don't run down onto cleaner, already-washed sections. Wash the vehicle in sections (e.g., roof, hood, doors, etc.), using straight, overlapping strokes rather than circular motions to minimise the potential for swirling.


Rinse the Mitt: After completing a section, rinse the wash mitt thoroughly in the rinse bucket to remove the trapped dirt and grime. Rub the mitt against the grit guard to dislodge any particles. This step is crucial to ensure you're not transferring dirt back onto the vehicle.


Reload with Soapy Water: Dip the clean, rinsed mitt back into the soapy water and move on to the next section of the vehicle. Repeat this process of washing a section and then rinsing the mitt until the entire vehicle has been cleaned.


Final Rinse: Once the entire vehicle has been washed, give it a thorough rinse with clean water from the hose or pressure washer to remove all soap residue. Start from the top and work your way down to ensure all soap is washed away.


Dry the Vehicle: Using a clean microfibre drying towel or a waffle-weave towel, gently dry the vehicle to prevent water spots. If you've had a wax or ceramic coating applied, you can now head off and enjoy your day. If you haven’t, this really is the next step, but we will leave it here!


Top Tips For Washing Your Camper van:

  • Safety First: Always wear gloves when using cleaning chemicals to protect your skin, and consider eye protection to avoid splashback.


  • Work in the Shade: To prevent the soap and water from drying too quickly, which can leave spots on the paint.


  • Consistency is Key: Adjust your foam cannon for a thick, clinging foam. The denser the foam, the better it can work on the dirt.


  • Don't Skimp on Dwell Time: Allowing the snow foam to sit for the recommended time helps break down and lift dirt effectively.


  • Work in the Shade: To prevent premature drying, apply snow foam in the shade or on an overcast day.


  • Regular Maintenance: Incorporating snow foam into your regular campervan washing routine can help maintain the paint's integrity and reduce the need for heavy scrubbing.


  • Frequency: Clean your wheels regularly to prevent brake dust and grime from becoming baked on, which makes them harder to clean and can cause permanent damage.


  • Separate Tools: Use separate cleaning tools for your wheels and tyres to avoid cross-contamination with the tools you use on your campervan's bodywork.


  • Wheel Cleaning: Consider cleaning your wheels and tyres first with a separate bucket and brushes to avoid contaminating the wash mitt and water used on the paint.


  • Regular Maintenance: Incorporating the two-bucket method into your regular washing routine will help maintain your vehicle's finish and reduce the build-up of contaminants that can damage the paint over time.


Jeff Cousens
Published on 19-03-2024