Since you paid quite a lot of money for it, you want your RV to look amazing. The outside, you have to admit, could use some work, and maybe the interior could as well. You’d like to paint your RV, but can you?
You can paint both the exterior and interior of your RV if its current colors don’t suit you. Before you start, you may have to remove old decals on the exterior. Then you want to use oil-based paints, but different kinds depending on whether you’re painting fiberglass or metal surfaces. Inside the RV, you can paint wood veneer or vinyl walls.
In this article, we’ll have lots of great information on painting your RV, including detailed steps on what to do. We’ll even share some tips on maintaining that spiffy new paintjob you worked so hard on. Keep reading!
Reasons to Paint Your RV
We won’t lie and say that painting your RV is going to be a simple, fast, or inexpensive process, because it isn’t. That said, giving your vehicle a new coat of paint shouldn’t void your RV warranty. Compared to many other things you could do to your motorhome, painting is relatively harmless.
Thus, if any of these reasons call out to you, we say you should go for it!
You Hate the Color but Love Everything Else
Shopping for an RV is sometimes a lot like buying a house. There are several must-have items on your checklist, such as a sturdy structure, but when it comes to cosmetics, you’re willing to let some things go. That’s how you ended up with an RV interior coated in wood veneer or an exterior painted a blah gray.
You recognize that the rest of your RV is great, but if the colors were better, your vehicle would be awesome inside and out. It’s time to grab a paintbrush and fix the glaring errors with your RV so you can be proud of the whole thing.
Your RV Is Showing Signs of Wear
Perhaps you quite liked the color of your RV’s exterior or interior when you first bought the vehicle, but that was years ago. Time and sunlight have begun to wear down the color, muting it considerably. You can restore the color’s original luster with a paint refresh or even go for a different shade in the same color family.
You Want to Hide Stubborn Stains
You’ve tried everything you can think of to remove those hard water stains throughout your RV, but they never want to budge. Why not try painting over them? A new layer of paint could do the trick, making your motorhome look good as new again.
You’ve Always Wanted a Custom RV
When you first researched RVs to eventually buy your own, you were drawn in by the custom models. Then you would see the prices and be forced to look elsewhere. Customized RVs are anything but cheap due to all the attention that must be put into their design.
If you have the time, patience, and inclination, you can recreate any of your favorite custom RV paintjobs for far less money.
How to Paint Your RV
You’ve done some serious thinking and decided that you want to paint your RV. The following steps will guide you through the entire process of painting both the exterior and interior.
Step 1: Clean the Surface
Paint adheres best to a clean, dry surface, so your first order of business is to give your RV a deep cleaning. For the exterior, we recommend pressure-washing, especially if you haven’t cleaned your RV in a while and it has a lot of caked-on gunk. You can clean vinyl interior walls with a bucket of warm water and some dish detergent or a cleaner of your choice.
When tidying your wood veneer walls, skip the soap and water so you don’t saturate and warp the wood. Instead, wet a lint-free cloth but squeeze it so it’s not soaking. Then, with your damp cloth, wipe each veneer panel, following the wood grain direction. If the wood is stained in parts, then use a dollop of dish soap and some elbow grease to remove the stain.
Don’t stress too much about stains that won’t come out though. You should be able to paint right over them shortly.
Some RVers have found that pressure-washing the exterior of their vehicle cleans it to such a degree that they realize the original paint color isn’t so bad. Sometimes the paint was diluted by all the grime and the color looks so much fresher when clean.
If you still decide that you’d like to paint your RV exterior even when it’s pristine post-power wash, then move on to the next step.
Step 2: Remove Exterior Decals
For those who are only painting the inside of their RVs, you can skip to step 3. You can also do that if your RV has no decals on it.
More than likely though, your vehicle does have decals. These stickers are more inexpensive than painting stripes across your RV, so many manufacturers use them. The newer your RV, the easier the decals come off since they haven’t had so many years to get stuck on the exterior surface.
If you’ve had the same RV for 10 or 20 years, you’re in for more of a challenge removing decals, but it won’t be impossible.
Some RVers have had good luck removing newer decals with lemon essential oil. You can also use WD-40, which you may have handy in your RV to treat a squeaky door or lubricate easily-reachable components.
Spray either lemon essential oil or WD-40 on the decal, starting at one edge. Don’t cover the whole decal in the product yet, but go little bits at a time. Once the decal is wet, you can use a plastic scraper to dislodge the sticky decal.
We can’t stress this enough, but if you use a scraper, you need to go slowly and easily across the length of the decal. Scraping too hard or abruptly could gouge and scratch the RV exterior. Then you’d have a much bigger problem that paint likely couldn’t hide.
You can also buy or rent a heat gun. These guns warm up to temperatures between 750 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so we recommend wearing protective equipment when handling a heat gun. When the heat gun is sufficiently hot, you hold it near the decal, let the decal warm up, and then begin scraping it.
You must tread a fine line when using a heat gun. If the heat source is too much or you hold the heat gun too close to the decal, you could fry the decal or bake it right onto your RV. You’d need a power source for the gun, so if you have nowhere to plug anything in where your RV is currently parked, skip the heat gun.
Your last option is to use a commercial sticker remover. You have your pick of these, such as Goo Gone, Turtle Wax Label & Sticker Remover Spray, and Rapid Remover Vinyl Letter Remover. This ABN Rubber Eraser can come in handy for getting the decals off too.
Step 3: Get Your Painting Equipment
You’re proud to say the exterior of your RV is decal-free. At this point, sans decals, you could again have an epiphany and decide that your RV looks great from the outside with no need for new paint.
The opposite can just as easily happen, where now your RV looks more naked than ever. It’s a blank canvas just waiting for you to get to work.
And so you shall. Before you begin, you need equipment for the job. Depending on whether you’re painting the exterior or interior of your RV, that equipment will vary. For interior surfaces, a paintbrush or paint roller is more than good enough. You’re not painting very large surfaces, so you can get an even application with these tools.
We would not suggest using a paintbrush when painting the outside of your motorhome. For one, it’s going to take you hours and hours. More importantly, you won’t get the even coat you want. Even a paint roller won’t help with such a large surface area. You need a spray gun.
You can buy a spray gun for as little as $50. If you don’t plan on painting again anytime soon, it makes more sense to rent the gun. Either way, don’t forget the air compressor or your spray gun won’t be able to do much.
Portable air compressors will work better for your purposes, as you can freely move around your RV with one of these compressors. You also want to look into a rotary screw air compressor, one of two compressor types. These air compressors operate nearly silently and are considered more energy-efficient than reciprocating air compressors, the other type. That said, rotary screw air compressors cost more to rent or own.
Compressors may be low-volume, low-pressure or LVLP or high-volume, high-pressure or HVLP. You don’t need pressure any higher than 15 to 20 pounds per square inch of pressure or PSI, so LVLP compressors are fine.
Step 4: Buy Your Paint
Next comes the fun part, and that’s choosing your paint! You want both paint and primer. If you haven’t done a major painting job before, primer is the undercoat that you add first so the color will adhere better. Paint thinner may come in handy for diluting the consistency of the paint if it’s a little thick for your paint gun.
As we said in the intro, for fiberglass and metal exterior surfaces, use different types of paint per surface. Oil-based paints work best for the exterior for several reasons. This paint applies smoothly for an even application. If the surface isn’t quite crystal clear, oil-based paint will still go on anyway. You can hide small bits of damage and imperfections with this paint, and it won’t be affected by temperature as much as latex paint would.
For the interior of your RV, there’s no need for oil-based paint.
Step 5: Apply Masking Tape
It doesn’t matter which part of your RV you decide to start with when painting, there are undoubtedly nearby areas you’d prefer not to get paint splotches on. To keep these areas clean, use masking tape.
You can buy masking tape at any home improvement store as well as online. Choose a brand of your liking, but make sure you stock up on the tape. That’s especially true if you’re painting the exterior of a large RV. You’ll go through those small masking tape rolls in no time.
Step 6: Sand the Walls
This is another optional step, but it’s one you’ll want to consider when painting interior wooden walls. If you paint right over the wood veneer, the color will be different, but the wood grain texture will come through. By sanding the walls with a sanding block before you start, they’ll be smooth for a nicer finish.
If you do decide to sand your walls, a gentle hand is best. By grinding too hard on the veneer, you could scrape and roughen it or even damage the wood. Make sure that when you’re finished that you wet a clean cloth and wipe the walls so all the wood residue comes off. Painting over that would not be good!
Step 7: Prime the Walls
Don’t reach for your paint bucket, but start with the primer. For priming interior walls, you only need to plunk your paintbrush into the bucket and get painting. If you’re using a roller, begin from the bottom, but not at the very edge, about a foot up. Apply pressure but don’t force the roller on the wall or it won’t be able to freely roll.
Whether you paint with a roller or a brush, please, please lay down clear plastic or a tarp on the floor to catch the inevitable drips.
When painting the exterior, first thin the primer with your paint thinner. This will let the paint come out clearly without getting stuck in the paint gun components. Set the air pressure where you want it and then aim the spray gun. By pressing the gun’s trigger, the paint will come out.
Step 8: Paint
With the walls primed, it’s time to get the painting done. You’ll follow the same techniques as mentioned in the last step, but you might want to clean your brushes or rollers in between. You definitely want to clean out your paint gun. To do so, add some paint thinner to the gun’s chamber and then pump the trigger repeatedly. When what comes out of the paint gun is clear, it’s clean enough for you to add your paint.
Step 9: Let the First Layer Dry and Then Add Another If Needed
Now step back and admire your handiwork. Keep in mind that paint, when it’s wet, does not look the same as it does once dried. The color might be brighter and the texture a bit runny. When the first layer of paint has firmed up, you can apply a second layer if need be.
Step 10: Consider Clear Paint for Shine
Do you want your RV to sparkle and shine like it just got deep cleaned and waxed? Then we suggest a layer of clear paint. Do make sure that you let your current layers of paint dry fully before applying the clear paint. Also, be aware that clear paint brings out the depth of color more, so if you don’t want a deeper color, you can skip this step.
Step 11: Take off the Masking Tape
You’re finished! Well, almost. You want the paint to be mostly dry before removing the masking tape, but not bone-dry. At that point, you could rip away some paint when you take off the tape.
RV Painting Dos and Don’ts
To further help you perfect your technique, here are some dos and don’ts to follow when painting your RV.
DO Test Your Colors on a Small Surface Before You Start
When you find a paint color online that you like, you never want to order that color before you can get to the store and see a sample in person. A picture of a paint color is not going to do it justice. Even with the sample, once you buy the paint and bring it onboard your RV, you should paint a small corner before committing to a whole paintjob.
The color might not have been what you were expecting or it might not look as good on wood or fiberglass as you had hoped. If so, it’s much better to find that out now before you take hours to paint your whole RV.
DON’T Paint Over Moving Seams
If your RV has slide-outs or other seams that move, leave these alone when painting. That goes for the interior and exterior of your vehicle alike. As soon as these seams separate, you’re going to get these half-painted gaps that look awful.
DO Let the Paint Cure as Long as It Takes
Being patient and letting the paint dry is key if you want a picture-perfect smooth finish. It could take hours for the paint to cure, so go home for the while and come back to check on your RV later.
DON’T Paint When the Weather Is Too Hot
The temperature can affect the length of time it takes for your paint to dry. If it’s too warm or if you run a heater in your RV during winter, you could have splotches all over the wall from condensation. Sometimes these splotches come off and other times you have to paint over them once or twice.
DO Buy High-Quality Brushes
You might not feel like spending too much more money after purchasing nice primer and paint, but splurging on brushes will make the painting experience more seamless. Your interior walls will look great too!
How to Maintain Your Newly-Painted RV
Phew! Painting your RV was certainly an ordeal, but you’re glad you did it. You want the paint to look as fresh and appealing as it does today for a long time to come. What can you do to maintain the paintjob? Here are some suggestions.
Remove Bird Droppings Immediately
If you’re one of those people who leaves bird poop on your car until you can get to the car wash, that’s a habit you’ll have to change now that you’ve painted your RV. Bird droppings stain your vehicle and can ruin the paint if the sun dries the droppings. You’d have to paint that area again, which is a real pain.
As soon as you see bird poop on your RV, clean it up.
Regularly Clean Your RV
Have you been on the road for a while in your RV and you just got back? Make cleaning your RV one of the first things you do. Dust, dirt, tar, bugs, and grime of all sorts have coated your vehicle. If left on for long enough, this mess can degrade the quality of the paint. Even clear coats can only protect the paint for so long.
Avoid Chemical Scrubbers
If your RV is crying out for a deep clean, use soap, water, and elbow grease or a pressure washer if the grime is severe enough. Chemical cleaners and scrubbers are far too abrasive for your vehicle and could wreck the paintjob, often permanently.
Don’t Park Your RV Under Trees
A canopy of trees might seem like the perfect place to put your RV until you ride again. Yet between the sap that can leak from these trees to falling acorns and branches as well as water, you’re putting your RV’s paintjob at risk. A few hours under the trees isn’t so bad, but weeks or months? You’ll almost definitely come back to a moldy RV.
Limit Sun Exposure
The idea of taking cover when parking your RV is definitely a good one though! As much as you can, keep your motorhome away from direct sun. Nothing kills that beautiful paintjob faster. Keep this in mind especially when deciding where you’ll park your RV for the offseason. Even when the sun isn’t out, its UV rays still beat down.
Painting your RV is a great way to change up the look of your vehicle. We hope the information in this guide has given you the confidence and the know-how to spruce up your RV with a fresh coat of paint. Best of luck!