Winterizing is the topic we all love to hate. It seems mysterious, complicated, and full of potential risk—and every fall the online forums and social media channels fill up with the question: "How do I winterize my Airstream?"
This happens despite the fact that there's already a ton of information on the Internet about winterizing.
I would argue the confusion is actually because there's too much information on the Internet, and much of it doesn't agree. Plus, most of it is not specific to models or model years. Even Airstream's own instructions (in Owner's Manuals, tech support articles, and webinars) sometimes diverge in confusing ways.
Winterizing doesn't have to be complicated. But the problem is that there's more than one way to do it, and generic checklists just won't get you there. The specifics of how to winterize vary according to which Airstream you have.
- Do you want to blow out the lines with compressed air, or use RV Anti-freeze?
- Does your Airstream have a low point drain?
- Are the tank water drains inside or outside of the Airstream, and what do they look like?
- Does your water heater have a tank?
- If yes, does it have a water heater bypass?
- If no water tank, which water heater do you have: Girard, Truma, Alde, or Timberline?
- Does your Airstream have a winterizing kit installed?
You get the point.
With all these variables, there isn't just one set of steps to winterizing, there are at least 250 different possible versions! (Yes, I actually did the math.)
So, I've made things simpler.
For the simplest way to winterize your Airstream, I've made two key assumptions:
- You have a late model Airstream, which means it's equipped with a winterizing kit. And if you don't have a winterizing kit, I strongly recommend purchasing one–it makes things a lot easier and it costs less than $20.
- You're going to use the RV Anti-Freeze method, which I recommend instead of the air compressor method.
In addition, in order follow these simple winterization steps, you need to have your Owner's Manual handy, and be willing to refer to it to figure out where things are in your Airstream.
With these assumptions and your Owner's Manual, you're ready to winterize the easier way.
Tools and things you need to do the job
- Two gallons of RV Anti-Freeze (the pink stuff, never automotive anti-freeze)
- A wrench and Teflon tape, if your water heater has a tank (2021 and older)
How to do it in 9 easy steps
By following these 9 steps, winterizing will go from daunting to doable.
I have a much longer discussion of this in my book, Airstream Life's (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance, but this is the condensed version.
IMPORTANT: You'll find the location and appearance of everything referenced below in italics in the Owner's Manual. So if you need help finding something on your own Airstream (like the tank drain valve), check the Owner's Manual.
Step 1. Dump the gray and black tanks.
Step 2. Level the trailer.
Step 3. Empty the fresh water tank. This requires opening the tank drain valves and letting all the water run out.
Step 4. If your Airstream has a water filter installed (some 2016 and earlier models) remove the filter or bypass it. Then open the low-point drain and all the faucets and showers. This lets all the water in the lines out through the low-point drain.
Step 5a. If your Airstream has a water heater with a tank, make sure it is off and the water is cool. On a trailer with a Dometic or Atwood water heater, remove the drain plug (water will pour out), open the P/T valve, and turn the water heater bypass valves to the bypassed position. The drain plug is best removed with a socket wrench and 15/16" socket (not an adjustable wrench). On a motorhome with a Suburban water heater, there's a red knob that acts as the drain plug.
Step 5b. If your Airstream has a tankless water heater by Alde, Truma or Girard, you need to open the pop-off valve to let water drain out of the heater. Make sure the heater is off and the water is cool first.
Step 6. When water stops draining, close all the things you opened:
- pop-off valve or P/T valve
- tank drain valves
- low-point drain
- if you removed a drain plug, put it back in place with Teflon tape on the threads
- shut off all faucets and shower fixtures
Step 7. Turn the winterizing valve to the “winterizing” position so it is pointing to the clear plastic tube and remove the plug at the end of the tube.
Step 8. This is the fun part. Stick the open end of clear plastic tube into a gallon of RV Anti-Freeze, and turn on the water pump. It will suck the pink anti-freeze from the jug and pump it to all parts of the plumbing.
Open each faucet and shower fixture (including outside shower, if equipped) one at a time. Leave each fixture open until pink stuff starts coming out on both the hot and cold settings. Then close and move on to the next fixture. Flush the toilet until you see pink in the bowl, and also use the toilet sprayer (if equipped).
While you're doing this, keep an eye on the Anti-Freeze. If it's getting low, shut off the pump and switch to the next gallon jug before continuing.
When you're done with every fixture, turn off the pump, put away the Anti-Freeze, and put the winterizing valve and plug back the way you found them. If your water heater has a tank, leave the bypass valves in the bypassed position until you de-winterize in spring.
Step 9. Take care of the non-plumbing part:
- Remove all food and items that might be interesting to rodents or insects
- Remove anything that might be damaged by freezing
- Disconnect the negative battery cable (the Battery Disconnect Switch is not sufficient) and/or remove the batteries to keep them charged at home
- Make sure the refrigerator and freezer are empty and completely dry, and leave the door open
- Add air to tires if needed
- Put dielectric grease on the brass tabs of the 7-way plug.