If you have a pop up camper, you’ll need to perform routine maintenance to keep it in prime condition. Otherwise, it won’t be as habitable—and the value will decrease as well.
Because the canvas functions as your roof and walls, regular cleaning is imperative. The process doesn’t need to be complicated, but it helps if you start with the right tools. Here are a few tips and techniques on keeping camper canvas clean.
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is extremely relevant in this case. Camper canvas is a magnet for dirt and other debris. However, there are ways to keep the damage to a minimum.
Try not to park your camper beneath any trees that might shed on it. Oak, pecan, southern magnolia, and fruit trees are all common culprits, and should be avoided whenever possible. If the forecast calls for windy or rainy weather, it’s a good idea to avoid parking underneath any kind of tree, as you’ll wind up with leaves and sticks all over the roof.
You can stave off mildew by ensuring that the camper canvas has had a chance to dry thoroughly before you roll it down. Also, make sure to check for leaks on a regular basis, and attend to them before they can cause serious problems.
How To Waterproof Camper Canvas
Quality canvas will have waterproofing qualities on its own, but most companies like to add an extra layer of protection by treating the material with moisture repellent. That means you might have to repeat this process after an in-depth cleaning.
You’ll need a high-end waterproofing product to prepare your pop up camper for battle against the elements. We’ll go into more detail about our favorite, 303 Fabric Guard, in the Commercial Cleaning Products section below.
Tip: Always use fluoropolymer- or petroleum-based product for waterproofing. Silicone might damage the canvas, so steer clear of any product that lists it as an ingredient.
There are two popular methods for waterproofing. If you’re treating only a small area of the fabric, it’s fine to use a spray bottle. If you need to address a larger swath of the pop up, you can still use the bottle. However, you might have more success if you enlist the aid of a paintbrush instead. This allows you to distribute the coating evenly. Be forewarned, though, that you’ll go through a lot more of the product this way.
Try to avoid spraying the product on any other materials, as it might cause discoloration or other damage. Use masking tape or a sheet of plastic to cover the rest of the camper while you’re waterproofing the top.
Even when you’re being careful, minor tears and loose fasteners are a common hazard. Don’t forget to check the material for holes, rips, or issues with the grommets, fasteners, and zippers. Perform any necessary repairs before cleaning. If there’s a hole in the canvas when you start to clean it, you may make the problem worse.
These are the basic steps you should follow when cleaning canvas:
- Sweep off any loose dirt and debris. Focus on the roof, but don’t neglect the sides of the camper, either.
- Inspect the pop up for damage. Now is the time to make any necessary repairs.
- Gather the materials you’ll need. We recommend investing in a large bucket, a scrub brush, and a dog-bone-shaped sponge for the task. You should also have a good hose handy.
- Follow the instructions on the product label, or use one of the DIY solutions we’ve listed below.
- After the fabric is clean, allow it to dry completely before you take down the pop up.
There are many excellent cleaning products on the market, and we’ll get into those in the following section. However, you can also create high-performance cleaners using regular household items. Here are a few of our favorite recipes.
- 1 gallon warm water
- 1 quart white vinegar
- 3-4 drops of mild dish soap (such as Ivory)
1. Combine water and vinegar in a bucket large enough to hold them both.
2. Add the dish soap and mix well.
3. Use to clean dirt and grime off the pop up camper canvas. This is an especially good method for removing mildew.
4. Let the material dry in the sun without rinsing off the vinegar solution.
Baking Soda Cleaner
- 2 quarts warm water
- 2 cups baking soda
1. Pour the warm water into a bucket.
2. Add the baking soda and mix together until the ingredients form a paste.
3. Rub the paste on the camper canvas.
4. Use a hose to rinse off the paste.
The Woolite Method
If you’re just performing routine maintenance on the camper, there’s no need to use a specialized mold and mildew remover. If you dislike the smell of vinegar and don’t want to bother making a paste out of baking soda, a standard laundry detergent should do the trick.
Woolite is a popular brand amongst camping enthusiasts, as it’s a mild detergent that’s nonetheless effective. To use this method, fill a bucket with about 3 gallons of warm water, then add a capful of detergent and mix well.
Use a dog-bone sponge to scrub the canvas inside and out. We would suggest spot-cleaning a small area first, to ensure that no discoloration or damage occurs. Any problem areas might require a harsher scrubbing with a bristled brush, so it’s a good idea to keep one of those on hand as well.
Once you’ve scrubbed the fabric, use a clean damp sponge to rinse the detergent solution from the inside, and a hose to tend to the outside. Take a close look at the exterior to check your waterproofing. If the water is beading off the fabric, then you’ve done a superb job. If you see any wet patches, those areas need to be waterproofed more effectively.
What To Look For In A Commercial Cleaner
Read the label carefully when purchasing a product for cleaning canvas. It’s important to make sure that the product is safe to use on canvas, without discoloring the fabric.
Since it’s inevitable that the product will get on other parts of the camper as well, it also needs to be safe for use with vinyl, aluminum, chrome, and gel coat finishes. Some RV owners overlook this detail, but you don’t want to ruin the body of the camper while trying to get the pop up portion clean.
In addition to dirt and grime, the cleaner should eradicate mildew and mold. Look for an all-purpose product that claims to rid your camper canvas of all of these substances.
Commercial Cleaning Products
If you’d like to invest in a good commercial cleaner for your camper, take a look at one of these products.
For the active ingredient in their Mold & Mildew Stain Remover, Star-Brite uses sodium hypochlorite—a form of bleach. The solution does an excellent job at restoring gray or blackened material to its former glory.
For best results, spray the cleaner all over the camper canvas, then wait until the stains disappear. Once you’re satisfied, rinse the material and allow it to dry before folding down the pop up.
We appreciate the fact that there’s no scrubbing required with this product, which saves both time and energy. That said, the mixture isn’t all that complex—some users claim that they could get the same results by making a bleach solution at home. What’s more, bleach products can sometimes leave unsightly white spots on the canvas.
303 Fabric Guard is actually a moisture and stain repellent, which can be used proactively to fend off potential staining and mold issues. It’s a great product to have in your arsenal, especially if you’re an adventurous type who enjoys camping in all kinds of weather.
This is the only product of its kind that’s recommended by Sunbrella, which should tell you all you need to know about its protective qualities. You can use it to maintain quality and color-fastness in all sorts of outdoor products, from deck chairs to umbrellas to life jackets. Consider buying it in bulk, so you’ll have enough to last for many seasons to come.
We’re happy whenever we see the Camco label, as the company is geared toward providing the ultimate outdoor experience. With its powerful cleaning capabilities, their Mildew Stain Remover is no exception.
The cleaner works beautifully on RV pop ups and awnings, but you can use it on the body of the camper as well. This is a good product to invest in if you have no choice but to park beneath trees that shed a lot of leaves, berries, or other debris.
We would recommend checking your pop up camper for dirt and mildew every time you use it, just to be on the safe side. You should also test the waterproofing at least twice per year, regardless of how often you take the rig on the road.
Cleaning canvas isn’t a difficult job, but it can be time-consuming, especially if you allow the grime to build up over time. With the correct tools in your arsenal, you can keep your pop up camper in pristine condition over a period of many years.
Good luck, and happy camping!
Check out our article on: 5 Best Pop Up Campers With Bathrooms