RV awnings: Everything you need to know

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By Tony Barthel
An awning seems so simple, especially on newer RVs where it opens at the touch of a button. There are a few basic tips to keeping your awning in top shape and looking great. 

There are armless awnings, manual awnings, and many other styles but virtually all the mainstream RVs come with the power awning with the arms on the side of the coach. That’s the one I want to focus on today.

Awning basics

RV awnings come in two fabric types – acrylic or vinyl. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. However, most awnings that come on RVs are of the vinyl type, which is a bit more forgiving. 

But here are some advantages and disadvantages of each kind: 

  • Acrylic fabric allows air to circulate
  • Acrylic awnings are made out of a woven cloth that repels water
  • Acrylic awnings are not waterproof, but they generally dry within a few hours of getting wet
  • Vinyl awnings are mildew resistant but are not mildew-proof
  • Vinyl awnings easily collect dust and dirt, which can lead to mildew
  • Vinyl awnings are especially susceptible to mildew when exposed to heat and high humidity

I can say I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a mainstream RV with acrylic fabric installed. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t seen them (and I look at a lot of RVs). That means if your RV came with an awning, it is very likely to be a vinyl fabric. 

No matter what type of awning you have it’s best not to put it away when it’s wet. If at all possible, leave the awning extended until it thoroughly dries and then retract it. 

Of course, this isn’t always possible. So if you do have to put it away wet, take the first opportunity to extend it and clean it with a cleaner designed for your type of awning. 

Awning rules

I can’t be more adamant about the fact that you should never ever leave the awning out if you’re not under the awning. I can tell you that I have seen a lot of awnings literally ripped off the sides of RVs by unexpected gusts of wind. 

It’s never a good idea to step away from your RV with the awning out. The same is true of leaving it extended when you turn in for the night. 

When you think about it, an awning is a gigantic sail much like on a sailboat. So if the wind comes along it takes just the right gust to rip that awning right out of the side of your RV. This is not a warranty claim, but it would be an insurance claim. 

However, just because you got insurance money to fix it doesn’t mean the repair shop is going to do a great job in replacing your awning. Also, depending on the construction of your RV, it may be difficult to find a place to mount the replacement awning as the old one literally damaged the underlying structure. It’s not a good thing at all. 

Should you strap RV awnings down?

I have seen some folks who have strapped their awnings down with some sort of securing method like straps or poles when it’s extended. The problem is, this does nothing to eliminate the fact that this is still a giant sail. It can just as easily rip the awning out of the side of your RV. All the straps do is lower the risk of damaging the awning arms so the wind doesn’t fold the awning over the roof of your RV. They do nothing about how the awning is fastened to your RV. 

Funny thing: I saw someone camping who had staked down their awning and said that now it was safe. I warned them that it wasn’t but they just scoffed at me. I didn’t laugh or even say anything the next day when the wind had ripped the awning out of the side of their RV. 

With today’s push button awnings, there is literally no reason not to retract the awning when you see evidence of wind, or aren’t there to enjoy and monitor the thing. 

Cleaning tips

Depending on the type of awning you have, there are different cleaning methods. 

If you have a vinyl awning what we found works well is the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. This has proven highly effective and requires a pretty minimum amount of effort. The pro tip on this is to get a Magic Eraser on a handle like a broom handle. Then you won’t even have to get up on a ladder to do a good job of cleaning the awning. 

Several of the people in an RV group I belong to have used this method. Some added they’ve used the dollar store’s “Awesome” cleaner with great success.

Of course, our friends at Camco also have specific awning cleaning products, which should work well on both vinyl and acrylic awnings. Camco has a lot of products that make our lives as RVers better and these are just more examples of that.

From what I’ve been able to find out, you’re not supposed to scrub the acrylic awnings as it can remove the waterproofing. However, you can use a spray system. Obviously, as with anything, contact the manufacturer if you have any questions. 

Cool upgrades

Recently I was contacted by Lippert Components, who make all sorts of products for RVs. Many of their products are intended to be supplied directly to the RV manufacturers. However, more and more they’re providing things via their website to the general public. 

Some of the cool things I saw that I could upgrade my awning with was a Smart Arm™ system. This included wind-sensing technology (a very good upgrade) as well as an infrared security system. That system would turn on the lights if someone approaches the RV at night. 

There are also arm-mounted controls that let you extend and retract the awning so you don’t have to go inside the RV to do this. Pretty slick. 

There are also screens for the front of the awning, screens for the front and sides of the awning, and even an entire family room that attaches to the awning system. 

I was also intrigued by Camco’s RV awning accessory hangers. These slip into the track in the awning arm and then you can hang lights or nets or those types of things from them.

Awning tips

A lot of people seem mystified by the rain dump functionality of some of the awnings installed on newer RVs. 

The rain dump will essentially allow the awning to briefly dip one side to displace water. You can also pull down one side of the awning and tighten the knob on the arm. This will keep the awning lowered on that side and can allow water to run off. However, be sure to loosen the knob before retracting the awning lest you damage the arm. 

I have also seen some folks tie their power awnings down for travel. While there is a mechanism in the power awning system that holds it to the side of the trailer, I don’t see any harm in adding a strip of Velcro to each awning arm to add to this security. 

Be very careful if you do this to make sure that whoever is extending the awning when you get to camp knows that this is in place. You don’t want to damage the awning mechanism trying to overcome the Velcro. 

You’ll likely notice that the awning arms do have a tiny amount of space behind them through which you can pass a strip of Velcro if you want to do this. Again, I don’t see the harm unless you damage the motor mechanism trying to overcome the Velcro. Perhaps a note or something over the awning button might help. 

If you happen to be enjoying some camping and you’re under a tree with leaves or other debris that comes down, you might consider sweeping the awning off before you retract it. Remember the RV Slideout Sweep I reviewed a while back? You could use this to sweep off the top of the awning as well.

Awning myths

There are a few myths that I came across as I did some research for this. The first one is telling people to extend the awning part way, wait, and then continue to allow the gas struts to catch up. None of the awning manufacturers that I was able to speak with reinforced this. But if you think it will extend the life of the gas struts, there’s no harm either. 

Slide topper awnings

For more information on slide topper awnings, Russ and Tiña De Maris have an excellent article here on the subject. Click here to read more. 

##RVT991

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Tony
1 month ago

A few years ago after a hard rain, the outside open/close power switch on our Carefree awning shorted out and started opening itself as we were driving down the freeway in Los Angeles. Fortunately we spotted it and pulled over only to find it was unrolling all the way and continued to roll itself up backwards. After figuring out what was going on, we got the awning rolled up correctly and immediately shut the power off. I replaced the outside switch and now we make sure the power to it is shut off before we travel.

Rick Robbins
1 month ago

I was particularly interested in this article because we just had our old manual awning replaced with a power awning. I’m a bit confused however. I don’t understand how one is supposed to make use of any of the “cool upgrades” such as screen rooms, sun shades, etc. if, as the author states, it is recommended that one never leave the awning out when away from the rig or have gone to bed, and should not use tie-downs. I, for one, can’t see setting up and taking these down if you’re going to putting the awning in and out all the time.

Tim Slack
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick Robbins

A room of some sort, especially one that occupies the awning from corner to corner, will greatly reduce the ‘sail’ nature of an open awning. This is particularly true if there are zip-in or Velcro covers for the room’s screens. Of course, I’d want to securely tie down the awning corners first.

Ben Gohlke
1 month ago

I recall hearing that after cleaning, one should put some type of vinyl protectant on the awning to extend the life of the material? Any comments on that and who uses what?

Scooter
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben Gohlke

I use stuff called 303 aerospace protectant. They advertise it has a UV protectant, it is non petroleum based (water based) and is safe on anything from plastic headlamps, tires, and vinyl fabric. It goes on easy and isn’t greasy like armor all. It does need to be applied more frequently I have found but it works well for us. I buy it in bulk from Amazon and use it on everything.

Roy Kahl
1 month ago

I don’t understand the need to sweep debris off an awning. The awning rolls under dumping the debris off as it rolls up.

Jim
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Kahl

I agree. Seems like a waste of time.

Nancy Zapf
1 month ago

This article doesn’t mention the fact that awnings get wet when it rains, even when they’re rolled up. At least our new Lippert power awning does. When the RV is in storage we visit it periodically and unroll the awning to let it dry out.

David C
1 month ago
Reply to  Nancy Zapf

Absolutely true. Our Carefree of Colorado brand does too. I unroll it after a rain and let it dry completely. We full-time so we’re (almost) always home to do so.