How to Paint the Exterior of Your RV

Is your RV in need of a serious paintjob, and are you considering doing it yourself? Good news! It's easier than you think. Here's a step-by-step guide to painting the exterior.

At some point, you’ll look at your RV and realize that no matter how much you love it, and how well it works for your adventures, it just looks bad. So what do you do? Well, if you love your RV, you’re probably not willing to just give it up. So, the next best thing to do is to give your RV a new paint job. 

A new paint job can bring new life to your RV. And it may be a more cost-effective way to upgrade your RV than going out and buying a new RV. If you’re not ready to spend the money to have someone else paint your RV, you can very easily paint your RV yourself.

Unlike painting a vehicle, painting and RV doesn’t require any special equipment or skills. Most people that can paint a wall in their house can paint their RV. However, if you’ve never painted an RV before, it can be a daunting task. To help you work through this process, and to help you save a bit of money, we’ve put together all of the information you need to have, to paint your RV.

What kind of paint should you use on the exterior of your RV?

Image credits: Unsplash

The biggest question that many people ask before they start painting their RV, is what kind of paint should be used? 

You have a few options for paint, which you chose will really depend on what the exterior of your RV is made of. In general however, you’ll want to find a paint product that is made for exterior use, and will hold up well in a variety of weather conditions.

Let’s break this down by RV exterior material:

  • Aluminum: If your RV has an aluminum exterior, you’ll want to pick a product that will stick well to the siding of your RV. Oil-based or acrylic-latex based paints are usually best. 

These types of paint will stick the best to the metal exterior of your RV. One thing you will want to keep in mind with oil-based paints especially, is that these kinds of paints can take a long time to dry. The best way around this is to use thin layers, or a paint sprayer for best results and faster drying.

If you’re not in love with oil-based paints, you can also use automotive paints for aluminum exterior RVs. 

  • Fiberglass: If the exterior of your RV is fiberglass, you’ve got a much easier job. Painting fiberglass is a lot like painting the siding of a house. Many people use standard exterior latex paint for fiberglass exterior RVs. Another option for fiberglass RVs is to use marine epoxy or boat deck paint. These products are made to stand up to wet conditions, so they may seal your RV exterior better.

Regardless of which option you choose, remember that paint will stick better to the exterior of your RV if you clean it well and use a primer before starting with a fresh coat of paint. 

What do you need to paint the exterior of your RV?

Before we jump into what you need to paint the exterior of your RV, it’s important to note that our supply list is based on the process that we prefer to use for painting RV exteriors. 

Tools/supplies

  • Decal Remover Tool
  • Paint Sprayer
  • Paint Rollers or Brushes – Make sure you select items that match the type of paint you’re using.

Shopping list

  • Paint Primer
  • Paint Base Color Paint
  • Paint Clear Coat
  • Painters Tape (We like FrogTape it sticks well without being too sticky)
  • Masking Paper
  • Acetone/Goof-Off/Goo-Gone
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Sandpaper
  • Sanding Block
  • Drop Cloths/Plastic Sheeting
  • Caulk – Paintable

How to paint the exterior of your RV (step by step)

Image credits: All Things With Purpose

Like painting a house exterior or interior for that matter, the process that you use to paint the exterior of your RV really depends on how much time and effort you want to put into the process. 

You can do a quick job and have your RV looking good in no time, but that fast job may not last. If you really want your RV’s new paint job to extend the life of your RV, take your time and follow the steps below for amazing, finished results.

Instructions

  1. The most important thing you should do before you start painting your RV is to give it a good wash. You’ll want to scrub the RV exterior well and remove as much dirt and road grime from the exterior as possible.
  2. Remove any decals. Painting over decals is a great way to watch your new paint job peel. Use a heat gun and decal removing tool for best results. If that doesn’t remove 100% of a decal, follow up with a bit of acetone or Goo-Gone to get rid of the remaining decals.
  3. Fill joints with a paintable caulk. Don’t use silicone caulk unless you are sealing around places like windows or vents. Silicone caulk doesn’t hold paint, and because it is generally clear, you’ll be able to see the old paint color underneath. Use an opaque white, paintable caulk for best results.
  4. Cover or tape anything on your RV that you don’t want to be painted. Use tape for trim and use masking paper for windows and larger areas like doors.
  5. Sand the surface of the RV. This is going to take you some time, but sanding well will ensure that the primer and paint stick to the RV effectively. Use 80 grit sandpaper for a smooth finish.
  6. Using a microfiber cloth and a bit of acetone wipe down the entire exterior of the RV. This will take off any remaining debris or oily residue that may be left from caulking or sanding.
  7. Using a paint sprayer, coat the entire RV with primer. One, evenly applied coat of primer will be sufficient for creating a nice seal on the RV exterior and make for a good surface for the paint to stick to. Make sure you allow the primer to dry completely before painting.
  8. Apply one coat of paint to the exterior of the RV. This coat should be thin, and even. Unlike painting a wall in your house, you’ll use a horizontal pattern instead of vertical when painting with a sprayer. Don’t worry if the primer isn’t completely covered. You’ll do another coat.
  9. Once the first coat of paint has dried, use a very fine grit sandpaper to scuff the surface of the paint layer. This process is called “scuffing”. Scuffing helps the second layer of paint stick to the surface. Wipe down the RV with a damp cloth to remove paint dust before applying the second coat of paint.
  10. Apply a second coat of paint to the exterior of your RV. This coat should be a bit heavier, but not so heavy that it drips. You want to ensure that you get a good, even coat of paint that covers up the first layer plus any primer that may still be showing through.
  11. Do a light scuff of the second coat of paint when it has dried completely. Make sure to wipe off the entire RV with a damp cloth before applying the clear coat.
  12. Using the paint sprayer apply a thin layer of clear coat to the exterior of your RV. The clear coat will protect your paint from dings, rocks, and wear and tear. And, it will give your RV that professional look.
  13. When the clear coat is dry, remove tape and masking paper. If you need to do touch up work after removing the tape or masking paper, use a brush or small roller to catch spots that may have peeled when removing tape or masking paper.

When you SHOULD paint the exterior of your RV

It’s important to remember that the paint on the exterior of your RV is meant to protect your RV from the elements. When the paint begins to fail you risk more substantial damage to your RV.

Certainly, you should consider repainting your RV if the paint job leaves you feeling a tad embarrassed when you pull into a campground. That’s usually a good indication that it’s time for a new paint job. All though, before you jump to painting, do consider the advice we offer below on when to not paint your RV.

Looks aside, if you’ve had to make any repairs to the siding or exterior features of your RV, a new paint job is probably a great idea. Repairs can create places where water and debris can seep in between the siding and the interior walls of your RV. This can cause molding and rot, which will damage your RV beyond repair. If you’ve got patches or have replaced portions of your RV’s siding, it’s time to repaint.

When you should NOT paint the exterior of your RV

A new paint job isn’t always necessary. There are times when you shouldn’t paint your RV or you can skip the paint and do a few minor exterior maintenance jobs and you’ll be surprised at the difference in the appearance of your RV.

First, before you run out and paint your RV, give it a good wash. Take it to a good, manual car wash and use the high pressure wash. Sometimes dirt and road grime can stick and make your RV look dingy. If you don’t want to do the work, take your RV to your local RV repair facility and have them detail your RV for you.

RV decals can really make your RV look good or not so good. If the decals that were applied to your RV by the manufacturer are starting to look worn, faded and are chipping, remove them. You’ll be surprised at how big of a difference this can make in the appearance of your RV.

Finally, if your RV is less than 10 years old, don’t go out and paint it. If you want to clean it up, remove the decals, but wait a bit longer before taking the time to paint your RV. 

How long should paint last on the exterior of your RV?

Painting your own RV, if you take your time and do the job right will last at least a few years. Frankly, it should last long enough for you to get to a point where you may actually be ready to invest in a new RV.

Keep in mind that any paint job that isn’t from the factory isn’t going to be as good as the original. The manufacturer uses different products and a different process. So, don’t be surprised if you notice chips or signs of wear after a season or two with the new paint job. 

You’ll probably notice these defects on the front of your RV first, and that makes sense because the front of your RV gets pummeled with rocks, bugs and road debris. The best answer for these small chips and dings is to keep a bit of the exterior paint on hand, along with a small paint brush for touch ups.

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Jason Gass

When I'm not working, I spend most of my time camping, hiking, and road-tripping with my wife, my daughter, and my two dogs.