The RV exterior paint can get damaged over time, especially when you camp in adverse weather conditions often. This is why it’s a good idea to learn how to paint an RV exterior in case you want the RV to look brand new. All you need is a new set of paint, some paint rollers, and a decal remover.
The first thing that you need to do is to remove all the decals, then clean and paint. Of course, there are some things to do in between.
Let’s learn how to bring a new look to your RV through the painting job below.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Need
We recommend using automotive-grade paint for the best results.
We will use three paints for this paint job, though you can use one if you like. The first one is a protective paint for the window paneling, ladder, etc. The second one is for the primer coat, and third is for the setting paint.
You can use any color, but we like to use black for the window paneling, white for the primer coat, and gray for the exterior setting paint to hide any imperfection.
The primer coat will be used to create a consistent base for the setting paint. Between the oil-based and water-based options, we prefer the former as it offers better protection from rust and other stains.
2. Painter’s Tape
When painting the RV exterior, there’ll be areas that you don’t want to get painted. This is where a painter’s tape comes into play. Compared to traditional masking tape, painter’s tape won’t leave marks when peeled off.
This type of tape is also affordable, so it’s a must-have for efficient painting. We recommend the Duck Brand as it’s easy to apply and releases quickly.
For this tutorial, you’ll be using this tape to mask off the areas that you don’t want to be painted, like the windows, taillights, and spare tire.
3. Heat Gun
You’ll need a paint stripper to get the decals off before painting a travel trailer. I’ve been searching the internet for tools to take the decals off, and I feel like a heat gun is the best choice for the job. However, you need electricity or a generator to power this unit.
A good alternative is a blow dryer, as it produces the same heat as a heat gun. The heat will soften the adhesive of the decals, making them easy to peel off. Make sure that you don’t use extreme heat to prevent damaging the RV surface.
4. Water-Displacing Spray (optional)
Some sticky residue might still be left on the surface after removing the decals. To get rid of this sticky substance, use a water-displacing spray. This type of solution removes residue without damaging the surface.
We recommend WD-40 as it’s effective in loosening these sticky parts. It’s suitable for any type of surface, including metal, glass, and plastic.
This is only optional, but it is highly recommended when you remove decals by a blow dryer and peel them by hand.
5. Bucket Of Soapy Water And Sponge
You’ll need these cleaning materials to power wash the RV exterior before painting. Look for a plastic bucket, then fill it with soap and water. The ideal size of the bucket is one that you can easily lift when you climb the ladder.
To apply the soapy water onto the RV exterior, you’ll need an automotive sponge. Compared to dishwashing sponges, the automotive one is soft and guarantees no scratches on the surface. A microfiber wash mitt is also a great substitution for an automotive sponge.
6. Paint Applicators
Painting a vintage camper with a spray painter is the quickest way to cover the surface with paint. This is optional if you want to apply a distinct color to your windows, ladder, spare tire, and tail lights.
You’ll also need two foam rollers for this job – one for the primer and another for the exterior setting paint. A foam roller is more suitable than a paintbrush for this task as it covers more areas evenly.
If you like to work on details, we recommend a paintbrush.
7. Other Tools
You might need a ladder to reach the highest portions of the RV exterior wall. Use any type of ladder that you can find in your RV.
Also, prepare a scraper because you’ll be needing it to remove the heated decal from the surface. You can use your bare hands to peel the decal, but it’s quicker to use a scraper.
When you use the WD-40 water-displacing spray to remove any sticky residue, you might want to use a soft cloth to clean more efficiently.
Finally, you can look for a putty knife if you want to press down the painter’s tape.
After gathering all the materials needed, let’s begin the steps on how to paint a travel trailer exterior.
Step 1: Remove The Decals
The hardest part in painting a camper exterior is removing the decals because it takes time to get these off. Use a paint stripper and a scraper. Once you get the hang of it, it tends to get easier.
If you use a blow dryer and WD-40, heat up the decal with a blow dryer, then peel it off carefully. Use the ladder to reach the farthest areas.
Step 2: Power Wash The Surface
After removing all the decals, get your bucket of soapy water and a sponge. Wipe the surface to prep the exterior for painting, then rinse the RV.
If you still find any sticky part that’s left from the decals, spray them with WD-40, then wipe with a soft cloth. Let it dry for several minutes. It probably takes five minutes when the weather is hot.
Proceed to step 3 if you want a different color on your window paneling, or skip to step 4 to go straight to painting the wall exterior.
Step 3: Paint The Window Paneling, Ladder, Etc.
Some RVers want a more flashy RV exterior, so they paint the window paneling, tail lights, ladder, and spare tire with a different color. Others even like to apply a different color to the door.
Now, spray paint the window panels, tail lights, etc., with your desired color. Let the paint dry before proceeding to the next step.
Step 4: Tape Or Mask Off
Once the RV exterior is dry, tape the areas where you don’t want to apply the primer coat and exterior setting paint. Press down a little firmly to create an appropriate seal.
Taping a corner can be tricky. You may need two pieces of tape to form the shape of this area.
Step 5: Apply The Primer Coat
Using a paint roller, apply the primer coat to bond the setting paint better. This step is essential to ensure the longevity of the paint.
Apply the primer as you would with a regular coat of paint. When you roll the applicator, do it in the same direction every time. This practice will ensure color uniformity.
Step 6: Add The Exterior Setting Paint
Once the painting is done, apply the first coat of exterior setting paint with a fresh foam roller. Let it dry for several hours. Next, apply the second coat finish, covering all the details with a paintbrush if you must.
When applying these coats of paint, use long strokes to achieve even streaks with fewer drips.
Step 7: Remove The Tape
Leave the paint overnight to dry completely. After everything is done, remove the tape carefully. Use a ladder if you must for hard-t0-reach areas.
Now, you have a brand-new-looking RV that you can brag about on your next road trip.
To get an insight on how the painting job is done, watch this video.
Painting RV Exterior Tips
- Start stripping the decals from the top down to the bottom.
- Remove the painter’s tape while the paint is dry for the best results.
- Let the primer dry according to the label specified on the product.
At this point, we hope you know how to paint an RV exterior so that you can give your old camper van a new look. Simply remove the decals, power wash, tape, and apply your favorite paint color. This painting job is easy if you have the right tools and equipment.
Have you done a painting job for your RV exterior? Let us know in the comment section below. Please share this article with anyone if you like it.
Okay, so I’m Philip Lopez. I join Riverside Trailer as an editor, where I will be doing research for both content and reviews. I contribute to studies aimed at understanding the most typical problems encountered by RVers on the road. I also keep up with the newest RVing gadget innovations so that I can promptly evaluate and recommend the best options.