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How to Paint an RV Exterior?

Writen by Dane Heldt

Fact checked by Robert Clark

There are only a few things that are as fun as driving down the highway on your RV. One of these things is driving an RV with a rocking paint job. If you drive your RV quite often then its paint job must have gotten quite a beating. As much as you love driving your RV, you cannot help but feel sorry for the sad state of your vehicle’s paint job.

How to Paint an RV Exterior

If this were a regular car, you can just take it to the car paint and body shop and spend a couple hundred on getting a fresh coat of paint. However, if you take your RV to the same shop, it will not be surprising if they charge you more than a thousand bucks.

9 Steps on How to Paint an RV Exterior

Fortunately, if you know how to paint an RV exterior, you can save a ton of money, especially if you will only be doing a couple of panels at a time. Here is what you need to do:

Step 1 – Go to the auto paint store and purchase a primer paint, color paint, and some paint thinner. Look for oil-based paints that can effectively stick onto the surfaces that you will be painting. You will need different paints for metals and fiberglass.

If the RV has a couple of dents that you want to make disappear, get some automotive body filler (colloquially known as Bondo) and a couple of sheets of different grits of sandpaper.

While you are there, ask if you can rent a paint spray gun and a compressor. You want an even coat of paint on your RV and that is impossible to get if you will be using a brush. Do not use spray cans because it is difficult to apply an even coat of paint using them.

Step 2 – Prepare the surfaces that you will be painting. Mix a couple of tablespoons of liquid dish detergent with 2 gallons of hot water in a bucket and throw in a tack cloth inside.


Step 3 – Give the panels you will be painting a good scrub down using the soapy water. Make sure that you get as much of the dirt and grit stuck on the surface off. If you get paint over the dust particles, you will end up with a rough paint job. Give the panels some time to air dry.

Step 4 – Mask off all the areas where you do not want the paint to stick to. Go buy a couple of rolls of butchers’ paper and lots of masking tape. Some of the places that you need to mask off are the windows, trim, and the door.

Step 5 – Apply body filler into the dents in the body of your RV and then sand it down gradually until the filler is flush to the surface of the body. After sanding, give the surface a good washing again and let it dry completely.

While you are waiting for the panels to dry, mix a gallon of the oil-based primer paint with a pint of thinner. You will need to do this step to avoid clogging the spray gun later. Pour a bit of the thinned out primer into the paint gun and set the compressor to keep a constant pressure of 50 psi.

Step 6 – Spray the paint over the panels. Start pressing the trigger of the paint gun outside of the panel and spray it across to the other side. This will prevent drips from forming on the paint surface. Once you have finished painting the panel, let it dry completely according to package instructions.

Step 7 – Clean out the spray gun by pouring a bit of paint thinner into the chamber and spraying until it comes out clear. Pour in a bit of the color paint into the chamber then apply the color paint following the same steps that you did with the primer.


Wait until the first coat of paint is almost dry before you start spraying the next coat. Apply as many coats of paint as you want until you achieve your desired look.

Step 8 – If you want to give your RV a bit more sheen, give your RV a couple of coats of clear paint. The more coats of clear paint you put into it, the deeper the color will be. The clear coat will also protect the paint job from shallow scratches and from dulling.

Step 9 – When the paint is almost dry, peel off the masking tape and the butcher’s paper. You need to take them off before the paint completely dries or else you might peel off the dried paint as well.

How to Keep your RV’s Paint Job Looking Good?

Now that you have finished painstakingly painting your entire RV, the last thing that you want to happen is to mess it all up again. To help you keep your RV’s paint job looking like new, here are some tips:

Do not park your RV under the sun – Prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays will cause your RV’s paint to dull and crack. Even with a car cover, the UV rays will still get through and ruin your RV’s paint job. It is best to park your RV in your garage if it is large enough or build a carport for it on your driveway at the least.

Do not park under trees – When leaves fall on the roof of your RV, it just lengthens the amount of time that water sits on top of your roof. With standing water comes all sorts of problems, like mold and mildew, and water stains on your RV’s paint job.


Do not use harsh detergents and abrasive scrubbers and cleansers – Strong detergents, like the ones used by steam pressure washers can be too harsh for the paint of your RV. Clean your RV using liquid soaps that are formulated especially for car paints.

Ideally, use car shampoos that also contain car paint polish to give the paint another protective layer and give the paint a lasting shine.

Go easy with the power buffer – Yes, power buffing will give your RV’s paint a good shine in a fraction of the time but you need to be careful not to stay in one place too long as this can also damage the paint. Furthermore, do not press on the power buffer. Just let it glide over the paint.

Wash off bugs and road tar immediately after your trip – It is only normal for your large RV to accumulate a lot of bug innards as you fly through clouds of bugs on your way to your campsite and back. Your RV can also fall victim to road tar, which is usually stuck around the wheel well.

You need to remove this debris immediately when you get home as the longer you let it sit there on your paint, it will leave stains that cannot be buffed away.

Stay on paved roads as much as you can – If you can avoid them, do not drive your RV through dirt roads. It is because the dust kicked up by the wheels will stick onto the pristine paint job of your RV. Furthermore, small rocks and other flying debris coming from the unpaved road will scratch and gouge the paint of your car.

Do not use shaker cans when doing spot body repairs – Amateur bodywork almost always looks awful. You might think that you can get the same result by using a spray can instead of a spray gun.

However, unless you know how to control the spray coming from your spray can, you will almost always have paint drops left on the surface of your panels. If you have paint chips, just use a toothpick and dab just enough paint on the chipped part to bring it to level with the original paint finish.

If you do need to repaint a part of your RV, remove the entire panel and repaint the whole thing. This is much better than just painting a small patch of your RV’s paneling.


An RV can be a challenge to paint, especially for those who do not have any experience painting car body panels. The trick on how to paint an RV exterior relies mostly on your patience and you having steady hands. Having a bit of spray painting know-how also helps a lot.

Before you start painting, you have to prepare the surface that you need to paint. If you need to do some body repairs, make sure that you apply Bondo to the affected area.  A bit of preparation beforehand will make this whole project a lot less messy than it should be. This can also lead to better results.

It is not enough that you know how to paint the exterior of your RV. You should also know how to protect and maintain the paint job that you so painstakingly worked on. With a bit of TLC and a bit of maintenance work now and then, it will be years before you might even think about repainting or retouching the paint of your RV.

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