As cold weather approaches and winter winds blow, RV travel plans typically get put on hold for the season. And within the RVing community, you’ll often hear talk of “the pink stuff” (i.e., RV antifreeze) to prepare the RV for its long winter nap.
If you’re new to this community, you may be wondering why people are talking about “pink stuff,” what it is, and where to get some for your RV.
What is the “Pink Stuff”?
The pink stuff being referred to is a specific type of antifreeze designed for RVs. It’s very different from antifreeze used in cars and trucks and shouldn’t be confused.
What is RV antifreeze? To put it simply, it’s a nontoxic product used to lower the freezing point of any water left in your RV to protect pipes and fittings from bursting and breaking. Water expands as it freezes, and that puts pressure on the pipes that can lead to unfortunate damage and breaking.
RV Antifreeze vs. Car Antifreeze
Car and truck antifreeze, on the other hand, is also used to prevent freezing. However, this product is used in engines to protect the cooling system. And it’s highly toxic and should be kept far, far away from any potable water sources. Even small amounts can be dangerous, so please avoid ever using auto antifreeze in your RV freshwater system!
While you certainly don’t want to drink RV antifreeze (higher amounts aren’t good for you, and it reportedly tastes awful), it is considered safe, nontoxic, and non-hazardous, at least for humans when used as instructed. It could, however, be dangerous for dogs and especially for cats, particularly if larger amounts are consumed.
The smell and flavor tend to be off-putting to humans but not as much for pets. In fact, dogs and cats may be attracted to the sweet smell and taste of propylene glycol, much to their detriment. For instance, even small amounts can lead to a type of severe anemia or liver failure in cats. So, it’s important to be cautious when winterizing if you have pets around your RV to avoid an expensive vet visit.
That said, propylene glycol RV antifreeze is considered the safest antifreeze option. Just make sure it is flushed from the system (as part of the de-winterize process) before you hit the road with your RV again.
Why Use Non-Toxic RV Antifreeze?
The main reason to use nontoxic RV antifreeze is to protect your freshwater pipes in your RV. When added to the water system, RV antifreeze can lower the freezing point. This then prevents any remaining water from expanding when temperatures drop below freezing, which can damage the pipes, leading to leaks or even bursting pipes.
Some types of RV antifreeze also help protect the seals, such as in faucets or toilets, by acting as a lubricant.
Choosing RV Antifreeze for Your Rig
There are three common types of RV antifreeze: ethanol-based, propylene glycol-based, or (less commonly) an ethanol/propylene blend.
Ethanol is an alcohol, and propylene glycol is considered a double-strength alcohol. Both types act to lower the freezing point of any water left in the tank. It is recommended you remove as much water as possible before adding RV antifreeze, especially in parts of the country that get really cold. And the type as well as the brand of antifreeze can determine how effective the RV antifreeze is for your uses.
In more moderate climates, a less expensive ethanol RV antifreeze may be “enough.” However, the most common type of RV antifreeze is propylene glycol as it is often preferred due to several advantages. For example, propylene glycose-based products:
- Are non flammable, so they’re safer than ethanol-based antifreeze
- Are lubricating, so they are better at protecting the seals in your plumbing system
- Leave less residual taste or smell than ethanal-based varieties, which can also take longer to wash out of the system
- Are nontoxic to humans when used as directed, even in the freshwater system.
One note of caution: there are propylene glycol products made from recycled chemicals. These, however, should be avoided as they typically use antifreeze recycled from airports. This material then is often contaminated with other airline chemicals, which typically aren’t safe to drink, even in limited quantities.
Pure, virgin propylene glycol RV antifreeze products include:
- Walmart’s Super Tech RV
- Walmart’s Marine Antifreeze
- Camco’s Easy Going 50 brand
Alternatively, you can skip the pink stuff altogether by ensuring all water is completely blown out of the plumbing system with high air pressure, perhaps adding a small amount of antifreeze to plumbing p-traps to lubricate and prevent any leftover liquid from freezing.
How to Use RV Antifreeze
RV antifreeze can be added either alone (after pipes have been cleared of water) or combined with the remaining water after you’ve drained your pipes as much as possible. It can also be poured into p-traps in the sinks and shower so they don’t freeze solid and get damaged. Finally, the pink stuff can be added to the gray and black tanks, so waste doesn’t freeze if you’re camping when winter weather arrives. That way, you can still easily dump your waste at the end of the journey even when the temperatures drop.
Once it’s time to use your RV again, you’ll want to de-winterize it. This process includes flushing the freshwater tank and the entire system with fresh water before the water is okay to consume. Remember to drain it at a dump station, sewer hole, or septic tank rather than into the ground as, again, even if it’s labeled as nontoxic, it’s not safe for many animals and can be harmful to the environment, especially if it leaches into a water source.
RV Antifreeze Takeaway
Whichever version or method you choose, it’s important to winterize your RV to protect the plumbing system. Remember, most RVs aren’t designed to be well-insulated when the temperatures drop well below zero. And many have somewhat exposed plumbing systems that are more susceptible to damage from freezing temperatures.
Protecting the pipes, water pumps, p-traps, holding tanks, and water heaters is crucial. Otherwise, you’re likely to uncover burst pipes, leaks, and expensive repairs to make before you can hit the road in the spring. And no one’s got time (or money) for preventable repairs.