If your rig is sitting in cold country and you haven’t already done so, it’s high time to get winterized. We’ve written on this important subject before. Keeping your RV water lines from freezing (and breaking) is serious stuff. One question that pops up when winterizing is discussed is this: Is there a difference in the types of RV antifreeze?
Most RVers are savvy enough to know there’s a huge difference between RV antifreeze and automotive antifreeze. In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap. RV antifreeze is non-toxic and meant for pumping into the plumbing system. Automotive antifreeze is a whole different critter. Many types are toxic, and should only be put into an engine cooling system.
So when asking what kind of antifreeze they use to winterize their rig’s plumbing system, many RVers respond, “Oh, I use the pink stuff.” Huh? Just what is the “pink stuff?” There really is a difference in RV antifreeze formulas, and it can make a big difference on how things turn out.
There are two basic contenders in the world of non-toxic RV antifreeze. The primary components are either ethanol or propylene glycol. You may remember from your high school chemistry class that ethanol is the “kick” in Kickapoo Joy Juice—grain alcohol. Yes, ethanol is a good antifreeze (not in your bloodstream) because it raises the freezing point of water.
That other antifreeze contender, propylene glycol, is also an alcohol of sorts. Technically a “double alcohol,” this is not like a “double shot.” But like grain alcohol, it also raises the freezing point of water. For our purposes as RVers trying to keep our pipes from breaking, either one will do the job. At that point, frugal RV logic would ask, “What’s cheaper?” Some retailers would have you believe that the ethanol-based antifreeze is less expensive, and hence, the product of choice for winterizing.
But hold on to your credit cards for a minute, there’s more than money to be considered. Some RVers have reported that using ethanol-based antifreeze did keep their pipes intact, but unexpected side effects cropped up. At least one RVer says when he took his rig out of the “deep freeze” and began to use it during travel season, the taste from the plumbing was bad, and it took quite awhile to flush the unwelcome spirit out of the system. Some warn that rubber plumbing seals can be adversely affected by contact with ethanol. Since ethanol antifreeze is combustible, if you decide to use it, then by all means, keep it away from flame.
Does this mean that propylene glycol antifreeze is the choice for RVers? Here’s one more fly in the ointment. In a news release touting its own brand of propylene glycol antifreeze, Dow Chemical warns against similar products made by others—ones that could possibly be made with recycled products. Can you imagine RVers running out with buckets every spring, catching those precious drops of antifreeze, and shipping them back to some chemical plant for recycling? Nah! But there are some outfits that actually do recycle propylene glycol: airports. When your 707 sits on the tarmac on a chilly day, that stuff they spray on the wings to keep the plane from icing up is typically propylene glycol. Often the runoff is captured and sent to a recycler. The recycled product, warns Dow, could come to you along with other chemical nasties that might not be so potable.
How do you know if your brand of propylene glycol RV antifreeze might contain recycled materials? You wouldn’t from looking at the label. Dow, of course, makes a big noise about its materials being strictly “virgin” in every jug of Dowfrost. To save you trouble, we checked with manufacturers of other popular RV antifreeze brands. Shop at Wal-Mart? Its house brand, Super Tech RV and Marine Antifreeze, is virgin pure. Likewise is Camco’s Easy Going -50 brand. Keep a weather eye open on its other brand, Artic Ban -50. It is made with ethanol.
What do we use? Hah! We don’t worry about taste or plumbing deterioration problems: When we winterize, we use air pressure to blast water out of our pipes. What little antifreeze we use goes down the plumbing drain p-traps. I promise you this: I’ve never tasted what comes out of there!
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. Visit icanrv.com for more information.
Brian Berchtold says
Great article but to be truly accurate antifreeze actually LOWERS the freezing point of the water/alcohol solution. If it RAISED it the pipes would freeze at say 40F vice something below 32F.
A minor correction. “ethanol”, a.k.a. “ethyl alcohol”, a.k.a. “grain alcohol” is the alcohol in all alcoholic beverages from beer to white lightning. The jury is still out, has been for many years, on whether it’s harmful to humans or not, but people continue to consume it in great quantities.
Horse camping enthusiast says
Easiest and most effective way for me is to drain pipes and hot water heater upon leaving campsite, and keep all valves open during return trip home. The vibrations and turns shake all water our from even the tiniest elbows. Once home pour a little anti-freeze into drain catches. No need to flush anti-freeze for my next trip down from my mountain home.
Sharon Schultz says
I like your approach. Where do you reside? Does it get cold in the winter.
We are new to this and are having trouble getting our antifreeze to circulate thru the pipes.
Have u ever done it this way. I think I will do it your way next or trynto blow them out with pressurized air.
Thanks if you reply. ????
Joy Butler says
I had no idea that RV’s prevented their pipes from freezing by using anti-freeze that contains glycol. Glycol seems like a good option that could be used in a variety of different cooling systems. It could be a good idea to investigate what kind of anti-freeze your cooling system is using so you can answer a repairman’s questions when he comes to maintenance your appliance.
John Sherman says
Can non-toxic, 70%, ethanol antifreeze be used to kill disease producing bacteria and viri on food service surfaces safely?
Is ethanol based RV antifreeze harmful to septic systems? I’m curious to know if the ethanol will kill the bacteria in the septic system?
I don’t think so because it is diluted down once it hits the septic tank in the spring. Plus our own colon is chocked full of bacteria and it keeps on chugging even with too much ethanol.
Diana Wright says
How do you use air to winterize the water lines in the refrigerator and freezer, We have a valve that has been frozen more than once at the refrigerator due to improper winterizing.
I would think that when you have the compressor hooked up prepping for air, and you’ve done the rest of your lines, then try to get water from the fridge. That will open valves and the air will push water out. Might need to remove filter, and replace with a dry one oce the air is out pre-filter. Then place the new, dry, filter, and repeat to get the water out from the filter to spout. For the ice maker, keep cycling the ice maker to push the water out. I have not done this, but it seems to be the needed thing to do.
Gordon Traverse says
I use Tune IT! RV plumbing antifreeze which has a minus 50C factor. I purchased it at our local Walmart store. I poured some of it in the toilet bowl so the seals do not harden up. I noticed that the antifreeze is actually starting to jell and showing signs of ice. There is no water in my lines as I blow them out and add antifreeze. I thought that being rated at -50c this would not happen. Is this a problem?
William Holt says
The -50 rating is the ‘Burst’ rating, not the freeze rating. You can expect gelling/freezing around 10F to 20F .
Paul Byrne says
We live in the mountains of the “Great Northeast” where it does get VERY cold sometimes -20 and more. I have been using compressed air at a low 40psi for many years to blow out the water lines in my RV’s, then I drain the water heater, as well as all the tanks. . I use the Walmart brand super tech RV / Marine antifreeze on the traps etc. knock on wood I have never had any issues.
Can I ask Why you don’t use the antifreeze in the entire plumbing system?
Compressed air is cheaper and then you don’t have to worry about the various residues or contaminants as mentioned in the article from recycled airport PG.
I also use anti-freeze only in drain traps and toilet bowl. However, instead of compressed air, I drain fresh water and hot water tanks, and open all water valves before the final leg of my trip home to the mountains of California. The road vibrations and turns swish away any remaining water from plumbing elbows and tight spots. Primary advantage for me is that I don’t have to flush my plumbing every time I want to travel to lower warmer elevations during the winter months, Secondary advantage is that a single gallon of anti-freeze lasts for over a year of repeated drain pipe protections.
M. Mohawk says
What ingredients are in country tuff ever antifreeze from Orchelin ethanol or propylene glycol? Thank you for your help.
Al Mark says
Ever take a shot glass – fill it with plain ole water – and place it in your refrigerator’s freezer for awhile?
Note that when the water freezes it expands the container; in this case, the shot glass. (In this experiment, the ice formation will exit the shot class because liquid water will take up less room than solid water [ice].
Not to worry – I will not go into the physics of this event.
But, understand that when water is enclosed, such as when it is ‘trapped’ in a pipe, freezing the water will cause it to expand – thereby pushing on the ‘container’ [pipe] and probably break the pipe. Hey, it’s got to go somewhere! Onward to an RV plumbing ‘feature’.
Unless a tank is full – like a fresh water tank, or black water tank, or gray water tank – don’t sweat draining them because there’s lots of room for the frozen liquid to expand within the tank. Pipes are usually full and don’t have room for the liquid to expand in the freezing process. Thus, they can burst their seams or connections and possibly cause your wallet to shrink. So, it’s a good idea to blow the water out of all the pipes and pumps and if you have time and proper antifreeze* your RV can survive ole man winter’s fury.
PLEASE NOTE: There are 2 types of antifreeze – the stuff you put in the RV (which is usually pink and made specifically for RVs) and the type you use in your car or truck (which is usually green, yellow, or orange [can be pink too]). There is a very important difference. The vehicle stuff is a little sweet – the pink RV stuff is not. Animals and birds like the sweet stuff but, their bodies do not. I’ve read way too many stories that told about their pet dog or cat, etc., licking up the stuff made for vehicles and have them drop dead a few days later when their kidneys shut down. SO, USE THE RIGHT STUFF!!!
If there is any water/waste left in your tanks due to the gate valves being closed I would think that would be a concern. The pipes beneath the tanks would be full and could burst. Small amounts of liquid trapped in the corners of the tanks would not be a problem.
C. Fraboul says
Nice article. Well written and informative. I also use Walmart’s brand of antifreeze but we always end up having to replace the toilet bowl valve as the plastic always develops a crack even though we flush antifreeze dfrom the water tank through to the toilet. I like the concluding remark.
We used RV antifreeze from Camco in our sump well to keep the line from freezing in extreme temps. I especially like that this is in concentrate form, so it’s lightweight at only 36 oz/jug. I just pour it straight into the sump well and it dilutes itself. It’s non-toxic, even in large quantities, and so is entirely safe indoors and out. In addition, it can protect the piping system even if the temperature drops to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
If used properly, this antifreeze concentrate can save you from all the trouble of having to replace your piping system (and, in my case, the flooring) of your RV.
Is the pink stuff safe and effective for use in anti-freezing inboard engines, such as a Merc Cruiser.
Tom Brian says
I use this to pour down sinks and toilets as part of winter prep when we close up the summer place, and in the summer, when we go away from the main house for a length of time. It keeps the PVC/PEX pipes from getting dry from lack of moisture.
Tom Brian says
The water left inside your pipes can freeze and expand if you do not properly winterize your plumbing by entirely emptying the pipes. The pipes will crack and possibly burst as a result of this.
James F Crowell says
I destroyed a few Shurflo pumps with Walmart stuff. I know use the 100 % pure virgin non ethanol like shown above and that cured my problem.
Samantha Nichols says
I was surprised the antifreeze arrived intact! The box was of the correct quality and also the HDPE bottles also helped this box arrive undamaged. None of the bottles leaked. I used the complete kit to winterize my RV. I actually liked the induction sealed child-resistant caps because they were all intact after I opened each bottle. All bottles were filled to the identical level. Enough for some seasons!
Samantha Nichols says
Compressed air is cheaper and you don’t have to worry about various waste or contaminants as mentioned in the PG article on airport recycling.
Dale Kehrer says
I’m an aircraft and marine mechanic. One thing that I’ve noticed is that when I test different brands of propylene glycol with my aircraft prismatic eth/prop/specific gravity tester, they test at different levels. Ex. – Traveller -50F propylene glycol tests at +27F pure, while Prime Guard propylene glycol -50F tests at +15F pure. Now how can both be good down to -50F burst protection when they’re testing 12 degrees different pure. The engines I winterize are anywhere from $6K to $20K in price range. You can bet that I’m going to want to cover my bases by using the best I can for the temps in my area.