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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
It can be very difficult to keep an RV cool in hot weather. A camper's windows amplify the sun's rays, creating a greenhouse effect that quickly raises the indoor temperature. This makes it difficult to keep cool even in an RV with air conditioning.
If you're camping with no AC, whether because you're boondocking or because your RV doesn't have one, staying cool becomes even more challenging.
After all, a camper is a vehicle, and if you think about how hot a car can get in the summer, you'll understand how difficult it can be to sleep without air conditioning in an RV or camper van.
In this article, I'll share some tips for keeping your trailer or motorhome as cool as possible without having to use air conditioning. I'll also provide some links to where to buy RV air conditioners and some alternatives to air conditioning. Finally, I'll give you some ideas for keeping cool when escaping the heat isn't an option.
Let's get started.
Approach #1: Reduce sunlight entering the RV.
1. Try Reflectix
Sunlight coming through RV windows causes indoor temperatures to rise due to the greenhouse effect.
To combat this, many RVers keep their shades closed and put Reflectix (a silver material similar to bubble wrap which can be purchased at Lowe's or Home Depot) between the window shade and the glass.
- Inhibits or eliminates condensation
This is one of the best low-cost ways to keep heat from entering your RV. Plus, it's removable.
When I was at an RV park in Texas in the middle of the summer, I closed the blinds and put a sheet of Reflectix in my south-facing window during the hottest part of the day.
This works, but I prefer methods of keeping out the sun that don't make my RV dark inside or prevent me from seeing out the window.
2. Apply reflective window film
One way to reduce the amount of sunlight that enters your camper while still allowing natural light is to add reflective window film to your RV windows.
This static-cling film, which is applied on the inside of the glass, creates a two-way mirror effect where the windows appear slightly tinted from the inside and look like a mirror from the outside. You can purchase it in the size that you need on Amazon.
- EXCELLENT DAYTIME PRIVACY. Provides great intended privacy during daytime only; the mirror-effect is reversed at night since the interior will be exposed to more light than the exterior. The side with the most light will have the mirror-like appearance.
An added benefit is that once the film has been applied, you don't have the hassle of having to regularly add and remove Reflectix to your windows.
I added reflective window film to the windows in my hallway, which was often warmer than the rest of the RV, and it made a big difference.
I also put some of the film on the window next to my husband's side of the bed to keep the sun from waking him up in the morning, which had previously been happening even with the window shades closed. In the picture below you can see the difference it made.
A word of caution: The sun's glare on reflective RV windows can be dangerous to other cars when you're driving down the highway, so you might want to use highly reflective window film sparingly and avoid putting it on the back of your RV.
You also won't want to put window tinting on a motorhome windshield, since that could affect your own vision.
3. Buy RV Windshield Sun Shades
The big front windshield of a motorhome is one of the worst culprits when it comes to heating up an RV, but there are several products on the market designed specifically to help combat this problem.
Many RVers use Reflectix for this purpose, but you can also buy reflective RV windshield sun shades that are designed for the purpose and easy to store:
- Protects Your RV: Helps protect your RV from the sun
This one has the added benefit of providing extra insulation in cold weather as well as keeping out the sun in hot weather:
- 【4 LAYER HIGH QUALITY MATERIAL】PEVA Aluminized Film + Cotton + Flame Retardant Cotton + Black Polyester. Strong power against snow, sun, water and dust.
4. Find See-Through RV Windshield Sun Screens
If you want to reduce heat, but don't want your RV to feel like a cave, his motorhome sun shade from ShadePro is perfect. It allows light to pass through during the day, but keeps your privacy at night.
This high-quality windshield cover comes in several different colors and easily attaches to your RV with magnets.
ShadePro also sells a very nice see-through windshield cover for Class A motorhomes that covers not only the front window but also the driver's and passenger side windows and comes with wiper blade covers to keep the rubber of your wiper blades from deteriorating in the sun.
5. Exterior RV Window Covers
You can also get RV window coverings that go on the outside of RV windows and block up to 94% of the light coming in yet still allow you to see out, much like a window screen. These exterior window shades come in multiple colors to match the look of your RV.
6. RV Window Awnings
In addition to filtering the light coming through your windows, adding RV window awnings can make a big difference by shading your windows during the hottest part of the day.
ShadePro carries RV window awnings in multiple colors and also sells replacement fabric for worn-out RV window awnings, including one type of fabric that you can still see through.
7. Door Window Cover
If you have a lot of heat coming through the window on the door of your RV, Camco makes a reflective door window cover that fastens over the window with Velcro.
(If you already have some Reflectix and some Velcro, you can just make your own. But if you have to buy the materials, it might be cheaper and easier to get the one that's already made!)
You could hang some curtains over it with an adhesive curtain rod to make it look prettier.
- Helps control the temperature of your RV
8. Covers for Skylights and Roof Vents
Another thing that can help lower the temperature inside your RV when you're running the AC is to prevent sunlight from coming through skylights.
You can get a plush square pillow that fits perfectly inside the roof vent that not only blocks and reflects sun in the summer but also reduces heat loss in cold weather.
- RV VENT REFLECTIVE INSULATION: Camco’s vent insulator blocks the sun's damaging rays. It helps keep your RV cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Reflectix can be put over skylights and vents as well. An RVer named Bob Lochridge shared with me this clever tip for holding Reflectix in place. He fastened strings to the slightly loosened screws of a plastic skylight frame.
As a fancier option, you can purchase reflective RV skylight covers on Amazon that use magnets to hold them in place.
- Collapsible RV Skylight Shade Cover - RV sunshades cover gives you a cozy feel RV style, and it folds up either partially or all the way, as there are creases and heavy duty magnets at intervals that let you customize how you use it.
Personally, I enjoy natural daylight in my shower, and I also like to keep plants in my shower that need light. To prevent my RV bathroom from getting hot and still letting light through, I cut a piece of white coroplast.(Coroplast = corrugated plastic “cardboard.” I used a blank yard sale sign from Lowe's)
I fit the coroplast over my skylight and attached it with acrylic mounting tape. (Initially, I tried Velcro, but the adhesive did not hold due to steam from the shower.)
Here's a quick video showing how I put the skylight cover in place:
9. Hang blankets around the front of your motorhome
If none of these are cutting it or you need something to work in a pinch, grab a comforter or thick blanket. Using tape, tacks, or clips, hang a heavy blanket up to separate the house of the motorhome from the cab.
A friend of mine did this when her air conditioning stopped working during a heat wave. The air trapped in the front of the RV behind the blanket was easily 10 degrees warmer than the air in the house.
A blanket isn't the best long-term solution, but when your RV is getting to dangerous temperatures, any way you can keep the heat from penetrating your house is worth it!
Approach #2: Cool the air surrounding the RV.
1. Park in the shade.
This one is obvious and not an option for everyone! But if you can choose a shady spot, it makes a BIG difference.
2. Create your own shade.
If you can't park in the shade, using your awning will not only provide you with a shady place to sit, but will also prevent the sun's rays from beating against the side of your RV
You can even add a screen to your awning to increase the number of shady hours.
If your RV doesn't already have an awning, you can add one! Click here to shop RV awnings for campers and motorhomes of all sizes and types.
Shade awnings are great for not only cooling off your RV significantly, but can also create an outdoor room for hanging out outside your campsite.
3. Use RV skirting to your advantage.
If you have already purchased or made your own RV skirting for winter, using it in the summer can keep the space under your RV cool.
Since heat rises, the difference probably isn't worth investing in RV skirting for cooling purposes alone, but if you have it already, every little bit you can do to cool the air that's in contact with your RV helps.
Just be sure to check the rules of your RV park as some places prohibit skirting from being used in summer, and other places prohibit it altogether.
Approach #3: Increase Air Circulation
1. Use fans.
Adding fans throughout your RV will help the air temperature feel a couple of degrees cooler, even if you're not using an air conditioner.
I use this one:
- 🌬️VERSATILE SPEED CONTROL: Experience optimal airflow and stay cool with the Comfort Zone 8-Inch Turbo Fan, featuring three speed options to suit your preferences. With a convenient rotary switch, you can easily switch between different speeds, allowing you to customize the airflow intensity to your desired level of comfort. Whether you prefer a gentle breeze or a more powerful airflow, this fan provides you with versatile speed control for a refreshing and enjoyable cooling experience.
Purchasing fans that can be mounted on the wall or ceiling will be one less item to secure when your camper is in motion.
- The Tornado 16’’ Remote Wall Fan provides refreshing airflow without taking up valuable floor space in any setting. Program precise fan movement patterns to fit any application. Operate with less noise than traditional household wall fans. Ideal for home, greenhouses, garages, workshops. Not graded for outdoor use.
If you just need a way to stay a little cooler while boondocking overnight, one or two of these rechargeable battery-powered camping fans might be the perfect solution. They even have a built-in LED light as an added bonus.
- 【20000 mAh rechargeable battery】 Powered by 20000 mAh rechargeable battery, it can be fully charged in 8-9 hours and provide 8-100 hours of duration by inputting 5V3A through the included C-type cable.
2. Use your roof vents.
If you're trying to keep cool in an RV without AC—for example while parking overnight without electrical hookups—you'll definitely want to open your roof vents to allow hot air to escape.
Additionally, if your roof vents have an electric fan, they will pull out the hot air that has risen to the ceiling and draw cooler air in to replace it through any open windows.
- Powerful 10-speed intake and exhaust fan
If your RV doesn't have air conditioning or you do a lot of boondocking, you might want to invest in a more efficient and high-powered roof vent fan. Two models I've seen other RV owners recommend are the Fan-tastic Vent and the Maxx Fan from Maxx Air.
Approach #4: Don't heat up the kitchen
As much as possible, avoid cooking inside your RV. Cook outside on a grill or over a campfire, or eat cold foods such as sandwiches, wraps, and salads.
- Make your outdoor adventures a delicious affair with Blackstone 22" tabletop griddle. This portable griddle has everything you need to whip up a smorgasbord of eggs, crunchy hash browns, crispy bacon and fluffy pancakes all at the same time.
Personally, I find that my body stays cooler when I eat cold foods during the hottest part of the day. I especially enjoy pasta salads and watermelon! 🙂
Approach #5: Cool the air inside your RV
1. Air Conditioners
The most effective way to cool down a camper is with one or more air conditioners. If your RV doesn't have one, or if you would like to add a second one, Camping World sells a wide variety of brands and models on their website.
When we were in Texas in the middle of the summer, we had a hard time keeping our 38-foot fifth wheel RV cool even with both our air conditioners running. We finally broke down and purchased a third free-standing air conditioner. After that, we had no trouble keeping our RV as cold as we wanted it, even in the hottest part of the day.
I also believe that a portable air conditioner like the one we bought, which is vented out a window and has a built-in dehumidifier, would do just fine on its own cooling a small RV in moderate heat.
I have actually seen RV's with window unit air conditioners propped up on a stand built from 2'x4′ lumber. This is often easier installation than a roof unit.
Yol just need to make sure that your RV's electrical system is capable of handling any air conditioners you add. We ran an extension cord out the window of the RV to plug the extra unit directly into our campsite's power pedestal.
If you do much camping off-grid or often camp without electrical hookups, you may need to supplement your power with an RV generator.
- Advanced Open Frame Inverter Design: 50% quieter and 20% lighter than a traditional Champion 3500-watt generator, plus our Economy Mode feature saves fuel and extends engine life
2. Evaporative Coolers: An Alternative to AC
An evaporative cooling system (also known as a “swamp cooler”) is a cheaper alternative to air conditioning that also requires less electricity.
There's just one big caveat: They don't work in humid climates. But if you do most of your RVing in a dry climate (think Arizona or Colorado!), they are a great option.
You can find a variety of portable swamp coolers for sale on Amazon.
- 3-in-1 Efficient & Energy-saving Cooling: The evaporative air cooler combines the functions of an electric fan and a humidifier, being able to facilitate air circulation while humidify the air. Besides, with the 2 ice packs and evaporation process, the airflow gets cooler in a short time and at a low energy cost.
A TurboKool 12-volt evaporative cooler can be installed on the roof of an RV.
If electrical hookups and generators are absolutely not an option for you, look at the 12v-powered MightyKool. The manufacturer is adamant about letting people know that it is NOT an air conditioner and won't cool an entire vehicle. But if you read the reviews you'll find several people who enjoy using them while sleeping in a vehicle.
Another cheap, off-grid option is to build your own battery-powered swamp cooler. This article by Popular Mechanics links to several tutorials.
Bonus: 4 Tips for Keeping YOURSELF Cool
1. Stay hydrated.
Drinking plenty of fluids is important when you're sweating a lot, and cold beverages are especially refreshing!
2. Create a misting system.
You know those oscillating fans that spray a cool mist on you while you're in line at amusement parks? Any fan can turn into a mister by hooking a garden hose to this fan mist kit:
- 【Fan misters for cooling outdoor】The fantastic outdoor cooling system provides a natural water cooling area,release you from the indoor bad air conditions and enjoy the fantastic outdoor sight in hot summer, cools the surrounding air temperatures up to 20℃ or 68℉.
You could also skip the fan and just hang one of these misting hoses from your RV awning:
- [Easy to Install] Pre-assembled misting system can be set up in less than 10 minutes, producing fine mist to cool the air in the hottest summer weather.
This misting fan requires no assembly. It has a reservoir that you fill with water so you can just plug it in and start cooling down:
- ✅【ADJUSTABLE COOLING COMFORT】Outdoor misting fan features automatic internal louvers to create wide-sweeping airflow, which helps evenly distribute the mist; Pivoting fan head adjusts up to 90 degrees to direct the mist and air where you need it the most
And finally, this misting fan is powered by a rechargeable battery, so it works even when you're off grid!
- ✅ A POWERFUL CORDLESS BATTERY FAN with zero hassle. The Geek Aire portable, rechargeable fan will allow you to easily use and enjoy its 1500CFM airflow no matter where you are, unlike other plug-in floor fans. Enjoy optimal flexibility and a refreshing, cooling sensation on-the-go, twist the switch to start.
3. Get an outdoor air conditioner.
The Portable air conditioner is a 4-in-1 portable unit and perfect for outdoor use. You can easily carry it around and aim it at you wherever you're sitting.
4. Cool off with an inflatable pool.
Sometimes the only way to stay cool is to get in the water!
If you don't have access to a beach, lake, river, or pool nearby, you might consider getting a small pool for your feet, or even a lounge pool that you can fully immerse yourself in!
Shallow kids pools are affordable and can easily be stored in the RV when not in use:
- Special Watermelon Pattern: Different from other kiddie pools sold online, our inflatable kiddie pool has special watermelon pattern. It is eye-catching in your backyard and on the beach.
Or this lounge pool has a small seat, plus cup holders!
- Material Type: Plastic.Batteries Included :no
Keep Your RV Cool All Summer
Hopefully one or more of the ideas I've shared in this article will help you stay cooler while you're RVing! If you have any suggestions I've missed, please leave a comment below!
For more tips and ideas related to RVing, check out my Resource Library!