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Keep Your RV Cool This Summer: 15 Easy And Affordable Tricks!

PublishedApril 5, 2021

This isn't your run-of-the-mill post about keeping your RV cool in the summer.

No, these are real, actionable steps you can take to get cooler when it's hot outside (and inside).

Some of these are more affordable than others, but they are all pretty cheap outside of adding a second (or third) AC unit to your camper.

Without further ado, let's dive into how to keep an RV cool in the heat!

Use Reflectix In Your Windows And Cabinets

RV trailer window with reflectix inside

We're starting with the obvious here. This is one of the most commonly used tools for keeping your RV from turning into an oven.

Reflectix is a double-sided reflective film with air bubbles in the middle. Similar to what some car shades are made out of.

It can be cut and placed in all windows that face the sun. Placing some in the back and tops of your upper cabinets can be a touch helpful as well.

You could also tape the Reflectix to the outside of your windows.

The stuff is easy to cut, easy to store, and easy to place in windows.

It's a very cheap fix! Rolls of Reflectix can be found in big-box hardware stores. They also sell on Amazon.

Shade Keeps Your RV Cool

Travel trailer boondocking being shaded by tree in Arizona

Hopefully, you just rolled your eyes. As in I hope you thought this one up on your own. Still, it's often overlooked.

This is the #1 best way to keep your camper cool on a hot day aside from chasing elevation. Chasing elevation costs more in gas money and time.

If you can park where you are shaded for even half of the day, that's better than nothing.

See what you can do.

Smart Window Orientation

Airstream travel trailer rear window view

Photo by Greg Graham

There's one VERY large window in my RV. I usually avoid parking where it faces south or southeast.

If you have a big window or a side with more windows than the other, don't let the big or most windows get hit with the sun for most of the day. Try to park so they are on the shaded side.

But there are other helpful ways to orient your RV, depending on your situation and just how hot it is outside. See next tip:

Use Your RV As A Shade

Ketchum Idaho dispersed camping

In the afternoons, the sun is shaded by the RV itself, creating a nice 'front porch' environment.

First, decide if you want to spend time outside when it's really hot in your RV.

If this is the case, then it might be best to park your exit door (aka your 'porch' area) so it faces the north to northeast.


Because then that side will be shaded by the camper itself during the hottest part of the day.

Sure, you COULD use the other side as your porch, but it may be awkward with the door being on the other side of your RV.

Now, the bad news of this one is that your awning won't be of any help providing shade to the RV itself.

So, this scenario is best if it's so hot out that you can't be inside the RV in the afternoon no matter what kind of shading you have.

(Like when it's so hot out that even if you're parked so your awning shades afternoon sun, it's still in the '90s in your RV.)

Awning Facing South/Southeast

travel trailer with awning out boondocking in Valley of the Gods, Utah

This scenario is best if it's not extremely hot/above the high 80s. You can partially shade your RV from the brutal afternoon heat this way.

Then use your vent fans and interior fans to keep the air moving.

Of course, if you're in a campground, you may have zero orientation options to keep your RV cool at all.

Also, keep in mind that you may not ALWAYS be able to use your awning. If it's windy, it must come in. Then it does you no good whatsoever.

Use A Tarp or Canopy To Shade

Fifth wheel trailer using shade cloth on large window

A little bit is better than nothing at all! They did this just to shade their big living room window.

This is a good solution and it is a cheap and easy solution.

Attach a large tarp to the top of the south side of your RV and secure it down at the ground using stakes or other attachment method.

If you create air space in between the RV and the tarp, even better.

If you chose to park with your door facing north, this is your best option to help shade the sunny side of your RV without using the awning (assuming you have an awning on the side getting the southern sun).

Maximize Vent Fan Effectiveness To Keep Your RV Cool

Fantastic RV Vent Fan

Let's say you can't use your AC. In this case, your vent fans are your next best friend in keeping your RV cool.

When it's not excessively hot out and you only have one vent fan and a small RV, I'd advise you to only open one window.

Because if you are hanging out in between the open window and the vent fan, you'll get a nice cross breeze.

If you have TWO fans, set one to pull air in and the other to push air out. This should also help with a cross breeze.

If you have a stock fan that is NOT a Fantastic Fan or a MaxxAir fan, replacing it with one would do you a world of good.

Typically the stock fans have a teeny-tiny fan that barely pulls air in or out. Very lame.

RV Vent Fan Insulator

insulating cushion for RV vent fan opening

If you are using your AC, close the cover and insert a foam insulator into your vent fan area to help keep the heat out.

Some people put a bit of Reflectix up there, too. I find the foam does an adequate job- no heat gets through mine sans Reflectix.

They are super cheap, yet effective.

These are easily found in any camping store, on Amazon, or even at Walmart.

Minimize Your Stove Usage

Stoves are hot when on, dur. The less you use yours in high temperatures, the better.

Try using a microwave instead. Or cook with an outdoor grill, sun oven, or your fire pit. Or just have some cheese and crackers.

However, if you DO have to use your stove, once done with the pot or skillet, put it outside IMMEDIATELY.

No sense in letting it cool off inside your RV, thus warming your camper or motorhome further.

Use An Awning Shade Cloth

RV awning shade

Once the sun gets low enough, your awning won't provide much shade any longer.

Putting up a shade cloth that hangs from the end of your awning can serve two purposes:

  1. Create a more private (and cooler) outdoor space
  2. Keep more shade on the side of your RV

You can buy them pre-made or you can simply rig up one yourself.

Keep in mind, just like the awning, this type of shade won't fair well in windy conditions.

Switch From Incandescent Lights to LED Lights

RV light fixture painted gold with LED lights

If you haven't already done this, you're probably never off-grid. LED lights will save your battery juice- it's one of the first mods people make who want to boondock or dry camp.

But more importantly, they put out way less heat than incandescent lights do.

This solution doesn't seem like it would make much difference, but it does.

Use Stand-Alone Fans

12 volt box fan

Seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes relying only on ceiling vent fans (or just ceiling fans, such as in fifth-wheels) is not enough.

The more air movement you have, the better.

So, buy yourself some stand-alone fans.

You can do either 120-volt or 12-volt fans, depending on how often you are off-grid/if you have an inverter.

120-volt will likely be more powerful. But 12-volt fans will also help.

Make Your AC Vents More Efficient

RV trailer air conditioner outlet vent

FYI- If you have this style vent on your ceiling, you can probably rotate it to make it push air where you want it.

Ok, so it's hot enough out that you're using your AC?

AC is great, but when it's so hot that your AC can hardly keep up, try these two tips:

  • If you have a bigger RV with multiple 'rooms', close the vents in the rooms you aren't using (and close the doors).
  • If possible, point the vents towards where you are sitting or standing in your RV for maximum cooling effect.

Chase High Elevation

Denali National Park river meadow mountains

The hotter it gets (and the more you love mountains), the higher you'll want to be in elevation.

Of course, this only applies if you are location-independent and are willing to move.

No, it's not the most cost-effective solution.

But chasing elevation is one of the most effective (and adventurous!) solutions to the heat when living in an RV full-time.

For every 1000 feet you climb, it gets about 3.5 degrees cooler. It will cool even more than that if it's not humid or raining/snowing.

Where's Your Water Hose?

Camco Taste Pure drinking hose

Ok, so this one doesn't do anything to keep your camper cool. But it's something to think about to make your hot days a little less icky.

If your water hose is sitting outside in the sun, expect the water inside to get hot. (Yuck!)

Get your hose under shade if possible. For sure don't let it be sitting outside on the hot pavement. That will heat it up even worse.

If you keep it under your RV or cover it with something then the water coming through your faucets won't be sickeningly warm.

Build or Buy A Swamp Cooler

These can be quite effective, but ONLY in low-humidity environments. And a homemade swamp cooler is VERY cost-effective!

You can buy a pre-made one, or you can build one yourself for pennies on the dollar.

Pre-Made Swamp Cooler To Keep Your RV Cool

These exist, even ready-made ones that fit the hole in your ceiling for your vent fan (Turbo Kool).

You can buy a Turbo Kool in-ceiling swamp cooler for your RV but it will set you back.

Screenshot of Turbokool RV swamp cooler product listing

Just take out your existing vent fan and replace it with the Turbo Kool.

This makes it the easiest swamp cooler to use of all. It's up high, easy to use, and out of the way.

However, it comes at a high cost. It runs $599 on their website and currently $725 on Amazon.

There are also 120-volt stand-alone swamp coolers you can also use if you have access to 120-volt power.

Homemade Swamp Cooler To Keep Your RV Cool

Search on the Internet 'Homemade swamp cooler' and you'll find a wide array of ways to build one.

They are pretty simple, easy to make, and all have the same premise.

The unit cools the air using a fan to move air over either falling water or over ice. The evaporation of the water cools the air as does the ice.

Often a swamp cooler for RVs is made out of a cooler or a bucket. Minimal parts are needed.

A fan, a water pump, a container, a little tubing, and water. Cheap and easy!

For maximum cooling effectiveness, the homemade swamp cooler should remain outside of your RV (or vent to the outside).

Conclusion On Keeping Your RV Cool

There are many ways you can keep your RV cool without AC or with AC.

However, even with the best of these ideas, unless you're using your air conditioning, it may be pretty miserable if you are in temps above about 85 degrees and you aren't in the shade.

Woman leaning out RV door

You might even benefit from lining the underside of your RV as some people do in the winter. 

It has been claimed to also work well for keeping the RV cooler in the summer, though I have never tried it.

To recap, your best lines of defense are:

  • Chase elevation
  • Park in the shade
  • Use your RV as shade
  • Use your roof vent fans
  • Focus your air conditioning vents
  • Angle your RV so windows don't get maximum sun
  • Utilize your awning and/or shade cloth
  • Minimize stove usage
  • Use a stand-alone fan
  • Get a swamp cooler
  • Cover vent fans if using AC
  • Reflectix your windows and possibly cabinets
  • Angle park for maximum shading where you need it
  • Use LED lights

Good luck out there. There will be some days that you simply cannot keep your RV cool.

But you can do many of these things to keep it a little cooler than it would be otherwise.

Do you have any suggestions not listed here? Mention your idea in the comments!

Kelly Headshot

He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona. 

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