Last updated on June 23rd, 2023 at 11:44 am
All of our reviews are based on exhaustive research, industry experience and whenever possible, hands-on testing. When you make a purchase using one of our chosen links we’ll receive a small percentage of the proceeds. This supports the site and keeps Jeffsetter running. You can read more here.
There are many helpful and necessary products out there to assist our RV living. RV antifreeze is one of those products, though shouldn’t it simply be called antifreeze? There are a few major differences between classic automotive antifreeze and RV antifreeze, and the main difference is their toxicity amounts.
So, is RV antifreeze toxic?
RV antifreeze is different from regular car antifreeze as both products contain different chemicals and are meant for different uses. The non-toxic propylene glycol is used in RV antifreeze as is safe for RV plumbing. Ethylene glycol is a toxic chemical in car antifreeze, making it unsuitable for use in an RV.
What are the different types of antifreeze? Which varieties are toxic, and which aren’t? Let’s take a look together at all the facets of RV antifreeze!
What Is RV Antifreeze Used For?
If you’re new to RVing or automotives in general, you may not be clear on what antifreeze is good for. One may argue that antifreeze is even more important in your RV than in your car.
RV antifreeze is used in conjunction with your RV’s plumbing system and comes in handy when it’s time to store your RV for winter. This is also known as winterization and is a very common task for RV owners to consider.
Winterizing your RV is important if you plan on storing your RV during the cold winter months, and it’s a necessity if you live somewhere cold or freezing. RV antifreeze is necessary for those of you in cold climates, as it raises the temperature of water high enough to prevent freezing.
Pouring antifreeze into your RV’s drains and plumbing system will assist with any water you may have remaining in your pipes come winter. Antifreeze is important as it will keep the water from freezing inside your RV’s pipes and expand them.
You can also pour antifreeze into your black and gray water tanks. Doing so will keep your wastewater from freezing inside your tanks. This means an easy clean come springtime and no damage to your tanks from water expansion!
Improper winterization is often the number one cause of RV damage. Using antifreeze in conjunction with other winterization tips below will lead to fewer headaches and damages in the long run! There are also certain RVs and travel trailers that are better for winter right off the lot.
And if you’re wondering about specific brands of antifreeze, we’ve put together a guide to our favorite options that you can see here.
Types Of RV Antifreeze
While choosing an RV-specific antifreeze may seem silly, it is necessary for the life of your rig. But what if you’re looking for a non-toxic variety of RV antifreeze? Here are the most common types of antifreeze available for RVers, and whether or not they are poisonous.
Perhaps you’ve heard of ethanol in other contexts. Surprise, it’s also used in antifreeze! The most affordable and readily available type of RV antifreeze out there is ethanol based.
Ethanol is, you guessed it, alcohol, and if you’ve ever had hard liquor around, you know it doesn’t freeze solid if you keep it in the freezer. So you may have already inferred that ethanol, hard liquor’s big brother, can keep your water lines from freezing come winter! However, this level of alcohol present makes ethanol-based antifreeze extremely flammable.
However, is ethanol-based antifreeze safe to consume? This type of antifreeze is not recommended for consumption, and honestly not recommended much in general. Despite being the number one base for RV antifreeze, ethanol has a lot of drawbacks.
The main issue with ethanol antifreeze is its toxicity. Your water lines will need to fully purge this product come springtime, and many RV owners report their water tasting funny after the ethanol antifreeze has, in theory, left the water lines.
Ethanol antifreeze also dries out most rubber seals and other rubber gaskets you may have in your RV, which means you may find yourself replacing these do-dads every few years. An unfortunate cost and an unnecessary maintenance task, even though you may be saving a few bucks on a bottle of ethanol-based antifreeze!
Propylene Glycol Antifreeze
So what type of RV antifreeze isn’t hazardous or poisonous? Let’s take a look at everyone’s preferred ingredient for RV antifreeze: propylene glycol!
What is so good about propylene glycol-based RV antifreeze? Well, the easiest difference you’ll notice is that this antifreeze is not toxic! If you’re looking for a product that won’t ruin your water quality come spring, and a product that’s overall better for your plumbing system, check out propylene glycol!
This handy antifreeze base is better than ethanol in almost every way, including what it can do for your plumbing gaskets and seals. Propylene glycol is in fact a lubricant, extending the overall life and longevity of your rubber seals and gaskets.
Propylene glycol is also not nearly as flammable as ethanol; having a product that’s non-toxic and also not flammable makes for a much less scary bottle on the shelf of your garage! This product is safe to travel through all of your fresh water lines and tanks without fear of an unfortunate taste come spring.
So what’s the catch, you may be asking? The only main drawback to propylene glycol-based antifreeze is the cost. It averages an extra few dollars per jug of it, but with the number of perks propylene glycol has, it’s a no-brainer to me. However, you may have your own reasoning behind choosing an ideal antifreeze for your rig!
Ethanol and Propylene Glycol Blend Antifreeze
The best of both worlds, a blend of ethanol and propylene antifreeze! However, is it still non-toxic? Check the labels on each and every product you procure, just to be safe. Most blended RV antifreeze should remain non-toxic, though some blends may use more ethanol than propylene glycol.
This in-between product is great for the budget and great that it is in theory non-toxic. However, some sources disagree and believe this antifreeze to still be toxic, given the presence of ethanol. Again, always read product labels, and if in doubt, stick with a propylene glycol antifreeze only.
An ethanol propylene glycol blend may be cheaper and possibly non-toxic, but it still carries with it the drawbacks of ethanol. This product is known to make your RV’s water taste different come springtime, as well as ethanol dries out any and all rubber present in your RV’s plumbing system.
While you may save a few bucks and get a (probably) non-toxic antifreeze, the overall response to this blended product is unfavorable. However, you may find that it suits your needs just fine!
Benefits Of Non-Toxic RV Antifreeze
As we’ve already mentioned, there are many benefits to non-toxic RV antifreeze, so let’s get straight to it and discuss a few of them.
One of the main benefits is simply that you won’t have to worry about this product lingering in the pipes of your RV. Even if it does, non-toxic RV antifreeze won’t hurt you should you happen to drink some of it. Trace amounts of antifreeze may be left in the plumbing throughout your RV if you don’t flush it all through thoroughly enough. So it’s best to do a thorough job the first time, however, non-toxic antifreeze isn’t very concerning if a small amount is still in the water system as it’s safe.
It’s Suitable For RV Plumbing
Another key benefit to non-toxic RV antifreeze is that it assists your overall plumbing system, primarily the rubber seals around your toilet and other fixtures. And of course RV antifreeze is almost a necessity should you be planning to store your RV somewhere that reaches below-freezing temperatures.
The main benefit of non-toxic RV antifreeze is that your pipes, tanks, and other plumbing lines will not freeze during the long winter months. While we don’t recommend drinking antifreeze, it’s nice to know that there is a product that remains non-toxic for you and your family!
More Eco Option
Non-toxic antifreeze leaves far less of a footprint on the planet than its ethylene glycol counterpart. I always like to support eco-friendly products where possible, as they can make a big difference to the environment around us. However, it’s still vital to dispose of RV antifreeze correctly in a suitable place.
Which Option Is More Affordable?
While non-toxic RV antifreeze is the preference of many RVers, overall it will be the most expensive option on the market. The most affordable RV antifreeze option is going to be whatever product is ethanol based.
This may not be ideal, but if you’re concerned about your RV budget, choosing an ethanol-based antifreeze will save you a bit of money. If you own an air compressor and can force the water out of your pipes with the same machine each winter, then this will probably be an even cheaper option for you.
However, an air compressor is a larger upfront cost, plus you’ll need to be sure you know how to operate it. However, you may find using an air compressor solves all of your current issues with RV antifreeze, including affordability!
What’s The Difference Between RV And Automotive Antifreeze?
You may be wondering how and why there’s a difference between RV and regular old automotive antifreeze. This question comes down to the basic uses of RV antifreeze differing wildly from the basic uses of automotive antifreeze.
They Have Different Purposes
RV antifreeze is used in the plumbing systems of your RV while automotive antifreeze is used in your car’s coolant system. RV antifreeze is always less toxic, as automotive antifreeze is completely and totally poisonous and should never be consumed.
Automotive Antifreeze Is Toxic
This is why it is absolutely vital to only buy RV-safe antifreeze, and avoid that automotive antifreeze section of the store altogether. Automotive antifreeze is often a dense product and is made of ethylene glycol. This sounds similar to the ingredient used in RV antifreeze, but it is very different and highly toxic.
They Are Typically Different Colors
Thankfully, RV antifreeze and automotive antifreeze come in different colors, most likely on purpose. Most people report purchasing RV antifreeze in pink or blue colors, while automotive antifreeze is often only found in green or yellow. This should be a great benefit when it comes time to go to the store and make your purchase!
Automotive Antifreeze Works With The Engine
The basic difference between the two products is how they interact with your RV and car. RV antifreeze is much simpler as its only purpose is to keep water from freezing. However, automotive antifreeze is used in conjunction with the engine and keeps it at a stable temperature.
It is imperative that you never use car antifreeze in your RV’s plumbing system. It can purposefully damage it, as well as potentially be toxic to you and your family. Be safe, read your labels, and use non-toxic antifreeze only in your RV!
What Else Should I Consider When Winterizing My RV?
While winterizing your RV may seem like a chore every winter, it is an important and necessary piece of RV ownership. Winterizing your plumbing is possibly the most important piece of your winter puzzle, but here are some other good ideas should you be facing winterization for the first time!
Use An RV Cover
Utilizing a cover or covered garage is always a good idea, as moisture can be your rig’s worst enemy. Keep in mind that an improperly fitting fabric cover may damage your RV should the wind pick up, and may only last a few winters. However, protecting the exterior of your RV is often just as important as protecting your interior!
Winterize With Antifreeze Or Compressed Air
Antifreeze is a great winterizing product to utilize, though if you have the option to use an air compressor in your rig’s system, it may prove even more useful. Hooking up an air compressor to your rig allows you to blow the water out of all of your pipes and tanks, leading to empty and dry water lines. This eliminates the need for antifreeze altogether, though these two techniques are most useful when used in conjunction.
Protect RV Tires
Keeping your tires protected from UV light is also a great winterizing tip to keep in mind. Tire covers are a great purchase to make for the life of your RV, as UV rays are completely damaging to the rubber on tires.
Finally, keeping rodents and other pests out of your rig during winter is necessary, as this is the season most animals seek shelter elsewhere. Your rig will be a warm and dry temptation for every critter out there! Discourage them by checking all of your rig, top to bottom, for holes and crevices. Having proper underbelly insulation is a great place to start and one of the most important changes you can make.
Leaving a set of rope or string lights on beneath your rig is a great way to prevent pests, as the light discourages their presence. You may also consider checking on your rig every other week, or perhaps even once a month. Your movement will discourage pests too!
RV Antifreeze FAQs
It’s normal to have lots of questions about RV antifreeze, especially if you’ve got your first winter season coming up! Knowing the ins and outs of RV antifreeze will allow you to make the best purchase choices for your rig, so it’s protected from harsh winter temperatures.
Is RV Antifreeze Safe To Drink?
As we’ve discussed throughout this article RV antifreeze made with propylene glycol isn’t toxic, and therefore shouldn’t cause any harm if a small amount is ingested. I’m not saying for one minute that it’s a good idea to glug a glass of the stuff, though! However, trace amounts left in your RV’s water lines shouldn’t be anything to worry about. This is talked about in more detail in the video below:
It’s still wise to keep antifreeze away from children and pets as the color can sometimes be tempting to little ones! To help prevent any residual RV antifreeze from being left in your plumbing, I would recommend thoroughly flushing the whole system a couple of times to ensure it’s all drained out.
Is RV Antifreeze Toxic To Animals?
It might be okay for us humans to ingest a small amount of non-toxic RV antifreeze, however, this is a different story for pets. Non-toxic antifreeze can still cause harm to animals, but ethylene glycol-based antifreeze is an even bigger problem. It’s more toxic and could cause substantial harm to pets if ingested.
Is Pink Antifreeze Toxic?
Usually, RV non-toxic antifreeze is a vibrant pink color and is designed for use in RV plumbing systems to aid the winterization process. Therefore, pink antifreeze shouldn’t be toxic, but I think it’s always worth reading the label on the container just to be 100% sure.
You can generally spot automotive antifreeze pretty easily as it’s usually a green or yellow color – very different from bright pink RV antifreeze!
RV antifreeze is a specialized product and is made to be non-toxic for the safety of you and your family. However, RV antifreeze is not completely safe to drink, and it’s always a good idea to clear your plumbing lines thoroughly should you choose to use this product.
It doesn’t take too long to protect your rig in winter, and come springtime, you’ll know you have a safe rig that’s ready to tackle another camping season!