Sammy FairclothSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Awnings and accessories’ written by Sammy Faircloth
After buying your motorhome or campervan, an awning or canopy is probably the most expensive accessory you will purchase. Awnings offer much needed respite from the elements, shelter from the sun and protection from rain.
For those who enjoy longer stopovers, the awning can also provide extra room for sleeping, dining or storage.
With this in mind, it makes sense to look after your awning or canopy, and here are some handy tips to help you prolong its life.
Most of us turn up on site and look for our ideal pitch, close to amenities, without a thought for what's actually above or around us.
When you select a pitch, look up and identify the trees above you. Oaks are a favourite with squirrels, and it's not unknown for these cute little rodents to drop their acorns on your roof!
Pine trees have a pleasant aroma, but they also drip sap, which is not great for your awning and must be cleaned off quickly.
While assessing the type of tree, look out for dead branches. The last thing you want is for one to fall on you.
Of course, trees are also home to the birds, which are lovely to see and hear, but often leave unwelcome messages! If they do, try to clean this up sooner rather than later, or the fabric of your awning might be permanently stained.
Most pitches are on relatively level land, but occasionally they can be undulating. Pitch so that the ground falls away from the awning, then in the event of a heavy downpour, rainwater will drain away from you.
Sometimes this is not possible, as we found on one of our trips to Spain. Following a torrential downpour, the campsite turned into a river, causing a great deal of damage. Luckily, we came off quite lightly - no long-term harm was caused.
When assembling your awning, follow the manufacturer's instructions. The awning should be taut, to prevent rain pooling on the roof. If this has happened, gently push the water off, because it could deform the material if left for a long period of time.
If you asked me to recommend one piece of awning kit, it would be storm straps. On one of our trips to Spain, we were surprised by the severity of the winds and found ourselves (along with many other motorcaravanners) deploying extra pegs and guy ropes in the early hours. We now fit our storm straps as a matter of course.
Some canopy awnings can be large and might act like a kite in strong wind. I recommend pegging your canopy down, or attaching storm straps, to stop the wind getting underneath.
Certain materials are not 'breathable' and if you intend to cook or sleep in your awning, condensation can form. Zipped air vents are important.
Cleaning your awning
Cleaning and reproofing an awning at the end of the season will prolong its life. However, it is important to check with the manufacturer about the best way to clean it.
There are various ways to clean your awning: in situ, by dropping the sides and resting it on the side of the 'van, or by laying it out on the groundsheet. You might need steps to help you to reach those awkward places.
In terms of cleaning fluids, some manufacturers recommend just using water and a brush. This is fine for removing dust and general cleaning, but if there are particularly stubborn stains, such as algae, sap and bird mess, you might need specialised products.
Be very cautious when using cleaning fluids and check beforehand that they are suitable for the type of material your awning is made from.
Many of the awning manufacturers, such as Olpro and Isabella, sell their own brands of cleaner and reproofer. You'll soon see the difference that a good clean can make.
Don't forget to clean the skirt and draught skirt, because they tend to get muddy, particularly in wet weather. We often rope the children in to help take care of the groundsheet.
Packing up your awning can feel a bit like attempting large-scale origami. Many's the time we have had to fold, unfold and refold our full-size awning.
Try to avoid folding on the windows, because this can damage them, and be mindful of where zips and any other protruding objects are.
Packing away an awning completely dry saves a great deal of time when you get home. Unfortunately, our British climate doesn't always enable us to do this. But it is very important to pack the awning away dry.
If it is wet, inside or out, on your leaving day, just dismantle the awning and lay it out in your motorhome. When you get home, spread it out for a few days in the garage or spare room, to be absolutely sure it is dry.
The reason for this is that, if you pack it up tightly and stow it in the attic while it is damp, mould will start to grow. The last thing you want to find on your next trip is a mouldy awning. Even using specialised products, mould stains are notoriously hard to remove and can be unsightly.
Finally, I really like the oversized bags that most manufacturers supply. There is nothing worse than grappling for hours with a small bag.
Awnings are a good investment, offering storage and sleeping space. Drive-away awnings are a great place to store outdoor furniture, but also make a useful pitch marker. With regular cleaning and careful storage, they should last you for many years.