How long does it take for a RV water heater to heat up?

If you are like me, having a hot shower after a long day of hiking is like being in heaven. In our small RV bathroom, the shower heats up and steams the room making it a personal spa while you are in the shower. Waiting until your water tank is full is an important factor to have the best shower. But how long do you need to wait to experience cleanliness while showering? Good question, lets find out the dirty details below.

How long does it take for a RV water heater to heat up? A hot water heater in your RV or Travel Trailer will take 31 minutes to heat up if you have a 6 gallon tank and 51 minutes to heat up if you have a 10 gallon tank. These numbers are based upon heating with propane only. 110v heating or using both can give you much quicker or slower heating times.

Factors that determine the heat up time

Size of hot water tank

  • 6 Gallon
    • A 6 gallon water heater is the size that is installed in the majority of travel trailers. As this tank is only 60% of the size of a 10 gallon, it will heat up much faster. Typically my family of 3 can use 6 gallons to shower all of us back to back with some time in between for the hot water tank to heat up.
  • 10 Gallon
    • Lots of trailers have either an option for a 10 gallon tank or come standard in some nicer travel trailers as well as 5th wheels. 10 gallons is a lot of water that you have to heat and will take more time. It is however, nice to have 40% more water than a 6 gallon tank if you have a larger family or use it for washing clothes or dishes in your RV.

Type of heat

  • 110v Electric
    • Electric heat will heat up much slower than propane, but if you have access to plugins, this is very reliable and can provide you with good cheap hot water. On a typical RV hot water heater, electric will heat at 6.2 gallons per hour. If you are hooked up to a 2,000 watt generator, it will take about 1 gallon of gas to heat up a 6 gallon water heater. (we had to find this out the hard way when our control board failed on the first day of our 9 day camping trip last year.)
    • If you have a 6 gallon water heater, expect your tank to be hot in 58 minutes at a rate of 6.2 gallons per hour. If you have a 10 gallon tank, expect it to be hot in about an hour and a half.
  • Propane
    • Propane heat is the way to go if you are boondocking as your heater will heat much more efficiently and will heat your water quicker than the 110v element. Propane will heat your water at 11.6 gallons per hour. A propane hot water heater that is 6 gallons will heat the water tank at 11.6 gallons per hour or in 31 minutes. If you have a 10 gallon tank, expect the water to be heated in 51 minutes.
  • Both
    • Many water heaters come with both options and you can use both at the same time. Using both types of heat can heat your water at a rate of 17.8 gallons per hour. If you have a 6 gallon water heater, expect it to heat at 17.8 gallons per hour and take 20 minutes to heat up. If you have a 10 gallon tank, it can take about 33 minutes to fully heat up.

Outside Temperature

Outside air temperature will have some control on how long your water heater will take to heat up. This may not make it vary a lot, but can either help your or hurt you either way on your timing.

Incoming Water Temperature

The incoming water temperature will also play a role in how long it will take to heat up. If your water is coming from your fresh water tank and the temperature is 70 degrees, it will take a shorter amount of time to heat up than if it is coming from the plumbing in your RV park at 50 degrees. If you are camping in the winter and the water is 35 degrees, this will also take longer to heat up.

Instant Hot Water Heaters

Some trailers have been fitted with the controversial instant hot water heater. Theriotically, these will never run out of hot water and will provide you with an unlimited hot shower, but in practice, these have been found to not fully provide the hot water demanded and many have switched them out for water tank units.

Instant hot water heaters for RV’s typically provide .5 to 1 gallons of hot water per minute, therefore allowing you to take an unlimited shower.

Can you run Gas and Electric elements at the same time?

Yes, in most models, you can run both propane and electric at the same time in order to speed up the process of heating your hot water tank as well as make your hot water tank last for a hotter longer shower.

If you have a low flow shower head as well as not taking the absolutely hottest shower, you may almost virtually have unlimited hot water as depending on you water heater, you may be able to create 23 gallons of hot water per hour. While you use your shower, you are mixing hot water and cold water, therefore if you have both sides on full, you are running about 50-50 so you would only use 1 gallon per minute if you have a 2 gallon per minute shower head.

Should I leave my hot water on?

You can leave your hot water on all the time, but if you are boon docking it is never a good idea to leave it on 24/7 as it will go through propane and battery to keep it heated. If you are on electric, the choice is up to you. I never keep ours on all the time as I try and conserve both electric and propane.


  • One tip is to heat your hot water every few hours as the tanks are typically well insulated and will keep the water hot for a long time. In our model, we heat the tank at night and typically still have hot water in the morning. If we are doing dishes, the water is fine, but if we want to shower, you may need to run the hot water tank to heat it up more.
  • If you are taking a warm shower in the morning, heat the tank up at night and you can turn it back on in the morning and it will take less time to heat fully to provide you with a good warm shower.
  • Take the time to drain your hot water tank every few trips or as needed to remove the calcium deposits that will end up either getting in your pipes, or interfering with the heating process therefore taking your water heater longer to heat up.
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