AIRSTREAM RENOVATION: Stripping the Exterior

So it's on to the exterior!

We've gotten the bulk of stuff demo'ed out from the interior, and before we got any farther I wanted to get the exterior prepped for polishing. This means we had to remove all the trim, and lights, and logos, and awnings and worst of all... SILICONE!!!! Miles of it! Ok, not really but that's what it felt like. (side note: you don't really have to remove all that stuff (except silicone) to polish an airstream, but being that it is Serenity's first polish we wanted to make sure we got every nook and cranny and did a thorough job the first time.)

First up was the Zip-Dee awnings. A classic airstream feature, and one that was apparently leaking really bad at some point in the past because the top of the main awning where it is attached to the shell it CAKED with silicone. We had to scrape, and scrape and scrape just to get to the rivets so I could drill them out. And then scrape and scrape and scrape some more to clean the silicone off the surface. It was a very long and tedious process that we had to do all around the shell and it caused lots of neck, arm, and wrist pain. (Thank god for CBD lotion!)

If you need to remove a Zip Dee awning and are wondering where to start, Click here for a more detailed post about that.

Then came the trim.

This is all the long "decorative" metal pieces that is used to cover up seams and rivets. There is trim that runs along the bottom where the shell and the under belly meet, as well as around the sides of the shell where the blue stripe is. These pieces are just pop riveted in so all you have to do to remove them is drill out the rivets with a 1/8" drill bit. (while the 1/8" pop rivet is the most common for these, double check the size for yours because you don't want to drill the whole bigger or you will have issues later on)
Unfortunately, we forgot to get any photos of this process but we did make a video about it which you can watch here:

Stripping the clear coat.

After getting all the awnings, trim, and other obstructions off of the shell, it was time to remove the PlastiCoat! That's just a fancy name for the clear coat that Airstream started putting on their trailers in 1965. That's right, people were complaining that they had to polish their Airstream every couple of years because oxidation naturally occurs on bare aluminum. That's why new Airstreams today don't have that mirror finish shine, it's more of a dull gray as you can see in the photos of Serenity.
Unfortunately, the PlastiCoat still presents another problem if not cared for properly, over time, UV exposure starts to wear away the coating allowing water to get trapped between the clear coat and the aluminum which causes corrosion. This corrosion can even eventually eat its way through the aluminum panels creating holes, as it did on 3 rear panels of Serenity.

the white speckles is the corrosion from water getting trapped in the clear coat
Here you can see the difference between where we removed the clear coat(bottom left) and where we did not

To get the clear coat off we found that CitriStrip gel worked best. We painted it all over the outside shell and let it sit for a couple hours, once we did a scrape test to determine it was ready, we power washed it all off along with the clear coat. Some areas the clear coat had already worn off and you can see where those areas have become oxidized.

In the process of stripping the clear coat we found that the CitriStrip worked well in softening up a lot of the silicone and epoxy that was on the Airstream. WHICH WAS AMAZING!! So we caked the silicone in CitriStrip several times. That, along with Goo Gone, plastic razor scrapers, and metal razor scrapers. We were finally able to get 99.8% of the silicone off of the trailer.

The Blue Stripe.

Though, the CitriStrip didn't even scratch the surface of the blue vinyl stripe. Having worked a sign and graphics shop in the past applying and removing vinyl from vehicles, I thought I was doomed to the nasty process of using a blow torch and scraper to remove the vinyl. But after getting about 1 foot removed in the 30 minutes, I reached out for help from my friend(and former co-worker) and he told me about a hand little device that "erases" vinyl. I was able to borrow the tool from my sign shop and remove that blue stripe in about 2 hours. The tool I used is about $500 but you can find one that attaches to your drill on amazon for $20. Don't expect it to work as good though, I still used about 2 wheels to get the entire stripe off, so I would buy at least 3 to start off with. Whizzy Wheel car decal remover

Now that the bulk of everything is removed off the shell, there was just a couple random things that I wanted to get off, all the vents, the AC unit and went around making sure there weren't any leftover rivets that were hanging out, I want a nice smooth surface when it comes time to polish this baby up!

Now, I am still trying to figure out what step in the process I am going to polish it. I know I might need to make some repairs to some sections on the roof in the rear. We are definitely replacing the panel below the rear window as it has the worst corrosion and that's an easy replacement. So anyway, I am not sure if I want to do it now, or do it after I get the shell repaired.... I'll let you know when I figure that out!

DISCLAIMER: The information and content found on this site is for entertainment purposes only. We are not experts, guides, or health professionals. We are only sharing our own experiences and what works for us. You must do your own research (DYOR) and decide what works for you.

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Ben Figueiredo

I make a living as a filmmaker & Website Designer, Telling Stories, creating content for businesses, entrepreneurs and even couples getting married. As a Five on the Enneagram, I love learning. Absorbing as much knowledge I can. I am into Biohacking, holistic wellness, and Rewilding so that I can be the best version of me to enjoy life with my family connecting with nature, our community, and God.

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