Getting Rid of the Vinyl
With the elimination of the black water tank and the stripping out of most everything “inside the inside skins”, I wanted to attack the vile vinyl wall covering. Sticky and foul after years of exposure to the human element, removing the vinyl would be a major step in making a new interior.
I don’t know how that vinyl coating was applied to the aluminum skins, but it put up a ferocious resistance to removal. I read every everything I could find in the forums searching for how others may have dealt with it before. It seems many who tried gave up and painted over the stuff.
In the end, what worked to remove the vinyl was Jasco Paint Stripper; lots of Jasco Paint Stripper. The Jasco needed to be followed by MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) to remove the residual adhesive and Jasco. I did this work at the end of 2014 and I never found any good instructions on how to go about it, so it was trial and error for me. I searched this topic recently and found a couple of good youtube videos that were posted in 2016 which largely follow the same method and work flow I eventually developed. I wish they had existed when I started out.
Right up front I want to say that Jasco is nasty, dangerous stuff. You should take serious precautions when working with it and the other chemicals needed in this process. Proper barrier gloves and clothing are a must and if you don’t have EXCELLENT ventilation then you need to wear a serious respirator (and really you should have both). I made mistakes when I started out and it was foolish and it made me ill. While the youtube videos are instructive it worries me how little they deal with the risks. You need to know that this job will take many, many, many hours and you will have long exposure to these chemicals. Please be careful.
The essential ingredient (after safety precautions) in using the Jasco effectively was patience. Starting out I applied some stripper and waited 15-20 minutes and started trying to remove vinyl. This didn’t work. It wasn’t until I discovered that you must patiently wait until the vinyl blisters before you even think about separating it from the aluminum. Sometimes this would happen in 15 minutes, but sometimes it was 30 minutes or more and sometimes it wouldn’t blister at all without another application. And you need to be careful that it doesn’t dry out. If it dries out your task will be doubly difficult as the dried Jasco creates an additional layer to be dissolved (using Jasco against itself) to get back at the vinyl. So if it hasn’t blistered and it starts to dry, you need to glob on some more of the stuff. This means you usually aren’t going to be working on more than 3 or so square feet at a time (although this can vary) or you can get into a real counter-productive mess.
When it blisters you can begin to pull the vinyl away. Sometimes you are lucky and once you get a bit of it lifted up (I used steel putty knife to carefully lift enough sheeting to be able to grab onto it -wearing the correct safety gloves) you end up with a nice clean sheet of the stuff coming off in one pull. When you aren’t lucky, instead of getting a generous sheet of vinyl to come away, it comes off a bit and then tears and breaks and you try again to lift and pull. Sometimes it is inch by inch. Usually you remove what you can in the field you are working in and then reapply over the area and have another go at the pieces still stuck. It is maddening work. Your tools–disposable brushes, putty knives, and your gloves –get slimy with Jasco and it is difficult to hold onto things let alone get a grip on a piece of the vinyl to start pulling. Each time I thought I found a break through technique, it would turn out to have just been a lucky go and things returned to frustrating and maddening for the next section.
Once you do finally get the the vinyl removed you are left with a residue of leftover adhesive and Jasco. Removing this residue proved as challenging as the sheeting itself. I tried a lot of products and solvents. In the youtube videos I mentioned above they used Goof Off at this stage. When I tried Goof Off it did not work. I got to the point that I even tried chemicals with steel wool and then even sanding thinking that I would polish out the scratches. Both of those methods were disastrous and would have added even more hours to this task. Eventually I tried MEK. It worked. It was nasty, but it worked.
Wetting a clean cloth rag with MEK you wipe it onto the aluminum and then wipe up the dissolved residue. The problem was that the wiping rag fouled quickly and would then start leaving residue behind. So repeated passes and rapid replacement of the rags proved the norm. It was tiring work and more physical than you might think. Also the gloves you need for working with MEK are not the same as what you need for Jasco. They are made from a different material and these gloves are not super flexible (do not let them come into contact with water or they will be destroyed and they aren’t cheap). I tried to error on the side of over protection so I added a chemical barrier film glove inside of the outside glove. Your hands end up sweating a lot and it gets uncomfortable. When I took a break and removed my gloves the collected sweat would run out like water from a faucet.
I discovered late in the process that the right wiping cloths for use with the MEK made an immense difference in efficiency. I started off using old sheets and t-shirts. What I eventually found was that Scot shop towels in a box (they are actually a paper product but feel like fabric) worked way better and you could fold them into quarters and turn as you go which helped cut down on time, effort and materials. The difference was remarkable.
Be advised that the fumes from MEK are considerably stronger than Jasco and you do not want to be working inside with this stuff, respirator or no. I quickly decided I could not do this work inside the trailer even with windows, doors and vents wide open and large fans running. In the end I did the MEK work outside after removing the skins and I still needed a respirator.
By the time I had all the vinyl off (but the residue still to go) I was sick of the work and needed a break from it. As I said, I didn’t feel it was safe to work with the MEK inside the trailer anyway so I decided I would go ahead and remove the interior skins as they were and get the trailer ready to lift the shell from the chassis. While the trailer was in the shop getting the frame redone and new axles put on I could work on completing the process of stripping the interior skins outside in the fresh air and flat on the ground in front of me. Were I to do this job again I would start by removing the skins first and doing all of it outside of the trailer.