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Aluminum Trailer: Acid Wash or Not?

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  • Aluminum Trailer: Acid Wash or Not?

    To Acid Wash or Not to Acid Wash, that is the question.

    Will you guys give me the definitive answer, or at least vote?

    Some say yes, but maker sure it is rinsed well to return the pH to neutral or you will pit the metal.

    Others say acid washing just will pit metal and send you that place of gray, perma-dirty dull aluminum faster.

    Buffing ain't an option since parts of my trailer aren't smooth (extruded?) and it has decaled decor on it.

    So how to I spruce it up?
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat

  • #2
    I know 3 people who have aluminum trailers and they all get acid washed once a year and they all look great. 1 trailer is about 10 years old, the other 6 and I have no idea on the 3rd. I myself don't have an aluminum, so this is just what I've seen with others.


    • #3
      I take my trailer once a year to the big truck wash place and it comes out sparkling clean. No buffing required is the best part!

      For what it's worth it costs about $75 - 80 for my 36' trailer and my dually crew cab truck.
      Kanoe Godby
      See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


      • #4
        I vote yes. I'm overdue to have it done because the normal place I used to use shut down last year, and the trailer looks like crap. I've found another place but haven't gotten around to it. My trailer is 11 years old this year and still sparkles and looks fantastic after it's done.
        Click here before you buy.


        • #5
          I paid $22 to have mine done at the truck stop and it looks as good as new. I tried everything to get the streaks out and nothing even came close to doing as good of a job.
          McDowell Racing Stables

          Home Away From Home


          • #6

            Many years ago I attended Corrosion Control School at the Naval Air Rework Facility, Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, RI. Navy aircraft have a LOT of aluminum in them and live in a very corrosive environment.

            We were taught that bare aluminum does not rust, but it does oxidize. The dull sheen seen on unprotected aluminum is that aluminum oxide finish. It is only a an atom or two deep and it stops. This is in contrast to many other metals (like iron) where the oxidation can continue until the metal is completely consumed.

            What this means is that if you have a bare aluminum finish and acid wash it then you are removing that oxide coating. This makes the metal look great, but you have just weakened the structure. Do it a lot and eventually you'll have no AL present at all.

            There are many coatings that can be applied to bare aluminum that will prevent oxidation but also maintain a sharp appearance. To apply these coatings properly it often takes an "acid wash" solution to prepare the surface (so that you get maximum adheasion). This is pefectly OK. But to just wash away the aluminum oxide is to wash away part of your trailer.

            If the AL is protected by some coating and the acid wash is just cleaning the coating then that's perfectly OK (assuming the intregrity of the coating).

            Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


            • #7
              My aluminum trailer is 21 years old and gets acid wash at least once a year, usually twice a year. There is no noticeable damage to the aluminum. I do it my self, I get the stuff in a gallon jug, I put about a cup in 5 gallons of water, more if needed for the roof when trailer was left under oak trees.


              • Original Poster

                Thanks for both the many votes "yes" and one authoritative "wherefore" supporting the no.

                I'll look into this more, but it sounds like ideally one would acid wash and then apply a protective coating. Or acid wash often to shave/dissolve off some top layer of AL along with its oxidation. I'll also ask if these multiple "dermabrasions" to get down to that virginal, smooth as a baby's butt, AL really weaken the trailer. Perhaps it will die of natural causes before it runs out of skin?

                But my local trailer dude says that acid-washed AL takes on a whiter color (and he may have meant a chalky sheen). True?
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat


                • #9
                  My husband did our 17 year old trailer and it came out looking brand new. I vote yes!
                  Breeders of Painted Thoroughbreds and Uniquely Painted Irish Sport Horses in Northeast Oklahoma


                  • #10
                    What Guilherme said.

                    Yes, many people do acid wash their trailer every year. Yes, it looks great. But, unlike with washing a painted surface, the acid wash is only cosmetic. With a painted surface, a wash and wax adds a protective layer that is beneficial to the paint and ultimately the metal. With a bare aluminum surface, the acid wash removes its outer protective layer, and the top layer of aluminum will need to oxidize again.

                    The reality is that it's going to take a lot of acid washes to make a significant difference. But, unless there's a particular reason to make it look sharp, I wouldn't do it as routine maintenance - while I'd consider washing and waxing a painted surface to be routine maintenance. It won't look super shiny for all that long anyway.
                    If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                    • #11
                      Painted aluminum - NO
                      mill finish - if you must ( oxidation is protection )
                      aluminum floors - soap & water

                      www.SterlingHorseTrailers.com ( available soon )

                      Originally posted by mvp View Post
                      To Acid Wash or Not to Acid Wash, that is the question.

                      Will you guys give me the definitive answer, or at least vote?

                      Some say yes, but maker sure it is rinsed well to return the pH to neutral or you will pit the metal.

                      Others say acid washing just will pit metal and send you that place of gray, perma-dirty dull aluminum faster.

                      Buffing ain't an option since parts of my trailer aren't smooth (extruded?) and it has decaled decor on it.

                      So how to I spruce it up?


                      • #12
                        Don't mos taluminum trailers come with a clearcoat on them - Mine is16 years old and has that, so really, just needs a wash now and then.
                        Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                        • #13
                          I bought a 1986 Featherlite gooseneck that was terribly oxidized and had never been acid washed. I had a local trailer guy acid wash it (the right way, well rinsed and all that) inside and out. I could not believe the difference, it looked like a brand new trailer. Two years later it's still super shiny. It cost me $250 to have this done, but this guy was a perfectionist and spent 2 days doing the job and meticulously rinsing it out, even taking the lights apart to rinse inside. Worth every penny. However, my trailer guy said acid washing should not be done often.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Foxtrot's View Post
                            Don't mos taluminum trailers come with a clearcoat on them - Mine is16 years old and has that, so really, just needs a wash now and then.
                            I suspect so. That's why "acid washing" might just be an exercise in "burning $20 bills" for most trailers.

                            If that protective coating is gone then acid wash will work, but you probably ought to put a protective coat back on otherwise you'll get more oxidation.

                            To get the "straight dope" on you trailer call the manufacturer. They will tell you what they do and what they don't. They might even be able to tell you about your spedific trailer (if you give them the VIN or serial number).

                            Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão