TinCan Bathtime…tips on washing a vintage Airstream

Finally. Finally…the TinCan is clean. I still need to scrub some more spots and then run a polish touch-up. However, she looks so much better. The exterior was filthy. The pond next to the TonCan has a fountain. Although it is beautiful, I admit I hate it. It is constantly windy here, which means there is a constant overspray of pond water on the TinCan. This does nothing to preserve her shine. Frustrating indeed. Then through a crazy idea I had while washing a skillet with bar keepers friend, I did find a cleaning product that works wonders on removing the dullness caused by that residue.

Have questions on washing a vintage Airstream exterior? I hope you find the following tips helpful. Please note: the following tips have been tested for washing an Airstream without a clear coat and without professionally done perfect polish job. If your’s has been professionally polished to perfection, I would ask the polisher what he/she recommends to maintain that finish. Particularly, I would leave out the steps below involving the bar keepers friend. However, if you have a self-polished, work-in-progress finish on yours like I do, then the following steps work well. Wash a vintage airstream

Items needed:

  • Water hose
  • On/off control sprayer (I prefer one with different spray types. A powerful direct for pre-rinsing and a fuller spray for rinsing off the cleaning products should be sufficient.)
  • Soft Sponges. I like to have a large and small one.
  • Simple Green Car Wash…I can never find this locally, but it is available on Amazon.*
  • Bar Keeper’s Friend: I use the liquid version instead of powder as the humidity here always ruins the can before I have finished it off. You can easily find this in a local store.
  • A new product I just found: Bar Keepers Friend Spray and Foam Cleaner. You could get great results without adding this one. I think it did help reduce a little bit of elbow grease needed in scrubbing, but I’m still not convinced on how big a difference it made. I’ll update after using it again. It does have a harsher chemical aspect to it that I am not very found of, but for some spots I thought I would try it.
  • I usually keep a bottle of regular Simple Green handy for more stuck on spots if needed. Of course, I keep this on hand for general cleaning in and around the TinCan all the time.
  • Ladder (not shown)
  • Extension soft car wash brush. (Not shown) This is a real time saver. I found a great one at Sam’s club a couple of years ago. I’m not sure if they still carry the set now.

Photos were taken after step one.


  • Fill a bucket with water and the amount of simple green car wash solution recommended on the bottle. I don’t get very scientific in my measurements here. This cleaner is my absolute favorite. It is tough enough to get the dirt off but doesn’t bother my sensitive skin. It is biodegradeable so I don’t worry about it running off into the pond or environment either.
  • I have learned over time to do a quick complete circuit around the entire trailer before focusing on areas that need more attention. This keeps me from getting part way around, then oops! Interruption or exhaustion leaves one section looking great while the rest looks even worse now. Pre-spray each section to wet and remove any loose debris. Using the extension brush and the bucket of wash solution I make my way around the trailer. Note: If this is one of more frequent washes, then this may be the only step you need. Or you may need only a light go over with a large sponge on certain areas. If your TinCan finish still needs some more serious attention continue…
  • The next round I grab a soft small sponge and the liquid bar keepers friend. Wet the section then scrub. Don’t apply a lot of pressure. Let the product do the work. Rinse well or the cleanser will leave a residue. Continue around until finished. This time I tried a quick soak with the foaming spray prior to scrubbing with the liquid scrub. I’m not sure it make a huge difference in the results but it may save a little elbow grease. Overall I am thrilled with how well the bar keepers friend works on restoring the polished shine.

The back window and left of it has been washed using the bar keeper’s friend. The section right of the window still needed a scrub.

Perhaps I should add sunscreen to the supply list, or you may end up having to put on long pants and socks to block the sun when you realize you are all out of it.

Here she is at the end of the day. The TinCan still needs some more polish touch up now, but the steps above worked even better than I hoped at removing the dullness. Not bad results for one days work!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: