Stripping the clear coat off a vintage Airstream

One of the first things we did was start on Mavis’ exterior. She had a lot of oxidation and staining. With time, the clear coat weakens and starts peeling because of UV exposure. And Mavis got plenty of that since she sat the last seven years in Tampa sunshine. You cannot begin the polishing process until you first remove the clear coat.

What you’ll need:

+ 1-Qt. Safer Paint and Varnish Remover (We ended up using 4 jars)
+ Good quality 4″ paint brush (not a foam brush – it will melt)
+ Nitrile gloves
+ Goggles
+ Terry cloths (preferred) or a pressure washer
+ Masking tape
+ Ladder and any additional safety equipment needed for your situation

A word about the clear coat stripper: It’s supposedly eco friendly so we were okay with removing the stripper away on the driveway. Don’t let any globs of it sit on the driveway as it will leave bleached spots. It also didn’t kill any grass or plants.



Below are a couple of shots of Mavis after the clear coat stripping. We wondered if we could just stop here and not continue with polishing but it was still left pretty blotchy and unattractive. We’ve seen some Airstreams that look amazing after clear coat stripping and some that look pretty blah. Ours was definitely blah. Better, but blah.


Step 1: Tape off anything you don’t want the paint removed from. We taped off our all of our badges with paint as we wanted to preserve the patina.

Step 2: Wear gloves and apply the stripper LIBERALLY with a good quality wide 4″ brush. Our first pass with the paint stripper didn’t yield great results because we brushed the stripper on too thin. Don’t be afraid to lather it on!

Step 3: Let the stripper sit at least 6 hours (may vary depending on the brand you purchase). We even let one section sit overnight.

Step 4: Protect your eyes with goggles and remove the clear coat stripper with a terry cloth or pressure washer. Depending on the severity of the oxidation you may need to repeat the process twice. We had to.

We are not professionals by any means but this process worked for us. Good luck!



Sheena is a free-spirited adventurer who designed and renovated a 1975 Airstream in 2016 and travels the US with her husband and mohawk-sportin’ poodle. She’s a business owner, self-taught carpenter, blogger, yogi, professional photographer and a lover of the outdoors and healthy living.

2 Comment

  1. I notice you also got the small dents out of the bottom corner. Did you have to remove the piece and tap out from the inside?

    1. Hey there! We actually used a dent remover kit to get most of the major ones out. I’d like to remove and tap the rest out some day!

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