New Deal for Wheels of Steel

Working in Manhattan as a residential construction project manager, one of the things my bosses clued me into was that the further along you get in a renovation – creating pristine, finished surfaces – everything else around your work starts to look a little rougher. Such was the case with my Airstream’s vintage wheels. I’d already put a lot of work into the systems and interior, but once I’d started polishing the exterior a little bit and put some clean, chrome “baby moon” hubcaps on, the rusty wheels looked particularly gnarly all of sudden:

My concern was that I wanted environmentally-friendly products to use. Unfortunately, I made a snap decision & succumbed to conventional thinking. I’d assumed that there were simply no eco-friendly rust arresting / preventative products on the market, and went for a brand that (anecdotally) I knew would work and that I could easily find locally. My justification was that I needed something that would “really work,” and that the green solution just didn’t exist yet.

A quick Google search just this evening yielded examples of rust-prevention products that tout themselves as “environmentally safe,” “organic” and “biodegradeable,” among other claims. Below are a few I’d be eager to compare and possibly try in the future:

What I actually used was the POR15-family of products:

A quick online search of “POR15” and “eco-” or “environmentally-friendly” didn’t yield clues that it was healthy in its manufacture or use, nor was it indicated in this material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the rust-preventative paint I used, for example. That said, the product line often comes recommended on online forums, and by several contractors & shops. “I’m no expert,” I told myself. And more, I justified my choice by thinking, “the alternative is to throw the existing wheels into the landfill & buy new ones… not sustainable.” Also though, it was lazy justification for not doing my homework first.

Nevertheless, I eagerly set out to work:

Wheels cleaned, prepped, and painted, now drying.

First I taped & papered off areas I didn’t want the chemicals to touch, put on some protective gloves, a proper mask (please read the directions about which kind to use!) and safety glasses, then followed a three step process with the products pictured above. The whole thing took a couple of days, and the actual application of the products took just minutes. Aside from drying times, the thing that took the longest was the prep. Taking the time & detailed attention to your preparations (in this case, making sure everything is taped and papered off carefully) almost always gives the best results. 

Finished wheels with “baby moon” hubcaps reinstalled.

In the end, everything’s looking clean & sharp. We’ll see how it holds up over time.

Tools:

  • Paintbrush
  • Water bucket (for rinsing)
  • Rags / towels
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Newspaper

Products:

  • POR15 Cleaner / Degreaser
  • POR15 Metal Prep
  • POR15 Rust Preventative Paint (Matte Black)

Up next: Repairing a Vintage Air Conditioner

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