This is one of those 'learn from my mistakes' posts. I have found very little information out there for just what to do with an aluminum floor trailer to keep it in good condition. I figured I'd be good about sweeping and pulling my mats once or twice a year and I'd be fine. Aluminum doesn't rust, right?
Last winter hit very suddenly and we got buried in snow right out the gate. I'd cleaned out my trailer, but snuck in one more use with the intent of pulling my mats for the winter afterward. When my trailer got buried, I shrugged and let it be. I'd just cleaned my trailer, surely it would be fine through the winter.
Fast forward to April when I finally got my trailer free of the snow and ice. I pulled the mats for a quick spring clean up and got an unpleasant surprise. A slow leak due to snow melt had let water into my trailer. It had run under the mats heading to the drainage hole (good news, trailer was at least angled the right way so the water drained out). Since I didn't pull the mats after the last use, the water mixed with some used shavings that had worked their way under the mats. Gross. I swept the mess out, hosed off my floor, and reset. I noted some white powder while sweeping, but with all of the mess, it didn't really register. I was more upset about the set of Dansko clogs in the gooseneck that got ruined in the leak.
It looks like a safe, well maintained trailer, right?
I did some research on products to clean up the aluminum floor properly and realized that I had corrosion on my hands. Huh. I ordered up some products and scheduled this weekend for giving my trailer a thorough scrub to make sure it didn't get damaged. I parked it, pulled up my mats, and stared in horror. I hadn't done a good job getting my floor dry before and it was a royal mess under the mats.
White is corrosion, black is from the mats, brown is from old shavings working their way underneath and grinding into the metal
I thought I'd ruined my trailer. Now that I knew what I was looking at, I was in a panic that I'd put my horse on that trailer. I called my husband and told him my trailer was done, my show season was cancelled, etc. Fortunately he does metal working and told me to clean it up so he could check it out when he got home. I agreed and got out my supplies.
L to R: Car washing supplies, nitrile gloves, drill with brush, clear goggles, Bio Kleen Alum Kleen, Oxi-X Oxidation Barrier, Bug and Goo remover, car wash
First thing was to hose out the trailer. I attacked the floor with the brush on the drill to take care of the spots where the water/shavings had turned into a paste and adhered to the floor. Goggles are important if you're using a drill brush while removing manure/urine soaked muck. Things were already looking better.
I hit the floor with a 50:50 dilution of the Bio Kleen as an acid wash. I let it sit six minutes, then hosed out the trailer.
Excellent progress. The oxidation is very visible, but at least I know what I'm dealing with. The half of the floor that doesn't usually have a horse is already looking very shiny, so Bio Kleen is a great way to clean up a floor with minimal scrubbing. For the damaged half? Well, I've got a lot of work to do. I tried the drill brush to remove the brown muck and oxidation. No dice, had to go manual.
RIP kitchen sponge
My secret weapon for this battle was my jar of Bar Keepers Friend and the scrubby sponge from the kitchen. With these as my companions, I was able to attack the floor and remove all of the muck and oxidation so I could truly see what the state of my floor was. Yes, I sat on my butt in my trailer for the better part of an hour and scrubbed out the floor by hand. That sponge had a hard, hard life. I hosed everything out again and gave it another hit of Bio Kleen at a 4:1 dilution. One last touch up scrub, then I final hit of Bio Kleen at the weaker dilution.
At this point, my floor is clean enough to eat off of. Any discoloration is from the damage to the aluminum making it not reflect light the same way. This was when I had to walk away because I was still convinced my trailer was ruined. The hubby and the neighbor that does auto body came over to inspect my trailer.
Did you know that you test structural integrity of an aluminum floor by having two grown men hit it with a phillips screwdriver to see if they can punch through or if it sounds different? I didn't until the two of them started hitting my poor trailer floor. After this highly scientific inspection, followed by me crawling around with a flash light to inspect the floor in detail, the trailer was declared ugly but totally sound. Yes, there was some pitting on the surface, but no pin holes or soft spots. I'd caught it in time. Or I got lucky, depending on who you ask. Either way, I still have a functioning trailer and a very important life lesson. PULL YOUR MATS.
Since my floor was completely pristine, I went ahead and washed the walls using my car wash. I hit the padding with some Amor All wipes and was happy to see them come right back to life. I followed that with my Oxi-X protective coating for the floor.
Knee pads and gloves are important when putting a coat of sealer down on your trailer floor
It's for marine use to protect aluminium from salt water. It's a clear coat that goes on like a thin paint. I figured why not, I'd give it a try. I let my trailer completely dry over night (fun fact, the oxidation is much harder to see once dry), then attacked it with my protective coating. I put down two coats, very grateful that mats were going over top. Hay kept blowing from my gooseneck onto my coating, so the finish is not exactly pristine. But who cares, so long as it protects my aluminum for a season or two.
The finished product:
Looks like a completely different trailer
It took me hours and hours of work, but my floor is clean, inspected, and sealed. My mats got a wash with some Simple Green, then dried in the sun (completely bone dry, both sides, I checked very closely). I dragged them back in, then ran some black duct tape along the seams to keep the sawdust out from under my mats as I will be doing three horse show weekends in a row. I can promise my trailer won't get another serious clean out until July, I just won't have the time or energy. I've learned all about the importance of prevention.
All my goodies went back in and my trailer is ready to hit the road again!
I finally got some hooks up front, it is a wonderful thing and keeps me much more organized when showing out of the trailer.
I learned some very important lessons.
1. ALWAYS pull your mats before putting your trailer away for the winter. So important. Totally worth doing even if you have to dig it out of the snow to do it.
2. Cover the dang trailer when it's chilling during the winter if you get a lot of snow. Snow melt has this nasty way of oozing into seams that are usually water tight.
3. Pull the mats more often and scrub out your floor. Yes, mats are heavy, but spending hours undoing the damage is worse.
I'm glad that's over and I can carry on with my show season.