Cleaning Your Trailer

Cleaning your trailer is the first step toward maintaining its peak performance and appearance. When cleaning your bike, pull the trailer out for a little TLC. Its broad surfaces are easy to clean and wax and won’t add much time to your overall routine.

Wash the trailer’s exterior to avoid damage to the painted surface from environmental pollutants, acid rain, tree gunk, etc. Bird droppings are especially harmful to any painted surface. Droppings adhere to your trailer like acidic glue, eating away at the clear coat, then the paint.

When you use cleaning products designed for motorcycle or automotive applications, you can use these on your trailer, too. For example, always use a detergent designed for bike or car applications. Never use dishwashing liquid, it’s too harsh and will dull the painted surfaces over time. Use a soft terrycloth towel designed for washing applications. The fibers in terrycloth capture the contaminants removed from the surface, reducing swirl marks and spider webbing in the clearcoat.

While you’re washing, don’t forget the underside of the trailer. Use a long-handled brush and soap up the underside to remove road grime, particularly salts leftover from winter road treatments. Also clean the wheel wells, wheels, and tires. Rinse everything completely. I like the Mr. Clean wash system that includes a water filter. Using this as a final rinse, you can let the trailer air dry. If you don’t use filtered water, wipe the trailer exterior and sides with a chamois cloth. Unfiltered water contains mineral deposits that remain behind when the water evaporates leaving spots.

If water beads on the surface of the trailer it has a sufficient coat of wax. If water breaks, leaving a thin film on the surface, you should consider preparing the surface further and then wax the trailer.

Where you go from here in preparing the trailer’s surface for waxing depends on your level of interest. There are entire books written on professional methods for cleaning that discuss when and how to use paint cleaners and polishes. In brief, cleaners are used to remove residue like bug carcasses and tar that ordinary detergents can’t remove. Polishes are used to restore the clearcoat on the paint when it begins to show significant spiderwebbing. Spiderwebbing or swirl marks are tiny scratches in the clearcoat that occur from any contact made with the trailer’s surface when it is not clean. Polishes are available in differing levels of abrasion. You always start with the most abrasive polish you intend to use, then follow up with less abrasive polishes to finish the job.

One method for deep cleaning the surface is to use a paint-cleaning clay. Paint-cleaning clay picks up contaminants left behind that washcloths miss. Lubricate a limited portion of the surface you’re cleaning with a detail spray, then rub the surface with a clean chunk of clay. After finishing a section, fold the clay to trap the surface gunk in the clay. Move on to another small section, folding and reshaping the clay as you go. Be sure to wipe away the leftover detail spray as you go. You will be amazed that how smooth the surface will be when you use clay.

With a clean surface, you’re ready to wax with a quality carnuba wax. Wax is a necessary final step because it provides an essential added barrier between the environment and the trailer’s clearcoat. Wax restores the luster of the trailer’s paint finish by filling in the tiny surface scratches that look like swirl marks or spiderwebbing. I prefer pure wax products to combination products that have some type of cleaner embedded. Use a soft, moistened applicator to put down a thin coat of wax. Don’t use too much wax on a single coat. It’s preferable to apply several thin coats if you’re trying to build up wax on the trailer. A heavy coat of wax leaves behind no more product than a thin coat and is harder to remove.

Don’t forget the exposed metal bits on your trailer. These will benefit from the use of a high-quality polish to match the type of metal, e.g. aluminum polish for aluminum wheels, chrome polish for chrome wheels, etc. After polishing chrome, apply a thin film of carnuba wax. Wax will greatly assist in preventing surface rust from developing on chrome. You may have heard that coating your wheel rims with Vaseline will prevent them from rusting. While some people do that for long term storage, I think it’s messier to deal with and returns no better results than simply keeping the wheels clean and waxed.