Travel Trailer Renovation: Skinny Rippin’

by andrewodom on May 13, 2014 · 2 comments


IMG_1620If you remember we talked last week about removing the hideous cornice boards that have plagued RVs and campers for years. Even after an additional two weeks of research I am no further than I was then on trying to understand what possesses the RV manufacturing community to include such an accoutrement. I do understand that in a number of settings it makes the ceilings seem higher but I also know the weight and bulk of the cornice and accompanying drapery has to be in some ratio to…..well, nevermind. They are gone now. End of story.

This week I thought it would be good to talk about something that is equally as disturbing and very seldom remedied. I saw this up front. I have no idea why more people don’t take this step. Turns out it is pretty darned easy and updates the look of your interior in less than a half hour. I think though that more people than not approach the task with the mind of a chemist rather than with common sense. Take this forum thread entry for example. It was written in 2013:

Lots of experience.  None of it good.  Tried Goo Gone,  it stripped the color from the wall.  Tried Goofoff, Nothing.  Alcohol did not touch anything either.  Lacquer thinner was mostly a waste.  Finally just gave up and kept wiping with lacquer thinner until I got most of it off.  Quart of Kilz primer and a quart of top quality paint and my bathroom is again looking nice.  I originally wanted to strip all the border paper off, but after my experiment in the bathroom I decided to leave it alone.

Did that person really try four products to remove the sticky left behind by peeling of the vinyl border? Before removing anything I always think it is best to find out what you are removing.

Turns out that the borders and wall coverings in most RVs are made of vinyl. In chemistry, vinyl or ethenyl is the functional group − CH=CH2, namely the ethylene molecule (H2C=CH2) minus one hydrogen atom. The name is also used for any compound containing that group, namely R−CH=CH2where R is any other group of atoms. All that to say that vinyl is a compound that when mixed with a catalyst forms a vinyl polymer which in these polymers, the double bonds of the vinyl monomers turn into single bonds and the different monomers are joined by single bonds. Following still? All that to say it is a strong material that is twice as strong as most other wallpaper fabrics. Thus the reason it is used in RVs of all sorts. When researching the vinyl used in both the wallcovering and the border in our travel trailer I also found out a whole lot of things that I suspected but am now far more aware of.

The nonprofit Ecology Center tested nearly 2,300 samples of wallpaper in 2010. Some of their results included

  • The vast majority, 96%, of wallpaper samples contained polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coatings.
  • Over half of the PVC wallpaper samples contained one or more hazardous chemicals of concern, including lead, chromium, tin and antimony. Nearly one in five wallpaper samples contained detectable levels of cadmium.

Phthalates, which are already banned from baby and children’s products, were found in abundance in the wallpaper tested. Phthalates are chemical additives used to soften PVC products and concentrations of these additives have been associated with wheezing among preschool children. Some phthalates also have endocrine-disrupting properties, even at low-level exposure. Also, studies show a link between phthalates and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver and blood.

Cadmium, found in wallpaper samples, can cause adverse health effects even at low levels. Negative effects of cadmium include lung damage, kidney disease and even cancer.

Furthermore, wallpaper samples were found to have lead, which of course we now know is very unhealthy for kids. Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma or even death, but even low-level lead exposure is no picnic. Low-level lead exposure has been associated with appetite loss, abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, irritability, headache and more. Plus, lead is known to cross the placenta, thereby making exposure for pregnant women a dangerous issue as well.

The chemicals above, along with other chemicals, can cause issues like early puberty in girls, allergic reactions, hyperactivity, heart disease, diabetes and more. Plus toxic chemical exposure costs our country billions. There’s no way around it – toxic chemicals are a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Bottom line? Not only is RV border harsh on the eyes and disruptive to the flow of the walls, it is dangerous to some degree for the inhabitants of the rig and since we are intending to live full-time in our “new to us” TT along with our 2-year old daughter I became more determined to strip it off.  Oh, and did anyone notice we haven’t even covered the adhesive yet!

The adhesive used in most RVs on the market today is a product originally derived from a product named ‘Vinyl-Over-Vinyl‘ adhesive created by Roman Decorating Products out of Calumet City, Illinois. (a quick Google search will reveal a number of brands that now sell a VOV type adhesive) The description of the product makes it sound like a remodel product or an adhesive for cover up jobs and the like. More frequently though it is used to adhere vinyl border over vinyl wallpaper. Thus the VOV name. Because I have not stripped full sheets of wallpaper off particle board or utility plywood walls in an RV I cannot confirm that this is the same concentrate used to glue the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper. My gut tells me that that wallpaper is glued on using a spray adhesive that is a little more toxic, a little more effective, but a lot less gooey. But then again I know that water-based poly vinyl acetate adhesives are preferred in most manufacturing plants. But none of this answers the question of how to remove the border. Should a person use Goo-Be-Gone, Goo-Off, rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, or just some magical voodoo juice? It is a complex thing to work out until you remember the common sense referenced in paragraph two.

IMG_1725Problem: Vinyl wallpaper border is placed on wall with a strong adhesive that I can’t chemically dissolve

Solution: Use an acetic acid (a chemical with a low pH volume) to break apart the chemical compounds of the glue

So that is what I tried first. I took regular household white vinegar, mixed it in a 1:3 ratio with warm water, filled up a common spray bottle and gave it a try. Did it work? I’ll tell you tomorrow!

  • http://onajourney.blogspot.com Bj Thomas

    Wow, am I ever glad that K-Z who made our Escalade 5th wheel does not use any of this stuff! I was able to simply peel it off my entire rig! No sticking, no sticky stuff left either! All borders were gone in a short amount of time! Good luck with your project. . .I hated those borders!

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

      Awesome. In the past few RV shows we have attended we have been in some models that smelled fresh and carried the ‘Eco Friendly’ sticker on the outside. What a difference. The off-gassing caused by some of the adhesives and even products is incredible and scary. And good for you being able to just peel it off. What a relief, huh? Thank you for the good wishes. (hint: we are done but I want to spread out the instructions and posts some).

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