Van Build step 1: Guide To Gutting Out Your Van & Treating Rust
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Okay the time is here! You’ve bought your dream home and you’re ready to get to work on the van conversion process. If you’d like to watch my youtube video covering this check it above!
This step is pretty straightforward and is mostly a task of physical labor. Nothing to overthink here. You may question what exactly you’re supposed to remove, what you should keep for the future and how to treat the rust spots once you have everything stripped out.. I will cover in detail exactly what I did for these steps.
STEP 1: GUTTING OUT YOUR VAN
You will need to remove all of the hardware and extra “stuff” from the floor, walls and sometimes ceiling.Your van floor will have some type of plywood or plastic floor covering the original floor of the van. This floor needs to be removed for many important reasons that will be covered in the next post.
Your walls may have a plastic covering along with wood beams or metal framing. Remove all of the hardware in the van’s walls that is holding these up. You will need to remove any lights that are there as well. Usually they detach very easily from the wires in the back of the light itself. Leave the wires hanging or tape them up to the ceiling to keep them out of the way for now.
Your ceiling shouldnt have much going on to remove. There may be some metal framing that needs to come down in the corners where the ceiling meets the wall. Simply remove the hardware and take the frame down and remember to always save everything!
Something I wish I did is save all of my hardware in a more organized way. I just threw ALL of it into one single box.
This is not ideal because when you’re looking for a certain piece of hardware in the next step it will take you 10x as long. Put all of the hardware removed from the floor, ceiling, and walls in their own separate zip lock bags and label them.
Step 2: Clean The Van
Once you have removed everything from the van and are left with just bare metal walls, ceiling and floor… your gut out is complete! Time to clean.
After everything is removed, you will realize your van’s floor is pretty dirty. The floor you took off has probably never been removed so definitely expect to have to clean it up some. Mine was much better than I expected, especially being a 2008 van.
I used a broom to sweep out everything I could. If I had to go back I would definitely find a leaf blower to use. There are many small areas you just can’t fit a broom into. After getting up as much loose dirt as possible it is time to treat the rust!
STEP 3: Rust Treatment
Purple Power & Wire Brush
Rust is an iron oxide, a usually red oxide formed by the redox reaction of iron and oxygen in the presence of water or air moisture. It can literally create holes in your van over the years. If you’re putting all of this time, money and effort into building it into your home… You definitely want to take the steps mentioned here. Watch this 2:00 video to quickly learn about rust.
Once cleaning is finished you can move on to your purple power. Be careful with this and always wear eye protection! It is very strong. When spraying anything above you, do not look up and again keep your eyes protected.
This purple power is a heavy duty chemical often used as a cleaner/degreaser. It is used to clean up dirt, oil, grease stains, and helps when sanding down the surface rust spots before treating them. Spray purple power on any surface rust spots you see and then use a wire brush on them. Don’t be shy, give it a mean scrub. If you’re using the wire brush that goes into your drill be very careful. This can easily cut your skin if it makes contact while spinning.
TIP: I only used one generic wire brush attachment for my drill. It was VERY hard to reach the corners and small spots of rust where the walls meet the floor. I wish I found these wire brushes before I did this step. Instead I found them while writing this post. You will need more than one anyways as they get worn out.
These would of made a HUGE difference. This is not an area you want to do lightly. My motto was “do everything right the first time” (I mean, the van was not cheap and I want it to last a very long time).
Once you have done this anywhere you see a rust spot, you need to clean it all up/rinse the purple power off the van’s metal.
Step 4: Clean/Rinse off Van
I parked my van on an incline to help the water flow out of the back doors. You want to make sure to get up as much of the purple power as possible (pretty much all of it) because of its potency.
Take a break, let it dry out some. I used some beach towels on the floor also because of my lack of patience.
You can now move on to step 5. This means it is time to prep the surface to be sealed off to prevent any more rust from evolving in those areas. Remember, rust treatment is very important for the longevity of your van/home!
Step 5: Prep Rust Spots To Be Sealed
This is something I haven’t seen much online but learned about how great it works from some very experienced people I know.
The secret to cleaning off your van floor from all the gunk & prepping to seal the rust spots is Brake Cleaner. This stuff made a huge difference and works very well.
Spray this onto all of the rust spots you already wire brushed with purple power and rinsed off. Brake Cleaner helps prep (dry and clean the rust spots). You can also use this to clean up any yucky spots on your van’s floor (like dirty adhesive substances from sticky velcro used).
There will definitely be some residue like this remaining even after sweeping and rinsing it out. I had a lot of trouble trying to get some of the gunk off the floor, it almost seemed cemented there for forever.
Brake cleaner will definitely save the day (if you want your floor clean that is). After you spray it, wipe it with a rough rag and apply some pressure while you wipe it down. Everything will come up much easier than you thought!
Another great product is Goof Off. This helps get extremely ridiculous sticky substances/glue off. Brake cleaner works well for gross and/or dirty areas. However, I had thick black velcro just stuck (almost melted) onto my floor like glue. This is exactly what Goof Off is made for. I had to wipe it down thoroughly with goof off then use a razor blade to get it up.
Trick: If you have velcro like I did that just seems cemented down to the floor. You can heat it up to weaken it. This will loosen the adhesive properties and make removing it much easier. You can even use a small razor blade afterward to lift up under it. This one is made for removing something like sticky velcro. Find it here.
SAFETY WARNING: Keep all chemicals, especially Good-Off, far away from the flame. It is very flammable!
Now remember, the bare metal floor you see now will probably never be seen again. The main priority here is treating rust. You do not have to make it as pretty and white as possible. I say this because I got carried away with cleaning the floor. However, back to my motto: Do it right the first time!
STEP 6: SEALING THE RUST SPOTS
Now it is time to seal the area so the rust spots can’t get wet or be reached by oxygen ever again (the only other 2 elements needed for rust to form). I used black rust barrier spray. Make sure you read the directions on the back. You will have to shake it often for it to work properly. Once it is sprayed, give it 48 hours to set and dry.
The reason I used black rust barrier instead of white is because you can see exactly where you sprayed it instead of using white (the same color as the van floor). Yes black will look ridiculous but you will not be able to see the van floor again and you can also paint it white after. I did this to be sure I got every rust spot I had already treated (treated=purple power + wire brush).
Wire brushing it gets rid of the rust spots there but also exposes them more. They are now areas of bare metal (no paint, no seal). This is why making sure you re-seal every single spot is very important to prevent future rust. So I chose to use black rust barrier to be sure.
The last step is to paint and double seal these areas. This is an extra sealant step that is definitely worth doing. I used Rust-oleum Clean Metal Primer.
You will probably need 2 of these cans (I only had one and had to go get more). Use a piece of cardboard to hold behind it while spraying. This helps you keep it off of anything you do not want painted (like rubber trim in the doors).
This is AFTER you have let the rust barrier dry for 48 hours. Spray this white metal paint/primer on the back spots from the rust barrier. This dries much quicker and your van is now treated for rust.
TIP: Remember to check EVERYWHERE for rust. I found rust spots on the bottom of my back doors and deep rust at the top of my side door. I did not see them at first and caught them later when I was cleaning.
Not all rust is surface rust. If you’re lucky, your van will only have surface rust. Unfortunately, I found 3 small spots with deeper rust. You can tell it’s not just surface rust if the rust has caused any holes in the metal or if it just looks very thick and aggressive for lack of better terms.
To treat this, you follow the previous steps from above. You spray it with purple power and wire brush it (using the one in the gun might be better here, just be very careful). Then, you will need to do something different.
You will need to use Bondo to repair the rust spot. I attached a video here that explains it very well. At the beginning where they state to “clean” the area, this is what the brake cleaner will do.
Here is everything I used with the quantity needed for my Dodge Promaster 2500 high ceiling, 170 inches in length from the back of the driver seat to the back door.
I hope you found this post helpful and feel a little more confident in tackling this first step of your van conversion.
The methods I chose came from hours and hours of research. I also had two very experienced mechanics as help who knew some tips and tricks I never would of known myself.
The best way to say thanks is to use any of my links for ordering materials:)