The exterior of most RVs is made with fiberglass and coated with a gel coat finish.
Gel coat is a syntehtic, resin-based substance used to coat fiberglass surfaces.
Usually a little less than a 1/32 of an inch thick (0.5 – 0.8 mm), it’s bonded directly onto the surface of the fiberglass.
A standard paint gun with a primer nozzle is used to apply the gel coat to give your RV that glossy, expensive looking finish.
How Does Gel Coat Lose Its Luster?
If you’ve owned an older model fiberglass RV you know what old gel coat looks like. You also know how old and run down it can make your RV appear.
Old gel coat is the yellowed and hazy coating that develops on the skin of your RV.
Over time gel coat becomes cloudy and foggy due to a natural process called oxidation.
Fortunately gel coat oxidation can be fixed using a few simple tools and processes.
If you find chips, scratches or generally faded-looking areas in the finish of your rig, follow the advice below to get your RV back to looking great.
How You Can Keep Your Gel Coat Wowing Your Friends
Many of the products associated with gel coat restoration will often refer to “Marine use.”
That’s because many boats are made of fiberglass, the same material that is commonly used on the exterior of your RV.
Although some products refer to both Marine and RV use, it’s fine to use gel coat polishes and waxes even if they only say Marine on the label.
Let’s take a look at two ways to use simple gel coat polishes to repair and rejuvenate your RV’s exterior.
Method 1: Remove Gel Coat Oxidation From Your RV by Hand Buffing
In this video, Wade Weiss from Wade Maid, demonstrates how to rejuvenate your dull and oxidized gel coat by hand.
In the video, Wade uses a simple fiberglass restorer to improve the finish of the model RV’s fiberglass.
As Wade demonstrates, restoring fiberglass gel coat by hand is a four-step process:
- Apply product to a simple kitchen non-scratch scrub sponge
- Work in the product (while wet) by hand (see product recommendations below video)
- Polish until you don’t feel any resistance
- Wipe off excess with a clean, dry rag
(Just get past the banjo music and you’ll get some great tips)
Here is the product that Wade used in the video, along with two other options:
Method 2: Use a Power Buffer to Restore Your RV Gel Coat Finish With Less Effort
You don’t have to be the Karate Kid and give yourself tendonitis and aching hands by waxing on and off over your entire RV.
Save the kitchen scrub pads and cotton rags for small areas and little jobs.
With an electric power buffer, you’ll have an easier time removing oxidation over larger areas of your RV.
You can use the same products as noted above with the power buffer. Only difference – your hands and arms won’t ache the next day!
You can use these same products:
This video is a little bit on the longer side, but you’ll quickly learn how to use a power buffer to rejuvenate your RV’s gel coat finish.
Watch Gary Dean of Premium Custom Detailing at work:
What Other Pros Have to Say
Read this great exchange on the Meguiar’s Online forum for some additional tips on making your gel coat finish look the best it can be.
Here’s what the owner of Arizona’s Grime Buster’s Pressure Washing, James Cooney, had to say on the message board,
The AZ sun really takes a toll on the gel coat finishes on the RV’s and fifth wheels /travel trailers. Started offering oxidation removal last year. Been doing it by hand (well not by “hand”, using cotton rags and nylon scrubbers). EXTREMELY labor intensive. And I have yet to get one with a uniform finish. So far my customers have been extremely pleased, but I know there must be a more efficient and professional method.
Michael Stoops of Meguiars responded,
James, [we recently introduced the] G110v2 dual action polisher featuring some significant upgrades and boasting some features not found in similar tools. This will be an excellent tool for your business.
Our two primary products for oxidation removal on gel coats would be our M44 Color Restorer and M49 Heavy Duty Oxidation Remover, with the M49 being the more aggressive of the two. Both can be used with a W8207 foam polishing pad on the G110v2 and many have had great success stepping up to a W7207 foam cutting pad for more stubborn oxidation, scratches, etc.
We normally don’t recommend using a cutting pad on a dual action polisher because it tends to scour paint, but gel coat is quite different. With either pad you would generally run at speed 5 and work an area roughly 2′ square for a few minutes until the product has become very thin on the surface, then wipe off the residue and move on to the next section.
A great follow up is our M45 Polish for adding extra gloss and depth of color. This is a pure polish that really gets soaked into the pores of a gel coat and it can do wonders prior to your wax when you’re looking for the best shine you can get. Speaking of wax, our top product for waxing gel coat finishes would be our Flagship Premium Marine Wax – very easy to use, dries quickly and offers the most protection and longevity in our lineup.
And here is James’ follow up about his project,
So I received my 110V2 this week, along with a supply of #45, #49, #50 & #56. Did my first RV restoration over the past 2 days, and all I can say is WOW !!!!
The products work like magic, did the medium grade oxidation job in 16 hours. Only problem I encountered was the backing plate broke off at the base yesterday. Had to drive at mach 2 to Chandler to ADS so I could pick up a couple more (now I have a spare one).
White gel coats don’t photograph well, but here are the before and after photos.
Bonus Tip: How to Remove Ghost Image Effects Caused by Oxidation
This tip comes from one of our readers, Jim Nelson of Tripawds. Jim used to own a full-service graphics shop so he knows what he’s talking about.
Here’s what he had to say on Facebook,
We’re removing vinyl lettering from our rig and will be using Ghost Off to remove the ghost image effect caused by oxidation.
In this article we’ve talked about several ways that you can get your RV’s exterior looking great in no time at all.
You could use a standard kitchen scrubby and some product to fix the problem areas on your RV. Or you could use an electric buffer to make the job go much more quickly.
No matter which method you use, rejuvenating fiberglass gel coat isn’t rocket science.
With just a little elbow grease and a few bucks you can make your RV’s exterior look great without any expert help.