Need to know how to Remove Oxidation from your RV’s fiberglass? You’ve come to the right place. When you first drive a new motorhome off the lot, its colors are vibrant and the whole surface shines. Its waxy reflective surface looks amazing.
That can change quickly.
Fast forward six months down the country road, and your new vehicle will look a lot duller, chalky, and maybe a bit more yellowed than you remember. It isn’t a dwindling excitement that dulled its appearance.
It is that frustratingly corrosive oxidation on your RV.
As the elements strip your motorhome’s surface of electrons, it leaves behind a dull and vulnerable mess. Now, fiberglass doesn’t rust like metal, but it does need the gel coat to protect it. Without the gel coat, the fibers of exposed glass begin to erode and separate.
To protect the gel coat, we wash, polish, and wax it. The wax will act as a barrier against those same elements.
Preventative Maintenance Against Oxidation
We wax to protect the gel coat from oxidation, so the gel coat can continue to protect the fiberglass. The wax only offers temporary protection; it will need a fresh coat whenever the layer begins to wear thin. Popular opinion states that once a month is sufficient, but weather and its corrosive effects vary quite a bit from location to location.
If you aren’t living in your RV full time and driving around the country, then you can push it a bit. My advice is to just pay attention to the appearance of your RV and adjust the frequency based on your own judgement.
If it still looks glossy, then it is still being protected. That said, you will probably want to reapply the wax before it totally loses its aesthetically pleasing shine
What tools do you need?
Below, I will break down what you will need based on the level of oxidation. If you want the “Too long, didn’t read” version, skip down to the table at the end of this section.
A Rag, Rotary Buffer, or an Orbital Polisher
To a point, you can use whatever you have on hand, but the results and required effort will vary greatly. With a rag and a strong arm, you can polish a palace if you have the impulse, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Since this is, at the very least, a semi-annual affair that will last decades, you should probably invest a hundred bucks into a buffer. Over the years, it will save you days of time.
Get a buffer and I’d recommend making it an orbital if you are a newbie. A rotary will work just fine, but you run the risk of “burning” the paint. Rotary buffers make the same circle every time they rotate. If the user isn’t constantly aware of how their using the buffer, they run the risk of trapping too much heat against the paint.
The damage is usually repairable, but why risk it in the first place. Just buy an orbital polisher which randomizes the shape of the rotation so that the heat can escape. It makes it simple.
Also, I personally do not buy buffers with a single RPM setting. A variable speed buffer is great because your needs will change with the products that you choose to use. If you look on the back of your bottle of polish, you should see a recommended RPM setting. Achieving the recommended RPMs will make it easier to buff out the oxidized part of the coat.
I recommend buying an orbital polisher with variable speed
Wool Polishing Pads
If you do buy a buffer, purchase wool polishing pads. They are gentle enough to not scratch up the paint, but they are abrasive enough to really help out with the polishing. In fact, they do most of the heavy lifting with the polishing, and they are fantastic with both gel coats and paint.
Polish, compound, or wet sanding
Depending on your RV’s needs, you will need one of three levels of products. No matter the product, you should end the polishing state with regular old polish. It is the least abrasive of the options which makes it the final step. The rougher material products can wear through the damaged gel coat more effectively, but they need the less harsh products to smooth out the ending results. Wet sanding and some compounds can leave cloudy results if you don’t use polish.
For light oxidation, you can get away with buying an inexpensive polish. The light abrasion should be enough to wear through the oxidized layer of your RV’s gel coat.
For moderate oxidation, purchase a compound and polish. Compounds are coarser than polish, and that it causes them to leave a haze. They need to be coarse, so that they can work through the more severe damage. However, after that is finished, they need polish to smooth out the surface and remove the haze.
There are exceptions to needing both a compound and a polish. Some compounds are one-steps that polish away moderate level issues, but don’t leave a haze behind. When they are first applied, they start off coarse. After being worked into the coat, they break down into a finer polish.
For heavy oxidation, you will need to wet sand to get through the damage. Follow that up with a compound and then a polish.
Keep in mind that oxidation that has worn through the gel coat cannot be polished and waxed back to health. At that point, the damage is too extensive. That kind of damage will require a new gel coat or a paint job with a clear coat.
Whenever you take the time to restore the look of your fiberglass, you should always protect your efforts by waxing the RV. Otherwise, the weather’s oxidative effects immediately get back to the work of destroying your RV’s finish .
The type of wax you use will depend on your RV’s finish. A fiberglass body with a gel coat finish is different than a painted fiberglass body with a clear coat finish, and there are products specifically designed for each of them.
Gel coats are tougher, but they are also porous and chemical difference than clear coats. They have different needs. The results of the wax won’t be as good if you don’t use the appropriate product. If clear coated, you can use any standard car wax. If gel coated, look for a wax that advertises that it is made for fiberglass.
How do I know if I have a clear coat or a gel coat?
Generally, one quick way to tell is by looking at the RV’s graphics. Due to the manufacturing processes, clear-coated RVs usually have the graphics painted onto their surfaces, and gel-coated fiberglass will use decals.
Take a closer look at those graphical designs and start feeling for ridges.
To be 100% positive, you can always look in your manual or do a Google search.
Products For Levels of Oxidation
|Cheap||Polish or One-step Compound, Wax, Microfiber||One-step Compound, Wax, Microfiber||Wet Sanding, Compound, Polish, Wax, Orbital Polisher|
|Expensive||Polish, Wax, Orbital Polisher||Compound, Polish, Wax, Orbital Polisher||Wet Sanding, Compound, Polish, Wax, Oribtal Polisher|
Wash, Polish, and Wax
The actual process of removing oxidation is really straightforward once you have gathered the right supplies.
Steps to Remove Oxidation From RV Fiberglass
Step 1: Wash with soapy water
When polishing, you need to work from a clean surface. The pitch and bird poop needs to go. Get a bucket of soapy water and start working. I’ve personally never felt the need to get any special kind of soap, so I just grab whatever dish soap (Not dishwasher soap) I have on hand in the kitchen. If you need something extra to get any pitch off the car, grab some mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol.
Step 2: Wet Sand, Compound, Polish
If you remember, earlier I said that you can use microfiber for the light to moderate cases of oxidation. If you choose to use the microfiber, there is less risk of damaging the finish. That’s because it is less effective than the polisher.
Step 3: Wax
Wax on, wax off, and repeat. Waxing once a month is a good idea if you are using an average waxing product. However, there are several options out there, and some of them are clearly superior. I recommend looking into the ceramic waxes because of their fantastic longevity.
In case you have never waxed a vehicle or RV, it is actually a very simple process. Thoroughly rub the wax into the coat, wait until it dries, and then wipe it off. Waxing is the first line of defense against oxidation, so don’t skip it. Okay, that’s everything. It’s time to start restoring your RV’s shine. Good luck!
If you have the polisher, here are a few tips on how you should and shouldn’t use it:
- Hold it flat against the surface, and do not purposefully angle an edge of the polisher at the surface. If there is a part that it can’t reach, go over that area by hand with a microfiber towel and whatever you are using to polish the surface.
- Don’t use a lot of pressure. Let the polisher do the work. Unnecessary force can burn the coat.
- Don’t stop in one place, but also don’t rush over the surface. Move at a slow pace; about an inch a second.
- Overlap the previous areas to prevent patches of dull, unpolished, and oxidized fiberglass.
- Move over each area from different directions.
- When you add the polish to the polisher. Don’t just pull the trigger. The moment the polisher begins to spin the centrifugal force will send the polish flying. Instead, dab the polish onto the polishing pad, and then use the pad to spread the polish onto the area that you are about to buff.
- Maintain a light grip upon the polisher and keep your wrist as relaxed as possible. It will be easier to work, you won’t get fatigued as quickly, and you will do a better job. Newbies control polishers; professionals gently lead them.
- When you finish an area, wipe it down with a microfiber cloth.
- Use separate polishing pads for each of your polishes. Mixing them can give you cloudy results.
Reminder: If you are using multiple polishing products, polish in order of most abrasive to least abrasive. Wet Sanding > Compound > Polish.
I am a well traveled Marine Corps veteran that enjoys the outdoor and nomadic lifestyle that RV living provides. I am also a member of the National RV Inspectors Association (NRVIA.org). As the founder of Camperguide.org my goal is to provide you with well researched information so that you can enjoy the best of the RV lifestyle.