Restoring shine when you have lost your clear or gel coat on fiberglass

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John Stephens

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Posts
949
Location
Cape Coral, FL
Several months ago, I started a thread asking about silicone based waxes that were touting giving protection and a good shine to your automotive needs and asked if these products would achieve a good shine on fiberglass that had lost its clear coat. The general consensus was that it would be better to try a product like ZEP floor wax or polish so I researched this on the internet and watched as many videos on YouTube as I could, and decided to give it a try.

Gary Brinck gave the best advice about using a product such as this when he said that the preparation is the most important aspect of this job. All oxidation, dirt, bugs, etc. absolutely must be removed or else you will trap it underneath the polish when it dries, and it seems that this stuff if properly maintained, is semi-permanent.

When I got my coach out of storage two weeks ago, I knew my work was cut out for me if I wanted to make this thing look good. The storage facility is dirt, grass in some places and a lot of gravel that creates dust and dirt that flies onto the RV's stored there. My coach had been in storage since last October with the exception of a short trip to the Tampa RV Supershow in January, so it hadn't been washed or cleaned up for over seven months and was very dirty. I spent an entire day washing the thing with a pressure washer and Swiffer with a microfiber towel for the roof and a good sponge for the sides, front and back. I'm at the age and weight where I don't think it would be a good idea for me to climb on the roof, so I did everything from an 8ft. extension ladder.

On the second day, I began removing the oxidation with Meguiar's #49 Oxidation Remover for heavy oxidation and an orbital dual circular electric polisher/buffer. This was considerably less work than trying to scrub it off by hand. I still had to do it by hand in the small areas where the 6" polisher wouldn't reach. I did not remove the oxidation from the roof, not being able to climb on top, and assuming it wouldn't be seen anyway and the polish going on top would offer protection. I now wish I could have removed that oxidation because when I applied the polish, I could feel the difference between the sides and the roof. In Gary Brinck's words, it was like polishing a turd.

In order to do a good job, removing the oxidation took me three days. That's just how bad the body on this coach was. The painted areas on the sides and on the basement compartment doors still retained their shine and were not badly oxidized. It was the white non-painted fiberglass panels on the sides of the coach that had lost its clear coat and the oxidation was digging into the actual fiberglass. I couldn't remove all the dark coloration and assume it is simply part of the fiberglass when you get past the top layers. I was able, however, to get all oxidation off and leave a smooth, dull, matte surface with which to work, completely clean. Since my decals are already curling up due to age, I had to be very careful to keep from making them worse, which I found is an impossibility. But I kept further damage to a minimum and according to people who have used ZEP before, it will actually protect the decals from further decay as well as the fiberglass.

I used ZEP Wet Look Floor Polish. I state this because there are a lot of ZEP products on the market and many people have asked which one to use. This is the one recommended by the people who made the YouTube videos so I ran with it. I bought it and the Meguair's from Amazon because at the time I bought it, Amazon had a better price than Home Depot or Lowe's. I followed the directions on the bottle, indicating that 6-8 very thin coats should be put on as opposed to fewer thicker coats. The videos I watched showed some people using a spray bottle and microfiber towels to wipe it in and smooth it out, and some people using a sponge mop, putting the product on in vertical straight lines. I questioned that method, thinking it could impart too much product, creating too thick of a coat and have the possibility of runs and drips. The instructions on the bottle say to use a regular mop and apply the product in a figure eight pattern, but that will work better on a horizontal surface than a vertical surface. On the first coat, I used the first method, spraying the product on until it just began to run and then immediately wiping it smooth with a microfiber rag that had already been sprayed wet with the product to avoid the rag simply absorbing the product from the coach instead of smoothing it out. I did one side, the front, and back in this method and it was then time to do the one coat on the roof I was going to apply.

I used a sponge mop for the roof so I could reach the middle of the roof, having to move my ladder from one side to the other. I climbed on the coach's ladder at the rear and checked to ensure I was actually reaching the middle and obtaining full coverage since when on the top of the extension ladder, I really couldn't get the right angle to see just how far the mop was extending. It was difficult getting good coverage in this method because when the mop was fully extended into the middle of the roof, only the leading edge of the sponge was making contact with the roof and it was difficult to determine just how much product should be retained on the sponge when ringing it out. Trial and error allowed me to get it right, finally, but I'm glad no one will look at the roof.

While I had the mop in hand, I decided to try using it for the other side of the coach. I consider that a huge mistake simply because it was impossible to instill a thin, even coat with the mop. Even using a towel to try to smooth out the product didn't provide as good a finish. So for subsequent coats, I used only the spray bottle and towel. It took longer but provided a much more attractive finish.

The gallon bottle of ZEP says it will cover 2,000 sq. ft. of floor space. I calculated the square footage of the outside of the coach and determined there was no way I was going to get eight coats out of that gallon. However, because I spread it with the towel and used less by using the spray bottle, I was able to put 5 full coats on the body, one coat on the roof, and a sixth coat on the white exposed fiberglass for added protection.

When the final coat had dried, I took a good look at my job and didn't like what I saw so I got the buffer back out and with a very soft buffing pad, I went over the entire coach with light to medium pressure and buffed out any problems with the appearance. For the first time since buying this coach 4-1/2 years ago, the sun shines off the white portions and you can see your reflection in the sides. Although the bottom line cannot be found until time shows how well this holds up, I am quite happy with the results thus far.
This product is made to be used indoors so there is no way of knowing what the rays of the sun will do to it. I am hoping it will not turn yellow and plan on keeping the coach as clean as possible.

Tips I will share with those who may wish to use this method to bring back to life RV's that have suffered losing their clear coat or gel coat follow:

1) Use gloves. This stuff is tough and once it dries, it forms what looks like a thin piece of plastic. The drip at the end of the funnel I used to pour it from the jug to the spray bottle looked like a sheet of plastic. When I put on the first coat, I didn't use gloves and at the end of the day, it took me an hour standing at the sink getting this stuff to set up and peel off my hands. This is easily remedied by using latex or vinyl disposable gloves.

2) Watch out for overspray. I still have to figure out a way to get this stuff off the face of my watch. I tried to be very careful about not spraying the product onto the windows, but with Florida weather, you always get wind, so that was impossible. I anticipate I will use a razor scraper similar to a paint scraper to get the spray off the windows. When I was finishing the final coat yesterday on the front of the coach with my auto parked about 20 feet away but in direct line of the 25 mph winds we were having, I held the towel I was using in the opposite hand while spraying the product to keep it from traveling onto my car.

3) There are a few videos and reviews of this product that are negative, indicating it peels and cracks. I have a feeling this could occur if the product is put on incorrectly, using thicker coats or fewer coats. I strongly recommend following the instructions on the bottle and wiping on very thin coats. The first couple of coats will make you think you're not accomplishing anything because they are so thin. One reason you put on so many coats is that the first coat will probably not cover every square inch of surface. Applying coat after coat provides insurance that every area will be covered. Trying to do that with thicker coats will obviously make the job prone to errors.

We are taking an 8,000 mile trip from SW Florida to Jasper National Park in Canada and catching every national park in between that we can along the way, taking us 3 months. I'll let you know how the coach looks when we get back home.

A special thanks to Gary Brinck. Your words of wisdom are invaluable, my friend.
 

John Stephens

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Posts
949
Location
Cape Coral, FL
ChasA said:
What, no pictures?

I have tried three times to publish pictures that I took on this subject. Each time I resize the pictures to less than 350KB, then 300KB, then 250KB, I get a message from the forum telling me my attachment is still too large. I give up.
 

blw2

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 9, 2012
Posts
3,338
Location
Saint Johns, FL
yeah, when I did mine I had what looked like a good manicure job with clear polish for a couple days....

anyway, great post for others considering it!

about the only other thing I could comment on is about the spray bottle idea.  I hadn't heard or seen that idea...but when I did it I found that once the rag was saturated it was simple to just upturn the bottle now and then on the rag just to keep it good and damp...a little went a long way
 

J32952

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
Posts
121
Location
East Central Florida
Excellent write up - however.  Coming from the marine world dealing with oxidation on Fiberglass boats I offer a different perspective.  There are products similar to ZEP specific for Fiberglas boats. 
  Prior to any method of finish the key (as well described) is cleaning thoroughly. After washing, maybe a few times, to remove oxidation there are 2 basic methods depending on how bad the Fiberglass is oxidized.  The use of a buffer with liquid polishing compound will often do the trick. When it?s really bad hand sand with wet sandpaper, starting with approx 600 grit, moving to 1000, then a light polishing compound.  A lot of work.  If minimal oxidation, none of this required, just really good cleaning or maybe light compound.
  Here?s where I differ with ZEP type products:  the pro is they are pretty easy to apply..thin multiple coats.  You get an instant shine.  The con is these products last, but at least in Florida sun, they crack & yellow rather quickly (6-9 months). They must be reapplied.  And once used you are committed!  Removal of the crazed yellowing finish is near impossible.  Myself & neigbors were all (initially)  thrilled with the instant result and so much easier and faster than traditional waxes or polymer products.  Months later our ?white? Fiberglass looked off color.  Literally years later on at least 2 of my vessels I was still trying to get splotches of it off.    So I do all the same prep as OP, but I use wax to protect the finish.  And yes, I have to wax more often. 
  The ?new? craze is ceramic coatings.  I have no first hand knowledge or experience with these.  I did have a pro use a new coating few years ago on a small old badly oxidized boat.  Expensive..beautiful..but only lasted 9-12 months. 
  I would like to protect the finish on our new RV and in the future not deal with oxidation.  So far I?m cleaning regularly and using an automotive hydro coat finish.  Not enough experience to know if this will last.  Safe travels
 
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