Is your RV decal fading, losing its showroom-quality aesthetics, and making you feel ashamed every time you drive into a trailer park or campground? I have been through that ordeal myself. Thankfully, learning how to remove oxidation from RV decals can give you your confidence back.
We must understand that we expose RV exteriors to the elements every time we ride our motorhomes. Environmental factors and some faulty driving habits can lead to the rapid deterioration of our motorhome’s decals. If you want to remove the oxidation from the decals, this is for you.
Things You Will Need to Remove RV Decals Oxidation
Removing oxidation from camper decals takes more than a few simple tools. It also includes knowledge of a couple of things that define the correct materials for RV decal restoration, including the RV’s exterior materials.
Knowledge of RV Decals Types
RV decals come in four distinct types, requiring different oxidation removal methods.
3D Chrome-plated – These decals give your RV exterior an expensive look, similar to a vehicle brand’s name emblem. They are status symbols that speak of luxury and premium quality.
While these decals are durable, they tend to lose their glam over time. In most cases, all they need is a bit of polishing. Within ten years or so, these decals might require re-chroming.
Vinyl Graphics – Most motorhomes come with plastic-based graphics, often in curves, colorful lines, and eye-catching text.
Vinyl decals can feature high-end or poor-quality plastic materials. Low-grade vinyl is easy to deteriorate, often lasting only a few years. If that happens, the only way to remove the oxidation is by sanding the surface and finishing it with a polish.
However, if the oxidation is severe, you may have no choice but to peel off and replace the worn vinyl decal. Some RV owners prefer painting over the decal.
Gel-coated Fiberglass – Fiberglass gel coats are the most common type of RV decals. They feature a design printed on fiberglass material then coated with gel. An RV fiberglass gel coat decal is similar to what you see on boats and other marine vessels.
Removing oxidation from gel coats can include polishing and painting, depending on the oxidation severity. Some detailers use marine grade products to give the old decal a more brilliant shine.
Full-body Paint Coating – Many high-end RVs feature this type of decal, which is similar to a gel-coated fiberglass decal but with an extra clear topcoat.
Fully painted RVs may require a fresh coat of paint if polishing cannot restore their original glam. White paint is suitable for a fully painted RV with corrugated fiberglass, aluminum, or textured corrugated surfaces.
Tools and Materials
Depending on the type of oxidized RV decal, you may need the following materials and tools to remove oxidation.
- Heat gun for removing vinyl graphics
- Sandpaper of varying grades if repainting the design
- Automotive polish to remove oxidation
- Automotive wax for restoring the design’s shine
- Paint for restoring the original RV decal coating, including a clear coat
- Microfiber towel for cleaning the surface
- Power buffer for removing oxidation
- Masking tape or plastic sheets for protecting other RV sections against abrasion from the sandpaper or polish
Steps on How to Remove Oxidation from RV Decals
Do not worry because there are ways you can restore and protect your camper decals against the oxidation process, and we will show you in the following parts.
Step 1. Prepare the Surface
Wash your RV thoroughly to remove any dirt and surface impurities. You will want a clean panel to prevent scratches or swirl marks on your RV that can worsen the RV graphics oxidation. A microfiber towel will come in handy because it will not scratch or scuff your motorhome’s surface.
Step 2. Protect Other Sections, If Needed
If you want to remove oxidation on a small area, you will want to protect the decal’s surroundings. Apply masking tape around the design you want to work on. Place large plastic sheets on the design’s perimeter if you must. You will not want these sections damaged during the sanding and polishing process.
Step 3. Apply Polish
Get a microfiber towel or a damp polish applicator and add enough amounts of the polishing compound. Hand buffing requires elbow grease, although a more straightforward method is to use an electric power buffer or orbital sander. You can apply the polishing compound on a smooth sided, soft foam pad connected to the device.
Wipe the polish on the fiberglass surface using a circular motion. If you use an orbital sander, set it to medium speed and move the hand tool back and forth. Leave enough compound on the fiberglass surface so that it turns hazy when dry. Ensure to apply the polish in little nooks and crannies.
Stauffer Garage has a fascinating video for those unfamiliar with car polish applications.
Pro Tip: Keep the soft foam pad parallel to the gel coat decal’s surface, applying constant pressure to avoid swirl marks. It would be best to use a steady stream of water to remove polished bits off the fiberglass surface.
Step 4. Buff and Rinse the Surface
Get a dry cloth and buff the fiberglass gel coat RV decals until shiny. Wash and rinse to remove excess polishing compounds. Wipe the fiberglass gel coat surface with a dry cloth.
Most car detailers prefer air drying. Unfortunately, hard water can leave small water stains or spots on the decal’s surface.
Always start from the design’s top and work your way down.
Step 5. Apply Wax
Polishing is not enough to restore your RV decal’s showroom shine. You also need to apply wax because it is one of the best ways to protect RV decals.
Cream colored automotive waxes come with applicator pads. Use this pad to apply the wax on the decal, observing the manufacturer’s instructions. Waxing your RV is done the same way as polishing it.
Wait for the wax to dry before buffing the surface with a microfiber towel.
Here is an exciting video from Chemical Guys about how you can apply wax on a vehicle surface.
How to Remove Oxidation from RV Decals Using the Wet Sanding Method
If an RV owner asks you about how to remove oxidation from a gel coat without polishing or waxing, you can always suggest the wet sanding method.
Some types of RV oxidation are superficial scratches that give the motorhome a dull and oxidized overall appearance.
For this method, you will need to use sandpaper of varying grit sizes. Always start with the coarsest sandpaper (No. 600 or No. 400) and work your way towards the finest sandpaper grit size (No. 2000) you can get.
Wetting the design during the sanding process is an absolute must to remove grit and other debris on the decal surface.
Replacing Your Oxidized Decal
Polishing and waxing may not solve severe oxidation in vinyl decals. If such is your case, you may have to remove the decal.
Start by heating the design. Peel off the decal from the surface and apply an adhesive remover on a piece of microfiber cloth. Clean the area thoroughly.
Place a new 3D chrome-plated design or vinyl graphics on the section. You can also paint the fiberglass material with fresh RV paint, giving your RV a fully painted finish.
Learning how to remove oxidation from RV decals can breathe life back into your motorhome, allowing you to showcase your vehicle wherever you go.
If you found this tutorial beneficial in giving your camper a much-needed aesthetic upgrade, you might want to share it with your family, acquaintances, and friends. We will also appreciate it if you can share your thoughts about it.