Fiberglass Care And Maintenance
Want to skip the details and just make your boat or RV shine again? Then go to our
MS Fiberglass Restoration Kit page.
The MS GelCoat Restoration System
Restoring shine, removing oxidation, protecting gelcoat...
Nearly every pleasure boat on the water today is made from fiberglass and gelcoat for a good reason. Fiberglass boats are easier to make than wooden or metal boats, weigh less, last very long and are quite durable. So just how do you take care of them so they'll last and maintain their looks? In this page we describe why boats become dull and faded and how fiberglass waxes, polishes, and sealers like Vertglas keep them looking good.
What is Fiberglass?
Fiberglass is a common term for fiber-reinforced plastic, or FRP, which is a plastic material strengthened using a fiber cloth. Most boats these days are made from fiberglass, along with pickup truck caps, motorhomes, even bathtubs! To give the fiberglass a smooth, shiny surface, a material called gelcoat is applied to the outer surface. For the most part, when you're looking at a fiberglass boat, you're really seeing the gelcoat surface on top of the fiberglass itself. However, most people refer to gelcoat as fiberglass, so we use the terms fiberglass and gelcoat interchangeably.
Gelcoat is available in many colors and is fairly durable, but it can become dull or faded as it weathers. Sunlight and air combine to oxidize the gelcoat surface, fading it and making the surface cloudy. The oxidation process for gelcoat is similar to how metals rust or corrode. So how do you keep your gelcoat looking good? Simple: you coat the surface with either wax or a sealer.
Faded and Dull Fiberglass
For boats which have been oxidized and have some fading or dullness, waxes and polishes may restore the shine but often don't maintain it for more than a month or so. This is because the gelcoat surface has microscopic pits and crevices in it from the oxidation, even after you have rubbed off the oxidized layer. When you apply wax over the surface, the wax is too heavy to penetrate into the pits and crevices. This is why oxidized boats usually never shine like they did when new, and more importantly, why wax doesn't last long. Because air is trapped in the holes and crevices under the wax, the gelcoat can oxidize underneath the wax! Fiberglass sealers like our MS GelCoat Restorer avoid this problem by filling in all the holes, pits and crevices in the gelcoat surface.
Unlike wax, a fiberglass sealer penetrates into the gelcoat surface, filling in the microscopic holes and crevices to prevent future oxidation. The sealer provides a barrier between the environment and the gelcoat, cutting off the chemical reaction which creates oxidation. Because it fills in the surface so well, a sealer can provide a brighter shine than wax. Sealers also provide a much harder surface than wax, so they last much longer and don't require frequent maintenance. Our MS GelCoat Sealer lasts up to 10 time longer than wax. MS GelCoat Sealer is a copolymer sealer that lasts all season and stops oxidation completely. You simply wipe it on and let it dry. Since it dries crystal clear and shiny, you don't have to rub or buff it off.
Historically, boats have been maintained using either wax or polish. Waxes cover the surface and provide a barrier between the elements and the gelcoat surface. Waxes work well for boats in good condition, but not so well for older boats which have weathered a bit. After awhile, the wax wears off and the elements oxidize the surface of the gelcoat (similar to how rust occurs on steel or iron), resulting in a faded or dull appearance. You can remove the oxidation and reapply wax, but the wax simply covers over the pits and holes in the gelcoat surface, trapping air under the wax and starting the oxidation process again. Typically, using wax on gelcoat which has been oxidized before will only last about a month before the shine fades again.
Polish products are similar to waxes but they also contain a small amount of abrasive which rubs off some of the oxidation and can restore a shine to the surface. These products work best for boats which are slightly oxidized. Polishing compounds are a similar product which have more abrasives and can remove heavier oxidation but do not provide any protection afterwards, so you need to apply some protective coating after cleaning (preferably a sealer so the process doesn't begin again...)
The MS GelCoat Restoration System
Cleaning Faded or Oxidized Fiberglass
There really isn't any secret to cleaning faded or dull fiberglass, you just need some elbow grease and something to remove the oxidation such as Vertglas #1 Oxidation Remover. The application varies for different products, but in general you need to rub the surface with the oxidation remover or polishing compound to remove the oxidized layer. You then let the product dry to a haze and buff it off to reveal the clean (but not necessarily shiny) surface (note: Vertglas #1 Oxidation Remover doesn't require this buffing step).
If your boat isn't shiny at this point, it's because the clean gelcoat surface is pitted and is diffracting the light instead of reflecting it. By filling in the microscopic pits you can restore the shine: To prove this, just apply some water to the surface and see if it becomes shiny. If so, you then need to apply something which will fill in the pores and maintain the shine (such as Vertglas #3 Color Restorer/Sealer).
To use Vertglas #1 Oxidation Remover, first wet the gelcoat surface and apply the oxidation remover using a white Scotch-brite pad or sponge. Rub the surface until either you see color in the pad or sponge (indicating you've rubbed off all the oxidation and are now into the colored gelcoat), or until the surface no longer feels rough. At this point you simply rinse off the surface and wash away the oxidation residue.