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January 27, 2021

5 Steps to Removing and Restoring Oxidized Gelcoat

Updated: June 2, 2022

Restoring Oxidized Gelcoat

Your boat’s gelcoat serves a bigger purpose than providing an alluring aesthetic appeal to entice a prospective buyer or to be the envy on your dock. It protects your boat from excessive moisture, salt, dirt, and mold. Learning how to restore chalky gelcoat is a skill that any boat owner should know.

However, as with everything else under the sun, your gelcoat is susceptible to wear and tear. Thus occasional detailing is recommended to maintain/restore your gel coat’s shiny appeal and give it a newer look. Detailing, regular service, and maintenance can significantly lengthen the lifespan of your boat’s gelcoat or paint.

This post will provide you with some guidelines for restoring your boat’s gelcoat to give it a new glow.

What is Oxidation and What Causes it On Fiberglass Boats?

Oxidation is every boat owner’s enemy. It affects your boat’s aesthetic appeal giving it a duller and drabber look. As a proud owner of your prized vessel, you must be ready to wage continuous fights against oxidation to protect your investment. But first, what is oxidation, and how does it find its way in your boat?

Oxidation is the chalky, porous appearance that is the result of unprotected and/or neglected Gelcoat or paint. This process is mainly caused by damage from UV rays which slowly breaks down unprotected gelcoat and other surfaces.

Irregular or no washing to keep fallout, salt, dirt, and other marine life out of cracks and surfaces can begin to cause major issues for the protection of your vessel. In many cases, incorrect product choices to clean with can strip waxes and precious protectants from the surfaces leaving them susceptible to the damaging UV rays.

If you have worked with gel coats and paints before, you know that unlike automotive clearcoats, oxidation happens much faster because it is much more porous, and keeping it protected is critical to maximizing its life span and appearance. It requires select cleaning, protective products, and equipment to bring back and maintain its luster.

How to Prevent Oxidation in the First Place

Having understood what oxidation is, you need to know how best to prevent it rather than removing it when it has already settled on your boat. The most practical way is regular cleaning, polishing, and waxing. Cleaning is the most logical and cost-effective of all, especially when you want to preserve your gelcoat and keep oxidation at bay.

Boat Detailing Technician Washing a Boat

One of the best things to do is wash and dry your boat each time you pull it out of the water or use it. That will prevent the dirty water from staining your fiberglass colors, corrosive salt buildup, and mold from settling into the surfaces.

When washing your vessel, make sure you use specific soaps recommended for boat cleaning to avoid damaging it. One thing we would recommend is to get a good quality oxidation removal marine soap

For polishing and protecting you want to find and use a reputable marine-grade product

line and pads depending on your gelcoat and paint condition. These products have proven to be super effective. You should apply these products on your gelcoat whenever you detect a possible oxidation

reoccurrence. Next, you should protect your hull from oxidation by keeping it sealed at all times. Use marine protection wax, which contains durable adhesives and UV fillers for maximum protection.

Standard Equipment Necessary for a DIY Boat Restoration Project

The process of removing oxidation from your boat isn’t as simple as cleaning or for automotive finishes. Gelcoats are much more dense and porous, so different equipment is needed to make sure you do an excellent detailing job.

The equipment must also be specific to boat detailing to avoid damage to your boat’s Gelcoat. Automotive products tend to not have the polishing power to be as effective as marine grade products as they are formulated for clear coats, not gelcoat. The items include but are not limited to:

button image to go see all boat detailing products on Amazon
image of a before and after oxidation removal on a boat

5 Steps to Restoring Oxidized Gelcoat

1. Wash and Remove Surface Dirt and Debris

The first step to removing oxidation and giving your boat a new look entails washing and eliminating every form of surface dirt. Over time, your boat accumulates a great deal of grime, mold, and debris.

An initial surface cleaning will make your boat detailing less strenuous. For this, use the cleaning equipment listed above. Also, ensure you have a good quality chamois to dry your boat’s surfaces before beginning to wax or compound.

2. Removing Stains

The next step involves removing the yellow and rust stains, which typically settle along the bottom of your boat and near the waterline. With good elbow grease, you can buff out the stains to give your boat a brighter look.

before and after images of a boat bottom stain removal

Alternatively, you can use an approved rust stain remover that will make the task less daunting and is typically much faster but beware, these acidic products require a careful application, and be sure to use splash-proof goggles and gloves for this task.

Once your boat is thoroughly cleaned it is time to polish. If it’s severely oxidized a wet/dry sanding step may be needed. 

3. Wet/Dry Sanding

Wet/Dry Sanding only applies in extreme cases where the gelcoat is so bad that it can’t be revived from compounding. This occurs when your boat’s surfaces have not been cared for, for way too long, and it could no longer resist the elements thus resulting in heavy oxidation levels. The cure to this damage on your gelcoat is a wet/dry sanding step before you begin applying compound polish.

4. Polishing Compounds

Once you have successfully finished cleaning and/or sanding the finish, you should apply a high-quality polishing compound. Choose products with strong abrasives to polish out the gelcoat to a shine. An example is a rubbing compound specially formulated for fiberglass. Rub it around the surface until you achieve a smooth glassy surface by hand or preferably a rotary polisher.

picture of compound polish applied to the hull of a boat

Always bear in mind that your boat’s gelcoat is only so thick, so you should rub it sparingly, one spot at a time. This way, you’ll prevent the polish from cutting deeper into the gelcoat.

Stop rubbing once the finish begins to look shiny. Once done with compound, move to the next step of polishing using the same process until a mirror shine is achieved or what the gelcoat will warrant depending on the condition when you started.

Keep in mind, if severe oxidation was present you may never get back the “factory” finish.

Nonetheless, you should still get a good quality shine.

5. Waxing and Sealing with Protectant

With a rotary buffer and a good quality pad, apply the wax on the surface of your gelcoat in a circular motion. Do this until you have covered a good section of the boat. Make sure you don’t apply excess wax and if you do, buff it out with a buffing pad.

Let it slightly haze and remove with a polisher outfitted with a pad recommended for wax sealants. The result should be a new, smooth and transparent finish.

The wax coat should protect your boat for many months and sometimes up to a year depending on where the boat is kept, climate, and amount of exposure to UV.

 How Often Should I Polish My Boat?

Boat detailing is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process that helps protect and renew your boat’s finish.

Regular cleaning and maintenance can prolong your boat’s exterior aesthetics as well as the overall lifespan. That includes regular polishing and waxing. However, the frequency depends on the environment and weather patterns of your boat’s location.

Hotter climates and exposure to too much sunshine will degrade your boat’s gelcoat resulting in frequent polishing. On the other hand, places with cooler year-round temperatures and the boat being kept inside storage or out of sunlight most of the time will improve longevity and reduce the frequency of waxing needed.

If you have the option and live around hotter climates, ensure your boat is kept inside a garage or covered when not in use. Otherwise, experts recommend polishing your gel coat every 3-6 months to maintain its new appearance. some climates will demand more or less frequency.

DIY Versus Professional Detailing: Can I DIY My Boat?

Yes, you can. As long as you have the required equipment, products, and knowledge, you can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and get down to it. It is time-consuming and physically straining, and you may not find every product you need in your local department store.

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This process further translates into more time gathering the necessary equipment and comes with a cost. Additionally, inconsistent work can also damage your gelcoat further instead of restoring it.

Our Final Thoughts

Owing to the time and labor that you need to invest in the detailing project, it may not be your best option if you’ve got a tight schedule. Hiring a professional boat detailing company to do the work will be most beneficial in this case.

It comes with guaranteed professional results. Do your homework before hiring a company, ensure they are valid, and have a good reputation in your area. Talk to other boat owners and your dockmaster to see whom they recommend.

Moreover, working with professionals also comes with regular service and maintenance to mitigate oxidation. Hence it takes the hassle off your hands, giving you peace of mind.

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