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What Is Gelcoat Restoration?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 23, 2024
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Gelcoat restoration is the process of restoring damaged, faded, or chalky gelcoat finishes on boats or recreational vehicles (RVs) to their original shine and color vibrancy. The specific restoration process and the extent of intervention typically depends on the overall condition of the gelcoat. Serious degradation over a large area may require replacement of the entire gelcoat layer while localized chipping, cracking, or crazing can usually be repaired by cleaning and reapplying a small amount of gelcoat. The most common gelcoat restoration projects, however, involve rejuvenation of dull and faded coats. These restorations generally entail removal of oxidation and wax buildups, polishing, and the application of a protective wax or clear coat layer.

Gelcoats are colored, high gloss, external polymer resin layers which protect and offer a visually appealing finish to structural fiberglass composites. Unfortunately these beautiful finishes don't last forever; constant exposure to sunlight and water leads to the formation of oxidation layers on the gelcoat surface. This results in a chalky layer on the coat which makes the surface look dull and faded. Gelcoat layers also develop crazing or spiderweb cracks due to shrinkage and stressing of the fiberglass substrate. Then there are the inevitable chips, cracks, and chafe marks that go hand in hand with long use or accidents which further detract from the gelcoat natural luster.

The full extent of any gelcoat restoration project depends on the condition of the coat and the extent of any damage. In the case of serious degradation where large scale delamination is evident, gelcoats generally need to be replaced. Localized impact cracking wthat extends through to the fiberglass body will also require removal and replacement of the gelcoat at the impact site. General flexing cracks, chips, and crazing require less attention and may either be sanded out or cleaned and filled with a suitably tinted gelcoat. If the cracking is caused by substrate flexure, this type of gelcoat restoration will probably have to be repeated every couple of years.

Fortunately the most commonly required gelcoat restoration is the simple regeneration of surface condition and color vibrancy. This general lack of condition is the least serious of all gelcoat maladies and requires the removal of the oxides, rehydration of pigments, and polishing to restore the gelcoat to its original glory. The first step is to remove the oxide and old wax layers by light abrasion with a buffing compound and then cleaning the gelcoat with a solvent such as acetone to ensure an oil and grease free surface. Polishing with a good quality gelcoat polish and application of a sealant should then restore the original color intensity and shine and also preserve the coat for approximately one year.

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