How Oxidized Is Oxidized?
I've read about a lot of different products out there for bringing back the shine to gelcoat. I've also read about a lot of different methods. Something that remains unclear to me is this: the different levels, or I should say, the different degrees of oxidation that might exist on gelcoat over a span of time. The deck of my boat, for instance, is a dull white with no shine whatsoever. I was convinced from my reading that I should use some brand of rubbing compound as a first step in bringing back the shine. Accordingly, in I walk to the local West Marine to look at several brands I had in mind. There I was approached by the store manager who asked me to describe my project. I did. Thereupon, I was told that I did not in fact have an oxidation issue, or at least a serious one. The reason? Because there was not a white chalky residue that was able to be rubbed off of the deck by hand. The manager then suggested to me that I use 3M Marine Cleaner / Wax instead. This just doesn't sound right to me.
Are there tell-tale signs that indicate the different levels of oxidation?
now that you mention it...
I'd want to try a good cleaner/wax before resorting to rubbing compound.
If the finish is dull, its oxidized. If the white stuff rubs off on your pants then its really oxidized. Cleaner is not going to remove the oxide. You will need a rubbing compound. It abrades the oxides off. Cleaner just makes it cleaner and still dull. Do a small test. Get some cleaner and scrub an area. Then take a tube of colgate toothpaste and apply that with a cloth to the same area. You will see a difference.
If the chalky residue is a sign that it is really oxidized, then I guess it would only be then that one would want to use something like 3M Imperial Compound, which is quite gritty from what I understand. The Jamestown website has a 3M YouTube video that show someone using Imperial Compound on a boat that, to me, looks somewhat glossy - definitely no chalk. Seems, though, that Imperial would be too abrasive for that type of job.
Always start with the most gentle solutions first. Do a test area in a not so obvious place first.
Start with a cleaner wax compound. If this is not adequate then use a pure polishing compound. If thisis not adequate then use a fine rubbing compound. If this is not adequate then use a coarse rubbing compound. If this is not adequate then try 2500 grit wet or dry and wet sand the area. The wet sanding works especially well for stains and very shallow scratches. It also levels out coarse areas. Be very careful not to sand or rub off too much, especially on edges.
Then work your way backwards through the scale of coarse to fine to bring the gelcoat back to a really good looking shine.
If you have a large area to cover, you may want to invest in a professional grade polisher like this Makita polisher and some wool pads. The white wool pads are meant for the rubbing compound and the yellow wool pads are meant for the final polishing. There are also sponge pads for polishing. The pads that are held on with Velcro work best.
The cheapo electric polishers you find at West Marine et al, are in my opinion garbage and not worth wasting your money on.
There are videos on Youtube on how to restore your boats gelcoat with a polisher. Some are good, some not so good.
3M has a whole line of waxes, polishing compounds and rubbing compounds for gel coat. These products are what I see the professionals in the boatyards using most often.
Also, when cleaning gel coat, use an ultra fine bristle brush or a micro fiber cloth mop (Kragen). Coarser brushes leave micro scratches which you can see in the sunlight and also provide a place for dirt to stick.
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