How to Remove Oxidation from RV Decals

How to Remove Oxidation from RV Decals

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links; we will earn a commision, at no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase through one of our links.

Driving around and camping in nature is so much fun. However, it does have some effects on the RV’s surface finishes. The desert sun eventually causes the decals to dim, fade, and crack.

Here’s how to remove oxidation from RV decals, and keep your vehicle looking its best.

Removing Oxidation From RV Decals in 4 Easy Steps

These are step-by-step instructions on how to remove oxidation from RV decals. This simple sequence is guaranteed to get you optimal results for your RV. 

Step 1: Specify the Type of Decals

RVs come with various types of decals, and naturally, there are different ways to restore them. That’s why it’s wise to determine what you have at hand early on.

Interestingly, the different colors in the decal could oxidize and age at different rates. So one color could show cracks, while the one next to it would still hold its own against the elements.

Some manufacturers also give different textures to specific parts of the decal. If that’s the case, you should treat each part with a suitable restoration method. That’s not all. Decals could take on any type of finish, from matt to glossy.

Again, this should be taken into consideration as you give your RV decal a facelift. Here’s what you’d find in most RVs.

High-End Chrome Plated Decals

Image Source

Expensive vehicles have a knack for showing off, and placing symbols of status here and there. It’s not unusual to see a shiny chrome-plated decal with the brand name or model. Naturally, the Winnebago Meridian comes to mind.

Usually, this decal is part of a more elaborate graphic design. It’s fair to expect the paints or vinyl next to it to be of a high quality. But it’s also predictable that these decals would outlast any other graphic.

Eventually, they need polishing. And after a decade or so, they might need rechroming.

Vinyl Graphic Decals

The graphics are either words, lines, or pretty curves. All of which are signatures for a brand. These come in two basic varieties: high-quality vinyls and low-quality vinyls.

RVs are expensive vehicles, and manufacturers are constantly trying to cut-corners. That’s why, nine times out of ten they’d plaster a lower-grade vinyl. At first sight, it’ll look shiny and vivacious, but a few years along the line, defects will start to appear.

You can remove these vinyls by peeling them off, or, by sanding and polishing. Then, you could paint over the empty space. Still, several users prefer replacing the old vinyls with new sparkly ones.

You can contact the manufacturer for a replacement, which is common practice. Then again, you could replicate the old design and have it printed out on vinyl at a local print shop. You could even make a new design and spruce things up.       

Gel Coated Fiberglass Decals

This is the most common type of RV decal we come across. It’s a combo of fiberglass coated with gel. Interestingly, this is the same tech used in painting boats. And that’s why many of the products used in restoring these decals are marine-grade.

As we mentioned earlier, oxidation affects decals in varying degrees. So what if the paint has lost its shine, but still hasn’t cracked? Several people think automatically that a waxing and polishing job would suffice. This is not a good approach.

At least, it wouldn’t give stellar results across the board. Some types of decal paint respond to waxing and polishing by becoming smudged, faded, or muted. So it’s critical to choose the right type of polishing materials.

Some people decide to just paint over the decal with white paint, or the color of the RV. this an easy fix, but not the best solution clearly. The usual process is to apply a new coat of paint on top of the old one. Especially, if there are no visible cracks, just a faded color. 

For a more major renovation, you’d need to remove the old paint, prime the surface, spray-in the new color, and finally apply a clear coat.  

Full-Body Paint Coating

RVs are often out in the sun, rain, and frost. It’s hard to imagine that this wouldn’t affect the body and all of its decorations.

To give the vehicle a bit more strength and resilience, several manufacturers and owners opt for a full-body paint. This is done by covering the gel-coat by another clear-paint layer. This top coat is much less porous than gel, and much more resistant to oxidation.

If somewhere along the line it loses its glam, waxing and polishing should restore its beauty. This is done in the same way you’d polish your car.    

Step 2: Decide Which Restoration Process You’d Use

Once you’ve identified the decal type, you’d need to decide on a restoration process. And yes, there are several of them. Mostly, related to how much time, money, and effort you’ll be willing to put into this little project.

It also has to do with the degree of oxidation of your decals, and the final look you want to see on your RV. If you start with a slightly oxidised decal, then a simple polish and wax might be sufficient.

On the other hand, a cracked and faded decal, would need a more elaborate renovation plan. Sometimes, you’d even have to get an electric tool or two. 

Here are the four basic fixes that sort out the decal oxidation issue:

Removing the Graphic Vinyl

This is often done by peeling off the old vinyl. Quite often, there’d be some lettering as well. All you have to do is carefully and patiently remove the decals, then refinish the newly emptied area. 

  1. Heat up the area with a heat gun or hair dryer.
  2. Then, very slowly, peel off the damaged decals.
  3. Use a suitable adhesive remover to clean up the surface
  4. With a clean microfiber cloth, wipe the surface clean
  5. Use a ghost-off oxidation cleaner to even out the RV paint

Replacing the Graphic Vinyl

Buy a replacement vinyl, or design and print a similar shape. Then, carefully, place it in the correct location. Empty any trapped air bubbles and even out the irregularities.

Polishing the Decal

The decal is in a fair condition but it’s slightly faded as a result of oxidation. In that case, polishing and waxing should restore it back to life.

Just make sure to choose the right polishing/waxing materials. To be 100% confident that the polish works well, try it on a hidden small part of the decal. Wait a little, and observe the results closely.

If you like what you see, then proceed with the whole area.

Repainting the Decal

If the oxidation is severe, then polishing and waxing wouldn’t do at all. Painting over the old decal is a nice way to rejuvenate your RV.

  1. Use masking tape to isolate the decal
  2. Place protective paper on all the surfaces next to it
  3. Remove the old paint
  4. Clean the surface with a clean cloth
  5. Sand it with a fine grit tool (manual or powered)
  6. Clean again
  7. Prime the area with a marine grade coating
  8. Sand it again with a finer grit
  9. Clean again
  10. Spray the paint in successive thin layers
  11. Apply a clean coat to keep the oxidation at bay
  12. Remove the masking tape and protective paper

Related: here’s an in-depth guide on how to winterize your RV.

Step 3: Round up the Needed Tools, and Proceed!

Your best friend in any DIY project is a well-prepared tool set. You don’t want to scurry back and forth to the house, workshop, or hardware store to get a piece of cloth or masking tape. It’s best to get all your stuff in good order before you start.

And here’s another perk of gathering up the needed supplies; you’d be mentally checking your renovation process. This helps in streamlining the work, and assigning a reasonable time frame for the project. If you’re on a budget, this step would also ensure that you stay within the cash limits.

You don’t need every tool in the shed for removing the vinyl. Maybe a bit more elaborate toys if you’ll paint it over. We’ll split the lists for clarity, so here’s what you’d need.

To Remove the Vinyl Graphic

To Paint Over the Decal 

Step 4: Do the Work!

You have everything you need, you know what you’d do, the only thing that remains is carrying out the actual job!


Q1: Will vinegar remove oxidation from fiberglass?

It’s a simple fix known around boaters, that’ll remove mild oxidation. It doesn’t restore damaged decals, and needs immediate waxing afterwards to retain the cleaning effect. 

Q2: What is the best fiberglass oxidation remover?

There are several effective oxidation removers in the market, but we like Meguiar’s M4916 RV Heavy Duty Oxidation Remover the best.

Q3: Can you polish vinyl stripes?

Yes, but you need to make sure that the waxing/polishing product you’re using is suitable to the surface and vinyl stripes.

Q4: How do I keep my RV from fading?

Remove grease and dirt routinely, and wash your Rv diligently. The next step is to wax, polish, and buff. This should keep your RV sparkly for a long time. 

To Sum This up

RVs don’t come cheap, and the way they look is a big part of their charm. The decals on the sides of an RV give it a character and a unique signature. That’s why keeping the decals in good condition is a primary concern for many RVers.

You can defy the effects of time, and inevitable oxidation, by following a few simple steps. So gather the necessary tools, and renovate your RV decals!