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Ask Dave: How can I restore my RV’s faded decals?

Dear Dave,
My RV’s decals are quite faded. What would you suggest to restore them and protect them in the future? Thanks, Dave. —Michel, 2016 Thor Vegas 24.1

Dear Michel,
Decals are typically purchased from a company such as Sharpline or Vision and are categorized in two separate vinyl types, calendered or cast, depending on the materials used and manufacturing method.

Calendered vinyl

Calendered vinyl is extruded and commonly a thicker 4-mil vinyl. The raw materials are put into a mixer and blended with the color pigments and the end product is heated and rolled out by an extruding machine into large film sheets. This type of vinyl has a “memory” and is prone to shrinking over time and also cracking or having the edge curl. It is a cheaper product and has a life span of 3-5 years if not covered most of the time.

Cast vinyl

Cast vinyl is thinner at typically 2-mil, and the raw materials are similar to calendered vinyl. However, the liquid vinyl is applied to a casting paper first, which is sent through an oven and that evaporates the solvent. It is considered a premium vinyl and is more expensive. Cast vinyl can last 6-9 years or even longer if it is cared for properly.

Since your decals are fading and not cracking, it seems they are the cast vinyl type. You may be able to bring them back to life. This vinyl is soft and porous, meaning water and air can pass through the material. It is designed to be washed and conditioned but not waxed, as this will oftentimes enhance the fading and even cause cracking. Avoid any type of product that has solvents, as this will affect the bonding of the material.

How to clean the decals

Clean the exterior of the decals with a mild detergent such as Dawn Dish Soap (blue) and water. Do not expose it to harsh sunlight during the cleaning and drying. Let it dry thoroughly and apply either 303 Protectant or Protect All All-Surface Cleaner. These products will not hurt the vinyl or the fiberglass gelcoat of your sidewall.

There are numerous products on the market that claim to be decal restoration products, but I have tried a few and have not been satisfied. Next month we will be trying a couple new ones that have been recommended by a local dealer, but do not have any research on them yet.

One last note. Sometimes what seems to be faded decals can be simply hard water deposits that can be buffed out with a mild polishing compound or Bar Keepers Friend liquid. Hopefully, some of our readers have tried other products and can chime in.

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.

Read more from Dave here

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cee
5 months ago

I thought I was being diligent by applying wax! What’s an RV owner to do if you want to keep your home lookin’ good?

DW/ND
5 months ago

I have removed and replaced decals due to age cracking and some fading. However, I now have some curling edges as you pointed out Dave. Those are coming off and going to be replaced by similar design with Rustoleum (RO) paint! I’ve used RO on major sections and it has held up far better than expected for a “rattle can”. Further references can be found on YouTube as some folks just paint over the existing decals; not sure that would last any better than the decal underneath.

Irvin Kanode
5 months ago

How do you wax an RV without waxing the decals?

The biggest pains of owning an RV are the need to frequently wash the roof and wash and wax the gel coat. Most campgrounds and most storage facilities won’t allow washing and some won’t allow waxing.

The industry needs some serious research and development money to reduce or eliminate the need for both!

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