Gelcoat that is in great, shiny condition requires much less work to maintain that finish, but if it has been left to the elements for a number of years and is dull or hazy, it is important to properly restore your gelcoat. to prolong its life and appearance.
RESTORING GELCOAT: The first step to restoring old, porous gelcoat is to give it a good wash and scrub. It may seem simple, but it gets dirt and debris from the surface, giving a much clearer picture of the gelcoat's condition. Remove any wax that may be on the gelcoat as well. When the gelcoat dries, if you are able to wipe your hand on the hull and have a powdery substance come off on your hand, the gelcoat needs a full restore. If there are stains from rust, algae, other other residue, products like Davis FSR, Y10, or TotalBoat White Knight can usually remove that in just a few minutes, and without any heavy scrubbing, or wear on the gelcoat.
The first step at restoring heavily oxidized gelcoat is a heavy duty rubbing compound, such as 3M Marine Rubbing Compound, 3M Super Duty Rubbing Compound, 3M Perfect-It Heavy Cutting Compound, TotalBoat TotalBuff, or Aqua-Buff 1000. Most compounds favor using a wool compounding pad with an electric buffer to work quickly and effectively. Follow the directions for each specific compound carefully to achieve the best finish possible. When buffing, the machine will feel and sound like it is working harder on areas that need more buffing. Follow with a dry or slightly dampened rag to remove any compounding dust or residue. Repeat the process in any areas that still have a dull, or inconsistent appearance to bring out the most consistent finish.
At this stage, the gelcoat should have a shiny appearance, smooth, and consistent. The next stage is what will really give it a real high gloss 'pop'. A finishing compound is needed to bring out this shine. These products require a machine at higher RPM for the compound to properly work. Some of the more popular finishing compounds includes 3M Finesse-It II, TotalBoat TotalShine, and Aqua-Buff 2000. Wipe the surface clean with a dry or slightly damp rag to remove any buffing residue.
There are combination products that contain compounds and waxes, or polishes with waxes as well. These products may be sufficient for regular light-duty maintenance, but generally do not have the cutting power to restore gelcoat.
The final step to restoring gelcoat is to protect it, usually with a wax or protective polish material. There is a very broad range of liquid waxes, paste waxes, synthetic waxes, carnauba waxes, speed polishes with PTFE. Always make sure the gelcoat is clean, and dry prior to applying any wax to gelcoat. If necessary, wash and dry the gelcoat to remove any remaining compounding or buffing residue. This will promote the most consistent finish, and the cleanest look, while giving the wax the best surface to adhere to. Generally, waxes are applied, and allowed to dry to a haze, and the extra material is then removed by a microfiber cloth, leaving a shiny, smooth surface. Heavier paste waxes can become very laborious to remove if they have been left to dry for too long, so it is important not to let it sit. Change out microfiber cloths as needed. If a machine is used, take extreme caution not to be too aggressive, or allow any heat build up. If the wax product recommends multiple coats, make sure to wait the designated time between applications so the wax can fully cure and harden up.
Maintaining gelcoat so it stays in this pristine condition is far less laborious than restoring it, so it is strongly recommended to be diligent with the maintaining it. For the most part, washing with a quality boat soap and fresh water will help keep the waxed surface clean. Do not use detergent soaps unless the intentions are to remove any waxes. Most boat soaps do not have detergents, or any other substances the will harm the wax. If it feels like the slick, waxed surface is not so slick any more, or water is not beading off, another maintenance coat of wax can be applied. If there is rust or other staining that has occur, products such as Davis FSR, Y10, and TotalBoat White Knight can help lift these stains away. These products may have the tendency to break down any wax on the surface, so after using any of these products, rinse the area well, then dry the surface, and reapply wax as needed. As for seasonal gelcoat maintenance, if the wax is still in good shape, and the gelcoat still looks to be in great shape, a wash and wax can be all that it needs. If the gelcoat looks dull, remove the wax and buff the gelcoat with the appropriate compound products to restore its finish, then apply new wax.