Decals and graphics can really add to the look of an RV! There are tons of designs that are made possible by decals and graphics. Over time, some of these can begin to fade, chip, or bubble. They then take away from the look of your RV as they become an eyesore. You don’t have to be stuck with those damaged decals though, and you don’t have to hire a professional to get them off! If you’re planning to repaint, add more decals, or just clean off the ones you have, here’s how to get rid of RV decals and graphics.
Getting the Old Decals Off
For the most part, RV decals and graphics are made of vinyl. Depending on the condition and age, heat will start to melt the graphics and make them peel off well. Here is your shopping list to grab at the hardware store:
- Heat Gun
- Gloves (Lots of them! The acetone will eat through them)
- Safety Glasses
- Scraper with Plastic Blades (Make sure it’s the general purpose plastic ones. The others can cause damage to the gel coat).
- Magic Erasers
- 3M Stripe Off Wheels
- A Drill
Before you begin the job, make sure you have everything in order. You will get dirty and most likely it will not come off your clothes. Wear something you don’t care about. Wash the area of the RV you will be working on to ensure that you don’t end up with scratches or damage from dirt that may be on the surface.
The heat gun is the first tool you will start with. Use caution not to get it too close to the surface. If the gun is powerful enough, it can get so hot that it can actually melt the fiberglass. Hold it away from the rig and slowly bring it toward it until you see the decals begin to react. Then you just pull or scrape them off. You will find that some areas will pull off easily in large sheets and some are going to be more stubborn. The sun bakes the decals and depending on how the sun was hitting each area and the color of the decals, there may be some spots that are much more baked on.
Once you have everything that you can get off with the heat gun, it’s time to tackle the more brittle stuck-on stuff. Here is where the stripe off wheel comes in. If you’re using a cordless drill, you may want to have extra batteries charged and on hand. Makes sure you get your chuck on the drill tight when you put the attachment on. You don’t want this thing to go flying off! We have found that the number one complaint about this tool is that it makes it hard to get in there tight. You may have to get creative on how to tighten it up. Using the edge of this wheel, buff off the graphics that are still left.
Once you get the decals off, you will likely find that some glue has been left behind. Use the magic eraser to clear away as much as you can and then use the acetone or mineral spirits to buff it off. Remember, this stuff is pretty strong. Ensure your area is well ventilated and that you have two pair of gloves to protect your skin. It’s going to take a little elbow grease but it will come off.
Now you should have all of your graphics off. If you’re replacing the graphics with new ones or simply painting the fiberglass, you can move on to that. If you plan to leave it the way it is, you may find that there is what’s called “ghost graphics” left behind that you may want to try and get off.
The same sun damage and oxidation that ruined the graphics, has set into the gel coat of the fiberglass too. You will now be able to see this because the spot where the graphics once were are the color the gel coat is supposed to be. You will see this especially if your rig is white. So basically it looks like you have a ghost of the graphics that were there. In order to fix this, you have to get the oxidation off the entire gel coat. This can be time consuming, but well worth it if you value your rig's appearance. Thankfully, there are products out there that will help like this Ghost-Off Oxidation Remover. You can use this product on a rag to clean the oxidation from the surface. If it’s really deep, or you’re doing a pretty large area, you may want to invest in a power buffer to give your arms a break.
Caring For Graphics
If you’ve removed your graphics because you want to put new ones on, or found your way to this article because you want to ensure your graphics don’t end up in need of replacement, then you want to take some steps to protect them. Wash your RV regularly! Keeping the dirt and grime off that sets in with sun damage will help to keep those graphics and your fiberglass looking great! When you wash the rig, it’s okay to wax it, but you need to pay special attention to what kind of wax you are using. If the wax contains petroleum distillates or any type of abrasive material, it can and will cause damage to the vinyl. You can get a treatment or wax for the decals that will help keep them safe from harmful UV rays. 303® Aerospace Protectant will create a barrier for the vinyl and keep them looking new! Finally, if you store your rig, or let it sit for long periods of time, you want to get a cover for it. This will help keep the sun and oxidation off while it sits.
RVs have come a long way and having them looking great is important to many people. Unfortunately, some of the materials used to make them look great in the beginning, tend to be the reason they look terrible later on. Removing these materials and protecting new ones will help to keep your RV the envy of the campground!