RV Exterior Finishing Product Tips

2/10/2022 – Good Sam Extended Service Plan

Keeping the exterior of your RV in tip-top shape is just as important as keeping the interior nice and clean. When keeping the exterior clean make sure to use the proper exterior finishing products, waxes, cleaners, and polishes. The list provided will keep your RV shiny and ready for the open road.

Finish Restorers

In preparation for waxing, the vehicle may need treatment with a finish restorer if the finish has become oxidized and dulled by grime. Milder than a rubbing compound, a finish restorer will remove stubborn grime and oxidation, allowing the true color of the paint to show. Instructions for use vary with different products, so read and follow the directions carefully. Typically, these products are applied gently in a circular motion with a soft cloth. After drying, they are buffed to remove residue. Hard rubbing is not recommended.

Rubbing Compounds

For seriously-deteriorated painted surfaces, rubbing compounds should be used. These products will remove layers of oxidized paint, minor scratches, and stains. Extreme care must be employed when working with rubbing compounds, because if they are used to0 vigorously, they will remove good paint along with the bad. Rubbing compounds can also be used to remove scratches, stains, or rust from chrome finishes.

As always, work on clean, dry, cool surfaces. Apply rubbing compound sparingly and evenly, rubbing in a straight line just enough to remove the oxidized paint, stains, or scratches. Buff lightly with a clean, dry cloth.


Waxes are applied to the exterior of vehicles to protect the paint from the elements. The theory is to let the wax, rather than the paint, take the beating delivered by sun, wind, blowing dirt, bugs, and all the rest. By keeping a healthy coat of wax between the paint and the elements, the paint will last longer and look better, and it's a simple job to renew the wax periodically.

All wax manufacturers agree that prior to waxing, the vehicle should be washed and cleaned of stubborn grime. If the paint has suffered oxidation, some wax containers specify that finish restores be used to prepare the surface for the final wax job.

Waxes should be applied to a cool vehicle surface in the shade, using a clean, soft, damp, or dry (according to package directions) terry cloth. Wax should be applied briskly and in a circular motion, laying down a thin, even coat to one section of the vehicle at a time. A separate, soft, clean terry cloth should be used to lightly buff the wax after it has had time to dry to a haze. Turn the buffing cloth frequently and shake out the residue as needed. You can test the durability of a wax job by watching water beads on the surface. When rain or wash water no longer beads, it's time to freshen up the wax job.

Combination Cleaner-Waxes

Cleaner-waxes are far milder than rubbing compounds, yet they can remove minor stains and oxidation. They offer a one-step process that leaves the painted surface cleaned of dull oxidation and stains, and coats it with a protective wax. Begin with a clean, cool surface. Apply the finish as you would a regular wax, following specific directions for the product of your choice.


Polishes are different from waxes. They are surface preparations that leave a glistening shine, but do not leave a wax layer over the paint. According to manufacturer claims, polishing a vehicle provides superior protection to waxing. Polish should only be applied with a circular motion to clean, dry, cool vehicle surfaces. Oxidized paint will be removed by the polish and retained in the polishing cloth, so it may be necessary to keep several cloths on hand to permit working with a clean cloth at all times. Overlap areas being worked to insure thorough coverage of all body panels. After the polish dries to a haze, remove residue by buffing with a clean cloth.

Polymer Sealant

Claims of secret formulas and spectacular results circulate in this segment of the automotive product market. Polymer coatings are claimed to seal the vehicle finish against everything from smog to bird droppings. In theory, the formula actually bonds to the painted surface of any vehicle, whether it be metal, chrome, or fiberglass. It is not, however, intended for use on vinyl, flat paint, plastic, decals, or synthetic or painted wood.

Wash and dry the vehicle, but don't use household detergents or cleaners because they may cause streaking. Apply poly sealant in a circular motion to the entire vehicle surface. Allow to dry thoroughly until a haze appears. Wipe off. Then, with a fresh, dry cloth, buff vigorously.

Metal Polishes

To remove tarnish and minor corrosion, a metal polish is the product of choice. While there are similarities between some of these products, directions for use vary, so it is important to follow the instructions on the product package.

These products are rubbed gently onto the metal surface being treated and then buffed out. Read the instructions carefully, because some products specify that care must be taken to prevent the polish form drying on the surface before being removed.

Tire Dressings

To restore a fresh look to aging tires that may have rubbed against a curb or are just losing their snappy appearance, there are tire protectants available that can be used on both whitewall and blackwall tires. Whitewalls and white lettering can be restored to a fresh appearance by using products formulated specifically for that job. The whitewall restorer is sprayed or wiped on and scrubbed or rinsed off, with a short curing duration in between.

Tires subjected to the elements (especially strong sunshine) should be treated every month with a good protectant like 303. A good-quality protectant will have UV blockers and help slow down cracking and crazing and, in general, rubber compound breakdown. If the RV is going to be stored outside, cover the tires with plywood or special covers made of vinyl. Tires do not have to be lifted off the ground during the storage period.

Wheel Cleaners and Polishes

Wheel cleaners come in liquid or paste form. The liquid cleaners are easier to use because all that is required is to spray the product on the wheels, wait about a minute, and then hose off with a strong stream of water. Paste cleaners are applied much like paste wax and require some rubbing and buffing. However, stubborn grime may demand scrubbing, even with the spray-on/hose-off liquid cleaners. And some of the liquid cleaners employ a two-stage system in which two solutions are used- the second neutralizing the action of the first.


Some degreasers on the market are specifically formulated to work on the warm surfaces of an engine to melt the grime away, so working under the hood isn’t such a messy job. Others are “all-purpose” degreasers and cleaners that can be used to clean up small areas wherever they are needed. Often, the products will be used full strength, but sometimes they need to be diluted. Most often, degreasers are sprayed on, then hosed or wiped off.

Livingston , B. (2002). RV repair & maintenance manual. (4th ed.). Ripon Printers

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