How to Paint RV Exterior Fiberglass: 7 Simple Steps

The ownership of recreational vehicles or RVs is steadily on the rise, more particularly in the United States.

It has reached record highs in the US with the millennial driving most part of the RV sales, reported CNBC.

The millennial constitute 38% of RV ownership, although this cohort comprises 31% of the entire population. 

With over 18,000 parks and grounds spread across the vast country, this population roams freely in their RVs on weekends, or even for days and months at a stretch. 

Some Americans have even ditched their homes completely in love for their nomadic lives. They have made their homes on wheels for good and they simply love it that way. 

There is a gradual rise in the preference for experiences, rather than material possessions like refrigerators, cars, expensive watches, or music systems.

In a recent survey, 78% millennial agreed that they would choose to spend on experiences over items. Which is undoubtedly fun, affordable, and fulfilling! But like your home, your home-on-wheels needs maintenance too.

A fresh coat of paint is just one of those needs.

There are many things the RV buyers (mostly aged between 35 to 54 years) look for when they are buying an RV – the space, comfort, design, engine performance, color, etc.

However, most people would focus on the comfort and technical aspects more than the color and the look of the RV. If you’re looking to paint your RV exterior or restore Fiberglass gel, watch this video.

For them, that is the last thing to consider. But then, there are still others for whom the look of the RV matters the most. They are so keen on getting the best color for their RV exterior, that they would paint it themselves if they do not find it readily available.

Also, if you have been using your RV for some time over different terrains, the paint might have worn-out and you would need to re-paint it.

And sometimes, when you buy a second-hand RV, a fresh coat of paint becomes usually necessary to render a gorgeous new look. In every case, you would need to know how to paint the RV exterior.

Time Needed to Pain RV Exterior

painting RV exterior

RV exteriors are mostly made of fiberglass.

Painting an RV with fiberglass exterior is a labor-intensive task, but if you break it down into a few simple steps, it may not seem as tedious. However, just know that this is not all done in one day. 

The painting involves steps between which you would need to allow some time before moving on to the next step. 

So it is done in a phased manner, not all at once, much like painting your home. Generally you would need a few days (about 3 to 4) to finish painting you fiberglass RV exterior properly.

Items Needed

  • Good quality fiberglass paint (not just any exterior paint). Choosing the right kind of fiberglass-special paint ensures better finish, although it may cost you more than usual. Choose the ones that have polyurethane, acrylic, epoxy, or polyester to get a stable, weather-resistant finish. Make sure the paint contains no melamine or oil. Fiberglass paints are sold in glossy, matt, and high-gloss varieties. Depending on your personal taste, choose from matt/gloss/high-gloss.
  • Paint sprayer, paint gun, or brushes
  • Fiberglass primer (latex-based or water-proof or marine-based)
  • Waxes
  • Palm sander
  • Painter’s tape for masking
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Acetone
  • Soft cotton cloth
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Detergent / soap water
  • An automotive sponge
  • Power washer (optional)
  • Face mask (to protect yourself from inhaling paints and sprays)
  • A ladder (to comfortably reach higher areas or the roof of the RV)

How to Paint RV Exterior Fiberglass in 7 Steps

Before you start preparing your RV for a paint or painting your RV, you must park your home-on-wheels in a shaded place, but one that is well-ventilated (be it in your garage, your driveway, or anywhere else). 

Now, get everything you need in one place. And remember to cover your nose and mouth with a face mask. 

The 7 simple steps of RV exterior fiberglass painting come under three broad heads:

  • Preparing the RV for paint (pre-production)
  • Painting the RV (production)
  • The Final Closure (post-production)

Pre-production: Preparing the RV for Paint

1. Clean the RV thoroughly with warm detergent or soap water and an automotive sponge to remove all dust and dirt that might have collected on the exterior fiberglass body.

If yours is a used RV, chances are that this cleaning step would take longer than in a moderately new RV.

Those stubborn bird droppings don’t want to go off easily. But make sure they are completely removed before you paint.

You can also use a power washer at this cleaning step to speed up the process, but it is optional. If you do not have it, you may give it a pass.

2. After the exterior is cleaned and washed, let it dry for some time before proceeding to the next step, which is the palm sander and sandpaper use. Run the palm sander and the fine grit wet sandpaper to roughen the already-existing layer of paint on the fiberglass surface of the RV a little bit.

Do not overdo the rubbing as you may end up having uneven surfaces. Just take about an hour for this sanding activity and roughen only the paint layer, not the fiberglass underneath it.

Roughening is necessary for better adherence of the primer and the paint. But follow-up the sanding activity with a denatured alcohol wipe-off.

Wiping the surface with denatured alcohol ensures that the surface is totally grease-free and ready for primer.

3. Your next step will be to mask the non-paintable areas of the RV with the painter’s tape. Areas like handles, window rims, knobs, and windshields need to be masked to save time in the actual painting process.

Production: Painting the RV

  1. Now it is time to start the production! You can either use a paint gun to do this or use a paintbrush, whichever suits. Although most people are comfortable painting with a paint brush, painting the fiberglass exterior with a paint gun is way more time-effective and easier to get a smoother finish. The choice is, however, completely up to you.
  2. Use the paint sprayer to put on an even coat of the primer on the RV exterior. The technique is to spray back and forth horizontally. Also, it is advised to start spraying from the front to the back of your RV. However, do remember to clean the inner areas of the sprayer or gun with a soft cotton cloth dipped in acetone so that no residual previous paint remains in it. Once primer is applied, let it dry. The drying time varies, but you can always check the recommended time provided by the manufacturer in the pack.
  3. Once the primer dries in a day, it’s time to apply final paint. Using a brush or a gun, paint your RV exterior just the same way as you applied the primer – in long horizontal strokes flowing back and forth. Hand painting may often cause paint drips. To minimize these drips, maintain a long, fluid motion. Starting from the front to the back, once the painting is complete, let it dry for about 24 hours. For best results, apply a second coat of paint the next day in the same way and let it dry for another 24 hours.

Post-production: The Final Closure

1. Get the wax and soft cotton cloth handy for final finish.

In circular motions, apply a coat of wax all over the painted portions with the cotton cloth. This wax coating provides the paint a protective layer and also makes the fiberglass exterior look polished.

Now, take off the painter’s tape from all the masked areas of the RV and there you are, all done with your mammoth painting task of the RV!

Some Final Words of Caution

  • A good way to protect the exterior paint from wear-off is to save it from the UV rays as much as possible. Therefore, when you are not on the road, try parking it in some shaded place with less exposure to the sun.
  • If your RV has a metal roof, do not include it in the above process. Metallic roofs need a separate treatment and care. If it is fiberglass, proceed as above.
  • Wash your RV exterior regularly to avoid grease, dirt, or bird droppings settling on the paint. The longer these are allowed to settle on the exterior, the harder it is to get rid of them.
  • Every time you wash it, you may apply a coat of RV wax on the exterior to provide additional protection to the paint. But, this is up to you as this is time-consuming affair. The advantage of this time-investment is, however, increased longevity of the exterior fiberglass paint. 

Conclusion

Now if you look back on the above steps of RV painting, the process doesn’t seem as harder as you would have thought, does it?

It is labor-intensive, but not rocket science. So, get on the job without pushing away the decision to paint any further.