Coach Cleaning: What We Use to Clean Our Motorhome

By Cindy Grossman 3/23/2008

Often people ask me what we use to keep our Foretravel motorhome looking so good. (“Homer” is all fiberglass with Gel Coat finish.) After we get past the well-intentioned joking about a gal doing the work, I tell them “Barry keeps us running, Cindy keeps us clean.”

It is confusing to know what to use. It depends on the type of finish. Over the years I’ve narrowed it down and believe I’ve found the best of the best for our motorhome. I got here out of desperation when washing the roof two weeks after waxing it, and my rag was filled with a white powder. Not good!

I researched and ended up at Classic Motoring’s web site (, 800-628-7596), and have never looked back. I now understand why to stop waxing, and start sealing. I’ve learned to spend a little more for the right tools and products. Their web site is exceptional because it is a wealth of information. They write at length about what will work, and how to use it. Be sure to read the part about wax vs. sealant. Gel Coat Labs products worked beyond my expectations, and believe me when I say I’ve tried many, many other cleaners. Bet you have too!

So here’s what works for us… Detailed instructions are on the web site or on the bottles.

1) Porter-Cable Dual Action (Orbital) Polisher #7424 $130

I’m so pleased we replaced my $50 Sears buffer with this. It’s an industry standard for vehicle finishes plus can be used for almost anything, including sanding or cleaning the furniture. Compact, durable, powerful, quiet, variable-speed, versatile.

Gives uniform results not possible by hand. Easy on my hands and arms. “Orbital” buffers are more forgiving than “circular” types, and greatly reduce the possibility of accidentally harming the surface. “Circular” polishers are recommended for very neglected finishes. I have never used a “circular” polisher and imagine they really get the job done if used correctly. However, I need something that won’t get me in trouble.

2) Backing Plates –

  • Flexible, Urethane for DA Polishers, Velcro 6”
  • Flexible, Urethane Backing Plate $18.95 #FBP-6DA fits 6” to 7.5” pads 3½”
  • Flexible, Urethane Backing Plate $11.95 #FBP-3.5DA fits 4” pads
  • The backing plate is used to affix the cleaning pads. “Flexible” doesn’t nick protrusions I bump against.

3) Compounding Gel Coat (for heavily oxidized finishes)

  • Gel Coat Lab’s Gel Coat Heavy Cut Compound 16 oz bottle #FS-MHC16 $16.95
  • Power Scrubber Microfiber Applicator Pads Pkg of 2 pads #PSAP-2N $7.95 For handwork where the buffer does not fit.
  • 7.5” Aggressor Gel Coat Compounding Pad (Lambs Wool) #FS553-75W/3 $27.95 (pkg of 3) or #FS553-75W $10.95 (one)
  • 7.5” CCS, Gel Coat, Cool Foam, Orange Power Pad #CCSCPCF-75PWR/3 $32.95 (pkg of 3)#CCSCPCF-75PWR $13.95 (one)Comes with good directions.

Keep pad misted with water. Set PC7424 speed 2-3. Expect some splattering.

The finished surface will be somewhat dull. After compounding is done, polishing and sealing are required. Don’t take a week off and let the now-unprotected surface get dirty. Lamb’s Wool compounding pads are recommended because they do a better job of getting into Gel Coat pores but they need to be fluffed with a wire brush during compounding.

4) Polishing Gel Coat (start here for lightly oxidized finish)

  • Gel Coat Lab’s Gel Coat Fine Cut Polish 16 oz bottle, #FS-MFC16 $18.95
  • Power Scrubber Microfiber Applicator Pads Pkg of 2 pads #PSAP-2N $7.95

For handwork where buffer does not fit.

  • 7.5” CCS, White Cool Foam Polishing Pad #CCSCPCF-75W/3 $32.95 (pkg of 3)#CCSCPCF-75W $11.95 (one)

It can be applied in direct sunlight. Per info on the bottle: “Designed to remove light oxidation, fine scratches and light chalk from both painted and unpainted gel coat.” Set PC7424 speed on 5. This polishing step brings out the shine.

By the way, “Gel Coat Labs” IS NOT “Gel Gloss” that one sees in Camping World, Wal Mart, etc.

Keep awnings closed. Also, we use lowest-adhesive blue painters masking tape to mask off decals and rubber edges of the windshield, etc. Remove tape promptly, especially from decals. The extra time to mask is worth it.

I never wear shoes on the roof because shoes leave scuff marks and grind in the dirt. From the ladder, I step onto a towel, then remove my shoes. I always kneel on a towel while working. The roof gets REALLY SLIPPERY after it’s cleaned. I can’t tell you how careful I am to keep back from the sides and hang on whatever is up there.

5) Sealing Gel Coat

  • Gel Coat Lab’s Gel Coat All Marine Surface Sealant 16 oz bottle #FS-MSP16 $24.95
  • Ultimate German Wax & Polish Applicator 2 sided foam piece, 3-3/4 x 6 x 1-1/8” #GER-APP $3.95

USE RED SIDE for applying sealant. I cut the applicator in half to absorb less sealant.

I choose to apply and remove sealant by hand. The PC7424 can be used with a non-abrasive pad. The sealant can be buffed off using a towel thrown over the PC7424 with any pad on it.

It can be applied in direct sunlight. Per info on the bottle: “This powerful polymer-based surface sealant is designed to seal and protect finishes from marine contamination, industrial fallout, salt air, acid rain and UV inducing slow fade. Seals and protects painted and non-painted gel coats, stainless steel, and aluminum surfaces.” Wipe on, allow to dry to a haze, buff off the residue with a clean dry microfiber towel.

Sealing is a lot easier and faster than compounding or polishing. Sealant has no cleaning or polishing qualities. Whatever stains, etc. that remain on the surface will not be cleaned any further. But it’s easy to go back and polish where there are stains or streaks and then reseal.

DONE! The sealant will last 6+ months (sorry, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that lasts longer unless it’s some kind of permanent coating that will have its own issues after a few years).

6) One-Step Polishing/Sealing (for lightly oxidized finish)

“Gel Coat/Fiberglass Micro-Polish & Sealant” 16 oz bottle #FS-MOS16 $24.95

Not to confuse the issue, this product COMBINES steps 4 & 5 above.

I used it with excellent results for 2-3 years. Then we happened to be in Florida and were close to Classic Motoring’s home in Tampa. We stopped by and learned more from their manager who had personally tried many of their products on a Foretravel of an owner of the company. We learned they also have two separate products 1) Fine Cut Polish, and 2) All Marine Surface Sealant.

Using two separate single-purpose products now made sense to us because a combined product seemingly has to compromise some of the strengths of both the products it contains.

Changing to a pure sealant made the most sense to me because that’s what I really want to last. I have now changed to the separate Fine Cut Polish and separate All Marine Surface Sealant as noted in Steps 4 & 5 above. BUT there IS a place for this one-step polish & sealant. I keep a couple of bottles on hand for touch up. If I didn’t have the energy for the two-step polish-then-seal, I would use this product. It works great removing stubborn stains and black streaks. It’s an excellent cleaner that works better than anything else I have ever tried. Plus it seals. I put some on a clean cloth, rub it in, wipe off with a microfiber towel, and DONE! I have used it with my buffer over large areas.

7) Keeping Homer Spiffy In Between

“Gel Coat All Marine Quick Detailer Plus” 32 oz spray bottle #FS-MQD32 $18.95

This is my latest find and it has filled the void of what to do after Homer is washed/wiped, he’s not dirty, but is not looking as shiny as after my last thorough clean and seal. I love this stuff! Spray it on, wipe it off with a microfiber towel. Then put on your sunglasses because we sparkle! It doesn’t take much product or time to do a quick once-over of the entire motorhome.

The spray bottle says: “… to enhance and extend existing sealant coatings. Lightly cleans while improving the gloss, clarity, and slickness of the gel coat and strengthens the existing sealant to resist future soiling. The high lubricity cleaner wipes away light surface contamination without scratching or removing existing wax or sealant coatings. Great for gel coat, fiberglass and composite surfaces to lightly clean and help prevent future staining.”

Keep awnings closed. Also, we use lowest-adhesive blue painters masking tape to mask off decals and rubber edges of the windshield, etc. Remove tape promptly, especially from decals. The extra time to mask is worth it.

I never wear shoes on the roof because shoes leave scuff marks and grind in the dirt. From the ladder, I step onto a towel, then remove my shoes. I always kneel on a towel while working. The roof gets REALLY SLIPPERY after it’s cleaned. I can’t tell you how careful I am to keep back from the sides and hang on whatever is up there.

8) Thoughts On Using Buffer Pads

I do not use the same pad with different products. Even after pads are cleaned there always seems to be some product left deep inside. Pads will quickly cake-up with residues, reducing their effectiveness, so I have three of each type of pad. And I CHANGE THEM OFTEN. It’s inefficient for me to stop to clean pads so Barry cleans and dries them while I continue on. If I accidentally rub against black rubber? Pad turns black. Bummer! Next pad, please!

The color usually indicates abrasiveness of pad (orange might be most abrasive, white or red might be softest with no cleaning qualities). Lambs Wool (which I use) is recommended for compounding Gel Coat but it splatters more and has to be fluffed, an extra step. High-tech foam pads are available that are easier to work with, and a little more expensive. Pads recommended for painted finishes are usually different from pads for Gel Coat finishes.

“Pad Lubricant & Residue Remover” (#BB-FPL16 $9.95) is used to “season” a pad before applying any product. Read about it at the web site. Supposedly makes it impossible to scratch or haze the finish. Have some, but haven’t tried it yet.

9) Black Tires & Air Bags

“Forever Black Tire Gel Kit” #FB810 $10.95

Finally! A tire treatment product that just dyes the tires black and doesn’t put on any of that shiny stuff that is bad for rubber. Our tires and airbags look like new, but not shiny. Box says “black pigmented color, water-based, silicone & oil-free, environmentally safe, won’t attract dust, dries in minutes, won’t sling off tires, protects against UV damage, water-resistant”. I just used it for the first time so will be interesting to see how long it lasts. Remember to wear gloves. Dye slopped onto the rims is easily wiped off while it’s fresh. Sure made a big difference!

10) 303 Protectant

“303 Aerospace Protectant”

Find it at any auto store or Classic Motoring has it too.

Has been around forever. Tried several protectant-type products on our decals, wiper blades, and rubber gaskets around windshield, lights, etc. 303 worked the best and lasted the longest. Didn’t remove color as some other products did. Unfortunately, nothing restores faded decals. I wish I had started using it earlier.

I soak a small rag liberally with 303, wipe it on thoroughly, then immediately wipe off excess with a terry cloth towel.

Excess 303 gets wiped off because it might lift the edges of our original decals. I find that after a rain, a very fine residue of 303 has washed down onto the sides for about 6 inches. This residue is a magnet for dust but it wipes off easily. I try to apply 303 on decals once a month, maybe more if we’re baking in the desert.

11) Other Products

You may want to take a look at for other ideas. I also have a variety of 4” pads. The upholstery brush on the PC7424 does a superb job of cleaning our leather and vinyl furniture, dash, and inside door panel. The two compounds on 4” pads, and plastic sealant, restore badly yellowed headlights. Use the PC7424 for waxing our car. I am waiting to get the courage to restore the luster on our solid surface countertops. So many projects, so little time…

Adding up all my above recommendations, it comes to under $500 to do the job the first time, including a multi-use buffer and left-over products that can be used the next time. A pittance compared to buying a new motorhome. I gave away my accumulation of cleaners that “kind of” did the job but really didn’t. Almost four years using Gel Coat Labs products, Homer has never looked better.

I plan to apply Detailer every time I wipe down Homer.

The ROOF gets it the worst from the sun and accumulation of dirt. I spot-clean to remove stains and hope to re-apply pure sealant every couple of months (assuming the roof stays clean enough).

The FRONT takes a beating from driving so I often do the fine-cut compound then seal. Not needed when we are not parked for a while.

On the BACK & SIDES, I frequently spot clean to remove black streaks from rain, especially under the windows. Detailer seems to keep the sealant refreshed so don’t need anything more. I think I can easily go more than 6 months before doing a total fine-cut compounding then sealing. If I did not want to do this physical work myself, I would hire someone, provide the buffer, products, and supervise. Bet your salesman never mentioned you really should keep the Gel Coat sealed…