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Gear Test: DeBond Corporation Marine Formula

One of the most common high-strength bonding products I encounter is 3M 5200, which the manufacturer describes as a “polyurethane adhesive sealant, which is permanent and cannot be removed.”

A frequent obstacle that must be overcome when performing repairs and modifications on boats of all types is the removal of components that have been bonded in place with extremely strong adhesives and sealants. Windows, port lights, through-hull fittings, hatches, rails and engine brackets immediately come to mind as being almost impossible to remove without damaging either the vessel or the item.

One of the most common high-strength bonding products I encounter is 3M 5200, which the manufacturer describes as a “polyurethane adhesive sealant, which is permanent and cannot be removed.” Attempting to remove 5200 from fiberglass typically results in frustration due to the time involved and resulting damage to the substrate.

DeBond Corp. says its patented DeBond 2000 Marine Formula will “remove and clean up cured 3M 5200 in addition to silicones, caulk and common marine adhesives without damaging the boat or accessory.” My experience with Marine Formula confirms the manufacturer’s claim.

Polyurethane adhesive/sealants form long interlocking chains of molecules when they come in contact with the surfaces to be bonded. These molecule chains are what forms the bond with the surface: fiberglass, metal, wood, etc.

“Marine Formula penetrates into the polyurethane adhesive sealant and, through a chemical process, begins the process of breaking the interlocking molecule chains,” says DeBond vice president Rob King. “When the chains are broken, the adhesive loses its sticking power.”

I followed King’s advice and read the directions that accompany the product. They are basic and well-presented, and Marine Formula won’t perform properly without following them. It is critical that it comes into direct contact with the 3M 5200. Dirt, salt buildup or wax will inhibit its reaching the adhesive. Washing the area with a quality soap and water should do the trick.

I set up several test pieces — aluminum plates, nuts, bolts, washers — bonded with 3M 5200 and let them fully cure over a two-week period. The larger the contact area that Marine Formula has with the cured sealant, the quicker and more thorough the debonding becomes. I used a razor knife to score the 5200 prior to applying Marine Formula, which comes in an aerosol container and includes an application wand to aid in applying the thin liquid exactly where necessary.

Care must be taken to avoid dripping Marine Formula where it isn’t needed, as it will debond almost any adhesive it comes in contact with. In the event that the product is inadvertently applied to an area that shouldn’t be debonded, the chemical process can be stopped by applying isopropyl alcohol or soap and water to the area.

After applying Marine Formula, I let it stand for 15 minutes before attempting to separate the test pieces. Using the plastic wedge provided, I was able to separate the aluminum plates from each other as the 3M 5200 lost adhesion with the substrate. It still required some effort to separate, so I waited another five minutes and was readily able to disassemble all the test pieces. I have been unable to separate the set of aluminum plates that didn’t receive the Marine Formula application.

I should note that 3M 5200 is substrate-specific and may not be as readily removed when used to adhere gelcoat to gelcoat or wood to gelcoat. My testing is not indicative of Marine Formula’s performance on all applications.

I also used Marine Formula on aged masking tape residue, shrink-wrap tape and duct tape adhesive. It does an excellent job of removing most any adhesive, in addition to a host of other similar cleanup chores. It won’t harm gelcoat, clear coat, Plexiglas, Awlgrip or Imron, according to the manufacturer, but it would be wise to test the product on an inconspicuous area first. DeBond Corp. advises not using Marine Formula on plastics, as it might break down the plastic’s structure. It also shouldn’t be used on Lexan. Follow the manufacturer precautions regarding flammability and vapor inhalation.