Intro: Plastic Repairs (Gas Tank Example)
My lawnmower had an issue where my gas tank was rubbed enough to produce a hole on the side. Faced with the aspect of replacing it for $200+, I decided to repair it instead for a few pennies.
I do repairs on plastic items for medial devices and other things and have done so for many years. I was told that this might be a good idea to put out there as this same process can be used for anything that needs to be repaired that is plastic like this. I did the same thing for a washer fluid bottle on my old Fiero as well, so I am putting it out there so you too can follow and fix all your stuff as well.
Repairing plastic is actually very easy to do, but requires patience and attention to detail. Being careful with the materials is key to the process as they must be clean and organized. Focus on the task must be done because time is an issue in fixing plastic stuff like this.
This repair is for the slimy plastic that can stand up to gasoline like a gas tank or stuff on cars for example.. The process is the same for all things like this, so this example can be applied to nearly any situation to fix plastic damages.
Check it out and see if you can do it..
Step 1: Preparation and Organization
Time is of essence for repairing plastic items because heating things and cooling them is a timed process and you need to be able to move and act immediately. Organizing your tools and materials is important to facilitate this as it is in many tasks you do everyday.
Repairing plastics does not require many tools at all for basic tasks, so here is a list of tools you should or could use:
- Heat Gun - You can find these at nearly any store such as Harbor Freight or Lowes. It can not be a hair dryer because those do not get hot enough. They are cheap and should be from $9 to $30 or so..
- Box knife - This is used to clean the damaged area and remove any straggling pieces of plastic and clean edges to give you a smooth surface to connect to.
- Painter Spatula (Metal) - This is used to flatten the materials and squeeze the materials together. It should be just larger than the area you are working on so you only need to make one pass. Do not use a plastic one because it will get hot and might melt.
- Screw Driver (Flathead side) - This is optional in my opinion as I use it as a miniature spatula to push little areas of plastic around as well as applying pressure to specific spots as needed.
That is about all you need in terms of tools, but you need a place to work and power to drive the heat gun. Bring your skills and a little courage and you will be good to go!
***DO NOT use a soldering iron or anything that is hot where you must touch it to the plastic. No no no.
Step 2: Clean Clean Clean Clean... Did I Mention Clean the Parts.
You want your plastic parts to stick to each other, so obviously you do not want any dirt, grease, wax, etc to come between your parts, right? In my case here, I have a broken gasoline tank so I removed it and cleaned it inside and out with dish soap and water until I did not smell gasoline any more on it. This is not only to keep foreign material off the plastic that I am trying to fix, but for safety as well because I do not want my gasoline tank to explode when I apply heat to it. LOL... It might be a good idea to use a rag, scrub brush, brillo pad, etc.
Once it is all cleaned off you nee to really go after it with a solvent like alcohol to absolutely get everything off squeaky clean and ready to process for application of plastic. I am using alcohol because I am going to use the bottle as my patch material since it is the same material as my gasoline tank (how convenient!). I could have used a gallon milk jug as well, but I already have this material wrapped around my alcohol already... LOL.
Note that in the pictures the gasoline tank looks brown. This is a chemical change in the plastic and not a stain or contamination. Many times plastic will change its chemical structure because of heat, chemicals, contact with other items, etc.. once you get to the point where you are finally cleaning with alcohol, it is clean. Take your time and make sure it is really clean. I can not emphasize this enough to clean it off really well.. both the part being fixed and the new part to fix it with. They need to go together with nothing between them.
Step 3: Prepare Work Area and Patch Materials
Now that your work area is cleaned off really well, you must prepare it by removing any plastic fingers or rough spots around the damaged area. Use your knife to cut any loose plastic strings and smooth out any rough edges so that they will not promote splitting or cracking. Take your time and do a good job thinking about stability and taking into account any stress that could occur to your piece. In my case, it is a hole on the corner of my gasoline tank, so I realize the patch will have to span around two sides of the hole.
Step 4: Make It Fit the Area and Shape
Look at your repair area closely and observe its lines and then cut your patch material to match the area as closely as possible. take your time and trim it out so that the material overlaps the repair site by about 1.5 times the damage area. In my case, the patch material will take the place of the missing material of the hole, so I will stretch it a little longer over the area of the repair, and must take this into account when making the cuts of the material to fit. Another idea is to make a template on paper and cut with scissors to use to cut the plastic out from your repair material. I just cut straight from the material though.. (Note that I look for curves in the surface that closely match the curves of my repair site on the gasoline tank).
In the picture, I already have the patch applied and welded in place, but I made another one that you can see where I matched it to fit the repair area above it..The other picture is me holding the patch material in place to test fit it so I know what kind of action I will have to take to make it stick down.
It is super important that you get everything ready to apply and prepared before heating anything: Preparation is 99% of the process, so the better the patch fits and the least physical manipulation is needed, the better the repair is going to come out in the end. Ideally, the patch should simply lay down on the repair area with little or no effort on your part. when you feel confident in the fit of the patch and status of your repair item location, you are ready to heat things up.
Step 5: Heating Things Up!
Now for the key to getting it done the right way.
Start up by heating the repair area with the heat gun and holding the gun a distance from the surface so that it heats evenly in a broad area, and slowly. There are a couple of things to watch for while you are heating this area:
- Nothing should produce smoke or singe or burn... never.
- The goal aimed for is to cause the plastic to become pliable but not melt or lose shape.
keep the heat applied in a broad area and not focus on a spot but keep it away from the material and let it heat up slowly and evenly over a larger area. When you notice the plastic being pliable and beginning to look "wet", move the patch material into the air stream so that heat now is being applied to the patch area to be applied to the repair area while it is being diverted to the patch area, deflecting off the patch material. Make the patch warm broadly and slowly until it seems "wet" as well. Once you reach wetness on both surfaces, drop the patch on the repair area, aiming to be where you plan on it staying. Pull your heat gun away from the patched area now slowly and set aside. Pickup the spatula and lightly apply on the patch in an effort to remove any air bubble that might have been captured and slowly knead the patch into the wet repair area surface.. Do not apply pressure here, but try to help the two surfaces mingle. Cleanup the joints and materials while the plastics are cooling (this will take some time to cool off, so do not try to force them to cool by putting water or other stuff on the new patch... Let it sit and cool as this will allow the two materials to coalesce together slowly... Everything about patching is slow temp up and slow temp down...
Step 6: Cooling Off and Inspect Your Work
With luck, your patch is complete. If the patch material is too thin, it might be a good idea to lay a second or third layer down on top of the last one to build up the thickness using the same process as the last slide. The thinner the patch material will make the repair more controllable. so do not be afraid and be ready to lay down multiple layers as needed for this. Note that this is a molecular bond of the patch and the repair area, so once the patch is made, it is there permanently and is part of the repair area, not glued or any kind of physical bond that will go bad.
These two pictures of of my repair to my Gasoline tank hole as it is cooling down. I only needed one layer I felt so I stopped right there. It has been in use holding my gasoline for nearly three years now, so I am happy with it.
Step 7: Testing Afterward and Do Your Victory Dance..
When my gasoline tank cooled off and sat for a while, I tested it by filling it with water to check for leaks, followed by pressurizing it to test for fatigue issues. The patch was solid and permanent. the patch was actually stronger than the original material.
Remember, this is a molecular repair and not a glue or physical bonding situation, so you should never have to visit this repair again (unless you bust it up again).
Keep these things in mind:
- NEVER EVER physically touch hot tools to your plastic becaue this contaminates the plastic and simply melts it in a tiny area and ruins the plasticity of the materials... If you do this, you had better just toss it in the trash can.
- Clean everything before applying any heat. Clean clean clean clean clean...
- Preparation work is essential to effective patch repairs. 99% of work should be prep work and cleaning.
- If you see smoke, you are doing it wrong. Heat the materials slowly and do not melt them!
- Patch material needs to be same as the repair area materials.
- Every kind of plastic melts at different temperature and at different rates.. Test a piece before really doing it.
Hope that helps someone out!