Boat-Cleaning Tips: Boat Detailing And Washing 101

Boat-Cleaning Tips: Boat Detailing And Washing 101

When it comes to keeping your boat clean, it seems like everything from A to Z — think algae to zebra mussels — is a threat. Fortunately, these waves of challenges can be met with a little knowhow, a little effort and the best boat-cleaning products available.

Here are some boat-cleaning tips that apply whether it is yacht cleaning, powerboat cleaning or pontoon boat cleaning that you are about to embark upon.

Getting Started

The first step to boat detailing is to gather the cleaning supplies you will need and make sure you will have access to a hose hookup. The materials needed could vary depending on how thorough of a cleaning project you are planning, but some of the basic marine cleaning supplies will be:

  • A bucket or two (the second allows you to rinse dirt out before dipping a brush or Wash Mitt back into your soap)
  • A Wash Mitt — it’s less abrasive than a washcloth, allowing you to protect the boat’s finishes, such as the gel coat
  • A water hose with a nozzle
  • Long-handled brushes, with both stiff and soft bristles
  • The Absorber (air-drying would leave water spots and swirls)
  • A paint-safe and environmentally friendly boat soap; boat wax or sealant; applicator pads; chrome polish
  • Buffing Balls, which affix to a 3/8-inch drill, to polish chrome and painted surfaces
  • The Glosser, a quick detailing wipe saturated with cleaners and waxes for a final shine
  • Dash Gear, a microfiber cloth for cleaning your instrument panel, etc.
  • Safety clothing, gloves and goggles as needed

Step by Step

Begin by using a hose to thoroughly rinse your boat to remove any loose dirt. Start at the highest point, otherwise you later will be cascading dirty water over an area you already sprayed.

Fill a bucket with water and add soap specifically made for cleaning boats. (Don’t use household cleaning agents — they may have pH balances that damage boat surfaces such as the gel coat.) As you wash with a Wash Mitt or scrub with a soft brush, do small areas at a time, rinsing them immediately. (Dried soap can leave a film or scratch a layer of wax.) As with rinsing, wash from the top down. Don’t scrub too hard, either, or you will scratch the surface or embed contaminants into it. Let the soap do the work. For your final rinse, remove the nozzle from the hose and let the water run down to help prevent beading and water spots.

The Absorber is a great tool for drying your boat’s surfaces to prevent residue from any elements in the water. The minimal extra labor also pays off with streak-free finishes and gives you a chance to closely inspect the boat’s surfaces for flaws as you dry.

Buff the surface to prepare for waxing or sealing, and then follow the application directions for your wax or sealant.

If you are doing full detailing, there are a number of topside tasks, too:

  • Wash windows and the windshield with a soft brush and dry with The Absorber.
  • Vacuum floors and seats.
  • Scrub nonskid flooring and teak with a stiff brush.
  • Polish the chrome: railing, horns, ladders, cleats, etc.
  • If you have vinyl seats, apply a vinyl cleaner with a UV blocker.
  • Use Dash Gear to clean your instrumentation gauges.
  • If you cover your boat with a canvas between outings, scrub the underside of the canvas, too, to help prevent mold and mildew.

Sealants vs. Wax

Waxes and sealants both are designed to protect your boat’s finish from UV rays, grime, salt and more. Sealants have been dismissed for being abrasive but have since come a long way and are easier to apply. They fill the pores in the gel coat and dry to a hard finish that lasts the entire season. It is very important, however, to select a sealant made for gel coat finishes. It should have a micro-cleaning or polishing agent and not be abrasive. Do not use an automotive sealant that does not specifically say it can be used for gel coat surfaces.

Carpet cleaning

Vacuum and spot clean your carpet regularly. When it needs a deeper cleaning, a steam cleaner is the answer. If that’s not feasible, with the boat on a trailer, park on a slope with the stern at the lower end. Remove the drain plug. With either a bucket of soapy water or a 2-gallon pump sprayer containing a solution of water and 2 to 3 pints of white vinegar, soak the carpet and scrub it with a brush. Rinse it with a hose, getting as much soap out as possible, with the water draining through the bilge drain plug. Vacuum to help the carpet dry faster.

Do It Yourself, or Hire a Pro?

Comprehensively cleaning a boat is a lot of work. If you have the time — figure a few hours for a thorough detailing — and physical ability, there are plenty of “how to wash boat” guides available, in addition to the supplies from CleanTools that can help. Boat yards, dealers and mobile services will also provide detailing services. If you hire a professional, costs can be wide-ranging — up to more than $40 per foot —depending on services and the size of your boat. Some places charge $50 per hour rather than charging by boat size.

How Often Should You Clean a Boat?

If possible, at least rinse and dry your boat after each outing, especially if you are in saltwater and keep the boat on a trailer. You don’t have to use soap each time; in fact, that could break down any wax you applied. A wax job should last two to four months, and a quality sealant could protect the boat for a season. The other detailing work can be done on an as-needed basis.

Removing Hard Water Stains

Many boats are beset by hard water stains, especially along and below the waterline. Hard water spot removers, vinegar and water, and some acid-based products can help. Follow safety measures — including wearing long sleeves, gloves and goggles. A thorough rinse after cleaning should be followed by drying with The Absorber.

How CleanTools Can Help

Whether your passion is power boating, cruising or sailing — and whether it’s on a lake, river or an ocean — a clean boat will add to both your pleasure and the watercraft’s longevity.

CleanTools eases your cleaning and detailing duties with products that can be stored conveniently on your boat for quick use after each outing or for more involved cleanings. Quality and value are guaranteed when you use CleanTools products.