The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and D — Na..

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Camde, Maie - New Yor - Chicago - Sa Fracisco - Lisbo - Lodo - Madrid
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Camde, Maie - New Yor - Chicago - Sa Fracisco - Lisbo - Lodo - Madrid
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Copyright © 2009 by Natalie Sears. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of
1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database
NESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. McGraw-Hill and its licensors do not warrant or guarantee that the functions
To my grandfather Nick, who always taught me that I could do anything I put my
mind to and couldn’t possibly fail as long as I simply tried
Chapter 1
Washing Your Boat
Chapter 2
Waxing Your Boat
Chapter 3
Teak Decks
Chapter 4
Brightwork Maintenance
Chapter 5
Interior Cleaning
Chapter 6
Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
Chapter 7
Natural Cleaning Products
Chapter 8
Cleaning While Cruising
Chapter 9
Hiring a Detailer
Chapter 10
A Year-Round Plan
Appendix A
Selling Your Boat
Appendix B
Critter Prevention
Appendix C
Diving Services
Appendix D
Cruising with Your Non-Boating Friends
Appendix E
I would like to express my deep gratitude to a few of the many people who helped
me start and manage my boat-detailing company, without which I wouldn’t have
gained the experience that made it possible for me to write this book: To my sister
Cherie, who held my hand as she walked me down to the dock that very rst day
and gave me the condence I needed to help me take my business from idea to
reality. To Dan, who supported me along the way both the rst and second time
around and encouraged me to go to college so I could be a boat washer with a
business degree. To Lee, who has put in so many hours of hard work and helped
take a huge load off my plate so I can have lunch with my sister almost daily, and
who somehow puts up with me even during my most crazed moments at the boat
shows. And to Bill King of Compass Point Yachts, who gave a new detailer a chance
and helped my business grow over the years. I am truly thankful and grateful to
all of you.
Mns Akk Anasr
Aqd Aqnacr
I know you’re just dying to learn how to clean the bird droppings from your boat’s
foredeck, the mildew from its canvas, and the boatyard overspray from its hull. I
know you’re anxious to get started, but let’s ease into this. There’s a lot to learn if you
haven’t done this before or if you’re looking for better, more effective techniques.
There are tips and tricks sprinkled throughout each chapter that can ease the job
of cleaning and detailing your boat and make the work more pleasant. There will
be time for all of that, but rst allow me to introduce myself and this book.
Why I Wrote This Book
I used to think it was fun to hang out in the boat-cleaning aisle of my local boating
supply store and watch unsuspecting boaters stare with glazed expressions at the
overwhelming array of products calling out to them from the oor-to-ceiling shelf
displays. “No need to buff!” or “Lasts for seven years!” the cans and packaging pro-
claim—or my personal favorite, “Never need to wax your boat again!” Eventually
I’d decide to help my fellow boaters, but more often than not, before I could swoop
in to save the shopper from buying ve products that don’t work and suggest the
one that does, a sales associate would spot his victim and saunter over. When I
picture this scene, the associate is always a 17-year-old kid who has never cleaned
a boat and is working there only because his dad wants the store’s employee dis
count. “Oh yeah,” the kid says. “That’s my favorite product, and it works great on
every type of boat and for every kind of stain. And it lasts for seven years.”
That is why I wrote this book—to help you when you’re standing in that aisle,
and to go on helping you when you’re aboard your boat, maintenance tools and
supplies at the ready. I wrote it to share what I have learned from working in this
industry all these years, and to pass along some helpful tips and tricks so you can
learn from my experience rather than your own trials and errors. I wrote this book
so you have the information you need at hand to care for your boat, whether it’s
new or used, whether it’s your rst boat or your tenth, whether you maintain your
boat yourself or hire a detailer.
Rain Is What I Know
I live in the Pacific Northwest, so although I’ve included information about boat
cleaning in any locale or climate, you may notice that my experience comes from
what I know—gray skies, clean water, and lots of rain. Before researching this book, I
had no idea that folks in Florida have to use water lters and softeners or that South
ern California boaters don’t have to cope with water streaks that reappear on an
almost daily basis. Also, my experience is mostly with berglass boats. Most owners
of wooden boats prefer to do their own work, so although I love wooden boats, I have
not yet had enough experience with them to consider myself an expert.
You will encounter references to “Opening Day.” Here in the Pacic North
west we generally put our boats away for the winter because of the cooler tempera-
tures, rough seas, and rainy days. Come March and April, the rain lets up (a little),
and we all come out of hibernation to start preparing for boating season, which we
joyously ring in on May 1—or, as we call it, Opening Day.
This Book Is Written for . . .
New boat owners who have never previously owned a boat
Veteran boat owners who have never maintained their boats but now want
to start because the work looks enjoyable, or because there’s no better way
to get to know your boat than by working on it, or because they want to
save money
Boat owners who want to hire a detailer to do the work but need a manual
to tell them what a detailer should or shouldn’t do
Owners of boat-detailing companies who want to provide employees with
a guidebook
If you’re already an expert professional boat detailer, you will see that I don’t pro
vide every last tip and trick. When you work in the industry long enough, you come
across interesting xes for almost every boat detailing conundrum, no matter how
obscure. However, not all such xes are appropriate for those who are less expe
rienced with gelcoat properties, chemical reactions, or how to remedy the situa
tion when they’ve accidentally confused the container of pink antifreeze for the
container of pink boat soap. For a book like this one, the tried and tested basics
are best. The techniques in these pages cover every common scenario and many
uncommon ones, and you’ll learn other shortcuts and secrets naturally along the
way. (Here’s one for you: Don’t keep the pink antifreeze next to the pink boat soap.
Not that we’ve ever done this before, of course. . . .)
In summary, this book lays a solid and safe groundwork for cleaning and
detailing your boat. It is written above all for the boatowner who has to care for
only one or maybe two boats, rather than the boat maintenance worker whose job
is to care for seventy boats.
Not All Boats Are Broads
I’m not one of those people who refers to every boat as a “she” because I’m not
completely convinced that all boats are of the female persuasion. I have met many
a boat with sharply angled features that won’t go in the right direction without
sensible guidance and that seems to attract dirt. Such boats are obviously male.
Likewise, I have met many a boat with beautiful curves and lines that is extremely
stubborn when it comes to stain removal and that won’t stop squeaking or creak
ing when worked on. Those boats are obviously female. So, at least until I learn a
boat’s personality, it remains an “it” to me.
Instructions Are for Others
I’m the type of person who thinks instructions are for others—which is prob
ably why my cooking never turns out very well. You can be assured that I have
not simply lled my chapters with rewritten instructions from cleaner, wax, and
soap containers and called that good. That’s because I’ve never really read those
instructions—I’ve merely glanced at them and then gured out better ways to use
the products. Just as you might change a recipe by adding your own favorite ingre-
dients or cooking it differently, I use boat cleaning products in combination with
my own preferred cleaning tools and techniques to achieve the results I’m looking
for. You can have condence in the instructions I give for using each product; how-
ever, if you’re ever in doubt or don’t have this book in front of you, the instructions
on the back of the bottle won’t let you down.
I hope you will enjoy this book, learn from it, and keep it as a practical reference
guide for as long as your heart belongs to your boat.
Warghng Yntq Anas
It’s nally a beautiful spring day and you decide to head down to your boat to get
the engines running or take it out for a spin. But what you see when you get there
causes shock and awe. Your boat is heavily dusted with a brown layer of dirt. Foot-
prints from your last outing of the previous year remain on the nonskid. Some
thing slimy and green is oozing out of the rubrail. The gloss on your hull is missing.
The gelcoat is covered with water stains. And worst of all, it looks like entire bird
colonies have been dive-bombing your boat (and only your boat) all winter long.
A anas cnudqdc hn lhkcdv aesdq a knng vhnsdq’r nao
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Washing your boat—preferably on a regular basis—is an important task of
boat ownership. It should be an enjoyable task, and I can assure you that when
you have the right gear and products on hand and know exactly how to tackle this
job, you’ll find it peaceful and easy work. How many other ways can you think
of to experience nature, fresh air, a peaceful environment, and healthy exercise
while accomplishing useful work with results that are immediately and gratify
ingly obvious?
This chapter covers the following topics:
Why you should wash your boat
How often to wash your boat
Gear and supplies needed
How and where to start
Removing water streaks
Treating mildew
Washing the tender
Keeping your boat clean on a regular basis
Why Wash Your Boat?
This seems like an easy question with an easy answer. Why wash your boat? To
get it clean. But there’s more to it than that, and more to it than meets the eye. To
answer a question with another question, what will happen to your gelcoat if dirt,
airborne particles, stains, and moisture are allowed to remain on it for long peri
ods of time? The answer is that these agents start to break down the integrity of the
gelcoat. A brand-new boat with a nice glossy nish can look dull and faded within
a year if it isn’t washed on a fairly regular basis. Of course, the best way to protect a
gelcoat nish is to wax the boat once or twice a year (covered in the next chapter),
but regular washings can help prolong the gelcoat’s appearance and protection.
Small airborne particles of dirt land constantly on the hull and decks. Unless
you wash your boat regularly to remove this layer of dirt, you are basically grinding
it into nonskid deck surfaces and scratching the gelcoat with it as you walk around
your boat and brush against the side of the house structure and elsewhere. Like
wise, if your fenders or lines sit on or rub over any section of the gelcoat, they will
grind in dirt particles and leave marks in those areas.
Washing Your Boat
Bird and spider droppings, if not washed off regularly, will eventually stain
the gelcoat. If your boat is docked near a tree, sap may fall onto the gelcoat, creat
ing a sticky residue that attracts dirt and other particles. Any rainwater or moisture
that does not bead off the gelcoat but instead remains standing on the nish will
eventually cause mildew growth. Salt spray that remains on the gelcoat or windows
will eventually etch into the nish, especially if the boat sits in direct sunlight.
Over time, your once glossy gelcoat nish will fade, becoming lightly scratched
in high-trafc areas and acquiring light brown stains from droppings that have
soaked into the nish.
There are some maintenance tasks on a boat that, if left unattended to, will
only cause expensive repairs in the future. I’m not going to go so far as to say that
a failure to wash your boat on a regular basis will actually do any major damage.
No boat will ever sink from too heavy a cargo of dirt, bird droppings, and oxida
tion. (Thank goodness!) If your boat is not washed on a regular basis, however,
the cleaning you will eventually have to do to get the boat looking good again will
become a much larger job than necessary. Further, once bird droppings or water
stains have soaked into the gelcoat, a simple wash will no longer remove the stains.
Your only option to remove the stains at this point is to wax your boat, which can
be costly and time-consuming and require a lot of hard physical work.
Additionally, keeping your boat washed and detailed on a regular basis will
denitely help its eventual resale value. A clean boat shows a prospective buyer that
the owner cares about its appearance, and such an owner probably cares for the
boat in other ways as well. A clean boat is likely to be a well-maintained boat, and
a dirty boat is hardly ever well maintained. Boat brokers typically refuse to show a
dirty boat and will request that you wash your boat or have it detailed before they’ll
show it to prospective buyers. If you are planning to sell your boat, read more about
how to prepare it for sale in Appendix A, “Selling Your Boat.”
How Often to Wash Your Boat
You should wash your boat or have it washed by a detailer at least once every couple
of weeks, and hose it off with fresh water after any saltwater excursion. You can go
longer between washes if you keep a good coat of wax on your boat or if you moor it
in a covered slip. But if your boat is not in a covered slip, if you take it out often on
salt water, or if you moor it in a wet location (for example, the Pacic Northwest),
you should wash it every two to three weeks. Obviously, the more often you wash
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
your boat, the better, provided you’re using good products and supplies (covered
in the next section) that won’t strip the wax off the gelcoat. If you wash your boat
regularly, it won’t get so dirty that washing it becomes an odious task. After a cer
tain point, dirty boats just get dirtier. Don’t let your boat reach that point.
Gear and Supplies
If you’ve owned a boat for a long time, you probably have a dock box full of half
used cleaning products you bought over the years that promised magical results.
Now would be a good time to go through those products and throw out any that
are almost empty or look old. Also throw out any cleaners in containers that have
cracked, rusted, or ripped. You can be sure that the integrity of the cleaning prod-
uct has deteriorated, and there’s no reason to handle rusty cans or sharp edges.
Take the Turtle Wax, dish soap, and any other auto or household cleaning prod
ucts back to the garage, and nd another use for any cleaning products that aren’t
biodegradable or meant specically for marine use. You’ll probably be left with an
assortment of colorful boat soaps, cracking paste waxes, and spray products from
companies who can’t seem to spell correctly (“Brite” and “Klean”) that promise to
remove any stain that even thinks about coming near your boat. If your half-used
boat-specific products are no more than two years old and have been properly
sealed in containers that show no signs of wear and tear, consider them usable.
A few household cleaners are useful on the exterior of a boat, and I mention those
in this section, but they should be used sparingly and wiped on and wiped off (as
opposed to being hosed off) if possible.
A Short Lesson on “Biodegradable”
Most of the boat cleaning and washing products you’ll find at a boating supply
store say “biodegradable” on them. This simply means that these products are
capable of being decomposed by biological agents in the water, such as bacteria.
A biodegradable product like boat soap will eventually “break down” in the water,
whereas a nonbiodegradable product (such as oil) will remain in its current state
or form. Still, biodegradable products can kill or sicken waterfowl and sh. This is
because most soaps and other cleaning agents contain phosphates, which encour-
age excess plant growth.
Washing Your Boat
While small amounts of phosphates constitute a beneficial nutrient (they
encourage excess plant growth) and are necessary for photosynthesis, large
amounts biodegrade slowly, and their effects are felt for a long time. Excess phos
phates increase the acidity of the water and speed up the growth of algae. Algae in
normal quantities is the essential base of the aquatic food chain, but algae blooms
block light and choke water flow, making it difficult for other living organisms
(both plants and sh) to exist in that environment. In essence, such blooms slowly
suffocate the creatures living in the area. You might think an algae bloom, through
photosynthesis, would increase the dissolved oxygen in the water, but in fact the
opposite occurs. Dead and decaying plant material use up the available oxygen.
Any marine organisms that can escape the area do so, and the rest die. This local
catastrophe is familiar to anyone who has lived beside a eutrophic lake, but marine
waters are not immune.
Soaps and Stain Removers
I’m the rst to admit that the best soap for washing pretty much anything, includ-
ing a boat, is good ole dish soap. Who doesn’t appreciate all of those hardworking
suds and a lemon-fresh scent? And it’s tempting to use dish soap, because we all
own plenty of it, it’s easily portable, and a little goes a long way. But whatever you
do, please don’t wash your boat with dish soap .
. or Soft Scrub .
. or Ajax .
or Windex. These products may be excellent choices for their intended uses, but
not for washing a boat. Leave your household cleaners at home, or at least most of
them. I list those that can be helpful in the appropriate section, but rst here is a
list of household cleaners that should
be used on your boat. All of these are in
common use on boats, but none of them should be. The last column is a list of what
to use instead, and I go into more detail on each of those products below.
Cleaning Activity
Why Not to Use
Use Instead
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vaw nudq shld.
Anas rnao
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rsahnr nn gdkcnas
Snes ScqtaScqascgdr gdkcnas anc qdlnudr
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Cleaning Activity
Why Not to Use
Use Instead
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uhnyk rtqeacdr
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akk-otqonrd ckdandq
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catrdr ydkknvhng ne gdkcnas,
anc qdlnudr vaw.
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Warghng anas,
ckdanhng rsahnr
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nns ad ahncdgqacaakd.
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rtooky rsnqdr
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akgad rsahnr
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(qtrs roqay ckdandq)
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nn gdkcnas, canuar,
nq nnnrkhc
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vdkk, ats he ynt vans sn rshck
sn a ahncdgqacaakd oqnctcs,
Lnkc-Nee Lhkcdv
Let’s talk about boat soap rst, since that is the main product you’ll use to
maintain your boat’s cosmetic appeal and keep it clean on a regular basis. All boat
soaps on the market are required to be biodegradable, and most contain an agent
that creates suds. Some contain wax. Many are pink. You shouldn’t choose a soap
by its color, but neither should you choose one by what the back of the bottle says
it can do for your boat. They all help to get the dirt off your boat, but only because
you’re standing behind the deck brush moving it back and forth. None of them do
the work for you. (I swear I have found a few brands of soap that actually say the
soap will do all of the work. If that were the case, I’d squirt the soap all over my
house, truck, and horse and then go have a seat and watch them get clean!)
I have tried boat soaps that cost $21 per gallon and boat soaps that cost $4.99
per gallon. The more expensive ones lasted longer as more water was added to the
bucket, but that really benets only a detailer washing seven boats in a row or an
owner washing a boat that is 50 feet long or longer. The most expensive boat soap
I’ve used smelled good and contained a light wax agent. The least expensive did a
good job of removing dirt and most stains, also contained a wax, and maintained
its suds long enough to be effective. I have also used soaps meant for automobiles,
Washing Your Boat
and they worked just as well and were
often much less expensive than soaps
marketed specically for boats.
Boat soaps with wax don’t actually
add a coat of wax to the gelcoat. Your
boat won’t bead up or look more glossy
than it did before you washed it. The
purpose of waxing a boat is to remove
oxidation and protect the gelcoat from
harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and other
elements. The only way to remove oxi
dation is to cut through the top layer of
gelcoat with a rubbing compound, pref
erably using a buffer, and no soap will
do that. The main benet of a boat soap containing wax is that, at the very least,
it won’t strip any wax from the gelcoat (as a harsher soap such as dish soap would
do), and at the very most it might add a thin layer of a UV-protecting agent to the
gelcoat to slow the oxidation process. But don’t depend on boat soap to stop oxida-
tion in its tracks. That is the full-time job of a good coat of wax.
I have seen many boat owners use Soft Scrub to remove a stain or mark (such
as bird or spider droppings, a scuff mark made by black-soled shoes, a grease or food
stain, or water stains) from a section of smooth gelcoat. And why wouldn’t they? This
paste-like product does the job! But it also removes wax and can scratch gelcoat,
thus making that section more susceptible to future staining and oxidation. From a
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rnao anc ckdandqr nn sgd laqkds. H khud nn sgd Wdrs
Bnars anc al lnrs ealhkhaq vhsg sgd aqancr sgas aqd
onotkaq sgdqd. Trtakky H enctr nn vgas sn knnk enq hn a
oaqshctkaq oqnctcs nq ohdcd ne dptholdns qasgdq sgan
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lakd hs sn sgd rgdke ne yntq kncak anas rtooky rsnqd
yds lhggs ad rtodqhnq sn vgas hr larr-laqkdsdc. Ar
knng ar a oqnctcs hr ldans enq anasr nq gdkcnas, hr
ahncdgqacaakd, anc cndrn’s cnnsahn cqyhng agdnsr
rtcg ar akcngnk nq acdsnnd, sgdqd’r nn qdarnn nns sn
ghud hs a sqy enq hsr hnsdncdc otqonrd nn yntq anas.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
household variety stores. But I must warn you of a few very important things before
using a Magic Eraser on your boat. First, it can be very addicting. Second, it can be
harmful. The Magic Eraser is like an extremely mild SOS pad or a very soft pumice
stone—which is to say that it’s constructed of a very ne abrasive (what Procter
& Gamble calls “microbristles”), and this, rather than a chemical agent, is what
makes it effective. And it does such a great job of removing marks and stains that
you’ll want to use it on every surface of your boat. This is why it’s so addictive.
The reason why it’s so harmful is because using it is almost the equivalent of wet-
sanding the gelcoat. It will surely remove any stain or mark you’re trying to clean,
but it will also remove a light layer of
gelcoat and leave you with a dull sec
tion that is no longer protected by wax.
Use magic pads to clean only
nonskid vinyl and rubber. Never use
a Magic Eraser or other magic pad
to clean a stain or a mark on smooth
gelcoat unless you plan to reapply wax
to that section. When nonskid starts to
look gray or you see grease stains that
don’t come out, lightly run a wet magic
pad over the nonskid. You can use a
spray cleaner like Simple Green if the
stain has been there for a while and
doesn’t come out with a rst pass, but a
wet magic pad should take care of most
stains and marks. If your vinyl seats
are looking gray or have stains on them, spray them with Black Streak Remover,
then evenly wipe them with the magic pad. Hose off the seats and they’ll look new
again. You can also use a magic pad to clean the shore-power cord or the rubber
pontoons on your tender.
Next on the list are products that are good for cleaning windows—be they
rigid portlights or deckhouse windows of glass, Lexan, or Plexiglas, or exible boat-
curtain windows of Isenglass or Strataglass. I don’t recommend using a product
like Windex because it can cause hazing on most of these materials. A household
product that is often used on boats and does an excellent job is a window cleaner
called Sprayway Glass Cleaner. It doesn’t streak or cause hazing and can be used on
Sgd Laghc Dqardq oac hr hcdak enq ckdanhng onvdq cnqcr
anc nsgdq qtaadqhydc hsdlr.
Washing Your Boat
all surfaces and materials, including Lexan, Isenglass, and wood veneers. Another
good window cleaner is Mer-maids Plastic Cleaner. It is made specically for boat
windows of all materials and doesn’t streak or leave a haze. I go into more detail on
windows in Chapter 6—Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows.
Sometimes it’s handy to have a spray cleaner that you can use to wipe off
water or bird-dropping stains between washes. The best spray cleaners I’ve found
for this purpose are Simple Green (or Simple Green Marine), Black Streak Remover,
and Krazy Clean. Avoid all-around spray cleaners like Fantastik because they cause
yellowing of the gelcoat. Simple Green is less expensive at grocery or variety stores
than at boat supply stores. Krazy Clean and Black Streak Remover are sold only
at boat supply stores. Simple Green is the most environmentally friendly of the
trio, but if you’re spraying the cleaner on your boat and wiping it off (as opposed
to hosing it off into the water), you can use Krazy Clean or Black Streak Remover
on extra-stubborn stains. Most spray cleaners, however, should not be sprayed
directly onto gelcoat because they may cause yellowing. Spray the cleaner onto
a rag or a soft brush, then apply to the gelcoat, following up with a clean, dry rag
to remove the cleaner. Avoid doing this type of cleaning (spray and wipe) in direct
sunlight, where it may cause streaks or temporary discoloration in the gelcoat.
Rags and Squeegees
Microber rags are the best type to use on almost every area and nish on your
boat. You can buy a large pack of them at a bulk variety store such as Costco or
Sam’s Club. Walmart also carries large packs for a good price. Most boat supply
stores sell them, but you’ll pay a lot more for a smaller pack. Microber rags are
smooth, extremely absorbent, and long lasting, and they allow you to apply an even
pressure when wiping or bufng something off. You can wash them over and over
again, but do not use a fabric softener of any kind with them. They’ll lose all absor-
bency and will cause streaking when used to wipe windows or mirrors. Terrycloth
towels are not the best choice for removing cleaning products (spray cleaners or
wax) because they aren’t very absorbent, they wear out after several washes, and
they don’t provide an even pressure when wiping because of their piled surface.
Older terrycloth towels can also lightly scratch ne surfaces. And you never want
to use a terrycloth towel (new or old) on plastic windows.
The best squeegee I’ve used is the California Water Blade. You can nd it at
boat and auto supply stores and most household variety stores. Buy the larger rect-
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
angular blade (it usually has a purple handle) rather than the smaller blade with
angled corners. One pass over the gelcoat or a window removes all water. It’s easy
to use correctly and won’t hurt your wrist even after squeegeeing your whole boat.
You will rarely have to follow up with a rag after using the Water Blade on gelcoat or
windows, but if you do, use a microber rag. One rag is most likely all you’ll need,
because the squeegee will remove most of the water.
If you want to give your boat a thorough wash (for example, cleaning all surface
areas, nooks and crannies, hatch gutters, and drainage holes), you’ll need four
types of brushes: two deck brushes with soft and coarse brush heads that attach to
a long handle, and two hand brushes with soft and coarse brush heads.
Make sure the long pole handle is made of aluminum so it’s lightweight and
oats. Long deck brush handles can be fairly expensive at boat supply stores, and
the last thing you want is to watch yours sink straight to the bottom of the lake or
harbor when you accidentally drop it overboard. You need to buy only one handle;
the deck brush heads are detachable so you can swap between them. One soft and
one coarse brush head will cover the majority of boat washing chores.
The soft head should be soft enough that it doesn’t feel scratchy when you
run it over your face. This is the brush to use on all smooth gelcoat. If you’re using
Shurhold products, the blue brush head is their soft brush; West Marine’s soft brush
is yellow. Again, if a brush is soft enough for your face, it’s soft enough for smooth
Most deck brushes come in a medium-grade coarse and a heavy-grade coarse.
There is no reason to buy both because the medium grade is coarse enough and
is all you’ll need. This is what you’ll use on nonskid and possibly when trying to
remove waterline scum that a soft deck brush won’t touch. Shurhold’s medium-
coarse brush head is yellow. (The white one is their heavy-grade coarse.) West
Marine’s medium-coarse brush head is blue.
The remaining brushes you’ll need are smaller hand brushes for hard-to-
reach places or for use on narrow side decks or walkways where a deck brush
attached to a long pole would be awkward. Here, too, you should have a soft one for
Washing Your Boat
smooth gelcoat and a coarse one for nonskid surfaces. You can buy these brushes
in the household cleaning or auto section of most stores.
Water Filters and Softeners
If you want a spot-free boat when you’re done washing it, or if you moor your boat
in an area with hard water that leaves mineral deposits and other particles that
produce spots, you may want to consider buying an in-line water filter and/or
water softener. The culprit is not the water itself; rather it’s all the minerals that
exist in every drop of water. These minerals remain on paint or gelcoat long after
the water has evaporated, etching permanent spots into the nish. Minerals, par
ticularly calcium and magnesium, are what make water “hard.” The calcium and
magnesium actually harden into deposits called “scale” inside pipes and on other
surfaces, including your boat. The only way to avoid such deposits is with a water
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
softener. It works by replacing the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions,
which are “soft” and don’t produce scale or stains. Sodium ions make the water feel
“slippery,” and this causes it to sheet off surfaces more effectively; any water that
remains on the boat’s nish will not leave spots.
Sediment is rust or sand inside freshwater supply pipes. A broken water main
miles away from your hose can allow sand to enter your water supply. Likewise, a
little rust anywhere along the line can ake off into the water and pass through
your hose. A sediment lter traps ne sediment as the water passes through so
that nothing hits your boat but pure water. If you don’t have a hard water prob
lem, you may not need a water lter attached to your hose, although having one
would reduce any sort of water spotting and make attaining a spot-free boat much
In-line water lters can run from $50 to several hundred dollars. If you need
one only for washing your own boat, the less expensive models will work fine.
You’ll simply need to add more salts or replace the lter every so often, depending
on how much you use it. You can search the Internet for an “in-line hose lter” to
learn more about your options, and you can purchase lters through most auto
detailing stores or websites.
Other Cleaning Gear
You might think that hoses and nozzles are self-explanatory, yet there are several
issues to consider. Your good ole garden hose from home isn’t the best type to use
around your boat, simply because garden hoses are fairly stiff and thus difcult
to coil and store in a small space. I equip my crew with a typical
round green multipurpose hose. Make sure your hose is 20 to 30 feet longer than
your boat so it will reach easily from the spigot to the far side of your deckhouse
or the far corner of your ybridge. Also, be sure to clean the outside of your hose
every now and then so it doesn’t leave marks on your boat, especially if the hose
has come in contact with a creosote piling.
Plastic nozzles are better for our purposes than heavy-duty metal ones. Not
only are they cheaper, they won’t leave scratch marks when inadvertently dropped
on deck and won’t sink if accidentally knocked overboard.
You’ll need a bucket, of course. Any 3- or 5-gallon bucket will do. ‘Nuff said.
Washing Your Boat
Cleaning Gear and Supplies Checklist
Here is a quick checklist you can take to the store or consult to make sure you have
everything you need on your boat or in your dock box:
Bucket, multipurpose hose, and plastic nozzle
One or two long deck brush poles
Soft deck brush attachment and medium-coarse deck brush attachment
Soft hand brush and coarse hand brush
Microber rags and/or a squeegee
Boat soap
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser pads (Extra Power)
Stain remover spray such as Simple Green, Black Streak Remover, or Krazy
Clean to remove stubborn stains
Window cleaner spray such as Sprayway Glass Cleaner or Mer-maids Plas-
tic Cleaner to clean glass or plastic windows
Mildew remover spray such as Tilex or Lysol
Once you have the gear and supplies you need for washing your boat, there are a
few other items you’ll want to consider to make the job easier and safer.
Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing that will keep you warm or cool
enough while you’re working. Layers are best, since you’ll warm up as you start
working. Clothing without a lot of zippers or rivets (on jeans) is best to avoid
scratching smooth gelcoat surfaces as you brush against them. Tennis shoes or
deck shoes with good traction are best, but make sure the soles are non-marking or
you’ll be cleaning up after yourself from scuff marks everywhere you go. Polarized
sunglasses cut the glare and will help you see stains or streaks that you might not
otherwise notice. Except in summer, I normally wash boats wearing rubber gloves.
They keep your hands warm and dry in colder weather and protect your hands
from drying out after being wet for long periods of time.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
As with all boating activities, washing and cleaning your boat require you to be
aware of your footing and maintain your balance and coordination. When a boat
is wet and sudsy, it can also be slippery, even on the nonskid. Take your time and
move more slowly in wet and sudsy places. If backing up while washing an area,
peek behind you to make sure you’re not about to trip on a step or cleat. If leaning
against a railing, make sure it’s sturdy enough to hold you. And if it’s been a while
since you’ve done something that requires this much physical activity, take it slow
and divide the boat into sections.
Getting Started: Step-by-Step
Before you wet your boat with the hose, look over the smooth gelcoat areas for
water stains, black marks, and scuff marks. If these don’t come off or lighten when
you rub your nger over them, chances are a soft wash mitt and soap won’t faze
them either. If it’s been a while since you last washed your boat, spray Simple Green
over those areas (this is the one cleaner you can spray directly on your boat with no
worry that it will cause yellowing or discoloration) and let it soak in while you’re
assembling the rest of your gear. By the time you are ready to wash those areas, the
streaks or stains should come off during the rst pass.
Pour a capful or two of boat soap in a bucket and ll the bucket with water,
trying not to ingest the suds as the power of the hose sends them ying in your
face. While you’re lling the bucket, mentally divide your boat into sections so the
job of washing it doesn’t seem so overwhelming, especially if this is your boat’s
spring cleaning. The sections might include the ybridge (or helm area), port side,
starboard side, bow, stern, and hull. Plan on taking a short break after each section
if you need to. Always wash from the top down and from front to back. This way,
the water and dirt particles will drain down and aft as you’re cleaning, and you
won’t have to repeat any steps.
Start hosing down the boat. This will at least remove the rst layer of bird
droppings, dust, loose dirt in the nonskid, and leaves or other natural debris. If your
boat hasn’t been washed in a long time (more than three months), you may need to
wash and scrub certain areas twice. If the soap isn’t cutting through the dirt and
the Simple Green didn’t remove a stubborn stain, you can try a slightly stronger
spray cleaner like Black Streak Remover or Krazy Clean. Spray the product directly
Washing Your Boat
onto your brush, not the boat, to pre
vent yellowing. Use the soft brushes on
the smooth gelcoat and the medium-
coarse brushes on the nonskid.
To really get your nonskid clean,
hose it down and use the medium-
coarse deck brush with the long handle
to remove the dirt. You may have to
scrub the nonskid in multiple direc
tions or in small circles to get the brush
bristles into the tiny nonskid valleys.
If soap and water don’t do the job, try
using the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser pad
with water or a spray cleaner to remove
tough stains, such as grease, scuff
marks, blood, and stains from bird or spider droppings.
Don’t forget to lift up the hatches and clean their tracks and gutters. If you
haven’t washed your boat for several months, leaves or other debris might be caus-
ing a backup in the deck drainage. If a drain is clogged, place your hose nozzle into
the mouth of the drain and spray at full pressure for 30 to 60 seconds. This should
push debris through the drain and unclog it.
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Once you have washed your boat’s superstructure and decks, you’re ready to
wash the hull. If you’re lucky enough to have a dock on both sides of your boat, this
task will be easy. If there’s a dock on only one side, however, you can still reach a
good portion of the hull on the other side but most likely not all of it—unless you
use a dinghy. I advise my customers to turn their boat in its berth every now and
then so my crew can more thoroughly wash the other side. To reach the far side of
the hull from the deck, make sure you can safely lean against your railing. Take
the long-handled pole brush with the soft deck brush attachment and carefully
lean over the railing to wash the hull. Don’t try to reach every inch of it, because
the chances of ending up in the water increase the farther you lean. The hose spray
will easily reach what you can’t, and hosing off the hull is better than nothing,
especially if your boat has salt on it.
Once you’ve washed the outboard side of the hull from the deck, step down
to the dock with your gear to wash the
dock side. This should be easy, because
you’ll finally be able to stand up
straight. If scum on the waterline does
not come off with the soft deck brush,
try using the medium-coarse brush
there. If there are brown algae stains
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Washing Your Boat
on the hull, spray the area with Rust SprayAway, use the soft deck brush to wipe it
around, then hose it off thoroughly.
Stains That Discolor Gelcoat
You may come across a few stains or marks that do not come out with soap and
water or the stronger spray cleaners. These might include bird dropping residue,
gray water stains (from dirty water or acid rain), yellow or purple marks left by
fallen leaves, and other such stains that discolor the gelcoat. If a stain doesn’t come
off after three tries with my usual cleaners, I leave it for later and continue washing
the rest of the boat. Removing stains like that requires a different set of products.
Bird droppings and leaves typically produce a red, yellow, or purple discolor-
ation on your gelcoat. Things can get really messy in the fall when birds have been
feasting on berries, turning your otherwise clean boat into a Picasso masterpiece.
Once you’ve washed your boat to remove the top layer of dirt and as many of the
leaves and bird droppings as will come off, head to your dock box to grab a Mr.
Clean Magic Eraser pad, a bottle of cleaner wax, and a microfiber rag. I go into
more detail about waxing your boat in the next chapter, but for now we need some
wax to help remove these stubborn stains.
Wet a magic pad and lightly scrub the stained area to take out the discol
oration. This will help remove the thin layer of gelcoat that the stain is sitting on
as well as any wax in that area. Most of the stain will disappear, but not all of it.
You’ll be left with a much lighter stain. At this point, you can do one of two things.
You can leave it for a few days while the sun bleaches it out, or you can continue
to remove the stain with cleaner wax. If you choose the latter, pour a small circle
of cleaner wax onto the stain and work it in with the microber rag until the stain
comes out. It will require hard pressure to remove the stain completely. Your stain
is now gone, and that area is again protected with wax. If you chose to let the sun
remove the stain for you, go back a few days later; if the stain is gone, apply a coat
of wax to that area to protect it again.
Removing Acid Rain, Water Spots, and Streaks
You can try washing away water stains as many times as you like, but after each
rain they will sneak their way back onto your boat, black streaks dripping down
each side, making it look as if you never washed it. If it’s raining right now, water
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
stains are forming as you read this! Water stains can’t completely be avoided, but
they can be minimized, or the path of the water run-off can be redirected. This
section explains the different types of water stains, how they’re made, and how to
treat and prevent them.
Water spots
Water spots are caused by water from the hose, rain, or salt spray sit-
ting on your boat’s gelcoat or windows. When that drop of water evaporates, it can
leave behind mineral deposits or salt crystals, making a slight outline of the drop
of water on that surface. On a hot, sunny day, the sun can bake that deposit into
gelcoat, glass, or plastic, causing a water spot that can no longer be washed off.
This is very common if you don’t squeegee your windows dry after each wash or
drenching—and who can be available to do this every time it rains? Those water
spots may need waxing and buffing to thoroughly remove them. Before going
through the hassle of waxing those waters spots away, however, try washing your
boat with white vinegar. The mineral deposits can sometimes be removed with
an acidic substance, and white vinegar is the safest, cheapest, and most effective
acid wash available. If that doesn’t work, see Chapter 2, which discusses waxing off
those stubborn water spots.
Acid rain
You may come across gray streaks on your boat’s gelcoat that don’t look
like typical water stains (which are usually spotted grayish-black streaks) and
don’t come off when rubbed with your nger or washed with a soapy sponge. These
streaks might be caused by acid rain. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the
atmosphere are the primary causes of acid rain. In the United States, about two-
thirds of all sulfur dioxide and one-fourth of all nitrogen oxides come from elec
tric power generation that relies on burning fossil fuels like coal. Acid rain occurs
when these gases react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and other chemicals
to form various acidic compounds. The result is a mild solution of sulfuric acid and
nitric acid in the rain. Don’t bother trying to wash the stains away or wax them off.
The sun will bleach them away as quickly as they were made. Trying to remove
them yourself with cleaners or rubbing compound will only remove the wax in
that area, and strong rubbing compound may remove a slight layer of gelcoat in the
process. Best to let the sun do the job.
Water streaks
A water streak, on the other hand, is a stain caused by the dirt, min
erals, and pollutants in water or rain that has penetrated into the gelcoat rather
Washing Your Boat
than sitting on top of it. That’s why
water streaks don’t always wash away
easily. These, as mentioned above,
are the typical grayish-black streaks
that often run down the sides of the
flybridge and just below the rubrail.
If these streaks don’t come out after
washing the area with soap and water,
try spraying Simple Green or white vin-
egar to remove the stains they make.
If this doesn’t work, they’ll need to be
waxed away. I have detailed a few boats
that had such bad water stains that we
had to use heavy-duty rubbing com
pound to remove them. One boat had not been waxed in several years and was not
washed on a regular basis. The water stains built up over time in localized places
and “soaked” into the unprotected gelcoat. Water stains are so easily preventable
that there is no reason why they should ever get to that point. Keep your boat waxed
and washed regularly, and nothing will soak in permanently.
One of the best ways to prevent water streaks is to redirect them so that water
running down your boat drains somewhere other than onto the gelcoat. This is not
possible with every water streak, but in some areas you might be able to attach a
plastic tube to the end of a drainage route so the water drains off your boat rather
than down an edge or the side of your boat.
Treating Mildew
In wet or humid climates, you will often nd green mildew growing in rubrails,
on canvas, and even on smooth gelcoat, as well as black mildew (which looks like
small black specs) in the nonskid. The best way to remove mildew from your boat
is with a mildew cleaner spray such as Lysol or Tilex. These products are not made
specically for boats and are far from biodegradable. In fact, the chemicals in them
are so harsh that I suggest you wear rubber gloves when working with them and
try not to breathe the spray particles oating in the air. If the day is at all breezy,
stand so the spray is blowing away from you. I often wear a face mask if I’m work
ing on a large area or in an enclosed ybridge. The reason I suggest using this type
Wasdq rsahnr aesdq itrs a edv gntqr ne qahn
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
of cleaner, which doesn’t meet any of my usual criteria for boat cleaning products,
is because it works so well and makes the job a lot easier. If you can spray the prod-
uct on and wipe it off with a rag, you’re not hurting the environment as much as
you would be if you used a brush and hosed it off. If you do have to use a brush and
hose, rinse thoroughly to dilute the amount of mildew cleaner you used. A prod
uct called Mold Off ( treats and prevents mildew and is actually
biodegradable (and smells good). Although I have found it to work better on canvas
than on gelcoat or nonskid, it’s a more environmentally safe mildew killer than
Lysol Mildew Remover or Tilex Mold
and Mildew Spray.
Once you’ve donned your rubber
gloves and face mask, you’re ready to
begin. If the mold is in your nonskid,
generously spray the surface with the
mildew remover spray and let it soak in
for a few minutes.
Then take your soft or medium-
coarse deck brush and brush it around
over the nonskid. You can dip the brush
in a bucket of soap and water, but you
don’t have to. When the mildew has dis
appeared, hose it off thoroughly. If you
nd mildew on smooth gelcoat, simply
pour a little mildew spray in with the soap and water and wash your boat as you
normally would. If the mildew is on canvas, spray those areas with mildew remover
spray, scrub the area with a soft brush, then hose it off. Mildew loves canvas, so
more mildew treatment and prevention tips for canvas appear in Chapter
Washing the Tender
All of the gear and supplies you use to wash your boat will work well for washing
your berglass dinghy. If you own an inatable, however, you might also want to
purchase a product aptly named Inatable Boat Cleaner (or something similar that
is created specically for cleaning inatable boats or rubber materials), especially
if you haven’t washed your tender in a long time and there are black or gray streaks
or stains on the rubber pontoons.
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Washing Your Boat
Assuming your tender is out of the water (as it should be for proper storage)
and hanging from a davit or sitting on V-bars, make sure the drain plug is out and
free of debris so all of the water you spray into the tender will easily drain out. Hose
the tender down completely and let the water run off. Then spray the boat cleaner
all over the rubber pontoons and any vinyl seat cushions as well. Let the spray
sit on those areas for one to two minutes. It will not discolor or further stain the
pontoons. Then scrub all areas of the rubber pontoons and vinyl seats with a soft
or medium-coarse hand brush. This will work the product in and lift dirt, water
streaks, grease marks, and other stains. Once you’ve run the brush over all such
areas, hose them off well. This will show you just how much dirt was removed, and
whether you’ll need to repeat the process to remove additional dirt and stains.
To remove stubborn water streaks or stains that don’t come off with a rst pass,
try wiping or scrubbing the pontoons with a magic pad. This should remove most
streaks when used along with the Inatable Boat Cleaner spray.
Wash a berglass dinghy the same way you washed the smooth gelcoat sec
tions of your boat—with a soft hand brush and soapy water. Rinse well. Then lift
up seat cushions and open hatches and storage compartments and hose and scrub
them clean. When nished, dry the seat cushions and instrument dash area (if
any) with a towel.
Keeping Your Boat Clean on a Regular Basis
If you have no time and even less energy or enthusiasm for washing your boat after
a day of cruising or sailing, at least spend ve minutes hosing it down to remove
salt spray, fresh bird droppings, Uncle Marvin’s spilled beer now dripping into the
lazarette, footprint dirt in the nonskid, and the ketchup slowly running down your
brand-new Isenglass from Aunt Reba’s juicy hamburger. This will prevent these
stains and dirt from setting, soaking, or baking in and will make your next wash
go a lot faster.
I recommend washing your boat every couple of weeks—or once a month
if you keep it in a covered slip. If you wash it on a regular basis, the water stains
will come off with soap and water and a swipe of your soft brush or mitt. No need
to scrub harder or longer with special products. The bird droppings won’t have a
chance to stain your gelcoat or canvas, and dirt and debris won’t get ground in to
the point of scratching the berglass or clogging deck drains.
Wawhng Yntq Anas
I’m always amazed that so many owners of berglass boats fail to wax their boats
on a regular basis. This is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to protect your
boat’s gelcoat from harmful UV rays and other elements, keep it cleaner longer,
and keep that new, glossy look. It doesn’t matter if you keep your boat in a covered
slip or if you’ve created a canvas tent to protect your baby from the elements—you
still need to wax your boat!
Before we get down to it, let’s begin with a quick overview of the surfaces
we’re protecting—berglass and gelcoat.
A Brief Explanation of Fiberglass
Ninety-ve percent of all pleasure boats manufactured during the past 40 years
have hulls and decks built of berglass-reinforced plastic (FRP), commonly known
as berglass. Glass bers provide most of the strength in the FRP matrix, and a
plastic resin (usually polyester but sometimes vinylester or epoxy) provides the
medium within which the glass is deployed, shaped (while the resin is liquid), and
ultimately immobilized (when the resin cures into a solid). Fiberglass boats are
built of layers of berglass laid one atop the other according to a laminate schedule
prescribed by the builder. In production boatbuilding, laminates are laid down
from outermost to innermost layer in a female mold. The hull and deck are lam
inated separately, then glassed, glued, and bolted together after being removed
from their respective molds.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
The rst step in the lamination of a hull or deck in its mold, even before the
outermost layer of berglass is laid down, is to spray on a uniform layer of polyester
gelcoat that is about 15 to 20 mils thick. (One mil equals one one-thousandth of an
inch.) The gelcoat contains pigments, llers, and additives designed to serve as a
barrier to the elements (similar to the paint on a car body, which helps prevent oxi-
dation and rust formation). Since the interior surface of the mold is mirror smooth
and highly polished, the gelcoat surfaces of a new boat should in theory be shiny,
smooth, and unblemished.
Most early berglass boats have a solid berglass hull and deck. A section
through the hull of such a boat would show an uninterrupted lamination of ber
glass between the outer gelcoat and the inner surface. The thickness of the lamina
tion in a 30-foot boat might range from
inch at the toe rail to ½ inch or more at
the keel. A bigger boat is likely to have thicker sections.
Beginning in the 1970s, however, boatbuilders found that they could make
stronger, lighter boats by using composite FRP construction, in which the hull
and deck are manufactured like a sandwich. Essentially, a composite hull or deck
includes three structural layers (not counting the gelcoat, which is cosmetic, not
structural): (1) the outer berglass laminate; (2) a lightweight core, usually balsa
or foam; and (3) the inner berglass laminate. These three layers are chemically
bonded together by impregnating the sandwich with resin. A cored deck or hull
can be three or four times as thick as its uncored counterpart, yet weigh no more,
so it is stiffer, stronger, and more resistant to bending and exing.
Fiberglass boats have long been advertised as being virtually maintenance-
free and indestructible, but both claims are exaggerated. True, berglass boats
are certainly much easier to maintain than wooden boats, and berglass boats
built in the 1960s and 1970s are still going strong today. But berglass boats are not
immune to the ravages of time and the elements.
For one thing, gelcoat is not perfectly at. It contains microscopic cavities
that resemble Swiss cheese when viewed at high magnication. The gelcoat, pock-
marked with these microscopic cavities, acts like a sponge and collects water-
soluble materials such as salt and dust particles.
If the boat is not waxed regularly, the gelcoat will become oxidized, which
causes the FRP to appear chalky, yellow, or dull. Furthermore, the trapped water-
soluble materials become wet and expand, causing pressure within the cavities
Waxing Your Boat
and eventually forming microscopic cracks. This condition is known as gelcoat
blistering. Untreated blistering can cause pockets of holes to form in the gelcoat,
allowing water to seep into the underlying laminate and into the core of a compos-
ite boat. If the core is exposed to water, which acts as a solvent, it will chemically
break down. This eventually leads to hull or deck failure.
On average a “healthy” FRP boat will absorb 3 percent of its weight in water,
whereas an FRP boat with gelcoat blistering might absorb 10 percent or more of its
weight in water. This reduces cruising performance and substantially increases
fuel consumption, often by 25 percent or more. And if water wicks into the core
and a structural hull or deck failure results, the boat’s resale value will be adversely
affected. The cost of repairing or replacing an FRP deck or hull can run 20 percent
or more of the original purchase price of the boat. The cost of blister repair can run
up to 10 percent or more of the boat’s purchase price. Both repairs are very expen-
sive when compared with the small cost of preventative detailing.
Granted, there are other avenues besides porous gelcoat for water to penetrate
a hull or deck laminate. Deck hardware fastener holes, the hull-deck joint, and
cracks, chips, and gouges in the hull or deck are common culprits. But the foregoing
discussion should make clear that keeping your gelcoat sealed is an excellent idea.
That’s the technical information that should send you running straight to the
garage to dust off your power buffer, racing over to your nearest boat supply store to
buy some wax, then gleefully skipping down to your boat to wax it. Of course, that’s
what you set out to do a year ago, and you have yet to nish “that project.” Unfor
tunately, that very important task plummeted to the bottom of your Honey-Do list
as soon as you bought that new “easy to assemble” gas grill last spring (which you
also have yet to nish, but I can’t help you with that).
Let’s get down to business. You can easily wax your boat in one weekend if
you’re 17 years old and still have cartilage in your knees and elbows. But if you’re
somewhat older than that, you’ll need a good plan of attack to substitute for youth-
ful exuberance, flexibility, and stamina. I break this task down for you so it no
longer seems insurmountable and can be done in one week or over a couple of
weekends. The more oxidized your boat is, the more work it will take, but if you
tackle your boat in sections, the job won’t seem so overwhelming. If your boat is
new or has only light oxidation, it won’t take as long to wax and you’ll have plenty
of extra time to assemble that gas grill, with no more excuses.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
This chapter covers:
Waxing your boat
Preparation and safety
Gear and supplies
Waxing step-by-step
Maintaining an Awlgrip topcoat
About Waxing Your Boat
How Often
It’s fairly easy to gure out when you need to wax your boat because the gelcoat
will tell you by appearing faded rather than shiny. Water fails to bead up or dis
sipate as it does after a fresh coat of wax is applied, and water sits longer on wax-
starved gelcoat without evaporating. You’ll want to wax your boat before it shows
you how thirsty it is for wax, however; otherwise, there will be a period of time
during which the sun and other elements will slowly cause the wax-starved gelcoat
to deteriorate.
To repeat, there are two reasons to wax your boat. The rst is to protect the
gelcoat, and since I’m a die-hard practical person, that’s always my rst concern.
But if you have a newer boat or use enough rubbing compound on an older boat,
you’ll be able to get it glossy again, too. This is the added benet of a good wax job.
Wax your boat to protect it, and the gloss will show itself to you.
Waxing your boat on a regular basis will help maintain and possibly improve
its resale value. A clean boat shows prospective buyers that it is well cared for, and
this silent message attracts buyers even in a difcult market. Brokers will be happy
to take your listing, since your boat will show well.
There is no standard rule for how often you should wax your boat. A boat that
is kept in a covered slip and spends little or no time in salt water or direct sunlight
could easily get by being waxed every 12 months. At the other extreme, a boat that
is moored in salt water in a sunny climate (for example, Southern California or
Florida) and is not in a covered slip should have its topside waxed every three to
six months and its hull waxed every six to nine months. Between these extremes,
a boat moored in an open slip in salt or fresh water but in less intense sunlight
Waxing Your Boat
(for example, the Pacic Northwest) should have its hull and topside waxed every
spring, and its topside waxed again near the end of the boating season.
The accompanying chart will help you see the big picture.
Mns cnudqdc, etkk rtn, anc hn raks vasdqWaw cdckr dudqy 3 sn 6 lnnsgr: vaw gtkk dudqy
6 sn 9 lnnsgr
Mns cnudqdc, lnrsky ckntcy, anc hn raks nq
eqdrg vasdq
Waw vgnkd anas dudqy roqhng: vaw cdckr agahn
hn kasd rtlldq nq eakk
Bnudqdc rkho hn raks nq eqdrg vasdq
Waw vgnkd anas dudqy 12 lnnsgr.
Of course, even if you keep your boat in a covered slip, if you use it a lot dur
ing the summer where it is in direct sunlight most of the time or constantly getting
hit with salt spray, you may want to decrease the time between wax jobs, at least
for the topsides. And rinsing your boat with fresh water on a regular basis will help
prevent salt from etching water spots into the gelcoat.
Determine Your Gelcoat’s Condition
The accompanying chart describes ve gelcoat conditions based on degrees of oxi
dation. This will help you determine which wax products, compounds, and equip-
ment to use as we get further into the chapter.
A gknrry gtkk itrs aesdq adhng vawdc
An nwhchydc gtkk
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Gelcoat Condition
1Fknrry (nn nwhcashnn)“Lhkd-ndv” gknrr, syohcak ne a anas sgas hr kdrr sgan a
ydaq nkc anc hr kdos hn a cnudqdc rkho nq hn a nnn-rtnny
2Sgddn (khggs nwhcashnn)Sgd gknrr hr rsaqshng sn eacd hn okacdr, trtakky nn sgd
snorhcd �qrs (drodchakky sgd aqnv), ats sgdqd hr rshkk a rkhggs
gknrr nq rgddn nn sgd gdkcnas.
3Facdc (ldchtl nwhcashnn)Sgd gdkcnas aoodaqr sn gaud a lassd �nhrg vhsg nn
gknrr kdes, ats vgdn ynt qtn yntq �ngdq nudq hs, sgdqd’r
nn cgakkhndrr. Sgd gtkk lay rshkk gaud a rgddn, ats sgd
snorhcd hr lnrsky lassd.
4Bgakky (gdauy nwhcashnn)Sgdqd’r nn gknrr kdes, anc yntq �ngdq ohckr to a cgakky
qdrhctd vgdn qtn nudq sgd gdkcnas. Nn a cnknqdc
rtqeacd—ray a aktd gtkk—ynt’kk rdd a vghsd gayd eachng
sgd cnknq nts.
5Bgakky anc ohssdc
Sgd anas hr rn nwhchydc (trtakky an nkcdq anas sgas’r qaqdky
addn vawdc) sgas dudn a gdauy-ctsy qtaahng cnlontnc
cndrn’s lakd ltcg ne a cheedqdncd. Sgd gdkcnas lay ad
sghn, anc adcatrd hs garn’s addn oqnsdcsdc vhsg vaw, hs
lay ad qhcckdc vhsg rlakk ohngnkdr nq ohsr. Hn sghr card
sgd gdkcnas lhggs nddc sn ad khggsky vds rancdc sn cts
sgqntgg sgd nwhchydc kaydq anc ghud ynt a ndv aard sn
vnqk vhsg.
The topside and the hull can be at different levels of oxidation because the
topside is exposed to more direct sunlight and weather. It’s common for the hull to
be a level 1 or 2 while the topside is a level 2 or 3.
Two additional factors will affect the way you work with your gelcoat and
what results you can expect from it. Those factors are the gelcoat’s thickness and
its quality (including the quality of its application). Every manufacturer uses a dif-
ferent type and quality of gelcoat, and there is more than one way to apply it (for
example, rolled on or sprayed on). As a detailer who has worked on many different
production boats, I have learned which manufacturers use high-quality gelcoat
because it makes our job of waxing boats much easier. We know that no matter
how long the owner has let the boat go, high-quality gelcoat will easily come back
to a glossy state.
Lower-quality or thinly applied gelcoat will be more difcult to bring back to
a glossy state and will require more rubbing compound. You know you’re looking
at thin gelcoat when you can actually see the berglass weave pattern through the
Waxing Your Boat
gelcoat. (This is called “print-through.”) You will rarely be able to achieve a glossy
nish on any section exhibiting print-through because there are too many surface
deviations for the light to reect perfectly.
Some manufacturers use quality gelcoat, yet for whatever reason (maybe
having to do with how the gelcoat was applied), wax swirls easily, and it is almost
impossible to keep swirls out of the nish even if you use a soft wax with no com
pound in it, applying and removing it
by hand. You will be able to see those
swirls only when the boat is sitting in
direct sunlight. By the way, this is the
only benet of waxing a boat in direct
sunlight—to make sure you’re not mak
ing any swirls as you go. If you nd that
you are, you can make a mid-course
correction in the wax products you’re
using or in your technique of applying
and removing the wax.
One-Step or Multistep Procedures
(or What’s It Going to Take?)
Once you have a better understanding of your gelcoat’s present condition, you’ll
have a better idea of just what it’s going to take to bring it back to glossy. I consider
“glossy” the ultimate, aspirational goal, because if the boat looks glossy, it means
there is no oxidation on the gelcoat. There are typically three approaches you can
take to bring a boat back to glossy, and which of the three you use will depend on
the gelcoat’s condition and on how long you hope the wax job to last.
The one-step approach uses either a soft wax (with no rubbing compound
in it) or a cleaner wax (a mixture of compound and wax) to protect the
gelcoat and bring it back to glossy. On brand-new boats or on boats with
light to medium oxidation (level 1, 2, or 3 in the accompanying table), this
is all you need to do.
In a two-step approach, you do a rst pass with just rubbing compound to
cut through the top layer of gelcoat and remove oxidation, then a second
pass with just wax to protect the gelcoat from oxidizing further. This is the
Hs’r darhdq sn cgdck enq rvhqk laqkr hn chqdcs rtnkhggs.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
approach you might choose for a boat with medium to heavy oxidation
(level 3 or 4).
If your boat falls into the category of level 3 or 4, and if you want to achieve
that showroom gloss again or you want or need the wax job to last an extra-
long time, you may choose to follow a three-step process. You would rst go
over the boat with compound to remove oxidation, then you would repeat
with polish to seal the gelcoat, and nally you would apply and buff a coat
of wax to further protect it. If you’re hiring a detailer to wax your boat,
expect to pay almost two or three times as much for a two- or three-step
process because the detailer will go over every inch of waxable gelcoat two
or three times.
A coat of wax starts to thin within three to six months after application. Some
waxes claim to last 12 months or longer, to which I say sure, if you keep your boat
in a boathouse and take it out only after the sun has gone down.
It is best to start with a clean surface—one that is free of dirt and mildew. The pres
ent condition of the gelcoat—glossy or faded, chalky or pitted, swirled or swirl-free,
with or without print-through—should be clearly visible so you know exactly what
you’re working with.
If your boat already has swirls in the gelcoat that refuse to go away while you’re
waxing, you’ll at least know that you weren’t the one who put them there. If you notice
that the deck surfaces are considerably more faded than the hull, you may decide to
do a two-step job on the deck structures
(or maybe just the brow) and only a one-
step job on the hull. If you can see the
underlying fiberglass pattern through
the gelcoat, you’ll know that no matter
how good your wax job is, it may not look
perfectly glossy in that area because of
the surface deviations. And so on.
Start by washing your boat and
removing all dirt and mildew. Don’t
A oqnedrrhnnak anas cdsahkdq lay nns etkky
varg yntq anas adenqd vawhng hs
sgd anas hr nnky a
ahs ctrsy
sgd cdsahkdq’r cqdv knnvr sgas sgdy’kk
ad trhng a ckdandq vaw (vaw lhwdc vhsg cnlontnc)
anc a onvdq ateedq. A khsskd ctrs hr ne khsskd cnncdqn
ghudn sgas sgd qtaahng cnlontnc vhkk gqhnc hnsn yntq
gdkcnas sn qdlnud sgd sno kaydq ne nwhcashnn. Sgd cqdv
rgntkc, gnvdudq, etkky varg sgd anas aesdq vawhng hs
sn qdlnud vaw ctrs eqnl akk rtqeacdr.
Waxing Your Boat
bother trying to remove water stains, scuff marks, or bird-dropping residues that
won’t come off with soap and water because the wax will remove them. Once
you wash your boat, you’re almost ready to start, but rst let’s go over a few quick
Weather and Waxing
What the weather is doing can greatly affect your wax job and even determine how
you will apply the wax and how long you’ll let it sit on the gelcoat before you buff
it in and off. The only weather you cannot wax in is rain; wax isn’t too difcult to
apply in rain, but it’s next to impossible to remove. You should work in rainy condi-
tions only if you’re working under a tarp or if you’re working on a hull that is at such
an angle that the rain isn’t hitting it directly. If you’re using a rubbing compound
with a buffer, you can work in mist or light rain because in most cases you will buff
the rubbing compound off before it dries completely. Other external conditions
you should consider include:
Direct sunlight.
You’ll easily be able to see if you’re creating swirl marks,
but the sun will cause the wax to dry faster, and if you have oxidized gelcoat
(level 2 or higher) or thin, older gelcoat, the wax won’t come off easily (or
at all) if left to sit too long in the sun. It’s best to do the job in 3-foot-square
areas, applying and bufng a section at a time.
Hot day.
Even if you’re waxing in the shade, you may need to work in
smaller sections so the wax doesn’t dry out before you can buff it. This isn’t
a problem with newer, still-glossy gelcoat (level 1). In fact, you could apply
wax to the entire boat and then buff it off and it would still be easy to work
with. If your boat’s gelcoat condition is level 2 or greater, however, smaller
sections are the rule in hot weather.
Temperate shade.
These are the best conditions for waxing. Although you
won’t easily be able to see swirl marks, you can work in larger sections
because the wax won’t dry fast without direct sun or excessive heat. Just
remember, the porosity of the gelcoat (a function of oxidation and thickness)
is even more important than sun and heat in causing wax to become hard to
remove. If your gelcoat condition is level 2 or higher, always work in smaller
sections so you don’t have to worry about the wax drying into the gelcoat.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Rain or moisture.
It is impossible to get good results in rain, fog, or heavy
humidity. You may be able to apply the wax fairly easily, but the wax has to
be dry in order to be wiped or buffed off without creating splotchy results.
Cold weather.
In temperatures below, say, 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the wax
either won’t dry at all or will take too long to dry to a haze, leaving you
standing around in the cold, waiting.
It’s better to wax a boat in temperatures
of 45 degrees or higher (if you must do
it at all in colder weather) and prefer
ably when the sun is on the boat to help
warm the gelcoat.
Waxing at a Boatyard
If your boat will be pulled out to have work done at a service yard, you may want
to think twice about having it waxed in the yard. Although it can be easier to wax
when the boat is out of the water, at any given time when conditions are appropri-
ate for waxing, there is likely to be a boat getting painted somewhere in the yard,
and any airborne overspray can land on your boat, causing it to turn gray in those
areas as if aficted with small gray water spots. This condition is known as the
“boatyard blues.” You can’t feel the overspray on the gelcoat, but you can see it.
Having it land on your boat is one thing, but having it get mixed in with the wax
and then get buffed into your boat is another matter entirely. In the latter instance
it will remain on your boat much longer, because the UV protectants in the wax
will prevent the sun from being able to bleach out the overspray ecks. You will
basically have waxed it into the gelcoat.
If your boat does have paint overspray on it, the best way to remove it is to
apply rubbing compound or acetone to that area, which will remove the wax and
top layer of overspray. (Use acetone over a smaller area, or use rubbing compound
if the overspray covers a large area. Acetone is not recommended for large sections
of gelcoat; nor is it human-friendly. Wear gloves and a respirator when working
with acetone.) You will still be able to see gray spots, but they will be lighter than
when you started. Now let the boat sit for a couple of days while the sun bleaches
out the remaining stains. If your boat is in direct sunlight, this may only take 24
hours. After a few days at most, the overspray stains should be gone and you can
He yntq anas hr nnqlakky hn chqdcs rtnkhggs nn nnd
rhcd ats rgacy nn sgd nsgdq, vnqk nn sgd rgacy rhcd,
sgdn stqn sgd anas sn vnqk nn sgd nsgdq rhcd.
Waxing Your Boat
then re-wax that area to protect it again. If you don’t want to trust the sun, or you
need to remove the overspray stains immediately, simply rub much harder and for
a longer period of time with rubbing compound until the stains are gone. You’ll
need to re-wax that area to protect it again when you’re nished.
Safety and Hard-to-Reach Areas
There is no argument here—waxing a boat is hard work. It requires physical
strength, agility, coordination, and balance as well as repetitive motions with your
arm or wrist. Nevertheless, most anyone can do it as long as you take the necessary
precautions and take your time, allowing short breaks to give yourself and your
body a rest. When I started my boat detailing company at the age of 19, I could eas-
ily wash seven boats a day or wax a ski boat in four hours and do something active
with my friends in the afternoon. Now, in my late thirties, I’m lucky to get three
boats washed in a day without suffering an achy lower back and sore wrists and
taking Advil with dinner. But don’t let that scare you. The achy lower back is most
likely from trying to carry all my gear to each boat rather than using a dock cart,
Hs’r gaqc sn aunhc gdsshng nudqroqay, knnvn ar sgd “anasyaqc aktdr,” nn yntq anas as sgd rdquhcd yaqc.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
and the sore wrists are from an unforgettable run-in with a tractor while riding a
certain horse whose name I won’t mention at the moment. But I digress. Take your
time and divide the boat into sections so it’s not so overwhelming.
On a ybridge powerboat, the brow over the windshield is probably the most
difcult area to reach, especially if it’s more vertical than horizontal. You’ll be able
to reach the lower half of the brow by standing (carefully) on the lower edge of the
windshield, but be careful not to put any weight on the windshield glass or too
much weight on the frames lest it weaken the seal and cause water to seep in the
next time it rains or you wash your boat. You may be able to reach the top edge of
the brow by leaning over the windscreen from the ybridge, but how do you reach
the entire middle section? A ladder doesn’t work well because it’s difcult to stabi-
lize, and even if you can make it stable enough to climb on, it won’t provide a good
platform from which to reach that section, especially if you’re holding a buffer.
The best solution is to rappel down from the ybridge or attach a suction cup
handle to the brow to use as a foothold. If you choose to rappel down, you will need
a rope that is strong enough to secure you; one end of it will be tied around your
waist, and the other end will be securely tied around a metal post (preferably the
post of the captain’s chair) in the ybridge. Once you’ve tied both ends and posi
tioned your gear (wax, buffer, and rags)
nearby, climb out of the flybridge and
over the windscreen, and slowly lower
yourself, making sure you feel secure
before you actually start working on
this area. If the rope will be draped
over the windscreen, be careful not to
put your full weight on the rope if you
can help it to avoid cracking or scrap
ing the windscreen. You can then begin
waxing and bufng this area safely.
The best way to reach the side of
the hull away from the dock is to turn
your boat. My crew and I have tried
waxing boats from floating rafts and
tenders, but it is more work than it’s
worth. For one thing, if you’re using
Trd rtcshnn-cto ganckdr vgdn vawhng sgd aqnv sn ghud
ynt rnldsghng sn gnkc nnsn.
Waxing Your Boat
an electric buffer, there are now more
opportunities for the cord to go into the
water, causing an electric shock. Also,
because you’ll need one hand to help
keep yourself in one place while work
ing, you are left with only one hand
to work the buffer, which won’t allow
you to get good leverage on your work
and will result in a splotchy job. Even
if you’re waxing by hand, you may not
be able to apply enough even pressure
to the rag to get a smooth, even result.
And if your slip has a high dock from
which you can’t easily reach the lower
portions of the hull, you’ll want to move
your boat to a low dock while you com
plete the job.
The most important safety issue when waxing your boat is not letting the
electric cord of a power buffer come in contact with water. And it can happen eas-
ily if you’re not careful. The best way to prevent this accident is by wrapping the
extension cord around each cleat between the power source (either the power
pole at the dock or an outlet on your boat) and where you’re working. Also tie the
extension cord and the buffer’s cord in a loose knot before plugging them into
each other. This way, when you tug on
the cord as you move farther down the
boat, the cords won’t come unplugged
from each other and fall into the water.
When you’re working directly over
water, wrap the cord nearest the buffer
around your hand or forearm
Another safety concern is keeping
the buffer’s cord from wrapping around
your neck while you’re running the buf
fer. I know this sounds crazy, but it can
happen if you’re not paying attention.
Sghr raedsy sdcgnhptd kddor sgd cnqcr eqnl cnlhng aoaqs
vghkd ynt’qd qtnnhng sgd ateedq.
Hs’r ltcg darhdq sn qdacg sgd gtkk nn a cnck sgas hr kdudk
vhsg sgd vasdq khnd.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Given just the slightest contact, the spinning head will “grab” the cord and start
wrapping it around the neck of the buffer. If part of that cord is hanging over the back
of your neck or shoulders (where you draped it to keep it out of your way), you can
be sure your neck will become involved in the action. It will happen so fast that your
face may be less than an inch from the spinning buffer pad before you realize that
all you have to do to stop this impending doom is take your nger off the trigger.
To my knowledge, at the time of this writing, there has never been a reported
injury or accident from someone picking up a phone and dialing the number of a
boat detailer. If nothing else, you’ll always have this to fall back on if for some rea-
son you decide not to do the work yourself.
Gear and Supplies
The more oxidized your gelcoat is, the more gear you will need. A glossy boat
requires less gear. It’s that simple. Here’s a list of all the gear and supplies you’ll
need to wax a boat in any condition; from this master list, based on the condition
of your gelcoat, you can create your own list.
Keep in mind that waxes improve every year, and the products I list today
may be outdated in a few years, or there will be new and better products on the
market to replace them. In addition to naming a few brands, I include a description
of what type of wax to look for in case the brands I name aren’t sold in your area.
Waxing, Rubbing Compound, and Polish
Here’s a scenario we’re all familiar with. You’ve nally decided to wax your boat,
so you head over to your nearest boating supply store to buy some wax. An hour
later, after standing in front of all those products on the shelf that cry out “easy to
use,” “no rubbing—just wipe on and off,” “practically waxes your boat for you,”
and “leaves a glossy nish for at least seven years,” you are thoroughly confused,
frustrated, and ready to throw in the towel. Don’t give up just yet. There are many
types of waxes out there, and some work better than others on certain types and
conditions of gelcoat. With the following tips and advice, you’ll be able to walk into
the store, grab the wax you need like a pro, and go!
Many factors affect what products you should use and how you should apply
and buff off the wax. Every boat manufacturer uses a slightly different gelcoat.
Your boat may be faded on deck but still glossy on the hull. You may have color
Waxing Your Boat
stripes or a colored hull that is more faded than the rest of the boat. Your boat may
have slight scratches or swirl marks that are difcult to remove. Therefore, you
can’t always buy just one bottle of wax that will give you great results on all areas
of your boat, even if your boat is brand new. You may need to buy two or three dif-
ferent types of wax or rubbing compound for differently oxidized sections, or you
may nd that mixing different waxes and rubbing compounds creates the perfect
product for your gelcoat. The following list describes the different types of waxes,
compounds, and polishes you’ll nd at your local boating store.
Carnauba or pure wax.
I also refer to this as
soft wax
, meaning that it con-
tains no rubbing compound. It comes in liquid form in a squeeze bottle
or in paste form in a metal tin.
Since it contains no compound,
it is best for a brand-new boat
that has no oxidation (level 1)
or for the finishing step in a
two- or three-step process. It
can easily be applied by hand
or with a buffer.
Cleaner wax.
This is a combination of wax and rubbing compound. It’s
the equivalent of doing a two-step wax job in one easy step. It is ideal to
use on boats that have light to medium oxidation (described as level 2 or
3 in the oxidation table earlier in this chapter). There are many brands of
cleaner wax on the market. Thicker, more clay-like compositions are good
for medium (level 3) oxidation, whereas thinner waxes are better for lighter
(level 2) oxidation. Shake the bottle, and if the contents easily move around,
it’s a good cleaner wax for light oxidation. If the contents don’t shake much,
you’ve found a good cleaner wax for medium oxidation.
While you’re standing in front of the wax section, grab a jug of
Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax and shake it. Then grab a jug of 3M Cleaner Wax
and shake that. You’ll instantly be able to tell the difference and will have
gained a better understanding of a cleaner wax meant for light oxidation
(Meguiar’s) and one meant for medium oxidation (3M). Although it’s best
to use a power buffer with any cleaner wax, a thinner formulation can be
applied and buffed off by hand with fair results. This is not possible with a
thicker formulation.
Wgdn trhng a rnes nq otqd vaw (nnd vhsg nn
ate�ng cnlontnc), ynt can trd dhsgdq a khpthc vaw
eqnl a rptddyd ansskd nq a oarsd vaw eqnl a can. Sgd
qdrtksr vhkk ad sgd rald. He ynt’qd trhng a ckdandq vaw,
gnvdudq, khpthc vaw eqnl a rptddyd ansskd hr darhdq sn
aooky oqnodqky anc ghudr ynt a lnqd dudn chrsqhatshnn
ne qtaahng cnlontnc sgan oarsd vaw eqnl a can.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Restorer wax.
This type of wax is very thick, more rubbing compound than
wax, and is meant for boats with heavy oxidation (level 4). If you don’t have
much experience working with compounds and power buffers, this type of
wax is not your best choice. It’s like working with pure clay. A better option
is to mix other types of rubbing compounds and waxes until you find a
mixture that gives you the desired result. I discuss this technique later in
the chapter.
Rubbing compounds.
There are many types of compounds. To make your
options less confusing, I take the extremely simplied route of categorizing
them by color—either brown or white. (You may not be able to tell if a com-
pound is brown or white unless you open the lid.) The brown compounds
are thicker and are used primarily to remove heavier oxidation. Their main
ingredient is clay (Tripoli). An example of this type is 3M Super Duty Rub-
bing Compound. The white compounds are thinner and are most often
used to remove scratches, swirl marks, and light to medium oxidation, or
as a nishing polish. Their main ingredient is aluminum oxide. Examples
include 3M Imperial Compound and Finishing Material and 3M Finesse It
Finishing Material. Remember that pure rubbing compound contains no
wax, whereas cleaner wax is a mixture of rubbing compound and wax.
A polish doesn’t have wax in it but contains other synthetic ingre
dients that do the job of wax. An example is Starbrite Premium Marine
Polish with PTEF. PTEF is Starbrite’s registered trademark name for poly
tetraouroethylene, the generic version of Teon. We’re familiar with Tef
lon because it’s on pots and pans and
creates an easy-to-work-with, nonstick
surface. Likewise, by polishing your
boat with a similar ingredient, you’re
creating a smooth surface on the gelcoat
that helps prevent salt spray, bird drop-
pings, and other particles from sticking
into it. It is UV resistant and can last
a long time. Polishes are used on new
gelcoat or gelcoat that has already had
the oxidation cut through or buffed out.
H qdedq sn sgd 3L anc Ldgthaq’r aqancr rhloky
adcatrd H trd sgdl lnrs nesdn anc al lnrs ealhkhaq
vhsg sgdl. Sgdqd aqd lany nsgdq dwcdkkdns aqancr,
hncktchng Bnkkhnhsd, SdaPnvdq, Hnsdqktw, anc Ssaqaqhsd,
sn nald itrs a edv. Acchshnnakky, sgdqd aqd rodchakhydc
aqancr eqnl rlakkdq cnloanhdr sgas ynt can nqcdq
nnky nnkhnd. Sgd lahn sghng sn knnk enq hr a vaw sgas hr
ldans enq gdkcnas, oqnuhcdr TU oqnsdcshnn, anc dhsgdq
cndr nq cndr nns cnnsahn cnlontnc, cdodnchng
nn sgd kdudk ne nwhcashnn hn sgd rtqeacd ynt vhkk ad
Waxing Your Boat
Applying polish by hand or with a buffer will give equally good results.
Applying polish is the second step in a three-step wax process.
Copolymer sealants.
Examples of these products include the Vertglas and
Poliglow systems. With these systems, you are not waxing your boat but
rather sealing the gelcoat, which helps protect it from becoming more oxi-
dized. It’s like putting a hard candy shell on your gelcoat. I do not use these
products on boats and do not have any experience with them, so I don’t go
into detail about how they work. I have heard mixed reviews about prod
ucts like these, which require you to apply ve or more coats in order to get
the most gloss and protection for your gelcoat. Additionally, you can’t apply
wax over these sealants in the future if you desire but must rst remove
the sealant completely from the gelcoat, which requires a lot of rubbing
Power Buffers
If you plan to wax your boat yourself, you should buy a power buffer. If you plan
to hire a professional, however, and simply want to keep up selected areas on your
own between the detailer’s wax jobs, you don’t need to spend $200 or so on a good
polisher/buffer. The detailer will cut through the oxidation, so you can simply
apply a soft wax or cleaner wax by hand to maintain the polish on the areas you’re
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
with them. This model is lighter than the Porter-Cable and has less vibration, but
it heats up quickly. That won’t affect the results, though.
Another runner-up is the DeWalt 849, but this buffer’s slow-start feature is
very sensitive and doesn’t take much pressure on the trigger to go from slow to fast.
Instead you have to be ready to start at a high speed. The body is slightly longer
and heavier than the others. It also comes with a straight rather than D-shaped
handle, which makes it somewhat more difficult to hold and maneuver, and it
runs at a faster speed and with more torque than the others, so you have to know
what you’re doing before you touch it to gelcoat. All in all, it’s a good buffer for an
experienced operator who is strong enough to control it and is using compound
on a heavily oxidized boat. The more oxidation you need to cut through, the more
power you need from a buffer.
You might be able to save a few dollars if you buy a used or refurbished buffer
from a reliable seller. If you’ll be using it only once or twice a year, a used model in
good working condition should be ne.
The buffers I’ve described are all variable-speed polishers/buffers and can
only be purchased at large hardware stores or online. The types of buffers sold at
your local boating supply store are not very effective on anything but a brand new
boat that requires only a light coat of pure liquid wax with no rubbing compound
in it. They are random orbital buffers and are difcult to hold properly for long
periods of time. They also don’t allow you to apply even pressure while you work,
and you will often end up with splotchy results.
For those of you who own smaller boats (less then 25 feet in length) or ski
boats, you might consider a few of the polishers/buffers that are sold for auto
detailing. They have a smaller pad base (usually receiving a 5- or 6-inch bufng
pad rather than a 9-inch pad), can get into tight areas, and are lighter and easier to
hold. Some of these buffers include the Porter and Cable 7424 Detailing Machine,
the Meguiars G-110 Dual Action Polisher and the Flex XC3401VRG Dual-Action
Polisher. You can search for these online as well as for the various pads and acces-
sories for them. One good website to start with is
If you’re going to use a power buffer, you’ll also need an extension cord, a spur
(a tool used to clean wax off the buffer wheel), and a power adapter (if you want
to plug it into the dock rather than your boat). You will also need bufng pads for
applying and bufng off wax and rubbing compound. There are wool, foam, and
Waxing Your Boat
synthetic pads to choose from; however, I rarely get good results from the synthetic
pads, so I will mostly focus on the wool and foam pads. Wool pads are best for
level 2 or greater gelcoat, and foam pads are best for brand new or level 1 gelcoat.
You can use a single-sided pad that attaches to the disc head with a Velcro back
ing plate or a double-sided pad that attaches to the disc head with a small adapter
piece. A double-sided head can get into tighter spots because you can use the edges
more effectively, and it’s just as quick and easy to ip over for the cleaner side as it
is to rip off a Velcro-backed pad and slap on a new one.
Wool compounding pads
are typically white (like the 3M Perfect-It III
Compounding Pad or the 3M Superbuff III Bufng Pad) and are used for
applying or bufng out rubbing compound on an oxidized boat (level 2 or
Wool nishing pads
are usually yellow (like the 3M Superbuff Polishing
Pad) and are used for applying or bufng off liquid wax on a new boat or
cleaner wax on a level 1 or 2 boat after you’ve used the compounding pad
with rubbing compound to remove oxidation.
Heavy-cut foam pads
are best for removing deeper scratches or heavy
Medium-cut foam pads
have 90 percent of the cutting power of the heavy-
cut pad but nishes like a polishing pad with minimum haze. Always try
this pad rst before using the heavy-cut pad to remove deeper swirls and
Mild-cut foam pads
are used
for polishing to restore gloss
and remove light oxidation and
ne swirls.
No-cut foam pads
are superne
nishing pads for applying the
nal liquid wax or polish. This
is also the pad to use for layer
ing one wax on top of another
to build up coats for added pro-
tection and shine.
Trd a rotq sn ckdan yntq ate�ng oacr rn sgdy kars knngdq.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Other Gear
The only other gear you’ll need is:
If you’ll be waxing and bufng by hand, use terry cloth rags or old
T-shirts to apply the wax and microber rags to remove it. If you’re using
a power buffer to buff off the wax, you’ll still need a few microber rags to
remove any remaining light haze or wax dust that the buffer doesn’t get.
Squeeze bottles
. The thicker the wax, the harder it is to squeeze from the
bottle it comes in. Transfer the wax to a few spare squeeze bottles (with the
help of a small funnel), and use those while you’re working on your boat.
Dust mask.
When you remove wax by hand or with a buffer, a ne mist of
wax dust will cover everything, including you. Because the particles are so
ne, you’ll breathe them in if you don’t wear a dust mask. I suggest wear
ing one if you have respiratory problems or if you’re sensitive to dust and
particles in the air.
Waxing Step-by-Step
In most maintenance work, 90 percent is preparation and 10 percent is the actual
task. For waxing a boat, however, I would change that ratio to 30/70. Preparation is
important, but technique is king. In this section I help you learn how to wax your
boat based on its level of oxidation—the main deciding factor in what products
and techniques you’ll use.
For a Level 1 Boat (No Oxidation)
A boat attains level 1 status because it is less than a year old or because you removed
all oxidation with the last wax job and have since kept the boat in a covered slip
and operated it only in the shade. In other words, a pure level 1 boat is rare. On the
other hand, it is not unusual for a boat to show light oxidation on areas like a brow
or foredeck but retain a good gloss elsewhere. In such a case, treat the oxidized
areas as level 2 and everything else as level 1.
Level 1 areas need only a soft wax, with no rubbing compound in it, or a pol-
ish. You don’t want to use compound where there is no oxidation to cut through,
or you’ll create swirl marks or even very light scratches. You can apply the wax and
buff it off either by hand or with a power buffer. If applying by hand, make sure you
Waxing Your Boat
hold the rag or pad as flat as you can.
Place your hand at over the rag (which
you’ve folded in half once and then
in half again) to apply pressure when
spreading the wax. Do not hold the rag
as you would a sponge and apply pres
sure with your fingertips. If you apply
pressure mostly with your fingertips
(unless in a small area—for example,
around a stanchion, where only your
fingertips can fit), the wax won’t be
applied evenly and smoothly, and when
you wipe or buff it off, the results will
look splotchy. Keep your hand at over
the folded rag and apply pressure as
evenly as you can in a circular motion.
Go over the section you’re doing a few
times to make sure you cover it evenly
and entirely.
You can apply the wax by hand
and buff it off with a power buffer, or
you can apply and buff the wax with a
buffer. The same observations apply.
Keep the buffer pad as flat as you can
instead of tipping it or using the edges,
and try to maintain an even pressure as
you proceed. Uneven pressure causes
the edges to bear on the gelcoat, and the
result is swirl marks or splotchiness.
Soft waxes and polishes that
don’t contain rubbing compound can
be allowed to dry to a haze before you
wipe or buff them off. If you’re working
in the shade, you can literally wax an
entire side of your boat, letting it dry to
a haze, then go back and wipe or buff
Kddo yntq ganc ar �as ar ynt can sn aooky dudn oqdrrtqd.
Nncd ynt’ud vhodc sgd vaw anc vaw ctrs eqnl
sgd aqda ynt vdqd vnqkhng nn, uhdv sgas aqda eqnl
rdudqak angkdr. He hs’r a rtnny cay, onkaqhydc rtngkarrdr
vhkk gdko ynt rdd hlodqedcshnnr. He ynt rdd rvhqk laqkr,
tndudn khggs qd�dcshnnr, roknscghndrr, nq ctkk ronsr,
ynt rgntkc gn nudq sgd aqda agahn trhng �as, dudn
oqdrrtqd. Sqy vnqkhng rlakk rdcshnnr as a shld. He nnd
rhcd ne yntq anas hr hn sgd rgacd, cn sgas rhcd �qrs.
Lnnk cnvn sgd rhcd ne sgd anas as an angkd sn cgdck enq
roknscghndrr anc lakd rtqd nnsghng var lhrrdc.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
it off. In direct sunlight, however, it’s better to do smaller sections at a time so the
wax doesn’t dry into the gelcoat and become difcult to remove.
For a Level 2 Boat (Light Oxidation)
If your boat is lightly oxidized, use a thin cleaner wax such as Meguiar’s Cleaner
Wax or SeaPower. You can work by hand or with a buffer, but either way be sure
to use even pressure when you apply the wax. In fact, light oxidation over still-
existing gloss is a condition that invites more swirl marks than any other. You want
to cut through the light layer of oxidation but not scratch or swirl the still-glossy
nish. A good product for this gelcoat condition is Meguiar’s Flagship Premium
Marine Wax. Alternatively, you can try
mixing one part 3M Finesse It with two
or three parts soft liquid wax.
Once you’ve applied the wax, let
it dry to a haze and then wipe or buff
it off. If you’re using a buffer, keep the
buffing pad as flat as you can against
the surface of the boat to prevent swirl
marks. When nished, go over the area
once more with a microfiber rag to
remove all wax dust and haze.
When applying wax, use a slower
buffer speed for a more even applica
tion. If you’re using a squeeze bottle,
apply a thin line of wax directly onto the
gelcoat surface and then use the buffer
at a slow speed to spread or apply the
wax in that section. Double the speed
when it’s time to buff the wax off and
then follow up with a microfiber rag
to remove all wax dust. For example, if
your buffer offers speed levels from one
to six, use level two or three to spread
the wax on and level four or ve to buff
it in and off.
Kddo sgd ateedq �as agahnrs sgd gdkcnas sn oqdudns atqnhng
anc rvhqk laqkr.
Lnrs ansskdr ne vaw rsasd hn sgdhq hnrsqtcshnnr
sgas ynt rgntkc kds sgd vaw cqy sn a gayd adenqd
ynt vhod nq atee hs nee, anc sghr hr hncddc sgd vay sn
oqncddc vhsg sghn ckdandq vaw nn a khggsky nwhchydc
anas. He ynt’qd trhng sghck ckdandq vaw nq qtaahng
cnlontnc nn a lncdqasdky (kdudk 3) sn gdauhky (kdudk
4) nwhchydc gdkcnas rtqeacd, gnvdudq, hs’r adssdq sn
atee sgd vaw nq cnlontnc nee vghkd hs hr rshkk a khsskd
vds. Sgd qdlahnhng lnhrstqd, sngdsgdq vhsg sgd
onvdq ne sgd ateedq, vhkk gdko sgd vaw nq cnlontnc
cts sgqntgg sgd nwhcashnn.
Waxing Your Boat
For a Level 3 Boat (Medium Oxidation)
When your boat shows medium oxidation in most areas, a power buffer is almost
a necessity. You can try to apply and remove the cleaner wax by hand, but it will be
more difcult to work (read “sore wrists”) and it won’t cut through the oxidation as
well or as evenly as you’ll need to get a glossy result. It will almost denitely look
splotchy when you’re nished. If you don’t own a power buffer and don’t want to
spend $200 to buy one, consider renting one from a tool rental company. If their
rental fee is around $40 per day, however, and you think it might take you three or
more days to wax your boat, you might as well buy a buffer. If you’ll be using it only
a few times a year, it will last forever. (And you can use it on your automobiles with
a foam pad at slower speeds.)
To effectively remove medium oxidation, you’ll want to use a thick cleaner
wax such as 3M Cleaner Wax. Apply the wax by hand or with a buffer, using the
buffer with a compounding pad to work it into the gelcoat while the wax is still
slightly wet and then bufng it off with
a nishing pad. Follow up with a micro
ber rag to remove the wax dust. Work
in small sections, and work mostly on
the shaded side of the boat or at least
not in direct sunlight and not on a day
that is warmer than 90 degrees.
If one type of wax that is meant
for medium oxidation doesn’t work as
well as you were hoping, you can get
creative and try mixing different waxes
and compounds together. It is also at
this stage that your boat may need a
two-step approach—a rst pass with rubbing compound and a second pass with
wax—in order to remove the oxidation and bring back a glossy finish. My crew
often comes across medium to heavily oxidized boats that don’t respond at all to
just one type of wax or compound straight from the bottle. We end up trying vari-
ous mixes of wax and compounds until we nd one that works on that particular
quality and thickness of gelcoat and its level of oxidation. We have yet to nd the
one perfect mixture that works on all types of gelcoat with all levels of oxidation,
and leaves a perfect nish every time. It would cost a lot of money to buy several
different types of waxes and compounds, so your best bet for level 3 gelcoat is to
Sghr gdauhky nwhchydc rahkanas cd�nhsdky nddcr a svn-rsdo
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
buy one bottle of a thick cleaner wax (such as 3M Cleaner Wax), one bottle of thin
rubbing compound (such as 3M Imperial Compound), and one bottle of soft wax
(with no compound in it). We often mix two or more of these products until we nd
a combination that works well.
For a Level 4 Boat (Heavy Oxidation)
Heavy oxidation requires a two-step process. You must first remove the oxida
tion before you can apply wax or polish to the boat. A cleaner wax won’t be strong
enough to remove the oxidation; you’ll
need to use compound first. Once
again, a mixture of a few different rub
bing compounds might work best. Start
with a compound such as 3M Imperial
Compound or 3M Super Duty Rubbing
Compound. If you’re using the latter or
its equivalent, you’ll want to apply it
with a buffer at a slower speed and then
use a faster speed to buff it in and off
while it’s still wet. Your bufng pad will
become gummy quickly because this is like working with pure liquid clay. Have a
spur and extra bufng pads handy.
Once you have nished the rst step of removing the layer of oxidation from
the gelcoat, you’re ready to apply polish (if you’re doing a three-step process) or
wax (if you’re doing a two-step process).
In either case, you can apply the prod
uct by hand and use the buffer to buff
it off. This will ensure a more even n
ish. You should use a pure liquid wax
for the two-step approach even if you
removed the oxidation in the rst step,
but you can use a thinner product such
as Meguiar’s or SeaPower rather than
a thicker one, like 3M. If your rst pass
with compound left a perfectly glossy
A vawdc anc ateedc snorhcd. Bnloaqd sghr onkhrgdc
rtqeacd vhsg sgd ctkk gdkcnas hn sgd ognsn nn oagd 45.
He ynt’qd aeqahc ne qthnhng yntq gdkcnas vgdn
sqyhng cheedqdns lhwdr ne vaw anc cnlontnc,
qdldladq sgas hs’r nns sgd lhwhng ne oqnctcsr sgas
syohcakky qthnr gdkcnas, ats qasgdq sgd hncnqqdcs trd
ne a ateedq. Ynt can “atqn” gdkcnas he ynt (1) trd sgd
ateedq as snn ears a roddc vgdn ynt’qd ate�ng nee vaw
nq cnlontnc sgas gar cqhdc sn a gayd, nq (2) oqdrr snn
gaqc nn sgd ateedq vgdn trhng a sghn ckdandq vaw nq
khggs cnlontnc.
Waxing Your Boat
surface, you can effectively apply a soft wax or polish (with no compound in it) by
hand or with a buffer.
For a Level 5 Boat (Chalky and Pitted)
If your gelcoat is at this degree of oxidation, chances are you have an older boat or
one that sits in the sun and has not been waxed in a long time. An older boat in this
condition most likely has thin, worn gelcoat as well. This combination—extreme
oxidation and thin gelcoat—is a bad one. In this case your goal is not to bring back
a glossy nish but rather, rst and foremost, to remove as much oxidation as you
can without compounding completely through the remaining gelcoat. Then you’ll
want to apply a good coat of wax to protect the remaining gelcoat and prevent fur-
ther oxidation. If this compromise yields a glossy nish, pat yourself and that good
ole boat on the back!
Follow the same steps as you would for a level 4 boat. If your boat is older and
the gelcoat is fairly thin, however, be careful not to press too hard on the buffer
when you’re bufng the wax off. Denitely do not work in direct sunlight or on a
very hot day, or the wax will soak in almost instantly and be difcult to remove. Do
small sections at a time for this same reason.
Waxing Colored Stripes
If your boat has colored stripes on topside or at the waterline, there is a risk that
the color will run when waxed, especially if you’re using compound or the stripe
is older. The best way to prevent this is to apply painter’s tape on either side of
the stripe. Once you’ve taped off the stripe, wax it (by hand or with a buffer), then
remove all wax dust and haze with a microber rag. When nished, slowly lift the
tape to remove it. If you are then ready to wax the area around the stripe, apply
painter’s tape over the freshly waxed stripe and it won’t run when you wax that
section with the buffer.
A Final Word on Waxing
After reading these detailed instructions, tips, notes, and suggestions, you might
still feel like you just don’t get it. You might still be asking yourself, “But how exactly
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
do I use the buffer? Where do I even begin?” It can seem overwhelming if you have
never done it before, but don’t fear or fret because all it takes is simply trying it.
Purchase the gear and supplies you think you’ll need for your gelcoat’s condition.
Take it all down to your boat and spread everything out in the cockpit or on the aft
deck. You’re going to do test spots in this area because it’s easy to reach, and it’s an
ideal place to lay out all your gear for quick use, and it’s easy to look at from many
different angles.
On 1 foot by 1 foot sections, test various waxes and techniques, by hand and
with a buffer. In fact, make this rst workday simply a test day, testing everything
until you get the result you’re looking for. Bring a notebook and write down what’s
working, as well as a few tips and tricks you learn along the way just by doing. This
way, you’ll be able to look at those notes to see exactly what worked best instead of
wondering what it was you did in the third test square that worked so well.
When working with a power buffer, it’s always best to hold the buffer pad at
against the gelcoat rather than at an angle. Holding it at an angle can cause swirl
marks. While holding it at, apply a medium amount of pressure on the machine.
You shouldn’t just be holding the buffer delicately against the gelcoat, but neither
should you be leaning into it with all your weight. Find a happy medium, and that’s
the amount of pressure you want to apply on oxidized areas.
The buffer will grab and jerk around when the buffer pad gets gummy with
wax. If you’re bufng off compound or cleaner wax on an oxidized boat, however,
you have to buff it off while it’s still a little wet, and this will cause the buffer pad to
gum up quickly. Keep a spur nearby, and periodically run it through the pad while
running the buffer to release the clumps of wet wax buildup. Keep several clean
pads on deck so you can change them often when one gets too gummy. A book can
tell you only so much about how to wax your boat with a buffer. Every boatbuilder
uses a slightly different gelcoat formulation, every boat has a different level of oxi-
dation, and you can never predict the weather, so there’s no one way to do it exactly
right for all boats. Practice is king!
Don’t worry if you feel like your dock neighbors are watching you. They prob-
ably are, and they’re most likely thinking you know what you’re doing simply
because you’re out there doing it and are hoping to learn a thing or two by watch
ing. Just keep working, and very soon you
know what you’re doing!
Waxing Your Boat
Maintaining a Painted Topcoat on Fiberglass
Many of today’s larger custom berglass boats and yachts are coated with Awlgrip
or another two-part polyurethane paint rather than gelcoat. Additionally, many
older berglass boats have their decks and hull topsides painted when the gelcoat
can no longer be restored with compound and wax. Awlgrip is frequently used in
this application, too, but so are other two-part polyurethanes, modied one-part
urethanes, and even ordinary marine alkyd enamels (which work ne on wooden
boats, though they might need to be renewed each year or every two years, and last
longer on berglass, which doesn’t swell, contract, and work as wood does). I focus
here on Awlgrip because I’ve had the most experience with it, but my comments
apply to other painted berglass surfaces as well. The bottom line is that painted
berglass surfaces should not be waxed.
Awlgrip provides long-lasting, high-gloss coverage; has excellent resistance to
sun, salt water, chemicals, and abrasion; and doesn’t require much maintenance.
Over time, however, a buildup of dirt, grease, and other contaminants can dull the
nish. This section provides some simple tips to help you keep your Awlgrip look
ing its best for a long time.
Washing Awlgrip
Whether the nish is gelcoat or Awlgrip, it is best to wash any boat on a fairly regu-
lar basis (at least once a month) to help keep water stains, bird and spider drop
pings, road dust, and other pollutants from setting in. Regular cleaning will also
avoid buildup of dirt, grease, and other contaminants, which can cause Awlgrip
to age prematurely. This premature aging is what causes the nish to appear dull.
Use a soft mitt or brush on the end of a long-handled pole, and rinse it out thor
oughly before you start to make sure there are no small pieces of debris (a pebble,
grain of sand, or piece of shell) from the last wash that could scratch the painted
nish. As for soap, Awlgrip’s manufacturer makes a soap specically for an Awlgrip
nish. It’s called Awlwash (who would have guessed?), and you can buy it at most
boat supply stores or order it online through the company’s website.
Awlwash does not contain alkalies, acids, or abrasives, and that’s why it’s spe
cically recommended for use on an Awlgrip nish. However, other boat soaps can
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
be used on Awlgrip without hurting the nish. Read the label to check for alkalies
or acids, and make sure the label says that the soap is safe for painted nishes. It is
best not to use soap with wax in it on an Awlgrip nish. Pour one or two capfuls of
soap in a bucket, add water, and you’re good to go! While washing, it is important
to keep the surface wet and to rinse well to prevent the soap from drying on the
surface. You should follow up with a squeegee or chamois to remove water spots, or
attach a water lter between the hose and the water source to prevent water spots
from forming once the water evaporates.
Protecting Awlgrip
Awlgrip’s manufacturer has created another maintenance product, called Awlcare,
that can be applied to an Awlgrip nish just as wax is applied and used on gelcoat
nishes to remove pollutants, protect the nish, and provide a glossy shine. Awl
care is a hand-applied, non-abrasive, synthetic polymer used to seal and restore
gloss to a painted surface dulled by age or mistreatment. It will remove mild stains,
water spots, and diesel soot and, when applied regularly, will increase resistance
to attack from acid rain and other pollutants. It contains no harsh abrasives and
therefore will not scratch the painted nish. Awlcare leaves a non-yellowing, pro
tective polymer coating that lasts through multiple washings. Never apply Awl
care with a machine buffer. It can be removed with Awl-Prep Plus when it’s time
to repaint.
Traditional waxes are not recommended for use on Awlgrip nishes. These
waxes break down rapidly on Awlgrip, and the residue can cause the topcoat to
appear yellow—plus it attracts dirt. This creates the need to maintain the wax,
increasing overall maintenance. Traditional waxes, which contain no abrasives,
probably do little harm to the coating, but neither do they offer any benet. And
when the surface needs to be repainted—as it inevitably will after eight to nine
years if not sooner—any wax you’ve applied will need to be removed before the
surface can be sanded and prepped for painting.
Cleaning Marks and Stains on Awlgrip
Over time, marks and stains are bound to appear on your beautiful nish. Black
scuff marks from shoes, green marks from hoses, grease, handprints, bird drop
ping stains, and more will accumulate with time. With a gelcoated boat, you would
Waxing Your Boat
simply use some cleaner wax to remove these stains, but with Awlgrip, a quick hit
with cleaner wax isn’t the best solution. Although Awlgrip makes a product (called
Awl-Prep Plus) that can be used to remove marks and stains on an Awlgrip nish,
it may not be easy to nd at your local boating store. In its place, it is possible to use
toluene, lacquer thinner, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), acetone, or kerosene to soften
or remove a heavy buildup of grease and grime.
When using solvents to remove stains, test an inconspicuous area rst. Apply
the solvent with a soft, clean cloth and wipe up quickly. Do not allow the solvent to
dry on the surface or puddle and soak into the surface. Afterward, rinse well with
water to remove any residue. The above-named solvents are aggressive and toxic
and should be used with proper skin and breathing protection. On the less harm
ful side, you can use distilled white vinegar and hot water to remove stubborn salt
stains, but rinse well with fresh water when nished.
Here are a few don’ts from Awlgrip (which you can find on the company’s
Do not use abrasives, magic, or rubbing compounds on an Awlgrip fin
ish. Scratching the surface gives dirt a place to cling while wearing out the
resin layer. Using abrasives of any kind will reduce the life of the nish.
Do not allow contact between Awlgrip and teak cleaners. Most teak clean-
ers contain acids or caustic agents that stain and discolor an Awlgrip
Do not allow metal polishes to dry on an Awlgrip nish because these pol-
ishes may discolor and stain the painted surface. Metal polishes contain
acids, and rainwater and dew running off metal ttings can spread metal
polish residue onto an Awlgrip surface and etch and dull the paint. Wash
ing freshly polished metal fittings thoroughly with soap and water can
help eliminate polish residue and reduce the metal polish runoff.
Do not allow wet gear (for example, seat cushions, coils of line, sails, sail
covers, coolers) to trap and hold moisture against an Awlgrip topcoat. This
condition can result in blistering or delamination of the painted nish.
Maintaining an Awlgrip finish may sound like a lot of work, but the main
thing to focus on is to wash your boat at least once a month throughout the year
and after each return from a saltwater outing. This is the best and easiest way to
keep an Awlgrip nish looking good for years.
Sdak Cdckr
If your boat has teak decks, you can appreciate the beauty of honey-colored wood
that looks golden when wet or even the distinguished beauty of naturally aged gray
wood. Although some people don’t mind the weathered look and even prefer it
over the golden honey color, if your teak has dark stains from oil, grease, or dirt,
it should be cleaned and brightened to maintain the integrity of the decking. This
chapter covers the following information on maintaining your teak decks:
Why and when to clean teak decks
Gear and supplies
Preparation and safety
Cleaning teak decks—step-by-step
Oiling teak decks
Why and When to
Clean Teak Decks
You’ll know it’s time to clean your teak
decks when they start looking gray or
develop dark stains from grease, oil,
or dirt. It’s not a serious situation if
they start turning gray, but the main
thing you’re trying to prevent is the
actual breakdown of the teak and its
Sdak vhsg gqdard rsahn
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
underlayer. Older teak decks that are
well weathered typically have a more
open grain on the surface than newer
teak decks. You’ll know if the grain
of your teak is “open” if you can feel
ridges when you run your ngers over
it against the grain. You can also see
these ridges fairly easily. Consider that
if the grain of your teak decks is open,
the dirt, salt, and grease that end up on
your decks are getting into the grain of
the teak. Once those particles have set-
tled into it, it’s impossible to get them
out without scrubbing, thus opening
up the grain even more. And once the
grain is opened, it’s open for the life of
the teak. It does not close up on its own.
Preventing this from happening in the
rst place if you have new teak decks will help them last a lot longer. Maintaining
your teak decks is actually quite simple and doesn’t take a lot of time if you keep
up with them.
Gear and Supplies
There are two main types of teak cleaners on the market—acidic and non-acidic.
The non-acidic cleaner usually comes in powder form and is somewhat less harsh
on the teak than the two-step acidic
cleaners and brighteners. But keep
in mind that most of the “harshness”
in teak cleaning comes from using a
course scrub brush rather than a soft
brush or going with the grain rather
than against the grain. A soft brush
makes all the difference! If there are not
a lot of stains in the teak from grease
and dirt or the teak is fairly new, try
Sgdqd aqd lany shor anc sqhckr sn ckdanhng
anc lahnsahnhng sdak cdckr, anc ynt’kk �nc okdnsy ne
gdasdc chrctrrhnnr hn nnkhnd anashng enqtlr aants
sghr snohc. Sgas’r nnd sghng H knud aants anasr anc
sgdhq nvndqr. Sgdy aqd trtakky oarrhnnasd aants sgdhq
anasr anc gnv sn sakd caqd ne sgdl. Sgd hnenqlashnn
H cnudq hn sghr cgaosdq rtggdrsr a edv ne sgd lany
vayr ynt can ckdan anc lahnsahn sdak cdckr: sgdrd
aqd ay eaq nns sgd nnky vayr.
Mastqak gqay sdak cdckr knnk adatshetk vgdn eqdd ne gqdard
rsahnr anc chqs oaqshckdr.
Teak Decks
using the powder cleaner rst. If the teak is older or has several dirt and grease
stains, use the stronger two-part solution. But rst, let’s learn more about what
you’re actually putting on the decks.
Teak Cleaners and Brighteners
Non-acidic cleaners typically come in the form of a powder that contains an alka-
line-based cleaning compound, which is still strong enough to clean light dirt
and grease stains and is somewhat more environmentally friendly than an acidic
cleaner (or rather the better of two evils). There are also liquid cleaners that don’t
contain acid and are advertised to do the job of cleaning and brightening in one
step. Once again, if you have newer teak or you’re unsure about which type of prod
uct to use, start with one of the non-acidic cleaners.
The stronger two-part teak solu
tion is made up of Part A (the cleaner)
and Part B (the brightener). Using these
products is like coloring your hair. Part
A (which is acidic) basically bleaches or
strips a layer of color from the teak, as
well as removing dirt and grease, and
Part B—the base—neutralizes that
acid. When acids and bases are mixed
together, they react to neutralize each
other if an equal number of hydrogen
and hydroxide ions are present. When
this reaction occurs, salt and water are
This is why it is so important to rinse the decks thoroughly when you are
nished working with Parts A and B. A combination of applying the acidic cleaner
and scrubbing the teak will slightly open the teak and allow crystals to embed in
the decks if they aren’t thoroughly rinsed. It’s also why it is better not to clean and
brighten teak decks in direct sunlight. The decks can dry too quickly and sun can
Sgd svn-oaqs sdak ckdanhng anc aqhggsdnhng ryrsdl enq
nkcdq sdak
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
cause any type of crystal (from salt or other chemical residue) to burn or etch into
the teak, causing discoloration or a breaking down of the material or bers over
There is no need to list specic product brands in this category because all
boating supply stores carry teak-cleaning products. Your main decision is whether
you’re going to use a one-step cleaner (usually in powder form), a one-step cleaner
and brightener (liquid form), or the stronger two-step cleaner and brightener
(always in liquid form). Once you’ve chosen the product, the next step is making
sure you have the right brushes.
The right type of brush makes all the difference. Think of teak cleaning and bright
ening as attacking your innocent teak. It didn’t ask to be drenched with chemicals
or temporarily discolored. It was ne just sitting there on your boat, protecting
your berglass decks and preventing you from slipping while walking from one
end of the boat to the other. And if the chemical cocktail of teak cleaner wasn’t
enough, it’s about to get scrubbed with a brush to help spread those chemicals
about its surface. (It’s not the teak’s fault that your tipsy non-boater friends chose
to drink their red wine on your beautiful teak or that Duke with Duke’s Engine
Repair and Mess Making didn’t take off his greasy boots before crossing the teak
deck to the engine room.) The least we can do is not open the grain of the teak any
more than it might already be, thus exposing the wood to more elements and par-
ticles that will further break it down over time.
You’ll need three types of brushes when working with teak. The rst is a long-
handled pole with a soft deck brush attachment, the same kind you would use on
smooth gelcoat. This is the main brush you’ll be using to reach most of the deck.
The second is a small hand brush with soft bristles. This brush is used for hard-to-
reach places where the deck brush can’t t. The third is a small hand brush (think
of a large toothbrush) with medium-course bristles that aren’t stiff or feel like plas
tic. This is the brush you’ll use to scrub
the edges of any teak where mildew has
formed. Use this brush lightly and try
to go against the grain rather than with
the grain when you scrub.
Rdldladq, a aqtrg hr rnes dnntgg enq gdkcnas,
okarshc vhncnvr, anc sdak he hs cndrn’s rcqascg vgdn
ynt qtn hs acqnrr yntq eacd.
Teak Decks
The only other cleaning gear you’ll need is a hose, nozzle, and bucket. But
before starting, consider that you’ll be working with chemicals no matter which
type of cleaning product you’ve chosen. This warrants a quick discussion about
preparation and safety.
Preparation and Safety
Before you use these products, either the acidic or non-acidic formula, there are
several important steps you need to take to protect you and the gelcoat from harsh
First, let’s protect you. When you start to brush these cleaners on your decks,
they are going to splatter, so make sure you’re wearing rubber boots. The chemi
cals in both solutions can stain clothing, so also make sure that you’re wearing
an older pair of pants or your rain gear so you don’t ruin a good pair of jeans. This
is denitely not the project to do quickly before your dinner guests arrive at your
boat. And most importantly, wear rubber gloves. You will know if any of the chemi
cals get on your skin because they will sting or burn badly until you wash them off.
It’s always a good idea to protect your eyes when working with any type of chemi-
cal, so if you have protective eyewear, you should wear it.
The next thing you want to protect
is the gelcoat near the teak decks. While
brushing the cleaners over your decks,
areas near the teak will get splashed
or sprayed with the chemicals, which
can stain gelcoat if they’re not hosed or
wiped off.
Using chemicals to clean teak
decks is a project that you’ll do only
once or twice a year, so make a point of
doing it after you wax your boat. This way, the chemical overspray will sit on top
of the coat of wax and not “soak” into the gelcoat. If the gelcoat isn’t waxed or you
have an Awlgrip or other type of painted nish, have an old rag handy so you can
wipe the splashed gelcoat clean while waiting for the chemicals to do their job on
the teak. Use that rag to also wipe any stainless steel or other metal nish that gets
splashed with the chemical cleaner to keep it from staining or etching the metal.
Wghkd ynt’qd vnqkhng, ynt’kk hnuaqhaaky gds
rnld ne sgd cgdlhcak rnktshnn nn yntq qtaadq gknudr
(vghcg hr vgy ynt’qd vdaqhng qtaadq gknudr), ats ad
caqdetk nns sn acchcdnsakky rcqascg yntq gdac nq eacd
vghkd ynt’qd vnqkhng. Anc he yntq cdkk ognnd qhngr, kds
hs gn sn unhcd lahk Soqdachng sgdrd cgdlhcakr aqntnc
nn yntq rkhn nq yntq cdkk ognnd vhkk nnky qdlhnc ynt
ne gnv aacky sgdy atqn anc rshng
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Plan to do this project on a cloudy day or even on a day when it’s misting or
raining very lightly. You shouldn’t clean and brighten your teak decks on a very
hot day or in direct sunlight because you don’t want the chemical to dry out on the
teak while you’re waiting for it to do its work (usually about a three- to ve-minute
wait). And mist or light rain will wash the chemicals off the gelcoat for you.
Cleaning Teak Decks Step-by-Step
If you have new teak decks, the best way to keep them clean from the start is to
wash them when you wash your boat. Use the same long-handled pole and deck
brush that you use when washing the smooth gelcoat on your boat, as well as the
same soapy water from your bucket that you used on the rest of your boat. Abso
lutely do not use a scrubbing brush or anything you wouldn’t use on your smooth
gelcoat or plastic windows. A rough brush will open the grain of the teak, and that’s
when problems can arise. Another natural way to maintain clean teak is to wash
it with seawater using a soft deck brush. The salt in the seawater helps the teak
to retain moisture and stops it from shrinking away from the caulking. But don’t
just dip your bucket into the seawater at the marina because any oil, fuel, or other
contaminates that are seeping out of nearby boats can leave a residue on your teak
and turn it darker and darker over time. If you’re going to wash with salt water, wait
until you’re under way on a cruise; then carefully scoop a bucket of fresh salt water
to throw over your decks.
If you plan to use a chemical solution, prepare for that treatment in the fol
lowing ways, no matter which product you’ll be using. Turn the hose water on
at your slip and bring the hose to the area where you’ll be working. Wear rubber
gloves throughout the whole process. Grab your long-handled pole with a soft deck
brush attached, as well as a soft hand brush for hard-to-reach areas. Your goal is
to have everything you need to do the job ready and with you. You don’t want to
have started brushing Part A teak cleaner about your teak decks only to realize that
you left the hand brush on the dock box. You’ll end up tracking the chemical on all
other surfaces you walk on, which means more cleanup and work to keep it from
discoloring teak or staining gelcoat.
Open all the bottles of solution so they are ready to pour or squirt. (You may need
scissors or a utility knife to cut off the tops of the Part A and Part B bottles of the two-
step cleaner and brightener.) Once the chemical solution hits the teak, you’ll want to
Teak Decks
work fairly quickly (with the deck brush
and the hand brush you’ve assembled)
to spread the solution around. You’ll also
want to make sure to corral the solution
so it doesn’t run down the sides of the
hull, and lightly hose any cleaner off the
gelcoat before it discolors it.
You’re now ready to start. Hose
down all the teak that you’ll be clean
ing, as well as the gelcoat and metal
near that area. Generously sprinkle the powder or squirt the Part A cleaner over a
section that’s about 6 feet by 6 feet. Set the bottle down, then take your long-han
dled pole with the soft deck brush and lightly scrub over the area, going against the
grain. Remember, you are not trying to scrub hard because the chemicals are doing
all of the work. Your job is to simply deliver those chemicals to every inch of the
teak by spreading them about with your soft deck brush. Once you have covered
this 6 x 6 section, start on another 6 x
6 section while the chemicals do their
work on the rst section (about three to
ve minutes, depending on how old or
stained your teak is). Both the powder
and the Part A cleaner will turn the teak
a dark cherry red and some areas will
become pulpy. That’s the result we’re
looking for, so don’t let it worry you.
Once you’ve spread the powder
cleaner or the Part A cleaner on all of
the areas you want to clean, take your
hose and spray it off. Consider that the
chemical will be running out of drains
or openings and may run down your
hull. To prevent staining, every now and
then lean over the rail and spray down
the hull in any areas where the chemi
cal comes in contact with the gelcoat.
He ynt vans sn ckdan anc aqhggsdn a sdak kaccdq
nq rsdor sgas aqd nudq a sdak cdck, cn sgd rsdor �qrs.
Sgd cgdlhcakr vhkk cqho cnvn nnsn sgd sdak cdck,
vghcg hr �nd adcatrd ynt’kk dudnstakky ad ckdanhng
anc aqhggsdnhng sgd cdck adknv. He ynt cn sgd rsdor
aesdq sgd cdck, ynt vhkk rsahn sgd cdck vhsg sgd
cgdlhcakr sgas cqho cnvn nn hs anc gaud sn qdcn hs. Ad
rtqd sn aooky sgd sdak oqnctcs nn akk rhcdr ne sgd rsdo
enq an dudn-�nhrgdc knnk.
Trd a rnes cdck aqtrg sn roqdac sgd oqnctcs, anc akvayr
gn agahnrs sgd gqahn.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
If you used the one-step non-
acidic cleaner, you are finished with
your work for the moment. Take a look
at your decks once they’ve had a chance
to dry and see if they look any cleaner
(no grease or dirt stains) or if they are
honey colored. If they are only a little
cleaner or there are still several dirt and
grease stains, your decks are ready for the stronger acidic two-step process the
next time you schedule this project. Wait a few weeks before treating the decks
with the stronger cleaner/brightener solution.
If you’re using the two-step process, it’s time to squirt the Part B brightener
solution onto the decks. Some two-step teak-cleaning products tell you to squirt
the Part B brightener solution onto the decks after applying the Part A cleaner solu
tion without hosing it off in between; others suggest that you hose off the Part A
solution before applying the Part B solution. I suggest the latter, for two reasons.
First, the Part A solution is a chemical, and the longer it sits on any material (wood,
gelcoat, metal), the more damage it can do. Second, I have found that there is less
chance of causing light and dark streaks in the wood if you hose off most of Part
A before applying Part B. Another way to avoid streaks in the teak when applying
the Part B liquid is to pour it in a basket and dip the brush head in there instead of
squirting it on the teak.
Take the same precautions as you took with the Part A cleaner because both
solutions contain chemicals that you don’t want touching or soaking into your skin
or the gelcoat. With your teak decks still wet from being hosed off, squirt the Part
B solution in 6 x 6 sections, using the soft deck brush to work it in, going against
the grain. Let each section sit for three to ve minutes, but don’t let it dry. Lightly
spray water over any section that starts to dry before you’re ready to hose off the
entire deck. If you see that the wood has turned a light honey color, the brightener
is doing its job. Hose the decks thoroughly, and remember to hose the side of the
hull if there is any runoff in that area.
If the edges of the teak decks are green with mildew, you can take the mildly
course scrub brush and go over the edges lightly with the brush, scrubbing against
He ynt gaud a kns ne sdak aqda sn ckdan, gakevay
sgqntgg yntq vnqk, sakd sgd gnrd anc khggsky roqay
nudq sgd �qrs rdcshnnr ynt vnqkdc nn. Ynt cnn’s
vans sgd cgdlhcak sn cqy nn sgd cdck (drodchakky
sgd onvcdq ckdandq) adcatrd hs cntkc ad che�ctks sn
qdlnud nq catrd odqlandns rsahnhng.
Teak Decks
the grain. If that doesn’t remove the
green mildew, spray mildew cleaner
over the green area and use a soft hand
brush to work it in. Rinse well with
water when nished.
Alternative Teak-Cleaning
In my years of working on boats, I have
learned that all you have to do is walk
down the dock toting the highly acidic
Part A in one hand and the alkaline-
intense Part B in the other hand for boaters on your dock you didn’t even know
existed to pop out of the woodwork and pull you aside to tell you what they’ve been
using on their teak decks for the last 97 years.
I gave you step-by-step instructions on how to use the more aggressive two-
step teak products above because most people will use them at one time or another
and those products require the most skill. When using acidic cleaners, there isn’t
much time before mistakes can be made. But there are several alternative methods
for cleaning teak that work very well. If you have newer teak decks, I would not rec-
ommend the acidic cleaners because you don’t need them and they’ll be too strong
for your tight-grained teak. If you clean your teak decks on a regular basis using
less aggressive methods, your teak’s grain will do its job better.
The alternative method I cover here is simply using soap and water to clean
your teak decks. Soap comes in different strengths, and the kind you use will
depend on the condition of your teak. If the teak is brand new or still golden in
color, wash the decks with the same soap, water, and soft deck brush that you used
to wash the rest of the boat. Remember to go against the grain so you don’t risk
opening up the grain; that is always the main thing you’re trying to prevent no
matter what method of teak cleaning you use.
If your teak decks are showing some gray or there are oil stains in places,
try a stronger soap. I recommend Cascade dishwashing liquid with bleach (if you
Trd a lhkcdv roqay anc a rlakk rcqta aqtrg sn qdlnud
lhkcdv nn sqhl ohdcdr.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
moor your boat in a gray-water marina).
Pour some in a bucket (start with a few
cups to see how far it goes), then spray
just enough water in the bucket so the
dishwashing soap is not as thick. Wet
the decks with the spray. Use the long-
poled soft deck brush to thoroughly
mix the soap solution, then spread
it over the entire deck, going against
the grain. Then go back to where you
started to see the results. If the decks
look lighter and more golden, hose off
the decks. If they seem to need a bit more time, let the mixture sit on the decks for a
few more minutes, then hose it off. This soap-and-water method should leave your
teak decks lighter and brighter without having used a more aggressive product.
Oiling Teak Decks
To oil or not to oil, that is the question—and there is no incorrect answer. You can
leave them honey or gray without oiling them, and the woods’ natural oil will pro-
tect them, as long as you keep them clean and quickly remove grease or dirt by
washing them when you wash the boat or using the cleaner/brightener system
once or twice a year. Using teak oil will give them a deep honey color, but they will
still require regular maintenance in addition to several extra post-cleaning steps
to prepare for oiling.
If you have decided to oil your teak decks after cleaning and brightening
them, you will need to gather a few additional items to start your project. The list
Blue painter’s tape
Cotton rags
Sandpaper (150 grit)
Plastic container
Work gloves and knee pad (for comfort and to prevent splinters)
An aksdqnashud sdak-ckdanhng ldsgnc enq ndvdq sdak
Teak Decks
It’s time to start preparing the teak, assuming that your teak decks do not
need repair work before you coat them with oil. If there are chips in the wood or
places where the wood has separated from the caulking, then repair work on those
areas should be done before you apply oil. If you are uncertain about doing this
yourself, you should contact a brightwork or teak specialist to do the work for you.
Whole books could be written (and many have been) on how to repair or resurface
teak decks. Because my specialty is detailing rather than repair work, I gladly leave
that topic to an expert in the eld.
Start by sanding the teak with sandpaper to smooth out any ridges, but don’t
sand so hard or so much that you remove all ridges to a perfectly at nish. Because
oiling your teak decks necessitates sanding every time you do it, which could be
every few months in sunnier climates like Florida or the Caribbean, that’s a lot of
sanding for the life of the decks, even if it’s only every six months in a less sunny
location. Your goal with sanding is to take out the most extreme ridges and leave a
slightly smoother nish on the grain.
Once you have finished sanding, hose the decks down thoroughly and let
them dry completely. If you don’t have time for this, at least vacuum the dust out
of the grain. Use painter’s tape to tape off anything that shouldn’t be oiled, such as
metal ttings and stanchions, gelcoat, and varnished wood rails. However, this is
why you should keep cotton rags handy, in case you need to quickly wipe teak oil
off something it wasn’t intended for.
You might nd it easier to decant the teak oil from the bottle it came in to a
plastic container for easier dipping with a paintbrush. Then use the brush to paint
the teak oil on the deck, going with the grain. Avoid getting the oil on the caulking.
Wipe it off with cotton rags as you go. “Paint” your way off the boat, then allow the
teak oil to soak in and cure completely so it is no longer wet or tacky. All teak oil is
slightly different, so see what length of dry time the manufacturer recommends on
the bottle. One thick coat is enough and should last three to six months depending
on your climate, how much you use your boat, and where it is moored. Obviously if
it is moored in a sunny climate or salt water or you use your boat often, the teak will
need to be re-oiled every few months for a perfect nish. If you have a covered slip,
don’t use your boat as often, or moor it in fresh water in a not-so-sunny climate, a
perfect nish should last a bit longer.
Don’t varnish it. Don’t oil it. Just paint the rails brown. End of story. Now, let’s get
back to the game. Oh, you did that last year, you say? Well, let’s see if we can’t come
up with some maintenance tips and advice to help keep your wood protected and
looking good. This chapter is mostly about varnishing wood, but it does mention a
few other types of coatings for use on exterior wood. I divide this chapter into a few
easily digestible sections. This chapter covers:
Comparing exterior wood nishes
Determining the condition of your current nish
Gear and supplies
Preparation and safety
Getting started sanding and
Caring for varnished wood
Comparing Exterior
Wood Finishes
There are several different ways to care
for the wood on your boat, including
everything from covering it with mul
Snld anasdqr uaqnhrg qahkr anc rnld kdaud sgdl nastqak.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
tiple coats of varnish to leaving it bare. The following is a brief comparison of the
most commonly used exterior wood nishes.
Most everyone loves the look of glossy varnish on a boat’s rails and trim. It’s what
gives the boat that timeless look of a traditional seafaring vessel. Maintaining that
look, however, takes more time than most people have. The decision to varnish
exterior wood is balanced by the protection it offers versus the ability to maintain
it on a regular basis so it can do its job.
Varnish is typically made up of ve ingredients, which include oil, resin, sol
vent, dryers, and ultraviolet additives, all of which have an effect on how long the
varnish will last and how well it will protect the wood from the elements. Here’s a
list of these ingredients to give you an idea of what to look for when shopping for
exterior varnish.
Tung oil is commonly used, which provides long-term resistance to crack-
ing and crazing. The main purpose of tung oil is to improve penetration
into the wood; the more oil in a varnish, the better the penetration.
Resins, which are derived from natural sources (tree stumps or crude oil),
help varnish dry faster and give it a hard nish that is more resistant to
water and other elements.
Solvents aid in the leveling process of varnish. They help varnish lie down
on the wood, so brushstrokes are not as visible.
Driers simply help accelerate the drying time and improve the hardness of
the coating.
Additives are used in varnish to improve the nished cosmetic look and
make the varnish last longer to protect the wood. Different additives that
may be used include anti-skinning agents, attening agents (typically used
for interior varnishes), and ultraviolet additives so that any UV light enter-
ing the coating is diffused back.
Most varnishes contain all of these ingredients, but some higher quality var-
nishes take it a step further and provide longer-lasting protection. Interlux Gold
Brightwork Maintenance
spar Clear or Schooner 96 varnishes use three different additives to combat UV
light. An ultraviolet absorber (UVA) reects most of the light away from the wood;
the remaining UV rays that are not reected back are dispersed evenly throughout
the coating so there is no single attack on the lm. A surface stabilizer works at the
surface to repair damage from UV light. By keeping the surface lm repaired and
stabilized, the amount of water, which can attack a broken paint lm, is reduced,
prolonging the life of the coating. Antioxidants are the third additive; they are used
to combat photodegradation and the effects of oxidation on the varnish lm. With
out an effective antioxidant, the varnish will gradually fade and become cloudy.
With any clear coating, like varnish, it is particularly important to maintain its
color because any change will be readily detectable. (This information is from the
Interlux website—
Two-Part Catalyst Systems
For boaters who don’t have the time, energy, patience, and perfect weather, and
who don’t love sanding as much as they thought they would, there are now several
two-part varnish products on the market that allow you to apply all the coats in
one weekend. These two-part catalyzed urethane coatings include Honey Teak (by
Signature Finish), Bristol Finish, and Perfection Varnish (by Interlux).
These varnishes can be used on bare wood or wood that has been varnished
previously and simply needs new coats built up. The products contain a catalyst
that cures the resin into a highly durable surface, and their molecular cross-linking
ensures a perfect bond between coats with little or no sanding and a much faster
dry time, so you can apply the next coat in just one to two hours. These catalyst
systems look the same as varnish when dry and have additives just like varnish
that protect against UV rays, abrasives, and chemicals coming into contact with
the nish.
The slight downside to using these types of products is that you have to fol
low the instructions very carefully in preparing the mixture of the urethane base
with the catalyst. And because these products are thinner than varnish and don’t
have the leveling agents that varnish does, you have to apply them more carefully
and mind your brushstrokes. You cannot just “slap it on” as you can with varnish
because they won’t level as well as varnish will. Because this chapter mostly dis
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
cusses the application of varnish, you should use the instructions provided with
the two-part system if you plan to use this type of coating for your wood. All of
these companies provide detailed instructions that are easy to follow, and they
have helpful and convenient phone and Internet support.
Oil, such as tung or linseed oil, is easy to apply (just wipe it on with a rag or use
a foam brush) and gives the wood a deep, rich color (the oil darkens in sunlight).
But because it penetrates deeply into the wood, leaving less of a surface nish, it
doesn’t do a very good job of actually protecting the surface of the wood, and it
allows UV rays to do damage over time. In most sunny climates, oil usually lasts
for less than six months and requires re-coating several times a year to effectively
protect the wood.
Synthetic Finishes
These types of nishes (such as Cetol, by Sikkens) are like your Uncle Clem who
lives in a van down by the river—strong, but not always the most attractive choice.
If you don’t mind the color of pumpkins, Cetol has many benets: it lasts a long
time, it’s very durable on exterior wood, it offers UV protection, and it’s easy to
apply and maintain. If your rails are already coated with Cetol and are in good con
dition, then by all means simply maintain the nish with a few new coats through
out the year (more often if you’re in a tropical or sunny climate), and maybe even
apply Cetol Overcoat to give the rails a glossy nish. After an initial sanding, you
can apply several coats of Cetol without sanding in between coats, waiting only 24
hours or less to apply the next coat.
I don’t go into much detail about epoxy because a book specically about bright
work would cover this topic in full. However, using epoxy on bare wood before
applying varnish offers many benets, especially in the way that it seals wood and
protects it from water. Some of the companies that offer epoxy resins are West Sys-
Brightwork Maintenance
tem and Interlux. The following benets and uses of epoxy resins as suggested by
West System include:
Using a resin and clear hardener as a base can give your brightwork a richer
look while protecting it longer without having to apply as many coats of
Because there are no solvents evaporating away from the epoxy, it builds
thickness faster per layer than varnish and it doesn’t shrink when it cures.
Sealing wood with an epoxy moisture barrier dramatically lessens its
stretching and shrinking, helping the varnish last longer because it’s on a
stable surface.
Undercut the wood trim around all edges by ¼ inch and glue the edges
down with epoxy to eliminate places where water can get in.
Apply epoxy to screw holes prior to running the screws in place to prevent
water from seeping in.
Determining the Condition of Your
Assuming that you are planning to apply varnish as opposed to another type of
nish and that you are working with bare wood or previously varnished wood, the
next step is to determine the condition of the wood and the condition of the cur
rent varnish. It is not you who will make this decision, but rather the wood that will
determine what you need to do—build up more coats, patch-coat it, or take it down
to bare and start anew. The following “cheat sheet” can help you decide which of
the three options your wood requires.
If the wood still has a solid covering of varnish (no areas of bare wood or
discoloration) but has simply lost its gloss, the varnish is simply thinning
and all you need to do is build up new coats of varnish on the wood.
If you can see small areas of bare wood through the current varnish or
areas where the wood has turned dark gray or black, or the varnish has
become discolored around stanchions and other metal parts, you can iso-
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
late these problem areas with tape and
then patch-coat them.
If the current varnish is peeling or
blistering, the underside of the rails
feels rough or has been worn down to
bare wood, or the current varnish has
yellowed or looks faded, the varnish
has gone too long without proper main-
tenance and is no longer protecting the
wood from harmful UV rays, salt spray,
or water. In this case, it’s best to take the wood down to bare and apply new
coats of varnish.
Gear and Supplies
The following gear and supply list includes everything you might need to varnish
wood in any condition. The better the condition of your wood, the fewer items
you’ll need.
It’s best to buy several
different grits, ranging from 50 to 320.
Sanding block or sponge.
A sanding
block helps you sand more evenly over a
long, at surface; sanding sponges help
you sand curved areas.
Buy a couple of different
sizes; scrapers with rounded corners
are preferable. While you’re buying
scrapers, grab a le to help keep them
Use painter’s tape so it comes
off easily. Do not leave it on longer than
a few days, especially if it has rained. (If you do end up with tape residue
on the berglass, apply 3M Adhesive Remover with a rag to take it off.) Tap-
ing off where you’re working prevents varnish from getting on the gelcoat
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Cheedqdns noshnnr enq ganc-ranchng gaqc-sn-qdacg aqdar nq
ctqudc-qahk dcgdr
Brightwork Maintenance
and prevents you from scraping
the gelcoat with the sander or
Tack cloth or microber cloth.
These cloths will grab any sur
face dust or particles sitting on
top of the wood. Use them just
before applying varnish.
Denatured alcohol, acetone, or
Use denatured alcohol
to wipe down wood just before
you apply varnish. Use acetone
or MEK to remove varnish drips
that land on other surfaces.
Look for quality
brushes meant for varnish. The last thing you want are little brush hairs
coming out of a cheap brush and drying in your smooth varnished rails.
Tarp or drop cloth.
Lay out a tarp or drop cloth and put all of your gear
on top of it rather than directly on your decks or nonskid. The tarp will
contain the inevitable spills and drips, as well as any sharp objects. It also
gives you a specic area to place gear and supplies, which makes it easier
to nd things and much easier to clean up.
Plastic containers.
These are ideal for decanting varnish from its original
large container so you can more easily hold it in one hand while you move
about the boat. Plastic containers are also handy for holding used brushes,
rinsing out brushes, and holding small screws and other hardware that
you may have had to temporarily remove.
Finishing sander.
If you have large areas of at wood, a sander will quickly
become your best friend. Not only does it speed up the process, it can sand
the wood with more even pressure than your ngertips can, and it will be
easier on your hands and wrists for large jobs.
Chemical stripper.
I don’t recommend chemical strippers simply because
they’re toxic to the skin and lungs. However, they do the job, and they’re
useful for removing varnish from large areas or areas that are difcult to
reach or t into with a sander.
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Bleach or oxalic acid.
You’ll need one of these products to remove water
stains from the wood.
Heat gun.
A heat gun is a good way to strip old varnish without using
chemicals. You’ll need a scraper to remove the varnish while holding the
heat gun near it.
Vacuum cleaner.
You may want to bring a shop vac down to the boat to
remove any sanding dust in the area where you’ve been working. A breeze
can pick up quickly and scatter that dust onto the fresh varnish you just
Band-Aids and aspirin.
Need I say more?
Preparation and Safety
Planning Your Time
In varnishing, preparation is king! It will take you one-tenth the time to actually
apply the varnish; all the rest of the time will be spent preparing your gear, sup
plies, and wood. In fact, preparing for
and applying multiple coats of varnish
can take up to several weeks. With this
in mind, if you don’t have this kind of
time and patience or enough perfect
weather, you may want to consider the
two-part catalyst urethanes.
Whichever type of finish you
choose, preparation is still the most
important part. For example, if you
have a full Saturday and part of the fol-
lowing afternoon to work, then use all
of Saturday to prepare the wood by set-
ting up your gear, sanding the wood, and completely cleaning up your work area.
The following afternoon, use a tack cloth or denatured alcohol to wipe down the
wood to remove any dust or other dirt particles that landed since you left, then
apply a coat of varnish. Of course, your schedule, the weather, and collecting or
buying all the gear and supplies you’ll need may not always work out as easily as
that, but it’s a good way to start planning for this project.
Pqdoaqashnn hr 90 odqcdns ne sgd ina.
Brightwork Maintenance
Safety is also king, and it’s something to take very seriously when doing this proj
ect. I cannot stress this enough—wear a face mask whenever you’re sanding! If
that ne dust gets into your respiratory tract, it will cause your lungs to physically
hurt. You should also wear thin latex (or similar) gloves when working with var
nish, chemical stripper, bleach, oxalic acid, acetone, or MEK. (However, don’t wear
gloves of any sort when working with a heat gun.)
Weather and Other Conditions Beyond Your Control
Before you race down to your boat to slap a few coats of varnish on the rails, take a
minute to check the weather conditions. Avoid applying varnish if there is a chance
of rain, strong winds, or extreme hot or cold temperatures coming your way. Read
the label to learn what the ideal temperature range is for that particular varnish.
Some varnishes are ne to apply in direct, hot sunlight, while others will become
too sticky or runny in those conditions. (If the forecast is for hot sun for weeks on
end, add a thinning agent to the varnish to prevent it from going on too thick.)
Look around to see what’s going on near your boat. Especially on a breezy day,
make sure your dock neighbors aren’t washing their boat, doing berglass repair
work, or waxing their boat. If you know your varnish project is going to take sev
eral days or weeks (as it most likely will), and you use a detailer to wash your boat
on a regular basis, make sure you let them know about your project so they don’t
show up to wash your boat minutes after you’ve left for lunch while the varnish is
If you moor your boat next to a bridge that cars travel over, you may want to
consider moving your boat to a slip for a few weeks that is farther away from the
bridge, or to a different marina altogether. You will not be able to achieve a per
fectly smooth nish if road debris and dirt particles are constantly settling on your
varnish, even if there is no wind.
Getting Started Sanding and Varnishing
Just as you should spend more time on preparation than actually applying the var-
nish, this chapter spends more time on what you need to know before picking up
the brush than instructing you on exactly how to do the work. Once you’ve deter
mined the condition of your wood and decided which process you’re going to take,
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
bought all the supplies and set them up on your boat, and checked the weather
and planned your schedule, you are now ready to begin doing the actual work.
This section will help you get started and give you the basic guidelines you’ll need
to effectively complete the job. However, you might want to read a book written
specically on brightwork, such as
, by Rebecca Whitman, which goes
into complete detail about all the steps, tips, and tricks you should be aware of
when embarking on this project, especially what to do when you run into problem
areas. Also read the product instructions carefully because some manufacturers
may have specic steps you must take in a given order or disclaimers you should
know about the product you’re using (for example, what temperature it works best
in or how long it takes to cure).
Also, if you have never varnished wood or worked with a sander, you should
practice on something other than your rails or name placard because any mistakes
will easily be seen in those areas. Try sanding and varnishing your bread board, or
purchase some small pieces of lumber (preferably the same type of wood as on the
boat you’ll be varnishing) that you can practice on.
Building Up Coats
If your current nish isn’t showing signs of wear and tear and you simply want to
build up more coats (which is recommended every three to nine months depend-
ing on your climate and conditions), you have a fairly straightforward job ahead
of you.

Lightly sand (by hand or with a
sander) the current nish with 240-
or 320-grit sandpaper. You can also
use a red or green Scotch-Brite pad.
Your goal is to lightly scuff up the
current nish and remove any gloss
so the new nish will adhere to it.

Brush or vacuum off the sanding
dust, then wipe the wood with
denatured alcohol to remove any
ne dust or particles.
Trd a rnes aknck sn ranc adsvddn cnasr.
Brightwork Maintenance
Apply a fresh coat of varnish with a bristle or foam brush or a roller.
Allow to dry (usually 24 hours, but read the label rst to see how long it
takes to cure), then repeat steps 1 through 3 until you have built up the
desired number of new coats.
Patch Coating
If there are only small areas of bare wood or water stains and the rest of the nish
has a nice sheen or solidly covers the wood, you can get away with patch-coating
those areas. Follow these steps to x those problem areas:
Outline the area with painter’s tape.
Use 180- or 220-grit sandpaper to sand that area down to clean, bare
wood. Always wear a face mask when sanding wood.
If there are water stains (where the wood is black or gray), use bleach
or oxalic acid to remove the stains. Simply rub it on with a rag or apply
with a foam brush to saturate the area, then wipe it off with a damp rag
or rinse with water. Be sure
to wear protective gloves.
Let the area dry and then
use ne-grit sandpaper (240
or 320) to sand the wood in
preparation for varnishing.
After sanding, wipe down
the area with denatured
alcohol, and vacuum or
sweep away any sanding
Apply one coat of varnish
to the area using a bristle or
foam brush.
Most nishes require you to
let each coat dry before lightly sanding with 320-grit sandpaper and
applying the next coat. Repeat until the repaired area matches the rest
of the wood.
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oqnsdcsdc eqnl vasdq rddohng sgqntgg.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Taking It Down to Bare
The current nish on your wood is no longer doing its job if it’s peeling, blistering,
or fading or if there are several areas of bare wood or water stains. Follow these
general steps to take the wood down to bare and apply new coats of varnish.
To protect the gelcoat, use painter’s
tape over the gelcoat where it abuts any
wood you’ll be sanding.
Completely remove the current
finish by using one or more of the
following methods: a sander or hand
sander, a heat gun, a scraper, or a
chemical stripper. If you want to use
a mix of everything available to you,
apply a chemical remover to loosen the
old finish, let it sit for several minutes
(read the instructions on the label), and
rub it off with a 3M or Scotch-Brite pad.
You may have to repeat this application a few times depending on how
many old coats of nish are on the wood. Wear gloves and a face mask
anytime you are working with strong chemicals. Follow the chemical
remover with a scraper (and a heat gun, if needed, but only after you
have removed all of the chemical
stripper) to remove old strips of varnish
that are still sitting on the wood. They’ll
come off fairly easily thanks to the
chemical remover, so be careful not to
push too hard on the scraper, and make
sure the scraper blade is sharp so your
work is accurate. Once you’ve reached
bare wood and 90 percent of the old
nish has been removed, use an electric
sander with 180 grit to sand the entire
area. Repeat with 220-grit sandpaper.
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vnnc anc hr catrhng vasdq rsahnr
Trd a gdas gtn anc rcqaodq sn qdlnud nkc uaqnhrg nn sqhl
anc rlakkdq aqdar.
Brightwork Maintenance
Check the phone book
for a varnisher who is (a)
affordable and (b) available
in the next six months to x
the gouges from the scraper
and the burn marks from
the sander. (Sorry, I don’t
mean to assume the worst.
I’m sure you’re doing just
ne and are not frustrated at
all and are looking forward
to twelve more continuous
hours of sanding before the
rains come.)
Decide if you need to use any wood llers or epoxy to ll any uneven
areas or ll a seam where two pieces of wood meet to better protect that
area from water seeping in. Let the ller or epoxy dry completely before
sanding smooth.
Now, follow steps 3 through 7 above under “Patch Coating.” Your goal
should be to build up at least four coats of varnish, but more if you have
the time and opportunity.
Of course, when you look at the
actual condition of the wood on your
boat and notice all of the small trim
pieces, the ornate designs in the wood,
and the number of stanchions you have
to tape and varnish around, these steps
aren’t going to seem as simple as they
do on paper. The key is to not rush
through it. Plan to do one section at a
time and gure out a realistic schedule
that works with your free time and the
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Spotlight on Brightwork
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rdcshnn nn yntq anas—a nnd enns rdcshnn nn sgd qahk, a
gascg nq a rlakk rdcshnn ne sqhl—anc cn sgd cnlokdsd
oqncdrr nn sgas nnd rdcshnn. Ssqho hs, akdacg hs, ranc
hs, ckdan hs, uaqnhrg hs anc sgdn athkc to a edv cnasr.
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vgas sn dwodcs vgdn ynt lnud nn sn sgd qdrs ne sgd
vnnc. Anc hs lakdr enq a ltcg kdrr catnshng oqnidcs
he ynt cts yntq sddsg nn a rlakk aqda �qrs anc sgdn
lnud nn sn sgd qdrs ne yntq qahkr nq sqhl nncd ynt’ud
athks to a edv cnasr anc rnld cnn�cdncd.”
—Gnkky Fharnn, Fnkcdn Sntcg Yacgs Baqd (vvv.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Caring for Varnished Wood
Once you’ve nished this project and you have beautiful varnished wood, your
next step is to actively take precautions that will keep it looking that way for as
long as possible. The best way to protect varnished rails is by having canvas covers
made for them and keeping the covers on except when you’re cruising or enjoy
ing the boat in its slip. Having custom
canvas covers made can be expensive,
but the added protection they give your
varnished rails will make a huge differ-
ence in how often you have to renish
the wood.
You can use wax on varnished
wood for the same reasons you would
use it on gelcoat—to protect it from
harmful UV rays, clean it, and seal it.
Use a pure carnauba paste or liquid wax
that contains no rubbing compound.
Apply a light coating with a small,
round foam or terry cloth wax applica
tor pad (available at any boating supply store or a store that sells auto detailing
products). Let it dry to a haze and then wipe it off with a clean, dry microber rag.
Water will now bead up on the varnished wood, so it will be protected from and
help repel salt spray.
When washing your boat, be careful about pulling the hose over any var
nished rails because this can easily scratch the varnish. Instead, run the hose
under varnished rails. Or, if you have varnished toe rails, secure a cotton rag or
towel over the rail where the hose will come in contact with it. This is another
reason why having canvas covers on your rails is a good idea—to prevent the hose
from scratching or marring the nish.
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Hnsdqhnq Bkdanhng
Cleaning the interior of your boat is similar to cleaning the interior of your house,
but in a much tighter space and most likely with a lot more nooks and crannies.
This isn’t the most exciting chore you’ll want to tackle on your boat, but a clean
interior can result in a much more comfortable experience when entertaining
guests or staying the night on your boat. The best way to tackle this chore is to
make sure you have a working radio nearby and some rubber gloves. Both will help
you get through this project unscathed! This chapter covers:
Deep cleaning versus maintenance cleaning—when and why
Gear and supplies
Deep cleaning
Maintenance cleaning
Hiring a cleaning service
Organizing for small spaces
Deep Cleaning Versus Maintenance
Cleaning—When and Why
Twice a year, preferably in spring and fall, you should do a deep cleaning on your
boat. The rest of the time, a maintenance cleaning should sufce. What exactly is
a deep cleaning? It’s when you actually lift up the seat cushions, look under things,
and use your Q-Tips and old toothbrushes so you can clean every inch of the inte-
rior. A maintenance cleaning is when a rag and a spray cleaner will do most of the
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
work. If you haven’t cleaned the interior of your boat in a while, a rag and spray
cleaner won’t get the interior truly clean or smelling fresh. You rst need to tackle
the problem areas the way only a deep cleaning can do. This may require a full
weekend, so be prepared to set aside some time to complete this task. It may also
require a few trips to the dry cleaners or hiring a carpet cleaning service. Deep
cleaning isn’t difcult work, but it can be somewhat tedious and requires an eye for
detail. A radio program playing in the background or help from a talkative friend
will make the job go much faster!
A maintenance cleaning is something you should do after each cruise, or once
a month if you’re not using your boat often. Even if there’s no one around to see it,
dust still happens! So does mildew growth and stale smells caused by moisture
in the air. A maintenance cleaning is where you’ll dust or wipe down all surfaces
and check for mildew or other growth in the head area. If you check often enough,
you’ll catch any sort of growth before it becomes a problem and causes more work
and musty smells. Also, if you do a maintenance cleaning to the interior of your
boat once a month, you’ll most likely also catch anything unusual during winter or
rainy months, such as water leaking through a window. You’ll be able to catch and
correct a problem like this before it causes more extensive cleaning or repairs.
Gear and Supplies
A lot of the gear and supplies you’ll use to clean the interior of your boat can come
from your own arsenal of house cleaning supplies (this is the one place where
it’s all right to use household products on your boat). Before you leave the house,
assemble the following items to take to your boat. If you don’t have these on hand,
you can buy them at any grocery or variety store and won’t have to make an out-
of-the way trip to your local boating-supply store on your way to the dock. Besides,
boating-supply stores carry a limited selection of cleaning products for use on
interior surfaces, and they charge much more for them.
Garbage bags
Rubber gloves
Multipurpose spray cleaner for counters and windows (such as Windex or
Spray cleaner for grease (such as 409)
Mildew spray cleaner without bleach
Interior Cleaning
Orange oil wood cleaner/conditioner (for use on real wood paneling only)
Murphy Oil Soap (for use on wood oors)
Portable vacuum cleaner with attachments (if your boat doesn’t have a
central vacuum system)
Microber rags
Paper towels
Scrub brushes
Also, wear older clothes that are easy to
move in. You’ll be dealing with hard-to-
reach places and standing in odd posi
tions trying to access the far corners of
interior storage compartments. Bring
rubber gloves to protect your hands
from chemicals.
Deep Cleaning
Before you can do successful maintenance cleanings on your boat, a deep clean
ing is a necessity. If you don’t remove and clean damp and musty cushion covers
from the seat cushions, no matter how often you spray and clean any other area
of the boat, your entire boat will smell musty and stale. So, let’s start with possible
problem areas rst, then move on from there.
If every time you board your boat, your nose wants to run and hide because
of that good ole boat smell, you need to nd the source of the odor and take care of
it. If you don’t, it won’t go away. You can cover up those musty or stale smells with
Febreze for only so long before you realize that the source of the odor may actually
be serious or may be causing respiratory problems, as in the case of mold or mil
dew. I assume you have had the heads pumped out recently, but if you haven’t and
you detect a strong smell (one that you can’t mistake for any other), have the heads
pumped out. Once you’re able to rule this out, try to locate the source of the musty
smell. Most likely it will be from damp bed linens, curtains, towels, cushions, or
other fabrics. Once fabric becomes damp, which can happen from a long, wet win-
ter (Seattleites know what I’m talking about), mildew starts to form in the bers of
the material. You may not see it, but you’ll be able to smell it easily, and the fabric
may even feel cool or damp to the touch. If this is the case, mildew is denitely the
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sgd anas ctoanaqcr, annkcardr, cqavdqr, anc rgdkudr
rn ynt can darhky anc sgnqntggky ckdan sgnrd aqdar.
Aqhng a okarshc cnnsahndq sn gnkc sgd cnnsdnsr ne a
rgdke rn ynt can ckdan hs, sgdn darhky ots sgnrd hsdlr
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
culprit, or at least one of them. Remove the fabrics, linens, or cushions from the
boat, then go back into the cabin to see what else you can smell. Carpeting typi
cally won’t be the problem unless you know for a fact that water soaked the carpet
at one point and it never had a chance to fully dry. Also check the bilge areas; water
can pool under the oorboards. Lift up the oor hatches and pump out any water
or soak it up. When there’s no water left, spray Simple Green or 409 in that area and
do a nal wipe-down with paper towels.
Take all fabrics and removable cushion covers home and run them through
the washer and dryer. You don’t need to put them back on the boat until you plan
to use the boat again, so if it’s fall or winter when you do this, and if you don’t
use your boat much in the winter, put the fabrics in a container and store them at
home until you need them on the boat. Take cushion covers that are part of the
cushion and can’t be removed to your local dry cleaner, rug cleaner, or commercial
fabric cleaner. They will be able to clean and dry your cushions better than your
own washer and dryer at home. Ask them to treat the cushions with a stain guard
Your boat should now be free of bedding, cushions, towels, and curtains,
which will make all of those areas easier to clean in and around. The next step is
vacuuming up all of the crumbs, dirt, dust, and other things you’ve dropped from
the last boating season, so you’ll have less to wipe away. When starting an interior
cleaning job for one of my customers, I vacuum every surface from top to bottom.
You’d be surprised at how much easier it is to spray and wipe these areas once
you’ve vacuumed up most of the dust and dirt. And if spiders inhabit your boat,
your vacuum will easily get rid of them.
While vacuuming, lift up anything that lifts up, such as bench seats and stor-
age hatches. Vacuum shelves, bookcases, sinks, and cabinets. Use the small vac
uum attachment that ts into tight places, and use the brush attachment to go over
the walls, wood paneling, and headboards. Your goal is to vacuum up most of the
dirt and dust so that one pass of a rag with spray cleaner is all you’ll need to get that
area shiny again.
Do a thorough job of emptying out your storage compartments. Chances are,
you’ll nd old cleaning products in there that may be leaking or old metal con
tainers that have become rusty. If you had put anything away wet or damp, it may
have mildew on it, and that could be one of the sources of the moldy odor. This is
a good time to throw away old products and containers and inventory what you
have in your storage compartments. Most likely you won’t need all of those items,
Interior Cleaning
so keep only those you use on a regular
basis, and store the rest at home or in
your dock
The galley and the head are other
areas on the boat where you’ll want to
spend extra time doing a deep clean
now so that maintenance cleanings in
the future are actually effective. Open
all fridge and freezer doors and com
partments and empty them if possible. If any water is pooled in the freezer, sop it
up and make sure to dry it thoroughly. If there is mildew in the fridge or freezer,
spray those areas with mildew spray cleaner and let it sit while you work on another
area of the galley. Open the compartment where you store garbage and remove any
full garbage bags or containers from the boat. Check around the garbage container
to make sure garbage didn’t miss the container and fall near it. Spray this area with
a bleach spray cleaner. This type of cleaner kills bacteria, eliminates odors, and
even removes tough stains.
Go back to the fridge and freezer and use paper towels to wipe the mildew off
the interior surfaces you’ve just sprayed. I suggest paper towels instead of micro-
ber rags because they can be discarded. Mildew isn’t something you want to take
home along with rags destined for the washing machine. Once you’ve wiped all
mildew off the surfaces and from the crevices with paper towels, you can then
use a microber rag and a multipurpose cleaner to clean the rest of the compart
ment. If you don’t plan on using your
boat soon, turn off the power to the
fridge and freezer and prop the doors
open. Put a container of baking soda in
each to freshen the interior and control
The head is the other area that
definitely needs deep cleaning. Once
again, vacuum inside the cupboards
and storage compartments and around
the toilet. If the shower oor has a wood grate, lift that up and vacuum under it.
Vacuuming will remove 80 percent of the dirt, hair, and grime you would other
wise have to clean by hand. If the head is extra dirty or hasn’t been cleaned in a
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
long time, spray some orange room freshener in this area. Wear a face mask to
make this job a bit more pleasant and easier on your senses.
Once you’ve thoroughly vacuumed all areas of the head, empty out cupboards
and items in the shower and throw away old products that you no longer use or
containers that are leaking. This is where you have to get down and dirty. It’s time
to don your rubber gloves (if you haven’t already), crank up the radio, assemble
your cleaning arsenal, and go to town! Use the bleach cleaner in places where it
won’t run down a drain (don’t use any type of bleach cleaner in the toilet). Bleach,
although a very effective cleaner in the head area, will dry out PVC pipes and tub-
ing, causing them to break down or crack over time. Clean the toilet with a marine-
grade toilet cleaner that you purchased at the boating supply store. This is the one
area (involving drainpipes) where you don’t want to use household cleaners.
Use the bleach or antibacterial cleaner spray to disinfect the shower, around
the toilet, and on counters. Use it on the walls around the toilet where toilet water
has splashed and made water spots. Use a window cleaner for mirrors, windows,
and shower doors. Use a multipurpose cleaner along with a scrub brush to clean
the oors of the head and the shower (if it’s a nonskid material) and inside cup
boards. If you have a shower curtain that has become stained or mildewy, now is a
good time to replace it. Once you are nished with this rst pass of deep cleaning,
go over all surfaces again with a microber rag and multipurpose cleaner. This will
ensure that you have removed all dirt, as well as any residue left on surfaces by the
stronger cleaners.
If the interior of your boat has
wood veneer paneling, use a microber
rag and multipurpose spray cleaner or
Murphy Oil Soap and spray lightly over
the wood, then wipe it clean. If you have
real wood paneling (you can tell if it’s
real wood as opposed to veneer by the
exposed grain, which you can feel), use
orange oil wood cleaner/conditioner
spray and two microber rags—one to
wipe off the orange oil spray and one
to lightly go back over all of the wood
you’ve cleaned to remove any oil resi
due. As the initial rag you’re using to
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Interior Cleaning
wipe off the spray becomes saturated, use less orange oil spray. A little bit goes a
long way.
Spray the orange oil on a section of wood and wipe it over the grain. Instantly,
your wood will shine and any areas of wood that are discolored or scuffed will
blend in with the rest of the wood. You will get overspray on the floor, so if you
have a wood oor, be sure to wipe off the overspray well or it can get quite slippery.
After you wipe down the wood-paneled walls, clean the wood oors with Murphy
Oil Soap to remove the overspray completely. Do not use orange oil spray cleaner
on wood oors because it will make them too slippery. When you nish wiping
off your rst pass of orange oil spray from the wood-paneled walls, use the other
microber cloth to wipe all of the wood. The cloth will soak up any oily residue and
leave the wood grain with a perfect and even shine.
It’s best to save carpet cleaning for last because you’ll be walking all over your
carpets while you clean, and any overspray of cleaning products will land on them,
which will only attract more dirt. Start
with a thorough vacuuming of all car
peted areas. Once you remove all loose
dirt in the carpets, you’ll be able to see
any stains, marks, or spots that need to
be treated. If there are only a few small
spots or stains, treat them with a carpet
spot cleaner such as Folex, available at
most grocery or variety stores. If there
are several spots and stains, it’s best to
use a professional-grade carpet clean
ing machine rather than trying to spot-
clean all of them. This is because spot
cleaning will make that one spot look
extra clean against the rest of your pos-
sibly faded or slightly soiled carpet.
If your carpets are beyond spot
cleaning (and it doesn’t take much for
them to fall into this category), it’s best
to rent a carpet cleaning machine or
have a carpet cleaning company pro
fessionally clean them with the right
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
products and techniques. This is something you may want to do once a year to
keep your carpets looking their best.
Maintenance Cleaning
If you have recently deep-cleaned your boat’s interior, maintenance cleaning will
be that much easier and more effective. It can be done quickly and easily after
each outing. All you’ll need is a vacuum
cleaner, a few microfiber rags, and a
multipurpose spray cleaner. First, vac
uum all areas, especially heavily used
areas such as the head, galley, and car
pets. Then use a multipurpose spray
cleaner and microfiber rags to spray
and wipe all surfaces. If you did a thor
ough deep cleaning recently, you won’t
need to lift every bench seat or hatch
or bother cleaning every cupboard or
drawer. You also won’t need to wipe
down all of the wood unless you know
of a specic area where something was spilled and it touched the wood. A mainte-
nance cleaning is also a good time to:
Empty the trash and put a new trash bag in the garbage can.
Empty the fridge, freezer, and cupboards of half-eaten foods, half-full bev-
erages, old food, and food other people brought that you have no intention
of eating.
Squirt a marine-grade toilet cleaner and freshener in the toilet.
Spot-clean carpet stains that occurred recently.
Hiring a Cleaning Service
After reading all of this and realizing you’d rather be doing pretty much anything
this coming weekend than deep-cleaning the interior of your boat, you may decide
to hire a boat detailing service that offers interior cleaning, or a house cleaning
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any hnsdqhnq aqda.
Interior Cleaning
service. A boat detailer will know how to turn the power on and what types of prod
ucts to use or not use on your boat. A house cleaner may not. If you decide to use
a house cleaning service, it will be in your best interest to remain on or near the
boat most of the time to help answer their questions. You’ll need to let them in
the boat, show them where the power is (or, better yet, have all light, outlet, fresh-
water, and head switches turned on for
them), help them get the power back
when their high-amp portable vacuum
shorts a circuit, and show them how to
turn the lights on and off and how to
ush the head. If you can afford it, the
best situation would be to nd someone
who can clean the interior of your boat
on a regular basis and eventually get
to know your boat so you don’t always
have to be there.
And how often is often enough?
I would recommend doing a deep
cleaning every spring, then follow it
up with maintenance cleanings after
each outing or at least once a month. In
fall before you stop using your boat as
often, do a light deep cleaning, empty the fridge and freezer, and remove all seat
cushions and bedding.
Organizing for Small Spaces
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been cleaning the interior of a boat when I’ve
opened up a cabinet or closet, only to have all of the items that were stuffed in there
come spilling out onto the counter or oor that I just wiped down. We all know that
storage compartments, closets, and cupboards on boats usually don’t offer nearly
as much room as we need to store all that we want to keep on board. But there are
ways to make the most of the space you have, keep it better organized, and make it
easy to put things back in their proper place. Here are a few tips and tricks to make
storing gear and supplies a little easier.
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Storage Containers
Clutter must be contained, and the best way to do that is with plastic containers
that you can label. Whether you need them with a lid or open on top, handles or
no handles, holes or no holes will depend on where they’re going and what they
will be used for. Before you run out and buy tubs and bins, look through the items
you have in the storage areas of your boat and note which ones you should store
together (for example, all games, decks
of cards, and puzzles for the kids can go
in one place) and what size container
you’ll need for them. Make a note about
each type of container so when you go
to the store to buy them, you’ll know
exactly what you need.
Small storage containers, trays, or
bins are an ideal way to organize the
items you keep in drawers. Just like a
silverware drawer, you don’t want all
of your utensils sliding around; using
a silverware tray makes it much easier
to keep the utensils organized so you
can easily nd what you need. Likewise, you could use a similar system for other
For example, if you keep a ashlight, batteries, and small tools in a drawer,
organize them in bins so it is easier to nd what you need when you need it. Noth-
ing will have slid to the back of the drawer, and it will be much easier to clean the
drawer or reorganize where you keep things because you need to lift out only one
or two bins rather than seventeen batteries, ve screwdrivers, and thirteen bits.
In addition, if one of the items in that drawer leaks or can mark something, keep
those items in a container to prevent permanent stains in that drawer. Remember,
when you someday go to sell your boat, you want it to look as clean and new as pos-
sible. When prospective buyers open up each drawer to look inside, the last thing
they want to see is the ink from a broken pen soaked into the wood or the sticky
residue from candy with crumbs stuck to it. I see this all the time, and ink stains
are very hard to clean and usually don’t come out completely.
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Interior Cleaning
In the Galley
The galley is the best place to use small storage containers for food items and bak-
ing products. Many boaters keep their our, salt, sugar, and other baking ingredi-
ents, as well as snacks like nuts and chocolate chips, in Ziploc bags. This is a ne
way to store ingredients that would otherwise take up more space in their original
packaging. But keep these lled Ziplocs in an airtight plastic bin or container; they
will stay fresh longer, and if the Ziploc bag hasn’t been zipped all the way or has a
hole in it, the inside of the container will be much easier to clean than the inside of
a storage compartment or hard-to-reach shelf.
Also remember that boat interiors can get damp in the wet, cooler months.
This is another reason why airtight containers are an ideal way to store food items.
In fact, you might even take this a step further and rethink the way you store
spices. Moisture in the air causes spices to clump and lose their avor and fresh
ness. When cleaning galleys, I’m always amazed at the vast number of old spices
stored in a drawer or cabinet. Go through your spice drawer or cabinet and remove
any that are old or clumpy or not used very often. To save space, buy spice blends
rather than the individual spices to make the blend. Keep the spice jars in a tray
or container with low sides so you can remove the whole thing from a drawer or
cabinet and set it on the table for everyone to choose from. Cleaning the tray or
container is much easier than cleaning out spilled spices or spice “crumbs” from a
drawer or a cabinet that is up high and hard to reach.
Keeping toiletries in small containers in the head will greatly decrease the
amount of time it takes to clean shelves and cabinets—especially when you have a
drippy toothpaste tube or a shampoo spill—and will help you keep things clutter-
free. Keep a container with holes in the bottom in the shower with shampoos and
soap. This way, everything is contained, but the water will drain through the holes.
Keep all seasickness remedies in their own container so they are quickly accessible
and guests on your boat can nd them easily. Since toiletries can be messy if they
leak or spill, this is denitely one area where keeping these items in handy contain
ers will make cleanup and organization much easier.
In your house or on your boat, a junk drawer shouldn’t exist, just as the cat
egory of “miscellaneous” shouldn’t exist when organizing items for storage. It’s just
too abstract, and eventually everything ends up in the junk drawer. If you nd that
you don’t have a place for something, you may not need to keep it on the boat, or
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
you may not need it at all. Make the decision right then and there to throw it out or
take it home with you (or give it to your dock neighbors and let them gure it out).
It’s the small random objects collected over time that start to pile up in drawers for
lack of a better place to put them (like the garbage can). They can drive you mad
the day you sell your boat, when it takes you seven hours to remove all of those
miscellaneous items from the far corners of each drawer and clean up after them.
When you can look in each drawer, closet, and cabinet and clearly see exactly
what’s in it, can easily clean that area and quickly remove containers to empty out
your boat, you will feel less “cluttered” and more organized and in control of your
space. Take these organizational tips outside and use them to organize exterior
storage spaces where you keep cleaning products and bottles of oil or other greasy
liquids. This is a good way to prevent spills from dirtying the nonskid or seeping
into the teak decks, and it makes cleanup in that storage compartment much easier
and faster.
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Keeping your boat’s furnishings clean and well maintained adds to your own
enjoyment of the boat and also helps increase or at least keep its value in the long
run. Pay attention to the details of canvas covers and enclosures, curtains and
other interior fabrics, interior and exterior carpet, vinyl seats and cushions, and
plastic windows to keep these materials looking like new. This chapter covers:
Plastic windows
Outdoor deck carpeting
Interior carpet
Vinyl seats and cushions
Interior fabrics
Choosing and Buying Canvas
If you just bought a new boat and you’re planning to purchase canvas covers or
enclosures for it, here are a few things to consider before you buy. Canvas covers
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
and enclosures are expensive, so buy them from a company that will come to your
boat, measure thoroughly, use a test pattern to make sure the nal pieces t, offer
you choices and options, and answer your questions.
If you have not purchased canvas covers and enclosures before, think about
what color will look good on your boat, and still look good when it’s been on your
boat for several years and starts to fade or become dirty. White and light tan will
show the dirt much faster than dark colors, but black isn’t a good option because
it causes heat and humidity to build up inside the enclosed area, which foster the
growth of mildew. Medium shades of blue or green (as opposed to navy or pale blue
and hunter or light green) tend to look newer longer and don’t cause as much heat
You’ll also want to decide what type of system to use to secure the can
vas enclosure to your boat. The two main systems are metal snaps or hooks and
loops. With metal snaps, a female snap is sewn into the canvas and a male snap
is screwed into the berglass. With the hook and loop system, a plastic hook is
screwed into the berglass and an elastic loop is sewn into the canvas every 12
inches or so. The hook and loop system is preferable to metal snaps for the follow
ing reasons. Over time, canvas—originally measured for a tight t—can shrink
slightly from constant wetting and drying in rain and sun. Even slight shrinkage
can make it extremely difcult to snap the canvas back into place after it was
unsnapped. Also, some airow is desirable in the enclosed area. The tighter the
fit of the canvas, the less airflow under it, which eventually causes mildew to
grow because the underside of the canvas stays wet longer. Even a small amount
of airow will help dry the underside of the canvas and deter the growth of mil
dew. Lastly, with the hook and loop system, you can use a deck pole to reach a
loop on the far side of your boat and stretch it over the hook. You can’t do that
with the snap system because you have to apply pressure on the snap in order to
snap it down.
Gear and Supplies
You’ll need a few specic items to clean and protect your canvas from dirt, mildew,
bird droppings, and other stains that can soak in and ruin the look and the protec-
tive properties of the canvas. In addition to a hose, nozzle, and bucket, make sure
you have the following gear and supplies before you get started:
Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
Long-handled deck brush with a soft brush attached
Soft hand brush
Small course scrub brush (looks like a very large toothbrush)
Mildew spray cleaner such as Lysol or Tilex without bleach
Color-safe bleach (available at grocery stores) or Krazy Clean (available at
boat supply stores)
Cleaning Mildew in Canvas
Brand-new canvas can make a boat look new again, but it doesn’t take long for
new canvas to start showing dirt and signs of wear. Although you can’t control the
weather and other external elements that attack your canvas, you can take steps to
keep it clean, protected, and looking good for a long time.
If your canvas tops and covers are new, don’t wait for their corners to turn
green with mildew before you start cleaning them. Now is the time to put them
on a regular maintenance plan just as you should with the exterior of your boat.
Every time you wash your gelcoat with a soft deck brush, use the same brush on
the canvas. You don’t need to use any cleaners other than the soap and water that’s
in your bucket. This will take off the top layer of dirt. If there are several bird drop-
pings in one small area, you can spray them off with the high-pressure setting on
your nozzle. This simple procedure will keep the canvas clean for a long time. If
your boat is moored in a wet climate (and it’s not in a covered slip), it’s especially
important to prevent and treat mildew when it starts to set in. And it will set in—
because mildew loves canvas, or rather the “ecosystem” that canvas creates.
You know the hot, humid air that hits you when you enter a canvas-enclosed
ybridge in the middle of summer. I’ve always thought an enclosed ybridge would
be an ideal place to grow tomatoes. Even in winter, the temperature in an enclosed
ybridge is considerably warmer than the outside temperature, especially on a
sunny day. In this “greenhouse” atmosphere, mildew grows easily and quickly.
You’ll rst start to see a thin layer of it on the underside of the canvas “ceiling.” If
you let it go, you’ll then start to see green mildew sprouting in the interior seams
and rolled edges of the canvas. Finally, you’ll see it growing on the exterior seams
and eventually on the vertical panels. It doesn’t take much to prevent mildew from
taking over the canvas, and if you stay on top of it regularly, you may be able to
prevent it from growing at all.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
The best defense against mildew is
to prevent it with a good mildew spray
cleaner applied every few months. If
you live in a dry climate, mildew may
not be a big issue for you, but if you live
in a climate that is often wet or humid,
fighting mildew on a regular basis
will be necessary in order to maintain
the integrity of the canvas and keep it
looking good. You’ll find a few brands
of mildew spray cleaners at your local
boating store, but these are expensive
and actually don’t work as well as those
you’ll nd at the grocery store. Two of the best mildew spray cleaners are Lysol
and Tilex. Avoid the bottles that say “with bleach” on the front label so you can use
them on colored materials and not have to worry about discoloration. Mold Off
also works well and helps prevent mildew for several months.
Here are a few precautions to take when using mildew spray cleaners. Make
sure to wear rubber gloves. The chemicals in these products are fairly strong and
will irritate your skin on contact. Also, try to work in a well-ventilated area. If you’re
treating mildew inside the ybridge enclosure, open some side panels to get a cross
breeze. If at any time you feel lightheaded or develop a headache, stop and take a
break in fresh air. When you’re working on the underside of the canvas “ceiling,”
some mildew spray drips or mist may oat down on you. Wear a face mask and
sunglasses or safety goggles.
The only other items you’ll need are a soft hand brush, a scrub brush with a
narrow head (looks like a very large toothbrush), and a long pole with a soft deck
brush attached. If mildew is growing on the underside of the canvas top, the easiest
way to remove it is to squirt the mildew spray cleaner on the head of the soft deck
brush attached to the long pole. (Wet the deck brush rst so it can better absorb the
mildew cleaner.) Run the wetted brush over the underside of the canvas, spray
ing more mildew cleaner on the brush every few strokes, until all of the mildew
is gone. You do not need to wipe it dry or do anything further. In fact, leaving a
small amount of the mildew cleaner residue on the canvas will not discolor it and
it will continue treating the mildew for several weeks without you having to do
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Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
The seams and rolled edges of
the canvas often attract mildew faster
because the material around the edges
and zippers is thicker and doesn’t dry
out as fast. Also, mildew often grows
between the seams sewn in the plastic
around the zippered areas. This mildew
can be impossible to remove if it’s not
treated on a regular basis because there
is no way to clean that area with a brush
or spray unless you take out the seam
and restitch it. So, spray the mildew
Bkdanhng lhkcdv nts ne canuar
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
You can try treating the canvas with the steps above, but it may be more benecial
to take the canvas to a commercial cleaner.
Cleaning Dirty Canvas
Over time, canvas that isn’t washed on a regular basis will get dirty, especially
in areas where water runs over the canvas in the same place every time it rains,
or where water pools on the canvas for long periods of time. Before using chemi
cal cleaners and a lot of elbow grease, remove the canvas (such as canvas covers
on vinyl seats or benches or canvas covers on ski boats) and put it in your home
washer and dryer or take it to a laundromat. Wash it in warm (not hot) water, and
set the dryer to low heat to prevent shrinking the canvas. During the wash cycle,
add a small amount of waterproofing solution, which is available at camping
stores. When drying, throw several dryer sheets in with the canvas covers. Dryer
sheets that prevent static cling also help fabric resist water, so rainwater will bead
up slightly on the canvas rather than soak into it.
If it’s not easy or convenient to remove the canvas covers and launder them
in a washer and dryer, you can treat them on the boat with spray cleaners. A mix
of bleach in a bucket of water wiped over the canvas with a soft brush will work
well, but make sure it’s color-safe bleach, even if you have white canvas. I have
seen bleach, and cleaners with bleach in them, discolor white canvas, turning it a
dull yellow. Krazy Clean (available at boat supply stores) is good at removing water
stains from canvas, although a commercial cleaning product might be necessary
for water stains that have been there for a long time. If you’re going to use a spray
cleaner, such as Krazy Clean, Lysol, or Tilex, directly on the canvas, spray it on the
brush and then wipe it on rather than spraying it directly on the canvas. This will
help to prevent yellowing.
If your boat is moored in salt water or you take it out on salt water often, you
know how important it is to wash the salt from the windows and gelcoat on your
boat. It’s just as important to scrub the canvas to remove all salt spray so it doesn’t
get “burned” into the canvas and start breaking down the fabric over time.
Plastic Windows
The material used for the plastic windows (also known as Strataglass or Isenglass)
on dodger or ybridge enclosures is a special type of vinyl called pressed polished
Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
sheets or pressed poly. The material is actually two layers of non-colored vinyl
laminated together under intense pressure and high heat. This process squeezes
out all the impurities and renders the vinyl perfectly clear. Pressed poly is known
by its gauge: 20 gauge is made from two 10-gauge pieces heated together; 40 gauge
is made from two 20-gauge pieces heated together, and so on. Like all vinyl, clear
vinyl contains plasticizers to keep it soft and pliable and UV stabilizers to retard
UV degradation. Over time, if not cared for, clear vinyl can lose its plasticity and
become brittle and yellowed, and eventually crack or become hazy and difcult to
see through. Additionally, the UV protection added in the manufacturing process
breaks down over time, leaving the vinyl with no more UV protection after only a
couple of years.
There are several ways to care for plastic windows from the moment you pur-
chase them new to trying to bring them back if they are lightly scratched and hazy.
This section explains what items you’ll need to clean and protect plastic windows,
along with how to do it step-by-step.
Gear and Supplies
The one item you will need no matter what condition your plastic windows are in
is microber towels. This is the only type of rag soft enough to not leave scratches.
Make sure you remove any tags on the microber rag so they don’t scratch the
clear vinyl. Also, keep the microber rags you use for plastic windows separate
from the rags you use on other areas of the boat or your house. This will prevent
the residue from other cleaners not intended for clear vinyl to get on your plastic
The next item you will need is a cleaner spray. There are many good “plastic
window” cleaner sprays on the market, but, to be safe, you should purchase one
at an auto or boat supply store. You do not want to use a cleaner that contains
chemicals that cause drying or hazing. Windex, although a good product for glass
windows, should never be used on clear vinyl windows. Some good cleaners spe
cically for plastic windows are:
Meguiar’s #17 Mirror Glaze Plastic Cleaner
IMAR Strataglass Protective Cleaner
Plexus Plastic Polish
Mer-maids Plastic Cleaner
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
If your plastic windows are older and scratched, try removing the scratches
before you apply the polish. In the same area of boat supply stores where you’ll
nd plastic window cleaners, you’ll also nd products that remove scratches in
clear vinyl. The products I use most often for this task are 3M Finesse It Finishing
Material or 3M Imperial Compound and Finishing Material. These are light com
pounding agents that don’t contain wax. They are excellent for removing scratches
and swirl marks and, although they are rubbing compounds, they won’t further
scratch your plastic windows.
The last product you’ll want to have on hand is a polish or sealer. Your rst
step (using a cleaner) removed dirt. The second step (using a light compounding
agent) removed scratches. This nal step is where you apply a polish that will help
your clear vinyl to resist scratching, maintain softness and exibility, improve UV
protection, repel water, and create an antistatic nish. Some recommended pol
ishes include:
Meguiar’s #10 Mirror Glaze Clear Plastic Polish
IMAR Strataglass Protective Polish
303 Aerospace Protectant
Cleaning, Scratch Removal, and Polishing
If you have new plastic windows with no scratches, all you’ll need at this point is a
cleaner spray and a polish. If there are light scratches in the plastic windows, use a
scratch remover before polishing them, but you’ll still start with a cleaner as your
rst step. Spritz the cleaner spray all over the plastic windows and then wipe it off
the entire window with a microber rag. If the windows are very dirty or dusty, you
may want to repeat this step to get all of the dirt. It’s best to wipe down the win
dows two times lightly than one time hard to prevent possible scratching. If it’s a
warm day or you’re working in direct sunlight, do smaller sections so the product
doesn’t dry on the plastic before you can wipe it off.
If there are light scratches or hazing in your plastic windows, pour a quarter-
size dab of nishing compound on a microber rag. Rub it into a small section,
preferably in a corner or less noticeable area of the window. Rub it until the liq
uid product starts to dry, then wipe it off with another microber rag. This should
remove light scratches and minimize deeper scratches and hazing. If this step
worked to remove the scratches or hazing, continue working the product into sec-
Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
tions of the plastic windows until you
have covered all areas. If it’s not work
ing, it’s because the scratches are too
deep, the vinyl is too old, or the haz
ing has already done too much damage
and has been on the window for a long
After cleaning the plastic windows
and trying to remove scratches and haz
ing, you are now ready for the nal step
of polishing the clear vinyl to improve
its resistance to dust, dirt, scratching,
hazing, and water spots. Some polishes come in a spray bottle and some are a liq
uid paste that you apply as you would wax. Spray the polish on the plastic window
or pour some onto a microber rag. Work it into the plastic, wiping it on evenly and
covering all areas. If you’ve wiped on a liquid paste polish, take a clean microber
rag and lightly wipe it off. If you sprayed the polish on and wiped it off, you may
want to take another clean microber rag and go over the windows one more time
without adding any polish to make sure you wiped off all of the residue.
It may be difcult to reach the outside of the plastic windows with a micro
ber rag. I sometimes drape a rag over my deck brush to reach these areas. If you
have a very soft deck brush attachment for a long-handled pole, you can use it spar
ingly to wash any hard-to-reach window panels as long as you use plenty of soap
and water and rinse quickly and thoroughly to prevent the soap from drying and
water spots from forming.
If you clean and polish your plastic windows once every month or two, they
will continue to perform as they were intended—a clear protective window at the
helm station, pliable window panels that you can roll up to allow airow through-
out the ybridge, and an enclosure to keep the weather out while cruising or enjoy
ing your boat at the slip.
Outdoor Deck Carpeting
Outdoor deck carpeting on your boat provides a more comfortable area to walk
on with bare feet and for little ones crawling around on the aft deck. It makes your
boat feel more “homey” and gives it a nished look. The best places for deck car
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
pet are on the aft deck (or sundeck), the stairs leading up to the ybridge, and the
cockpit or ybridge itself. I don’t recommend putting carpet on the swim platform
because it will always be wet and you’ll always have to scrub it to remove any mil-
dew. When it’s wet, it can also be slippery, and that’s the last thing you want as
people board your boat.
Types of Outdoor Deck Carpeting
There are two main types of outdoor deck carpet—berber and pile. Berber looks
like small hooks or loops, and pile consists of very close-trimmed bers much like
carpet you might see in an ofce. Outdoor carpet manufactured specically for
marine use is produced from solution-dyed bers enhanced with UV stabilizers to
protect the carpeting from salt water and extreme sun and moisture.
One very important factor about deck carpeting for your boat is that it must
stay in place! You want carpet with a rubber backing, or you’ll want to install snaps
around the edge of the deck and the carpet to snap the carpet into place. From
a cleaning perspective, snapping carpet is the smarter choice simply because if
you don’t take up the carpet occasionally to clean the deck underneath or put it
away for the winter, over time the rubber backing can “melt” into the nonskid and
make a mess when you nally take up the carpet. The backing can also dry out and
become brittle, so when you pull up the carpet, the dried-out rubber cracks into
hundreds of small pieces, making a mess on your nonskid deck.
One type of carpeting not to use on a boat is throw rugs. They are not made
for harsh marine environments and will often bleed or shed on the nonskid when
wet. If left in place for a long time, the nonskid will become discolored where the
rugs were lying. And because they can move around easily, they’re not safe.
If you want to have throw rugs made for high-trafc areas to use when enter-
taining or while docked at the slip, request a few throw carpets to be made by the
company that makes your deck carpet (or look in your local boating yellow pages
for a carpet company). Make sure the throw rugs are backed with rubber so they
have a good grip on top of your deck carpet, but put them away when they’re not in
use so they remain in good condition and the rubber backing doesn’t affect your
main deck carpeting.
If you are going to have work done to your boat, put away the deck carpets and
bring out some rubber work mats or plastic sheeting (available at larger hardware
Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
and variety stores) to protect your nonskid carpets from grease, oil, nicks, and stains
during the work. This is especially important if workers will be in the engine room!
If friends will be on your boat, denitely put the carpeting down. Most non-
boaters don’t always choose the best shoes to wear on a boat, and carpeting allows
someone wearing heels, shoes with poor traction, or shoes with black marking soles
to feel safe and comfortable walking around while still protecting your nonskid.
(This assumes you actually have non-boater friends!) If you have teak decks, you
might put custom deck carpets down when you entertain. Unfortunately, there’s
not much you can do about your guests spilling their red wine or ketchup, except
to keep the carpet cleaner nearby!
Gear and Supplies
Here are a few items you’ll want to have on hand for cleaning carpet stains and
preventing stains from soaking in.
Carpet stain remover, such as Folex or Spot Off
Carpet stain guard, such as 3M Scotchguard
Mildew spray cleaner, such as Lysol or Tilex
Hand scrub brushes
Keeping Carpet Clean
Keeping your outdoor deck carpet in good condition isn’t difcult as long as you’re
proactive about keeping it clean and dry. If someone spills something on it, wipe it
up as quickly as possible. Better yet, spray your carpets with a stain guard to pre
vent stains from soaking in. Keep a carpet cleaner spray and scrub brush nearby to
get a stain out when it happens.
Pull your carpets up in the wet winter months and keep them in dry storage.
This will give them a much longer life than if you keep them on your boat year-
round. Even if your carpeted sundeck is covered or enclosed, wet weather can cause
dampness in an enclosed space (think of your sundeck like a greenhouse) and foster
the growth of mold and mildew. Additionally, if rain drains in such a way as to touch
the edge of the carpets at an entryway to your sundeck, for example, the carpet
edges will rarely have a chance to dry out and will surely turn green with mildew.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
What to do once your tan carpets have turned green? Buy a mildew spray
cleaner and spray it on the carpets and scrub it in with a brush. You can then hose
off that section, provided the carpet will get a chance to dry. If not, simply use a
little less spray, but work it in well and
leave it in the carpet. It will continue
to treat the mildew and prevent it from
coming back.
If you left your boat carpets down
all winter and they’re looking green
and dingy, take advantage of the first
warm days of spring or summer to
give them a thorough wash. Take them
off the boat and lay them on the dock,
then spray them with a carpet cleaner
or mildew spray cleaner (if needed) and
scrub them with a light bristled brush.
Let the cleaner sit for a while, scrub it
again, and then hose it off. Lay the carpets out to dry and then put them back on
the boat for the warmer months.
If your deck carpets are looking dingy and spot cleaning just won’t do the trick,
or you don’t want to spend your free time cleaning your deck carpets, take them to
a carpet cleaning company to do the job for you. However, there will come a time
when even the most professional carpet cleaner won’t be able to revive the softness
and color that once existed—for example, on carpets left on the deck for the past
twelve winters. In that case, it might be time to get new deck carpeting. This is a
good time to switch from a rubber-backed carpet to a snap-on carpet, to choose a
new color, and to start keeping the carpeting as dry and clean as you
Maintaining deck carpets is not the most exciting part of owning a boat, but
boats with clean, dry deck carpets look inviting, and carpets are an easy, inexpen-
sive way to give an older boat a new look.
Interior Carpet
The best way to keep interior carpets clean is to use runners that are easy to remove
and clean. Buying throw rugs or runners with a rubber backing at a variety or car-
pet store is a good solution, but a better solution is to have canvas runners cut to
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Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
match the layout of your boat’s interior and install snaps or hooks to attach them to
the carpet and keep them in place. This type of runner will do a better job of keep-
ing stains from touching any part of the carpet because the runners will have been
measured to t your interior’s carpeted area and therefore will cover almost every
inch of it. There won’t be any sections that aren’t protected, as in the case with two
runners that don’t match up perfectly. And the installed canvas carpet covers will
stay in place better.
If you choose to install canvas carpet covers, have them treated with a stain
guard before they are brought on board. Also, request that the sewn-in loops that
will connect to the hooks in the cabin carpet are slightly elastic. Over time, these
carpet runners shrink when cleaned and dried, and it can be very difcult to reat-
tach them to the hooks in the cabin carpet.
To clean canvas carpet covers, simply remove them from the boat and wash
and dry them at home or in a laundromat as you would the canvas covers used on
the exterior of the boat. Use the warm-water setting on the washer and the low heat
setting on the dryer. Or have a professional cleaning service clean and dry them
If you don’t use this type of interior carpet protection, the best way to keep
your carpets clean is to remove stains as quickly as possible to keep them from set-
ting in and to have your carpets professionally cleaned at the end of each boating
season. You can use a store-bought carpet cleaner spray, but sometimes making
your own from natural products, either on their own or used with a store-bought
cleaner, will do a better job of removing stains and will certainly be less expensive.
A commercial carpet cleaner in my area (D. A. Burns, in Seattle) provided me with
the following list of cleaning solutions to use on specic carpet stains. For each
stain listed, one or more of these solutions may be required, together with some
white absorbent towels or rags, to remove most or all of the stain.
Cleaning Solutions (Ingredients or Products)
Detergent solution.
Carpet cleaner like Spot Off or Folex, or mix your own:
1 teaspoon clear, mild liquid dishwashing detergent and 1 cup lukewarm
Ammonia solution.
Mix 1 tablespoon household ammonia with ½ cup
warm water. (Use less ammonia for wool carpet.)
Vinegar solution.
cup white household vinegar with
cup water.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Enzyme detergent.
Commercial enzyme detergent like Nature’s Miracle.
Dry-cleaning solvent.
Commercial volatile dry spotter like Energine or
Spot Off.
Recommended Procedures
Test the solution on a small, inconspicuous area, then tackle the stain
by working from the outer edge towards the center; blot, don’t rub.
The nal spot-removal step is always to gently rinse the area with water,
then soak up all the remaining moisture with absorbent towels.
When nished, place a half-inch pad of white absorbent paper towels
over the affected area and weight it down with a at, heavy object.
Change the absorbent pad until the spilled substance or residue is no
longer visible on the pad.
Cleaning Solutions
Detergent, ammonia, enzyme
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar, enzyme
Coffee or tea
Detergent, vinegar, enzyme
Dry cleaning, detergent, vinegar
Fruit juice
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar, enzyme
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar, enzyme
Dry cleaning, detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Dry cleaning, detergent
Ice cream
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Dry cleaning, detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar, enzyme
Nail polish
Dry cleaning, detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Oil or tar
Dry cleaning, detergent
Paint (oil base)
Dry cleaning, detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Paint (water base)
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar, dry cleaning
Shoe polish
Dry cleaning, detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Soft drinks
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Tomato sauce or ketchup
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar, enzyme
Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Enzyme, ammonia, vinegar
Dry cleaning, detergent, heat gun
Detergent, ammonia, vinegar
Vinyl Seats and Cushions
Vinyl seats and cushions are fairly easy to keep clean if you keep them dry. Vinyl is
smooth and therefore easy to clean with a multipurpose spray cleaner, but because
vinyl is technically a fabric, it can absorb water and, if not allowed to dry out, can
foster the growth of mildew. Left untreated, the mildew is difcult to remove. If you
don’t plan on treating the mildew in your vinyl cushions, simply buy pink cushions
to begin with and you won’t even notice the mildew. That’s because mildew that’s
been left on vinyl for a long time will eventually turn the vinyl pink. But more on
this later.
Gear and Supplies
The following items will help remove stains and prevent stains or other elements
(UV rays, salt water) from causing additional wear and tear.
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser cleaning pads
Mildew spray cleaner, such as Lysol or Tilex
Multipurpose cleaner, such as Inflatable Boat Cleaner, Black Streak
Remover, or Krazy Clean (all are available at boat supply stores)
303 Aerospace Protectant
Microber rags
Removing Bird and Spider Stains
Bird droppings are acidic and high in nitrogen in the form of ammonia, a molecule
formed from nitrogen and hydrogen. When the droppings dry out, the product
produced is a salt—a chemical compound that forms when a base, in this case
ammonia, reacts with an acid. Over time, the salt causes metal to rust and gelcoat
or fabric to become etched or develop pinholes. This alone is an excellent reason
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
to wax your boat so the bird droppings sit on top of the wax. Likewise, it’s an excel-
lent reason to clean the vinyl seating on your boat to keep the vinyl from breaking
down over time.
If birds use your exterior vinyl seats for target practice and spiders use your
interior vinyl seats as their own personal restroom (spider droppings look like small
black dots), your vinyl probably needs to be restored to its white state, then heavily
protected to prevent future stains. Once these stains have had a chance to “soak”
into vinyl, they can be difcult to remove with just a spray cleaner and a
You’ll want to purchase two items for this task. The rst is a Mr. Clean Magic
Eraser pad (Extra Power), which you can buy at most grocery or variety stores. Buy
the ones that are white, not blue and white, because it’s the white side that you’ll be
using on the vinyl. The other product you’ll need is either Inatable Boat Cleaner
or Black Streak Remover, available at boating supply stores. Once you have these
items, along with rubber gloves and a microber rag, you are ready to begin.
Spray the cleaner (Inatable Boat Cleaner or Black Streak Remover) over the
vinyl, then take the magic pad and lightly wipe it over the areas you’ve sprayed. If
there is a stain (ink, bird, or spider droppings, drink stains, et cetera), use a light
amount of pressure over that particular area. This should remove all stains and
“graying” from dirt and grime and make your vinyl white again.
Once you’ve used the magic pad to clean the vinyl, it’s now time to protect it
again since the magic pads contain a light abrasive agent and will have removed
any protectant you originally had on them. Spray on the 303 Aerospace Protectant
and wipe it in with a microber rag. Your white vinyl seats and cushions should
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Canvas, Carpet, Vinyl, and Plastic Windows
shine again like new, and future stains will sit on top of the protectant and be eas-
ier to clean off rather than soaking into the vinyl fabric over time.
Removing Mildew
And now back to that pink vinyl. There are ways to prevent this from ever happen-
ing to your vinyl, and it all relates to keeping your exterior seat cushions dry. If they
are removable, bring them inside the boat or your garage for dry storage through
the wet months. If they are not removable, protect them with a canvas or plastic
cover. Make sure there is a small amount of breathing space so air can get through
or under the cover; otherwise, the cushions won’t dry out if they get damp or moist
from windy and rainy weather.
If there is mildew on your vinyl, whether it is black or green, spray one side of
the cushion with mildew spray and use a soft hand brush or light scrub brush to
work the mildew out of the vinyl “grain.” The scrub brush is ideal for getting mil
dew out of rolled edges and seams. Either hose off or wipe off the mildew cleaner
and let that surface dry. Turn the cushion over and spritz it with mildew cleaner
spray as well. You can wipe it off with a rag or just let it soak in to prevent future
mildew growth. When nished, let the cushions dry completely. Then use the 303
Aerospace Protectant to further protect the vinyl from UV rays and stains.
The best way to prevent stains on your vinyl seats and cushions is to protect
the vinyl material. Conditioner won’t soak in to vinyl the way it soaks in to leather.
But you can keep vinyl from drying out or breaking down over time from con
stant contact with UV rays. A product called 303 Aerospace Protectant, available at
boating supply stores, is similar to ArmorAll, used on car interiors, but is made for
marine conditions and contains slightly stronger UV protectants. Spray the pro
tectant over the vinyl, being sure to cover all sides and edges, and rub it in with a
microber rag. This will make your vinyl seats shine, protect them from UV rays,
and make them more stain resistant. Spray them with this product once a month
to keep them in good condition.
Interior Fabrics
When shopping for interior fabrics such as curtains, bedding, towels, and throw
rugs or carpet runners, make sure they are easy to attach and reconnect (curtains)
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
and can be easily removed (duvet covers or carpet runners) so you can wash and
dry them as needed.
Curtains can be vacuumed in between washes to remove dust. Duvet covers
are better than comforters because they’re easier to remove, wash, and dry. Throw
rugs and carpet runners can easily be vacuumed or taken up and washed at home
or by a rug cleaning service. If you don’t use your boat during cold, wet, or winter
months, you should remove as many of these interior fabrics as you can, wash and
dry them, and store them in a dry place until spring.
Fabric seat cushion covers should be removed and run through a washer and
dryer. If the covers aren’t removable but the cushions aren’t very large or thick, you
can put the entire cushion in a washer and dryer. Otherwise, you can take them to
a commercial fabric cleaner, who can also treat the cushions with a stain guard to
prevent future stains from soaking in as easily.
If you have vinyl headboards or wall panels, take a multipurpose cleaner and
a Mr. Clean magic pad, spray the stain with the cleaner, and lightly wipe the stain
away with the magic pad.
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As recreational boaters, we enjoy watching nature take place around us, whether
we’re simply sitting on our boat in its slip at the marina or cruising on fresh or
salt water. I always enjoy watching blue herons stealthily hunt for sh or seals and
otters stick their heads out of the water to see what’s going on in our world.
I often wonder just how clean our waterways are for these creatures—the
mammals, the water fowl, and the sh—and what we can do to prevent adding
more pollution to their environment. This chapter covers:
Dening “biodegradable”
And the award for “best cleaner” goes to . . .
Cleaning with baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide
Other useful household cleaners
Handy quick guide to natural cleaning products
But the Boat Soap Says
Biodegradable . . .
Most of the boat cleaning and washing products you’ll find at boating supply
stores are marked “biodegradable.” This simply means that these products can
be decomposed by biological agents in the water, such as bacteria. A biodegrad
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
able product like boat soap eventually “breaks down” in the water, as opposed to
remaining in its current form, such as oil. However, biodegradable products can
still kill or sicken waterfowl and sh. This is because most soaps and other clean
ing agents contain phosphates.
Phosphates encourage plant growth by enabling plant leaves to make food.
While small amounts of phosphates are good for the environment, large amounts
are harmful. Phosphates biodegrade slowly and their effects are felt for a long time.
Phosphates increase the acidity of the water and speed up the growth of algae,
which blocks light and chokes water ow, making it difcult for other living organ-
isms (plants and sh) to exist in that environment. In essence, phosphates slowly
suffocate the creatures living in that area. Algae rob other plants of the nourish
ment they need to survive, and decaying plant material uses up the available oxy-
gen in the water when these plants die.
When you purchase boat soap or any type of surfactant (a surface activat
ing agent), make sure it contains little or no phosphates. Any boat soap or cleaner
that does not contain phosphates will most likely tout that on the label, so it will
be easy to nd the phosphate-free cleaners among all the others. One type of soap
that should never be used to wash your boat is liquid dish soap. Although many
brands are biodegradable, they are high in phosphates, which is what produces
all of the suds that we associate with a “hardworking” soap. The biodegradable or
low-phosphate soaps that you’ll nd at boat supply stores will still do a good job
of getting your boat clean while having less negative impact on local waterways.
Liquid dish soap is also fairly drying and can strip wax over time.
And the Award for Best Cleaner
Goes To . . .
Wax. The liquid and paste waxes available at boating supply stores aren’t neces
sarily considered natural products (although brands like Zymol and waxes that are
made mostly of carnauba are more natural), but wax is one of the best “cleaners”
you can use on your boat for the sole reason that it stays on the boat! It doesn’t get
washed or rinsed off only to end up in the water, yet it’s a very versatile cleaner.
(Yes, wax dust ends up in the air when you buff it off the boat, but those small par-
ticles are spread over a greater area and become more “diluted” than the amount
of boat soap that is washed into the water.)
Natural Cleaning Products
Some good uses for wax as a cleaner include:
Cleaning water stains from
Polishing and protecting
chrome rails
Removing rust from stainless
and other metals
Removing shoe scuff marks
from gelcoat
Removing stains left on gelcoat
from bird and spider droppings
Removing water spots from
exterior windows
Removing marks made by lines
rubbing across gelcoat
Look for a cleaner wax (liquid as
opposed to paste, such as Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax or SeaPower) because it contains
a light-grade rubbing compound and will remove more types of marks and stains
than a soft wax that contains no rubbing compound.
If It’s Good for Cookies . . .
A few ingredients in your kitchen or galley also work well as cleaning products
or as a component of natural cleaning products. These ingredients are much less
expensive than chemical cleaners, are healthier for your respiratory system and
the environment, and help save room in boat storage compartments. Keep one
large box of baking soda and a bottle of vinegar in a cupboard instead of several
spray bottles of chemical cleaners.
Baking Soda
Baking soda is one of the most widely used natural cleaning products available.
Baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda, as it is also known) is a naturally occurring
material, present in most organic life forms. It can be “made” from sodium car
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
bonate, or soda ash. When soda ash is dissolved in a carbon-dioxide-rich solution,
sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) precipitates out. It’s versatile and inexpensive,
has no toxic scent or ingredients, can be used as a dry powder or liquid paste, and
can be found at all grocery and household variety stores. To make a paste from
baking soda, simply mix it with water until you have the desired thickness for its
purpose. Here are a few ways to use baking soda on your boat:
Scrub dirt out of the nonskid “pockets”
Soak up oil or grease stains on the nonskid and teak decks (powder form)
Polish stainless steel
Remove rust on metal deck hardware
Clean stains on vinyl (paste form)
Freshen fridges, freezers, cupboards, and heads (powder form)
Remove tarnish from silver that has been in contact with aluminum foil
(powder dissolved in warm water)
Put out small res (powder form)
Don’t use baking soda, either in powder
or paste form, to remove stains from smooth
gelcoat. Baking soda acts as a light abrasive
and it will remove not only the stain but the
wax on your gelcoat. If you do use baking soda
to remove a stain on smooth gelcoat, follow it
up with wax in that area. (Or just use cleaner
wax to remove the stain and you won’t have
to follow up with anything.) Also, do not use
baking soda to clean aluminum objects; it
attacks the thin nonreactive protective oxide
layer of this otherwise very reactive metal.
White household vinegar is a weak form of acetic acid that forms through the
fermentation of sugars or starches. It is completely edible and cannot harm your
stomach. And luckily for us, it can be used to clean many things. Although it has a
pungent odor, vinegar has so many uses that you should have at least a few bottles
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Natural Cleaning Products
of it on your boat at all times. Try some of these tips with vinegar and a few other
natural household ingredients:
For spills on carpet, use a sponge or cloth to soak up as much liquid as
possible. Then spray the area with a mixture of half vinegar, half water.
Let stand for about two minutes, then blot with a towel or sponge. Repeat
as needed. For more persistent stains, use a mixture of 1 teaspoon vinegar,
1 teaspoon liquid dish soap, and 1 cup warm water. Proceed as suggested
above. Then dry the spot with a hair dryer set on low.
To clean windows, spray with half vinegar, half water. Wipe clean with
newspapers or a cloth.
To clean silver, pewter, copper, or brass, dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in 1 cup
vinegar. Add our to make a paste (you should have ¼ cup or more). Apply
the paste to the metal item, and let stand for at least 15 minutes. Rinse with
warm water and polish with a soft cloth.
To clean wood paneling, use a mixture of 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup vinegar,
and 2 cups warm water. Apply to paneling with a soft cloth. Dry with a
clean cloth.
To remove corrosion or chemical buildup from showerheads, soak in vin
egar overnight.
Remove stains from a toilet bowl by spraying with vinegar. To remove cal-
cium scale inside marine toilets and discharge hoses, which can cause
the toilet to get progressively harder to ush and eventually lead to total
blockage, pour 1 pint (2 cups) white vinegar into the bowl once a month
and pump it slowly (a single stroke every four to ve minutes) through the
toilet. The mildly acidic vinegar dissolves fresh scale deposits.
To remove soap buildup from faucets, clean with a mixture of one part salt
to four parts vinegar.
Spray shower walls and shower curtains with mixture of vinegar and water
to help prevent mildew.
To clean wooden cutting boards, wipe with vinegar.
Polish tarnished brass with 1 tablespoon each flour, salt, and vinegar.
Apply the paste with a clean, damp rag, and rub off the tarnish. Wipe off
the residue with a dry rag.
Remove hard water stains by spraying them with vinegar (simply pour
some into a spray bottle) and rinse with fresh water.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Cleaning with Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is odorless and colorless, but not tasteless. Cleaning with
hydrogen peroxide—also referred to as H
—is one of the easiest ways to make
sure that you provide a safer, cleaner space, with lower bacteria levels, but with
out the risk of the toxicity that is sometimes associated with commercial chemical
spray cleaners.
Clean appliances, countertops, and the inside of the refrigerator with
hydrogen peroxide. It not only cleans and shines everything, it kills germs.
While you’re at it, pour a drop of peroxide right onto your cutting board to
destroy bacteria, like salmonella.
Make your dishes sparkle and disinfect the dishwasher at the same time.
Pour a capful of peroxide in the pre-wash compartment, ll the compart
ment with dishwashing detergent, and run the cycle. While that’s clean
ing, give your plants a lift by adding 1 tablespoon peroxide to their water.
Forget harsh chemicals like bleach to brighten your whites. Add a capful
(no more) of peroxide to your washer along with your soap. Don’t overdo it,
though, because peroxide is acidic and could harm delicate fabric.
Keep a spray bottle of peroxide in the bathroom. Mix a solution of 50 per
cent peroxide to 50 percent water. Spray down the shower when you’re n-
ished bathing to prevent mold and mildew from forming.
Pour 1 cup hydrogen peroxide in the toilet and let it sit overnight. Scrub the
toilet in the morning, and the bowl will be super clean.
Remove bloodstains from clothing, upholstery, and carpet with peroxide.
Pour a dab directly on the spot and let it soak for one minute. Promptly
rinse with warm water and blot dry with a clean cloth. Repeat as necessary.
The peroxide works as an oxidizer to lift stains.
Other Useful Household Cleaners
If you need a light abrasive cleaner or paste cleaner to use on specic areas of the
boat, mix baking soda, salt, sugar, or cornstarch with water. Use a sliced lemon
dipped in salt to clean brass, then wipe it off with a clean, dry rag. Remove new rust
stains on berglass with a mixture of cola and salt, then rinse with clean water.
Natural Cleaning Products
Remember, ammonia can etch aluminum and make Plexiglas or Lexan look
cloudy. When using it, avoid letting it touch those materials, and rinse the area
where you’re working with fresh water often.
Alternatives to Mildew-Cleaning Spray
These products can contain bleach; sodium hypochlorite, a bleaching and disin
fecting agent that is corrosive and can burn the skin and eyes; and formaldehyde,
a highly toxic chemical and known carcinogen. For mold and mildew removal, mix
2 teaspoons tea tree oil (available at health food stores) in 2 cups water and keep in
a spray bottle. Spray onto mold or mildew. Don’t rinse. The strong smell fades in a
couple of days. This solution also removes musty odors from fabrics such as cush-
ions and curtains. Spray the fabric thoroughly so that it’s wet, then let it air-dry for
a few days until the fragrance of the tea tree oil subsides. For mold and mildew on
non-porous washable surfaces, try vinegar or a solution of borax and water.
If You Need Something Stronger than
If you have a stain that won’t go away after trying the more natural products, use a
stronger chemical cleaning product (like what you would buy in the cleaning aisle
of a supermarket). But instead of hosing
the product off the boat, take an absor
bent rag and wipe it off or soak it up.
Examples of “stronger” cleaning prod
ucts are Lysol Mildew Remover, Black
Streak Remover, adhesive remover, and
cleaners that contain mostly chemicals,
acids, or bleach. Read the back of the
bottle to see what the product contains.
Remember, just because it says “biode
gradable” doesn’t mean it is good for
waterways. It can still kill wildlife and
plant life.
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Handy Quick Guide to Natural Cleaning Products
Stain or Use
Solution—Main Ingredient
Blood and other proteins
Boat soap
Vinegar and salt
Carpet stains
Clothes—brighten in wash
Vinegar and salt
Baking soda
Dishes, dishwasher
Germ killer
Grease stains
Baking soda
Hard-water stains
Metal corrosion
Mildew prevention
Vinegar or peroxide
Vinegar and salt
Room odors
Rust on metal
Cleaner wax or baking soda
Scuff marks on gelcoat
Cleaner wax
Vinegar and salt
Soap buildup
Tarnish on silver
Baking soda
Toilet bowl stains
Water stains, streaks, and spots
Cleaner wax
Windows (glass only)
Wine stains
Wood cutting board
Vinegar or peroxide
Wood paneling
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Summer has arrived and you’re taking your family on a three-week cruise up and
down the coast or maybe to some islands nearby. You’ve stocked the boat with
everyone’s favorite food and beverages, fun movies to watch in the evenings, and
the new electronics you bought yourself last Christmas, nally having a chance to
use them all. But did you remember to pack a boat cleaning kit with the items you’ll
need along the way to keep your boat clean and protected from the elements? It
takes just a few minutes while you’re under way or once you’ve docked to keep your
boat clean in all the right places so it doesn’t become too big a chore once you’re
back at your home slip.
This chapter discusses:
The importance of cleaning while cruising
Exterior cleaning—gear, supplies, and techniques
Interior cleaning—gear, supplies, and techniques
The Importance of Cleaning While Cruising
When you’re out cruising on salt water, your boat is getting hit with all of the ele
ments that can be thrown at it, and often all at once. Water, salt, UV rays, dirt par-
ticles in the air, pollution (in the form of dirty or acid rain), bird droppings, and
maybe even sh blood (if you’re so lucky). Consider that if you’re on a two- to three-
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
week cruise, your boat will be exposed to these elements every day and, if they’re
not properly removed, they will wreak havoc on your gelcoat and windows to the
point that the gelcoat will start looking faded and window cleaner will no longer
get your windows clean and free of water spots.
Consider also that as you and your family spend more time on your boat, every
time you brush up against the side of the house structure or roll up a plastic win
dow panel, you’re causing the dirt and salt particles to lightly scratch those areas.
Salt spray does the most damage to nishes and materials on a boat. Imagine that
you’ve just pulled into port and secured your boat in its slip. There is a light lm of
salt spray all over your boat—on the hull, the decks and abovedeck structures and
the windows, and even in the nonskid. The sun’s rays shining through each droplet
of salt as if it were a small mirror will cause the salt to burn or etch whatever it’s
sitting on. You’ll see the damage of salt spray on darker-colored materials quite
easily—for example, on a dark-colored hull or tinted windows. The damage done
by salt spray still occurs on light-colored materials or clear windows, and although
it won’t be as obvious, it still needs to be removed.
If you’ve been cruising on fresh water, you won’t have to worry about salt spray
on your boat, but the dirt particles in the air and other types of stains and marks
will still affect the cosmetic appearance and protective nature of the gelcoat. Once
you’ve arrived in your slip, you’ll probably want to head out and go sightseeing or
join up with your friends, but take a few minutes to clean your boat so that none of
the elements that landed on it do any actual damage. You’ll have less of a headache
later and hopefully be able to prevent salt spray or water spots from becoming per-
manent additions to your glass and plastic windows.
Exterior Cleaning
You probably already have most of what you’ll need to clean your boat stored in
a lazarette. The most obvious items are a hose, nozzle, boat soap, and a soft deck
brush. Make sure you also have the following:
Large pack of microber rags
Squeegee, preferably a California Water Blade
Mr. Clean magic pads
Cleaner wax like Meguiar’s or SeaPower
Cleaning While Cruising
Soft hand brush and small
scrub brush
Plastic window cleaner like
Mer-maids Plastic Cleaner or
Meguiar’s #17 Mirror Glaze
Plastic Cleaner
You cannot just hose down your
boat and call it good, unfortunately.
Salt cannot be hosed off because all
you’ve done is simply hosed off the salt
crystal. There will still be salt residue
on your gelcoat or windows, and the
only way to remove that is to wash it off
with soap and a soft brush. If your boat
has been recently waxed or still has a
good coat of wax on it, the salt will be
easier to wash off, and this chore will go
much faster because it will take only one pass with the soft deck brush and some
soap and water to remove it.
Keep all of your washing gear together where it is quickly and easily acces
sible so that once you’ve docked, you can grab it from one place and get to work.
If you have a mate to help you, one of you can operate the hose and one can work
the deck brush. Spray the boat thoroughly to remove most of the salt crystals, bird
droppings, and sand or dirt that has been tracked on the boat, then follow up with
the soft deck brush and soapy water. Work from the top down so everything drains
down and off.
If you’ve tracked sand on the boat, spend a few extra minutes hosing it off the
boat (as well as hosing off the two- and four-legged creatures that brought it on the
boat). Sand is an abrasive that can scratch gelcoat. It can also slowly clog drains, so
spray the hose in all of your drains to make sure they’re not clogged.
When you are finished washing the boat, squeegee as many areas as you
can to prevent any water spotting, especially if the boat is sitting in direct sun
light. Squeegee the windows as well, because that will help you prepare for the
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
If you’ve been cruising on salt water, spend the majority of your time get
ting the windows (whether glass, Lexan, or plastic) completely clean. You’ll want
to make sure you’ve removed all the salt crystals from them so they don’t leave
permanent spots. Even if you’ve washed down the windows with soap and water
when you washed the boat, they may still have a salt residue. Take a good look at
them after rinsing them several times to make sure they are salt-free.
If they’re not, grab some plastic window cleaner (even for the glass windows)
and several clean, dry microber rags. Spray the plastic window cleaner generously
on each window, then wipe it down with a microber rag. On your second pass,
spray the window again but with only a few light squirts of window cleaner. Take
another microber rag (not the one you just used because it now has salt residue on
it and will only put the salt back on the window you’re trying to clean) and wipe the
window again. Now look at the window from all angles. Your dock neighbors will
think you’re either obsessed or blind, but this is the only way to completely remove
all of the salt residue from the windows. If left on, the residue will cause permanent
spotting on the windows, which will no longer come off with just a spray cleaner
and rag.
Naturally, if you’ve been cruising with friends or family for long periods of
time, there are bound to be stains and marks on the gelcoat and nonskid. The
best way to quickly clean nonskid is
to wipe it with a dampened Mr. Clean
Magic pad. For grease stains, you can
spritz them with a degreaser cleaner
spray, wipe the magic pad over that sec
tion, then wipe it with a rag. To remove
scuff marks or other stains and marks
from smooth gelcoat, use a microber
rag to apply a small amount of cleaner
wax to the area. Let it dry to a haze and
then wipe off. Cleaner wax is an excel
lent “cleaner” to use all over your boat
because it quickly and easily removes
stains or marks on most surfaces,
including plastics, glass, and stainless
steel and other metals.
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Cleaning While Cruising
Interior Cleaning
The four main items you should have on hand for quick interior cleaning are:
Vacuum that is easy to store and quick and easy to use
Microber rags
Multipurpose spray cleaner
Tub of disinfecting wipes like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
Carpet spot remover like Folex
Once a day, vacuum all surfaces to remove crumbs on cushions or counters,
oor dirt, hair in the shower or around the toilet, and dog hair. Keeping on top of
vacuuming crumbs and dirt as you go along will make a huge difference in how
long it takes to do a nal cleaning once you’re back from your cruise. And daily vac
uuming should keep you from swimming in dog hair. If you have berber or short-
pile carpets and the vacuum doesn’t remove most of the dog hair, try lifting it with
a wide strip of tape (painter’s tape or packing tape). This is one of the best ways to
thoroughly remove dog hair from carpet. Or . . . brown dog? Buy brown runners.
It’s best to choose a multipurpose spray cleaner that can be used on all sur
faces, like mirrors, granite, veneer, stainless, or plastic. I prefer SprayWay because
I’ve never found it to streak or leave a haze on any surface. You can nd this prod-
uct in the window cleaning section of grocery or variety stores. Keeping a product
like this on board allows you to quickly spray and wipe any surface without having
to store several different cleaning products or carry around several products as
you go about the boat wiping down surfaces.
Disinfecting wipes are useful for cleaning the toilet and surrounding areas, as
well as kitchen counters and handles that are often touched by everyone. They’re
a good way to keep heavily used areas clean and germ-free.
Remove stains on carpets as quickly as you can with a carpet spot remover
and a small scrub brush or even an old toothbrush. This will keep the stains from
permanently setting in. After cleaning these spots, put down an old washcloth or
paper towels to soak up any excess cleaner so the spots dry faster and people or
pets don’t walk on them while they’re drying.
In fact, you may want to purchase carpet runners just for the trip you’re plan-
ning to take. These will greatly improve the chances that you won’t come back with
badly stained carpeting that requires the services of a professional carpet cleaner.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
When your your trip is over, the runners can easily be cleaned and stored for your
next cruise.
Spot cleaning while cruising is the best way to keep on top of stains, marks,
and spots that, if left alone, could create a lot more work for you when you return
from your cruise. Water spots that are left to sit on windows eventually etch into
the glass or plastic and will be much more difcult to remove in the future, if you’re
able to remove them at all. If you’re cruising with friends and family, assign every-
one on board a task for them to take care of. Make sure each activity above gets
done once each day. Unfortunately, until someone comes up with microber dog
slippers and tail swishers, your four-legged skipper, who probably makes the big
gest mess of all, won’t be able to join in and ease your cleaning load.
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Washing, waxing, and detailing your boat can be a big job, whether your boat is
30 feet or 60 feet long. Aside from taking a lot of time to keep your boat in good
condition, it also takes energy, exibility, balance, skill, and physical exertion. If
you don’t have the time and/or physical ability to do it all yourself, consider hiring
a boat cleaner/detailer to do the work for you, especially if it means that the work
won’t get done otherwise.
Taking care of light maintenance issues now, no matter who does the work,
can save a lot of headaches later. If, every time you set foot on your boat, washing
or cleaning it takes away from the time you actually spend using and enjoying your
boat, hiring a detailer can be liberating. Imagine being able to dock your boat on
a Sunday evening after a weekend of cruising and head straight home instead of
spending an hour or two washing down the boat and vacuuming the potato chip
crumbs off the carpet. When you’ve had too much wine, and “red, right, return”
has tapped out your mental abilities, it’s a lot easier to dial your detailer than do
the cleaning yourself.
Here are some tips on how to nd and hire a good detailer and what you can
expect them to do. This chapter includes information on:
Where to nd a detailer and what to look for
Cost of hiring a detailer
Working with a detailer
What to do if the detailer missed something
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Where to Find a Detailer and
What to Look For
You’ll recognize good detailers when you see them, bundled up in their winter rain
gear, washing boats in 35-degree weather while dealing with frozen hoses and
runny noses. These are not the fair-weathered detailers who swoop in from June to
September to see what work they can drum up for the summer, but rather the year-
round, dedicated detailers who have
most likely been at it for a long time and
are still at it (even in winter) because
they love their work.
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Hiring a Detailer
marina, or favorite boat supply store. Decide to call three to ve detailers and ask
each of them the same questions, including what is their experience, what prod
ucts do they use, what is their process for washing or waxing a boat, and what are
their rates. It will be easy for you to decide who to choose because, out of ve calls,
most likely only one or two will call you back!
The Cost of Hiring a Detailer
As for rates and prices, there are really no set prices in the detailing industry. You
can negotiate, but don’t think this is a service you can get at a rock-bottom rate. A
good detailer will spend a lot of time and physical exertion and use quality prod
ucts on your boat. These are worth paying for if you can’t or don’t want to do the
work yourself.
Some detailers charge by the hour and some charge by the foot. If they charge
by the foot, you’ll know up front exactly what the total cost will be. If they charge
by the hour, at least ask them to give you an estimate of how long they think the job
will take and let you know ahead of time if they expect to exceed that time. If they
do exceed the original number of hours, ask them to give you an updated estimate
and explain why it’s taking longer. They may have run into a few problem areas you
should know about or they may have underestimated the job when they rst gave
you the quote.
If they severely underestimated the job, you might question them as to why
they didn’t fully realize the scope of the project in the beginning. For example, if
you hired a detailer to wax and buff your heavily oxidized boat and they gave you
a “sounds too good to be true” quote, they either low-balled the quote to beat out
any other bids or they may not have enough experience to know that heavy oxida-
tion often requires a two-step process, which takes longer, uses more product, and
requires a skilled hand at bufng.
In trying to negotiate a fair rate or a price that ts your budget, consider two
things: (1) Try to do some of the work yourself and (2) decide what’s most impor
tant to you. For example, you might be able to save a few dollars if you wash the
boat yourself so that the detailer has to only wax and buff it. Or, if you feel you have
the time and energy to wax and buff the decks and abovedeck structures (usually
the easier part of the boat to reach and work on), hire them to wax and buff only the
hull. Regarding what is most important to you, is your goal a well-protected boat
or a cosmetically perfect nish? In the case of having your boat waxed, if you’re
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
mostly concerned with simply protecting the gelcoat with a good layer of wax, a
one-step wax process is all you need. If you are determined to bring back the show
room shine and the gelcoat is heavily oxidized, prepare to pay for a two-step wax
process, which is often double the rate of a one-step process.
Finally, ask the detailer if there are any additional charges in their rate.
Depending on your state, some detailers must charge sales tax because their ser
vices are considered “retail sales.” However, some might also charge for supplies,
special equipment, gear specically used for your boat, mileage or other trans
portation, and labor fees. Have them itemize and explain any additional charges
before they start the work.
Working with a Detailer
Communication is key! The rst thing you should do when you meet with your new
detailer is communicate to them exactly what you want them to do and what your
expectations are.
For example, if you hire a detailer to wash your boat, are you expecting them
to clean out the hatches, polish the chrome, wipe down the ybridge, and clean
the canvas covers, or simply wash the gelcoat and nonskid? Does washing the
boat include the dinghy? The detailer might consider “washing a boat” as washing
the structure and nonskid of the boat, whereas you might consider that service
to include everything on the outside of
the boat. Tell the detailer exactly what
you expect to be included with the ser
vice so there are no surprises for either
of you, both in the quality of the work
and the nal bill.
Defining terminology is also
important. When I’m describing my
services to a new customer, I divide the
general term of “boat cleaning” into
four categories. This way, they’ll know
exactly what my services include and
I’ll know exactly what they’re expect
ing. For example:
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Hiring a Detailer
Washing—the boat’s structure, nonskid, and ybridge or helm area
Detailing—cleaning or washing the Isenglass, polishing chrome rails,
cleaning and brightening vinyl, cleaning out hatches, and cleaning
Waxing—waxing and buffing the boat by hand or with a power buffer,
using rubbing compound if needed
Interior cleaning—inside the boat
Here are few more tips about working with a detailer.
Be realistic about what a detailer can and can’t do for you. Heavily oxidized
boat? Hire a detailer. Repair hairline cracks? No amount of wax or rub
bing compound will buff these away. You’ll need to hire a berglass repair
Don’t expect a 25-year-old boat or a boat that hasn’t been washed or waxed
in a long time (a couple of years or more) to look brand new again with a
simple one-time wash and wax. It can certainly look good again, but it may
require a few wax jobs to really bring out the gloss of the gelcoat, and it will
denitely need to be put on a regular maintenance program.
If you’re uncertain about the products a detailer is using, request that they
use specic products or provide them with the products you want them to
Ask the detailer if they work alone or have a crew. If they have a crew that
does most of the work, ask the detailer how often they check on their crew
during the cleaning process. As I’ve always said, a worker won’t care as
much about the job as the business owner has to. Make sure the com
pany owner or manager is on the job at some point for quality-control
What to Do If the Detailer Missed Something
If your detailer missed something the rst time around, simply ask if they would
come back to take care of that area. Most detailers are looking for specic problem
areas or stains when cleaning a boat for the rst time, as well as simply getting
to know your boat and all of its nooks and crannies. If you see an area or a stain
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
they missed, they didn’t necessarily do a bad job; more possibly they overlooked it
because they were focused on other details. Work with them so they gain a better
understanding of your requirements and expectations, and over time you’ll have
a detailer you can count on who knows your boat inside and out, as well as your
If you ask the detailer to go back and work on an area you thought they missed,
but they either refuse or tell you they’ll have to charge you extra for cleaning a cer-
tain area twice, go back to that area with them and have them show you how they
cleaned it originally. If they really did miss that spot and they clean the area while
you’re looking on, it will instantly look cleaner and it will be obvious if they missed
it the rst time around even if they said they didn’t. If they clean it in front of you
and the stain or dirt doesn’t go away, removing the stain might require a stronger
cleaner (for example, wax rather than soap). If you hired someone to wash your
boat and there are many marks or stains that didn’t come off with the wash, it’s not
the boat washer’s fault unless you also asked that person to use wax to remove the
marks when they were done washing the boat.
A Quick Note About the Crew
Boat detailers that come highly recommended are very busy people and often have
a crew who do most of the work for them. If you’ve met the owner of the detailing
company, most likely they will have looked and acted professionally. That may not
be the case for their crew, but don’t judge a book by its cover until you’ve seen their
work. I try to hire people who actu
ally want to do this sort of work (boat
washing and waxing) as opposed to
someone who just needs a job to earn
a quick buck. But consider that very
few people actually choose boat wash
ing and waxing as their lifelong career.
Trust me—it’s not why they went to col-
lege! I know that I may get a good six to
eighteen months out of each detailer I
hire, either because after that amount
of time they’ll be ready to move on to a
different job (maybe they nished col
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Hiring a Detailer
lege and are now ready to seek a job in their new eld) or the work has become too
physically laborious for them and, due to an injury or not wanting to deal with
physical labor or harsh weather anymore, they decide to move on.
However, the owner of a good boat detailing company is in this business
because they enjoy the work and they enjoy running their own business. They real
ize the importance of repeat customers and will try to do whatever it takes, within
reason, to win your business. Give them time to get to know you and your boat. If
things are still getting missed, it might be time to try another detailing service. Tell
each detailer you’ll give them a couple of chances before you move on to another
company. Remember, boat detailers are only human and have to put up with harsh
weather, physical labor, and dirty boats. Even detailers have their days!
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I nd checklists helpful because you can use them to follow a plan and know that
you’re not forgetting anything. This chapter offers some helpful checklists you can
put into place every spring, summer, fall, and winter to prepare your boat for boat-
ing and maintain it on a regular basis.
Spring Checklist
One of the best things you can do in winter to prevent small things from becoming
major issues by spring is to simply check on your boat at least once a month when
you’re not actively using it. If you use a boat washing service on a regular basis,
ask them to keep an eye out for leaky windows or clogged drains or anything else
that could become a larger problem if not easily dealt with during the off months. I
provide regular washes for several boat
owners in the Seattle area and, because
I’m the one checking on their boat sev
eral times a month, I’m also the one
checking lines before and after a wind
storm, raking fallen leaves before they
stain the gelcoat brown and purple, and
alerting the owners of any leaks or other
issues that need attention. Checking on
your boat during the off months can
make a big difference once it’s time to
tackle your pre–boating season check
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The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
list. Assuming you achieved everything on the winter checklist (which we get to in
a minute), your spring checklist should include the following activities:
Air out the inside.
Plan to spend a few hours on your boat one dry or sunny
day. Open all doors and windows to let in fresh air. Turn on a small fan to
help move the air around.
Freshen fabrics.
While you’re airing out the boat, take all fabrics, such as
bedding, cushions, and towels, that you left on the boat over the winter
and hang them outside to freshen up. Put them back on the boat only if
they’re clean and dry and don’t smell musty. If they do smell musty, bring
them home and wash them.
Wax your boat!
Yes, I am yelling at you. I am a big proponent of waxing
a boat because it’s the best way to protect the gelcoat, help it stand up to
weather and other elements you can’t control, and make it easier to wash
and keep clean. And wax keeps oxidation at bay, provided you wax your
boat on a regular basis—at least once every nine to twelve months. It’s the
most eco-friendly cleaner there is because it’s the only cleaner that stays on
the surface as opposed to getting hosed off into the water. And fresh wax
with a beautiful gloss increases a boat’s resale value, regardless of its age.
Take a quick look around your boat, especially in the exhaust
openings and under the dinghy cover, to make sure no critters have made
your boat their home over the winter. Muskrats love to crawl into the
exhaust openings and burrow in, as well as use that entrance to your boat
to get into other areas and chew their way around. This doesn’t bode well
for any tubes, pipes, or wires they come in contact with. I have found a
raccoon family making a home in the enclosed ybridge and a bird family
making a home under a dinghy cover on customers’ boats. These present
huge, stinky messes to clean up!
Ahh, mildew—the one constant for all boaters. When you get
down to your boat in spring, you will see small black dots of mildew in the
nonskid and areas of green mildew on the canvas, the rail, and possibly
even the windowsills if you live in a wet climate. Spritz those areas with a
mildew spray cleaner and work it in with a soft hand brush. Then wipe it off
with a rag or spray it off with a hose.
Look for areas that may need repair.
Note potential problem areas—for
example, if your boat was tied up in such a way that the swim platform
A Year-Round Plan
bumped the edge of the dock, rubbing the gelcoat off that area. Or if a
windstorm caused a piece of debris to nick the gelcoat. Now is the time to
get those things repaired so they don’t become larger problems later.
Spring is when most boaters are getting prepared for the boating season. So
be aware that if you need to hire a maintenance business or contractor to service
your boat, you should contact them in January so you can get on their schedule
before they are booked through August. By the middle of February, my customer
waxing schedule is booked well into May or June, so a customer calling in March
hoping to get their boat waxed the following week is in for a big surprise when I tell
them that our next opening is in June.
Summer and Early Fall Checklist
This is the time of year when you should be thoroughly enjoying your boat, whether
you’re sitting on it in its slip with an ice cold drink or cruising offshore with your
friends and family. If you have prepared your boat in spring, it won’t take much to
keep it clean and looking good with these easy detailing tasks.
Schedule a wash program.
If your boat is in an uncovered slip or on salt
water or you use it often in the warmer months, put it on a recurring pro
gram where it is washed every two to three weeks. If it’s in a covered slip,
you can wash it every three to six weeks depending on how many spiders
have chosen to live in the rafters above your boat. If you aren’t able to wash
your boat this often, consider hiring a boat detailing service to do it for
you. They will put your boat on their recurring wash list and you won’t
have to worry about coming down to a very dirty boat.
Turn your boat.
Every now and then, dock your boat the other way when
you come back from a trip. Then the side that is normally in the shade will
get some sun, or vice versa, which can help prevent one side from becom
ing more faded or having more mildew growth than the other. Also, it’s
hard to wash the side of the hull that’s away from the dock, and this will
give you a chance to get that side fully clean again.
Touch-up cleaning goes a long way.
If your boat was waxed in spring, all
you’ll need to do during the more active boating months is use a little
cleaner wax (such as Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax or SeaPower) to remove bird
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
dropping stains, scuff marks from shoes, and marks left from a power cord,
fender, or line rubbing against the gelcoat.
Clean and polish plastic windows.
After each outing, use a product such
as Mer-maids Plastic Cleaner or Plexus Plastic Polish to clean the plastic
windows. Spray on and wipe off with a clean, dry microber rag.
Protect vinyl seats.
Vinyl seat cush
ions and seats can become dry and
brittle, and crack over time if not
cleaned and protected from UV rays.
Use Simple Green or Black Streak
Remover spray and a Mr. Clean magic
pad to clean them and bring them back
to white or their original color. These
products remove dirt and any discol
oration. Then spray with 303 Aerospace
Protectant and wipe in with a micro
fiber rag. This protects them from UV
rays and prevents them from drying out
or cracking.
Winter Checklist
Now that Labor Day has passed and the hours of warm temperatures and daylight
are fewer, it’s time for you fair-weather boaters to start thinking about tucking your
boat in for a long winter’s nap if you live in a cooler climate. Here’s a list of things
you’ll want to do or check before putting your boat away for the winter.
Interior Checklist
Clean and store all fabrics.
Remove any fabrics (curtains, bedspreads,
blankets, towels, et cetera) from the boat, take them to the dry cleaners or
wash them at home, and store them in your home or a dry storage unit. The
less fabric and bedding on the boat, the fewer places mildew and moths
can nd to hide.
Clean the cushions.
Take any removable cushions to a dry cleaner to have
them professionally cleaned and treated for soils and odors. These can go
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A Year-Round Plan
back on the boat, but prop them up so air can circulate around them. You
never know when moisture might seep into your boat, and if cushions are
upright rather than at on the benches, there are fewer surfaces that can
be contaminated by mildew.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
leak in. If you can safely put a space heater in the main salon where it’s
far enough from any fabrics or cords, this will be your best bet in keeping
your boat at a warm enough air temperature to keep things dry. Of course,
your goal is to condition the air so it doesn’t cause humid conditions or
dampness. A small portable air conditioner or dehumidier will take the
moisture out of the air and help prevent any moisture from “setting in” to
the fabrics and wood grain of the boat interior. An ionizer helps, as well. If
you are using a space heater, also set up a small fan to better circulate the
air. Once a musty smell has set in to cushions, carpets, or any other fabric,
it can be difcult to eliminate.
Mow the grass in the windowsills.
If you have any window leaks, now is
the time to get the leaks xed or the gaps lled. This is also a good time to
make sure your windows, doors, and hatches are still well sealed. Mildew
loves to grow in windowsills on boats (especially Grand Banks window
sills), so don’t allow it to even start. Spritz the windowsills with a mildew
spray cleaner and follow it up with Clo-
rox bleach spray. This will kill the mil
dew and prevent it from coming back in
the near future. You can also lay a strip
of fabric (part of an old towel, for exam-
ple) in the sill to soak up any condensa-
tion that might occur. If untreated, the
mildew can grow in the area between
the windows (where they meet in the
middle), and the only way to reach that
area to fully kill the mildew and clean it
is to remove the windows.
Exterior Checklist
Wax on, wax off.
Wax is the best protectant for your boat. There are many
benets to a freshly waxed boat. Stains don’t “soak in” to the gelcoat as eas
ily; you can go longer between washes; water stains wash off easier; and,
of course, your boat is protected from harmful UV rays. If your boat hasn’t
been waxed in a while, consider waxing it (or hiring a detailer to wax it) so
you don’t have to wash it as much over the winter. Or, if you had your whole
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A Year-Round Plan
boat waxed in spring, just wax the deck and abovedeck structures again
before winter. By then, they will need it from all the sun and weather expo-
sure they received from summer, and these areas take more of a beating
from winter weather conditions as well. Waxing them again before winter
will make it much easier to clean and maintain them come spring.
Prevent mildew from attacking your canvas.
Spritz the canvas with a
mildew spray cleaner on a regular basis to help prevent mildew from set
ting in. Once the canvas looks as though it might be easier to mow than
to scrub, you are too late in the ght against mildew. If you have a ski boat
or an enclosed ybridge, make sure there is some sort of ventilation com
ing through the canvas, either with a mesh patch to let air in or simply
by not tightening the canvas completely in one area. Even though the
canvas cover will keep out the rain, it won’t keep the air dry. The moist
air that develops under the canvas cover can foster the growth of mil
dew, and even when warm days are forecast, without ventilation there is
no way for the air to dry up enough to prevent the mildew from growing
further. Have your local canvas maker add a few ventilation patches in
your canvas cover, or leave a small section somewhat loose so air can ow
Bring in all exterior cushions.
I know they are labeled “weatherproof” or
“water resistant,” but that means only if a little rain gets on them. It doesn’t
mean they can withstand rain or other moisture for long periods of time.
Mildew grows quickly in wet cushions, no matter what material they’re
made of, and if left for a long time, it can be difcult to remove. Consider
that the longer a stain sits, the harder you’ll have to scrub or the stronger
the cleaner you’ll have to use. Both break down the material you’re trying
to clean, which makes it harder to clean the next time. Such a vicious little
circle cleaning can be!
Clean out clogged drains.
The next time you wash your boat, notice
whether it’s taking a while for any drains to clear or if any drains are out
right clogged. If they’re draining slowly now, they’ll only get worse once
the leaves start to fall (if your boat is near any trees) or from any other
debris that falls onto your boat. Spray the hose directly into the drains at
full pressure to make sure they’re clear. If they still aren’t draining, or if
you can tell that something is in there, use a wire or narrow PVC tube to
poke into the drain and try to push any debris through it.
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
Move outdoor deck carpets in.
As with canvas, any fabric that remains
outside will surely grow mildew. Although it isn’t the end of the world for
those items, it will cause you a lot more work in spring when all you have to
do right now is roll up the outdoor deck carpets and store them inside. Just
think—if you move them inside now, you won’t have to spend more than a
minute dusting them off in spring!
Drive the spiders crazy.
Or better yet, drive them away. Spider droppings
that sit on fabric, vinyl, or gelcoat for long periods of time can soak in and
are hard to fully remove. Even heavy-
duty rubbing compound doesn’t always
take out the stains. You’ll always be
left with a small tan circle to remind
you that all you had to do was this one
simple task: Go to your local hardware
store and buy a plug-in ultrasonic spi
der repeller. Plug it into the ybridge or
helm area of your boat (or someplace
where it won’t get wet from rain) and
watch the spiders leave and know that
they won’t come back! These devices emit a super-high-pitched sound that
interrupts their daily living (eating, mating, weaving webs) and prevents
them from going anywhere near that area.
Don’t leave the leaves.
As soon as leaves fall onto your boat, hose them
off. You may have to do this several times until the tree near your boat
has nished “falling.” If left on the gelcoat, the leaves cause a brown stain
once they get wet. If allowed to soak in (even on a waxed boat), the stains
are hard to remove. It requires a lot of rubbing compound and some pretty
strong UV rays to help bleach them out over time.
Don’t let the dinghy get dingy.
If you’ve just brought the dinghy out of the
water, clean it up while it’s still wet. Algae, once dry, cause a brown stain
on the hull that is difcult to remove. Spray the inatable areas with Inat
able Boat Cleaner, let it sit, scrub it in with a soft bristled brush, and hose it
off. To clean dried algae off the bottom, spray it with a rust remover spray
(such as Rust SprayAway), use a soft hand brush to spread it around that
area, and hose it off.
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A Year-Round Plan
This might look like a lot of work at rst, but if you can tackle these things over
a few days, you’ll be a lot happier next spring when you don’t have to mow the grass
out of the windowsills, scrape dried Coke and ketchup from the fridge, or paint the
rest of the dinghy brown to match the dried algae stains on the bottom of it. A little
prevention goes a long way!
Keep It Up or Let It Go
That seems to be the question many of us ask as we look at the mildew encroaching
on our canvas bimini top or the spider droppings on our white vinyl seat cushions.
Should I keep after those things on a regular basis, or is it all right to just let it go till
later? Many of us just don’t have the time at the beginning and end of each boating
season or during the off months to keep on top of these things. Or maybe you have
plenty of time, but cleaning your bilge just isn’t on your list. I’m all for procrastina-
tion, so here are the boat detailing projects you should stay on top of and the ones
you can save for later.
Wax It Away
The more often you wax your boat (at least twice per year), the more time you can
let go in between washes; for example, instead of washing it every two or three
weeks, you might be able to get away with every four or ve weeks. Wax protects
the gelcoat from harmful UV rays, as well as general wear and tear, scuff marks,
and water stains. It prevents bird droppings from “soaking in” and helps prevent
the gelcoat from oxidizing over time.
I always suggest to my customers that they wax their hull once a year and
wax the decks and abovedeck structures twice each year, once in spring and once
before winter. The decks and abovedeck structures get hit more directly with UV
rays, as well as water stains and bird droppings, so these areas are the rst to fade.
Waxing them every six months will keep them looking good year-round.
If It’s Yellow
Actually, no matter what color it is, don’t let it mellow. Flush your tanks on a regu-
lar basis if they’re used often, and denitely before you put the boat away for the
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
winter. There is nothing worse than boarding your boat in spring for the rst time
only to be reminded by the smell of the heads of just how many parties you had on
the boat the previous season. (Sorry to be so graphic, but that ought to make you
run out and pump the tanks right now!)
Likewise, if there is anything damp inside the boat, such as cushions, towels,
curtains, or other fabrics, take them out and clean them (throw them in the wash-
ing machine or get them dry cleaned), and make sure they’re completely dry before
putting them back in the boat (or store them in a dry storage place off the boat).
This is denitely not something you want to let go!
Keep on top of carpet stains as they occur, simply because it’s easier to remove
a fresh stain than one that has thoroughly soaked into the carpet bers. Use water
and vinegar or products like Folex or an “oxy” cleaner to spot-clean. And it’s a good
idea to get the carpets professionally steam cleaned once a year to keep overall
trafc areas from becoming too soiled. If you let your carpets go, eventually spot
cleaning won’t make a difference and in fact will actually make the carpets look
worse. You’ll have a few really clean spots while the rest of the carpet is slightly
darker from being soiled by foot and paw trafc over time.
General interior cleaning is something you can let go until you need to spiff
up the boat for a party or take it out for the rst time in spring. The crumbs you left
in the galley drawers or on the counter won’t grow over winter into larger, more
menacing crumbs. They’ll be the same little crumbs they were at the end of the
season and can easily be vacuumed up whenever you get a chance.
The Green Monster
Eventually, mildew will nd your boat and attach itself to your lovely canvas, espe
cially around the edges and zippers. You can let it go for a while, but you want
to treat it and scrub it off before it turns into thicker, mosslike mildew or it will
not only be much more difcult to remove, it will eventually weaken the integ
rity of the canvas from all the hard scrubbing it takes to remove it. The best way
to prevent mildew from winning the race is to clean your canvas with boat soap
and water and a mild scrub brush. Then, while it’s wet, spritz it with mildew spray
cleaner (Lysol or Tilex) or Mold Off ( and let it soak into the can-
vas. Mildew spray cleaners are effective for several weeks, helping keep mildew at
bay without a lot of work on your part.
A Year-Round Plan
Although it’s not green, rust is another stain that should be treated on a regu-
lar basis. Often I see rust stains dripping down the side of the boat from a stan
chion or other metal object. If they haven’t been there for a long time, I can easily
remove them with a spray that removes rust from berglass (available at boat sup-
ply stores). And, of course, if you have a good coat of wax on your boat, the rust
stain will sit on top of it and not eat into the gelcoat, provided you treat the stain
every so often and keep that area waxed. However, it’s best to treat the rust prob
lem at the source. Find out why rust is developing in that area. Maybe something
needs to be resealed or a metal screw or stanchion needs to be replaced. If left to
sit for a long time, rust stains can be difcult to remove from gelcoat and might
eventually need to be wet-sanded off and the area re-waxed.
Birds, Leaves, and Spiders
Those three things are probably what most frustrate boaters who try to keep their
boat clean. If your boat has a good coat of wax, droppings and leaves can remain
on the gelcoat without permanently staining it, but it’s still better to get after these
things as often as you can. If you don’t have much time, keep a hose handy at your
slip and simply hose off your boat every week or two. Even if you don’t scrub away
the stains, just getting the top layer of them sprayed off with a hose will allow the
sun to bleach out the stain. The same thing goes for brown and purple leaf stains.
Hose off the leaves and let the sun bleach out the stains; it will take only a day or
two. But that’s why you want a good coat of wax on your gelcoat. If the sun is strong
enough to “remove” stains on the gelcoat, just think what it’s doing to the gelcoat
Washing your boat is something you can let go for a month or two if you have
a good coat of wax on it or you moor it in a covered slip. Sure, there may be more
water stains dripping down your gelcoat, but with a good coat of wax, they’ll wipe
or wash right off the next time you wash your boat. Without a good coat of wax,
they will be more difcult to remove and will require more scrubbing, or you’ll
have to wax them off with a cleaner wax. It’s a vicious circle—if you don’t keep your
boat waxed, you’ll end up having to wax it just to get the stains out!
Water stains are a natural occurrence. The best way to remove them quickly
(if you don’t have time to wash your boat) is to spray them with vinegar or Simple
Green and wipe them away with a rag. Don’t use anything stronger than that; it
The Insider’s Guide to Boat Cleaning and Detailing
will remove the wax in that area, which is most likely the area that needs wax the
most because that’s where the water stains accumulate. (Like I said, it’s a vicious
The Hour-a-Week Boat-Cleaning Plan
If you have only an hour each week or want to spend only an hour each week main-
taining the cleanliness and appearance of your boat, here is a short checklist of the
tasks you should spend your time on.
When you arrive at your boat, stand on the dock and look it over as a
whole. Anything amiss will catch your eye immediately, such as a panel
of canvas apping in the breeze (possibly marking the gelcoat each time
the metal snap hits it) or possibly a ding in the gelcoat. Make a mental
note to take care of these issues soon.
If you have more than an hour, plan to wash your boat. But assuming
you don’t, take out the hose and just hose down the decks. Don’t get the
rest of the boat wet or you will have just turned the light layer of dust
on your boat into a light layer of mud and it will be even dirtier the next
time you come down. Just hose the decks and make sure the drains
aren’t clogged with leaves or debris.
Your glass windows will be dusty, so grab a few microfiber rags and
some window cleaner such as SprayWay or Plexus and spray and wipe
them down. Your plastic and Lexan windows will also be dusty, so use
a microber rag and a cleaner such as Meguiar’s or Mer-maids Plastic
Cleaner to spray and wipe down those windows or panels.
With your damp rags from cleaning the windows, provided they’re not
too dirty, wipe down the helm station area in the enclosed ybridge
if you have one. A clean rag with either of the window sprays will also
work well on the dash area.
Take a spray bottle of Simple Green, a bottle of cleaner wax, and a
microfiber rag and walk around the exterior of the boat looking for
water stains, scuff marks, and bird dropping stains. First try wiping
them clean with just the rag and Simple Green. If they don’t come out,
A Year-Round Plan
apply a small amount of cleaner wax, rub it in, and wipe it off. This is a
good way to remove any marks and stains in between washes.
The interior of your boat shouldn’t be too dirty if you cleaned it after
each outing. Keep a small portable vacuum cleaner on the boat if you
don’t have a central vacuum system. This way, you can quickly vacuum
around the edges of the oor, the countertops, and over the cushions
to remove most of the crumbs and dirt. Then take a microber rag or
a duster and simply dust all at surfaces—counters, tables, ledges, the
edge of bookcases, etc. Check the toilets while you’re there and do a
quick swish of the toilet brush if needed. Check the fridge to make sure
nothing has leaked or dripped or is growing and staging a coup against
If you do these six tasks on a regular basis, even every other week, you’re one
big step ahead of ever having so much dirt, dust, and debris on your boat that it
takes a full day to clean it. This, of course, assumes that you wax your boat at least
once a year and wash it at least once a month if it’s moored in an uncovered slip.
A little care on a more regular basis will go further in the effort to keep your boat
looking good and in good condition. It’s not nearly as overwhelming as trying to
do it all in one weekend, and it allows for a little more procrastination over time—
something we can all enjoy!
Sdkkhng Yntq Anas
The day you decide to sell your boat will surely cause you to experience a wide
range of emotions, but the emotion that will sneak up on you and surprise you the
most is that of awe. You’ll stand there on the aft deck looking into your boat and
realize just how much stuff you have on and in your boat that you now have to get
off your boat!
It was so easy for you or your spouse or your friends to bring that one bag of
potato chips or that liter of soda pop or that box of crackers for the opening day
parade you had in 1979, but it’s all still on the boat! Along with all of the canned
goods and Ziploc bags you stocked up on just in case that small marina you were
stopping at didn’t have those items.
The day has come when you must enter your oating storage unit and turn it
back into a clean and spacious boat. It can be a daunting task, but if you divide the
work over a week and invite everyone who ever brought a bag of potato chips or box
of crackers onto your boat to help out, you’ll get it done in no time!
Exterior Detailing
Your rst task is to make the outside of the boat look good. This is where the rst
impression will be made, and if the rst impression is made in the rst ve sec
onds, as they say, you want the gloss on your gelcoat to be what catches their eye,
not the water stains or the green mildew growing along the windowsills.
Start by emptying out exterior lazarettes and storage compartments. First,
take everything out of them and clean the inside. Ideally, the lazarettes and stor
Selling Your Boat
age compartments should be empty and their contents removed from the boat or
put in your dock box, but if you must keep some items in the exterior compart
ments, choose things that are useful or have a purpose there and t neatly into the
After you’ve cleaned out the exterior compartments, it’s time to wash the
boat. Your scrub brush or sponge should touch every inch of the boat to make sure
everything gets clean. Potential buyers will look under things, test things, and lift
up every hatch on the boat. Once they buy the boat, they may never touch or notice
these things again, but that doesn’t matter. Everything needs to be clean for their
rst tug at the hatch. Spend some time in the ybridge or helm area and wipe the
dashes clean, as well as the inside of the Isenglass or windows.
If your boat hasn’t been waxed in a while or is starting to look more matte
than glossy, consider waxing it to bring back the gloss. Obviously, the last thing you
want to do when selling your boat is to spend more money on it. If you hire some
one to wax it, have them wax only the decks and abovedeck structures, which are
the main areas of the boat that potential buyers will see as they’re walking up to or
around the boat.
Clean up canvas and vinyl as best you can. If the cushions or canvas covers
are in bad shape (green, wet, and mildewy), take them off the boat, clean them,
and allow them to dry before putting them back on the boat or storing them
A few other exterior detailing tips:
Clean fenders and power cords with acetone or inatable boat cleaner and
a Mr. Clean magic pad to get them spotless and looking as good as new.
Bleach any mildewy lines with mildew spray cleaner.
Pull up any exterior carpet that is in rain’s way so it doesn’t mildew over
time. Leave any carpet in the covered ybridge or helm area. It looks nice
and will protect the nonskid, but you’ll need to check it every now and then
and vacuum or shake it out.
If the last time you took the boat out was that opening day parade in 1979
and your registration tabs show 1979 as the latest year, remove them!
Make it easy to board your boat, whether that means turning it bow in
or stern in depending on your dock conguration, or placing a step stool
where needed.
Selling Your Boat
Interior Cleaning
Cleaning the interior of your boat will make the exterior cleaning you just did seem
like a breeze. (I didn’t want to tell you this earlier.) Bring empty boxes, paper bags,
plastic garbage bags, cleaning rags and paper towels, cleaning products (you prob-
ably already have them on your boat), and your favorite music.
Start by emptying out the cupboards, drawers, and storage compartments.
Vacuum and clean them out well. You can put back a few useful or practical items if
you must, but take as much as you can home with you. You’ll have to remove these
things from your boat eventually, so you might as well start now. Besides, your goal
is to create a clean and spacious look. Better to let potential buyers see how spa
cious the storage compartments are rather than show them just how much stuff
you can cram in there!
Polish wood walls, doors, and trim with an orange oil spray. This will give
them an attractive sheen and help the boat smell good. Clean the head with a
fresh-smelling cleaner like Pine-Sol and pour tank treatment into the toilet. An
easy way to start cleaning the galley is to simply vacuum all the crumbs from the
stove, stovetop, and drawers, then spray with a cleaner to remove any remaining
marks, dirt, or stains.
Clean out the fridge well. Remove everything, then wipe it out, including stor
age bins and trays, and wipe out the freezer. You may want to defrost the freezer
and keep it turned off and the door ajar. Either way, be sure to thoroughly dry the
inside of the fridge and freezer (if you defrosted it) so that water doesn’t cause any
mildew to grow over time. Then put a box of baking soda in the fridge and another
one in the freezer to keep these spaces fresh.
Setting the Stage
Staging is something real estate agents
do well. This helps potential buyers
visualize their dream. You can do the
same type of staging with your boat.
Once you’ve cleaned the interior and
removed most or all of your personal
items, you can bring select items back
on the boat that will add to its ambi
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Selling Your Boat
ance. Set the table for two with attrac
tive, clean placemats, decorative plates,
cloth napkins, and even a bottle of wine
with two wineglasses.
Hang a decorative dish towel and
matching oven mitt near the stove. Put
a teapot on the stove with an attractive
teacup and saucer on the counter. Put
silk owers on a table and a fresh towel
in the berth with a good-smelling bar of
soap on the sink. Lay a throw blanket
over the bed with a book.
The goal with staging is to make
the boat feel comfortable and inviting
to help potential buyers imagine them-
selves having a nice meal with someone
on their boat, making a warm cup of tea
on a cold day, or curling up with a good
book. But avoid the cluttered look, and
make sure all items used for staging are
clean and look new.
Take photos of your boat only
after you’ve cleaned and staged it. Use
a camera with a wide-angle lens so people can get a better idea of your boat’s layout
instead of showing tiny, cramped-looking rooms.
These suggestions will make your boat look better to potential buyers and
be much easier to sell, whether you’re selling it on your own or through a broker
age. If your boat hasn’t sold in the rst month after you’ve thoroughly cleaned it,
you’ll want to wash it at least once a month and check the interior each time you’re
aboard. If a lot of people have been viewing your boat, you may need to vacuum the
interior, dust surface areas, and make sure the toilet is clean.
If you’re selling your current boat to buy a bigger and better boat, just remem
ber that bigger simply means more places to store bags of potato chips, boxes of
crackers, and cleaning products. Tell your friends that if they board with one bag
of chips, they have to leave with two.
Spotlight on Staging
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There is no doubt about it that spiders and other insects love boats! And the closer
your boat is moored to a shore, wetlands, or vegetation, the more insects and spi
ders your boat will attract. With all those juicy little insects come hungry little
birds. Once they’ve eaten some of the insects, guess what comes with now full little
birds? Yes, bird droppings. (And guess what comes with spiders? Spider droppings!)
Then there are otters and muskrats that target your boat because your swim plat
form makes an excellent sunning deck for them, as well as a great place to rest
and eat the crab they just caught. And your exhaust opening makes an excellent
In the years that I’ve been detailing boats, I have come across interesting
methods that boaters use to scare away critters. Most of these methods have scared
only me (inatable pythons and masks) or, thanks to my poor depth perception,
have caused only me to trap myself in the owner’s strategically placed fishing
wire. Although annoying (because I’m
usually the one having to clean up after
these critters), I nd it humorous when
I see seventeen little sparrows sitting
on the inflatable snake or surround
ing the plastic owl perched on the hard
top as if it were their fearless leader.
Somehow these sparrows must inher
ently know that pythons, in their non-
inflatable form, don’t actually exist in
North America.
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Critter Prevention
If it is true that acidic pigeon droppings can cause a steel bridge to deterio
rate, imagine what similar bird or spider droppings can do to your gelcoat, vinyl,
plastic windows, and canvas. It takes time for the acid in these droppings to do
much damage, but if they’re sitting on unprotected fabrics or gelcoat, they can
slowly deteriorate that material. The following section lists each type of critter, the
mess they can make, the damage they can do, how to clean up after them, and how
to prevent them from taking over your boat.
Bird Droppings
The slight acidic content in all animal droppings can eat into the material they’re
sitting on if the droppings are not removed on a regular basis. Bird droppings are
most annoying for making your boat’s deck and abovedeck structures look like
Picasso masterpieces with their colorful splotches, especially in fall when birds are
eating berries. If you haven’t waxed your gelcoat in a while (more than a year), bird
droppings can actually “soak into” the porous gelcoat and become even more dif
cult to remove without using heavy-duty rubbing compound or chemical cleaners.
Therefore, the rst and foremost defense is to keep your boat waxed. Even if the
inatable Komodo dragon is scaring away the birds from landing on your rails, not
much can stop those birds ying overhead from hitting your boat. If your gelcoat
has wax on it, these stains will sit on top of the wax instead of the gelcoat itself.
One of the only bird deterrent systems I’ve seen work fairly well is stringing sh
ing wire near the rails and other areas
where you don’t want birds perching.
Fishing wire is very thin yet somewhat
reective, so although birds can see that
something is there, they’re not able to
focus on it and therefore don’t feel safe
landing in that area. You can also tie
two-foot-long pieces of mylar ash tape
(sold at hardware and household variety
stores) on the rail every twelve inches
or so in other areas where birds congre
gate. Choose silver ash tape if you can
nd it because the colored tapes can run
onto gelcoat or metal if they get wet.
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Critter Prevention
If your boat has been covered with bird droppings, the first thing to do is
give it a good soapy wash. Don’t spend time at this point trying to scrub off the
bird droppings. Your main goal is simply to remove the crusty top layer. After thor-
oughly rinsing, you’ll still see a colorful mark where the bird dropping was, but
now you can more easily remove the stain in one of two ways. You can remove it
yourself, or you can let nature do the work, which means letting the sun bleach
out the stain naturally. It takes only a few days and the stain will be gone or sig
nicantly lightened. If you want to remove the stain yourself, take some cleaner
wax (such as 3M Cleaner Wax) and a microber rag and rub a small amount of the
cleaner over the stain until it lightens or is gone completely. Then buff off the wax
dust with another corner of the rag.
Spider Droppings
Those little black dots you see all over
the white vinyl seats in your enclosed
cockpit are spider droppings. Spiders
love living in enclosed cockpits and y-
bridges because it’s typically warmer in
there and they have many good hiding
places, as well as places to make their
nests and birth their millions of babies.
This is one critter you want to extermi
nate on a regular basis simply because
they reproduce so rapidly and in such
high numbers.
First, remove their black dot drop-
pings by spraying Simple Green on the
vinyl over each black dot and let it sit for
about 30 seconds. This will loosen the
dropping and you’ll easily be able to
wipe it off with a rag. You can follow up
by using 303 Aerospace Protectant on all of the vinyl to protect it from UV rays as
well as prevent spider droppings from soaking
You can remove the spiders from your enclosed cockpit or ybridge area in
one of two ways—with an ultrasonic pest control device or with an insect spray
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Critter Prevention
or a fogger. To be effective, an ultrasonic pest control device needs to be plugged
into a receptacle in your enclosed cockpit area. The device works best when it’s
positioned close to where the spiders are actually living and nesting. It sends out
an ultrasonic sound that people and dogs cannot hear. Spiders can hear it and it
basically disrupts their lifestyle in that area, causing them to evacuate and nd
another place (that is, another boat) to live in. You will need to change the device
about every three months because spiders eventually get used to a certain pitch
and it will no longer be effective. Simply buy a different brand with a slightly dif
ferent pitch.
If you’re able to be off your boat for a full 24-hour period, you might consider
fogging the enclosed area. Buy a fogger that specically kills spiders and their eggs.
Set the fogger in the middle of the enclosed area, push the trigger, and leave the
area immediately. When you come back the next day, open as many windows or
panels as you can to let fresh air in while you clean up after the fogger and vacuum
up everything that dropped from the spiders’ hiding places.
Muskrats aren’t known for making messes on boats, but rather sinking them. They
enter through your exhaust outlet and chew their way into the boat. They’ll chew
through anything, and the more they chew through, the more water is let into the
hull, bilge, or engine room of your boat. The best way to prevent any critter from
entering your boat underwater is to put metal mesh screens over all underwater
Although cute, otters can make a huge, stinky mess on your boat with all of their
discarded crab shells and droppings. They enjoy sunning themselves on swim
platforms and eating their shellsh dinner there, too. If you come across this, just
hose off the area where they’ve been, scrub it with soap and water, and rinse well.
If there are stains on the nonskid or decking from their little shenanigans, you can
remove them the same way you would remove bird droppings. Either let the sun
Critter Prevention
bleach them out or remove them with rubbing compound. Make sure this area is
waxed to prevent future stains from soaking in.
Some people rig up wire with an electric current passing through it to prevent
otters from getting on their boat. If you can’t do this at your slip (most marinas
don’t allow it), you may simply need to wash this area on a regular basis or as often
as the otters are using your boat.
Chuhng Sdquhcdr
If a diver is coming to your boat to replace the zincs, check your propeller, or nd
your keys, it would also be a good time to have the diver clean the bottom of your
boat. How often is enough?
If you moor your boat in fresh water, you should need to do this only when
you have your zincs checked. If you moor your boat in an area with active marine
growth (coral, barnacles, algae, and other such growth), you will need to have the
bottom of your boat cleaned on a regular basis. How often depends on the type of
marine growth in your area and how quickly it comes back once scrubbed off. If
coral is an issue, it should be cleaned off every few weeks. The coral that accumu
lates on a boat bottom with poor or no antifouling paint can grow so large that it
requires removal with a scraper instead of a steel wool pad. If a scraper is needed,
it will take more time to do the job and therefore cost more money. The boat’s per-
formance can also become compromised due to coral fouling the hull, propellers,
and engine water intakes and can cause the engine to overheat as well.
If you moor your boat in an area with less aggressive marine growth, you
should have the bottom cleaned every four to ve weeks year-round. These recom-
mendations are for boat bottoms with bottom paint rated in fair to good condition.
Boat bottoms and outdrives with poor or no paint should be cleaned every two to
four weeks depending on the marine growth in your area. The goal is to clean the
bottom on a regular basis so a scraper doesn’t have to be used, thus degrading the
remaining bottom paint or scratching the gelcoat. If the diver has to scrape off a
considerable amount of marine growth each time he or she goes under your boat,
too much time has elapsed between cleanings. Boat bottom cleaning should be
Diving Services
scheduled more often to avoid excessive marine growth and loss of the boat’s per-
formance. Less drag can help increase boat speed and improve fuel efciency.
While the diver is under your boat, have them clean all unpainted metal
surfaces such as props, shafts, trim tabs, struts, rudders, engine intakes, and out
drives. You might also suggest that they check and clear all of the through-hulls,
speedometer wheels, and depth sounder transducers.
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When the weatherman predicts sunny skies and warm temperatures for opening
day weekend, all the people you promised a boat ride to at the ofce or on your
brother’s wife’s side of the family will start coming forward, dropping hints about
how nice it must be out on the lake this time of year. It doesn’t matter than none of
them has ever set foot on a boat. You will invite them and they will come and you
will spend the whole cruise making sure they don’t break or clog the head, fall off
the boat, or get seasick on your new settee.
There are many ways you can make your non-boating friends feel safe and
comfortable on your boat while at the same time allowing yourself a little freedom
from constantly “babysitting” or giving instructions to your guests. Before they
arrive, clean and organize your boat so it’s easier for them to move around and to
nd things. Once they arrive, tell them what to expect once you’re under way and
how to use things on board. The following tips might help.
Clothing and Gear
Your friends have most likely seen many boat advertisements with a beautiful
woman in a swimsuit sunning herself on the forward deck or a group of longtime
friends enjoying a glass of wine on the aft deck, all wearing white pants, a pink
button-down shirt, and a seafoam green argyle sweater tied over their shoulders.
Cruising with Your Non-Boating Friends
Rarely do these polished advertisements show what it’s really like when a squall
suddenly takes over your blue sky and you have to wear your argyle sweater as a hat
to keep your head warm and somewhat dry.
The best way to help your non-boating friends prepare for their cruise is to
send them a written invitation that suggests some items they should bring for their
own comfort. Let them know that the weather can change quickly and that even
the slightest breeze, when you’re out on the water, can feel much cooler than what
they’re used to on their west-facing sundeck at home. This list should include a
warm sweater or jacket, sunglasses, and a light rain jacket. They should bring a ver
satile hat that can protect them from sun, rain, or cooler temperatures. If you have
a few extra raincoats (or you can buy cheap plastic raincoats at the drugstore), pack
them in a bag in case any of your guests needs one. Pack a few extra sweatshirts or
hats if you have them as well. This will ensure that everyone is comfortable, even if
they didn’t pack the right gear for themselves.
Another important issue you’ll need to tackle is encouraging your friends to
wear the right footwear. Of course, you don’t want them slipping around on the
deck, but you especially don’t want heel marks in your teak or black scuff marks all
over your freshly washed nonskid. When it comes to footwear, it seems that most
people would rather wear what looks best over what is most practical. It always
amazes me to see people trying to board a boat at the boat show in high heels or
their work boots! As a detailer, I want to run over to them and tell them just how
much time I’m going to have to spend at 7 a.m. the next morning in freezing cold
temperatures scrubbing as hard as I can to remove the black marks they’re about
to leave!
Tell your friends to wear at-soled shoes with soles that are light colored or
non-marking. Most people will give you a blank stare when you say “non-marking”
because if that’s not the very reason they bought that pair of shoes, they’ll have
no idea what you’re talking about. If you have teak decks, your greatest enemy is a
high-heeled shoe, whereas with nonskid your greatest enemy is grease marks. Plan
a casual party so that ladies coming from the ofce or your buddies coming from
Clem’s Auto Lube will feel more comfortable changing into sneakers.
How Things Work
Your friends will board your boat and tell you that your kitchen is cute, will ask
where the bathroom is, and will want to go upstairs so they can see the view from
Cruising with Your Non-Boating Friends
the second oor. Your guy buddies will want to help you with the ropes and bum
pers, and your lady friends will want to check out all those cute little bedrooms.
That’s ne. Let them speak as they will. But before you set sail, you should give
them a quick tour of the boat, pointing out the things they may need to nd or use
once you’ve left the dock.
The three most important things you’ll want to point out are how to use the
head, how to access fresh water, and how to safely move about the boat. The best
way to provide directions on how to use the head is to have a small plaque with
simple instructions engraved on it and post it in the head. If you gather your friends
around the head and tell them how to use it, chances are they won’t remember
much of what you say because they’ll feel so silly that you have to show them how
a toilet works at their age. By having a plaque, they won’t have to remember any
details and can simply follow it step-by-step when they need it most. You will still
nd your head clogged with all sorts of random objects when you get back to the
dock and your friends are long gone. You’ll wonder what strange rituals went on
while you were at the helm, and where did the plaque go?
Show your friends how to access fresh drinking water or where you keep the
water bottles. Let them know what can and can’t go down the drain and where the
garbage can is. Keep extra garbage can liners and paper towels on the counters
so, in case of spills or the garbage can lls up halfway through the cruise, people
aren’t forced to get creative or fend for themselves. (Trust me, the last thing you
want is for your non-boater friends to “get creative”!) Show your guests how to turn
lights on and off but
do not
show them where the panel is with all of the neat-look-
ing switches. If this is your only way of turning lights on and off, have the lights
turned on before they arrive. You do not want your engineering buddies playing
with those switches! They will surely think they can re-wire them so you can get
free cable TV when you turn on the bilge pump.
Moving Objects
Before your cruise is under way, show your guests the easiest ways to get about
your boat, from the aft deck to the bow and up to the ybridge. It’s easier to quickly
demonstrate to your guests how to properly navigate stairways and ladders than it
is to get blood out of teak. In your grand tour, point out handrails and places they
may not want to venture if the water gets too choppy lest they get sprayed or lose
their balance.
Cruising with Your Non-Boating Friends
Provide rubber placemats and suctioned cup holders so they have a place to
put their drinks and snacks; otherwise, you will be cleaning up crumbs from “the
spill of ‘08” a year from now. This is another reason to leave the paper towels in
plain view—in case that crab dip goes sailing off the table into their laps.
Many people are affected by seasickness, or at least think they are. It’s often
more of a psychological issue, but if you can help your friends feel comfortable
before you leave the dock, everyone will have a better experience on the water. You
may not want to bring up the subject lest you get everyone thinking about it, but
you might consider leaving a few bowls of sugared ginger for your friends to snack
on, subtly letting them know of its handy side benet.
Put a small container in a cabinet (in the head or galley) with a label marked
“motion sickness prevention—help yourself” and ll it with seasickness tabs and
motion sickness wristbands. If any of your guests start to match the color of their
seafoam green argyle sweater, encourage them to go outside and get some fresh
air or lie down inside on the aft berth. If someone does get sick, assure them that
most boaters have experienced this at one time or another and by the time they’ve
gotten it all out of their system and they’re simply praying for death, you’ll be back
at the dock and all of the moving about will be over.
By providing your non-boating friends with information that will make their
boat ride as comfortable as possible, you’ll be helping them enjoy their experi
ence, and you’ll ensure that they’ll want another boat ride in the future when their
friends from the Midwest are in town. Yep, you’ve done it now!
The products listed below are those we work with most often and suggest you try.
They are a good basis from which to start in search of your own favorite products.
Under each company name, I have listed the product name and its suggested use.
Mer-maid (
Mer-maids® Plastic Cleaner—for plastic windows and Lexan
Mer-maids® Canvas and Vinyl Cleaner—for canvas and vinyl
Mer-maids® Boat Wash with 2% Carnauba Wax—for boat washing
Mer-maids® Serious Soap—for boat washing
Mer-maids® Super Swabby Bilge Cleaner—for bilge and engine-room
cleaning, grease stains
Mold-Off (
Mold-Off Mildew Cleaner—for cleaning mildew out of fabrics (canvas,
vinyl, carpets, etc.)
Latitude 43 (
Organic Boat Soap—for boat washing (best for boats on fresh water)
West Marine (
Rust StainsAway—for removing dried brown algae stains on gelcoat
Starbrite (
Premium Marine Polish with PTEF—for waxing a new boat with no
oxidation (great for using by hand or in between wax jobs)
Rust Stain Remover—for removing dried brown algae stains on gelcoat
Instant Black Streak Remover—for removing black water stains on gelcoat
Meguiars (
Flagship Premium Marine Wax—for waxing a new or lightly oxidized
boat, by hand or with a buffer
One Step Cleaner Wax (#50)—for waxing a light- to medium-oxidized
boat (best results when using a buffer)
3M (
Marine Cleaner and Wax—for waxing a medium- to heavily oxidized boat
(best results when using a buffer)
Scotchguard Marine Liquid Wax—for waxing a new boat with no
oxidation (great for using by hand or in between wax jobs)
Imperial Compound and Finishing Material—for using on its own as the
rst step in a two-step wax job (strictly to remove oxidation) or mixing
with a cleaner wax when you need a more aggressive compound and wax
303 (
Aerospace Protectant—for protecting vinyl, plastic windows, and rubber
Awlgrip (
AwlWash—for washing a boat painted with AwlGrip
AwlCare Polymer Sealer—as a sealant (in place of wax) on a boat painted
with AwlGrip
Plexus (
Plexus Plastic Polish—for cleaning and protecting plastic windows
Spray Away—good general-purpose spray cleaner (for exterior use only)
Krazy Klean—good general-purpose spray cleaner (for exterior use only;
great for cleaning up teak decks)
California Car Dusters (
California Water Blade—best squeegee we’ve ever used (buy the Original
Standard 12-inch blade, with the purple handle)
Mr. Clean (
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (Extra Power)—works the best and lasts the
Gardena trigger nozzle—lasts a long time, high quality, plastic (won’t
scratch the gelcoat if you drop it), pivotal head (prevents wrist fatigue),
great spray (best nozzle by far!)
Makita (
9227 Variable Speed Polisher—great for waxing boats that are medium- to
heavily oxidized
New products are introduced to the market every year, so this list will change
over time. Please visit my website at
to see my run
ning list of up-to-date resources and product reviews. You can also e-mail me with
any questions or product suggestions at
[email protected]
. I always
enjoy hearing from fellow boaters about the products they’ve tried and love.
Acetone, 71
Acid rain, removing, 17–18
Acidic teak cleaners, 54
Algae stains, removing, 6
about, 49
cleaning marks and stains on,
protecting, 50
washing, 49–50
Baking soda, 111–12
Biodegradable products, 4–5,
Bird droppings
preventing, 150–51
removing, 105–7, 141
Black mold, removing, 19–20
Black Streak Remover, 9
Bleach, 72
Blood stains, removing, 104, 116
Boat soaps, 5–7, 110, 116
phosphates and, 110
Boat tours, for cruising with non-
boating friends, 158–59
Boat washing.
Washing, boat
Boat waxing.
Waxing, boat
Boatyard blues, 32
Boatyards, boat waxing at, 32
Brass, cleaning, 116
Brightwork maintenance.
Varnishing; Wood nishes
(Whitman), 74
Bristol Finish, 67
for boat washing, 10–11
for brightwork maintenance, 71
for cleaning teak decks, 56–57
Buckets, for boat washing, 12
Buffers, power, 39–41
Bufng pads, 40–41
Building up coats, 74–75
choosing and buying, 91–92
cleaning dirty, 96
cleaning mildew in, 93–96
gear and supplies for cleaning,
removing mildew on, 6
Canvas runners, 102–3
Carnauba wax, 37
Carpet stains, 116, 140
for boat washing, 13
for early fall cleaning, 133–34
for locating detailers, 124–25
for spring cleaning, 131–33
for summer cleaning, 133–34
for winter cleaning, 134–39
Chemical strippers, 71
Chocolate stains, removing, 104
Cleaner wax, 37–38
acid teak, 54
household, 111–16
non-acidic teak, 54–55
spray, 9, 94
for teak decks, 54–56
Checklists; Deep
cleaning; Exterior cleaning;
Hour-a-Week Boat-Cleaning
Plan; Interior cleaning;
Maintenance cleaning; Stains
Cleaning products.
Cleaning services, hiring, 86–87
Cleaning solutions, for interior
carpets, 104–5
Cleaning while cruising
exterior cleaning, 118–20
importance of, 117–18
interior cleaning, 121–22
Clothes, washing, 116
proper, for cleaning chores, 13
suggestions for, with non-boating
friends, 158
Clutter, containing, 88
Coffee stains, removing, 104
Compounding pads, wool, 41
Copolymer sealants, 39
Copper, cleaning, 116
Crews, detailer, 128–29
Critters, 132, 149–50
Cruising, cleaning while, 117–22
Cruising with non-boating friends,
boat tours for, 158–59
clothing suggestions for, 158
footwear suggestions for, 158
moving objects and, 159–60
seasickness and, 160
Curtains, cleaning, 107–8
Vinyl seats and cushions
Cutting boards, wood, cleaning, 116
Deck carpeting.
Outdoor deck
Detailing, exterior, for selling your
boat, 145–46
DeWalt 849 power buffers, 40
Dinghies, washing, 20–21
Dishes, cleaning, 116
Disinfectants, 116
Diving services, 155–56
Driers, 66
Drop cloths, 71
Dust masks, 42
Early fall cleaning, checklist for,
Epoxy, 68–69
Exterior cleaning
while cruising, 118–20
for selling your boat, 145–46
winter checklist for, 136–39
Exterior detailing, for selling your
boat, 145–46
Fabrics, interior, cleaning, 107–8
spring checklist for, 132
Fats, removing, 104
Fiberglass, maintaining top coat on,
Fiberglass construction, explained,
Fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP),
Wood nishes
Finishing pads, wool, 41
Finishing sanders, 71
First-aid kits, 72
Flushing tanks, 139–40
Foam pads
heavy-cut, 41
mild-cut, 41
no-cut, 41
Footwear, suggestions for, with non-
boating friends, 158
Fruit juice stains, removing, 104
cleaning products for, 111–14
storage containers in, 89–90
Gear and supplies
for cleaning, 12–13
for cleaning canvas, 92–93
for cleaning plastic windows, 97–98
for interior cleaning, 80–81
for teak decks, 54–57
for varnishing, 70–72
for vinyl seats and cushions, 105
for washing boats, 4
for waxing boats, 36–42
Gelcoat, 24–25.
See also
Waxing, boat
determining condition of, 27–29
removing mildew on, 6
removing scuff marks on, 116
removing stains on, 6
stains and, 17
types of levels of conditions of, 28
Germ killers, 116
Glue stains, removing, 104
Gravy stains, removing, 104
Gum, removing, 104
Hard-water stains, removing, 116
Heat guns, 72
Heavy-cut foam pads, 41
Heavy oxidation (Level 4) boats,
waxing procedure for, 46–47
Honey Teak, 67–68
Hoses, for boat washing, 12
Hour-a-Week Boat-Cleaning Plan,
Household cleaners
alternative, 114–15
baking soda, 111–12
guide to natural, 116
natural, 109–14
peroxide, 114
vinegar, 112–13
Hydrogen peroxide, 114
Ice cream stains, removing, 104
IMAR Strataglass Protective Cleaner,
IMAR Strataglass Protective Polish, 98
Inatable Boat Cleaner, 20, 21
Inatables, washing, 20–21
Instructions, xiii–xiv
Interior carpeting
about, 102–3
cleaning procedures for, 104–5
cleaning solutions for, 103–4
Interior cleaning, 140
while cruising, 121–22
deep vs. maintenance cleaning,
gear and supplies for, 80–81
hiring cleaning services for, 86–87
for selling your boat, 147
winter checklist for, 134–36
Interior fabrics, cleaning, 107–8
Interlux Goldspar Clear varnish, 66–67
Juice stains, removing, 104
Ketchup stains, removing, 140
Krazy Clean, 9
Level 1 (no oxidation) boats, waxing
procedure for, 42–44
Level 2 (light oxidation) boats, waxing
procedure for, 44
Level 3 (medium oxidation) boats,
waxing procedure for, 45–46
Level 4 (heavy oxidation) boats,
waxing procedure for, 46–47
Level 5 (chalky and pitted) boats,
waxing procedure for, 47
Light oxidation (Level 2) boats, waxing
procedure for, 44
Linseed oil, 68
Lipstick stains, removing, 104
Magic Eraser pads, 8
Maintenance cleaning
deep cleaning vs., 79–80
step-by-step procedure for, 86
Makita 9227 power buffers, 39–40
Medium oxidation (Level 3) boats,
waxing procedure for, 45–46
Meguiar Cleaner Wax, 37
Meguiar’s Flagship Premium Marine
Wax, 44
Meguiar’s #10 Mirror Glaze Clear
Plastic Polish, 98
Meguiar’s #17 Mirror Glaze Plastic
Cleaner, 97
MEK, 71
Mer-maids Plastic Cleaner, 9, 97
Metal corrosion, removing, 116
Microber rags, for boat washing, 9
Mild-cut foam pads, 41
Mildew, 92
best defense against, 94
cleaning, in canvas, 93–96
preventing, 116, 140
removing, 6
removing, from vinyl seats and
cushions, 107
spray cleaners precautions for, 94
spring cleaning and, 132
treating, 19–20
Mildew spray cleaners, 105, 140
alternatives to, 115
Milk stains, removing, 104
Mold Off, 20
Motion sickness, 160
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser cleaning pads,
8, 17, 105
Muskrats, 132, 152
Nail polish, removing, 104
Natural cleaning products, 109–14
Natural stain removers, guide to, 116
No-cut foam pads, 41
No oxidation (Level 1) boats, waxing
procedure for, 42–44
Non-acidic teak cleaners, 54–55
Non-boating friends, cruising with,
boat tours for, 158–59
clothing suggestions for, 158
footwear suggestions for, 158
moving objects and, 159–60
seasickness and, 160
Nonskid surfaces
cleaning, 6
removing mildew on, 6
Nozzles, for boat washing, 12
Odors, room, removing, 116
Oil stains, removing, 104
Oiling teak decks, 62–63
Opening Day, xii
Otters, 152–53
Outdoor deck carpeting
about, 99–100
gear and supplies for cleaning, 100
maintaining, 101–2
types of, 100–101
Overspray stains, 32–33
Oxalic acid, 72
Paint stains, removing, 104
Paneling, wood, cleaning, 116
Patch coating, 76
Perfection Varnish, 67
Peroxide, 114
Pewter, cleaning, 116
Phosphates, 110
Plastic containers, 71
Plastic windows
about, 96–97
cleaning, 6, 98
gear and supplies for, 97–98
polishing, 99
products for cleaning, 8
removing scratches from, 98–99
Plexus Plastic Polish, 97
Polishes, 38–39
Porter-Cable 9428 power buffers, 39
Power buffers, 39–41
Pure wax, 37
Raccoons, 143
for boat washing, 9
for boat waxing, 42
Rain, different locales and, xii
Resins, 66
Restorer wax, 38
Room odors, removing, 116
Rubbing compounds, 38
Runners, canvas, 102–3
Rust, 141
removing, 116
boat washing and, 14
boat waxing and, 33–36
cleaning teak decks and, 57–58
varnishing and, 73
Sanders, 71
Sanding blocks, 70
Sandpaper, 70
Schooner 96 varnish, 67
Scrapers, 70
Scratch removal, from windows,
Scuff marks on gelcoat, removing, 5,
Seasickness, 160
Vinyl seats and cushions
Selling your boat
exterior detailing, 145–46
interior cleaning for, 147
staging for, 147–48
Show polish stains, removing, 104
Silver, cleaning, 116
Simple Green, 9
Small spaces, organizing, 87–90
Soap buildup, removing, 116
Soaps, boat, 5–7, 110, 116
Soft drink stains, removing, 104
Soft Scrub, 5
Soft wax, 37
Solvents, 66
Spiders droppings, removing, 105–7,
Spots, water, removing, 17–18
Spray cleaners, 9
for mildew, 94
Sprayway Glass Cleaner, 8
Spring cleaning, checklist for,
Squeegees, for boat washing, 9–10
Squeeze bottles, 42
Staging, for selling your boat, 147–48
Stain removers, 70
guide to natural, 116
Stains, removing, 6
algae, 6
bird droppings, 105–7, 141
blood, 104, 116
carpet, 116
chocolate, 104
coffee, 104
fats, 104
fruit juice, 104
gelcoat, 17
glue, 104
gravy, 104
grease, 104, 116
gum, 104
hard-water, 116
ice cream, 104
ketchup, 104
lipstic, 104
milk, 104
nail polish, 104
paint, 104
shoe polish, 104
soft drinks, 104
spider droppings, 151–52
tea, 104
toilet bowl, 116
tomato sauce, 104
urine, 104–5
vomit, 104–5
water, 116
wax, 104–5
wine, 104–5, 116
Starbrite Premium Marine with PTEF,
Storage containers, 88
in galleys, 89–90
Streaks, water, removing, 17, 18–19
Summer cleaning, checklist for,
Gear and supplies
Synthetic nishes, 68
Tack cloths, 71
Tanks, ushing, 139–40
Tape, 70–71
Tar stains, removing, 104
Tarnish, silver, removing, 116
Tarps, 71
Tea stains, removing, 104
Teak decks
alternative methods for cleaning,
brushes for cleaning, 56–57
cleaners for, 54–56
oiling, 62–63
preparing for cleaning, 57–58
reasons for cleaning, 53–54
safety and cleaning, 57–58
step-by-step procedure for
cleaning, 58–61
Tenders, washing, 20–21
3M Cleaner Wax, 37
3M Finesse It Finishing Material, 38,
44, 98
3M Imperial Compound, 38, 46, 98
3M Super Duty Rubbing Compound,
38, 46
303 Aerospace Protectant, 98, 105,
Throw rugs, 100
Toilet bowl stains, removing, 116
Tomato sauce stains, removing, 104
Top coats, maintaining, on berglass,
Tung oil, 66, 67
Two-part catalyzed urethane coatings,
Urine stains, removing, 104–5
Varnish, 66–67.
See also
weather conditions and, 73
Varnished wood, caring for, 78
See also
Wood nishes
gear and supply list for, 70–72
planning time for, 72
procedures for taking wood down
to bare for, 76–77
safety and, 73
Vinegar, 112–13
Vinyl seats and cushions
about, 105
cleaning, 6
gear and supplies for, 105
removing bird dropping stains
from, 105–7
removing mildew from, 107
removing spider stains from,
Vomit stains, removing, 104–5
Walter lters, 11–12
Washing, boat
acid rain and, 17–18
biodegradable products and, 4–5
brushes for, 10–11
buckets for, 12
checklist for, 13
clothing for, 13
gear and supplies for, 4
hoses for, 12
mildew and, 19–20
nozzles for, 12
rags for, 9
reasons for, 2–3
recommended frequency for, 3–4,
safety and, 14
soaps for, 5–7
squeegees for, 9–10
stain removers, 7–8
step-by-step procedure for,
tenders and, 20–21
water lters and, 11–12
water spots and, 17–18
water streaks and, 17, 18–19
Water softeners, 11–12
Water stains, 141–42
removing, 116
for cleaning, 110–11
types of, 37–38
Wax stains, removing, 104–5
Wax swirls, 29
Waxing, boat, 25, 139.
See also
approaches to, 29–30
at boatyards, 32–33
determining gelcoat’s condition
and, 27–29
gear for, 39–42
hard to reach areas and, 34036
for Level 1 boats, 42–44
for Level 2 boats, 44
for Level 3 boats, 45–46
for Level 4 boats, 46–47
for Level 5 boats, 47
power buffers for, 39–41
preparing for, 30–31
recommended frequency for,
safety and, 33–36
step-by-step procedure for, 42–47
suggestions for, 4748
supplies for, 36–39
weather and, 31–32
Weather, boat waxing and, 31–32
Whitman, Rebecca, 74
Windex, 8
Window cleaning, 8–9, 116.
See also
Plastic windows
Plastic windows
Wine stains, removing, 104–5, 116
Winter cleaning, checklist for
exterior, 136–39
interior, 134–36
Wood cutting boards, cleaning, 116
Wood nishes.
See also
building up coats, 74–75
caring for, 78
determining condition of current,
patch coating and, 75
removing, 76–77
varnish and, 66–67
Wood paneling, cleaning, 116
Wool compounding pads, 41
Wool nishing pads, 41
Natalie Sears started her boat-detailing busi
ness, Deckhand Detailing, in Seattle in 1990.
From this hands-on experience she learned
how to properly clean and detail boats, from
older, heavily oxidized sailboats to brand-new
glossy megayachts. She took time off from the
company to get a business degree at the Uni
versity of Washington and became a market
ing manager at Microsoft. After a few years in
the corporate world, she was ready to get back
to working on boats and started up her detail
ing company again in 2002. Although she
didn’t grow up on or around boats (in fact, she’s
scared of water), she is an entrepreneur at heart
and developed a passion for working on them
and taking care of them. When not working on
a boat, Natalie can be found riding her horse or
relaxing at her cabin in the mountains in east
ern Washington.

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