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The complete guide to boat cleaning and detailing

by Boat Accessories Australia 10 Jan 11:55 UTC
The complete guide to boat cleaning and detailing © Boat Accessories Australia

Between the sun and salt water, your boat is in need of some regular attention. Cleaning your boat is a chore few people enjoy, but it has to be done.

Cleaning and detailing not only keeps a boat looking good and a pleasure to use, but it also protects your investment. Luckily, there's no need to have your boat professionally detailed. With the right products and a little know-how, you can give your boat the treatment it deserves.

How to clean a boat

The best way to clean a boat depends on the hull material that your boat is made of. Only clean fibreglass and aluminium boats with specialised products and the correct cleaning technique. Don't be tempted to use any household cleaning products - they could etch the surface and strip wax because they are highly alkaline. Proper marine cleaning products have a neutral pH of 7 so they won't cause any damage.

How to clean an aluminium boat

When cleaning an aluminium boat, use a marine aluminium cleaner to remove water-line staining and oxidised dullness without damaging the surface. If the cleaner is too strong it can leave the hull chemically scoured which looks like ugly blotching.

Use a scrubbing pad with even pressure to remove stains. Most aluminium cleaning products contain acid to to strip away oxidation and staining so make sure you wear chemical resistant gloves and eye protection. To avoid leaving permanent drip marks on the aluminium, start at the bottom of the area you're cleaning and work upward in small sections. Don't allow the cleaner to dry on the surface, keep rinsing with fresh water as soon as you have cleaned the area.

Rinse your aluminium boat with fresh water thoroughly to remove contaminants from the surface every few weeks so they don't aid the oxidation process.

How to detail an aluminium boat

To detail your aluminium boat after washing, use an aluminium polish to maintain the unpainted aluminium finish. The polish will also neutralise any acid wash that wasn't rinsed off. Apply the polish with a clean cloth and replace the cloth if it becomes too dirty from oxidation. The polymers in the product provide some UV protection and can enhance the look of old boats.

How to clean a fiberglass boat

When cleaning a fiberglass boat, keep in mind that regular washing and cleaning is important for maintaining the integrity of the gelcoat. If you leave your boat in the weather, a quick hose every week or so will remove built up dirt and grime and keep your boat looking new for longer.

After your boat has been out in salt water, thoroughly hose it down with fresh water. Don't use a metal nozzle on your hose because you might drop it onto the boat and crack the surface of the gelcoat. When your boat is dirty, wash with a boat soap.

Keep in mind - you don't want to use soap weekly otherwise the wax won't last long, leave it a few weeks or only when dirty. When cleaning your boat, use another bucket to clean the cloth or change cloths so you don't scratching the boat's surface with dirt and grime stuck to the cloth. After rinsing off the soap, dry the gelcoat with a chamois or squeegee and finish off by buffing with a soft cloth.

How to detail a fiberglass boat

Over time, the harsh conditions play havoc on gelcoat, the outer layer that protects the fibreglass underneath. Detailing fibreglass boats is all about protecting and beautifying the gelcoat.

  • Detailing the hull: Detailing your boat should restore the gelcoat to protect it from oxidation. The oxidation process results in a chalky, dull finish making it susceptible to water intrusion into the fibreglass.

    Every 4-6 months you should apply a boat wax after a thorough clean. Waxing acts as a sunscreen for your gelcoat. Any minor oxidation and fallout is removed leaving you with a rich, deep and glossy finish. If your boat has a chalk finish, you need to try removing the oxidation before waxing. A buffing compound is ideal for boats with a poor finish because its fine abrasive compound can remove surface imperfections and swirl marks to a high gloss finish.

  • Detailing the boat's interior: Once the hull has been taken care of, it's time to move to the boat's interior. Clean out the bilge of any oil and contaminated water using a bilge cleaner. Check the fuel lines and tanks aren't damaged.
How to protect wood and metal surfaces on a boat

If your boat has a wooden deck, use a teak cleaner to remove any staining and weathering. Oil the wood to provide protection from sun, salt, acid and any other nasties that can cause stains or premature ageing of the wood.

Any metal surfaces on your boat should be polished regularly. Look over the boat for any aluminium, stainless steel, nickel, or brass copper parts and apply polish using a soft, clean cloth rubbing in a circular motion. The polish will clean and protect it from any rust, oxidation and staining. Make sure you use the right product for the right type of metal.

How to clean boat seats

Your boat seats can look tired and need replacing well before their time if you don't show them a little love. After every trip out on the water, you will need to give them a quick clean to remove contaminants that cause deterioration. Salt water isn't the only residue that can cause problems for seat materials and stitching. Sunscreen, tanning lotion and grime quickly build up on seats causing them to break down.

Clean all boat seats and cushions with a vinyl cleaner. Using the wrong cleaning products could cause your vinyl seats to crack and deteriorate:

Bleach products can break down vinyl and stitching and you risk bleaching other materials on the boat.

Cleaning products containing chlorine, alcohol or ammonia should also be avoided as they can chemically dry the vinyl.

Use a vinyl cleaner and pay close attention to the seams and piped edges as this is where the most grime collects. Use a sponge or a soft bristle brush to remove stubborn dirt. Rinse to remove the detergent then dry with a towel.

How to clean boat carpet

It's not hard for the boat's carpet to look (and smell!) like it has seen better days. While it's a hard-wearing material, it has to withstand some punishing treatment. Wet feet getting into the boat, baited fish hooks with a little burley ground in. But if you clean the carpet regularly, you won't have to replace it before its time. Just like the carpet in your home, you can spot clean it to remove the fish stains and you can give it a more thorough all-over clean on a regular basis.

How to get rid of mould and mildew on your boat

While most boat materials are mould and mildew resistant, it doesn't take much for mould to take hold in a damp environment. The canvas on your boat is most at risk.

To get rid of mould and mildew you need to use a product that will remove as much staining as possible and kill the mould spores so you aren't repeating the cleaning process in a few weeks' time. If staining remains, use a boat Mildew Stain Remover.

Whenever you are cleaning or detailing your boat, spend a few minutes reading the product's description and directions of use.

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