How to Clean a Boat

How to Clean a Boat

Written by Boatsetter Team
November 12, 2021

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Boatsetter Team

If you want to maintain your boat’s value and be ready to go when you are, you need to keep it clean. Keeping your boat clean and shipshape makes it much more enjoyable and ready for guests.

You have options when having your boat cleaned. You can do it yourself or have it done by someone else. Having your boat cleaned either way will cost you a bit and is the price of doing business when owning a boat.

Fall and spring are great times to tend to the maintenance of your boat. 

Then your boat will be ready for fishing in the cooler weather. In addition, cleaning your boat in the spring will make your boat ready to hit the water as soon as the weather warms up.

Following are tips on how to clean your boat to keep it looking its best.

How to clean the outside of a boat

how to clean the outside of a boat

Every boat is different, but even the most basic Jon boat needs to be cleaned occasionally. The only difference between it and a yacht is its size and the number of materials you may need to clean. The Jon boat can do with a quick rinse of the hull, engine, and interior, and you’re on your way.

However, a cabin cruiser, sailboat, houseboat, or yacht will require more attention. This is because the materials on boats vary, too. Boats are built of fiberglass and other composites; wood, aluminum, and steel. All require cleaning, and each piece of equipment requires a different cleaner to keep it looking its best.

Rinse with clear water

Starting from the top, rinse your boat working downward, and be sure to remove any grass or seaweed stuck to the boat.

In a bucket, mix water and mild soap.

In a bucket, mix water and mild soap, and thoroughly clean it from top to bottom.

Wash with soapy water, a soft cloth, a mitt, or a soft brush

Using a soft cloth, wash mitt, or a soft brush, soap your boat top to bottom and stem to stern. Work in small sections so that the soapy water doesn’t dry before you get to it and from the top down so that the dirty water flows away from where you are cleaning.

The final rinse

On the final rinse, remove the spray nozzle from your water hose and let water pour over your boat. This type of rinse will remove any remaining soap and keep your boat’s finish from spotting.

Dry your boat

Dry the hull and the topsides of your boat, including fiberglass, wood, and glass surfaces. Using a chamois or a soft, lint-free cloth, dry your boat to keep it from spotting.

When drying your boat, it includes polishing the brightwork, glass, and Plexiglas hatches. You may need cleaning products formulated to protect them, and items should be cleaned and polished with suitable products.

How often to wash and wax your boat is up for debate and is dependent on how often you use your boat. A vessel that gets heavy use will need to be waxed at least twice a year.

Is it OK to pressure wash a boat?

Is it ok to pressure wash a boat

Yes, it is, but you need to take steps to do it right and not damage your boat. If you have a boat with hatches, windows, or cabin doors, secure them before you begin washing your boat.

Use a low-pressure nozzle, start from the top and work your way down. Only use detergents that are biodegradable and approved for your pressure washer. Do not use products with ammonia as an ingredient, as it can damage your boat’s finish.

If the bottom of your boat is covered with marine growth, you can use a little higher pressure and a soft scrub brush if necessary to remove it. However, take care not to scratch the gel coat when removing grass and algae. While washing your boat, include the trailer and make sure it is free of saltwater and grass or seaweed.

How to clean a boat interior

Like your boat’s exterior, you need to clean the interior occasionally, also. For example, your boat may have upholstered seats, a bimini, carpeted or fiberglass non-skid decks, and may even have wood trim or cabinetry. All of these components need to be cleaned with products that won’t harm them.

How to clean Marine Carpet

Marine carpet is used in small boats on up and only requires vacuuming and scrubbing with a mild detergent to get it clean. If you are cleaning the carpet of a small boat, you can leave it in the sun to dry and tilt the trailer so that the water drains away.

However, if you are cleaning carpet inside a boat’s cabin, you need to make sure that it dries well before you close the boat up, or the carpet may mold and cause mildew. You can use a wet vac, fans, and a dehumidifier to ensure no moisture lingers.

Cleaning Non-skid Fiberglass

Many boats have non-skid surfaces embossed into the deck. You clean these just as you would outside the hull, with a mild detergent and a good rinse. You don’t need to dry the decks after they are washed, as they will do so in the open air. As a note of caution, DO NOT wax non-skid fiberglass. You don’t want it to be slick.

How to clean your boat cushions

Many of your boat’s cushions can be removed from the inside pillow. After removing the cushion covers, you can wash them in mild detergent, dry them, and put them back on their pillow. This doesn’t need to be done every time you clean your boat, but you do need to clean upholstered cushions at least once a year.

To clean the pillow, wipe it down with a 50/50 water and vinegar solution and let them air dry before you recover them. This will help keep them from getting musty and growing mildew.

How to clean your boat’s vinyl

Most of today’s marine vinyl is treated with an anti-microbial to keep it from growing mildew, and harsh cleaners will remove this protection.

Clean your boat’s vinyl with mild, soapy water, rinse it well, and then dry it off with a soft cloth. For stained vinyl, find a cleaner specifically formulated to clean marine vinyl. Then, apply a vinyl protectant after you clean the stain.

Can you clean a boat in the water?

cleaning a boat in the water

Most soaps are toxic to marine life, even the mildest of soaps. If your boat needs to be cleaned, it is best to do it in a designated wash-down area at your marina, car wash, or home. Rinsing your boat every time you use it will minimize the need to do a thorough cleaning dockside.

One thing that can be cleaned in the water that makes the marine life happy, except for the barnacles, is to have your boat’s bottom cleaned while it’s still in the water. This is done by a diver trained to clean boats and is a less expensive way to clean a boat’s bottom than having it hauled out of the water.

Should you clean your boat yourself or hire a professional?

If you have the time, patience, and energy, cleaning your boat can be accomplished in an afternoon. However, unless you are buffing and waxing it too, the job will likely take all day. Or, you can have your boat cleaned by a professional.

Either way, a cost is involved and is the price of owning a boat. If you clean your boat yourself, the only cost is your cleaning materials and time. However, if you pay someone to clean your boat, it will cost you by the foot. The average price is $2 to $3 per foot, which translates to $60 for a 20-footer and is only the outside. Yikes!

In addition, there is more than one type of cleaning when hiring a pro to spiff up your boat. There is bottom cleaning, exterior, and interior cleaning, like a home. Each item has a price when hiring someone to clean your boat.

How to get help paying to clean your boat

You don’t use your boat all of the time, do you? With Boatsetter, renting your boat to those without one can mean added income for you. In addition, boat owners worldwide use our service to rent their boats to those living near them and visitors from out of town. List your boat with Boatsetter today!

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