Clean Your Boat Like the Pros

September 21st, 2009

by Joyce Deaton
Part of the fun of owning a boat is taking care of it – keeping it clean and polished, with windshields sparkling and every seat cushion soft and shiny. But if you’re like most of us, that’s the ideal. When reality sets in, it’s often hard to find time to care for your boat the way you intended when first you met on the showroom floor.

To make matters worse, you often hear a litany of what products not to use on boats, along with dire warnings of decaying fiberglass, weakened canvas and scratched windshields. To find out how to clean CJ's Boat Worksyour boat quickly, safely and effectively, Pilot talked with Cindy Spencer of CJ’s Boat Works in Wrightsville Beach, which offers mobile detailing services all along the Cape Fear Coast.

Spencer says not to worry too much about all those warnings. While special boat-cleaning products are necessary for some materials, she says, many clean-up tasks can be done with products you already have around the house. Here are her tips.

• Wash your hull with diluted Ivory liquid soap. It’s gentle and won’t remove wax like many other dishwashing liquids. If you haven’t waxed the hull in awhile, add a mild auto soap such as Turtle Wax or Kit wax containing carnauba to add a little wax as you wash.

• For decks, use scratch-free Comet or Bon Ami cleanser in liquid or powder form. For stains, add a little bleach. For rust stains and yellow discolorations, use FSR (fiberglass stain remover) gel, available at marine stores.

• Wash windows with soapy water or a vinegar and water solution. If you have hard-water spots, use a water spot remover such as Star Brite, available from marine supply stores. Allow to dry and buff until smooth. Use a hand mitt with soapy water and a soft cloth for drying – not paper towels, which can scratch. Don’t use Windex or similar cleaners, which can drip and leave a streak on surrounding fiberglass.

• For isinglass and similar materials, use Pledge wax on a very soft rag, rubbing until the wax disappears.

• For cushions, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning products. For vinyl, use Collinite vinyl cleaner and conditioner from marine stores. Use vinegar or bleach to remove mildew from cushion bottoms, but go easy on the bleach with fabric cushions. While most boat fabrics can stand up to bleach, it will eat the stitching. Use a solution of about ½ cup bleach to a gallon of water.

• Scrub unvarnished teak trim with powdered Tide and a little bleach, using a medium-grade Scotch-Brite grill cleaning pad. Using a little bleach every time will keep the teak light tan, while the Tide alone will allow it to age to a soft gray. Oil if you like, but remember that oil attracts dirt and gradually darkens the wood. If your wood trim is varnished, wash with soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly, renewing the varnish about six times a year.

• For cleaning toilets, use a marine-approved product that will protect rubber seals or use vinegar, a good all-purpose cleaner for most areas of your boat. Diluted, it’s good for spraying lightly on rugs to fight mildew.

“The key to keeping your boat in good shape is washing it regularly,” says Spencer. “Wash it weekly, or at least biweekly, and wax it at least four times a year. After every outing, clean off the salt water, which is very hard on boats, especially metal parts. It can cause pitting or anodizing in aluminum parts, and of course will ruin electrical and metal parts of your motor.”

A boat that’s rarely washed will build up a chalky powder that has to be compounded off before it can be waxed, and metal parts may have to be specially cleaned and treated. That’s a lot of work that could be avoided with regular washing.

CJ's Boaat WorksDon’t have time to do it yourself? Have it done regularly anyway and your boat will last longer and look better. You’ll also save money. Spencer’s average prices for cleaning go up by $10 per foot for boats that need compounding and heavy cleaning. “We’d rather meet you at the dock and clean your boat up after every trip to keep it looking brand new,” she says. “That way you protect your investment in the boat, and you’ll enjoy it more, too.”