Detailing Your Boat
Keepin' It Clean
We’ve compiled a list of inexpensive ways to detail your boat from bow to stern. You may have a lot of these products on hand, or they can easily be purchased at the end of this article.
For a non-slip fiberglass deck, using water and Bon-Ami power cleanser with a stiff-bristled brush works miracles. The dirt and grime really come out of the non-slip pattern, and shouldn’t abrade away your shiny gel coat finish.
Hull and Sides:
For the hull and sides of your boat, you can use a liquid dishwashing detergent. Start with warm sudsy water to scrub away dirt and dark smudges where rainwater drains off the deck. Because mildew thrives on phosphate, use only low-phosphate detergents in case it doesn’t all get rinsed off.
To remove tarnish, either use elbow grease and brass polish, or use a wet rag sprinkled with oxalic acid powder (from marine hardware stores for teak cleaning) and wipe the tarnish off on one pass. The latter is preferable.
Lightly scrub the metal with the cut end of a lemon dipped in salt – the shine will be blinding!
Keep your engine clean with Gunk, a spray cleanser that goes onto a cold engine and is hosed off with fresh water. There are some cleansers available for hot engines, which work faster because the grease is warm and loose, but the fumes can be offensive, so you may prefer a cold engine block.
The tiny creases around the seams on white vinyl cushions can sprout mildew. Mix ¼ cup of ammonia to 4 cups of water and then scrub the creases thoroughly with an old toothbrush dipped in the solution, and dry gently with a hair dryer.
For tough stains on white vinyl cushions, including floatation cushions, mix one teaspoon of ammonia, ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide and ¾ cup of distilled water. For some reason, the bubbling of the peroxide floats away stubborn blemishes.
Bunk Cushion Bottoms:
Most bunk cushions have a white cotton bottom that gets ugly black blemishes of mold and mildew. Soak the stain in chlorine bleach (without getting the colored top fabric wet) and then dip the affected areas in a weak mixture of white vinegar and water to counteract the bleaching action.
Acrylic ports pick up a haze that doesn’t come off with Windex, but the same mixture of vinegar and water wipes it right away.
Scratched Plastic Portholes:
There are a number of reputable marine products available for use in removing minor scratches on plastic, but Skippy works the best. That’s right, believe it or not, good old-fashioned, creamy style peanut butter is a perfect rubbing compound for plastic. If you’ve used it all for sandwiches, you can also use a mild toothpaste to achieve the same effect. If you have deeper scratches, pilot shops at local airports often have inexpensive polishes for plastic aircraft windows that will do the trick.
Covers often have leather reinforcing, and wet leather can pick up mildew quickly. A weak solution of water and alcohol will remove the mildew without injuring the leather, and regular washing with saddle soap or the “hide food” used to preserve sports car leather seats will keep the material supple.
Mildewed Wood: Older wooden boats often have mildew on stringers and frames deep in the bilge. But a rag dipped in a bucket of warm water laced with a shot glass of kerosene will both remove the mildew and forestall its return.
If you want to put a shine back onto aluminum fittings, try rubbing it with the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil. You’d be amazed at how quickly the gloss returns, but don’t try it on anodized aluminum because it will remove the finish.
You may have tried everything on dirty white fenders, from acetone (it makes them sticky for days) to Ajax (it dulls their finish), but nothing’s better than mineral spirits. The dirt and scuffs come off, and the fenders look like new.
Nothing is as frustrating as trying to peel off week-old masking tape, which welds itself to whatever you were painting. Run lighter fluid under the edges of the tape, wait a few minutes, and the tape will slip off.
Indispensable for quick repairs on board, it often leaves a residue of glue behind. A rag dampened with denatured alcohol will take off those sticky spots without marring the surface.
Iceboxes: (refrigerators and ice chests, too):
To clean them as well as make them fresh-smelling again, use a thick paste of baking soda and water. When you restock your cold box, leave an opened carton of baking soda (wedged so it won’t tip) inside to soak up smells.
As they say, stainless steel isn’t, so use oxalic acid to get rid of rust stains. Dissolving the crystals to form a liquid might work, but that can be messy, and this powerful bleach can damage a deck or paint. It’s better to use oxalic acid in gel form. It sticks to vertical rails without dribbling, and when hosed, removes rust stains completely.
On white fabrics, make a thick paste of dry laundry detergent and warm water, and let the mixture sit on the spot for 20 minutes before rinsing.
Oil & Tar:
Scrape off the thick residue with a knife blade or putty knife, and put a clean rag soaked in dry cleaning fluid under the fabric below the stain. Using another clean rag and more of the same fluid, pat the spot gently to force the tars through the material into the bottom rag. You’ll probably always have a brown blemish, but it won’t be nearly as bad as before.
List of products to buy:
- BON-AMI (usually found near “comet” in the supermarket)
- LIQUID DISHWASHING DETERGENT
- LEMON(S) AND SALT
- HYDROGEN PEROXIDE
- DISTILLED WATER
- CHLORINE BLEACH
- WHITE VINEGAR
- SKIPPY PEANUT BUTTER – CREAMY STYLE (REALLY!)
- RUBBING ALCOHOL
- ALUMINUM FOIL
- LIGHTER FLUID
- BAKING SODA
- DRY LAUNDRY SOAP
- STIFF BRUSH
- CLEAN RAGS
- BRASS POLISH
- OXALIC ACID POWDER/ & GEL FORM (from a Marine Hardware Store)
- “GUNK” CLEANER (auto parts store)
- OLD TOOTHBRUSH
- HAIR DRYER
- MASKING TAPE
- DUCT TAPE
- DRY CLEANING FLUID