Boating Life

All-Inclusive Boat Cleaning Guide

September 27, 2020
Ingman Marine
How To Guides
September 27, 2020
Ingman Marine
How To Guides

Owning a boat is a good investment, and as such assets go, they have to be nurtured. Most people who buy boats do not think about maintenance, but this is very vital for the boat. Regular cleaning and maintenance ensures that your vessel is always in good condition. It also gives the boat more value when you want to sell it. Not only that, but a clean boat has also got a lot to say about its owner.

Setting about this task might be quite challenging, especially when one has little to no clue on how to clean a boat. This article, as an all-inclusive boat cleaning guide, will cover every aspect of cleaning a vessel. All you need to do is follow the instructions provided, and in no time, your boat will be good to go. Even though cleaning a vessel is not an exciting task, it is every bit as crucial to enhancing the boat’s lifespan.

Importance of Regular Maintenace

The importance attached to taking care of your boat from time to time is not merely limited to making the boat clean and good-looking.

Putting Your Mind at Rest

Maintaining your boat can protect you in many ways. It should be done regularly to promise your safety, protect you from costly repairs and ensure peak performance. Knowing the state of your boat will put your mind at ease when you take the family out on the water.

Preserving its Good Looks

The boat is always exposed to the sun, water, and wind; causing the vessel to begin showing signs of wear within a short time when not properly cared for. Taking a few extra minutes to polish the gelcoat will keep her looking young.

Longer Lifespan

Regular boat maintenance ensures that the boat stays in as good of condition as the day you bought it. Neglecting your boat will inevitably reduce its lifespan.

Cleaning your Interior

This boat cleaning guide will take you through the steps involved in thoroughly cleaning your boat, inside and out.


You find vinyl on every type of boat, and a gentle treatment while cleaning is required. When cleaning the vinyl, avoid making use of cleaners containing harsh chemicals as they remove the anti-microbial treatment incorporated into the vinyl by its manufacturer. Instead, use a soft piece of cloth and mild soapy water to administer a wash-down. If you encounter tough stains, make use of a marine vinyl cleaner, then thoroughly rinse the surface, followed by applying a vinyl protectant.


To clean the interior cushions, remove and wash the covers in cold water. Although most of the non-vinyl bodies can be washed using a machine, avoid washing them in hot water as well as putting them in the dryer.

Next is the foam. Sprinkle baking soda on all sides of the cushion, leave it for some hours and shake it off after. Use an equally balanced mix of water and vinegar (50-50) to mist the foam. Leave the cushion in a well-aerated environment for a couple of days to get rid of the vinegar smell.

Finally, spray the cushions with a hose, squeeze out the water, then spray again. You will need to repeat this process a couple of times to remove all the grime. When you are satisfied, please give it a final squeeze and completely air-dry it before returning the covers.

Marine Carpet

This is found in several cabins and sometimes in the head compartments or cockpit of smaller boats. To clean the marine carpet, first remove loose dirt using a vacuum cleaner. Once that is done, scrub it down with soap, water, and a stiff-bristle brush.

If the boat is a large one or you are performing the cleaning in one of the inside cabins, it is best to remove the water using a wet vac and to dry with fans or the air-conditioning. If it is a trailer boat, park it on an incline to allow most of the water to drain away.

Non-Slip Fiberglass

Cleaning non-slip fiberglass starts with a hard scrub using soap, water, and a stiff-bristle brush. If you encounter tough stains, a cleaner containing a little bleach will deal with the stains but make sure you rinse thoroughly after.

Finally, apply a non-skid treatment. It is a protectant containing substances that protect the fiberglass while helping it shine without making it slippery.

Livewells and Bilges

These are, without doubt, the messiest part of a fishing boat. The reason is that fish slime and waste, algae, and bacteria accumulate over time.

To clean it out, first remove the screens as this helps to remove the fish waste and old algae built up underneath. Next, set the livewell actuator to “RECIRC” or “CLOSED” since the live wells will be running; ensure they are plugged and will hold water.

Next, fill the livewells with fresh water, add vinegar, then add hydrogen peroxide. Once that is done, switch on your aerators and let them run for about thirty minutes, drain the live wells completely and add fresh water. Let the aerators run for another 30 minutes to flush any remaining hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Finally, drain all the livewells completely, park the boat in direct sunlight while leaving the livewell lids open until they dry.


You can always clean the head like the toilets at home. The only difference lies in cleaning the lines where calcium deposits accumulate. Run a few cups of white vinegar through the lines once every month.

Cleaning your Exterior Surface

Whether you have a Bennington Pontoon, a Skeeter (something) or a Pathfinder Crossover, each piece of the exterior requires its own special attention.

Hull and Gelcoat Surfaces

The hull and other gelcoated surfaces of your boat need good maintenance and protection to avoid rusting or losing their luster. First, every spring, give these surfaces a base coat of two-layer paste wax. Then apply liquid carnauba wax once every month to provide the boat with extra shine.

Finally, wash the boat down after every use. Do this with boat soap that contains liquid wax.


To make sure dirt doesn’t get embedded in the canvas, clean it monthly. To clean the canvas, spray it with water using a hose, scrub gently using a soft bristle brush and mild soap, then rinse. You will have to do heavy cleaning once every couple of years. Check with the manufacturer of your canvas before choosing the supplies to use in doing the heavy cleaning.

Cleaning a clear canvas begins with giving it a gentle wash-down using soapy water and a microfiber cloth. Do this every time the boat returns to dock. After that, remove water droplets by wiping the curtains with a chamois.

Hull Bottoms

Cleaning the hull bottoms depends on where the boat sits. If she sits in a wet slip, you should have the bottom painted using antifouling paint. The paint will keep the hull bottom free of stain.

If the boat is kept on a lift or trailer, clean it as you would the other gel-coated areas of the boat.


Giving the teak a scrub-down using soapy water is an excellent way to clean the teak but not for the long term. At one point in time, you will need to clean the teak using an acid-based teak cleaner to prevent it from getting black and mottled.

However, before using the acid-based teak cleaner, make sure to remove the teak as the cleaner will dull and damage the paint, metals, and gel coat of other surfaces.

Maintaining your Outboards

For the most part you can handle the general maintenance of your outboards yourself but we suggest leaving the internal workings and services to the professionals.

Flushing the Motor

This step is not only to be done after saltwater trips; it should be done for freshwater as well. Most motors now-a-days come with a built-in flushing port*. First, turn on the engine and let the water pump do the rest. Be sure to stay away from the prop and avoid shifting the motor into gear.

While the flushing is on, check to make sure that the water flow is good. To do this, put a finger through the flowing water. Mind you, it might be warm but should not be hot. If the water isn’t flowing strong enough, you will have to clear the flow tube of debris.

Shut down the engine to prevent damage, then use a small wire to clear the flow tube by inserting and working it back and forth. Start the engine again and check if the issue is resolved. If not, you should get a new water pump.

Finally, when you are done flushing the engine, remove the fuel line, and let the engine use up all the fuel left in the carburetor. Then, turn off the key as well as the battery switch if there is one.

*No flushing port? Learn how to flush your motor when there is no flushing port.

Grooming the Cowl and Exterior

After every outing, clean and rinse the cowl and exterior with soap and water using a microfiber cloth. This will remove the water spots or salt deposits that can occur from splashing around in the water. If you want an extra shine you can finish with a layer of plastic-safe wax.

Leave the Rest to the Pros

Most car enthusiasts know (unless you happen to be a master mechanic) to leave the heart of any car alone. The same should go for a boat. It is recommended to clean the outside of your motor and maybe manage the cosmetics of the inside, but messing with any wires, fuel lines or anything else should be left to the pro’s. Just like cars, mile based (or in this case hour based) services are recommended. Our expert KG recommends sticking to the standard suggestion to ensure longevity of your motor.

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Don't forget about the Trailer

It is relatively easy to overlook the trailer until it develops a fault, that’s when you realize just how integral and essential the trailer may be. Prior to purchasing a trailer, make sure it is in tip-top shape and that it is in fact the right trailer for your boat. You may event want to brush up on any local or county-wide trailer compliance regulations and requirements.

The Rinse Down

Just like your boat, rinsing off your trailer after every outing is imperative to prevent build up or saltwater corrosion. After every use, check the trailer for hidden rust spots and cracks and rinse it down. You should only need to give it a good wash, using soap, every so often.

Check the Tires and Brakes

Always check the tires before heading out, as tire issues are the most common causes of trailer breakdowns. Look out for signs of wear or irregular treading. You will also want to check the air pressure and the rims. A good habit during the winter is to drive it around once in a while to prevent balling of the tires or stiffness in the brakes.

For the brakes, lubricate all the parts, which include the hitch actuator and brake lock tab. Check brake fluid and cables, calipers and discs for corrosion and wear as the brakes often get immersed in the water when offloading your vessel.

Inspect the Bearings

Inspecting and even replacing the bearings is vital as it can significantly increase a trailer’s lifespan. This step should be carried out at least once a year. If you come across a blue tinge during a thorough inspection, that signifies heat damage.

After inspection and cleaning, reassemble them and look for any out-of-place movement when turning the wheels. Also, listen for any odd noise.

Monitor Suspension and Axles

Always keep an eye on the axles and suspension. Since trailers are often dipped into the water to release the boat, rust and corrosion is a real threat to the metal rods, springs and coils. The maintenance routine depends on the trailer manufacturer, so be sure to check and follow any provided instructions.

Check the Winch and Strap

Make sure to lubricate the gears as well as check the tie-downs, chains, and shackles. Exposure to the sun leads to the deterioration and breakage of the winch straps and tie-downs. Look out for discoloration as that is an indication of UV damage.

Test the Lights and Wiring

Always check the lights and wiring. Having a tail light or turn signal out can be a hazard to surrounding drivers and cause an accident. Clean any dirty connector plugs regularly using an electrical contact cleaner. You don’t have to be an electrician to check all the wires, simply check for any visible fraying or corrosion. Our skilled repair team can help with your trailer and boat repair needs.

Final Inspection

While all of these steps may look like a lot of hard work, they are necessary to ensure the smooth running and long-life span of your boat, not to mention that a well maintained and clean boat ensures your safety during every boat trip and during boat transportation.

Make it a habit to follow everything mentioned in this boat cleaning guide and you should be good to go. Your vessel will be grateful (and will stay beautiful).

Happy Cleaning and Safe Boating!

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