Last Updated on October 27, 2022 by Brian Drew

Love your boat? Take pride in its clean shiny exterior and forever fresh-smelling interiors. Keeping your boat clean at all times is an art. Keeping all that mold and smell away is not an easy task.

Not one of those hands-on people who know how to clean what? Here are a few pointers to help you keep that boat squeaky clean from top to bottom, all year around.

What To Clean

The first question is what has to be cleaned? The boat is always in the water, does that mean its exteriors can be ignored? No! On the contrary, it is these surfaces that are constantly exposed to water, that need more attention. So where do you clean?

  • Carpets
  • Vinyl Seats
  • Live wells/ holding tanks (for fishing boats)
  • The hull
  • Bilges
  • Consoles
  • Engines
  • Trailer

One needs to pay attention to each of the above-mentioned areas apart from hosing down the entire boat itself.

How To Clean The Carpets

The carpet sees it all. Right from your dirty shoes, and wet suits to slimy fishes, everything leaves a trail on those carpets. The end result? Dirty carpets that smell bad.

There is no quick or easy way to clean up all that dirt. Use a hose and spray the entire carpet area with water. The pressure from the hose will help in lifting up the dirt. Use a wet/dry vacuum and drain away all the water. If the stain persists, use a brush to scrub away the dirt. If you don’t own a wet/dry vacuum, let the water dry and use a regular vacuum.

How To Clean Vinyl Seats

Though vinyl is used in the boats for low maintenance, they need to be cleaned regularly too. Just a little soap mixed with water can be used. Mix 1/4th cup of mild soap with a gallon of water. Dip a sponge into the solution and rub away the dirt in a circular motion. Once done, wipe with a dry cloth to ensure no moisture remains, as this will lead to mold.

Never use harsh chemicals on these surfaces as they can lead to cracks and damage over a period of time. A protective coat of sunscreen can protect these surfaces from damage caused due to UV rays. It acts as a protective layer to keep away stains too.

How To Clean Live Wells

Live wells, also known as holding tanks, are where the fish are kept until the fishing boat reaches the shore. These tanks can get messy and smelly. If not maintained properly, not only will it smell strong but will affect the quality of the fish too.

Remove the filter screens and blast clean water into the tanks. This will release the clogs and ease up the deposits. Mix a few spoons of baking soda with hot water, mix it well and pour it into the tank. Scrub away the bottom and sides with a coarse sponge.

Wash it off with a few rounds of fresh clean water. Ensure to flush it a few times, as all the soap and deposits won’t go away in a single wash.

Though bleach and strong detergents can be more effective, they might ruin the fish. Also, if any residue is consumed by the fish, it might be carried over to you when you eat the fish. Though this may not cause any harm initially, over a period of time, continuous ingestion of such toxic ingredients can affect your health.

How To Clean The Hull

The hulls are what gets exposed the most. If you sail through polluted waters, the damage caused is more severe. Corrosion is one of the biggest concerns if your boat frequents salt water or even fresh water. Keeping the hull clean will not only make your boat look well maintained, but it will also enable you to move through the water faster.

  • Rinse the hull thoroughly with a hose or a few buckets of fresh water. This will loosen up the salt build-up.
  • Mix a cleaner specifically designed for hull cleaning, with water. Ensure the directions are followed.
  • Scrub away the deposits all around, down to the water line. use a dingy alongside your boat or use one of the dock-based products sold in the market
  • Dip a large soft sponge in the solution and wash the hull, section by section. Use a circular motion and ensure the paint job is not damaged. If a heavy-duty cleaner is used, use a bow-to-stern motion.
  • Rinse with fresh water once scrubbed
  • Wipe away the residual solution and watermarks with a sponge soaked in clean water

Sometimes the above-mentioned basic cleaning will not suffice. An extensive cleaning with an acid-based cleaner will be more effective.

  • Hose down the hull to remove all the dirt, weeds, and another slime that tends to build up
  • Mix the acid-based cleaner with water and pour it into a spray bottle
  • Spray all over the hull and let it sit for a few minutes. If the dirt does not give way, let the solution sit longer. However, do not let it stay for more than a maximum of 15 minutes, as the acid will harm the surface.
  • Remove the excess solution and grime if any, with a soft-bristled brush
  • Now repeat the same process on the other side
  • Once the scrubbing is done, hose down the entire area, to remove all cleaning solutions. Since it is acid based, letting it stay on may result in corrosion and rust spots.

Automatic boat wash systems can also be used if one does not want to use harsh chemicals. However, this requires more manual labor and is time-consuming.

How To Clean The Bilges

Bilges can conceal grime, sludge, and even oil residue. Use a cleaner specifically designed to clean bilges. They will break down the grime and dirt, without affecting the metal, plastic, or paint of the boat. Once cleaned, the dirty water can be either pumped out or vacuumed with a wet vacuum.

How To Clean Consoles

The boat will have a number of glass and plastic areas that requires cleaning. A regular all-purpose cleaning spray with a soft sponge is good enough to get rid of all the dirt. Wipe away in a side-to-side motion. Ensure you wipe in a single direction only. Follow up with a dry cloth immediately to remove watermarks.

How To Clean The Engines

Oil residue and watermarks can make an engine dirty and grimy. Hose down the outside of the engine and follow it up with a sponge or brush with a soap solution. Use stronger detergents for the tough stains that won’t come off. Scrub it off with a soft brush and wipe it with a cloth.

How To Clean The Trailer

If you have a trailer, chances are that you stock a lot of things and the trailer gets exposed to a lot of dust. Wash it along with the boat and it will be in pristine condition always. The trailer does not have the complicated process for cleaning like that of a boat. Hence it takes very little time to ensure the trailer is also clean and shining like your boat.


Owning a boat does not end with filling fuel and attending to repairs. Cleaning your boat from top to bottom, and paying attention to every minute detail, will reflect on the health of your boat. Use the right techniques and right products to get the best out of your vessel.

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