Every captain understands the rigors to which a vessel is subjected during its time out on the water. Marine environments will bring a boat into intimate contact with a wide range of natural corrosive agents that are present in seawater. The influence of the sun’s rays cannot be understated, either, since boats spend hours if not days baking out under the sun with no cover. In addition to these natural influences, boats are subjected to the ravages of oils, gasoline and other harsh chemicals, some of which are purposely introduced and others which afflict the vessel by chance.
Even freshwater environments, which tend to be less stressful on a boat than marine settings, are extremely demanding. The influence of the elements on freshwater vessels present an equal, although different challenge to sweetwater boaters.
Because of these factors, cleaning and sealing your boat routinely, or after each trip (if possible) is not a matter of vanity but of proper, responsible vessel maintenance. Unlike cars, which can be left without routine washings and sealings for months, irreparable damage can be caused to a boat’s hull, trim and brightworks, if proper cleaning and maintenance are not observed.
There are several different types of boat cleaners that are available to modern boat owners, in addition to waxes, polishes and sealants. Some of these products incorporate several different aspects of functionality into one formula; some are easier to use than others.
In this article, we’ll break down the importance of the use of a proper boat cleaner, why you need to clean your boat, and what you can do about it yourself as part and parcel of responsible boat ownership.
Why You Need to Keep Your Boat Clean
Let’s kick this off with a direct address to what is probably the most important chemical assailant of all of the surfaces on most boats: saltwater. Yes, it is a chemical assailant, because it is reactive, but saltwater and the subsequent salt deposits it leaves behind can actually cause abrasive damage to your vessel as well.
If your boat is a saltwater vessel, every time you take it out on the water, you’re going to be coating the hull with saltwater and introducing it to a wide range of marine life that can wreak havoc on a hull - even a fiberglass one. This is one of the reasons that halls are treated with special marine paint.
However, saltwater doesn’t just come into contact with the outside of the hull. Marine engines are water-cooled, sucking in saltwater and distributing them around their interiors. In addition, while under way on the water, the superstructure of your vessel and all above-board components, trim and fittings will be constantly spattered by spray. Even on calm days, this effect is unavoidable. In rough weather, a boat’s deck will routinely become completely soaked.
In the short term, this hardly matters. Boats are made to get wet; they’re boats. The problem comes when you bring your boat back to the slip or the lift and don’t rinse it off and clean it or seal it between trips.
Understandably, you can’t give your boat a very thorough cleaning when it’s in the slip, since it’ll still be in the water, but there are some captains that wouldn’t dream of bringing their boat into port without at least thoroughly rinsing it off with freshwater.
Leading saltwater to dry on the hell, on vinyl and isinglass, on chrome, aluminum and wood can be devastating, and frequently is. For one thing, when the water in saltwater evaporates, it leaves behind salt deposits. Salt deposits crystallize, forming a rough, abrasive surface wherever they have been left behind. This alone can cause physical damage to the moving parts above board on your boat, through friction and contact.
However, even if this were not the case, salt is highly reactive and can cause pitting, oxidation and other chemical damage. Rails, cleats and other metal fittings and trim are susceptible to damage caused by salt deposition and subsequent oxidation; these can rust and pit after so much as one instance of exposure.
Boats are often trimmed with teak and other woods, which will absorb both water and salt. Salt will hasten the deterioration of the wood, absorbing natural moisture and oils and causing the wood to discolor and split. As for fiberglass and vinyl, these surfaces will become cloudy and scratched when salt is left behind, and once scratched, there’s effectively no way to reverse the damage. It can only be prevented.
Saltwater, as damaging as it can be, is not the only destructive influence that can work its ill effects on boats. Both marine and freshwater vessels are subject to damage caused by UV rays - making the use of the right boat cleaner and a protecting polisher or sealant necessary as well in order to keep your boat safe.
Ultraviolet light, also known as UV radiation, can be destructive to a wide range of natural materials and synthetic polymers. Overexposure to UV light - which is something with which most boats contend on a daily basis - can cause discoloration and fading in a variety of materials, including vinyl, fiberglass and wood. Metals are fairly stable in the face of UV, but that’s little consolation to a boat with a fiberglass hull, and vinyl and teak trim and accessories.
A marine gel or sealant will do more than restore the shine of your boat’s brightworks and trim. It will also serve as a UV protectant, preserving the beautiful colors of your vessel’s trappings and helping to prevent aging, fading, discoloration and delamination.
How to Clean Your Vessel: Areas of Attention
The most basic way to clean your boat when you get back to home port, if you don’t have the time to provide a thorough cleaning and detailing, is to wash off all of the surfaces above board and on the hull, with pressurized spray nozzle. Oftentimes, it takes more than this to dislodge and clear away salt deposits, but it’s better than nothing, and in between daily trips, it will help to protect your boat.
If you’re removing your boat from the water and will not be taking it out again for some time, it pays to perform a thorough cleaning and detailing with quality cleaning products like boat soaps and gel coats, to protect your vessel while it is on the lift or otherwise drydocked.
Like most other materials on board, fiberglass can be first washed down with a pressurized spray nozzle and clean water. With a wash mitt or a stiff bristled brush, work up a lather to dislodge salt deposits and other contaminants. You can use a special stain remover if the fiberglass has become discolored or needs special care, attention or spot cleaning. Then, rinse away the boat wash and apply a marine gel, polish or sealant in the manner prescribed by the product’s manufacturer instructions.
*Please note that some boat cleaners, washes and polishes create a slick surface that is unsafe for boat decks, gangways and other surfaces that are intended to be used as footholds. Never apply any products to these surfaces if they will leave it slippery as this creates extremely dangerous conditions on board. Therefore, your processes for fiberglass cleaning will vary in accordance with the use of the surface in question.
Washing boat cushions is necessary from time to time. In between trips, you can simply hose them down and allow them to air dry, but periodically you will want to give them a deeper cleaning to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
Remove the cushions; if they are fabric, you may be able to machine wash them. If so, allow them to air dry to prevent the risk of shrinkage. If they are vinyl, see our tips below for vinyl care.
As for the cushions, you can clean them with a mild detergent that is approved for the material they are made from. Otherwise, if you are unsure of what you can or can’t use, you can probably safely use a mixture of vinegar and water to clean them; just be sure to rinse them thoroughly and allow them to air dry on a dry, sunny day, as you don’t want them to remain wet.
Cleaning teak and other wood fittings on a boat requires a little bit of care and attention. It’s also one of the most important aspects of boat maintenance since teak, and other woods, are organic and can break down or even rot if poor conditions persist.
To clean teak using a brush or mitt, you can use water and a special teak cleaner. When scrubbing to dislodge dirt and salt, scrub across the grain and not with it, otherwise you risk pushing contaminants further down between the fibers or separating them, weakening the wood.
After you have cleaned and rinsed the teak, you can apply a special teak oil if you so choose. This will be readily absorbed by the wood, where it will prevent the undue absorption of other liquids, protecting the luster and strength of the wood.
A boat’s brightworks are, luckily, some of the easiest to restore, clean and polish, since some of these metals, like chrome, are naturally resistant to corrosion to begin with. Still, you will want to rinse them with fresh water, a boat cleaner and an abrasive scrub brush to remove any salt deposits. Afterwards, seal them with a boat wax or premium marine gel in order to preserve their luster and protect against corrosion.
Most vinyl used on boats, from bimini covers to isinglass to seat cushion covers, is specially coated with protectants to preserve it from weathering, UV damage, mold, mildew and other microbial damage. You don’t want to use harsh chemical agents on it that can destroy these finishes. Instead, a rinse with mild, soapy water can usually do the trick, in conjunction with a soft mitt or sponge. There are also special boat cleaning supplies like vinyl cleaners that you can use to restore and protect vinyl.
How Our Marine Gel Makes a Difference
If you’re looking for a boat cleaner that is easy to use and environmentally safe, look no further than our PRODUXAⓇ Marine Gel. It is a one-step cleaner, polisher and protector for a wide range of boat and jet ski surfaces, including but not limited to painted and unpainted gel coat surfaces, fiberglass, aluminum and stainless steel.
Its nanotech polymer formula has been carefully formulated to clean and seal a variety of marine surfaces while also protecting them against damaging UV radiation. It is both environmentally friendly and non-toxic, and very easy to use. Simply apply it to the marine surface in question with a clean microfiber towel and work it in using circular strokes.
A Note on PRODUXAⓇ Car Shampoo
While our PRODUXAⓇ Marine Gel is ideal for cleaning, polishing sealing and protecting, if you’re looking for a dedicated cleaner to pave the way for the polish, our PRODUXAⓇ Car Shampoo will work admirably.
This pH balanced shampoo does not remove existing sealants, waxes or coatings and does not leave a film. It gently lifts away dirt and other decontaminants, and is safe to use on glass, fiberglass, vinyl, and more. It is the perfect boat cleaner to use in conjunction with our Marine Gel, and can be used to prepare a surface for polishing and sealing, and used afterward to gently clean without removing the protective marine gel coating.
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