Detailing your boat can be a confusing and labor-intensive process. There are many different surfaces to clean and dozens of products available for each. To help determine the best boat cleaning products, BoaterInput surveyed 250 boat owners to find out which brands are most popular and highest rated.
Best Boat Cleaning Products: Overall Brand Ratings
The chart below is a summary of the results from our survey. Out of approximately 60 brands listed, we identified the best boat cleaning products across a variety of applications. The average rating and the percentage of boaters using each is provided. And, the surfaces commonly cleaned with each brand is denoted by check marks.
Source: BoaterInput survey, 250 responses, August 2018.
Best Products to Clean Boat Exterior
Let’s start with the boat exterior. The best boat cleaning product to use depends on what you are trying to accomplish. And, you don’t necessarily want the most powerful product in every situation since these could be more harmful to the environment and/or your boat’s finish.
For example, if you leave your fiberglass boat in the water and your hull is full of algae, stains or scum, you are going to need something very powerful such as the MaryKate On & Off which received very high marks from our survey participants. This hull & bottom cleaner is caustic and care should be exercised when using it. But it likely will get the job done.
At the other extreme, if you just want to keep your boat looking nice in between waxings, then you will want to use a Boat Wash such as that offered by Meguiar’s or Star brite. These products are typically biodegradable and can often be used in or near the water without harmful effects. Plus, they are usually pH neutral (not acidic) and therefore will not strip your wax like regular dish soap will.
However, because these products are gentler, they might not get out some of your tougher stains or spots. In these situations, you might want to try a hull cleaner.
The terminology on these products can be confusing. Just remember that, if you want to clean the boat without removing the wax, look for a boat wash. If you want to remove heavier stains (along with the wax), try a hull cleaner. For even heavier growth and scum, use a bottom cleaner.
If you are dealing with oxidation, that is an entirely different matter. See our article on ““Washing and Waxing: How to Detail a Boat”” for step by step instructions or our related article – “Best Boat Wax: Unbiased Review” for a list of the top rated brands.
Best Products to Clean Boat Upholstery
The best approach to clean a boat interior is similar to that of the exterior. Start with the least aggressive approach and then “check down” to more aggressive methods only as needed. For normal dirt and grime, regular dish soap such as Dawn is a good place to start. For tougher spots, try Simple Green – a multipurpose, biodegradable cleaner, degreaser and stain remover that is extremely popular with boaters. And, according to the company website, it will not degrade rubber or vinyl surfaces.
However, for really tough stains or for mold and mildew, consider using the more aggressive Spray Nine cleaner which received very high marks from survey participants. But some boaters caution that this powerful cleaner could hurt upholstery threads or compromise painted surfaces. Again, start with the gentler cleaners and then bring out the “big guns” only where needed.
Finally, after you have cleaned your upholstery, finish with a vinyl protectant to help restore the look and block harmful UV rays. And, according to our survey, the product to use for this is the 303 Marine Aerospace Protectant. Participants rated this product very well and had many nice comments regarding its effectiveness. Here are just a few examples:
- “Best vinyl protectant.”
- “Effectively protects and prolongs vinyl.”
- “I do not cover my toon and it protects the interior.”
- “I like the way it cleans and the way our boat shines after using 303.”
- “In 4 years, my seats still look new & boat is out in elements on dock, but covered, at all times.”
How to Clean Boat Carpet
A number of people in our survey simply use pressure washers to clean boat carpets (and, I must admit, I have been guilty of this myself). After all, it is convenient since you are already using it to clean your boat exterior. However, this is not the ideal method since the pressure from the sprayer could damage older, brittle carpet or cause the glue to release.
A better method, as other survey participants noted, is to use a combination of vinegar and water with a medium brush and a regular hose. After first vacuuming your carpet, wash it down with the garden hose. Then spray a mixture of white vinegar and water (roughly a 1:4 ratio, more for heavy stains) to your carpet and let is sit for at least 10 minutes. Then scrub, hose off, vacuum and let dry. For heavier stains, try either Simple Green or Spray Nine. However, for this last item in particular, be sure to test it in a concealed area first to ensure it doesn’t damage the carpet colors.
How to Clean Boat Windshield
Not surprisingly, the most popular product to clean boat windshields is regular old Windex. It cleans the glass well and doesn’t leave streaks. (But, as noted in the comment section below, do NOT use Windex if your windshield is made of acrylic since this could damage the surface leaving it cloudy looking.)
If your windshield has water spots, a number of boaters recommended vinegar and water instead. It not only removes the mineral deposits but doesn’t build up like other products can.
Incidentally, several also recommended the vinegar and water mixture to remove hard-water spots on their boat hull. However, if you use this, be sure to dilute it well since the acidic vinegar could remove your wax in higher concentrations.
Best Products to Clean Boat Console and Dash
Most boat console areas are made of a combination of materials such as fiberglass, glass, aluminum or carbon-fiber and other materials. For this reason, there is no singular answer as to the best product to use. For the dash area in particular, many boaters in our survey indicated that they use Simple Green or regular dish soap. 303 Marine Aerospace Protectant was also popular to protect softer surfaces.
Best Products to Polish Chrome on Boat
Nearly all motorboats have some amount of stainless steel or chrome – either for fasteners, cleats or on the trailer. However, some boats, like saltwater fishing boats or wakeboard boats, use a substantial amount for leaning posts, rod holders and/or watersports towers. If your boat or trailer has a lot of chrome and you are experiencing rust, tarnish or oxidation, get yourself some Flitz polish. This product was rated very effective in our survey (9.3 out of 10) and received many favorable comments from study participants.
- “Awesome product. Diamond plate on my trailer really shines.”
- “Cleans oxidation and rust off easily.”
- “Shines up my stainless steel very nicely. Leaves a protective coating that keeps it looking better…longer than just a quick clean product.”
- “It is excellent on metals.”
And, as an added bonus, it protects up to 6 months in freshwater and 3 months in saltwater according to the company website.
How to Clean Motor and Trailer
Many survey participants reported using the same products to clean their motor or trailer as they use on their boat exterior – namely, dish soap, pressure washer soap and even Simple Green. However, as mentioned previously, these items might remove your wax. If you want to avoid that, then stick with a boat wash. Alternatively, some of the spray waxes are a good way to reapply a protective finish to your boat, motor or trailer.
To learn more about waxing your boat, check out our article on “Best Boat Wax – Unbiased Review”.
Let’s face it, few people enjoy cleaning their boat. We’d rather spend our time using it. But, by following these boat cleaning tips, you can keep your baby looking nice for years to come.
Please let me know your thoughts regarding this article or any other cleaning suggestions you may have in the comments section below. And, if you found this information to be helpful, please share it on Facebook or other social media outlets to help support our effort to deliver helpful and unbiased information for boaters.
Special thanks to the 250 of you who took time out of your busy schedules to share your thoughts in my survey. I am extremely grateful for your contribution and the information above would not have been possible without your help.
I clean a LOT of stuff in my business and one thing that should be mentioned, do not use Windex WITH AMMONIA on acrylic, such as plastic windshields, or any other glass cleaner with ammonia. The versions that are “ammonia free” are OK.
Thanks Richard for your feedback and for helping the broader boater community with your advice. I’ve added your caution in the article above. Do you know if most boats have acrylic or “Plexiglas” windshields instead of glass and is there an easy way for boaters to tell which type they have? Also, can you describe what Ammonia does to acrylic surfaces?
I have found the best soap to wash boat and auto is murphy oil soap,it will not strip the wax off and gives the best shine!