How to Clean Your Vinyl Boat Seats Without Causing Damage

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Be honest, do your vinyl boat seats still look as clean as they did when they just came from the factory? 

Our vinyl boat seats take a lot of abuse from the harsh saltwater environment, the sun, fish blood, and much more. It becomes important to clean them the correct way so you don’t damage the vinyl or stitching. 

Routine cleaning will keep your vinyl looking brand new. Deep cleaning will even remove stubborn stains that can cause long term damage. 

The sun’s UV rays can cause deterioration and discoloring to vinyl boat seats, so how do we prevent that? 

Here is our guide to cleaning your vinyl boat seats the easy way and how to best remove the 4 most common types of stains that cause your clean white boat seats to look old and dirty. 

Routine Cleaning 

Step 1 Use a hose to rinse off any loose dirt, grime, and contaminants. 

Step 2 Mix a 4:1 solution of water and mild boat soap (such as [affiliate link anchor text]). Using a clean microfiber cloth, wipe down all of your vinyl upholstery including seats, bolsters, leaning posts, etc. Don’t saturate the vinyl as the water can soak into the foam and cause deterioration and mold. 

Step 3 Rinse the solution off with fresh water using a light shower hose attachment. 

Step 4 Use a dry cloth to completely dry all of the vinyl upholstery. 

Routine cleaning should be completed at least once per week, in addition to after each use to maintain a perfectly clean appearance. 

Deep cleaning, on the other hand, should be done once every month, or weekly if you fish your boat pretty hard. 

Let’s determine what types of stains can affect your boat seats and how we can properly clean it without causing damage and using harsh chemicals. 

Stain Removal Tips

Dirt and Grime 

The most common stains you will get on your seats are dirt and grime: footprints, fish blood, food, drinks, mud, and everything in between. 

The best way to clean this type of stain is with a surfactant cleaner such as Meguiars Marine Boat Wash or OrPine Boat Wash. 

rust and tannin 

Rust and tannin stains are less common to find on your seats but can be caused by leaving rusty hooks or tools on your seats, or leaves sitting for a prolonged period of time. 

The best way to clean this type of stain is with an acid based product such as Bar Keepers Friend (oxalic acid). 

mold and mildew 

Cleaning mold and mildew stains are a very common problem among boaters since these stains thrive in moist environments. The best way to clean this type of stain is using a vinyl cleaner such as Starbrite Mold and Mildew Cleaner. 

It is tempting to grab the bottle of Clorox under the sink and try to remove every stain that touches your vinyl, but this could cause damage.

Many boat owners make this mistake. Don’t do this! You will damage your vinyl and stitching. You will not notice it after the first time, but bleach is corrosive and it will damage vinyl seat components over time. 

Scuffs 

Scuff marks from shoes or dragging hoses are tough to remove. 

The best way to remove scuff marks is to spot clean with an abrasive sponge such as a magic eraser. You only want to use it for the scuff marks, not the entire seat. Magic erasers are micro polishing pads so they will remove tiny layers of the vinyl, but since these stains are deeper, they require a tougher product.

Deep Cleaning 

About once a month, after you perform routine cleaning as directed, you should do a deep cleaning. This step will eliminate any tough stains that have accumulated on your seats and get into all of the nooks and crannies that you may have missed during routine cleaning. 

Step 1: Spray your vinyl upholstery with a cleaner such as Starbrites Vinyl Cleaner Spray, and use a detail brush to get into all of the cracks and crevices. Let the product sit for about 1 minute, as per the product’s instructions. This will help lift stuck on dirt and grime that has settled over time. (Test in an inconspicuous area first to ensure the product does not cause a reaction with the surface).

Step 2 Rinse the cleaner off with clean water using a hose. 

Step 3 Using the stain guide above, remove any dirt, rust, mold/mildew or scuffs using the recommended products. 

Protection 

Once your vinyl is completely clean, apply a UV protectant, such as 303 Aerospace Protectant (highly recommended). Spray on the vinyl completely wetting the surface. Follow the instructions, and then wipe dry, ensuring to wipe up all excess protectant. This product will provide a protective coating that repels stains and provides protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays. 

Don’t Do This:

Here are some products to avoid using on your boat seats

  • Undiluted bleach (Clorox, Pool Shock)
  • Ammonia (Windex)
  • Degreasers (Simple Green, Purple Power)
  • Solvents (Acetone, mineral spirits)

Do what works for you

Although this is a great guide to follow, most people have developed their own methods for cleaning their boat seats. You will not find it uncommon for other boaters to use the products that I have suggested not to use. 

Boats are expensive and my goal is to prolong the life and look of my vinyl upholstery. This is the simplest and easiest way to clean and protect boat vinyl seats, in my opinion. A little preventative maintenance is cheaper in the long run than having to repair or replace vinyl upholstery. 

Bonus Tips 

  1. The best way to extend the life of your boat seats and upholstery is to cover them while not in use. Covers will protect the vinyl from dirt and deterioration from UV rays. 
  2. A good habit to develop is using your boats on board washdown (if equipped) to clean the boat as soon as you notice a stain. For example, if you are fishing and blood gets on the seat, have the hose ready and rinse the blood off the seat before it has time to fully set in.

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