How To Clean Marine Vinyl Fabric?
So you are here for one of two reasons...
You recently got a boat and you want to keep it in great shape or the more likely option is you have some mildew or stained seats and you want to get it clean without damaging your seats. Today is your lucky day as you have come to an expert for advice.
Let’s start with prevention.
You are probably wondering why outdoor marine grade vinyl would mold in the first place. The vinyl is treated to help prevent mold and mildew. The main characteristic that separates Marine Grade Vinyl and regular vinyl is marine grade vinyl has UV protection and is Mold/Mildew resistant.
Guess What… The problem isn’t with the vinyl!
The real problem is how the material is cared for and cleaned. We are not pointing fingers, but this is usually the #1 reason marine vinyl breaks down.
So now you’re probably asking, “what is the best way to prevent mold, mildew and those dreaded cracked seats?” First off, you need to cover your seats when they are not in use. The sun will damage anything left outside. This is the #1 cause of fading and cracked seats. If you want your boat seats to last, they simply need to be covered. They don’t make boat covers because they look nice and are a pain in the butt to roll up. They help protect your boat from those harsh UV rays. Professional Tip make sure your cover has a vent cap to help with air circulation.
Now let’s get back to the mold and mildew. Marine vinyl is porous and will stain if items are left on the seats. Here is an example where someone left a welcome mat on their seat for 2 weeks and it caused a nasty stain. Yes it only took 2 weeks for this seat to get ruined.
Lesson: don’t leave anything on your seats. That includes things you can’t see easily. Sunscreen, food, spilled drinks etc. In the ideal world its best to wipe the seats after every use, but we all know that’s not realistic. The key is to clean up any noticeable messes right away. We would suggest twice a month to wipe down the seats to catch the things you can’t see like sunscreen. It’s best to wipe your seats down with some dawn soap and warm water to prevent issues.
The example above happened because the moisture was trapped making it the perfect breeding ground for mold. This is why it’s important to think about ventilation. If you have a wet boat and place a cover over it the water gets trapped and it can easily turn into mold. This is the reason you should install vents in your boat cover. This allows the air to circulate properly drying the trapped water and preventing mold.
So what will stain your seats? Besides the sun, sunscreen, food, drinks, cardboard boxes, leaves, grass, and ink.
Ok now that we have talked about prevention what do you do if you have mold, mildew or that dreaded pink stain?
As we mentioned above it’s best to use warm soapy water and scrub it with a plastic bristle brush. You can also use marine vinyl cleaner that is made specifically to clean seats. This is recommended because you don’t want harsh cleaners and scrubbing to take off the outer protective layer of he vinyl. If you’re not careful you can easily take years off the life of your vinyl simply by cleaning it with the wrong solution.
When you get a spill or other issue clean up as much as possible right away. The stain inhibitors will help prevent stains, but just like in clothes if a stain sits for a long time it can stay and may become your worst enemy.
The reality is you need to treat boat seats like a small baby. You need to continuously clean and wipe them with warm soapy water on a regular basis. Anytime someone spills on them or writes on them it's important to wipe it up right away. I always recommend the following.
- Soap and Water - Warm Dish Soap and Water is the best way to safely clean Marine Vinyl. It may take some elbow grease, but if you clean your material every few weeks this method is the safest.
- Marine 31 - We have personally used this product and it worked great. We have tried it on 2 different boats. One boat simply had mold on it and with a lot of scrubbing the seats looked brand new. The other boat was left uncovered for many years and had a good amount of sun damage. Most of the mold came off but the sun damage remained. We usually recommend replacing the vinyl when it looks cracked and discolored.
- 3M Vinyl cleaner/protectant cream - This product is one of our favorites. It does a great job safely cleaning the surface of the Marine Vinyl Fabric and also adds a protectant layer to extend the life of the vinyl.
- 303 Marine & Recreation Aerospace Protectant - This product along with other mild cleaners are also ok to use.
- 303 Clear Vinyl Protective Cleaner
- MALCO LEATHER PLASTIC CLEANER – This is a product a lot of professionals use and it can be found on Amazon
Do NOT and I repeat Do NOT Clean Marine Vinyl With Any Of The Following
- POWER WASHER - Some people like to use a power washer on their vinyl, but this will damage the upholstery as it can pack too much pressure into one spot and can cause a rip in the material.
- MAGIC ERASER - Removes dirt, scuff marks and most anything that will be on your material including the protective outer coating. Some people will say this the best product to use, but be careful, as it will remove more than you think.
- Degreasers - This product will make your seats look very clean, but it will also wipe away layers of the protective coating weakening the material over time. Please note: degreasers might be necessary to clean up after extreme mold build up.
- Bleach - Bleach may appear to clean well for a time, but they clean by removing layers of finish along with the stained material on top of the finish. Vinyl is a porous material, similar to leather. The pores must be able to breathe, so be careful not to clog your vinyl's pores with suntan lotions, oils, etc.
- Goo B Gone - This product is great at removing sap, bird poop and other hard to remove messes, but this product will also remove the protective coating
- 409 - Many People feel 409 and other cleaners are safe, but they really do more damage.
- Gasoline - Many people will use gas as a cleaner as it will clean almost anything. This product is always available, but it's flammable stinks and is also to harsh for Marine Vinyl fabric.
- Household Cleaners – Most household cleaners are too strong and will hurt your marine vinyl. Only use cleaners that are made for marine vinyl.
Here is another trick we found that we have used from time to time.
- Pen Marks - Many people use marine vinyl as a tablecloth in restaurants. Since most people pay with a credit card pen marks become a huge problem. The good news is SUNSCREEN works wonders and will take pen marks out. Try It! Just make sure to clean up the sunscreen with the warm soapy water to prevent other issues.
Now that you know how to prevent and clean boat seats let’s take that extra step to make sure they stay vibrant and have a long happy life. Use a marine vinyl treatment. The best products we have found to extend the life of marine vinyl are the Starbrite marine vinyl treatment and 303 Aerospace protectant. Please DO NOT use an automotive treatment with silicone. This can actually hurt your seat breaking down the vinyl. Simply spray it on and wipe it into the seats using a towel. Let it dry for 30 minutes as the treatment works itself into the pores of the marine vinyl.
We hope you found this list helpful. Remember proper vinyl cleaning and maintenance increases the life of your boats interior. It is best to clean your boat every few weeks and keep it covered when not in use. When your boat seats are covered birds can't poop on it and the sun can't harm it.