You pull into the marina and start dressing down your boat after a long day on the water. As you lift the seats to grab your gear from the storage unit, you notice that there’s mold growing on the underside and between the cushions.
A further inspection reveals that it’s everywhere on the benches and between the seats. On top of that, you can see the fine shimmer of the dried salt on top of the fabric. It’s time to clean the seats before everything ruins the fabrics and upholstery.
Use this quick guide on how to clean boat seats to get the interior of your vessel back in tip-top condition.
How to Clean boat Seats – What You Need to Know
Most modern boats come with a vinyl material covering featuring anti-mold, anti-microbial, and stain protective treatments. These coatings do a great job of keeping mold growth at bay, protecting the fabric from fungal infestation.
However, if you don’t maintain the material, it’s only a matter of time before mold starts growing everywhere. If you don’t use the right cleaning chemicals and materials for maintaining your seats, you’re likely to rub away the protective coating, resulting in damage to the seats.
Follow these five tips for keeping your seats in great condition.
- Rinse the seats using freshwater and clean them off using a soft microfiber cloth or chamois leather.
- For tough stains, use a gentle diluted soap formulation or aftermarket marine cleaning product.
- Deep clean the seats at least once a month.
- After cleaning, let the seats dry and apply a vinyl protectant.
- Avid using brushes and cloths with stiff fibers or bristles, and never use caustic cleaners on the vinyl.
How to Clean a Boat – The Basics
Ensuring you wipe down the seats after each outing prevents mold and mildew from appearing. If mold and mildew do arise, you’ll need to immediately remove any trace of it to prevent it from growing into the seats. Once the fungus penetrates the material and starts to spread, it’s almost impossible to stop it from ruining your seats.
We recommend wiping the seats down after every use. However, if you can’t get round to it after your trip, make sure you clean the seats at least once every two weeks. Wipe the seats down, even if they don’t look like they need immediate attention.
Mold and mildew spores are microscopic, and you can’t see them with the naked eye until they start to form colonies and spread through the materials. Make sure you lift all the cushions to ensure no mold or mildew grows underneath. Fungal spores prefer growing in the darkness, so they love setting up shop under the cushions.
You also get other contaminants that can damage your sets, along with the mold issue. Saltwater spray landing on the seats will eat into the protective coating if you leave it to dry. When you get back to the marina, wiping the seats removes the spray, preventing the salt from ruining the protective layer.
Other contaminants like sweat, sunblock, and insect repellants also transfer to the seats, causing a buildup of residue that will start to erode the protective coating.
Get into the habit of wiping the seats down after each use. It’s a practice that you’ll need to engrain into a routine when you arrive back at the marina.
Take a bucket and fill it with lightly-soapy water. Wipe the seats down with a microfiber cloth to avoid damaging the protective coating. If the seats are especially dirty, leave the water to soak into the dirt for a few minutes before removing it, or invest in a marine-grade vinyl cleaner product.
After the grime soaks up the cleaner, wipe it away, rinse the seats, and dry them using an old towel or microfiber cloth. If the seats are really dirty, you might have to repeat this process several times before it comes clean.
What is the Best Cleaner to Use on Boat Seats?
The best cleaner for your seats is a bucket of slightly soapy water. There are dozens of marine-grade vinyl cleaners available, but they cost a fortune, and many of them will remove the special protective coating – so use them as a last resort.
The manufacturer’s protective coating on the seats will fade over time, so contact a boat restoration company and have your seats retreated every other year to prevent damage to the material and to prevent mold growth.
Avoid Caustic Cleaning Agents
Many boat owners make the mistake of using diluted bleach to clean any mold and tough stains from the seats. However, this strategy is a mistake.
The bleach will remove the protective coating. While it might give you immediate results, it’s going to allow mold spores to penetrate the material, and it will look terrible in a few weeks.
Wash Boat Seats As Often As Possible
When you arrive back in the marina, clean the boat seats before leaving or trailering the boat. Don’t let the seats air dry, as the wet conditions provide the ideal breeding ground for mold spores. Wipe the seats completely dry after cleaning them.
Use Protective Sealants
Professional boat restoration and maintenance companies can retreat your seats when the protective coating starts to wear away. We recommend getting them treated before the beginning of each spring, or every other year, depending on how often you use the boat.
- Ultimate Protection – Superior protection against UV rays, dust, dirt, salt water, and staining keeps your products looking like new by preventing fading and cracking
- Non-Greasy – Dries to a smooth matte finish that blends in easily to maintain a like-new appearance, texture, and color with no oily or greasy residue
- Versatile – Restores a variety of surfaces including vinyl, plastic, synthetic and natural rubber, PVC, metal, gel coat, fiberglass, stainless steel, and more. Do not use on clear plastics, flooring, or unfinished leather
- Directions – Out of direct sun, spray product on a clean, dry surface and wipe completely dry with a microfiber towel; If streaking occurs use a wet towel to remove excess; Apply every 3–5 weeks for maximum protection
- For over 40 years, 303 Products have provided premium protection for your cars, boats, and beyond. All 303 Products are good for 2 years after the packaging date on the bottle – YYDDD
How to Remove Mildew Stains from Vinyl Boat Seats
If you find that there is mold growing into the seats because the protective sealant fails, it’s time to take action before it spreads.
Remember, don’t use bleach, no matter how desperate you are to get rid of the infestation. Bleach removes the protective coating, and it also damages fabrics, causing discoloration and a shabby look to the material.
Look for specialist marine-grade vinyl cleaners that strip away mold. There are plenty of products available, so choose one from a leading brand. You can’t expect the cleaner to work miracles, so don’t feel depressed if you find you can’t get rid of the problem.
If you fail at removing it yourself, remove the boats’ seats and take them to a specialist for cleaning. The service will advise you on whether the seat is salvageable or if you should consider reupholstering.
The issue with reupholstering is that you might have to do several seats to get the fabrics and colors to match, making it an expensive exercise.
However, sometimes you have no other choice but to bite the bullet and invest in the reupholstering of the interior.
That’s why it’s so important to wipe down and dry the seats after each use. It only takes a few minutes after you arrive back at the marina, and it’s going to save you time and money, and frustration later.
In Closing – Store your Boat in a Ventilated Area and Use a Boat Cover
After cleaning and trailering the boat, cover it and strap the cover down to prevent any spores or insects from getting into the boat between use.
If you’re pulling the boat from the water for the winter, store it in a dry place, and keep the cover in place throughout the storage period.
After removing your boat from storage, check the seats for signs of mold that may have entered the interior over the winter.
Typically, mold only grows in warm, humid conditions. So, if you live in the Southern parts of the US, make sure you dry the boat completely before fitting the cover, or you’re creating the ideal breeding ground for mold.