Guide To Cleaning & Washing a Boat

Just as cars need to be washed and waxed to keep them looking great, boats also need to be cleaned regularly – both on the outside and inside. Since saltwater is corrosive, it’s important to keep your boat clean to extend its longevity, so you can enjoy many more years of relaxing fun on the water. 

In this guide, we’ll take you through the basics of how to clean a boat so you can keep it in top condition. We’ll also provide information about the kinds of tools you’ll need, and the recommended cleaning products for decks, hulls and vinyl seats. 

How often should you clean your boat?

This answer to this largely depends on where your boat is stored. If your boat is kept at a marina, you’ll need to clean the hull fairly frequently. For boats that are stored in a warm, saltwater location (such as Sydney), you’ll need to clean the hull around once a month. This is because your boat will be exposed to microorganisms, which thrive in warm locations with a lot of tidal flow. 

Exposure to wastewater is another factor that will affect your cleaning schedule. Wastewater runoff contains nutrients that supply food to the microorganisms, fuelling their growth. Applying a protective paint to the hull can help, but it’s important to remember that it can wear off over time, and you’ll still need to clean the exterior of your boat on occasion. 

If your boat is stored in a cooler, freshwater location, you might only need to clean the hull every three months. In any case, three months is the maximum time you can go before cleaning a boat that’s stored in water, without risking damage to the hull. 

In situations where your boat isn’t stored in water, we recommend cleaning it after each use with a mild cleanser. Remember to also dry it thoroughly with a chamois cloth before placing it in storage. 

What tools do you need to clean a boat?

The right boat cleaning tools will make the task of washing a boat much easier. Here are the tools and products we recommend for your boat cleaning kit:

  • Deck scrub brush: Choose a deck brush with short bristles and a robust handle.
  • Chamois mop: A quality mop with a microfibre chamois head will work better than a cotton string or sponge mop (look for one with a telescopic handle).
  • Microfibre sponge: These types of sponges don’t scratch surfaces, plus they’re machine washable. 
  • Microfibre cloths: Again, a premium cloth will ensure that nothing gets scratched while you’re cleaning. 
  • PVA towel: This towel will help you to dry off your boat without leaving behind any lint or streaks. 
  • Boat scrubber: A scrubber designed for boats is best for cleaning the hull. 
  • Expanding hose: Look for a hose that’s designed for marine use, because it will be more resistant to saltwater corrosion. 
  • Boat wash: Use a cleaning product designed for boats. Other products such as dishwashing liquid can strip wax coatings, plus they’re not good for waterways.
  • Boat polish: A high quality boat polish can be used to protect fibreglass, gelcoat and painted surfaces. 
  • Boat wax: This will help to keep the hull and deck protected from water friction, dirt and environmental damage.  
  • Barnacle Buster: Products such as Barnacle Buster can be used to remove barnacles, calcium, rust and mineral deposits from your boat’s propeller. 
  • Perspex polish: This is great for cleaning and protecting the canopies of your boat, as well as windscreens and acrylic windows. 
  • Pressure washer: A pressure washer is a great investment if you want to keep your boat free from algae growth, grime and parasites. Always remember to use protective eyewear and gloves while using. 

How do you wash the exterior of the boat?

Once you’ve got your cleaning kit together, it’s time to get washing. In this section we’ll focus on how to wash a boat’s exterior.

Ideally, it’s best to bring your boat out of the water for a thorough clean. However, it is possible to scrub barnacles and slime off your boat while it’s in the water. You can do this by putting on a scuba kit and scrubbing them off by hand, or you can stand on the deck and use a scrubber with a telescopic handle.

Let’s take a closer look at the external parts of a boat, and how best to clean them:


The goal here is to scrape away any algae and barnacles without causing damage to the hull. Choose a scrubber designer specifically for boats to gently remove any contamination without scratching the hull. 

If your boat is out of the water, you can take this opportunity to apply a protective coating. For more information, head over to our guide to antifouling a boat


Both inboard and outboard engines need to be cleaned regularly. For outboard engines, start by waxing the cowl and exterior, then washing with soap and water. Never use abrasive scrubbing tools for this – instead, use a microfibre cloth. 

For inboard engines, you’ll need to regularly wipe away any grime and dirt. Beyond this, it’s best to leave the full engine cleaning to a professional, because you don’t want to risk damaging the electrical wiring. 

Anchor & anchor lines

Anchor rope can be cleaned with soap and water – simply soak the rope in the soapy mixture and then give it a thorough rinse. 

To clean a stainless steel anchor and anchor chains, use a gentle detergent and a soft cloth to remove any algae and dirt. Chemical cleaners can be used in severe cases, but you’ll need to check that what you’re using is suitable for stainless steel. Avoid using metal scourers because you’ll risk scratching the stainless steel. 


It’s important to keep your propeller blades clean so they operate efficiently. In some cases it might be necessary to use an acid cleaner such as Barnacle Buster, then use a scrubber to remove any mineral buildups, algae, barnacles, etc. After cleaning, apply a light coating of a waterproof grease to ensure smooth operation. 

How do you wash the interior of the boat?

It’s just as important to keep the inside of your boat clean, because exposure to saltwater spray can be corrosive over time. Plus, you can enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your boat look brand new again. 

Here are our suggestions for cleaning the interior of your boat:

Marine carpet

First, you’ll need to give carpeted areas a vacuum to remove loose dirt, and then scrub with a stiff brush, soap and water. It might be worth investing in a wet-vac to speed up this process and assist with drying. 

Non-slip fibreglass

Start by scrubbing with soap and water (using a deck scrub brush). Give it a rinse, and then dry and buff with your chamois mop or PVA towel. After this, you might also like to apply a specialised non-skid treatment to improve shine and help protect the non-skid surface.

Marine heads

To keep the marine heads on your boat clean and hygienic, it helps to run a few cups of white vinegar through the lines about once a month. 

Vinyl seats

After every boat trip, give the vinyl seats on your boat a wash with soapy water and a soft cloth. If you need to remove any tough stains, you might need to use a dedicated vinyl cleaner. 


To prevent mildew, you’ll need to regularly remove the cushion covers and give them a wash (machine washing is usually fine, but check the care labels first). Spray the foam with a 50-50 mix of water and vinegar, and place in a sunny area to dry. 


Smaller pieces of canvas can usually be machine washed (avoid hot temperatures as this could cause the canvas to shrink). For large pieces of canvas, you can hand-scrub using soap and water. 

Teak decking

Keep your deck looking beautiful by regularly scrubbing with a deck brush and soapy water. If, over time, your deck starts to blacken and become mottled, an acid-based teak cleaner can bring it back to life. 

What should you avoid when cleaning a boat?

Here are some of the key things to avoid when washing a boat:

  • Harsh chemicals: Not only can chemicals cause damage to the surfaces of your boat, they’re also bad for waterways. 
  • Kitchen detergent: Use a cleaner that’s designed specifically for boats, as kitchen detergent might strip away protective wax coatings.
  • Metal scourers and wire brushes: These can leave scratches and destroy non-slip surfaces. 
  • Not removing debris before a scrub: It’s important to remove any build-ups of dirt and debris before you scrub your boat – otherwise you’ll risk scratching. 
  • Allowing surfaces to air dry: While leaving your freshly-cleaned boat to air dry won’t cause damage, it will leave it looking streaky and dull. 

How much does boat cleaning cost?

You can cut down on costs if you decide to clean the boat yourself – but you’ll need to factor the price of cleaning products into your budget. As we’ve seen, you’ll need to invest in products that are designed specifically for boats to avoid causing damage. 

If you’re not certain about how to clean your boat, or you’re short of time, you can pay a team of professionals to do it. There are many boat cleaning Sydney services to choose from, offering a wide range of services from boat detailing to antifouling. 

The cost will depend on a number of factors such as the size of your boat and the services required. On average, interior and exterior detailing is priced at around $100/hour. 

Don’t worry about cleaning with a Pacific Boating membership

One of the many advantages of a Pacific Boating membership is there’s no need to clean – we do it all for you! Washing a boat can be tiring and time consuming, so it’s a relief to know this is included in the cost of your membership. The team at Pacific Boating will take care of all boat cleaning and maintenance duties, leaving you free to enjoy the best parts of boating life. 

Discover our membership options today to embrace the boating lifestyle without the hassle.


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