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Buying guide for best boat interior cleaners

If you’ve ever had to have grimy boat cushions reupholstered, you want to keep from having to do it again. Avoid the costly and time-consuming process of repairing or replacing parts of your boat’s interior by using the right cleaner. Holes, cracks, rips, and tears may appear in upholstery eventually. Until then, it pays to keep your boat interior clean and conditioned to slow down the inevitable harsh effects of sun, water, salt, and fishing equipment.

Over time, dust and dirt build up on your once-pristine boat seats. When people sit on the seats, the grime gets rubbed farther into the stitching and the tiny crevices of the textured vinyl. Cleaning with an ineffective product just compounds the problem. And there’s more that needs cleaning inside your boat than just the seating. The floor takes a beating whether you have a bow rider or cabin cruiser. You may even have to contend with marine carpeting, wood or plastic surfaces, and lots of nooks and crannies.

It takes elbow grease and the right cleaner to maintain your boat’s interior. Our shopping guide can help you find the best one for your needs, and we’ve included a selection of our favorites, too.

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Did you know that those little black pinhole marks on your vinyl seats or other boat interior surfaces could be spider droppings? Though it looks like mold, spider excrement on a boat is commonplace, but it’s difficult to remove. There are cleaners specifically formulated to clean up this annoyance.

Key questions

To start you on your search for the right boat interior cleaner, answer these two questions.

What types of materials make up your boat’s interior?

The vast majority of cushioned boat seats are made from marine-grade vinyl. You’ll also encounter genuine or synthetic leather and hybrid materials. Carefully consider which cleaner is used on what materials. An all-purpose boat interior cleaner tackles everything from vinyl to rubber and plastic surfaces.

Do you want to clean and/or condition the surfaces?

Cleaning and protecting your boat’s interior are two different things. Though there are differences between vinyl cleaners and vinyl protectants, some cleaners have built-in protectants. These two-in-one products are good for light use, but stick with specialized formulations for heavy-duty needs. Do not use products designed to clean car interiors to clean boat interiors because the harsher marine conditions require tougher products.

Key considerations

Next, consider these four main points as you look for the right boat interior cleaner.

Stains: Know what kind of stain(s) you’re trying to eradicate from your boat’s interior so you can choose the right cleaner. The multiple challenges with vinyl boat seats include miniscule cracks in the material that absorb grime, food stains, bait and fish remains, grease and sunscreen smudges, dust and tree pollen, spider and bird droppings, and, of course, mold and mildew. The fading of your vinyl seats is another challenge, but one that requires a special product and protectant that a cleaner likely can’t provide.

Environmental safety: Whether you’re cleaning your boat’s interior in your driveway, at your slip, or on the open water, be mindful of what you’re using because it’ll end up in the sewer or the surrounding waters. Consider nontoxic and biodegradable cleaners that won’t harm waters or marine life. Look for labels that say “phosphate-free.” But be forewarned that there are no regulations regarding “green” boat interior cleaners. Take environmental safety claims with a grain of salt.

Multi-surface: Not every boat interior cleaner is a multi-surface one, but some are specifically made for all surfaces. You may even want to keep both types of cleaners on hand. A multi-surface cleaner is ideal for frequent cleanings, while you can use the power of specially formulated cleaners to handle detailing and stain removal on specific surfaces. For example, some vinyl seat cleaners may not be able to remove algae stains or fish blood from an interior carpet. There are some general-purpose products that will clean up boat carpets, too. Carefully read the labels to see what surface(s) the cleaner handles.

Frequency: If you use your boat often, you’ll want to wipe the interior down with an all-purpose cleaner that doesn’t require the use of a brush. Keep the hard-core cleaners that require elbow grease for less frequent cleanings. Boats kept in salt water typically need to be wiped down more frequently (to eliminate salt and mineral residue) than vessels kept in fresh water.

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Never use products with bleach to clean boat seats. Bleach could damage the vinyl and weaken the stitching.

Boat interior cleaner features

When comparing boat interior cleaners, note these features that can make maintenance easier to handle:

Conditioner: You’ll see conditioning products that list ingredients such as silicone for a high-gloss finish and lanolin for extra softening and moisturizing.

Crack repair: UV rays dry out vinyl boat seats and cause microscopic cracks that attract dirt. To stop the damage, look for a cleaner that restores the vinyl (or leather) to eliminate the cracks.

UV protection: To prevent your boat seats from aging prematurely, developing more cracks, or fading, keep the material supple and conditioned with a product that offers UV protection.

Finish: Various cleaners and protectants leave different finishes, from matte to shiny. The label lets you know which type of finish you can expect.

Fragrance: Each product has its own fragrance, but there are also odorless boat interior cleaners and protectants.

Repellents: A cleaner or protectant may say that it includes stain, water, or dirt repellents.

Towels: Some products come with a pack of microfiber towels.

Value packs: These include a coordinated cleaner and protectant formulated to work together.

Boat interior cleaner prices

Inexpensive: For around $5, you’ll find small spray bottles (2 to 4 ounces) that spot-clean or offer UV protection. The bottles are small enough to bring along on a trip without taking up precious room on board.

Mid-range: The bulk of boat interior cleaners, protectants, and hybrids come in spray bottles (usually 16 ounces) and cost $14 to $21.

Expensive: When you get into the $26 to $55 range, you’ll find large containers (16 to 32 ounces) of cleaners and protectants. You’ll also find multi-packs and hybrid kits of spray bottles (16 to 32 ounces). Kits may also contain extra items like towels. Spend closer to $100 and you’ll find gallon bottles of nontoxic, environmentally friendly marine interior cleaners that say they’re made with pH neutral, phosphate-free, and fully biodegradable premium ingredients.


  • Test first. Test the effectiveness of an interior boat cleaner by using it on an inconspicuous area first.
  • Try a toothbrush. Boat upholstery piping is a magnet for miniscule bits of grime. To effectively reach around the piping, use a soft toothbrush with cleaner and scrub gently.
  • Be careful. If you’re tempted to use a “magic” melamine foam scrubber along with your cleaner to attack the grime on your boat cushions, be careful, go slowly, and rub gently. You don’t want to take off the top protective vinyl coating, burn a hole in your upholstery, or create a permanent scrub mark from the foam’s ultra-abrasive action.
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If at first you don’t succeed, repeat. Multiple applications of even the best interior boat cleaner may be necessary to achieve the good-as-new results you’re after.


Q. Why are boat interiors always white and never dark colors?
True, most boat interiors are sparkling white or elegant shades of cream, light tan, or light gray marine-grade vinyl with piping or areas of a darker accent color. Most of a boat’s interior is light in color because it won’t fade in sunlight or become hot to the touch like darker colors.

Q. Can I machine wash the rags I use with boat interior cleaner or will the residue ruin my washer and other laundry?
Many boat interior cleaners can be sprayed on and wiped off. If the cleaner is water soluble, it shouldn’t affect other laundry. To be on the safe side, always wash rags separately from regular clothing and other laundry.

Q. What exactly is marine upholstery?
Marine upholstery is a vinyl material also called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It’s manufactured to resist mildew and mold, offers additional UV protection, and some kinds can be coated with antimicrobial chemicals. There are varied grades of marine vinyl that determine quality and thickness. Fabric used for upholstery inside a boat cabin is typically breathable woven synthetic acrylic, olefin, or polyester. These cabin-friendly fabrics resist mold and mildew and can be water resistant, but they generally aren’t waterproof.

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