How To Clean A Boat Exterior

Paul Luisi
by Paul

Washing and cleaning the exterior of the boat will remove mildew, sludge and other dirt from the vessel.

Once cleaned, the boat will look spotless and clean.

Cleaning the exterior of the boat involves removing dirt from the hull, the canvas, the outboard engine and the deck.

To clean the exterior of a boat:

  1. Wash boat canvas area with soap and warm water
  2. Scrub the deck with warm water and deck cleaner and rinse it off with water
  3. Pressure wash the boat hull with warm water and hull cleaning liquid
  4. Wash the outboard engine with soap, water and a sponge and rinse it with fresh water
  5. Dry the exterior of the boat with a towel
  6. Use a boat polish to wax the exterior of the boat

Follow these steps to have the boat exterior completely cleaned.

Step 1: Wash Boat Canvas Area

The boat canvas stains and gets damaged by the sun. It builds up with dirt over time and needs to be cleaned regularly.

To clean the boat canvas area:

  • Wet the canvas material with water: Use warm water (under 110 degrees) to wet the canvas area. This will loosen trapped dirt.
  • Gently scrub canvas cleaner with a soft bristle brush: Use a brush and soap to gently scrub the canvas area. This will remove trapped dirt and stains in the canvas material
  • Rinse the canvas with fresh water: Use a hose to rinse the dirty water and soap from the canvas area.

Cleaning the canvas should take 10 - 15 minutes to complete depending on the size and how dirty it is.

Use warm water, canvas cleaner and a brush to scrub and wash the dirt from the exterior canvas area. Then rinse with a hose.

Step 2: Scrub The Boat Deck

Cleaning the boat deck can be done with a bucket of warm water, boat deck cleaning product and a bristle brush.

To clean the exterior boat deck:

  • Wet the deck area with warm water: This will loosen up trapped dirt and clear stains
  • Scrub the deck with warm water and deck cleaner: Use a deck cleaner and scrub the deck with a brush and warm water
  • Rinse the deck with a hose: Rinse dirt and soap from deck with a hose

You'll need different deck cleaners for cleaning a non-skid deck versus cleaning a teak deck.

Teak wood tends to be more sensitive when cleaning so needs more specialized products.

Use warm water, a deck brush and deck cleaner to scrub the boat deck. Then, rinse it with a hose.

Step 3: Pressure Wash The Boat Hull

Cleaning the boat hull will enhance boat performance and have the boat looking very clean.

To clean a boat hull: 

  • Use a pressure wash to blast away loose dirt: This will remove mildew and heavy dirt from the hull
  • Scrub the hull with brush and hull cleaner: Brush out the harder to remove dirt with a bristle brush and hull cleaner
  • Pressure wash the soap and dirt: Use the pressure washer to remove the remaining dirt and soap from the hull

The hull will usually have the most dirt build up. Removing all dirt will enhance overall engine and boat performance.

With special tools, boat hull cleaning in the water can be done too.

This is harder than taking the vessel out of the water to clean.

Use a pressure washer, hull cleaner and a scrub or bristle brush to scrub dirt from the hull area of the boat.

Step 4: Wash The Outboard Engine With Soap And A Sponge

Get some warm water, a bucket and some engine cleaner to wash the boat motor.

To clean the boat engine: 

  • Scrub the engine with soap and sponge:  This will help remove all the dirt that builds up in this area.
  • Rinse with hose: Rinse the dirt from boat engine with a hose

The engine will get quite dirty and needs to be cleaned regularly.

A sponge will help to get into the tricky areas within the engine bay.

Use a sponge, some warm water and soap to scrub the engine area. Then rinse it off with a hose.

Step 5: Dry Exterior Of Boat With Cloth Or Towels

Once all the exterior of the boat is cleaned, use a towel to dry it.

Drying the exterior of the boat will: 

  • Remove final stubborn stains from canvas: The towel will remove the final bits of dirt and stains
  • Remove stubborn dirt on the deck: Drying the deck will help remove those final pieces of dirt on the boat deck
  • Remove dust from engine bay: Drying the engine will remove those final dust and dirt build up
  • Remove stains and dirt from hull: Using a towel to dry hull will remove the final stains and dirt from the hull

Drying with a towel helps remove the dirty water stains that may have shown after washing the exterior.

Step 6: Use Boat Polish To Wax And Shine The Boat Exterior

To polish the boat exterior:

  • Use boat polish and dry cloth: Wax a boat polish onto the hull and other exterior parts of the boat.
  • Slowly buffer the polished area: This will create an added shine

Make sure the polish is compatible for marine use.

Apply boat polish to the exterior and let it sit. Polishing the boat exterior will add a shine and have the boat looking clean and new.

Products To Use When Cleaning Boat Exterior

To clean a boat's exterior, the products needed are: 

  • Pressure Washer
  • Sponge, Towels, Microfiber Cloth, A Brush, A Bucket
  • Marine Deck Cleaner
  • Marine Canvas Cleaner
  • Marine Hull Cleaner
  • Boat Polish
  • Boat Engine Cleaner

These boat cleaning products listed above will help clean the exterior of the boat from top to bottom.

Hire A Professional Boat Cleaning Company

An alternative option for cleaning the exterior of a boat is to hire a professional cleaning service.

A boat cleaning service will:

  • Remove all dirt from the exterior
  • Save time and hassle
  • Apply the right cleaning products to the boat

This option is best for those that do not enjoy diy projects and would rather outsource the cleaning work.

To find a boat cleaning company, contact your local marina.

Boat Exterior Cleaning Summary

Cleaning the entire exterior of a vessel will take some time. How long it takes will depend on the size of the boat and how dirty it is.

Simply wash the tough dirt and stains, remove mildew and have the boat looking clean and new.

A bit of elbow grease and hard scrubbing should clean everything.