Clean Marine: How to Clean Boat Seats

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As all boat owners know, owning a boat means owning responsibilities. Teak cleaning, bottom painting, washing, waxing, maintenance. You have to learn to love these activities if you’re a boat owner.

And somehow it’s much more satisfying to clean a boat than it is to clean, say, the living room! I’m not sure why that is.

Either you learn to embrace the cleaning, or you pay someone else to do it all for you.

One of the biggest maintenance tasks boat-owners constantly deal with is cleaning their boat seats. If you’ve got an enclosed cabin, then your seats will probably stay pretty clean. But any exposed vinyl on a flying bridge or open cockpit will deteriorate and get nasty.

In this article, we’ll look at how to clean boat seats, and how to maintain clean marine vinyl seats.

how to clean boat seats


Why It’s Important to Clean Boat Seats

Sea salt spray, sunscreen, tanning lotions, wine, food, mildew, bacteria, etc. There’s a good chance your boat seats will see a fair bit of all of these over the course of a season.

Marine vinyl is super tough and super stain-resistant. But the marine environment is one of the most punishing environments around.

She Can't Take Any More Captain!

There are many reasons why it’s important to keep your boat seats clean.

It Keeps Your Boat Looking Nice

If you don’t keep your boat seats clean, your whole boat will look like it’s in rough shape. Often there’s a large amount of seating on boats — particularly light-colored seating that stains easily! Lots of stains and mildew on seats can make the whole boat look shabby.

It Prevents Mildew

Mildew is a common problem with vinyl boat seats. This is due to the moisture that can seep into the vinyl and invite mildew and mold to form. By cleaning your seats off, you will keep dangerous mildew from forming while also preventing the seats from getting stained with an unpleasant green color.

It Stops Them from Being Oily

Boat seats can often feel very sticky and oily which is usually caused by sunscreen or tanning lotion. When someone sits on the seats after applying the lotion to their body, it can seep into the vinyl and leave behind a sticky residue.

Tanning oils with bronzers, self-tanners, and the like are particularly problematic and can leave nasty brown stains that look awful on white vinyl seating.

By keeping your seats clean, you can prevent this residue from coating the vinyl. If you’re not careful, these can lead to permanent stains and massive headaches.

How to Clean Boat Seats

Boat Seats Relaxing
She’s completely covered in tanning lotion.

One of the most common boat seat materials is marine vinyl. However, this can sometimes be a little tricky to clean off, especially when it’s subject to a lot of abuse. Below are some tips you can use to ensure you safely and efficiently clean them off.

Do a Simple Clean with Vinegar

Vinegar is a powerful liquid that will destroy most germs while removing stains. Cleaning vinegars are a particularly good choice and tend to be easier to clean with than typical kitchen vinegar.

You can mix a bit of vinegar and baking soda in a bucket in equal parts, and then carefully wipe it over the seats. Let the mixture sit for about four hours. Then, rinse the seats off with water and then dry them.

Clean Them off with Soap and Water

While soap might not be as powerful as vinegar, it can do a great job at removing light dirt and stains. To do so, mix a bit of water and soap together. Then, dip a clean sponge into the mixture and wipe the seats off with it. Once you’re done, rinse the seats off with water and dry them off with a clean towel.

Use Alcohol Wipes for Deep Stains

If you haven’t cleaned your boat seats off for a while, you might find that they could have some deep stains on them. While some might reach quickly for bleach or ammonia, it’s important not to.

These can actually end up destroying the vinyl. Instead, you can use alcohol wipes on the area. Simply rub the wipes on the stain until it starts to come off. You can then rinse the area off with water and then dry it off.

On the other hand, if you have stains but they aren’t as intense, you could use a magic eraser to help remove it.

Use a Special Marine Cleaner

StarBrite Mold and Mildew Remover and Cleaner

It’s often easiest to just go right to the good stuff. Star Brite makes exceptional boat cleaning and maintenance products, and their Mold and Mildew Remover is a solid choice. It is the best mildew remover on the market and works quickly and efficiently to clean your boat surfaces. It doesn’t have bleach in the formula, so it won’t cause discoloration or fading of marine vinyl or marine fabrics — including Sunbrella.

The 22oz version comes with the sprayer ready to use, and the 1-gallon version is a good choice for refills, or if you already have an extra sprayer bottle.

STAR BRITE Mold & Mildew Stain Remover + Cleaner – Removes Stains on Contact - 1 GAL (085600N)
STAR BRITE Mold & Mildew Stain Remover + Cleaner – Removes Stains on Contact - 1 GAL (085600N)
Star brite products are proudly made in the USA since 1973; Do not use on wood or painted surfaces unless you plan to refinish or repaint them
−$21.64 $42.00 Amazon Prime

How to Maintain Clean Boat Seats

Boat fun
Sunscreen. Lots of it. On your seats.

To help keep your boat seats clean in the future, you can keep the following tips in mind.

Clean Them After Every Use

One of the best ways to help keep your boat seats clean is to clean them after every use. This will help to stop so many different problems from occurring, such as mildew and mold, while also removing any possible residue and stains from it before they cause major damage.

You don’t necessarily need to use a full Marine cleaner when doing your daily clean. Just use vinegar and water, or soap, for a daily clean. Every few voyages, use a more powerful cleaner.

Cover the Seats

To keep your boat seats clean, you should cover the seats when you’re done using your boat. This will help to prevent moisture from seeping in as well as UV damage, rain damage, dirt, and animal damage from ruining them.

However, if they’re damp when you cover them, you can promote mold and mildew growth by reducing airflow around the cushions. For this reason, you should be sure to wipe them down before covering.

Ideally, you’ll cover them with a vented cover.

Clean Up Spills Immediately

If there happen to be any major spills, such as from a drink, make sure to clean it up as soon as possible. By doing so, you will prevent the spill from eventually drying on and staining the boat seat and will make your task of cleaning them off later much easier.

Always Make Sure to Thoroughly Dry Your Seats Off

While you might have meticulously cleaned your boat seats off, if you don’t completely dry them off, it could leave behind moisture and residue.

Eventually, it can end up leading to mildew and dangerous bacteria forming. It could also cause your vinyl seats to warp and discolor, which could destroy their looks. Because of this, always make sure to clean your boat seats off well with a clean towel.

Consider Using a UV Protectant on the Seats

UV exposure from sunlight can cause significant damage to your vinyl seats. And boats tend to receive a whole lot of sun if they’re used frequently!

This solar exposure could end up making your seats discolored and can even cause the vinyl to crack. Ugh, major repair costs!

By pre-treating your seats and fabric with a UV-protectant spray, you can ensure that they are protected from the sun’s rays as much as possible.

UV protectant sprays act almost like a sunscreen for your seats. Starbrite makes a really good Marine UV protectant spray, as does 303. These treatments don’t just work on vinyl. They’ll work on rubber, leather, plastic, fiberglass, etc. and will help prevent fading and keep colors looking bright.

Depending on the option you choose, they need to be reapplied at regular intervals.

One thing to remember, however, is that these UV Protecting sprays don’t usually work on marine fabrics. You’ll want a marine fabric spray to provide waterproofing and UV protection to fabrics, including Sunbrella.

Encourage Your Guests to Sit on a Towel

Look, we all love to suntan, swim off the swim platform, eat a snack or three, and enjoy our time out on the water. But if your guests are slathered in sunscreen and lathered in lotion, you should suggest that they sit on a beach towel. Keep a few spare towels handy for these situations, and you’ll greatly speed up your cleaning process.


Maintaining a boat can be incredibly rewarding, and fun. Cleaning is somehow more enjoyable when you can feel the rock of the waves, and the light of the sun beating down upon you. Enjoy your cleaning process, but don’t get so comfortable that you ignore it!

It really is important to keep your boat, especially the seats, in the best shape possible so everything stays durable. This means cleaning and maintaining your cabin often.

By following the recommendations above, you can be sure your boat seats will stay clean. And your whole boat interior will look stunning.


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