Woman on Boat Seat

How to Clean Boat Upholstery

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When was the last time you cleaned your boat? Did you also remember to clean the upholstery? Boat cleaning isn’t only limited to the exterior because you also need to give some love to its upholstery. After all, it is the part of the boat you come in contact with the most. 

Boat seats and upholstery are made from tough materials that can outlast even the harsh marine conditions. However, if it is not properly cared for and maintained, it can deteriorate faster. One of the best things you can do for your boat upholstery is to clean it and keep it clean. 


Importance Of Boat Upholstery Cleaning

sunning on the boat

Cleaning the boat upholstery and boat seating is a task that you need to be regularly doing. The marine environment is much harder than the automotive environment, and you’re way more likely to be getting sunscreen, tanning lotions, drinks, etc. on your boat seats than in your car seats.

Even if the upholstery looks pristine when it is brand new, that will change and fade the more the boat is used, exposed to sunlight, salt water, etc.

There are different reasons why you should clean your boat upholstery and they are as follows:

  • Maintains A Stylish Appearance – When you first got the boat, it really looks stylish because of the clean vinyl upholstery. The white-colored seats can develop spots and stains if not cleaned regularly. It doesn’t only look dirty, it can also make the boat look less attractive and inviting. 
  • Prevents You From Getting Sick – The dirt that’s on the upholstery can also harbor bacteria that can cause you to become sick. With the added moisture, it can proliferate and then contaminate whoever touches it.mi 
  • Saves You Money – Cleaning your boat seats regularly will keep them lasting longer, and you’ll be able to use them for a longer time before you need to replace or redo your seating.

Overall, cleaning the boat upholstery isn’t that difficult. It’s way less of a hassle than doing the boat bottom paint. It’s not as bad as doing the teak sealing. Upholstery cleaning is about the same level of difficulty as waxing your boat.

How To Clean Boat Upholstery

how to clean boat upholstery

There are a few ways on how to clean the boat upholstery. The most common way to do it is routine cleaning. This is regularly done and is quick to do. Although you routinely clean the boat upholstery, you should also deep clean it. This makes sure you thoroughly clean it and not just the visible surface.

Lastly, you can also clean the boat upholstery by focusing on the main dirt or problem that sticking to it. There are different products that you can use for mildew or stains. Also, don’t forget to protect your upholstery from UV or mildew by using various protective products. 

Routine Upholstery Cleaning


Routine boat upholstery cleaning makes it easier to maintain the cleanliness of your boat. It prevents buildup so you won’t need to deep clean your boat often. Whenever there are spills, you need to clean them up immediately so that they don’t stain and build up. Here is how you do it:

  1. Prepare Your Supplies – There are different products you can use in routine cleaning of your boat upholstery. For routine cleaning, you can use some simple soap and water, or boat vinyl cleaner you have on hand (see below for more). Also, get a soft cloth like this Ultra Absorbent Chamois Cloth to wipe the dirt away. It is made from porous material so it can quickly absorb moisture. It is also resistant to mold and mildew so you won’t be introducing that to your boat seats 
  2. Vacuum Loose Dust And Dirt – Before you start with cleaning, it is a good idea to vacuum up the loose dust and dirt that may be present. It is best to do this before getting the seats wet because dirt and dust can stick to the seats when it is wet. It is easier to remove when dry because you can simply suck it up with a vacuum.
  3. Dip The Cloth Into The Soap Solution – Get some soap solution by dipping the soft cloth in it. Make sure you wring out excess water so that the towel is damp and not dripping wet. Use this to wipe the boat upholstery in a circular motion. Note: Try to avoid pooling water on the seams because it can also lead to mildew when not properly cleaned and dried.
  4. Rinse Out The Boat Upholstery – To rinse it out, you need to wash the soft cloth in plain water. Similarly, wring out the excess water and wipe the boat upholstery once again. Repeat this until every part of the upholstery is already rinsed out. This step also helps remove any dirt you missed. 
  5. Dry With A Clean Towel – Lastly, you also have to dry out the boat upholstery with a clean and dry towel. Simply wipe it over the seats to absorb the excess moisture. 

Deep Cleaning Upholstery

Deep cleaning is a step that should be done after routine cleaning. It is a step that ensures that there is no dirt left. Here vinyl cleaners are used. These are specifically formulated for cleaning vinyl and also conditioning it. 

  1. Prepare Your Materials – With this kind of cleaning, you will need the best boat vinyl cleaner like 3M Marine Vinyl Cleaner. This is a product that is safe to use on all surfaces. It is also strong enough to remove grease, oil, mildew or cosmetic stains. Most of the time, the cleaner is also mixed with conditioners and protectants that prevent dirt from sticking to your boat upholstery. 
  2. Clean With The Vinyl Cleaner Solution – These solutions usually come in a spray bottle so they are very easy to use. Just spray them in an area and use the clean dry towel to spread them. Use circular motions to clean the boat upholstery thoroughly.
  3. Remove Excess Product – Once cleaned, you should also remove the excess product by wiping it with a clean cloth. 

Stains And Mildew Problems

Stains and mildew won’t be easily removed by regular cleaners. For stains, most suggest using a magic eraser. This is a pad that you wet and use to scrub the surface of the seat. The great thing about this is that it doesn’t damage the seat but it can help remove stubborn stains. 

Mildew stains are one of the toughest stains to remove. It needs something more powerful but don’t ever make the mistake of using bleach. Bleach is very harsh to the boat upholstery seats because it can deteriorate the stitching plus fade the color. 

The safest way to deal with mildew stains is to use a remover that’s specifically designed for vinyl upholstery. Each product has their own set of instructions and you should follow it too. 

Additionally, there are also products that specifically protect the boat upholstery from growing mildew. Products like this 3M Mildew Block can also be used after cleaning the boat upholstery. Just spray it over the upholstery to protect it from growing unsightly mildew. 

UV Protection

Once the deep cleaning is done, UV protection is another recommended step. Using a UV Protector Spray like 303 Aerospace Protectant will prevent your boat upholstery from fading and cracking due to exposure to the UV rays. This should be regularly done at an interval of every month or so, depending on sun exposure. It is a highly recommended step and is done by following these steps:

  1. Select A Suitable UV Protectant Product – With a cleaned surface, you can now apply UV protectant. There are lots of commercially available ones and some of them come in spray bottles. Also, prepare the clean soft cloth you are going to use to wipe the boat seats.
  2. Wet The Surface Using The Solution – Use the solution to spray over the surface of the upholstery and make it wet. This coats the seats with the products evenly. To make sure or that, you can also use a soft dry cloth to wipe and spread it.
  3. Use A Dry Towel – The next step is to dry the seats using a soft towel. Wipe the seats thoroughly to absorb the excess product. Repeat this step until the surface completely dries up. The end result will form a protective layer over the seats. 

Related Questions:

Can you use bleach on a boat?

When faced with tough stains on your upholstery, it can be very tempting to use bleach to get them all out. No matter how tempting it is, you should resist because bleach is a very harsh chemical, especially for vinyl. Instead, use stain removing products specifically designed for boat upholstery. 

Are boat seats leather or vinyl?

Both leather and vinyl are water-resistant and are suitable for use on boat seats. Boat seats can come in either of them so before using any product on your boat seats, it would be best to identify what they are made of first. Also, make sure you only use mild products that are specifically formulated for boat upholstery. This helps prevent damage to the boat seats.


Cleaning the boat upholstery may seem a lot of work but it is actually very easy to do once you’ve developed a routine for it. With regular cleaning and proper use of products for protection, it would be much easier to remove all the dirt and stains in your boat seats and upholstery. 

Proper cleaning and maintenance also help make your boat upholstery look presentable. It prevents the colors from fading and the vinyl surface from being damaged. With proper care and maintenance, your boat upholstery is less likely to need repairs or replacement.