16 Important Tips For Cleaning Boat Seats (Beginners Guide)

In Boating by Shelby Sullivan

If you are a new boat owner, you will likely be doing everything that you can to maintain and protect your investment.

Protecting your investment includes regular maintenance and care. You should also perform regular cleaning tasks for your boat.

One of these cleaning tasks should be the proper cleaning for your boat seats.

Here’s everything you need to know to get it right!

5 Initial Tips Before Cleaning Boat Seats

There are many things that you should know when it comes to cleaning your boat seats and keeping them properly maintained.

These tips include:

1. Clean Up Immediately

If you keep on top of spills and other messes as they happen it can be beneficial to keeping the integrity of your seats.

Cleaning up spills immediately can go a long way to reduce the likeliness of stains or other issues.

You will also want to make sure if you get any tree sap on your seats while the boat is parked, you clean it up as soon as possible.

Tree sap gets onto the seats and the sun helps it bake in which makes removal very difficult and can cause damage.

2. Wipe Down After Each Use

If you make maintenance a regular priority, then you will prevent any potential build-up that could be a result of too much time in between cleanings.

One very simple way to accomplish this is to wipe down your seats after you get back from each boating trip.

3. Cover Your Boat When You Are Not Using It

Another preventative measure is to make sure your boat is covered when it is not being used. This can help to prevent dirt and other issues while you are not around to take care of them immediately.

These issues can include:

  • Tree sap
  • Bird droppings
  • Animal damage
  • Dirt
  • UV damage
  • Rain damage

4. Make A Cleaning Schedule

If you get into the habit of scheduling a regular deep cleaning for your seats, you will not only form a good habit but you will not forget what needs to be done and when.

How often you are out on your boat and how dirty it gets when you are using it can help determine how often you should make cleaning a priority.

You also will want to make sure that you clean it if you notice a build-up of dirt or grime, even if you are not scheduled to.

5. Know Your Seat Type

Another important thing you need to know is what your seats are made out of. This will help you use the correct products as well as the proper way to apply them.

If you know what you are working with, you will likely do a much better job cleaning and maintaining your seats.

Below I will discuss seat types and cleaning products.

2 Different Types of Seat Materials:

Boat seats are made with highly durable fabrics that are meant to survive any weather conditions and other elements that they may be exposed to.

Boat seats are often exposed to high amounts of both fresh and saltwater, UV rays from the sun, spills that can be food, sugary drinks, alcoholic drinks, cleaning agents, oil, and other substances, as well as dirt, grime, animal droppings, and all sorts of other things.

For this reason, the upholstery on your marine seats needs to be highly durable and easy to clean.

There are a few options for upholstery that can be used on a boat. These include:

1) Laminate Upholstery:

Laminated fabrics are made to be suitable for installment in a boat. One example of a laminate fabric is acrylic.

These fabrics are durable, waterproof, UV resistant, and resistant to flame or friction.

Depending on whether or not you choose an additional finish, this fabric can also be anti-bacterial or anti-static.

This fabric can also be created to look like canvas.

2) Vinyl Upholstery:

Vinyl upholstery is most commonly used on boat seats. This is because they are highly durable and easy to clean.

They are also known to be water-resistant or even waterproof.

Marine Vinyl also can be UV stabilized which can decrease any damage that might be done from the sun.

Ideally, your marine vinyl would be waterproof which will help protect you from mold, mildew, and other potential water damage.

Marine vinyl is also known to preserve the color even in the sun’s rays, keeping it brighter for longer.

3 Different Cleaning Agents You Should Know

When it comes time to start to clean your boat, you will want to make sure you have all the supplies that you need.

Supplies needed to clean your boat can include:

  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Clean cloths
  • Soft brush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Cleaning solution designed for your upholstery

There are different types of cleaning agents that you can use to clean the seating on your vessel. Make sure when you are selecting one, you pay special attention to any special needs that are required for your fabric.

You can figure this out by looking up exactly what grade of vinyl or other material you have and see if there is anything you need to know or look out for.

Some possible cleaning agents include:

1) Cleaning with Vinegar:

Cleaning with vinegar is used mostly to combat mold. While vinegar can be useful, it is not what you would perform your regular maintenance cleanings with.

If you do choose to use vinegar, you might consider mixing it with water to help preserve and protect your boat’s seats.

Vinegar watered down can be a solution for a quick rub down cleaning as well. You should always rinse your seats after they are cleaned with vinegar.

While this method works, it is not as effective as a specified boat cleaner would be.

2) Cleaning with Bleach:

When using bleach to clean your seats, you need to be very careful. Because of how particular you need to be to bleach your seats, you will not want to resort to bleach unless you absolutely have to.

Like vinegar, bleach can be very effective at removing mold from your boat seat.

If you do choose to use bleach, make sure it is highly watered down.

If you leave the bleach too concentrated, it can stain your seats and even break down the fabric threads that hold your seats together.

In watered down quantities you will be less likely to encounter these issues.

Another careful consideration to make when bleaching your seats is to be careful of how long you leave the mixture on your seats.

Tips on using bleach on your marine-vinyl seats include:

  • Mix about 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  • Apply your bleach to a smaller area at a time instead of doing all the seats at once.
  • After the bleach has set for about 5 minutes, clean it off with water.
  • Repeat this process until you get the desired look that you want.

With careful consideration, bleach can be used to effectively clean seats and remove mold or other contaminants.

3) Cleaning with Mineral Oil:

Mineral oil is a less common ingredient than vinegar or bleach. Mineral oil is created as a by-product during the distillery process of petroleum.

This cleaner is recommended for cleaning vinyl stains that are older, or even stains that have been caused by oil or grease.

This is because mineral oil has the ability to decompose oils while not doing damage to the surface featured underneath.

One important thing to note when using mineral oil for cleaning your seats it that it is mainly used for the stain itself. For this reason, you will want to make sure your seat is cleaned before proceeding with the mineral oil.

Tips on using mineral oil on marine vinyl seats include:

  • To apply the mineral oil you will want to use a small piece of dry cloth that you have applied a few drops of mineral oil to.
  • Wipe the stain with the cloth.
  • If the stain seems to be really deep, you can consider using a few drops applied directly on the stain.
  • Keep the stain on for about 5 minutes.
  • Make sure you wash off the mineral oil.
  • Repeat this process until the stain is sufficiently removed.

Mineral oil should not be used as a basic cleaning ingredient, it should be used more as a spot corrector for stain removal.

Make sure you are using the proper oil and that you are following any directions or special instructions.

How to Get Mildew Off Your Boat Seats:

Mildew or mold can not only be highly unattractive on your boat seats, but it can also be a huge pain to remove.

Boat seats are very susceptible to mildew and mold because of the moisture in the air and the weather conditions that your boat is likely to experience.

Mold and mildew can be removed using a few different methods.

Some methods that are available to remove mildew or mold off your boat include:

  1. Using bleach mixed with water:
    As mentioned above, if you dilute bleach you can then use it to remove mold and mildew off your boat seats.
  2. Using vinegar and water:
    Also mentioned above is a vinegar and water method that can be used to remove mold or mildew from boat seats.

In addition to using vinegar and water, you can try to use vinegar and baking soda.

This method entails sprinkling baking soda on your boat’s seats and then pouring white vinegar carefully over top.

After you do this, you should let the white vinegar and baking soda mixture sit for 4 hours.

When the 4 hours are over, you should fill a bucket with a water and dish soap mixture. Get a soft bristle scrub brush and scrub the seats lightly with the soap mixture.

Rinse the seats thoroughly with fresh water and use a sponge to break up any baking soda that might have accumulated.

When you are all finished, you should dry the seats with a dry rag.

How to Get Stains Off Your Boat Seats:

Stains are also highly unattractive on your boat seats. These can be hard to get off and the longer they go untouched, the harder they can be to remove.

In addition to the vinegar, bleach, or mineral oil methods listed above, there are other techniques you can use to clean stains off your boat seats.

Other methods for removing stains from your boat seats can include alcohol wipes, magic erasers, or even specially designed marine-vinyl cleaners.

How to Clean Pontoon Seats:

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Cleaning seats on a pontoon is very similar to the methods listed above. Since pontoon seats are likely made from the same marine-vinyl material, you would use the same methods.

The only real difference to cleaning pontoon seats is that there are often more, and they might be styled differently.

When cleaning “fold-up” pontoon seats, you will want to make sure that you get the sides and even underneath. This is an area that can often be forgotten or neglected and that can cause difficulty when cleaning them later or even damage to the seats.

The underside of folding seats is often the most susceptible to mildew because of the atmosphere underneath the seats that do not see as much sun.

You also will want to make sure you properly care for any other seat types such as sun loungers, captain’s chairs, and other seat types.

How to Protect Your Boat Seats from UV Rays:

Besides cleaning your boat seats, you will want to make sure you follow other methods to protect them. In addition to damage from a lack of cleaning, boat seats are also highly susceptible to the sun’s UV rays.

UV rays can cause your seats to fade, crack, or peel over time. This can look unattractive and even be highly uncomfortable to sit on.

It is highly recommended that you cover your boat while not in use to protect from the sun and other damaging factors.

This is not possible while your boat is in use. To help protect your boat from the sun while it is in use you should consider a few options.

One thing that you can do to protect your boat from sun damage is to install a bimini top. This will help keep the sun off a large portion of your seats and will provide shade for your passengers while out on the water.

You can also apply a UV protectant to help protect your sun-exposed seats from damage or fading.

This product should be reapplied about every month or so depending on how often you use your vessel.

How to Protect Your Boat’s Seats While Parked:

Maintenance is important to keeping your boat seats looking great, but it is not the only thing that you should be doing.

When you are not using the boat, you should cover your boat for its own protection. This will prevent all kinds of dirt and damage to your boat.

If you do not want to cover the entire boat, which can be a pain at times, you could look into boat seat covers.

When looking for boat seat covers make sure that you find some that are breathable to prevent mildew. You will also want to be sure your covers are made with a fabric that blocks UV rays.

How to Repair Your Boat Seats:

Despite all the precautions that have been taken, you might still have some damage with your boat seats. Or maybe you bought a used boat and the seats need some work.

If you have an accidental tear in your seat, you will want to repair the damage as soon as possible. If you don’t water might get into the seat and cause a mildew problem.

Repairing a tear with a vinyl repair kit is much less expensive than having to replace a seat that becomes too infested with mold.

If you plan to buy a vinyl repair kit, make sure you find one with a base compound that has a similar color to your already existing seats.

Follow the directions to apply the patch and make sure you follow up with a vinyl conditioner.

Overall, with the proper care and maintenance, you should be able to keep your seats in good condition for a long time.

Why Clean Your Boat Seats?

Even though boat seats are designed to hold up against the environmental conditions they encounter, you will still want to make sure you are keeping them cleaned and well maintained.

The most obvious reason you would want to clean your boat seats is so that you and your passengers will want to sit on them without the fear of getting dirty,

It can be highly unappealing to sit on a boat seat that has stains, mildew, or even bird droppings on it so you will want to maintain cleanliness at all times.

You also will want to maintain cleanliness for your boat seats to protect them and their integrity.

Without regular cleanings and care, they will accumulate dirt and mildew that can cause damage to overtime.

To protect your seats and preserve your investment long term, you will want to clean your seats regularly as well as taking steps to guard them against the harmful UV rays that come from the sun.