6 Boat Cleaning Mistakes to Avoid for New Owners

Best way to clean your boatAccording to Statista, there were more than 11.88 million registered boats in the United States. Though many of those boat owners have gotten out on the water for decades, many are new to the sport.

If you’re one of them, taking care of your boat can feel a bit confusing and overwhelming. While learning how to control it safely is key, you also need to know how to clean a boat and keep it clean.

When you’re just starting to learn how to care for your boat, it’s normal to make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Here are some of the most common boat cleaning mistakes to watch for and some boat cleaning tips and tricks to help you avoid making them.

1. Using the Wrong Cleaners

Unfortunately, many first-time boat owners think that cleaning their boat is like cleaning their car. While the principle is the same, the boat cleaning tools and solutions you’ll need will differ dramatically.

Different materials make up the interior and exterior of your boat. These materials need different cleaners if you want them to last and stand up to the wear and tear they suffer on the water.

Take a look at the types of cleaners you have on hand. When you're learning how to clean a boat, you’ll need at minimum a designated boat soap and hull polish to take care of the finish and get rid of marine buildup.

You’ll also want metal polish for your boat’s stainless steel and chrome components. Cleaning it with a glass cleaner or even mild detergent can actually lead the metal to rust more quickly.

When you invest in the right types of cleaners and tools, your entire boat will be better protected and able to last for years on and off the water.

2. Not Rinsing the Boat Before You Scrub

Even though your boat is in the water, it can still pick up dirt, mud, and debris. That debris can pose a major threat to your finish if you don’t rinse it off before you start scrubbing the hull. Even small amounts of dust and dirt can scratch the clear coat if you’re not careful.

One of the best boat cleaning tips and tricks to get in the habit of is rinsing your boat after you pull it out of the water and again before you start washing it. This will get rid of any surface dust that might end up scratching the finish.

boat flush and wash kit

Once it’s rinsed, you’re free to scrub away with abandon. Just make sure you’re doing it with a soft sponge or microfiber cloth. This way, you’ll reduce the risk of scratches marring the finish.

3. Forgetting to Inspect the Propeller

The propeller is how your boat moves quickly through the water. While it’s designed to be durable and low-maintenance, you still need to inspect it before every trip and after you pull your boat out of the water.

Make this a part of your regular boat maintenance routine.

Look for chips and signs of corrosion on the fins. Check the propeller for algae, fishing line, rope, and any other debris that might wrap around the prop.

If you see anything wrapped around the fins or the supports, pull it off. Leaving it in place is a sure-fire way to damage your boat and your propeller.

4. Not Covering the Boat in Storage

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to use your boat every day, year-round, you’re going to need to put it in storage. Leaving it uncovered may be the norm, but doing so puts your boat’s interior at risk for damage.

The sun’s UV rays can lead to dry rot of your upholstery and wooden features. Rodents and pests can get inside and nest in the materials and damage the electrical components of your boat.

The best thing you can do is cover your boat before you put it in storage, even if you’re just storing it for the weekend. You’ll preserve the integrity of your boat’s interior and keep the components working like-new longer.

We may be biased but if you are considering some boat cover supports you may want to take a look at ours.  

boat cover poles - cleaning mistakes

5. Letting It Air-Dry

It might seem like letting your boat air-dry after pulling it out of the water is fine. After all, lots of people do, but have you ever looked at the gel coat on their boat?

Chances are, you’ll notice tons of white specks popping up along the boat’s surface.

Those specks might not do damage to the gel coat or the fiberglass beneath it, but they can make your boat look dirtier than it is. As the water dries, it leaves behind traces of minerals which make your finish look dull and dingy.

Instead of letting your boat air-dry, wipe it down with a soft microfiber cloth or shammy. This is one of the more particularly handy boat cleaning tips and tricks because it will get rid of any moisture buildup and helps keep your boat looking polished.

Boat Drying Towels

6. Neglecting the Upholstery

Your boat’s cushions are one of the most-used components in your boat. This means they’re particularly vulnerable to getting dirty and damaged, even when they’re covered with marine-grade vinyl.

You need to clean them often if you want them to continue looking and feeling great for years to come. Wipe up spills as they happen and vacuum up dust and dirt as needed.

If you notice mildew starting to form on the surface, use a marine-grade vinyl cleaner to lift up the stains without hurting the cushions or even a mildew stain remover.


If you're learning how to clean a boat, know that it’s also a good idea to let your cushions dry out completely between trips. Lift them up off the benches to allow proper airflow or prop them up on the floor so they can dry. You can put them back in place before you hit the water on your next trip.

This will keep mold from getting into the cushions and helps them stay lofty and comfortable over time.

Avoid These Boat Cleaning Mistakes at All Costs

These are just a few of the most common boat cleaning mistakes, but if you avoid them and practice these boat cleaning tips and tricks, you’ll be able to keep your boat looking great for years. Just remember that whether you're first learning how to clean a boat or if you're a seasoned professional, take your time cleaning your boat and inspect it for damage after every trip.

The sooner you catch those minor issues, the easier and cheaper it will be to take care of the necessary repairs.

Looking for the best cleaners and boat cleaning tools to help you keep your boat in good shape? Check out our cleaning products and clean your boat the right way from the very beginning.