How to Maintain Boat Upholstery

speed boat parked at a dock
  • 2-6 hours
  • Beginner
  • 25-50
What You'll Need
Castile soap
Washing soda
Tea tree oil
Hydrogen peroxide
Scrub brush
Spray bottle
Clean rags
303 Aerospace vinyl protectant

Maintaining boat upholstery requires a deep cleaning once or twice a year and somewhat frequent surface cleanings. How often you use your boat and how much sun it gets will help determine the life of its upholstery. Marine upholstery is built to withstand constant water contact and to take direct sunlight. However, if it is not properly maintained, the sun can dry it out and ruin it before its time. There are excellent marine vinyl protectants on the market, but in terms of regular cleaning, the best materials are common household cleaning agents.

Step 1 - Keep Mildew and Mold Off

The step in boat vinyl upholstery maintaining is to ensure the growth of mold and mildew is kept to an absolute minimum. Without resorting to harsh chemical agents, there is a very simple solution for this. Combine hydrogen peroxide and warm water in either a bucket or a spray bottle. Use the ratio of one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water.

Spray the solution onto the vinyl and let it sit for a minute. Scrub it all over the vinyl, on the seats, behind the seats and in the seams. Be sure to use fresh hydrogen peroxide. It should bubble and fizz when you add it to water.

Step 2 - Clean Down with Soap and Soda Mixture

To wash the vinyl off after scrubbing off the mold, mix together the following in a spray bottle:

½ teaspoon Castile soap

½ teaspoon washing soda

2 cups water

15 to 20 drops tea tree essential oil

This is an all-purpose cleaner that is good on any surface. Spray it onto the vinyl and wipe down all surfaces with a clean rag. Be sure to remove all moisture from the vinyl after you have cleaned it.

Step 3 - Vinyl Protectant

In the sun, vinyl will eventually discolor, dry and crack. This can take a long time, but if you don’t protect the vinyl upholstery, it can happen at an alarming rate, especially if there is no cover on the boat and it is left out when not in use. A good product to use is called 303 Aerospace Vinyl Protectant, used by boat owners to protect their boat’s vinyl interior from both water and sun damage. Read the directions before applying for proper quantities and frequency. It is a small price to pay for protecting the vinyl from excessive weather damage.

Step 4 - Replace Vinyl When Needed

Eventually, all vinyl will crack and will need to be replaced. If you clean and protect it properly, it will last a long time. After a while, though, it will be required. The bulk replacement vinyl can cost anywhere between $10 and $15 per three-foot section, so it can quickly add up. That does not include the cost of labor. If you are experienced with vinyl replacement and have the time, you can do it yourself, but a professional marine vinyl installer is recommended.

Depending on how much needs to be replaced, with the cost of the vinyl, padding and other materials and the labor, you should expect to spend at least $500.

The best way to ensure long life for your marine vinyl upholstery is to maintain it frequently. Cleaning it regularly and making sure mold and mildew is kept at bay, in addition to protecting it from water and sun damage, are necessary maintenance steps.