BlogJune 2022

What Is the Best Way to Clean a Boat?

What Is the Best Way to Clean a Boat?

By Ken Schultz

Jun 13, 2022

A boat used in saltwater needs much more attention at the end of the day than one used in freshwater, so the best way to clean a boat will vary

If you want to learn the best way to clean a boat, go to a saltwater marina late in the afternoon and wait for a charter fishing boat to pull into its slip. After the passengers, fish, and gear are unloaded (and fish cleaned), the mate starts cleaning, a process that will take from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the boat and the amount of mess and saltwater spray it endured.

In all likelihood, the mate did preliminary washup while returning to port. But at the dock, he’ll likely load a bucket with soapy water, stick a long-handled brush into that, and then scrub all portions of the boat (and some fishing gear) with it, then hose-rinse everything well with freshwater.

Not too many non-charter recreational boaters will go to that effort after every outing. And the amount of cleanup necessary depends on such factors as whether you’ve been in freshwater or saltwater; whether fish blood has been spilled; if passengers have tracked muck over the boat; and so forth.

Salt vs Fresh

There’s no question that much more has to be done to a boat used in saltwater than to one used in freshwater. So the best way to clean a boat is going to vary with circumstances. Many freshwater boaters only do occasional cleanup, whereas a boat used in saltwater must at least be hosed down thoroughly with freshwater after each outing to allay rust. Cleaning with soapy water and then rinsing is good, and occasionally using a power washer will help clean stubborn floor, gunwale, and console grime.

Don’t forget the boat’s exterior, as well as the motor and trailer (you should flush a motor with freshwater after every saltwater excursion). There are good marine cleaning products available to help with the stubborn stains that persist on boat exteriors, and also products for cleaning vinyl seats and cushions.

Cleaning a Moored Boat

The hull of a boat that stays moored for long periods at a dock attracts mold, scum, barnacles, and all manner of nastiness. Even some boats that are trailered but spend a lot of time in the water get stained. There are many products available to clean a hull, and much depends on the severity of buildup, which is often directly proportional to the amount of time spent in the water and/or the character of the environment where mooring takes place. For the best way to clean a boat hull, you’ll likely have to pull the boat out of the water and be able to get underneath it.

Cleaning the Interior

The best way to clean a boat interior is with a hose and soapy scrub brush, and sooner rather than later. Once blood, dirt, and other items get baked on, it takes a lot of elbow grease to remove.

So, while fishing, keep a scrub brush handy, dip it in water, and remove the offending item. Or try a large towel. We get blood on the floor, gunwales, and cooler of my boat often, especially when catching bluefish. I keep an old towel handy that is dipped in water and then run over any visible stains as soon as they occur. This makes cleanup later much easier.

Quick Tips

  • Go to a marine store, marina, or boat dealer to buy and use the cleaning products they recommend for your particular boat.
  • Remember to clean baitwells, fishboxes, and fish coolers after each use. Scrub and soap them and use baking soda to help remove odors. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Be sure to get water out of wells and the boat bilge, and remove any obvious aquatic vegetation from the boat stern and the boat trailer. This will help prevent the spread or invasive species.
  • Don’t forget to clean the boat trailer and rinse the outboard motor.
  • Try a power washer occasionally to remove the most stubborn stains. If you don’t have a power washer, take the boat through a wash-it-yourself car wash where there is a power hose.
  • How you store a boat can contribute to having a clean boat, too. Covering your boat will keep birds off it, keep leaves from falling in and staining the floor, and help maintain a fresh appearance. Keeping it under a carport or in a garage is also recommended.
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is