Your boat's upholstery is integral to your comfort on your boating outings and showcases your style. Keeping it clean and protected isn't hard, but it is vital if you want it to stay in tip-top condition for years.  

While marine upholstery vinyl resists the harsh sun, salt, and water, proper maintenance is necessary to avoid extensive and expensive damage. Cracks, holes, and stains make it hard to enjoy your leisure time on the water, decrease the value of your boat, reduce the longevity of your boat's upholstery, and increase the cost of repairs. 

So, whether your style is retro, classic, or modern, your boat always looks and feels better when it's clean and well-kept. Use these tips to preserve the integrity of your boat's upholstery and avoid exorbitant reupholstering costs.

How to Prevent Vinyl Upholstery Problems

Prevention should always be first and foremost in your thoughts when you're talking about maintaining your boat upholstery. The very environment in which your upholstery resides is its worst enemy. Sun, water, dirt, and debris all cause damage to your boat's upholstery.

So, how do you protect your boat's vinyl upholstery when it's exposed to sun, water, dirt, and debris daily? With these steps!

Get a Quality Boat Cover

First, the most important part of maintaining your boat upholstery is protecting it from the elements. Especially the sun. There is nothing as damaging to vinyl and thread as the sun’s rays, and the best way to protect your upholstery is to cover your boat.

But never use tarps to cover your boat! A cheap, ill-fitted, leaky tarp from a big box store is not enough to protect your boat from the sun’s rays and will only allow water to pool into your boat’s interior, providing a warm, damp place for mold to grow. Tarps trap moisture and ruin your upholstery!

Instead, the best way to protect your upholstery is to use a high-quality boat cover made of a breathable fabric. Water is a fact of life in boats which leads to condensation on the inside of any boat cover. Breathable fabrics allow this moisture to dissipate and help prevent the development of mold and mildew in your boat.

Upholstery is expensive to replace, while a properly fitted boat cover is a simple way to extend its longevity. A cover is a moderate upfront expense, but it will save you significant money in the long run.

And here’s a fun tip: Dark-colored boat covers are better than light-colored ones for covering your boat when not in use. They heat up the interior of your boat faster to dry out water vapor and condensation!

Store Your Boat Properly Over Winter

Winter conditions are also incredibly damaging to your upholstery, so proper winter storage is also essential. Whether you rely on a boat storage company to clean and store your boat for the winter or take care of it yourself, the worst thing you can do is leave your boat out over the winter to get destroyed by the elements. 

Once again, a cheap, ill-fitted tarp is one of the worst ways to store your boat over the winter. You are almost guaranteeing problems with your upholstery and the rest of your boat's interior, with snow and ice melting and refreezing on it. It's a surefire way to make your vinyl crack and grow mildew. 

Your primary goal with your winter boat storage method is to allow for proper ventilation while keeping moisture out of your boat's interior. Shrink-wrapping is a common method for protecting your boat from winter conditions, but it is not reusable, adding more plastic waste to the environment, and is expensive. Instead, check out a reusable high-performance winter storage cover for your boat.

Our covers are the green alternative to shrink wrapping every winter season. With welded aluminum brackets and a heavy-duty, vinyl-coated polyester cover, it will stand the test of time while protecting your boat all winter. 

Clean After Each Use

The activities that your boat is used for are potentially damaging to vinyl. Bronzing oil leaves stains, while dirt, skin oil, and fish slime coats all contribute to the slow destruction of your upholstery. 

Mitigate the damage by taking a few seconds to wipe down the upholstery at the end of every excursion. You don't need to do anything special — just a soft cloth and clean water (if necessary) will do the trick nicely. 

In the case of sunbathers, make sure they use towels between themselves and the upholstery to reduce the risk of stains.

How to Clean Vinyl Boat Upholstery

As mentioned, a simple wipe-down after each use of your boat is a great way to start a clean routine for your boat upholstery that will help it last for years. But for deeper cleans or reversing bigger messes, here are our expert tips for vinyl upholstery cleaning. 

Routine Cleaning

Regular cleaning is a little more involved than your wipe-downs after use, but it still shouldn't take you too long. 

  1. Mix a mild soap, such as Dawn, Ivory, or Dreft, with clean, lukewarm water. 
  2. Using a soft cloth, wet the cloth and wipe the mixture over your upholstery, making sure to avoid pooling in the seams. 
  3. Now rinse your upholstery with another soft cloth dipped in clean water.
  4. Then, dry your upholstery with another soft cloth. That's it! Pretty simple, right? 
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, put some leather protectant on a clean microfiber cloth and wipe down the vinyl. This puts oil back into the vinyl to help it resist sun, water, and staining. 

The frequency of your routine cleaning will depend on how much you use your boat. If you only make it out a couple of days a month, you can go longer between these types of cleaning. 

If you're lucky enough to be on the lake regularly, you'll want to use this cleaning method more frequently, especially if you have sun worshippers on your boat since suntan oil is terrible for stains.

Deep Cleaning

You want to do a deep cleaning once or twice a year and always complete a thorough deep cleaning before storing your boat for the winter. The last thing you want is to allow all that dirt, grime, and grease to sit on your boat upholstery all winter.

  1. First, complete a routine cleaning to remove the surface dirt. 
  2. Next, use a vinyl cleaner. We recommend either 303 Fabric & Vinyl Cleaner or Starbright Vinyl Cleaner and wipe it into the boat's upholstery using a soft, clean cloth or a soft-bristled brush. Make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies. 
  3. Lastly, remove the excess cleaner with another clean, soft cloth. 

Cleaning Dos & Don’ts

When taking care of your boat upholstery, clean it regularly using products recommended by the material's manufacturer or your upholstery manufacturer. Not only will this keep them looking great, but it will also condition the material and help protect it from mold growth. 

Always remember to 

● Use soft cloths and brushes.

● Clean with gentle, approved cleansers.

● Rinse with clear, low-flowing water.

● Dry the vinyl thoroughly, paying close attention to the seams.

And NEVER use

● Bleach (it degrades the vinyl and protective coatings).

● Harsh household chemicals.

● Abrasive brushes.

● Or powerwashers (they’re too powerful and will harm the vinyl).

And if you have questions about the care and cleaning of canvas boat covers, read our complete tips and care guide!

How to Add UV Protection

Marine vinyl is embedded with UV protectants to help it withstand outdoor use. However, those degrade over time and need to be replaced to maximize the lifespan of your vinyl. To give your upholstery a boost, use a UV protectant and extend its lifespan beyond what it would be naturally. 

  1. Our experts recommended 303 Aerospace Protectant:
  2. Prep your boat by positioning it out of the sunlight and using a drop cloth to protect the surrounding area. 
  3. Now spray the surface you want to protect, making sure not to apply too much product.
  4. Then, wipe the protectant until it is completely dry. It will not air dry, so make sure that you dry the surface completely. The buffing and rubbing action with a soft, dry cloth helps the protectant bond with the vinyl, providing longer-lasting protection from UV rays. 
  5. The manufacturer recommends using it every 3-5 weeks for maximum UV protection.

How to Stop Mildew & Mold Growth

The most significant threats to your boat upholstery are water and organic materials. Boats that aren't cleaned and dried thoroughly risk developing nasty mold and mildew growth, which is extremely difficult to remove from upholstery vinyl. 

Most removal methods found on the internet cause damage to either the material or the stitching, making the materials more susceptible to mold or thread rotting in the future. Bleach, in particular, will rot the thread used to make your boat seats and degrade your vinyl.

These nasty invaders compromise the comfort and safety of your vessel, so add these tips to your maintenance routine to keep your boat free of spores.

Dry, Dry, & Dry Some More

Dry your boat’s upholstery thoroughly before long-term storage. Use an extra absorbent cloth to sop up every bit of moisture around seams, gaps, and zippers. If you know the weather will be dry, leave your boat out in the sun uncovered for a couple of days to allow the sun to help dry your boat.

During the boating season, help protect your boat from mold and mildew growth by drying your boat seats after each use before covering your boat. Choosing a breathable fabric for your boat cover goes a long way, but every little bit of water removed helps fight mold and mildew.

What If You Still Get Some Mold?

So, your upholstery is clean and protected, and you're using the proper preventative medicine, but somehow you still manage to get a bit of mold on it. We recommend using Solution IOSSO Mold and Mildew to remove the staining. 

Complete directions are on the package, but mix it according to the manufacturer's instructions, spray the stained area, allow it to soak for 15 minutes, then scrub gently with a soft-bristled brush. Once the stain disappears, rinse the area well and dry with a soft cloth.

Give Your Upholstery the Shine It Deserves With Canvasworks

Make your boat’s vinyl upholstery last for years or even for as long as you own your boat with these simple but routine protective cleaning tips. And if your boat upholstery is in need of immediate replacement or repair, contact us today. Our team has decades of experience reupholstering and repairing all types of boat upholstery.

As marine product experts, our team has what you need to protect your boat in every season. From travel and storage covers to specialty enclosures and windows, our custom-fitted products provide comfort and safety to all of your boats! Stop by our shop in Cokato or call 320-559-0165 to learn more.