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How to Clean a Boat Cover

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on September 1, 2020. In nauticalknowhow

Keeping your boat canvas clean is an important part of boat maintenance. Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as taking a hose to your boat cover. A canvas boat cover can’t just be tossed in a washing machine. Cleaning stained canvas requires the proper cleaning solution and technique. If you took the time to cover your boat with a canvas cover then you should take the time to keep it clean.

Boat Cover Cleaning Basics

MSC Trailerable Boat Cover

The best method of cleaning a boat cover is to use a hose and a soft bristle brush. If you are suffering from stubborn spots and stings you’ll need to mix up a cleaning solution. You can use a mild soap, but a properly formulated cleaning solution will work better.

You need to first make sure that your boat cover is properly secured. It also needs to be elevated. This prevents water from pooling. Ideally you would have secure your boat cover in place with some poles to allow for this. With your boat cover in the position you need it in you can simply brush off loose dirt. Spray it down with a hose. Use the soft bristle brush to scrub off any dirt or mildew growth.

If your boat canvas was not badly stained, the water and brush should be enough to clean it. You will need to let it air dry completely before you fold it up for storage. That will prevent any further mildew growth.

Boat Cleaning Solution

If there are stains that you need to deal with, the simple cleaning solution can be mixed up with this recipe:

  • 2 cups of warm water
  • 1 cup of white vinegar
  • 1 cup of powdered Borax

Add these ingredients to a bucket or a large spray bottle. Mix thoroughly until the Borax has dissolved. You can now apply the mixture to any stains that have resisted cleaning. Let it sit for about 10 to 15 minutes to soak in. Use your hose to rinse the spot clean afterwards. If necessary, gently scrub with the soft bristle brush.

As before, you will need to allow the spot to air dry completely before you try to store your clean canvas.

Things to Remember

A custom boat cover is very expensive. A good quality cover could last you for decades however. That means you need to be careful when cleaning it. Do not use a pressure washer on a custom boat cover. A pressure washer could destroy such a boat cover. Canvas boat covers have a protective finish on them that a pressure washer will destroy you. This helps keep it resilient and aids in water repellency. As well, that pressure can wear down and damage the threads in the canvas. In time, that can lead to tears and holes.

Only use a canvas cleaner for the most stubborn stains. Use it sparingly only on the spot that is stained. Just like a pressure washer, canvas cleaners or soap can damage the finish on the canvas. Your boat cover may be made of a different kind of fabric. If so, make sure you research the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning beforehand. They may recommend a different solution or soap for cleaning than the one we have listed. Our recipe is one of the most mild you will find however. It should be effective to remove stains on most boat covers.

If you’re using plastic tarps as boat covers, they may be better able to handle more abrasive cleaning. At the same time, they may not be nearly as durable as boat canvas.

Try to store your boat in direct sunlight rather than shade, or under a tree. Storing it in a darker place could promote more mildew growth or stains on the cover. When you’re storing the cover make sure it is dry and put away safely. Don’t leave it rolled up on the floor as mice tend to nest in canvas stored this way. One of the best ways to store a cleaned boat cover is tied up with rope and hung from the wall or ceiling of your garage.

Boat canvas is durable if it’s handled correctly. Cleaning canvas can be simple and easy with just some warm water. Add the right canvas cleaning product and it should serve you will for years to come.

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