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A Beginner’s Guide to Boat Cleaning

June 26, 2024

A Beginner’s Guide to Boat Cleaning

When it comes to boat cleaning, one post simply isn’t enough. There are just so many things to take into consideration: boat type, boat parts, boat size, boat exteriors, boat interiors, etc. Here’s our beginner’s guide about how to clean your boat!

What’s the “Genus” of Your Boat?

Confused about the word “genus?” Allow me to explain! “Genus” is a scientific term for a biological classification of organisms. Notice that I asked you what “genus” your boat is, and not what type of vessel it is? That’s because we believe boats are living things. I mean, you did name your boat didn’t you? Pearl and Pegasus are actually quite popular!

Is your boat unpowered, or should we say human-powered like a kayak, canoe, or dinghy? Or, is it a 30-foot cabin cruiser with inboard jets? The type,  I mean “genus,” of boat you have, makes a difference in how it’s cleaned. Inboard, outboard, and human-powered boats may use different cleaning methods and compounds, and only one of the three uses a shower. Here are a few types of boats:


Their use is in its name. These boats are primarily propelled using sails. So, how do you clean the sails? “Try Bar Keepers Friend but don’t scrub, just let it soak. Rinse with plenty of clean water when done.”  — Sailboat Owners Forum

Pontoon Boats

A pontoon boat is flat and relies primarily on pontoons to float on water.

Deck boats and bowriders

Often referred to as “the family boat,” deck boats and bowriders are both typically for personal use. The bowrider, or runabout, has seating in the bow and usually seats eight or more passengers. A deck boat, however, has a broader deck than a bowrider.


A shallow draft boat that has two hulls to clean!


A houseboat brings a whole new meaning to cleaning the house. These boats are designed to be used as, you guessed it, an actual home!

Cabin cruisers

A closed deck usually covered with aluminum or fiberglass.

Centre console

We often think of these as fishing boats. They have a center console, a center seat or two, and usually a canopy.

What’s its Raison d’être?

Raison d’être is a French saying that translates to “reason for being.” That being is said, what is the reason for your boat’s existence? Is it used for water sports, fishing, or cruising the lake with your family? The purpose of the boat can impact how it’s cleaned. For example, your fishing boat may require a different cleaning solution than a boat used for water sports. Keep this in mind when selecting the appropriate boat cleaning product.

boat cleaning - ig - scianslife - april 2018
BKF fan, Shannon (@scianslife) shared with us how much BKF More Spray + Foam helped with their boat cleaning endeavors.

What Floats Your Boat? 

Is your boat a freshwater or saltwater boat? They both have different cleaning challenges. Pond scum is a common problem in freshwater hulls. Check out this video from one of BKF’s satisfied customers that shows him restoring his freshwater boat using BKF. It shows how effective Bar Keepers Friend can be for removing pond scum and dirt that has built up over a number of years, and like the boat owner says in the video, “Before you go out and buy one of the products meant for boat cleaning that cost $10 to $20, BKF only costs a couple of dollars, and it works.”

Saltwater can be corrosive. For those who live in northern climes, we know what road salt can do to a vehicle. It’s the same with boats – even more so since the salt may run directly through the engine! So, what if the saltwater exposure has corroded your boat? How do you clean it? One way is to make a paste from water and BKF Powder Cleanser. Spread the paste on affected areas, then let it sit for no longer than five minutes. Once the five minutes are up, scrub with a sponge or cloth and rinse thoroughly with water.

What Kinda Stuff is Your Boat Made of?

The construction materials of a boat vary, and therefore, how you clean the boat can be drastically different. Common structural material for boats include:

  • Stainless Steel – Most people know never to use an abrasive cloth on stainless steel, but did you know not to use abrasive cleaners? Bar Keepers Friend Stainless Steel Cleanser & Polish or our Soft Cleanser are perfect for your stainless steel boat or components.
  • Aluminum – If the boat surface is only lightly soiled, you can use MORE Spray + Foam. Spray it onto the surface, scrub with a non-scratch scrub pad, and then rinse thoroughly (be sure to rinse immediately). Next, use a soft cloth to wipe it dry. Neglected surfaces may require multiple applications.
  • Fiberglass and FRP (Fiber Reinforced Plastic) – For these materials, we recommend Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser. Simply wet the hull, make a paste using our product and a small amount of water, and then use a damp sponge to spread the cleanser evenly. Wait up to one minute before scrubbing, and then rinsing, the surface so the oxalic acid in Bar Keepers Friend has time to work its magic. Repeat these steps as needed. I have a 20-year old fiberglass shower stall that I used this method to clean. It was amazing, in just a few minutes it looked brand new.
  • Molded Polyethylene  – Not all molded polythene is the same. The paste and sponge method mentioned for fiberglass works on some molded poly. However, it may discolor some formulas of polyethylene. So, before using this method test a small, out of the way, inconspicuous, spot on the hull.

Parts Make Up the Whole 

We’ve mentioned the hull and interior, but what about cleaning parts like the prop, shaft, and rudder? Did you know that if you don’t regularly clean these components, it can lead to failure? It’s not good to be in the middle of a lake night fishing when your prop fails. These parts are made from various materials, aluminum alloy and stainless steel are the most common, but they can also be bronze and nickel alloys. Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser, Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser, and Bar Keepers Friend MORE Spray+Foam are perfect for regularly cleaning stainless steel, bronze, nickel props. However, there are multiple grades of these metals, which makes it critically important to follow the manufacturers’ care instructions. And it’s wise to test the cleanser on a small spot before attempting to clean the entire area.

Boat Cleaning with CJ

BKF fan, CJ, shows off how to clean your boat with BKF. Check out how he does it here:


Keeping it Simple 

One advantage of BKF core products, which include our cleaner and powdered cleaners, is that they can be safely used on many materials – including stainless steel, copper, brass, glass, fiberglass, and chrome.

How Big Is It?

Size matters when it comes to boat cleaning. If your boat is a 50-foot offshore rig, you probably need a crew to clean it. Even a 20-foot freshwater boat can be quite a job, especially if you don’t have the right tools and cleaning solutions. Naturally, if you have a personal vessel, you’re welcome to do it yourself and, of course, rope your friends in to help!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

We’ll be exploring some of the specifics of keeping your boat clean. If you have a question about what Bar Keepers Friend products to use on your boat, please let us know. We’d love to answer your questions. Contact Us. Happy Sailing!

About the Author

Randy Clark - Headshot

Randy Clark is a speaker, coach, and author. He publishes a weekly blog at Randy Clark Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He’s a beer geek and on weekends (after COVID-19) he can be found fronting the Rock & Roll band Under the Radar. He’s the proud father of two educators; he has four amazing grandchildren and a wife who dedicates her time to helping others. Randy is the author of the Amazon bestseller The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management.


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