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Vinyl Care

By Sandy Lindsey
Lindsey is the author of McGraw Hill’s
Women’s Guide to Powerboating and
Quick & Easy Boat Maintenance.

Vinyl is, essentially, artificial leather. And, just like leather, it is very durable – capable of withstanding years of use even in sun-drenched marine environments.

However, it will last a lot longer if you show it some love. If you don’t but ignore it instead, vinyl will dry out and crack just as leather does when not cared for.

The first thing to do is to wash the vinyl every time you wash the boat. Deeply imbedded dirt will degrade and scratch the surface; too much exposure to salt spray and sunlight will make it brittle and stiff.

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The good news is that it’s easy to avoid both scenarios. The same boat soap you use to clean the fiberglass is ideal for removing dirt, grime, salt spray, fish blood, spilled sodas and footprints from the vinyl upholstery and cockpit bolsters.

Apply it generously with a soft brush or sponge and rinse well with fresh water. After the vinyl has air-dried, apply a silicone-type finish to temporarily restore the moisture and gloss. The key term here is "temporarily" as no spray-on finish will provide any level of long-term protection. They look good when recently applied, but quickly dry up or are wiped off as you use the seats.

There are four things you can do to in order to allow your vinyl to last as long as possible. The first three are to wash it regularly, keep it covered when not in use and apply a protective polish that will serve as a barrier to dirt, general wear and UV exposure.

Covering the vinyl is obviously not always practical, but there's no good reason for not applying a vinyl polish. These polishes work just like a fiberglass polish; they keep the surface sealed to help prevent dirt and stains from penetrating, and they block UV rays.

While no polish can compare to a cover in terms of overall protection against the elements and seagulls, think of them as sunblocks, allowing an additional level of protection from the drying effects of the sun. A good-quality vinyl polish will also allow colored surfaces to look their best. Some even incorporate cleaning agents that are perfectly suited for removing dirt and grime.

The fourth is a "vinyl don’t" and is simple: Never, ever use bleach to clean vinyl. Bleach is a very caustic chemical that can quickly and irrevocably damage vinyl.

Yes, many people swear by bleach as a fast, cheap way to brighten vinyl or to remove tough stains or mildew. However, the reality is that very few, if any, manufacturers of commercially available vinyl cleaners or mildew stain removers use bleach in their products.

Bleach is very inexpensive, so if it worked, manufacturers would flock to it. They do not for the simple reason it is dangerous to work with – it will burn unprotected skin and can cause eye damage if splashed – and it can harm vinyl.

Bleach will kill mold, but it is also very destructive to all but the toughest nylon threads. It's not unusual to see bleach destroy the threads that hold upholstery together; the vinyl might look great right after it has been bleached, but when your upholstery begins to come apart, that 99 cent bottle of bleach won't look like such a great deal.

Note: Sandy Lindsey is the author of McGraw Hill’s Women’s Guide to Powerboating and Quick & Easy Boat Maintenance. She holds a USCG captain’s license and lives in South Florida.

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