Refreshing and cleansing a boat with a thorough boat detailing is a lot easier if you use today’s best products, designed specifically for excellent results.
Trying to use automotive cleaning or sealing formulas on a boat’s surfaces can cause unsatisfactory results or even damage. Choosing the right purpose-made detailing cleaners instead, then following up with a proper coating, makes the vessel look great and protects it for future use, too.
The best boat detailing products include Simple Green Marine All-Purpose Boat Cleaner, Krud Kutter, Starbrite Instant Hull Cleaner, and Meguiar's M43 Boat Wash for cleaning. For hull protection, the best products include Meguiar's M6332 Flagship Premium Marine Wax and Migliore Acqua Coating.
The best boat detailing products are formulated to work properly with the gelcoat used on most modern boat hulls. They won’t harm the gelcoat, paintwork, or the hull material itself, but can cut through hard-to-remove dirt like fish blood or fish guts, algae growth, or motor grease or oil spilled on boat surfaces. This guide discusses four of the best cleaners, along with two waxes and two ceramic coatings, along with some tips on cleaning up a boat thoroughly.
With top grade boat detailing products more available than ever before, it’s never been easier for boating enthusiasts and professional detailers to keep even a frequently used boat clean, gleaming, and shipshape during many years of waterborne adventure.
4 Leading Boat Cleaning Products
When it comes to boat hull, deck, and fixture cleaning, companies offer hundreds of suitable products right now. These range from general-purpose cleaners usable on multiple surfaces in your boat to specialized cleansers targeted to a single application. Here are some of the top detailing products that are both effective and readily available.
1. Simple Green Marine All-Purpose Boat Cleaner
Simple Green Marine is a boat-specific formulation of the familiar cleaning solution found in many department stores. Useful for both hull cleaning and detailing a boat’s decks and interior, this product is available in spray bottles and gallon jugs to match different sizes of job.
A medium-duty cleaner, Simple Green Marine can be used on vinyl, such as seats, and non-skid strips or deck coatings without damaging them. It melts away fish blood and fish guts to eliminate both stains and odors from the boat.
Petroleum-based contamination is also broken up and cleaned out by Simple Green, ranging from gasoline and diesel spills to thicker substances like oil, grease, and engine grime. It’s also designed to be versatile enough for use on fishing gear besides the vessel itself.
Adding different ratios of water to the concentrated formula enables you to easily mix up various strengths of Simple Green. The cleaner is also environmentally friendly, not only non-toxic but fully biodegradable. Making it even safer to use, it’s formulated to be non-flammable, and has no abrasive qualities so it can be used even on delicate surfaces.
2. Krud Kutter
Krud Kutter provides an eco-friendly way to blast through stubborn grease near a boat’s stove, ground-in dirt, or other relatively small but troublesome areas of filth.
While it generally can’t handle mold or mildew, it can loosen and remove many oily, greasy contaminants from a wide variety of materials, and can even remove tar. It’s usable on both hard surfaces, ranging from metal to tile or fiberglass, and absorbent materials such as carpeting or wood. It won’t damage vinyl seats or non-skid strips. Varnished surfaces and leather should be avoided, however.
Krud Kutter is supplied in both quart spray bottles and gallon bottles for larger detailing projects. It can be diluted with water for light-duty clean-up or used in its fully concentrated form to remove tougher filth.
Krud Kutter is safe to use near food preparation areas, since it’s water-based and non-toxic. These traits likewise mean you won’t be contaminating the environment when you clean with it, especially since it’s 100% biodegradable. It doesn’t contain ammonia, bleach, xylene, or other petroleum solvents.
Like Simple Green Marine, Krud Kutter is straightforward, versatile, and easy to use. There are also multiple specialized Krud Kutter formulas available if you want to focus on a particular cleaning application.
3. Starbrite Instant Hull Cleaner
For fast clean-up of dirt and stains, Starbrite Instant Hull Cleaner uses oxalic acid to dissolve soiling on a boat hull. The user applies the cleaner, which starts melting through deposits of dirt, stains, or grease immediately. The cleaner is then rinsed off with a hose after two minutes, taking the filth with it, in most cases needs no additional scrubbing.
Starbrite Hull Cleaner cuts through most types of dirt commonly found on boats, including rust stains and leaf stains. It’ll also remove waterline stains, algae, and similar unsightly marks. The formula works on painted surfaces, fiberglass, and other common boat materials.
While Starbrite is a lightning-fast, effective way to cleanse a boat of even longtime stains and dirt, it isn’t biodegradable like Simple Green or Krud Cutter. If rinse water is likely to flow onto a lawn, wetting down the grass to further dilute the oxalic acid will prevent any slight risk of damage. Gloves are also required for application.
Starbrite Hull Cleaner, like all the best boat detailing products, is made to be versatile so you can use for multiple cleaning tasks. While it isn’t suitable for use on bottom paint or decals, and should be rinsed off quickly if it gets on these areas, it can be used on metal parts. A second application will often remove even the most stubborn stains.
Starbrite Instant Hull Cleaner is a good option for those who want a fast solution to cleaning a boat hull without the need to scrub or use abrasives.
4. Meguiar’s M43 Boat Wash
Meguiar’s M43 Boat Wash gives a highly affordable solution that also won’t remove your boat’s wax coating. This product is an effective option for those times when you want to detail your boat without re-coating it, removing dirt, scum, stains, fish blood or guts, and similar unsightly soiling while preserving the current wax coat.
The formula produces plenty of long-lasting suds well-suited to a light but thorough scrub with a wash mitt or a hand-held pad. This is meant to be followed by a gentle water rinse and drying with microfiber cloths.
Rather than stripping wax or other coatings, Meguiar’s M43 Boat Wash includes conditioners which restore gelcoat and fiberglass finishes. It’s pH neutral (also known as pH-balanced) to avoid removing the protective coating. When properly applied and used, M43 will leave a clean, gleaming, glossy finish on the boat.
For this reason, it should be used for cleanings between coating replacements. Heavier-duty detailing products are recommended when you intend to peel off an old layer of coating for a periodic replacement.
In keeping with its mission of freshening up your boat, Meguiar’s M43 is made with a pleasant scent. This is meant to make using it a more enjoyable experience, but will also help eliminate the odors of fish blood, mildew, and similar contaminants.
2 Great Boat Detailing Waxes
There are plenty of high quality boat waxes readily available today, so you can find one that matches up to the specific needs of your boat hull material, freshwater or saltwater use, and so on. However, there are a couple of wax options that stand out.
1. Meguiar's M6332 Flagship Premium Marine Wax
Meguiar's M6332 Flagship Premium Marine Wax is another of the best boat detailing products from a leading cleaner manufacturer. This is a highly protective wax coating suitable for the most rigorous marine environments. It also lasts longer than some waxes, with a lifespan of 5 to 6 months thanks to a polymer formula.
Easily applied with either hand pads or a variable speed rotary buffer, Meguiar's M6332 “heals” smaller scratches in the surface during application. It also removes minor oxidation, helping with cleanup as well as creating a protective layer.
Meguiar's M6332 is highly resistant to ultraviolet, shielding your boat from UV damage even in extremely sunny climates. It’s also good against salt, making it versatile for both freshwater and oceanic sailing.
Meguiar's Flagship Wax improves the look of your boat, too. It intensifies colors while providing a deep gloss finish, plus it’s safe to use over vinyl hull numbers (though these should be hand-buffed only) and painted boat names.
2. Collinite No. 885 Heavy Duty Paste Fleetwax
Collinite Paste Fleetwax is an effective, long-lasting wax that comes in cans rather than bottles. Depending on your local climate conditions and level of boat use, this wax may last anywhere from 3 to 6 months, with more frequent applications needed in hot, sunny, saltwater environments such as Florida or the Gulf Coast.
Collinite Fleetwax can be applied over either gelcoat or clearcoat, meaning you can use it on cars, motorcycles, RVs, and other land vehicles as well as boats. Since it comes as a hard paste, a sponge applicator or similar tool is recommended.
Fleetwax dries quickly and provides a pleasing shine to the boat’s surface.
The formula is strongly resistant to saltwater and oxidation, besides offering good protection against UV radiation, too. It’s made to be longer-lasting than most waxes, and some users report it’s possible to go as much as 8 months between re-application in cooler climates when boats are only lightly used.
2 Top Boat Hull Ceramic Coatings
Like waxes, ceramic coatings come in many brands and formulations, most of them giving excellent protection to boat hulls. These two represent some of the best characteristics you can find in modern coatings.
1. Glidecoat Marine Ceramic Coating
Glidecoat Marine Ceramic Coating is a high-durability product made to last 18 months between applications. It’s formulated to withstand intense exposure to UV rays, making it a good choice for hot, sunny subtropical waters along the Gulf Coast or off California, though it works equally well in any climate.
The company recommends applying two coats of its Marine Ceramic Coating, which dry in about eight hours. When applied this way on a thoroughly cleaned hull, the ceramic makes a tough, hard coating that many kinds of dirt simply won’t stick to. The coating also results in a beautiful, gleaming finish with a brilliance similar to glass.
Besides repelling contaminants and resisting damage, this Glidecoat helps reverse color fading on older boats without the need to repaint them. It makes paint colors stronger and richer again.
Glidecoat’s ceramic coating creates a surface that’s extremely easy to clean. Unless the boat becomes exceptionally fouled in some way, the coating could even eliminate the need to use other cleaning products. Regular dirt, salt, and fish blood won’t stick strongly to the Glidecoat, so you can just wash it off with a hose in many cases, no soaps or solvents needed.
This product should only be applied over a properly cleaned, buffed, and polished hull.
2. Migliore Acqua Coating
Migliore Acqua Coating is a USA-made ceramic nano-coating designed for extremely easy application over a properly cleaned and prepped gelcoat finish. Like other ceramic coatings it’s a long-lasting solution, with a typical 12-month lifespan reducing application to once a year.
Designed for all climates from northern seas, lakes, or rivers to the subtropics or tropics, Migliore Acqua Coating creates a sleek, glassy surface that water beads up on and rolls off of.
This also helps with cleaning, since a wide range of soiling, including dirt, oil, grease, salt, fish blood, and other common shipboard contaminants, don’t stick strongly and wash right off. Even stubborn algae growths will rinse off the hard, smooth surface of Acqua Coating most of the time.
A special feature of Migliore Acqua Coating is it basically makes the boat hull it’s applied to extremely “slippery,” greatly reducing surface tension. The boat cuts easily through the water with less drag, boosting your fuel mileage. It will also perform a little better, sailing faster and gaining in maneuverability.
Finally, Migliore’s ceramic coat gives your boat a very pleasing glossy, lustrous look.
What Traits Should You Look For In Boat Cleaning Products?
Versatility is a big advantage for any boat detailing product. Looking for a cleaner useful for multiple surfaces, safe on vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum, and stainless steel, and capable of dislodging many types of stubborn crud is a great way to get maximum value for your money.
If you're planning to use the cleaning product right on the water, a non-toxic formula is probably best to avoid environmental damage and injury to fish. Ammonia in particular can seriously damage the gills of fish, with enough release potentially affecting their population. Biodegradable formulas are also preferable for on-water cleaning, or even on-shore cleaning if you want to be as eco-friendly as possible.
Be Careful With Bleach or Products Containing Bleach
Bleach might seem useful when dealing with some stubborn types of gunk found on boats, like fish blood, mildew, or algae, but needs to be used carefully. This extends to products that contain significant amounts of bleach, or even any bleach at all. Bleach dries out vinyl, such as that used in seat upholstery. It could damage boat seats or cause the upholstery to crack or crumble after repeated uses.
Bleach also has the potential to damage non-skid strips. It can turn wax coatings chalky or strip them entirely, and can create dangerous fumes if it mixes with another cleaning product containing ammonia. While many people like bleach because it can remove mold and mildew where other cleaners fail, vinegar and some specially formulated cleaners can do the same, minus the risks.
Should You Opt For a Wax Sealant or a Ceramic Coating?
If you do a full detailing on your boat, removing the current coating rather than just cleaning the outside and leaving it in place, you have the choice between applying wax or a ceramic coating to the hull.
Wax coatings have been used to protect boats for generations, and can be viewed as the traditional, low-tech solution. They offer two main advantages to the modern boat detailer. One is that they usually require less hull preparation than a ceramic coating, potentially saving time and effort. The other is they’re usually cheaper.
On the downside, wax coatings don’t attach very strongly to the hull and wear off quickly with heavy use. Typically, a boat needs to be waxed every three months, or four times a year if it’s in constant use. Wax also offers less protection from salt and UV rays. It may also develop more water marks, depending on the exact formula and brand.
Modern ceramic nano-coatings are hard, tough, and durable, bonding deeply with the boat’s finish to give lasting protection. This means they can typically go anywhere from 12 to 18 months between re-application, and maybe even longer with some formulas.
They create a slick surface that many kinds of dirt just rinse off of. They also have excellent salt resistance and prevent UV damage to the boat’s finish. Ceramic is simple to maintain once applied, and looks great as well, with a bright, glistening sheen.
The two main downsides to ceramic nano-coatings are prepping and price. The hull needs intense cleaning, buffing, and polishing before a ceramic coating is applied in order to gain the nano-coating’s full benefits.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson