Cleaning is a crucial part of boat maintenance, and every boat owner should be aware of this fact. However, how do you go about cleaning a boat? Can you clean an aluminum boat with vinegar and other household items?
In essence, there are many factors to consider in your boat maintenance routine. If you’re new to the game, don’t worry.
In this article, I’ll cover the basics, including whether you can clean an aluminum boat with vinegar.
All boats are different with varying capabilities. Therefore, it’s essential to perfect your maintenance process to enhance your boat’s performance and shelf life.
Now, let’s dive in.
Things to Know About Aluminum Boat Maintenance
First and foremost, what should you know about aluminum boats? They are durable and highly resistant to corrosion. It’s one of their main perks.
However, they’re not entirely immune, so you have to take care of them. Unlike steel boats, aluminum hulls are prone to galvanic corrosion, which happens due to electrolysis.
Therefore, aluminum boats require special care. You have to follow specific rules.
What do these rules entail?
Well, there are three main things you should know:
When you’re using or cleaning your boat, maintain safety measures to protect yourself and the boat. Of course, the first rule of boat safety is wearing life jackets. It doesn’t matter how deep or shallow the water is. Always have life jackets and a medical kit on hand.
Secondly, you should scan the bilge pump for blockages. This step is part of your regular boat safety check. However, it would help if you also did this before beginning your cleaning routine.
Lastly, make sure the boat is set evenly. You don’t want it falling and causing injuries. Therefore, your boat should be adequately secure.
Clean Your Boat Frequently
How often should you clean your boat? Generally, the rule is to clean it as often as you use it. For instance, if you’re going fishing for the day, clean the boat the next day.
Otherwise, you leave dirt, water, blockages, and other toxins to fester on your boat (both outside and inside). These toxins can cause permanent damage to your boat parts, especially the surface.
This damage will degrade the durability of your aluminum boat. Eventually, you’ll lose aesthetic appeal and boating performance. Moreover, your resale value takes a huge dive too.
Remove Excess Water and Blockages Immediately
If you’re using your boat semi-frequently, you’ll find excess water and blockages.
This is especially true for saltwater boating. Salt accumulates in the bottom of your boat, and it can cause internal damage.
Consequently, if you see any salt blockages or excess water, take immediate action. Otherwise, the problem might get bigger and cost you more money.
Some boats make drainage more comfortable with their design. How? The rainwater is automatically removed via drainage holes in the deck.
However, with other boats, you have to do things manually. If that’s the case, always check your bilge pumps before, during, and after your boating trip.
Bilge pumps are more likely to have water or blockage build up. Consequently, always drain them before a trip.
Can You Clean an Aluminum Boat With Vinegar?
Now, for the central question: can you clean an aluminum boat with vinegar instead of specialized cleaners? The answer is yes.
Vinegar is a cheap and effective cleaner for your boat’s surface. It’s simple science. When aluminum oxidizes, it requires an acidic base to neutralize again.
Vinegar and baking soda are two acidic bases. You can easily fix external marks and scratches with them.
Some boat owners use both in their cleaning process. The choice is yours, though. However, be mindful; vinegar is only a smart solution for regular cleaning.
If there’s a more severe issue with your boat, you’re better off with something more robust like a marine aluminum cleaner. Serious issues include deep scratches and stains.
These aluminum cleaners have toxic chemicals, though. Moreover, another perk of using vinegar is that it’s non-toxic and safe.
What Items Do You Need?
The best part about this method is you don’t have to buy anything. Most of these items are normal household objects.
If you’re cleaning an aluminum boat with vinegar, you’ll need:
- White vinegar
- Distilled water
- Clean water mixed with soap
- Protective oil (non-graphite)
- Small bucket
- Spray bottle
- Non-abrasive foam or cloth
Use the white vinegar and distilled water in equal parts; the ratio should be 50:50. Mix both together, and pour the mixture into the small bucket.
If you’re looking for an extra layer of protection, add about ¼ cup of baking soda to the mixture. However, this step is optional.
The above mixture is for the hull and walls. If you’re cleaning windows or other non-metal surfaces, use ¾ tablespoon of vinegar with a quart of water.
Cleaning an Aluminum Boat With Vinegar: Step by Step Process
Once you’ve gathered everything, what do you do next? Cleaning your aluminum boat isn’t super difficult.
It would help if you took everything step-by-step. Here’s how to go about it:
Inspect Your Boat
Firstly, you need to identify the problem areas. This step is essential, especially if your boat recently had an accident. For instance, you might’ve accidentally hit an object such as a buoy.
When you’re inspecting your boat, be observant of the tiniest details. They might point to a bigger problem.
In essence, you must look for things such as:
- Cracks or holes
For example, if you find some small cracks, you must tend to them immediately. If left unchecked, cracks can worsen and let water in, causing engine failure.
So, before you begin cleaning, assess your boat (both on the outside and inside).
Wash With Soap
Secondly, wash your boat once with soapy water. You can use a pressure washer or a normal hose for this.
Either way, the result is the same. However, with a pressure washer, the process is more efficient.
This step helps clean surface-level dirt and pollutants. If there’s algae stuck to your hull or you have fish stains on your deck, this step sanitizes the boat and removes debris.
Wash With Vinegar Solution
Now, once you’ve washed the boat, pour some of the vinegar-water mixture into a spray bottle. Shake the bottle a bit before use.
Then, follow these eight steps:
- Go to the stains or rust marks you identified in your inspection.
- Spray the mixture two to three times on the problem area.
- Let the mixture soak for about two minutes.
- Wet a non-abrasive cloth/foam with warm water.
- Wipe the aluminum surface in upward and downward motions.
- If the stain is stubborn, gently rub until it gives away.
- If needed, repeat the process.
- Once the stain is gone, wipe the area with a dry, non-abrasive cloth.
Remember: wipe away all traces of vinegar once you’re finished. If you leave it be, vinegar may cause the aluminum to flake away.
While its job is to neutralize, adding too much vinegar or leaving it may lead to surface-level damage. Therefore, make sure to maintain balance.
Gently Wipe the Windshield
Windshields aren’t aluminum. Rather, they’re usually fiberglass, acrylic, or polycarbonate plexiglass. Either way, they’re prone to scratches.
Therefore, avoid abrasive tools such as scrubs, foils, and wiping pads. You want a soft cloth and a non-toxic cleaning agent.
Typically, multipurpose cleaning agents are good enough for the job. You can use anything from window cleaner to dishwashing fluid.
If there’s any chafing on the fiberglass, use wax or polishing agent. Waxing the fiberglass will help restore shape and durability. Moreover, waxing prevents future damage. However, don’t use a dry cloth as it’s prone to chafing too.
Note: if you’re cleaning furniture or flooring, simply do so as you would in your home.
In boats, you mostly have wood-based furniture and flooring. Therefore, you just have to vacuum, treat stains, and mop.
Just let the interior dry sufficiently in the sun. Otherwise, you can get mold or bacteria build-up in your furniture.
Use Protective Oil
After you’ve cleaned the hull, you want to prevent future damage. One way to prevent corrosiveness and damage is to wax the boat with protective oil.
For this step, you can use multipurpose oil, including non-aerosol lubricants, grease, and car oil. However, the oil shouldn’t be flammable. If it is flammable, keep it away from fire hazards.
Simply put, spray the oil across the boat’s surface, and use a dry cloth to spread it evenly. It’s better to do this when you’re packing the boat away for the season. People usually do this to prepare their boats for winter.
No one usually goes boating until springtime. Consequently, this entire process is called ‘winterizing’. Once you’ve ‘winterized’ your boat, don’t remove the oil until the following boating season.
What Are Other Methods Out There?
Vinegar isn’t the only way to clean aluminum boats. There are two other ways.
Both methods have their advantages. However, there are some risks involved. You should know about both before you decide which method suits your needs.
Let’s find out more.
Although this method isn’t about cleaning aluminum, it’s relevant because it helps protect it from damage or dirt in the first place.
Now, what’s an anode? Anodes are positive electrodes. As mentioned, electrolysis is a major contributor to oxidation and discoloration on aluminum boats.
To prevent this, you can use sacrificial zinc anodes. Boat designers insert zinc anodes on the boat’s surface. These anodes are connected to the boat through an electrical wire.
Consequently, each time your boat’s surface begins to wear, the anodes chafe instead of the aluminum. In this way, the aluminum is completely protected.
However, this method has two main downsides: firstly, you never know how many anodes you need, and secondly, zinc can still wear down the boat’s surface.
Now, to get anodes, you must know the correct number and size. To find this out, you’ll have to spend many hours doing trial and error.
For instance, you can evaluate how many anodes you use in a given month. However, in that month, you’ll have to consistently replace your anodes.
Secondly, zinc can also cause degradation to the aluminum surface. If overexposed to it, zinc particles consume aluminum particles.
You can tell when this is happening if the aluminum surface begins softening or crusting.
Marine Aluminum Cleaners
Secondly, you can use marine aluminum cleaners. These cleaners help improve aluminum shine and decrease stains, oxidation, and surface damage.
Don’t worry, though. Unlike with vinegar, you don’t have to worry about chemical damage. Although these agents are strong, they won’t damage the aluminum surface.
However, these cleaners can be toxic. If you’re using them, be careful with a few things. For instance, wear protective equipment such as gloves and eye goggles.
Stronger marine aluminum solutions emit irritants, which are bad for your skin and eyes.
To begin, perform a patch test, and spray a little bit onto one section of the boat. If the cleaner isn’t compatible, your patch will retain a chemical stain.
However, you can ask your manufacturer for recommendations on compatible cleaners. This information is usually available on their website or in your owner’s manual.
Now, only use a pad or cloth to remove marks and discolorations. Also, keep in mind, cleaning agents tend to drip and leave stains. Wipe away all drip marks before you finish.
Rinse the boat with clean water afterward.
All in all, cleaning aluminum boats is a taxing job. Each method has its pros and cons. Overall, it’s clear that vinegar is the most practical method, though. It’s cheaper, safer, and has the least risk.
As boat owners, the maintenance and cleanliness of your boat should be a top priority. Using vinegar maximizes cleanliness at a lower cost. Consequently, it’s better to use vinegar as a cleaning agent than to spend more money on a strong yet unsafe cleaning solution.
Now, I hope you know everything about cleaning aluminum boats with vinegar. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can pick any other method you’re comfortable with!