It’s any boat owner's dream to keep their watercraft looking the same way it did when it left the dealership. But that showroom sheen isn’t really something that stays for long. Exposure to sun, heat, and moisture can cause all sorts of funky stains and smells to rear their heads. And while you might be able to get rid of some of them with a scrub here and a rinse there, none are quite as difficult as mildew stains.
Removing mildew from boat seats might feel like a migraine in a nightmare, but there’s no need to dread. We’re telling you all about the best mildew remover for boat seats, how to use it, and even how to make your own.
How It Removes Mildew
It’s important to point out that all mildew on boat seats is mold, but not all boat mold is mildew. As a type of mold, mildew often looks like flat black flecks or stains that cover areas of your boat that are often left moist. Although it isn’t often associated with severe health risks, mildew can cause mild to moderate allergic and respiratory symptoms especially in people that are sensitive to it.
That’s mostly because of spores. Mildew multiplies by way of little spores that travel through the air. Ultimately, mildew removers and cleaners aim to get rid of the stains by targeting these spores. Products that are formulated to get rid of mildew from boat seats work by killing the spore. That’s why it’s important that you wait at least 15 minutes before you rinse or wipe it off.
The waiting period allows the product to kill off all of the remaining spore while disinfecting the surface underneath to prevent them from taking up residence all over again. But of course, this effect can only last for a certain amount of time. After a few weeks or months of removing mildew from boat seats, the product will wear off, and the surface becomes prone once again to mold and mildew.
What are the Benefits of Using a Mildew Remover?
All of us have some idea as to how remove mildew from boat seats. However, just because our tactics might work on other areas of our home, doesn’t mean they’re ideal for removing mildew and mold on boat seats. For instance, a lot of boat owners might grab laundry detergent or bleach to get rid of mold and mildew. But that might not be the smartest course of action.
If you were thinking of winging the process and doing it your way, here are some reasons why you may choose to consider spending for mildew remover instead:
It Doesn't Damage the Seat
The objective of cleaning boat seats is two-fold. The first is removing the mildew from boat seats. While bleach, alcohol, and detergent powder might be able to do that, they fall short of the second objective, which is to maintain the integrity of the seat.
Harsh cleaning chemicals and products abrade the surface of the boat seats and degrade its outermost layer. In effect, it removes that smooth outer layer exposing the rougher material underneath. Over time, this becomes more prone to mold and mildew development. And because it isn’t smooth like the surface of the vinyl cover, mold and mildew have more leverage to really cling.
It Works Fast
Another reason why harsh cleaning agents aren’t quite as ideal is because they won’t work as fast as cleaning solutions that are specifically formulated for mold and mildew removal. Even bleach - which is one of the most powerful household cleaning products around - might call for two or three applications before you see satisfying results.
The main issue is that these products - despite being quite strong - aren’t developed to kill mildew spores. Sure, they might do that to some extent, but they aren’t going to be as effective. Which means that you’ll have to make multiple applications to see results that a mildew remover could produce in just one take.
Simple to Use
Cleaning agents like soap, alcohol, and bleach might be pretty strong on their own. But against mildew and mold on boat seats, these chemicals require extra help to really work their magic. So you might find yourself having to scrub the product into the mold and mildew stains to really get any sort of results.
And even when you make headway, the results you see probably come from the simple fact you’ve completely worked away the uppermost layer of the seat upholstery. With a mildew remover, you won’t have to worry about putting in the extra effort. The stuff works on its own without the added scrubbing, and some formulations don’t even need to be rinsed off.
The 9 Best Mildew Removers for Boat Seats
If you’re convinced that a mildew remover should be the weapon of choice for getting rid of mildew stains, then it’s time to move on to the next step of the process - choosing the right formulation for your boat
These products aim to achieve the same thing, but there are minor differences in formulation or application that might also affect your cleaning satisfaction. If you’re not sure which ones are really worth looking into, consider our list of the top nine vetted choices.
With thousands of positive reviews online, it’s not hard to see why the Star Brite Mildew Stain Remover is recognized as the best mildew remover for boat seats. This stain remover targets most mildew stains in one application, but also acts on ground-in dirt and grease by adding in various other ingredients that help bring out your seats’ showroom sheen.
The Star Brite Mold and Mildew Remover formulation is fairly simple to use and won't need any harsh scrubbing. Simply spray or wipe the product on, wait 15 minutes, and then rinse with clean water. It comes in a 22 oz or 32 oz spray bottle, but is also sold in an economical gallon jug if you think you might be cleaning mildew stains on the regular.
This all around boat seat mildew remover works tough on mildew, but gently on seats and other delicate materials. That’s why the Better Boat is the product of choice for most owners who have older seats that might not hold up well against harsh products and chemicals that could further degrade the upholstery.
The product works on all surfaces, breaking down mildew spores in just one application. Although Better Boat Mildew Stain Remover doesn’t really require any scrubbing, the manufacturer states that some older, tough mildew stains might need some light scrubbing and brushing to help the product really work into the stains and remove the contamination.
Although they don’t explicitly state that their formulation is suitable for use on boats, lots of boat owners pledge by this product. The manufacturer has also stated in various Q&A’s that although they don’t mention it, the Wet & Forget Mold and Mildew Stain Remover can be safely and effectively used on boat upholstery and even canvas.
The remover sets itself apart by way of its one step process. While other formulations require rinsing and light scrubbing or brushing, the Wet & Forget blend only calls for application. Once the product works its magic, all you need to do is wipe it off to reveal the clean upholstery underneath. For more stubborn stains, it might be necessary to perform a second application.
Another popular mildew remover for boat seats, the CLR Mold and Mildew Cleaner is a bleach-free formulation that works on a wide variety of surfaces for both indoor, outdoor, and boating use. Equipped with a foam sprayer, this product allows a more even coverage with each application. The CLR mold and mildew stain cleaner also limits the potential of ‘splash-back’ which might disrupt mildew spores and send them flying into the air and onto other parts of your boat.
In most cases, you might not need more than a single application to get those nasty mildew stains out. But if you’re working on more stubborn stains, then spraying on the CLR and gently brushing with a soft bristle brush can help the product really get into the material and target deep-seated mildew spores without damaging your seats.
Yet another mildew remover from Star Brite, the Ultimate Mildew Stain Remover was specifically developed with boat and marine applications in mind. The mold and mildew cleaner is allegedly milder than their original formula, which means that the Ultimate works more gently on boat seats, stitches, and seams.
Ideal for boats and RV’s, this Star Brite Mildew Stain gel blend (similar to the Marine 31 Mildew Remover) doesn’t spray out as a strong jet, so you won’t have to worry about disrupting spores and sending them flying into the air. And because it’s extra thick, it works well to remove stubborn, deep-seated spores and mildew stains on vinyl upholstery.
As one of the most trusted brands for mold stain removers, 3M has earned a rightful spot on our list as one of the best mildew stain remover products you can find. Their formulation comes in a convenient spray bottle and was specifically developed for removing stains on vinyl, allowing boat owners to work on different areas of their boat with a single product.
Aside from darkened mildew stains, the 3M Mold and Mildew Cleaner also contains ingredients that give it the power to remove dirt and other contaminants lodged into your seats. This means you can expect to brighten and whiten not only the vinyl, but also the seams and stitches that hold it together.
If you’re a boat owner dealing with a bunch of ultra stubborn, older stains on your vinyl seats, then it might be better to use something a little stronger for removing mold. The RMR-86 PRO Instant Mold and Mildew Stain Remover is specially formulated to be the most aggressive formulations out there. It works to clean mildew from boat seats in one application through its ultra powerful formula.
However because it can be quite strong, some boat owners recommend diluting the formulation in a half-part of water just so it doesn’t end up degrading your vinyl boat seat upholstery. You might also want to consider reducing your wait time from 15 to just 1 or 2 minutes so as not to overdo the cleaning process.
Maybe you want something that works a little faster than 10 or 15 minutes. Miracle Mist might be the answer. Just like the rest of the products on our list, this formulation promises to lift away some of the toughest, oldest mildew stains on your seats. But what really sets it apart is how fast it works.
The Miracle Mist Mold and Mildew Remover can work in as little as 30 to 60 seconds. That’s because the manufacturer claims that their product is up to 40% stronger than store bought bleach, letting you work away tough mildew stains in less time than other products.
Lat but not least on our list of the best mildew remover for boat seats comes from Kaboom. Advertised mainly for household use, the Kaboom No Drip Foam Mold & Mildew Stain remover is a very quick acting formula that’s said to remove years old mildew stains within minutes. The foam formula makes it especially simple to apply, letting you get into nooks and crannies without dripping and mess.
Once the formula has been left to sit on the surface of your seats for 15 minutes, you can then wipe away the formula and the mildew it has removed. The easy process has earned the product significant popularity especially among boat owners who want something that doesn’t leave a sticky, tacky residue behind.
Different Kinds of Mildew Stain Removers for Boats
You’ll notice that there are quite a few different kinds of mildew removers for vinyl seats. And although they all work to achieve the same end result, the way they work can be different. Thus not all of them will meet your standards and expectations.
Liquid mildew removers can come in either a fluid, gel, or foam formulation. These are usually sold in spray bottles that make application a little easier, but they may also come in large jugs if you’re hoping to clean bigger surfaces.
They’re great for getting into tight spots, nooks, and crannies that other products might struggle to get into. The downside of course is that they could be messy to use, especially the fluid ones that can drip and spill all over your boat.
On the upside, liquid formulations typically require fewer steps. While liquid formulations call for a rinse, gel and foam formulas might not require anything other than a good old wipe down after the product is left for a few minutes to work its magic.
Presently, there aren’t any mildew remover for boat seats that come in powder form. But there are some powders out there that you might be able to use for the purpose of removing mildew. Some boaters have found that baking soda together with some water and mild soap can create a powerful mildew removing combination.
Others have also tried laundry detergent powder to get rid of mildew stains, but the effects are often substandard. It’s also worth mentioning that powders are usually abrasive unless you completely dilute them first. In which case it would be more practical to just use a liquid formulation from the start.
You’re not likely to find too many professional mildew stain removers on the market, but there are a few like the RMR-86 PRO. Although their aggressive cleaning capabilities and fast-acting properties might seem alluring to the boat owner in a rush, these products are much, much stronger than your average mildew remover.
Unless you have really old mildew stains, it’s not really advisable to use these products as your first choice. And if you do find yourself having to use one of these formulations, it’s recommended that you wait no more than a minute to ensure it doesn’t damage your seats or the stitching.
DIY vinyl boat seat cleaning hacks abound! And although some of them might seem questionable, there are others that have earned the respect of owners everywhere. That said, if you’re not keen on purchasing a mildew remover for boat seats, some of these homemade options might be better suited to your needs.
Loads of boat owners have met success in removing mildew stains by using vinegar. A mix of one part vinegar and one part distilled water could be almost as effective as store-bought mildew removers at removing milder mildew stains. Just soak the seats in the solution for 30 minutes to 1 hour, and you should see those stains lightened to disappearance.
As previously mentioned, baking soda also has some properties that help it remove mildew stains. But on its own, the powder might not be able to achieve much. To get it to work, you’re going to have to mix it together with water and mild detergent liquid or dish soap. Apply it on the surface of the seats and scrub gently with a soft bristle brush. Then rinse with clean water.
It’s possible that you might find some owners cleaning away mold and mildew stains with Magic Eraser. Truth be told, the stuff can be incredibly effective - perhaps even more effective than any of the other mildew removers for marine seats that you’ll find. Plus, because it doesn’t use any water as it removes mildew stains, lots of owners feel like it’s the ultimate practical solution.
But a word of caution: Magic Eraser can damage vinyl upholstery. The stuff is mildly abrasive, and may degrade the surface of your seats’ material if applied with too much force or pressure. So instead of treating the product as your first choice, it’s much better reserved as a last resort.
For mildew stains hat are just too tough and too stubborn for other cleaning solutions mentioned above, then it might be time to break out the Magic Eraser. Just be sure you work with gentle strokes and avoid scrubbing the product aggressively into the material.
Yes, bleach removes mildew stains on bathroom tiles, countertops, and other kitchen and bathroom fixtures and surfaces, but that doesn’t mean you can use it for boat mold removal. The problem with using bleach for removing mildew is it can also degrade vinyl upholstery. So while it might be effective at removing mold from boat seats, it also eats away at the material underneath.
This creates thousands of micro-tears in the surface of the vinyl, making it look and feel rough over time. And because mold and mildew are recurring problems, any mildew that forms on the degraded seats cling much easier because it’s no longer smooth. That also makes the stains harder to remove.
Things to Consider When Buying Mildew Removers
If you’re truly invested in your boat seats, then you might find it extra tough to find the best mildew remover that matches exactly what you’re looking for. Here are some of the major considerations you need to make to guarantee that you’re buying the right product to clean mildew and protect those delicate vinyl surfaces.
Ease of Use and Application
You’d be surprised how finicky a lot of the mildew removers you’ll find can be. Some of them might be advertised as simple to use. However, dripping, spilling mildew remover all over your boat is anything but ‘easy.’ And while you might think that’s not really such a big issue, it helps to remember that mildew remover isn’t compatible with all surfaces.
That means that if you spill the product on parts or surfaces of your boat that are made from other materials, it might cause damage. For fluid mildew remover products, that means you might have to lay down a few tarps or rags especially on painted surfaces to ensure the stuff doesn’t drip directly to your deck, especially if you’ve got marine-grade plywood installed.
Foam and gel products like the Marine 31 Mildew Remover are typically easier to use for mold in boat seats since they don’t spill or drip. They also provide much better coverage over the surface of boat seats, allowing the product to work more effectively on stains. And then of course there’s the fact that gel and foam products often only need to be wiped off, as opposed to liquid formulas that require a rinse with water.
While most contents best mildew remover products are the same, there are variations. Which is why some of them are ‘extra strong’ and others are milder for stain removal on different kinds of surfaces. In general, products that turn out to be more aggressive than others are those that contain bleach, which again, isn't compatible for all surfaces.
Now, we already talked about bleach and yes, you definitely shouldn’t use the stuff on its own on boat seats. However, mildew remover products that contain added bleach can be safe to use on vinyl seats as long as you take the right precautions.
Some owners find that diluting these strong formulations can help prevent any damage, while others state that leaving them on for a shorter amount of time can make it possible to control their potential dangers they pose on delicate surfaces. Of course, you also have the option to buy bleach free.
Make sure to read all of the labels and stick with the directions indicated by the manufacturer. If you’re really not sure about whether or not you should use a stronger blend, you can try treating small surfaces area first and see how the vinyl reacts to the substance.
Marine Upholstery Safe
Not all mold and mildew removers are intended for use on all types of surfaces or marine upholstery. So it's a good idea to read the fine print before you get any ideas. Some products intended for hard painted surfaces contain harsh chemicals that could permanently damage the boat seats upholstery.
It’s always smarter to stick with products labeled safe for marine upholstered surfaces. If you’re out of options, at least make sure that the product you’re getting can be utilized on types of surfaces similar to vinyl. Steer clear of products intended for tiles, bathroom fixtures, and other hard surfaces around the house.
Fast & Quick Acting
Nobody likes to wait hours to see a formulation take effect. Fortunately, a lot of the mildew removers you’ll find on the market take no more than 15 minutes to get rid of mold and mildew stains on boat seats. Stronger products can take as little as 30 seconds, which also means you should be on stand-by, ready to wipe that stuff off when time is up.
Typically, homemade mildew removers tend to be the slowest to take effect, and for obvious reasons. Although vinegar and baking soda might work to remove mildew stains on marine surfaces, they weren’t necessarily developed for that specific purpose. So it’s easy to see why they might take more than an hour to show any significant change.
Finally, if you’re using a store-bought product and you’re not quite happy with the results of the first application, don’t leave the product in longer than directed on the label. Instead, wipe off the first application and reapply the product to repeat the process all over again. This should help further lighten the stains without damaging your seats.
For the record - not all mildew removers are made to smell good. In fact some of them might produce fumes that can irritate the respiratory system. If you’re particularly sensitive to chemical smells, then it might be advisable to choose bleach free marine mildew remover for the surfaces of your boat.
Fortunately, mildew stain remover doesn’t have to be the last step of the cleaning process. There are lots of leave-on polish and protectant formulations on the product that can get your vinyl boat seats smelling far more pleasant after getting rid of any mildew stains.
How to Remove Mildew Stains from Vinyl Boat Seats
Once you’ve found the best boat mildew stain remover for your seats, you can get started on the process of cleaning your vinyl boat seats. Make sure you’ve got a soft bristle brush, some clean microfiber rags, and a bucket of water at the ready, just in case.
Clean Your Seats
Before you get started on those mildew stains, it would pay to give your vinyl boat seats a preliminary cleaning. Dirt and debris on the material can impede the work of the mildew remover by getting in the way of the active ingredients.
You can give your boat seats a wash as you typically do, or wipe them down with a damp microfiber rag depending on your routine cleaning habits. Just be sure to get in between the cushions to get rid of any dirt that might be lodged between the vinyl boat seats. Boater's Edge is an all-around solution if you want to clean everything in one go.
Dry the Material
If you washed your seats with mild soap and water, it’s important that you get them to dry first. Most mildew remover products work best on dry boat seats, since there’s nothing there to dilute or mix in with the products’ active ingredients.
Apply the Remover
For products that come in a spray bottle, spritz a generous amount of the formulation across the entire boat seats surface. Make sure that all of the areas are covered in enough product to take effect.
It’s advised that you work on sections of your boat seats at a time, instead of spraying product on all seats all at once. This should let you focus on specific areas at a time, especially since mildew remover can’t be left on for too long.
Older, tougher stains might need a little extra help from your end. Take your soft bristle brush and work gently on the material to help the product really get into the stains. Don’t apply too much force. Your goal is to just work the product into the vinyl boat seats for better results.
Wipe or Rinse
Once time is up, you can go ahead and wipe or rinse off the remaining product. Most boat owners find that wiping the stuff away with a wet rag is lots easier than spraying it down with a hose. But there are some products that might require a wash down with running water.
When everything is clean and wiped off, take a look at your seats. If you feel like you could improve with a second cycle, go ahead and do it. Most of these products will recommend at least two application cycles for deep-seated stains.
Some boaters opt to give a wash all over again, with all-around cleaners like Boater's Edge. Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget to apply protectant on the boat seats vinyl upholstery when you’re done.
Looking Brand New
Black flecks all over your boat seats? That’s nothing the best mildew remover for boat seats can’t do. At those first signs of mildew growth, break out the cleaning product. Make sure to target those nasty stains and protect your seats from stubborn stains by cleaning regularly with mildew remover. This won’t only keep your boat looking brand new, but should also extend the life of your upholstery.