Cleaning Boat Seats with Vinegar (Does it Work?)

A pontoon boat can get real dirty real quick, so it’s really no surprise why there are so many cleaning hacks floating around the web. These days, you can find a way to clean your whole pontoon with nothing more than the stuff you’ve got in your kitchen cabinets. And while those trendy viral videos might make you want to give these crazy hacks a go, it pays to do some due diligence.

Cleaning boat seats with vinegar has become one of the most widely recommended methods for getting vinyl to look fresh and stain free. But before you head to the kitchen to grab that bottle of white vinegar, there are a few things you should know about this controversial cleaning hack.

Is Cleaning Vinyl Boat Seats with Vinegar a Good Idea?

using vinegar to clean vinyl seats on pontoon boats

The short answer is no, it is not a good idea to clean your vinyl boat seats with vinegar. Don’t get us wrong, you probably won’t cause major damage to your seats but the simple reason is because there are much better ways to achieve more pronounced cleaning results.

There are tons of products out there (both for general cleaning purposes and for cleaning boats specifically) that produce better outcomes than vinegar. So instead of spending your time and energy spraying on that stuff from your kitchen only to get underwhelming results, might as well use something for a guaranteed clean.

On top of that, white vinegar can leave an unpleasant smell on your vinyl seats. While they’re not incredibly porous, vinyl will absorb some of that solution which means you may have to perform a second cleaning just to get rid of the smell.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that vinegar is an acid, so while it won’t damage your boat seats over a single cleaning, they can dull out the vinyl material if you use it too often.

Can You Use Bleach on Vinyl Boat Seats?

Since boat seats are almost always in a light beige or white color, some boat owners tend to believe that they can get away with using bleach. That’s mostly because bleach provides almost instant results that showcase a stark contrast of cleanliness versus the seat’s previous, stained state.

Of course, we all love some instant gratification, but bleach is no better for your vinyl boat seats than vinegar for completely different reasons. As one of the most powerful cleaning solutions on the market, bleach is used for intense cleaning jobs that require strong stain removal power.

Will bleach remove stains from your vinyl boat seats? Absolutely, without a doubt! But that really isn’t all you should consider. Bleach can cause damage and deterioration to your boat seat material, eating away at the stitches and seams before anything else.

Overtime, using bleach as your pontoon seat cleaning staple can wear away the vinyl itself, slowly eating away its outermost layers. So when mold and mildew develop down the line, they cling harder to the exposed inner layers of vinyl that are much harder to clean.

Alternatives for Cleaning Boat Seats

If you’re trying to clean your boat seats, you’re going to want something that’s formulated specifically for the job. These days, it’s really not that hard to find a cleaning product that’s intended for vinyl boat seats, and they’re not all that expensive either.

Here are some things you might want to consider using to clean your boat seats and get them looking brand new:

Stain Remover

iosso mold and mildew stain remover for pontoon boat seats

The most difficult stains to remove almost always come in the form of mold and mildew. If you’ve got a bunch of dark flecks on your boat seats, then it might be better for you to use a stain remover before anything else.

There are lots of different options available, many of which were intended for marine use.

Iosso Mold and Mildew Stain Remover and CLR PB-CMM-6 Mold and Mildew Spray are both highly recommended in the pontoon cleaning sphere.

Magic Eraser

mr clean magic eraser

A word of caution - Magic Eraser is mildly abrasive, so we don’t really recommend using it too often. But in case your stain remover can’t handle tough, stubborn, and old marks on your vinyl boat seats, then Magic Eraser should be your last resort.

Again, there are tons of companies that manufacture Magic Eraser, but it’s always best to go with a brand you know. So when it comes to Magic Erasers, there’s really no beating a brand like Mr. Clean.

Soft Bristle Brush

soft utility scrub brush for vinyl seats

Any cleaning job that requires stain removal on vinyl should be dealt with using as much care as possible. Whenever possible, use mild products and soft cleaning materials to make sure you don’t scuff up the material.

A soft bristle brush should be a better alternative to abrasive brushes and cleaning tools that scratch the surface and leave your vinyl seats looking dull over time.

We like the Soft Brush Utility Scrub by SM Arnold.

Microfiber Rags

microfiber rags

Sure, you might be able to get away with cleaning your pontoon boat seats with an old t-shirt. But if you want professional grade cleaning, it’s best you invest in a set of microfiber rags.

The reason why most cleaning buffs consider the microfiber rag to be the superior cleaning rag is because they’re much more absorbent than any other kind of cloth, able to pick up and absorb moisture, dirt, and other contaminants more efficiently than your average everyday cotton rag.

Check out the Mr Siga Microfiber Cleaning Cloth Packs.

Protectant Spray

marine uv protectant spray for vinyl seats

As its name suggests, protectant spray helps to keep your vinyl boat seats sufficiently guarded against future stains, mold, and mildew. They also leave a polished shine that can make them look brand new.

On top of all that, protectant spray also prevents UV damage, minimizing the risk of discoloration, deterioration, fading, and cracking. When buying protectant spray, it’s important that you make sure you’re getting something that’s intended specifically for boating.

We recommend using the 303 Marine UV Protectant Spray for Vinyl Seats.

Step by Step Guide to Cleaning Vinyl Boat Seats Without Vinegar

Now that you’ve got everything you need to clean your pontoon boat seats, how exactly should you get the job done? To ensure a polished, professional-grade cleaning, just follow these simple steps:

Spray with Stain Remover

The obvious first step would be to spray your seats down with stain remover. Make sure you wipe off any debris and dirt that could get in the way of the solution.

The stain removers recommended previously don’t contain bleach and won’t damage the seams and stitches on your seats. So feel free to spray liberally across all the areas that need to be cleaned.

Let the solution soak for up to 10 minutes or more if you’re dealing with stubborn, old, mold and mildew stains. And when the wait is over you, can move on to scrubbing.

Gently Scrub with a Soft Bristle Brush

Take your non-abrasive soft bristle brush and start working out the stains by scrubbing in small circles. You should see most of the stains and discoloration lifting from the surface of your seats.

Make sure that you work with as little pressure as possible since you don’t want to scuff up or damage your seats. As tempting as it might be to really get in there with extra force if some stains don’t budge, try to resist the urge.

Wipe the Residue Away with a Microfiber Cloth

Now that you’re done working away the stains, you can take your microfiber cloth to remove the excess. This should show you how well the stain remover worked and if there are any mold and mildew stains left.

If you feel like your seats could benefit from a second cycle, go for it especially if you think you could completely get rid of the stains with just the stain remover and nothing more.

Use Magic Eraser for Stubborn Spots

A fair warning -- Magic Eraser is a mild abrasive that might cause damage to your pontoon boat seats if you use the stuff too often. If anything, Magic Eraser should be reserved as a last resort for extra stubborn stains and not as a routine cleaning staple.

To use the stuff, make sure you’ve wiped off any residue from the previous steps. Follow the instructions on your Magic Eraser packaging on how to activate it, and then get to work.

Rub softly against the material and don’t go full force. Magic Eraser should be strong enough to get rid of any remaining stains without the need for too much pressure on your end. Once you’re done, take another clean microfiber cleaning cloth and wipe off the residue.

Protect your Seats

Now that they’re looking as good as new, it’s time you protect your seats. Spray on some protectant and wipe it all over with a clean cloth. Make sure you get into those hard to reach areas like seams, folds, and creases where friction and UV exposure might cause significant damage.

Why Should You Keep Your Boat Seats Clean?

cleaning your vinyl pontoon seats

Now that’s a heck of a lot of work just to clean a bunch of boat seats. Was that all really necessary? While you might be thinking you could get away with leaving your boat seats stained and soiled for the sake of convenience, it’s important to remember that every part of your pontoon is an investment, so you better treat it that way.

Failure to regularly maintain your boat seats could result to a myriad of issues down the line, including:

Sanitation

Exposure to sun, moisture, sweat, rain, food, drinks, and everything else you might have on your boat can dirty up those seats - not just in how they look. Bacteria and pathogens can thrive on that vinyl, making your seats a breeding ground for all sorts of contaminants.

Aside from being a health risk, dirty seats also produce serious stink which may significantly affect your boating experience. Keeping them clean just makes everything more comfortable and safe for all of your guests and yourself.

Aesthetics

Are you sure you’re happy walking into a boat that looks like it hasn’t seen a bar of soap since 1988? Vinyl boat seats that are stained and soiled can seriously take away from your boat’s appearance.

If you’re hosting guests or even just taking the family out on the lake, those dirty seats might have your boat population standing the whole ride, worried of soiling themselves by taking a seat.

Market Value

Let’s face it: your boat won’t be yours forever. Some day down the line, you’re going to sell that vessel or trade it in for an upgraded boat. If you’re not paying attention to maintenance today, then your boat might end up raking in a market value that’s way below what you might expect.

Repairs

Vinyl boat seats that are left to fend for themselves against mold, mildew, and other contaminants will ultimately need to be replaced just a few years later. Unless money is no object, you’re going to want to take care of what you have to make sure you don’t end up having to pay for replacements too soon.

Tips on Avoiding and Preventing Mold on Boats

While cleaning can definitely help keep mold and mildew at bay, there are other ways to prevent the stuff from forming in the first place. Try these tips to reduce the presence and development of mold and mildew in and around your boat:

Dry Down your Seats

After every use (or every exposure to moisture) make sure you dry down all the different parts of your boat, especially the seats. Where there’s moisture, there’s the risk of mold and mildew. Keeping things dry means there won’t be a place for them to develop in the first place.

Practice Proper Storage

Humid storage conditions can cause moisture to build up in your boat even when it’s covered, which is why you might be surprised to find mold and mildew after long periods of storage. Make sure you keep your boat where it can have proper ventilation and invest in a proper cover.

Use Preventive Cleaners

Protectant sprays and mold and mildew prevention sprays are your best friends. See to it that you spray your boat before storage and after a major cleaning to prevent unwanted stains and contaminants from thriving.

Time to Ditch the Vinegar

There are better ways to get your boat looking new than cleaning boat seats with vinegar. Make sure you treat those seats like an investment and perform the right cleaning methods to prevent future damage and to keep your boat looking clean and pristine for years down the line.