Cleaning Pontoons with Vinegar: The Do’s and Don’ts

Cleaning hacks are all the rage, and all those viral videos might have you wondering whether you've been doing it wrong all this time. And although some of them seem farfetched, a select few might actually have some truth to them after all. Case in point - vinegar.

Time and time again, vinegar has been wielded as a powerful cleaning agent because of its acidic nature that can dissolve mineral deposits and oxidation. So it's really no wonder why so many boat owners claim that cleaning pontoons with vinegar is a cheap way to get the job done. But does it actually work? Here's what you need to know.

Can You Clean a Pontoon Boat with Vinegar?

acetic acid in vinegar to clean pontoon boats

Well, yes and no. Vinegar works by way of acetic acid which means it works best on mineral deposits, oxidation, and even rust. And because there are multiple areas around your pontoon boat that probably have these issues, the acidic kitchen staple might be a suitable cleaning solution.

But then again, vinegar has its limits. There are certain stains, contaminants, and materials that vinegar might further worsen or damage. So it pays to know what parts of your boat you can clean with vinegar, and which areas might be better addressed by an appropriate cleaner.

What Will Vinegar Clean on a Pontoon Boat?

The constant exposure to sun and moisture can easily cause all sorts of water spots, stains, and discoloration all over your pontoon boat. So that shiny, showroom glimmer might easily fade after just a few trips to the lake. On the upside, vinegar and water can work wonders to restore that brand-new look and feel, especially when used on these parts of your pontoon:

  • Pontoons or tubes
  • Anchor winch
  • Anchor ledge
  • Vinyl seat upholstery
  • Outboard motor exteriors
  • Side walls

All of these areas are prone to water spots and discoloration as a result of constant water exposure. Cleaning pontoons with vinegar and water works to dissolve mineral deposits that cause stubborn water spots, and prevent corrosion to boot.

What Won't Vinegar Clean on a Pontoon?

The wonderful cleaning power of vinegar has its limits, so you can't really go around your pontoon boat wiping everything down with your vinegar solution. Before you go and perform that deep clean, make sure you steer clear of these fixtures when cleaning with vinegar:

  • Hard wood
  • Marble countertops or fixtures
  • Deep, old stains on vinyl
  • Control panel/ dashboard

Vinegar and water have been found to cause certain damage to these distinct parts of the pontoon boat, so be careful to switch up your cleaning solution when necessary. We recommend that you check all parts of your pontoon first before diving into the process.

Things You’ll Need to Clean Your Pontoon with Vinegar

collapsible bucket to mix vinegar solution

You’re going to need more to clean your pontoon boat than just a bottle of vinegar and water. If you want to get the best possible results out of your little DIY project, it helps to have the right stuff on hand.

To clean your pontoon boat with vinegar, you’ll need:

How to Clean Water Spots on a Pontoon Boat

Now that you’ve got all the essentials you can start working out those water spots. These stubborn water spots exist almost everywhere, especially on railings, side panels, and even on your outboard motor. Here are a few simple steps to help you rid of them with vinegar:

1: Check your pontoon boat

If your pontoon is filthy before you begin, it would help to rinse down any dirt, debris, or grime before you get started. Use your standard cleaner and remove residue with running water.

2: Mix your solution

Use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water, and combine in a spray bottle. It’s ideal that you use distilled water since it doesn’t have any minerals, thus letting it remove mineral deposits to maintain balance.

If you’re not a fan of the white vinegar smell, you can add a few drops of mild pontoon wash to the mix. This can also help improve the potency of your solution all together.

3: Spray target areas

Pinpoint the water spots you want to remove and spray your solution liberally. Let the cleanser set for a few minutes before you start wiping away the residue. But you don't really have to wait too long. A 60 second soak should be enough for lighter water spots.

4: Get wiping

Now that the water based cleanser has reacted with the stains, you can go ahead and remove the excess by wiping with a rag. You can also take the opportunity to rub out some of the tough stains. Feel free to spray and soak all over again if you’re dealing with more stubborn water spots.

5: Call for reinforcements

If you find that your cleaner is just a little too mild to remove target areas (especially if you’re up against older water spots), you can go ahead and add a teaspoon of baking soda to the vinegar and water mix.

Stir until the baking soda is completely dissolved in the water based cleanser, and the re-spray, soak, and wipe. Baking soda bolsters the effects of the cleanser and neutralizes its odor for a deeper, fresher look and smell.

6: Dry It Up

While distilled water isn't likely to leave water spots, it doesn't hurt to dry up the areas you cleaned when you're done. This just helps reveal whether you've done a good job, and prevents excess moisture from clinging to the surfaces.

Any rag should do the trick, but most pontoon enthusiasts prefer using chamois to absorb water and leave a nice sheen on rails and side panels. Microfiber towels can also be a good choice if you don't have any chamois lying around. With a proper pat down, the shiny finish should last a few weeks.

How to Clean Vinyl Pontoon Seats with Vinegar

Cleaning a set of vinyl pontoon seats will call for pretty much the same steps and procedures. Dust away any debris or clean off with water before you get started to make sure there’s nothing in the way of your cleaning agent.

Once that’s done, you can start spraying your vinegar and water mix. Since vinyl is a lot easier to address, you can opt to soak for a shorter period of time -- between 30 and 60 seconds. After that, wipe away the excess with a clean rag.

If you’re working with older water spots or problem areas from mold and mildew, dust on some baking soda and allow it set for up to a minute. Then repeat the steps with your spray bottle then wipe off after a 60 second soak.

In cases where water stains are way too deep seated, then even busting out the baking soda might not work. But if you’re dead set on getting your seats to look brand new without having to actually buy new seats, then you might want to consider something more powerful.

A Better Way to Clean Your Boat

using hot sauce to clean pontoon boat

Is there anything wrong with the good ol' vinegar and baking soda cleaning duo? Not really. But these household staples can only go so far. Pontoons that are particularly filthy and stained may require something stronger than DIY cleanser. In that case, you can use something specifically formulated for the job.

There are lots of pontoon boat cleaning products out there, and Boat Bling Hot Sauce is one of the most positively reviewed. Boat Bling Hot Sauce is a safe, soft-water based detailer touts spray-on, wipe-off application that makes it especially easy to use.

We recommend the Hot Sauce formulation for getting rid of hard water spots, scum line marks, and exhaust residue, among other things. It also adds extra wax sealant layers with each use instead of stripping off your current wax.

Keep in mind though that the Boat Bling Hot Sauce formulation was intended for spot treatment and not for general cleaning. It's still necessary to give your pontoon boat a complete clean on a routine basis to keep it sanitized and fresh.

It's also really not a substitute for protectants and wax, so make sure you apply your wax and other aftercare products to protect your pontoon boat from UV damage and to make the look and feel last much longer.

Worth checking out Protectant by Star Brite.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Can I mix a little bleach into the ratio?

We all know this as the universal chemical cleanser, but we don't really recommend adding it to your vinegar. Combining the two creates hazardous chlorine gas that could cause permanent lung damage, or worse. Cleaning pontoons with a little bleach really isn't too big of a deal, but we strongly advise against adding it to vinegar no matter how small the ratio.

2. Can I use a brush to scrub the water spots?

There probably wouldn't be too much of an issue if you were using a gentle, soft bristle brush, especially on harder water spots. But it might not always be necessary. Remember that vinegar is already acidic, and using it together with harsh brushing could cause abrasion, damaging the finish of your pontoon boat and stripping off the wax. A little wipe here and there could be more than enough to address most water spots and discoloration.

3. Does vinegar clean oxidation on pontoon tubes?

Yes it can, so if you've got a set of hazy, darkened pontoons after several trips out to the lake or the beach, then this at-home cleanser should help get rid of the issue. You can also use a protectant wax on them afterwards to make the effects last a little longer.

4. Does vinegar harm aluminum?

Technically, it can if it's left on for extended periods of time, but even then, it's really not that likely. We recommend sticking to a 30 to 60 second soak, especially if you're working on the tubes. This should be enough time to dissolve any marks without really causing damage to your tubes or their material.

Time to Bust Out the Vinegar

Pontoon boats can get really dirty in just a little amount of time. If those old water spots have been troubling you for a while, then it's about time you tried to get them removed. But before you head to the shop to spend on a tub of harsh chemical, you might want to try your kitchen first.

Cleaning pontoons with vinegar can be an inexpensive yet effective way to get rid of water spots and other minor cosmetic issues. But if that vinegar and baking soda duo just doesn't get the job done anymore, then it might be time to try something like Boat Bling Hot Sauce to get your boat back up to code.