How to Clean a Boat Canopy and Canvas

Your boat canopy serves as an extra layer of protection to keep everything and everyone on your boat safe from things like bird poop, harsh sun, and even rain. But since it shields you from contamination and the elements, expect that canopy to look worn and tired within just a few weeks or months.

Stains, discoloration, dirt, and all sorts of contaminants might mean that your canvas is ready for a well-deserved cleaning. But if you’re not sure how to clean a boat canopy or canvas, then this guide should point you in the right direction.

What You’ll Need

First things first - you need to make sure you’ve got the right stuff in your canvas cleaning arsenal. No, the stuff you use to clean your home might not be appropriate for the job since marine fabrics come with their own care instructions.

So to get the job done without damaging your bimini top, here’s what you’ll need:

Mild Laundry Soap

mild detergent

It might be tempting to break out the bleach and the powdered detergent, but these harsh chemicals can damage your canopy. Choose mild laundry soap to keep that protective layer on the surface of your canvas intact.

We like using the Ivory Snow Ultra Liquid Soap.

A Hose and Running Water

Some people might think that tough stains on a canopy are a job for a pressure washer. But according to experts and boating veterans, a hose and some running water might be all you need.

Soft Bristle Brush

Hard bristles can cause damage to your canvas material, fraying its edges and causing little threads to come loose. There’s also the risk of working off the protective finish that most marine canvas materials are treated with.

Marine Multi-Surface Cleaner

multi surface cleaner

For tougher stains that won’t come out with mild soap and running water, you can try marine-grade multi-surface cleaner. The stuff is specifically formulated to get rid of stubborn spots on marine fabrics without damaging the material.

We recommend using 303 Multi-Surface Cleaner.

Marine Fabric Protectant

marine fabric guard

Of course, it’s important that you protect the canvas when you’re done. This spray helps prevent future staining and maintains the color and durability of your canvas versus the elements and contamination.

Check out the 303 Marine Fabric Guard Sprayer.

How to Clean a Boat Canopy

Just like there are specific cleaning products you should use for your boat canopy, so too are there steps that you should follow to achieve that professional clean. Before you get to scrubbing, make sure you’re familiar with the best way to clean a boat canopy by following these steps:

1. Get Rid of the Dirt

Loose dirt, debris, and other contaminants can actually stain your canopy if you wet them and try to scrub them off. That said, you should try to perform a preliminary cleaning to dust off loose dirt before you get started with any soap.

Remove the canopy from your boat and give it a good shake to get rid of any debris that could easily fall off. Brush off any accumulated filth so your left with just the stains and discoloration that might need more intensive cleaning.

At this point, you can also try using your hose and directing some running water to wash out slightly more stubborn spots of dirt and debris that might not come off with your soft bristle brush. Soften the dirt and then try to work it away with gentle circular brushing.

2. Soap the Material

Now that that’s done, you can start with the soap. Dilute 1/2 cup of mild laundry soap into a gallon of water and apply it onto the surface of your canopy. Make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies so that the entire material is soaked in the solution.

Wait between 10 to 15 minutes to allow the soap to work its magic. Then take your soft bristle brush and gently scrub the material to further work away any stains and contaminants that might be left in the canvas.

3. Rinse the Soap and Dirt

Take your hose and use the running water to rinse away the soap and dirty water. It would be ideal to have your canopy laid out on a gentle slope or incline so that the water doesn’t sit stagnant underneath the material.

During this time, you should be able to get a better look at your canopy to see whether there were any stains or problem areas that need extra cleaning. You can repeat the soap and rinse process to remove spots that you think could benefit from a second cycle.

4. Spot Treat Harder Stains

If there are stains on your canopy that just won’t respond to mild soap and water, then it might be ideal to use a more powerful cleanser. The 303 Marine Multi-Surface Cleaner can clear away stubborn stains that might be impossible for other cleaning agents to remove.

Just spray on a generous amount over the problem area and agitate the stains and spots with a soft bristle brush. Then you can wipe away the residue with a clean microfiber towel. If the stains are a little too tough, don’t be afraid to increase the amount of cleaners and up the ante with your scrubbing technique.

5. Hang to Dry

Never put back your canopy while it’s still wet. Any moisture left on the surface can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew. So it pays to hang up that material so it can dry in the sun.

Avoid leaving the canvas on the floor to dry since moisture can accumulate underneath. Look for a spot under the sun where you can hang it up and let excess moisture trickle off and evaporate completely from the material.

6. Protect your Canopy

Hold up - don’t put that canopy back just yet. Protectant spray can help prevent tough stains in the future and should help restore that protective finish on your canvas’s surface. There are two types of protectant sprays you can use.

One protects the color and integrity of your canopy, providing a barrier of defense against common stains and dirt. The other one helps prevent mold and mildew development, which can be ideal for boats that are often stored in humid conditions. Of course, you could use both but that would entail waiting for one to completely dry before applying the next.

Depending on the kind of stains you had to clean out from your canopy, you should be able to pinpoint what kind of protectant spray you’ll need.

How Often Should You Clean a Boat Canopy?

It’s definitely a tedious process, but fortunately, it’s one that you won’t have to do too often. A deep canopy clean might only be necessary once every season, especially if you know how to maintain your boat canopy in between cleaning sessions.

To do that, try to give it a wipe down every time you come back from a trip. If you see any stains that could potentially become stubborn in the future, try to perform spot treatment so they don’t nestle into the material.

If the canopy isn’t dirty, don’t clean it! However, if you clean it too frequently it can actually damage the material and dissolve the protective finish on the surface of your canvas.

Can You Use Bleach?

Whenever faced with a cleaning job, the most common instinct is to reach for the bleach. In general though, the boating audience tends to discourage the use of bleach on anything that might be found on your boat. That’s because the harsh chemicals in bleach can dissolve and erode delicate finishes and materials, causing more harm than good.

The same goes for any solutions that contain acid, alcohol, and granules that could cause abrasion and damage the surface of your marine canvas. Always opt for mild soaps and soft bristle brushes that won’t abrade the material.

Is Pressure Washing a Good Idea?

With the kind of stains on your canopy, you might want to pull out your pressure washer. And while some boaters on forums might recommend it, most experts would tell you to drop the pressure washer and stick to your traditional hose instead.

Remember, all marine-grade fabrics are treated with a protective finish that keeps the material shielded from UV damage, fading, and integrity loss. That strong jet of water coming out of your pressure washer nozzle could easily blast off the finish and leave your canopy even more exposed to the elements.

As a general rule, the best way to clean a boat canopy would be to use cleansers and tools that don’t place your canopy under sever pressure or chemical exposure. So if you’re dealing with stubborn stains, skip the pressure washer and just scrub away with your soft brush instead.

Breathing New Life Into a Tired Canvas

Not all boat owners know how to clean a boat canopy, so a lot of them end up replacing their canvas before its time. But you can clean and restore your existing canopy up to code with the right cleaners and technique. Equip your cleaning arsenal and follow these steps to breathe new life into that tired canvas and make it look like brand new.