How to Clean Plastic Boat Windows Without Scratches

What you’ll quickly learn just a few months into boat ownership is that those things require tons of care. What’s more, every distinct part will require its’ own unique cleaning process. Which is what brings us to windows.

If your boat’s plastic windows are starting to look dirty and scuffed up, it might be time for a well-deserved cleaning. But since they can be easily damaged with the wrong cleaning solutions and tools, we’re teaching you how to clean plastic boat windows without scratching them.

What You’ll Need

Plastic windows are especially prone to scratches and scuffing compared to glass. But because they’re shatter-proof and less likely to break, they become a practical choice for boats that are often subject to movement and the elements.

Although you might already have a few cleaning solutions on board for things like vinyl seats and flooring, you’re probably going to need some different products for your windows all together. Here’s what you should have at the ready:

Vinyl Cleaner and Protectant

vinyl cleaner and restorer for plastic boat windows

Formulas intended for vinyl windows combine cleaning and restorative power in a single product. All together, this is pretty much the only chemical you’ll need to get rid of dirt on a plastic window.

Check out the 3M Marine Vinyl Cleaner and Restorer.

Microfiber Cloth

microfiber cloths

Even soft bristle brushes have no place in the cleaning arsenal for vinyl windows. Those panels are extra susceptible to scuffing, so anything with bristles could do more harm than good. Opt instead for microfiber cloth rags to wipe away dirt and moisture.

We like these Blue, White and Yellow Microfiber Cleaning Cloths.

Buckets

You’re probably going to need two, especially if you’re performing a preliminary cleaning with mild soap and water. Two buckets should be enough to help you get the job done.

Mild Soap

mild dish soap for plastic boat windows

Because vinyl windows are particularly prone to damage, you’re going to need a soap that has zero alcohol, bleach, solvents, and petroleum. Diluted dish soap might be a suitable choice if you don’t have any other options.

Try the Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Dish Soap.

Vinegar

This one’s optional, but it won’t hurt to have some at the ready. You can use vinegar to remove hard water stains that might not come out with traditional cleaners.

Polishing Tool

polishing tool to clean plastic boat windows

If your windows are extra blurry due to scratches and scuffing, you might be able to save it from replacement and improve visibility through it with a polishing tool. We’ll explain more on this later.

We recommend the WEN Variable Speed Polisher with Digital Readout.

Fine Polishing Compound

This improves the outcomes of your polishing job and makes your windows even clearer. You can usually find fine polishing compound at your local auto supply store.

Although you might be tempted to use more powerful cleaning solutions, vinyl and acrylic windows are extremely delicate. Harsh chemicals, hard scrubbing tools, and even rough fabrics can scuff the surface and make them even blurrier. Stick to these recommendations to keep your windows in top condition.

How to Clean Plastic Boat Windows Without Scratching Them

Now, on to the main event. Cleaning your plastic boat windows might take a little more care and precision than you anticipated. But by following these steps, you should be able to get the job done in a breeze.

1. Wash Away Any Dirt

This preliminary cleaning just helps get rid of dirt, dust, and other contaminants that might impede the cleaning process and even cause scuffing if they’re rubbed against the surface. Take your bucket of water and just give your windows a little spritz.

You can then take a clean microfiber rag and wipe away the moisture making sure you get any debris out as you slide the rag over the surface. Repeat the process as desired or until all the little particles are removed from the plastic window.

2. Clean with Soapy Water

Sometimes, soapy water might be all it takes to get your windows looking clean and fresh. Dilute 1/4 cup of dish soap into a gallon of distilled water and use the solution to wash away discoloration and stains.

It’s important that you use distilled water since it doesn’t contain any minerals. Other types of water can exacerbate hard water stains that develop as a result of mineral build up from water that dries on the surface of your windows. Once your done, rinse off the solution.

3. Spray with Vinyl Cleaner Solution

Now that your preliminary cleaning is done, you can move on to your actual vinyl cleaner. Some people like to spray it on the windows directly, but others find that spraying the solution on a microfiber cloth can help prevent wasting any of the solution.

Dampen your cloth with the formula and wipe in on the window in small, gentle, circular motions. When you’ve wiped all the areas of your window, wash your cloth in clean distilled water and wring out any excess moisture. Then use it to wipe away any residue left on the windows.

4. Use Vinegar for Hard Water Stains

If there are hard water spots that didn’t come out, you can use a mild vinegar blend to get them to come off. Mix together 1 part vinegar with 9 parts water and dip your cloth into the solution. Wring out the excess and work on the water spots.

The acetic acid in the vinegar works to remove minerals that cause hard water spots. Just make sure you dry up the windows when you’re done to make sure that the blend worked its magic.

How to Remove Scratches From Plastic Boat Windows

polishing pads

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you clean your windows -- they’re still going to look blurry and scuffed. In that case, cleanliness might not be the problem. Scratches on your plastic windows can blur the view and make your windows look dull and tired.

Fortunately, you might be able to salvage your windows by buffing out the scuffs. Keep in mind though that deep gashes on the plastic material might not come out even with immense buffing efforts. But light scuffing should be much easier to resolve. Here’s how to do it:

1. Pull Out the Windows

You’re going to need full access to the whole window panel to get out those scratches. So you’re going to have to remove the plastic window from its place on your boat. Most boat windows let you pop out the plastic material by simply pushing on them, or unlocking them via a unique mechanism.

When the window is out, you can then place it on a flat table to keep it stable during polishing. But make sure you lay down a towel on the table surface beforehand so you can protect the window from scuffing against the table itself.

2. Polish the Scratches

Take your power polishing tool and use polishing pads that are ideal for vinyl. Keep in mind that you might also need very fine polishing compound that you might be able to find online or through your local automotive supply shop.

Keep the speed between 1000 and 1200 rpm to achieve the ideal polish. Work in slow, gentle circles until you polish and buff out the entire window surface. It’s also important that you keep your polishing tool constantly on the move. Staying in the same spot for an extended period of time could cause an uneven finish.

We like using the Polisher/Buffer Soft Wool Bonnet & Pad.

3. Put the Window Back

Gently lift the windows and look through them against a light source to see whether you missed any spots or if the window still looks cloudy. If you did, feel free to lay it back down on the towel and work on the problem areas. Remember though that some scratches won’t come out no matter how hard you try to buff them off.

Once you’re done, you can pop the windows back. If you don’t want to oil up the newly polished panels, you can use a soft, clean microfiber rag to hold the window as you put it back in place so you don’t get any fingerprints on the vinyl.

Plastic Boat Window Maintenance Tips

While it is possible to clean out some scuffing and refresh your boat windows with a well-deserved cleaning, it’s always better to prevent dirt and damage in the first place. If you want to keep your windows cleaner for longer, try these tips:

Cover Them When Not in Use

Direct sun exposure can cause yellow discoloration and may even make your windows brittle in the long run. When your boat is docked or when you don’t really need the window view, cover them up from the outside.

Apply Protectant Regularly

This stuff can give your windows an extra layer of defense against common contaminants and damages. Reapply the protectant solution once every 4 to 6 weeks to keep your windows sufficiently protected.

Wipe with Microfiber Cloth

Regularly dusting your windows with a clean, dry microfiber cloth can help protect it from accumulated filth. Make sure you’re using soft fabric material since vinyl and acrylic alike are prone to scratches.

Crystal Clear

Your windows might not need to be replaced after all. Sometimes, all it takes is the right cleaning technique. So if you weren’t sure how to clean plastic boat windows without scratching them, these steps should get your windows looking crystal clear in no time.