How to Clean Vinyl Boat Seats of Mildew and Mold (Steps)

If you’re wondering how to clean vinyl boat seats of mildew and mold to bring back that showroom shine, we’ve got all the info you need.

Vinyl has long been the material of choice for boat seat upholstery. Long lasting and durable, vinyl provides excellent protective performance that keeps cushions soft and comfortable for years. But for as resilient as vinyl might be, they’re not really impervious to the effects of mold and mildew.

Over time, those vinyl boat seats might start to look like a hot, discolored mess. Toss in a bunch of black mold freckles, and it might be tough to find the courage to take a seat. That's why this guide will show you the right way to clean vinyl boat seats and what you will need to get the job done.

What You’ll Need

mold and mildew stain remover for vinyl boat seats

Browse the web and you’ll find a ton of DIY videos explaining how to clean vinyl boat seats. But don’t buy everything you see. A lot of those videos do it for the views and don’t really have the best interest of your boat seats at heart. That said, it’s important that you buy these essential cleaning products to guarantee optimal results.

Mold and Mildew Stain Remover

Make sure you read the labels. Not all mold and mildew stain removers were formulated for use on vinyl seats. See to it that you’re buying a product that can clean vinyl upholstery to prevent damage to your boat seats.

Check out the Star Brite Mold & Mildew Stain Remover + Surface Cleaner.

Soft Bristle Brush

Check the bristles to make sure they’re soft to the touch. Anything that’s even slightly stiff could damage your vinyl, cause scuffing, and make it easier for contamination to make its way into crevices.

We like the Scrub Brush from Jieshke.

Microfiber Cloth

It might be tempting to use something a little more abrasive, but rough cloths and brushes can damage your upholstery. Stick to microfiber to guarantee smooth and gentle cleaning.

We recommend the Amazon Basics Microfiber Cleaning Cloth Pack.

Protectant Spray

Protectant spray can help keep your vinyl seats shielded from the elements. The extra barrier should make it tougher for mold and mildew to develop, extending the lifespan of your upholstery.

Try using the 303 Marine UV Protectant Spray.

Magic Eraser

This stuff works, that’s for sure. But since it can cause some abrasion, it’s recommended that you save this as a last resort in case your stain remover could use a hand.

There are tons of different products and home solutions for vinyl cleaning that litter the market, but we recommend sticking to these vetted choice for the time being. While many others might offer impressive results, expert boat owners have stated time and time again that many of those solutions can damage the integrity of your upholstery.

We totally love the Mr Clean Magic Eraser.

Step-by-Step Guide on Cleaning Vinyl Boat Seats

Cleaning vinyl boat seats might seem straightforward, but it’s important that you take the time to follow the right sequence to guarantee a proper cleaning. To prevent damage to your upholstery, make sure you follow these steps.

Spray Mold and Mildew Stain Remover

Take your mold and mildew remover spray and give a liberal spritz all over your seats. Pull back cushions where the seats might fold so you can really get into those nooks and crannies. As a general rule, you’re going to want to be generous with your application to really get the stuff to work.

Once everything is nice and coated in the spray, leave it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. This should help the formula really work its magic and eat away at those stubborn stains. If your mold and mildew stains aren’t too old, this might be all you need to get the job done.

Use a Soft Bristle Brush

In most cases, you’re going to want to give that stain remover a hand. And the best way to do that would be with a soft bristle brush. Work in small areas and target places on your seats where stains are most prominent.

To protect your seats’ upholstery, you’re going to want to make sure you’re not applying too much pressure with your brush. Let the gentle motions do the work for you. You’ll know it’s working when you get a bunch of dirt and debris rubbed off as you go.

Wipe Away with Microfiber Cloth

With the residue of dirt sitting on vinyl, it’s going to be tough to see whether the stain remover actually worked. At this point, it’s time to pull out your microfiber cloth to reveal the upholstery underneath and see how well the remover took effect.

Now, if you find that the stains have become lighter but are still noticeable, you can go ahead and repeat the previous steps up to three times. By then, you should be able to see more significant results that might not call for much else. But if your stains are a little too pronounced, then you can move on to the next step.

Rub Stains Off with Magic Eraser

Magic Eraser can work wonders to get rid of stubborn stains on vinyl upholstery, but try not to overdo it. The stuff can abrade your seats and cause micro-scratches on the surface where dirt, stains, and other contaminants can settle later on. So it pays to work as gently as possible.

Unlike your brush or spray, Magic Eraser can more effectively work into nooks and crannies to get rid of deep seated dirt. As you work it into the material, you’ll notice it creates a grayish debris from all the contamination on your seats. When you’re done, it would help to take your microfiber cloth and wipe away the stuff to reveal the Eraser’s effects.

Spray with Protectant

Before you call it a job well done, you can go ahead and spray on that protectant. Make sure you really get into the crevices between the cushions to get the best results. Wipe the protectant with a clean microfiber cloth until dry to maximize its benefits.

What NOT to Do When Cleaning Vinyl Boat Seats

mildew on vinyl boat seats

All of those viral videos of people cleaning boat seats might make you want to try something new and daring, but there are loads of ‘hacks’ out there that might do more harm than good. Keep your boat seats clean and safe from damage by avoiding these potentially harmful cleaning hacks and products:

Bleach

Recognized as the ultimate cleaning agent, bleach is often the first thing you might have in mind when faced with a tough stain. But strong bleach can eat away at vinyl and degrade its layers making it more prone to staining down the line.

Hard Bristle Brushes

It might feel like you’re going nowhere cleaning a stubborn stain with a gentle, soft bristle brush. But hard bristle brushes can damage your vinyl, scuff up its surface, and shorten its lifespan.

Excessive Pressure

Sometimes, things just feel cleaner when you use more force to get your results. But excessive pressure produces the same destructive results as undiluted bleach and hard bristle brushes.

Tips for Keeping Vinyl Boat Seats Clean

While it might be easy to get rid of mold and mildew stains if you’ve got the right products on hand, no one really wants to go through the process too often. To prevent mold and mildew stains from developing in the first place, keep these handy tips in mind.

Never Air Dry Your Seats

It might seem a lot more convenient to just leave your boat under the sun after a well-deserved wash to leave the heat and open air to dry it up for you. But even just the smallest amount of moisture can produce the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew.

That’s why it’s always recommended that you dry your seats yourself to make sure no moisture is left behind.

Store Your Boat Properly

Storing your boat in a humid garage invites moisture to sit on your upholstery. Inspect your storage space and check its humidity levels. If there’s too much moisture in the air, then you defeat the purpose of drying your seats down in the first place. If your area is just naturally humid, you can try setting up a dehumidifier or even just a few buckets of charcoal to absorb extra moisture in the air.

Check the Weather

If you’re cleaning your boat seats, make sure you check the weather. You want to schedule your little cleaning project on a sunny day to help the seats dry up more efficiently. Avoid performing any washing that involves water if you’re expecting a rainy day ahead as this can slow down the drying process and cause moisture to seep into the upholstery.

As Good as New

Knowing how to clean vinyl boat seats of mildew can save you from expensive replacements and even extend the lifespan of your trusty upholstery. But since vinyl can be prone to certain damages, it pays to know the proper process and to use the right cleaning materials for the job. With appropriate cleansers and tools, and by following our step by step, you should be able to restore that showroom sheen to breathe new life into your vinyl boat seats - no matter how tired they might be.