There are many to-do guides on the Internet explaining how to detail a boat. However, most of them are usually blog posts of boat-cleaning products, which means you will never get a true picture of what to do. This post means to provide an absolutely objective look into the nitty-gritty of detailing a boat.

Why You Need to Detail A Boat?

The water of water bodies is nothing like the water you use every day. It has far higher concentrations of minerals and organic substances. When you take your boat out on these waters, the organic and inorganic materials get deposited on not only the exterior of the boat but also the interior from splashes.

It is worse in seawater, where the high salt concentration causes even more reaction and abrasion, resulting in the degradation of the polished and cleaned surfaces of the boat. Another thing to consider is that if the boat is allowed to stay wet, there is a chance of growth of mildew and rot. Detailing a boat removes all such harmful elements and keeps the boat clean and dry.

How To Detail A Boat Correctly?

The best way to detail a boat is to go from outside to inside. If you clean the inside first, then when you go to clean the outside, water and sludge can get on the deck or interiors, which will defeat the whole purpose of the cleaning in the first place. But water usually will not spill over the gunwale to the exterior. In fact, when washing the interiors, the scupper or drains should be kept open.

What you should also keep in mind is that you should not try to replace the special cleaning products and tools of boats with materials for everyday cleaning. These will either not be enough to clean the boat or worse, damage it. You should also ensure that the products you use are suitable for the exact material the required boat part is made of.

Also, understand that you do not need to detail your boat thoroughly every time you take it out. You can give it a rinse-down or hose-down in those cases. The method described here is the full-fledged method that you should apply once the boat looks visibly dirty and worn-out.

How to Detail Boat Exterior?

Given below is the step-by-step procedure on how to detail a boat on the exterior:

Step 1

Use a hose with a nozzle to give the entire boat a good wash. This is to remove all the grime and loose dirt and debris from the boat. It would be even better if you could use it in a pressure wash setting. This will also remove the dirt in tough corners and nooks too. This is essential before you move to the step of using the cleaner as having the loose dirt in will require a greater amount of cleaner, which is a wastage. Go from the top to the bottom as you wash.

Step 2

Use a specialized boat cleaner to soap and lather the exterior of the entire hull of the boat. Boat cleaners have the right chemical composition and balance to ensure that the gel coat or other outer coating of your boat is not affected by it. For scrubbing, use no-scratch wash mitts, soft-bristle brushes, or non-abrasive scrubbing sponge or pad. 

Apply the cleaner to a portion of the hull and lather it with whichever type of scrubber you are using. When thus cleaning, not only should you go from top to bottom like the hose-down but you should also do only small areas at a time. Scrub a small portion with the cleaner and immediately rinse it off with water. The soap should not be allowed to dry in any place as this will damage the coating of the boat and leave ugly marks.

Have two buckets of water handy. Use one to rinse the scrubber after cleaning a portion and another to dip the scrubber in to wet it for lathering a new portion. In the end, give the entire another wash from the hose without the nozzle on. This will prevent water droplets from forming on the wall of the boat, which creates water marks. 

Finally, use an absorbent fabric or sponge to dry up the boat. Do not use regular cloth for this step as it can cause scratches if the fabric is abrasive. If the fabric is not highly absorbent, it will also cause water streaks across the surface. 

Step 3

The next step involves buffing the exterior surface of the boat. While manual buffing is always a good option, if you want that professional shine, you should go for a rotary power buffer, preferably one with dual-orbital action to reduce the chances of wax burns. You should also ensure that you are using the right compound or polish for buffing to remove all scratches and oxidation marks.

Step 4

The final step involves waxing or sealing. It is best to use the specialized boat sealants or waxes as they are formulated keeping in mind the greater stress a boat exterior has to go through. Use the right applicator pad or buffer head when applying the compound otherwise, it would be uneven and even cause damage to the hull coating.

Also, if you are deciding which to use between wax and sealant, know that sealants last 50 to 100% longer than wax. Wax gives a glow to the boat surface while sealants provide a shiny finish. Many will tell you that sealants can be too harsh, but many improved products are available nowadays that do not damage the boat coating.

The application of the wax or sealant must be done in the same way as you used with the cleaner. Apply the compound in small sections and buff instantly. Letting the wax or sealant dry will form a horrible-looking cloudy layer over the boat, quite opposite the shine you would be expecting.

How to Detail Boat Interior?

Now we shall go into how to detail a boat in the interior areas.

Step 1

The first step is to clean the deck and other visible parts on the topside. This has pretty much the same process as the deck. Brush over the surfaces with a light broom or brush to remove crusted gunk. Then give the entire deck a hose-down. Next, take water in two buckets as before and start cleaning the deck, bulkhead, and other non-glass areas as before in small portions. 

A non-skid surface would require a stiff brush but a fiberglass deck should only be scrubbed with a soft brush or non-abrasive cleaning scrubber. Whatever cleaning solution you should be suitable for the kind of deck you have. Also, use a spot cleaner for especially dirty or stubborn spots. Give a final wash with just the hose and dry the area with an absorbent piece of fabric. 

Step 2

Now you need to clean the special areas. The glass on the windshield, windows, and other areas is cleaned using the same sequence of steps as the deck. The only difference is that you have to use a separate, clean soft-bristled brush or non-abrasive sponge pad. A wash mitt should not be used for glass either because it will be too abrasive. For the metals, use a special metal polish. Vacuum the seats and carpets first. 

Step 3

Fabric areas require different treatments. The seats should be waterproof, but make sure first. If they are, rinse them with water and use a cleaner for the material used to scrub the entirety of the seats down before giving a final hose wash. Dry with the absorbent cloth. If not, dry-clean them. For vinyl seats, use a UV-resistant vinyl cleaner.

To clean the boat carpet, you will need a carpet cleaner. Use it to scrub the entire carpet, let it rest for a while before cleaning it up. You can use a spot cleaner for tough areas. For a deep clean, you can steam-clean the carpet too. But make sure no matter what you use, it is friendly to the carpet material.

Step 4

For the instrument panel or dashboard, use an extra-special cleaner in a mist, work with a clean and dry microfiber towel with very light pressure, and wipe down with a chamois towel. You will want to finish with an aerosol quick detailer. For touchscreens, use one with anti-static properties.

How Often Should You Detail Your Boat?

How often you should detail your boat depends on how often you use the boat, the conditions you take the boat out in, and the nature of the component materials of the boat. For some, a thorough detailing could be needed every couple of months, and for some others, it could be once every 6-9 months. 

You will have to decide yourself if your boat needs detailing. It is an as-needed requirement. This means that you have to notice if the boat surfaces have gotten dull or dirty, have too much gunk and grime, or has scratches and other marks on it. 

Should You Call a Professional?

This is entirely your choice. If you can spare a day and the necessary efforts, this can easily be a DIY project. But make sure you have a sure hand and have and know all you need to. If you are not feeling confident or don’t want to invest so much, you can always hire professionals.


This is mostly everything you need to know on how to detail a boat. However, every boat is different. So always be one hundred percent sure that the tools and compounds you are using to treat any part of the boat are suitable for it. Check the manual for the boat as the instructions on the product. Also, make sure that the insurance for the boat is up-to-date and covers any incident due to cleaning. 


How to detail a boat interior?

Boat interiors require more caution than boat exteriors when detailing. Each type of component, like glass, metal, instruments, fabrics, etc, requires separate treatment. Read the “How to Detail Boat Interior” section in this guide for a detailed description.

How much does it cost to get a boat detailed?

The exact cost of getting a boat detailed depends on the boat size, type of boat, how bad a condition it is in, and what exact services you need. On average, larger boats cost anything between $8-40 per square foot while small boats cost $1-5.

How to detail a pontoon boat?

The pontoons on a pontoon boat require special treatment for cleaning. Aluminum pontoons must be cleaned with a special aluminum cleaner. Hose the pontoons with water first, spray the cleaner on and wipe, and give a final wash to clean them. 

How much should I charge to detail a boat?

The exact amount to charge for detailing a boat depends on the cleaning tools and materials you use, the quality of the services you will be providing, and the cost of operating the transportation vehicles or vessels.


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