How To Clean Vinyl Boat Seats: Even Mold And Mildew

A back to back boat seat where one seatback is clean and the other one is very moldy and dirty like the rest of the boat's interior.

A disgusting, dirty, moldy boat interior is embarrassing. There are some easy ways of cleaning mold and mildew off your vinyl boat seats.


The key to making your boat interior look new again is all about using the right product for the job. A few options to making those boat seats shine again are:

  1. A spray cleaning product, a scrub brush, and a clean dry towel.
  2. Use a Magic Eraser sponge, warm water, and a clean dry towel.
  3. Replacement options.


It doesn’t take long for mold and mildew to take hold in your boat vinyl. Even the most extreme cases can clean up, and I’ll show you how.



Cleaning Mold And Mildew Off Boat Seats


Some people suggest using a mixture of 3 parts water and 1 part mild soap, with a soft cloth or sponge. I think you’ll find that to be a complete waste of time. Mold is not just sitting on the surface of the vinyl. It penetrates a little and that’s why you need to use a more aggressive product and procedure.


Marine vinyl is very durable and that’s why it’s the marine industry’s “go-to” for boat interiors. It’s understandable to want to be careful with the products you’re cleaning with. However, you can’t give up and live with an ugly boat interior.


There are several products for cleaning mold. Not many actually work, but some work really well. In the video below, you’ll see what most would consider an extreme case. If you didn’t see the boat seat vinyl become clean, you wouldn’t believe it could be done. Yet, look how simple it was.


Is Bleach Too Harsh On Vinyl Boat Seats?


Repeated use of bleach can be hard on the stitching and vinyl, but in the video, we’re not using a bleach product repeatedly. We are using it once. Like I said there are other options for cleaning severe mold from boat seats, but those products are harsh as well. The key to using these products to bring life back to your boat seats, is to be sure you are using the same amount of effort to rinse with clean water.


Your goal is to make your boat seats clean again. After you clean a section, you need to wipe it with a fresh wet cloth a few times to dilute out any remaining cleaning solution. Then move on to cleaning the next section. “If you used a brush to lightly scrub the seat clean, you need to use a brush with clean water to rinse thoroughly”.


Once you have your boat interior looking like you want it, you need to treat it with some boat vinyl conditioner. This will coat the vinyl and the treads that you hit with your cleaning product and help counteract the properties of the cleaner, to an extent.



Cleaning Products For Boat Seats


After decades of playing with boats, I have found some cleaning products that I count on to do the best job for me. One might expect that you would have to spend a bunch of money on marine only cleaners. However, that’s not what I’ve found, and I don’t just work on cheap beginner boats. I have boats that are upwards of $50,000 and I use the same products if they’re required.


On you’ll most often see examples of projects being done to some pretty neglected boats. This is done with purpose, because when most people begin boating, they do it with a beginner boat. Just like in the video above, I’m cleaning boat seats of a boat that I most likely am going to donate (unless I keep using it as an example for repairs, lol). It does you no good if I demonstrate how to clean a newer semi-dirty seat. 


For cleaning vinyl boat seats, these are a couple trusted ones:

  • Miracle Mist two pack spray bottles of cleaning solution on display with a white background.Miracle Mist – Instant Mold and Mildew Stain Remover.

    • This one tops my list as far as being very effective and safe to use. As with any cleaning product, check for color fastness in an discrete area first. You can get this 2 pack of Miracle Mist on Amazon to get a great deal without leaving the house. I’ve also seen it at Menards. This Amazon seller’s reviews show it at a full 5 stars. This review was fitting so I included it here.
“I used this product to clean the mold off many boat seats. I have tried other products and harsh chemicals and did not get the same results of miracle mist. It is truly as close to a miracle as it gets. Test for color fastness”
  • Magic Eraser Sponge

    • A Magic Eraser 10 pack on display.

      The first time I tried the magic eraser sponge was about 7 years ago on a boat hull that had marks from docking and trailering. It worked like a charm and it seems to clean just about everything. Vinyl boat seats are no exception! I notice that when using the magic eraser on sun faded gelcoat, it will take off some of the fading color. This may force you into cleaning the entire area though and then you may want to consider having the boat buffed if you gelcoaat is sun faded..


You may find other products that suit your cleaning needs, but I’ve tried a TON of cleaners, and for cleaning boat seats, these  3 options are what I suggest you try. Oh, and they are really inexpensive also. Lets look at some ideas for boat seat protection and repair next.



Protecting Your Boat Seats From UV And Dirt


It’s easy to be happy and just quit after getting your nasty, moldy boat seats clean. The problem with being satisfied here, is that they’ll get dirty very quickly again and be difficult to clean all over again.


After getting the results you were hoping for on you boat’s interior, you need to take another very important step. You need to apply some vinyl boat seat protectant/conditioner.


The conditioner will do a few things for you:

  • It helps keep your boat vinyl pliable. Untreated vinyl will eventually dry out and crack.
  • A boat vinyl conditioner will also protect from UV (ultraviolet) light, which will sunburn and also dry out your boat seats.
  • It will also have a protective coating that is guarding against dirt and stains. If conditioned regularly (once per month during summer use), cleaning your boat seats will take nothing more than a damp cloth to wipe them clean.


So again, you’ll only have the one time deep cleaning to get it like new. From that point on, it’s all about just doing a little light cleaning and conditioning.


3M 09023 Marine Vinyl Cleaner, Conditioner, & Protector, 8.45 fl oz on display with a white background.3M Marine Vinyl Cleaner/Conditioner/Protector

This is my choice for keeping your boat seats and interior looking like new. There are some conditioners that you spray on, but since you have to use a rag to wipe it anyway, I like the result that this gives me. Another nice thing is that I don’t get overspray on other areas. There are cheaper products on the market, but consider the cost of having your boat seats reupholstered. Getting the best protectant sounds pretty cheap now, right?


Another benefit of this 3M product is that when you do a treatment to your boat seats, you’re also doing a touch-up cleaning. About once a month during the boating season, you just go over all your vinyl boat interior to protect it, and because of the cleaning properties, you’ll most likely find that you won’t have any other vinyl cleaning needed. Get the one that actually works on Amazon today!.


Quickly Repair Your Boat Seat Vinyl


A Coconix Vinyl Repair kit showing the included colors and tools on display on a white background.I have used the Coconix Upholstery, Vinyl and Leather Repair Kit in the past to repair a few small tears in a boat seat. This process can be quicker than taking off the seat cover to make a new panel and sewing it back on, but it isn’t as good as new vinyl. Though maybe it doesn’t need to be, depending on your budget and time.


I’ve used other products that require heat to cure the product and pattern imprint. I prefer NOT to use heat on vinyl, because it is easy to make your problems worse, real quick. If you get used to the process, you can make some really quick vinyl repairs that are hardly noticeable (you could also make some hideous looking repairs if you don’t do the process just right).


One of the most important parts of this type of vinyl repair, is the mixing to attain the exact match color. It’s a lot of trial and error. This is something you should try though. You just may be good at it. If so, you will find a lot of different applications for this. As with the other products, I am including a link to Amazon for this vinyl repair kit because this is going to most likely be your best price.


I do want to remind you of one important step when using any kit. Be certain that you clean the repair area very good to remove and sunscreen, dirt, protectant, etc. or you will find the repair not holding. I don’t want anybody using this kit and thinking the kit is bad, when it was because of not cleaning the repair area.


So as you can see, there’s no reason to fear dirt, mold, or mildew on your boat seats. In fact if you’re buying a boat that has a nasty interior, you just might be able to get a great deal on it. Though I will say, if the owner lets his boat seats get that bad, they’re most likely not properly maintaining other aspects of the boat.


I bought my first boat while in high school 1981. I had more hours working on it than using it in the water. I can't count how many boats I've had since, but I really enjoy reviving boats. I've had so many boats that I could never use them all. Once I fix a boat up, I play with it a couple times and sell it. My goal is to use my many years of experience, and help as many people Begin Boating.

Recent Posts