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We had been asked to write a post about which products we use on board to keep our boat clean. As Rebecca and I can honestly say that our boat has not been this spotless since we left Lake Ontario, I think today would be a fitting time to write on the subject. Yes, it’s true, we have been on a real tear with respect to cleaning ZTC the past week, both inside and outside.

I’m not sure where it got really bad. It might have been all those stationary weeks in the fertile waters of Hog Island, Grenada that really did it. Regardless of where it happened, the waterline of our boat was looking really bad. Bad in a way that I didn’t think it was possible to even fix it. A brush wouldn’t take the marks off, nor would any cleaners. I was particularly dismayed when one of the guys in Dominica said that the gelcoat was stained. To me, that implied permanence. 🙁

A week or so ago though, I stumbled on the realization that with a lot of effort, carefully scraping with a putty knife would remove the marks, although the process was slow. This is one of those times when I was very thankful that we don’t have a 50 or 60 foot cat! With Rebecca on one hull and I on the other, we worked along the entire waterline removing the crusty marks.

Could you imagine scrubbing this boat’s bottom?

In the process of doing so, we ended up nicking the blue vinyl stripe which ran just above the water’s surface around both hulls. Because the vinyl was looking a little worse for wear, I decided to remove it entirely. This is when I got really motivated. Underneath the line that we removed was a beautiful white stripe. Now I had a goal, to make the rest of the hull look the same as that stripe.

Scrubbing the waterline only does so much to remove discoloration. We needed a cleaner, a strong cleaner. We needed On and Off! Of course, it cost us 25% more than you’ll find on the previous link to purchase a gallon of the stuff but we went for it anyway because we know the product works. A word of warning though: this cleaner is seriously caustic. Do not get it on your skin and avoid breathing any of the fumes. If you plan on using a spray bottle to apply it as we did, make sure that you’re upwind!

Note: There is a poor-man’s version that some people recommend, Snobol toilet bowl cleaner. It does work and we keep a bottle on board too. It’s not so convenient to apply to the waterline though and we were happy to pay the big bucks to bring our boat back to her pretty self. Others may also recommend buying muriatic acid and then diluting it to create a similar cleaner. That may work too, I have yet to try it, but again, at this point we were more concerned with getting the job done than saving a few bucks.

Removing all of the stubborn marks has taken many hours of work spaced over several days. The challenging part of the process was that when the waves lap up onto the hull, it washes away the cleaner before it has a chance to do its thing. To combat this, we even tried moving all of the heavy objects on deck (jerry cans, etc.) to one side to “heel” the boat over a bit, raising the side we were working on a few inches higher (yes, it does work). In fact, we even invited our friends from Earthling over, promising them beer if they simply would stand on the deck to heel it further (Note to self: Get heavier friends). We finally had to give up on occasions when the water got too rough as we found that we were just wasting product.

Cleaning the underside of the boat proved to be particularly challenging. Getting under the trampoline was easy enough in the dinghy. Even the few feet at the stern could be done from inside the dink too, as long as I was careful to not let the wind spray the On-Off back onto me. The section between those too points was a problem though. Yesterday’s solution found me running a line from bow to stern under the bridgedeck to hold on to and then floating on an inflatable raft, spraying the cleaner on the discolored parts of the hulls. Would I recommend this solution? Not really, but I did manage to get it done without burning my skin off.

Not recommended!

Is that all the cleaning that has taken place? Not even close. We’ve been taking advantage of some of that fresh rainwater that we collected to scrub the inside of the boat, and the cockpit too. That particular area of the boat gets especially grungy as it sees more traffic than any other. Plenty of elbow grease with Soft Scrub as a cleaner did most of the job there.

What about the stainless steel? Yes, Rebecca looked after all of that too. Here we use two different products: Ospho, to first remove any surface rust and then Collinite No. 850 Metal Wax to polish and protect it.

In addition to these specialty products, we also keep on board some of the household basics: Windex, Fantastic (or similar) and also a big container of white vinegar. These, along with a selection of brushes and rags, constitute the majority of the weapons that we use to oppose grime and rust. Are we winning the war? This, I’m not so sure. I can happily say though that I think we came out on top of the past week’s battle.

Yes, we really do keep all this stuff on board. That green box is full of cleaning products.


  1. Good and Timely Post……..I use to carry about 10 products for each specific case and now I cut that in half……..I use Woody Wax Ultra Pine Boat Soap to wash boat (contains nice wash and wax properties). I use Woody Wax liquid wax which goes onto wet surfaces……I coat my chamois with it by spraying and dry boat and it leaves nice gloss finish. On/off is in my kit………..Serious Shine by Yachtbrite is a waterless cleaner/detailer and Pro Polish by Yachtbrite to polish………Thats about it!

  2. Great post and a bunch of new-to-us cleaning products. One non-boat specific cleaner we really like is “L.A.’s Totally Awesome”. The stuff is really cheap (often available at the dollar store) and works great for spot removal, degreasing, deck cleaning, spider poop clean-up, etc.

  3. Just get some boat balls to make it heel over!

  4. Assuming your hull is covered in gelcoat, using strong acids like On/Off, Snobol, and Ospho will remove any wax they touch. That’ll remove an absorption barrier and will eventually stain the gelcoat quicker. When the harbor is really calm, get wax back on the exposed hull and the clean look will last much longer.

    You might try cleaning the head really well, removing all the water, and waxing the inside there too. The results might surprise you.

    Then again, I’d rather have a boat with stains, marine growth, scratches, and other assorted nicks that’s actually being used than a pristine, perfect looking boat that sits at a dock all the time!

    • Hi Jeff. Yes, I was aware that it strips the wax off. We have some wax on board and will do as you suggest when the conditions allow it. I also remember you mentioning the wax in the head before too. I have yet to try that but might have to give it a go. 🙂

  5. I’m too lazy to check back through your posting but didn’t you say at one time that you used Sno Bol to clean your dingy? Mine will be coming out soon and I wasn’t able to give it a good clean at the end of last season and it is really grungy. I’ll have to take a look at that On & Off stuff to clean my hull this year.

    • Yes, Snobol for the dinghy. That is one of our next cleaning jobs. Even though we pull it up into the davits each evening, the bottom is still covered with grime and a large number of barnacles! 🙁

  6. Wot No PICTURES

    We expect at least some before and after pics.
    You know, the ones where you are smiling at the start, and deduced to a glowering, bleeding, wreck by the end! 🙂

    You didn’t mention which wax clean and polish you used on the topsides, or how many coats. There must be several days work to do there. !!!!!

    You should be fit by the end of it. Just ready for a TRX demo and video.

    (So sorry I can’t help. I plead age and adiposity!)

    • I can’t remember when we last put wax on the topsides but it was a while ago! I also can’t remember the brand name off the top of my head but it is one that the fiberglass expert back in Kingston recommended that we use.

  7. If you can find it down there I highly recommend Invisible Glass aerosol made by Stoner

    It doesn’t have whatever is in Windex or Glass Plus that causes them to streak especially in the heat.

    It is a bit more expensive but you end up using less because you are not re-doing the same area over again to remove streaks. I got 4 cans at Costco for <$20.

  8. For removing dirty and particularly rusty streaks as well as the general light brown stain you get on the topsides in some waters, I have found that Oxalic acid works very well. It is cheap too. You just dissolve some of the stuff in a bowl, and wipe it on. Do not rub. Come back 5 min later and rinse. Easy and no effort.


  9. How do you guys prevent the toxic chemicals from running off into the water?

    • Good question. The products we use to clean the boat are all designated for marine use. I would have to assume that they expect them to run into the water.

  10. I hope that the blue vinyl stripe wasn’t meant to show how much you can load ZTC….

  11. I clean boats here at the marina for $$$ and I can do the whole boat with a bottle of Greased Lightning, a bottle of lemon oil, and a pile of microfiber cloths. Greased Lightening is also caustic but I have yet to meet the boat stain it won’t clean.

    S/V Kintala

  12. Great post Mike.
    I have been using Bar Keepers Friend. It’s super cheep at about $1.70 a can at Home Depot or Target, and does an amazing job on the decks. Comes in a liquid too which is good for vertical surfaces. Here’s the link:

  13. Excellent and timely post – and comments. We took delivery of our boat this week, and after her cross country trip on a truck, she needs a major scrub down – inside and out. I’ve used Bar Keeper’s Friend at home and that stuff is great. And I’ve heard about Woody Wax, but haven’t tried it. Thanks for all the great tips!

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