All boaters living in Florida must contend with the damaging effects of sunlight. Whether its damage to their skin, their boat’s gelcoat or their vinyl seats, given time, the sun’s rays will eventually cause all materials to fade, dry-out and crack. The best method to extend the life of your boat’s vinyl seats is to properly maintain them.
Much like leather, marine grade vinyl is a durable, waterproof material which is porous and should be allowed to breathe. Applying harsh chemicals will not only destroy the outer protective layer, they will soak into the pores of the material and breakdown the structural integrity of the material.
The best way to maintain your seats is to wash them with a marine grade vinyl cleaner or a solution of mild dish soap such as Dawn or Ivory, warm water and a soft bristled brush. Then once the seat is thoroughly dry, apply a thin coat of a vinyl protectant to seal the material and build a layer of sun protection.
For stains such as blood, oils and grease, mustard and ketchup, bird droppings, and residues from sunscreen or insect repellents, never use abrasives or harsh chemicals such as Goo B Gone, Formula 409, Murphy Soap, degreasers, kerosene, gasoline or acetone. Some stains if treated immediately can be removed with a simple swipe of cold water (blood stains) or mild soap and water (mustard, ketchup, suntan lotions). Stains such as pen ink can be lifted with a damp cloth of rubbing alcohol. More stubborn stains such as bird dropping or mold and mildew stains may require a very weak solution of bleach. However when using chlorine based products, keep the liquid away from the seat’s seam stitching for the stitch material will absorb the solution and will degrade faster under the hot sunlight. For tree sap stains use a citrus-base cleaner before the sap gets a chance to soak into the vinyl material. No matter what the stain is or what cleanser you may use, always rinse the area with fresh water and thoroughly dry it. Then when you’re back at home, wash the entire seat and reapply a new layer of vinyl protectant.
If your vinyl seats should develop a case of mold or mildew the preferred cleaning method is to wash the seat with a marine grade mold and mildew killing product which is chlorine free. When purchasing these products it’s important to read the label on the bottle to ensure it is marine vinyl safe for some manufactures may repackage automotive products as marine grade products and these may not have the UV protection that marine grade products have. In times when marine grade mold and mildew cleaning products are not available, you can use a dilute solution of ammonia mixed with hydrogen peroxide or in extreme cases a very dilute solution of bleach. However as a safety precaution always wear protective gloves and eyewear when using caustic solutions.
Finally, the best way to protect your seats from the elements is to cover them up as much as possible. When not in use they should be protected by a snug fitting breathable cover whether the boat is stored inside your garage, outside on the trailer, or tied up at the dock.
Boat seats are expense whether you buy them new or have them reupholstered, so extend the life of your investment by properly maintaining what you already have.