Features February 2006 Issue

Vinyl Cleaners

Inexpensive and easy to use, Spray Nine zaps mildew

Inexpensive Clorox subdues many stains, but our mildewed vinyl called for some specialty products like the 10 cleaners we tested.

You may not like it, but your boat is probably filled with vinyl. Some older cruising boats have vinyl-covered seat cushions packed into every nook and cranny. After a couple of weeks — perhaps even days — of inattention, that seat cushion can become plagued with nasty mildew.

With hopes of minimizing all on board nastiness, we tested products marketed solely as marine vinyl cleaners. The field includes the usual suspects: Meguiar’s, Spray Nine, Star brite, Marykate, and 3M. We also found a product we haven’t tested before from BoatLIFE.

Seven of the 10 cleaners are sprays. The Star brite and 3M Marine Outdoor Vinyl Cleaner are milky fluids that are applied with a soft terry cloth. Our group included only one spray-on foam: Marykate Ultra Vinyl Cleaner. Some products, like the Spray Nine, are sprayed on the surface and wiped away immediately. Others, like BoatLIFE and Marykate, are left on the surface from 10 seconds to one minute and then wiped away. Prices ranged from as as little as $6.55 per bottle to nearly $20.

For this test, we taped off equal sections of two very mildewed seat cushions (one white, one yellow) on a pair of abused jet skis. We used each cleaner, following the directions, and noted each product’s effectiveness as well as ease of use. The test was done twice—once on the white seat and once on the yellow one.

What We Found
We thought the sprays were easier to use and less messy than the liquids. The latter are applied to a cloth. You rub them on in a circular motion, like a wax.

But it really comes down to effectiveness. We gave the products ratings ranging from Poor to Excellent. An Excellent meant that the vinyl was significantly cleaner. Poor meant that little of the dirt and mildew was removed.

We had several Good performers, including the West Marine, Star brite, Meguiar’s Heavy Duty, and Marykate Ultra. But two products stood out from the rest: Knight’s Marine Spray Nine (our top choice in a 2002 test) and 3M’s Marine Outdoor Vinyl Cleaner. On one seat, the Spray Nine edged out the 3M, and visa versa on the other seat. So, performance-wise, it’s a draw.

We had only one poor performer: BoatLIFE Vinyl Cleaner. In both tests, it barely removed any of the dirt or mildew. BoatLIFE chemist Richard Craven said the company is coming out with a new vinyl cleaner this summer called Vinyl Life. He planned to ship us some so we could try it out.

The Marine Cleaner and Restorer, 3M’s other product, was only slightly better than BoatLIFE, and it garnered the only “Fair” rating in our test.

Conclusions
It comes down to the 3M Outdoor and the Marine Spray Nine. Both are relatively inexpensive. The Spray Nine sets you back 42 cents per ounce, compared to the 78 cents per ounce for the 3M Outdoor. So price is a factor. The other determinant is ease of use. The 3M is a little messy to work with. You squirt it onto the rag. It’s harder to control the amount of cleaner you want to get out, and the liquid can drip down the side of the bottle. The Spray Nine is less expensive and, with its spray bottle, is easier to use. It’s our top choice.

 

Also With This Article
"PS Value Guide: Vinyl Cleaner"

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