Steer Clear of the Marine Cleaner Con

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 08:04AM - Comments: (4)

With a little research and creative thinking you can make your own polish that costs a fraction of what you pay for store-bought stuff.

In the upcoming May 2017 issue of Practical Sailor, we pull back the curtain on the boat-cleaner con and show you how you can make your own spray-bottle cleaners for far less than you pay for store-bought stuff. If you’ve got a locker full of nearly empty black-streak cleaners, waterline-stain cleaners, mildew preventers, bilge cleaners, and boat soaps, now is your chance to retire them all and reduce your cleaning arsenal to just four or five products that can fit in a small bucket.

This is not our first foray into the topic homemade maintenance supplies.  A few years back we dug into the topic of homemade bronze polishes and found a couple of concoctions that proved their mettle—so to speak. Here’s an excerpt from that report, as well as a review of our favorite homemade mildew cleaner.

Lest you think multi-billion-dollar chemical companies and their geeks in white lab coats have a lock on cleaning your bronze, there are numerous homebrewed cleaning solutions that folks claim have the ability to put a shine on your bronze and a gleam in your eye. 

We decided to test of a few of these strange brews. Below are three recipes and our test results. The first two were pulled from the Internet, and the third was sent in by reader Scott A. Morris of Clinton Lakes, Ill. Home brew No. 1: Salt and vinegar paste Recipe: Dissolve 3 teaspoons of salt into 1 cup of white vinegar. Add enough flour to make a paste, then scoop the paste onto a clean sponge and polish. Rinse with hot water and buff dry with a soft cloth. Result: This polish worked surprisingly well. While it took a little scrubbing, and we had to let the tougher stains soak for 10 to 15 minutes, it worked well overall and earned a rating of “Good” on our test scale. 

Home brew No. 2: lemon paste

Recipe: Polish with a soft cloth soaked in a solution of lemon juice and baking soda, or sprinkle baking soda on a slice of lemon and scrub. (We made a paste as in Brew No. 1.) Result: After the mini-volcanic reaction of mixing lemon juice and baking soda settled down, the resulting paste powered off the stains exceptionally well with minimal scrubbing. We tried using a slice of lemon, but the cloth held up better and worked best while rubbing—it was also less messy. This home brew polish earned a solid rating of “Very good” on our test scale, comparable with many of our top commercially produced performers. 

Home brew No. 3, Morris' Mix:

Recipe: Subscriber Scott A. Morris makes his polish by blending polishing compound (not rubbing compound) with a small amount of silicone car wax—according to Morris, a little experimentation will yield your best mix. Result: “Fair to Good” overall, however, it took a bit of rubbing to clean our nasty bronze. We used a half-and-half mixture. Varying the mixture (say adding more polishing compound for tougher stains) might have produced even better results. 
Overall, the results in the home brew category were pretty impressive, particularly considering that the first two have all natural ingredients and that all three are economical to make. While the Brews Nos. 1 and 2 cleaned the bronze, they lacked the “luster” of products such as the Miracle cloth. Following up the cleaning with a coat of wax (or even Morris’ Mix) would add shine and additional protection.    

Of all the homebrew recipes we’ve tested, the one we’re most pleased with is our One-Penny mildew cleaner/preventer, which tester Drew Frye has tested extensively on his boat. We tried two formulas creatively named Formula A and Formula B, which cost just pennies to make. Our current favorite is Formula B, which we’ve used keep the interior of a damp and humid Catalina 22 mildew free in Florida for two years now. The anti-mildew formulas we tested each cost about one penny per ounce. Like the other mildew preventers in our test, you use these as cleaners by simply spraying the product on, wiping any excess away, and leaving it on. Before applying to any fabric, test the spray on an inconspicuous sample spot.

Formula A

1 quart hot water

1 tablespoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

2 tablespoons washing soda (sodium carbonate)
2 tablespoons trisodium phosphate (TSP)

Much like Concrobium (which it is modeled after), our homemade Formula A removed the mildew from test carpet on board and kept it away, even though the area got wet again. It was also very effective in the moist-environment lab test.

Formula B

1 quart hot water

2 tablespoons baking soda

2 tablespoons Borax

1 tablespoon TSP

Formula B was the second-place performer overall in our test of mildew sprays. It was certainly the best value. It cleaned well, prevented mildew from returning to the carpet, and greatly slowed mildew infection in the moist-environment test in the lab. We’ve used it for two years now on the damp interior of a boat stored in Florida. With a re-application every 90 days, the boat’s interior, which was once plagued with mildew, has remained mildew-free, while untreated samples stored on the same boat have been coated. 

See the May 2017 issue of Practical Sailor for our full report on homemade cleaners and protectants. And if you’re really serious about putting a shine back in your boat, our three-volume ebook “Marine Cleaners: The Complete Series,” is available in our online bookstore. All ebook sales help support our testing program. 

Comments (4)

Are there specific polyurethane topside paint cleaning or maintenance issues that you would like to see researched? My comments were based on 15 years with Imron and Interlux Perfection, which are very similar to Alwgrip.

Posted by: Drew Frye | April 15, 2017 10:57 AM    Report this comment

Plus 1 for Mikes comment, my topsides are Awlgrip Flag Blue .
S/V Azure Te`

Posted by: Capt. Singood | April 13, 2017 11:57 PM    Report this comment

The primary precaution with paint is to avoid letting the cleaner dry, because paint is more vulnerable to pH extremes than gel coat. If bleach, TSP (trisodium phosphate) or other alkali-based cleaners dry on paint, the pH goes very high, and they can behave like paint strippers, loosening paint and removing the gloss. TSP should generally be avoided around paint, and bleach should no be used at concentrations over about 1 cup per 2 gallons. Look for cleaners with pH near 7 as mixed--most marine products and modern laundry detergents are.

Acid cleaners (oxalic acid, lactic acid) follow the same rules. Watch the concentration and dwell time, and don't let it dry. If you are working with an acid stainless cleaner, always wet the deck.

Seawater is the best bet for cleaning teak decks near paint. IF something more aggressive is needed, a borax solution is a moderate pH choice. Wet the paint first and keep it wet.

Always wet the work area before you start, work from the bottom up (this sounds backwards, but you need to prevent chemical from running across dry paint), and only work an area you can keep wet.

Formula B is dilute enough for use on paint. We've used it for that a lot. Do NOT over concentrate--more is not better. However, if I were extremely concerned about gloss I would eliminate the TSP.

I have had boats with Imron, BriteSides, and Perfection topsides. This has been my experience.

Posted by: Drew Frye | April 13, 2017 10:48 AM    Report this comment

Enough already about polishes/cleaners for boats that still have a gelcoat surface...what about those of us that have painted hulls and can't use any of these products.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ Mike

Posted by: MJH | April 12, 2017 11:29 AM    Report this comment

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