Bye Bye Black Blight: PS Tests Streak Removers

Nautical Ease(ily) wins our 10-cleaner showdown against black streaks.

Bye Bye Black Blight: PS Tests Streak Removers

Our test boats failed us.

Over the years, Practical Sailor’s various test boats have served as guinea pigs for many a maintenance test, providing the barnacles, the rust stains, and the waterline stains we’ve needed to evaluate the marine industry’s dizzying array of specialized cleaning products. But the boats couldn’t produce the mystifying “black streaks” we needed for—you guessed it—a test of black streak removers.

Black streaks occur when one boat’s black rubrail rubs the gelcoat of another boat, right? Wrong.

“Black streaks typically form below scuppers and drain holes, beneath ports and windows, and below stanchions,” said Star brite Vice President Jeff Tieger. “The streak is made up of pollutants contained in rainwater. Once these pollutants hit a hard surface, they immediately bond and are difficult—if not impossible—to remove using regular boat washes and water. Black streak removers usually contain wetting agents, chelating agents (chemicals that dissolve minerals), and surfactants. They grab on to these stains chemically and then make them soluble.”

We had no such streaks on our boat, and we couldn’t really foster their growth like we did for our rust stain test (in this issue).

So the quest to find a black-streaked boat began. We quickly learned that some black streaks are not really the black streaks these cleaners are made to fight. Some streaks require nothing but soap and water for removal. We needed the real thing, and eventually found it on a Morgan Out Island 41.

What We Tested
Our group of cleaners included eight products specifically labeled as black streak removers (Armada, Aurora, West Marine, Marykate, Nautical Ease, Star brite, 3M Marine, and Heller Glanz) and two general-purpose marine cleaners that claim to remove these streaks (Marine Spray Nine and Yacht Brite Serious Marine Cleaner). The only non-spray, Aurora, is a turquoise-colored liquid that you dab on a cloth or sponge and apply to the blemished area. For most of the sprays, you simply apply the cleaner and wipe away with a cloth or sponge. A few products instruct you to wait 30 seconds or so and then wipe.

The instructions on the bottle of the 3M Black Streak Remover say to spray on and rinse off—no wiping is mentioned. It should be. We found that the 3M cleaner had no effect on the stain after just spraying and rinsing. The only product that suggests waxing after the stains are cleaned is 3M. However, if cleaning chemicals are left on for a long time, it may be a good idea to wax the affected area.

Bye Bye Black Blight: PS Tests Streak Removers

Testers tried soap and water on the streaked transom—and then the household cleaner Fantastik—to be sure the streaks were up to snuff. They were. Neither the soap nor the Fantastik worked well. For a broad test area, we sectioned off the boat’s port side with painter’s tape, giving each product its own streaked section. The cleaning commenced. We made sure to carefully follow the label directions of each product.

What We Found
In tests of more than a half-dozen products, we find our winners by whittling the field after an initial test. Five of the products easily removed the streaks from their sections and advanced to a second round of cleaning. They were the cleaners from Heller Glanz, Nautical Ease, West Marine, Spray Nine, and Aurora. Two cleaners—3M Black Streak Cleaner and the Yacht Brite Serious Marine Cleaner—removed only a small amount of the streaks.

Surprisingly, the Star brite cleaner did not work as well as the West Marine product, which is made by Star brite. Both are made with the same formula, Tieger said. The difference may have been related to the amount of time the cleaners had spent on the shelf. “That could have an effect on the performance as some chemicals degrade with age,” Tieger said. He also explained that the streaks could differ.

We tried our top five cleaners on more streaks. It became clear that the Nautical Ease and the Heller Glanz worked best. With a couple of wipes, the streaks were gone. The others worked, but required more effort or a second application.

The Heller Glanz cleaner is almost twice as expensive as the Nautical Ease, so our decision between the two is an easy one. Nautical Ease is the best choice based on performance, and it has the best price so it’s the PS Budget Buy. It is not as readily available as other cleaners, but you can order it from the company’s website. The product has the added value of also being a nonskid cleaner—and an effective one. It performed very well in our most recent nonskid cleaner test (February 2005 issue). We also recommend the Heller Glanz, West Marine, Spray Nine, and Aurora cleaners.


Also With This Article
“Value Guide: Black Streak Removers”

• 3M Marine, 877/366-2746,
• Armada, 800/336-9320,
• Aurora, 866/214-3444,
• Fantastik, 800/558-5252,
• Heller Glanz, 866/657-2624,
• Marykate, 800/272-8963,
• Nautical Ease, 800/783-7507,
• Spray Nine, 800/477-7299,
• Star Brite, 800/327-8583,
• West Marine, 800/BOATING,
• Yacht Brite, 800/643-2316,

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at