Metal Cleaners

Miracle Cloth is the best at getting grime off.

Metal Cleaners

Recent issues of Practical Sailor have focused on the best products to clean and protect fiberglass. We’ve recently tested waxes, nonskid cleaners, waterline stain removers, and water-spot removers. So now that your fiberglass is clean and looking good, you might want to check out the chrome, stainless steel, and other metal components on your boat. Are the cleats, stanchions, and portlight frames blemished with ugly rust stains and pitted with corrosion? No worries. We tested 16 metal cleaners and came away with some clear winners.

What We Tested
We checked the marine catalogs and chandleries, surfed the web, and visited an auto-supply store and The Home Depot in our effort to secure a comprehensive field of products. We came away with four pastes, eight liquids, and two sprays. One of those sprays is Woody Wax, which can also be used on fiberglass and can be purchased with a separate bottle of metal sealant.

The Miracle Cloth and Nevr-Dull rounded out the field. Nevr-Dull is a 5-ounce can of wadding that contains proprietary cleaning and polishing agents. The Miracle Cloth is an 11.75-inch by 9-inch piece of cotton (the cotton acts as the abrasive) soaked with a 14-percent ammonia content, lemon oil, and liquid wax.

Our choices ranged in price from $3 to $29. Most of these products can be used on any type of metal. The liquids are a bit messier to work with than the pastes. Active ingredients—petroleum distillates, ammonia, or alcohol—act as solvents, and sometimes they’re combined with a fine abrasive, such as diatomaceous earth (DE). Coatings meant to deter further rust stains or corrosion vary from waxes to synthetic films, such as Star brite’s polymers.

How We Tested
Our test boat has taken a beating over the years. The stainless steel bowrail is plagued with scratches, scuff marks, and pits—perfect for a metal cleaner test.We sectioned off the rail with masking tape, giving each cleaner a roughly 1-foot-long span to clean. The amount of staining and pitting was uniform along the entire rail.

We used each product, following the directions religiously. Most products require rubbing the product with a clean cloth, and then removing it—and buffing it—with a clean cloth.

We noted how effectively the stains were removed—and gauged how much effort was required to clean the rail. We also took into account the product’s ease of use. The liquids were the messiest. The tester also noted how shiny the rail was after buffing. And, of course, price was factored into our overall findings and recommendations.

Since many of these products are supposed to protect the metal from further tarnishing, we’ll take a look at the rail in several months and report on their effectiveness.

What We Found
Just about all of the cleaners completely removed the rust stains from the rail. But some removed the stains more easily than others, and some left more of a shine.

The Miracle Cloth and the Flitz worked best. They easily and quickly removed the stains and left a nice gleam. To choose between the two, we turned to the starboard bow cleat, which was completely covered with rust. The Miracle Cloth was assigned to clean the aft half of the cleat, and the Flitz the forward half. The Miracle Cloth did a better job.

The Miracle Cloth is the hands-down winner. It works. It’s fast. It’s not messy. It can be used multiple times. You do have to make sure that you store the cloth in its sealed plastic bag so it does not dry out. The bag and cloth are easy to stow, and you don’t have to add to the smorgasbord of chemicals housed on your boat. The Miracle Cloth came out on top in our last metal cleaner test in 2000. It may not last as long as some of the other cleaners, which come in bottles up to 18 ounces, but its effectiveness negates this factor, in our view.

We bought our Miracle Cloth at the local West Marine. If it is not readily available, we’d go with the Turtle Wax or the Noxon 7. They’re the least expensive cleaners in our group, and they both racked up Very Good cleaning ratings. The Flitz cleaner was second only to the Miracle Cloth in cleaning effectiveness, but it’s too expensive, in our opinion.

Stay tuned for a report on how well these cleaners protect the stainless steel rail from further staining and corrosion.


Also With This Article
“Value Guide: Metal Polishes”

• 3M Marine, 877/366-2746,
• Blue Magic, 888/522-2746,
• Collinite, 315/732-2282,
• Flitz, 800/558-8611,
• Meguiar’s, 800/347-5700,
• Miracle Cloth, 727/391-3958,
• Mothers, 714/891-3364,
• Nevr-Dull (George Basch Co.), 516/378-8100,
• Noxon 7 (Reckitt Benckiser Inc.), 800/228-4722
• SeaPower,
• Star brite, 800/327-8583,
• Turtle Wax, 800/turtlewax,
• West Marine, 800/BOATING,
• Woody Wax, 800/619-4363,
• ZEP, 888/805-HELP,

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.



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