How To Polish A Boat

Plenty of people choose not to keep their boats looking clean, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s not like your boat will float any worse if it gets dirty, after all.

But making your boat look nice and clean for its own sake isn’t inherently wrong either. And if you ever plan on reselling your boat or trading it in, then taking the time to clean and polish your boat regularly will preserve its exterior condition and keep the resale value relatively high.

Today, we want to give you some guidance on how to properly polish a boat so that you can keep it in good condition for as long as you need to.

Wash Off All Surface Dirt

Before you can begin polishing your boat’s exterior, you need to make sure all the surfaces you want to polish are free of dirt, grime, old wax, or anything else that shouldn’t be on there. This is to ensure that the polishing wax you use actually makes it to the surface of your boat and is able to do its job.

To correctly clean off your boat, ideally, you should have a special detergent made for use on boats. You should use one of these special detergents because they’re designed to not leave any gross residue on your boat and because they’re also more environmentally friendly than standard detergents.

Dilute the detergent in water, and use a rag or a sponge to wipe down the exterior of your boat with this detergent solution. Once you’ve washed all the surface dirt off, rinse the exterior of your boat with a hose or a damp cloth and then dry it with a towel or let it air-dry, whichever you prefer.

Make sure you thoroughly remove any detergent you’ve used because letting detergent dry on your boat can potentially leave a residue that can be pretty hard to get rid of.

How To Polish A Boat

Use Acetone to Remove Grease

You might find that after removing the surface dirt from your boat that it’s still covered in some dirty grease. To get rid of grease, you can use a rag dipped in acetone.

You don’t want the rag to be dripping with acetone, so make sure you wring it out thoroughly before using it on your boat. The acetone rag will lift up and collect any grease still left on your boat.

Make sure you’re always using a clean surface to wipe down your boat; you may need to get a fresh rag if your first one gets too dirty.

Acetone is flammable, and the fumes from acetone can cause irritation to your eyes and nose, so make sure you always keep your acetone away from excessive heat and always wear safety glasses and a face mask while working with acetone.

Remove Any Remaining Stains

Even after all this, there may still be some stains on your boat. Most boats are covered with a substance called gelcoat, which helps protect the exterior of the boat on the surface level and keeps everything looking nice and shiny. Because gelcoat is slightly porous, it’s unfortunately very good at trapping certain stains.

In general, these types of stains can be divided into two types: mineral stains and organic stains. Mineral stains are caused by things like rust and exposure to pollutants in rainwater. Organic stains are caused by things like rotting leaves, bird droppings, and spilled drinks.

In any case, to get rid of these stains, you’ll need to get yourself some kind of stain remover. Most stain removers for boats are acid-based, and the majority of them can be used on whatever type of tough stains you have.

However, there are also plenty of stain removers out there that are formulated to eliminate specific types of stains. You can find stain removers that specifically target rust, mold, exhaust stains, and stains from animal droppings. These can be handy if your general-purpose stain remover just isn’t quite getting the job done.

Sometimes, if a boat has been sitting out in the open for long enough, the entire surface can become slightly stained. If you’re not sure whether or not your boat is stained like this, apply some stain remover to a part of your boat that looks clean.

If the color of that area brightens up, it’s a sign that your entire boat is stained.

Remove Any Oxidization

As time goes by, the gel coat on your boat will inevitably oxidize. This manifests as a cloudy appearance in the gelcoat.

To remove oxidization, you can use an abrasive rubbing compound or even just a piece of moistened 2,000 grit sandpaper. Here’s my step by step guide on how to remove oxidization.

It’s important to remember that your boat has a finite amount of gelcoat on its surface, and by using a rubbing compound or sandpaper, you’re removing a small amount of the gelcoat from the boat, so you don’t want to go too hard and remove too much of the gelcoat around where the oxidization is.

How To Polish A Boat

Polishing and Waxing

Before you actually begin the task of polishing and waxing your boat, you need to make sure that you have the right materials for the job. Be sure to select a polish and wax that are actually compatible with whatever material your hull is made from.

You can polish your boat by hand or with an electric buffer, although it’s probably a lot easier to use a buffer. To apply the polish to your boat, first, mix it with water and use a paintbrush to spread the mixture out over the surface of your boat, then use a buffer or a cloth to rub the polish into the boat until it turns clear.

Depending on your needs, you may have to use a heavy cut polish and then a fine polish to get your boat looking the way you want.

Once you’ve polished your boat, then you should apply wax. The wax is used to help seal in the polish and protect it from the elements. It’s best to do your waxing in a shady area to prevent the wax from melting or drying out.

Make sure to rub the wax thoroughly into the surface of your boat until it looks clear; if you let excess amounts of wax dry on your boat, it can leave unattractive streak marks [1].


Polishing your boat isn’t something that’s necessary for you to do as a boat owner, but if you’re concerned about keeping your boat looking fresh and clean for a long time, then a proper polishing is something you should be doing on the regular.

Hopefully, now that you’ve read this, you’re now ready to get started on the task of polishing your boat up and making it look brand new again. Good luck!


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