Let’s face it, the cost of some boat cleaning products is outrageous. Sure they work, but often there’s a homemade solution that can do the job just as well. For aluminum boats the best homemade cleaner is vinegar. Vinegar is a mild acid and works magic on aluminum by cleaning it and preventing corrosion. We’ve touted vinegar’s uses in several articles such as our article 10 Easy Boat Cleaning Hacks but today we’re going to focus on its applications for aluminum boats.
Cleaning an Aluminum Boat
In general aluminum boats are fairly easy to take care of. From jon boats and canoes, to aluminum hulled pontoons and tritoons, to offshore powerboats, aluminum is an excellent material for boat building and makes for a sturdy, long lasting craft that requires little maintenance. Like any boat though, aluminum boats do get dirty. Maybe the water it was in stained the hull, barnacles grew on it, or dirt and grime from the road got on it while trailering your boat, whatever the cause, a dirty boat deserves a cleaning.
For starters, let’s assess what we’re trying to clean. For a simple post use washdown a little soap and water goes a long way, even better if the water is hot. However, for tougher cleaning tasks of your aluminum boat you may need more than soap and water. While there are numerous aluminum cleaning products available in stores, some even made specifically for boats, there is an easy recipe for a great cleaner than you can use on any aluminum surface on your boat.
Mixing Your Aluminum Boat Cleaning Solution
- Start with a large bucket, a 5 gallon bucket will be perfect for this.
- Add a gallon of water. We’re aiming for roughly a 50/50 mix of vinegar to water and it’s best to add the vinegar to the water.
- Add a gallon of vinegar. Fortunately vinegar is fairly cheap at most supermarkets, you don’t need anything fancy just plain white vinegar will work, we’re not going for flavor here.
- Add a few drops of dish soap like Dawn. This helps the solution “stick” to the aluminum on your boat and work its magic.
Using Your Homemade Cleaning Solution
The goal when using this cleaning solution is to remove stains and grime that soap and water just wouldn’t remove. To do that we need a thorough application and a little time. If you have a spray bottle or even better yet a spray attachment for a pressure washer they will work great. Don’t have either of those? A good old fashioned boat brush will work too. The goal is to coat as much of the surface area that you’re trying to clean with our homemade solution as you can. Don’t worry about getting it on vinyl or canvas, we’re going to wash it off in a few minutes and it will clean them too.
Once the cleaning solution has been applied let it sit for a few minutes, 5 to 10 will usually do the trick, and wash off. Be sure to wash off thoroughly as leaving the acidic vinegar on the hull could cause pitting in your aluminum later. Once you’ve thoroughly washed with freshwater re-assess the area you’re trying to clean. For things like water stains or the residue left by marine growth that has been scraped off, multiple cleanings may be in order.
For a stronger solution you can vary the ratio of vinegar to water somewhat which might help remove really tough stains. If you do do this the best application method will be a rag or spray bottle that can target small areas that are particularly troublesome.
While great for aluminum boats, a homemade solution of vinegar and water with a bit of soap is an excellent cleaner for just about any boat. Any exposed aluminum on your boat can be spot treated with the solution and it works fabulously to remove salt residue and prevent corrosion on metal surfaces. Like on an aluminum boat just make sure you rinse your boat well with freshwater to remove any remaining vinegar. If you’re careful to rinse well with freshwater afterwards the solution can even be used on your boat’s trailer to remove salt and road grime.
Keeping your boat looking great doesn’t have to be expensive. Aluminum boats are in general quite easy to maintain and a simple homemade cleaner like this one will save you money over more expensive store bought options. Don’t be afraid to mix up a large batch and keep it on hand for when you need it, you likely won’t use the whole two gallon mixture in one use so save it for the next time your boat needs a good cleaning.