how to clean boat fenders

How To Clean Boat Fenders Effectively

Many people have asked – why do I ever need to clean boat fenders, what’s wrong, and why not let them go as they are? Also, how to clean boat fenders effectively? It has never seemed like anything worth even mentioning, but you need to clean boat fenders from time to time.

Have you ever thought why the experienced boaters and especially the bosuns of bigger ships are so crazy about keeping everything shining clean?

There is a maritime legend that the best bosun is when you can lie down on a deck at any moment at any part of a ship wearing a white shirt and it stays white when you get up back again. Why so?

This is not about madness, captain. It is also not about schizophrenia where cleaning everything is the very first alert, scientists say, in particular Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University…

But with a totally clean boat, clean deck, clean sails, clean bilge, clean engine, clean fenders, clean everything you can see any issue immediately. Dirt hides problems, including fatal ones.

Today we speak about cleaning the boat fenders.

Why Do We Want Our Boat Fenders to Be Clean

Nothing on a boat is unimportant. Fenders, being inflatable balloons, protect your hull from a hit when you master your own maneuvers in a marina, docking, or doing anything else.

They also protect your hull from other idiots’ actions. That makes fenders important.

TIP Learn more about fenders, their types, and how to use them in our guide here.

Then you need to keep them relatively clean.

boat fender cleaning
Dirty fenders maybe less effective and looks just awful.

Dirty fenders may result in damage to the material (like a puncture and/or wear-out) dropping the air pressure inside. Consequently, a fender will be less effective, all the way up to useless.

But, don’t panic because you need years to make it happen.

Actual Reasons to Clean Boat Fenders

  • If you are chartering your boat, then you need to clean boat fenders all the time for the same reason why people clean every corner of an apartment which they rent out to tourists. They expect a clean rented apartment, and they expect a clean chartered boat too. Consider it a badge of honor.
  • If you want to look tidy all the time and a dirty boat makes you unhappy, then you need to clean the fenders periodically.
  • In all other cases, you clean them from time to time because being dirty is bad because Mom said so. Dirt may hide a wide range of nasty outcomes.
  • For frequent washing, consider a specially designed fender cleaner, or a marine vinyl cleaner, because frequent scrubbing may end your fender earlier. It will take years anyway, but the cosmetic appearance of fenders may suffer quickly enough. Leaving scratches on your fender will also welcome marine life to settle those scratches.
Reasons to Clean Boat Fenders

Boat Fender Cleaning At Sea (Lazy Method But Cool)

Salt water destroys everything as it contains the microscopic salt particles dissolved in water, and when an object is washed by salt water the salt particles scrub. Of course it may clean your fender too.

For example, there is a hippie method to wash cloth or linen by tying up that cloth to a line and towing it at sea behind the boat. After one hour trawling behind your laundry shall be super clean under heavy influence of salt water (considering you cruise in clean water, most of the world’s seas have it).

Try it, it’s fun.

The same method fits good for cleaning boat fenders:

  • Leave your fender tied to the boat as you go, and water shall wash it pretty effectively. The exception is when there is plankton on the surface or blue weed or an abnormal amount of whale poo or anything of the kind. But you don’t need to clean your fender every time, so it’s easy to find a proper period when there is no plankton. That is the whole year, basically less than a few days or a week.
  • Mind that carrying fenders tied as you go means you do not lean your boat too much (for sailboats). Then you choose a proper heading, maybe losing in speed or maneuverability for the cleaning purpose. However, you’ll need to lean your boat a little to make the fenders touch the water.
  • In fact, they’ll be “jumping” over the surface. Make sure the knots hold well, doubled by extra hitches or anything, and you won’t lose a fender.
Boat Fender Cleaning At Sea
Cleaning boat fenders at sea.

DIY Boat Fender Cleaner

Use regular kitchen cleaning chemicals and a brush or a sponge. Soap the fenders, rub them trying to remove the hardest stains and marks, then wash it all, rubbing with the brush under pressured water from a marina tap. It is pretty much the same what you do for the deck all the time.

NB Most fenders are made of vinyl, so consider using a specially designed vinyl cleaner if you can and wish to afford one. Of course the marine vinyl cleaner exists too.

If you are in doubt about the kitchen cleaner thinking it is too strong and may damage the fender’s surface, then switch to a softer kitchen cleaner or that marine vinyl cleaner already mentioned above.

If washing the boat is your daily or weekly procedure, or you hire someone to watch and wash the boat often, then removing seaweed or whatever else you gain on them should not cause any issue.

However, if something stays irremovable, switch to using kitchen chemicals and a sponge we’ve already mentioned.

If there is mold on fenders or a mark of any other microscopic life, knowing that human contact may be dangerous, then use chemicals as the easiest way.

Using gloves and glasses along with respiratory protection is a good idea just in case, like plankton is fine but blue weed may be troublesome. Exercise caution.

Using Vinegar to Clean a Boat Works for Your Boat Fenders too

Vinegar (yes, regular vinegar) is on the list of cheap and super-effective chemicals for the purpose, relatively safe for humans, and no life on earth wants to live in vinegar. Dissolve it in water, the same percentage and not stronger than you do for food, and wash with a piece of cloth or a brush where you suspect molds or weed or anything of a kind rests.

I use vinegar for washing my boat inside as a prevention against molds and fungus. It delivers a beautiful smell rather than a chemical smell. This may also help to clean boat fenders from unwanted life on them.

TIP Besides the fender, remember to take care of the hull of your boat; you can check out my post about cleaning the bottom of a boat.

How to Clean Boat Fenders – Summary

Do not freak out, no big deal to clean the boat fenders and you always can do it later. Then once you start doing the whole job occurs fast, easy, and cheap.

Besides, you are totally allowed to neglect cleaning your boat fenders for a while, to keep a dirty piece for a month or two is not the end of the world at all.

Doing it from time to time is more than enough, do it periodically, a complete neglection is not your friend: not this time, neither at any moment boating.

Hope you find these few tips valuable, feel free to keep reading our blog.

Good luck, Captain.


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igor desperatesailors

Hi, I’m Igor, Skipper of S/Y "The Hooker". A decade ago, I conquered my childhood dream: to be a sailing skipper, own a sailing yacht. Yes, it knocked dullness out of my urban life — Read more →

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