How to Remove Mildew From Vinyl Boat Seats (Damage-Free)

Updated February 8, 2022
vinyl bench seat in cockpit of boat

Nothing is more irritating than pulling out your boat for the season, only to find your seats covered in specks of mildew. Take a few minutes to be mad, then grab a few tools to quickly and easily eliminate the problem. Get easy tips and tricks for how to remove mildew from your vinyl boat seats right now!

Steps to Remove Mildew From Boat Seats

It's the moment you've been waiting for all winter, pulling out the boat and getting on the water. However, what used to be pristine white vinyl seats are now covered in black specks. You, my friend, have a boat mildew problem. Thankfully, it doesn't have to ruin your summer fun!

To get rid of the mildew on your boat seats fast, you need:

  • Bleach-free mold or mildew remover (CLR, Star Brite, or Marine 31 recommended.)
  • Magic eraser
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Soft brush
  • Marine protective spray
  • Rubber gloves

How to Remove Mildew From Boat Seats Quickly

When you've got a big mildew problem, you'll want to reach for the commercial cleaner. You don't want to skimp here either. Get one designed explicitly for boat vinyl, so it makes sure to get it clean. You'll also want to be as gentle as possible when scrubbing. This will ensure that you don't accidentally scratch up your seats while cleaning them.

With those things in mind, pull on your gloves and get to work.

  1. Apply the mold remover to the seats. Pay special attention to the cracks and crevices.
  2. Allow it to sit for the recommended amount of time.
  3. Use your soft scrub brush to scrub the seats gently.
  4. Make sure to pay special attention to gaps and seams where mildew can hide.
  5. Wipe away the mildew with a microfiber cloth.
  6. Repeat until all the areas of mildew are removed.
  7. For more stubborn stains, wet a magic eraser to scrub the stain.
  8. Once all the mildew is removed, dry the seat completely.
  9. Spray the vinyl with a protectant to prevent mildew from coming back.

Cleaning Boat Seats With Vinegar to Remove Mildew

cockpit of boat with white vinyl seats

Commercial, bleach-free mildew removers are going to get the job done on a stubborn stain or big job. However, if you just have spots of mildew here or there, you don't need to use a commercial cleaner. You can clean these areas with a few materials in your pantry. For a homemade mildew cleaner, you need:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Soft scrub brush
  • Dawn dish soap
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Rubber gloves
  • Container
  • Towel
  • Vinyl protectant

Homemade Vinyl Cleaner for Boat Seats

Cleaning with baking soda and vinegar is pretty safe. But you still want to take the time to prevent your skin from drying out by throwing on a pair of rubber gloves. The rest is pretty simple.

  1. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to a tablespoon of baking soda.
  2. Allow it to fizz.
  3. Apply this mixture to your mildew spots.
  4. Allow it to sit for 1-5 hours. You can leave it overnight for a severe problem.
  5. Wet a cloth and add a drop of Dawn.
  6. Work the Dawn into the material.
  7. Scrub the spots. (Use the brush or magic eraser if the mildew is stubborn.)
  8. Rinse with clean water until all the vinegar and baking soda are gone.
  9. Towel dry.
  10. Apply the protectant to the seat to avoid a mildew infestation in the future.

Why Avoid Bleach When Cleaning Vinyl Boat Seats?

When you think mildew, your first thought might be to reach for the bleach. Erase that thought right now. While bleach is a known mildew killer, it's not good for your vinyl seats at all. Check out the reasons you should avoid bleach on vinyl boat seats.

  1. It removes the oils in the vinyl itself, making it less resistant to water, which creates an even bigger problem in a boat. And potentially more mildew issues.
  2. It also deteriorates the stitching. The detrimental effects are even more noticeable when you combine bleach and sunlight. Mixing bleach and sunlight causes the threads that bind vinyl seat cushions to weaken and eventually disintegrate. And no boater wants that!

Other Chemicals to Avoid on Boat Vinyl

Bleach is far from the only chemical you should avoid when cleaning your vinyl seats. A few other chemicals to stay away from include:

Like bleach, these chemicals can hurt the chemical makeup of your vinyl and create more of a problem than the original mildew. Some of them can also stain your vinyl.

When to Call in a Marine Professional

While a quality mildew remover can get you a long way to clean, don't expect miracles if you have a big mildew problem. Mildew is hard to remove from boat seats. Not only does it cover the vinyl, but it sinks into the foam of the seat too. While you might be able to remove it from the surface, getting it out of the foam is impossible. So, you will need to keep up with maintenance and remove mildew at the first sign of reinfestation. And, if you notice it's just getting worse, call in a professional marine cleaner. They can possibly remove the mildew or recover your seats if they can't remove mildew from the fabric.

Tips for How to Prevent Mildew on Vinyl Boat Seats

It's great to know how to clean mold. But you know what is even better? Avoid getting mold or mildew on your seats to begin with. Enjoy a few tips for how you can make sure your vinyl seats stay glowing!

  • Make sure to wash and dry your vinyl seats regularly.
  • Use a protective sealant. A protective sealant creates a barrier on the vinyl to prevent it from getting mold or mildew in the first place. Follow the recommended maintenance for application.
  • Make sure to always completely wipe down and dry your boat seats when heading in from the water.
  • Be diligent in your cleaning and maintenance routine.
  • Store your boat properly in a dry area. You also want to make sure it's vented well, so moisture doesn't have a chance to create mildew.

How to Clean Vinyl Boat Seats of Mildew

Proper cleaning and care of your boat will pay off in the long run. Not only will you create a safe environment for your passengers, but you will also ensure your boat is showroom set if you decide to sell it. What's more, regular vinyl maintenance will cut down on expensive resurfacing jobs and help preserve the integrity of your boat for years to come.

How to Remove Mildew From Vinyl Boat Seats (Damage-Free)