How to Clean an Aluminum Boat

Are you the proud owner of an aluminum boat? Aluminum is a great material for boats because it's highly resistant to rust, making it suitable for both salt and fresh water. As with any type of boat, cleaning is required to keep aluminum in prime condition

Cleaning an aluminum boat involves three steps — washing it with soap and water, cleaning it with an aluminum boat cleaner and buffing it with aluminum polish to protect it and make it shiny. We'll dive into the details of each step below so you can learn how to clean your aluminum boat properly. 

How to Clean an Aluminum Boat

What Makes an Aluminum Boat Unique?

Many boat owners think of aluminum as just another boat material. With its smooth appearance, they might assume regular soap and water are all that's necessary to clean it. However, aluminum has unique properties, which is why dedicated aluminum boat cleaners are best to extend its life and keep it looking great. 

Keep the following characteristics in mind when planning your aluminum boat cleaning regimen:

  • Aluminum reacts to air exposure: The oxidation process begins when aluminum is exposed to air. Aluminum's tendency to oxidize means you'll need to follow a special cleaning process, even if you keep it in excellent condition.
  • Aluminum's signature sheen is its natural state before reaction: If you want shiny aluminum, you’ll need to adopt a regular cleaning regimen. While aluminum is rust-resistant, its reactive nature means it will become lackluster without regular cleaning and polishing.
  • Aluminum tends to take on a layer of oxidation: Cleaning products specially made for aluminum will cut through the oxidized layer so you're cleaning the actual aluminum, not just the coating. 

What You Need to Clean an Aluminum Boat

Taking good care of your aluminum boat means you'll need a few essential cleaning supplies. Use the list below to shop for aluminum boat cleaning products, so you're well-stocked on cleaning day:

  • A large sponge
  • A scrubbing brush
  • A water hose
  • A five-gallon bucket
  • Car soap
  • Hot water
  • Aluminum boat cleaner
  • Steel wool
  • Aluminum polish
  • Buffing cloth or machine
  • A buffing rake

You'll use regular soap to give your boat a preliminary washing before following up with a dedicated aluminum boat cleaner. In addition to being washed, aluminum must be polished and brightened to bring out its signature shine and protect it from the elements. While regular soap and water might clean the surface, they'll do little to restore or protect it. 

You may also want to wear protective goggles and gloves when you clean your boat. These can prevent soap and aluminum cleaner from getting into your eyes and drying out your hands.

How to Clean Aluminum on a Boat

How to Clean Aluminum on a Boat

Plan to clean your aluminum boat on a day that isn't too hot. Direct sunlight can heat aluminum so much that it may become too hot to touch. 

Place the boat on its trailer and park it in a shady spot that offers plenty of room for you to work. Then, follow the steps below to clean an aluminum boat hull.

Give Your Boat an Initial Wash 

A basic washing will remove loose or bulky dirt and debris that have gathered on the aluminum. This step is important because aluminum must be free of buildup before you apply an aluminum cleaning product. Doing so results in much clearer aluminum and makes the cleaning process easier. 

Here's how to wash your aluminum boat:

  1. Spray down the aluminum surfaces on your boat to help loosen dirt and grime. 
  2. Fill the bucket with hot water and add some of the car soap. 
  3. Soak the sponge in the soapy water and scrub the boat.
  4. Hose off the soap.

If you have problem areas that won't come clean despite vigorous scrubbing, try scouring them with steel wool. If they still appear dirty, let the aluminum cleaning solution tackle them in the next step. 

Apply the Aluminum Boat Cleaning Solution

Most aluminum boat cleaning products are concentrates that you must dilute with water before applying to your boat. When selecting an aluminum cleaner, make sure it's safe to use on boat hulls. Carefully read the directions on the bottle before diluting the concentrate as directed.

Once the cleaning solution is ready for use, soak the scrubbing brush in it and get to work cleaning the aluminum surfaces. Make sure to dedicate time to scrubbing any areas that didn't come clean during the first wash.

After you’ve thoroughly scrubbed every inch of aluminum, check the directions on the cleaning product to determine whether it needs time to set into the metal or whether you can rinse it off immediately. 

Buff the Aluminum to a High Shine

Once you've rinsed away any residual cleaning solution, the next step is to buff the aluminum to bring out its shine. If your boat is small, only has light oxidation or you simply don't mind the labor involved, you may decide to hand-buff your boat. But if you want to make quick work of it, a buffing machine is your best option. 

If you're buffing by hand, start by applying aluminum polish to a buffing cloth or pad. Press it to the boat's surface and start buffing in a circular pattern until you've covered the aluminum. Add more aluminum polish to the buffing pad as needed. Remember that buffing by hand can be time- and labor-intensive, especially if the aluminum is heavily oxidized. 

If you're using a buffing machine, start by applying aluminum polish to the buffing pad while it's in motion. Press the pad into the aluminum and buff, moving slowly from side to side until you've covered all of the aluminum. It's important to be thorough here — one pass will be enough if you buff slowly and deliberately. 

You'll need to add more aluminum polish to the buffing pad as you work. Keep in mind that the edge of the buffing pad may collect polish buildup or aluminum particles, so inspect it every so often and remove any debris. You can use a buffing rake to clear the pad, which is a hard, metal comb that cleans the surface of the buffing pad to prepare it for fresh polish. 

Find Aluminum Boat Cleaning Products at Fawcett Boat Supplies

Find Aluminum Boat Cleaning Products at Fawcett Boat Supplies

Fawcett Boat Supplies is your resource for all things boating. We offer an expansive inventory of boating supplies to assist you in any and all of your boat projects. We also provide service, warranty repair, winterization, storage and repower at our Annapolis location. 

If you need aluminum boat cleaning products or anything else related to boats, reach out to Fawcett Boat Supplies today. Our knowledgeable staff looks forward to assisting you!

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