Boat Care 101: Simple do-it-yourself carpet cleaning - Major League Fishing

Boat Care 101: Simple do-it-yourself carpet cleaning

Regular maintenance will keep your rig looking like new
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The best way to keep your boat carpet looking good over the long haul is to clean it thoroughly two or three times a year.
December 2, 2013 • Matt Williams • Archives

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2013 Winter issue of Bass Fishing magazine. To read more compelling articles from Bass Fishing magazine each month, become an FLW subscriber member.)

If there is one thing I hate worse than seeing a nice bass boat with a filthy finish, it’s seeing one with dirty carpet. I like to keep my stuff clean, but not just because it looks good. A bass boat is a huge investment, and the more you can do to protect that investment the better the returns if you ever decide to sell or trade it.

Of course, if you use a boat regularly, some sort of grime will eventually get tracked onto the carpet, no matter how hard you try to prevent it. Timely vacuuming will keep most of the loose stuff picked up, though some of it is sure to find its way deep into the carpet’s fibers. Over time, this can cause carpet to develop a soiled look and lose its fluff, particularly in high-traffic areas.

Perhaps the best way to keep your boat carpet looking good over the long haul is to clean it thoroughly two or three times per year – sometimes more. By “thorough,” I’m not talking about a quick rinse under a water hose. I’m talking hard-core cleaning – a down-on-your-knees, break-out-the-elbow-grease scrubbing intended to raise dirt, grit and other junk from their deepest hiding spots.

The following is a quick guide for how to get the job done.


Car wash a no-no

At one time or another we have all pulled our boat into the neighborhood car wash bay, soaped it up, rinsed it off and taken off into the wild blue yonder. Convenient as it is, it’s not a good habit to get into. That’s the word from Joey Grede, lead man in the service shop at Ranger Boats.

“The owner’s manual for our boats says you can do it, but I usually advise people to stay away from car washes when it comes to cleaning their carpet,” Grede says. “The carpet we use is very high quality with plastic fibers. If you get a high-pressure nozzle too close to boat carpet, it could burn it.”

High-pressure sprayers can be especially hard on older carpet that has become dry and brittle with time. Place the nozzle too close and it could actually rip a hole through the backing on the carpet or cause the glue to release. Either way, the results aren’t pretty.


Easy does it

There are all sorts of steam cleaners and other commercial equipment available that will do a good job of cleaning boat carpet, but Grede prefers to skip the expense and stick with the basics. In his opinion, it’s hard to beat a 5-gallon bucket filled with soapy water, a garden hose and a medium bristle scrub brush.

“That’s the way we do it here,” he says. “You aren’t going to hurt anything with a garden hose and soap. Just be sure and use a mild soap, and make sure to get all of the soap rinsed out.”


Another option

I’ve followed the soapy water regimen before, but I prefer an old-school mixture of white vinegar and water. Vinegar is a very weak form of acetic acid with all sorts of household uses. It works great for breaking down dirt, getting rid of stains and curbing foul odors without damaging your carpet. I’ve used the mixture to clean my boat carpet multiple times, and it always comes out looking great.

I follow a 10-step process whether I’m using the vinegar mixture or soapy water:

1. Park it: Park the boat on a slight slope, preferably attached to a tow vehicle, with the transom on the downhill side. Make sure the boat is sitting level side-to-side so water will drain through the floor. And don’t forget to remove the drain plug. 

2. Mix it: If you’re using the vinegar/water mixture, pour 2 to 3 pints of white vinegar into a 2-gallon pump-up sprayer and top it off with water. If using soap and water, first mix in a 5-gallon bucket.

3. Vacuum: Use a heavy-duty or commercial vacuum to rid the carpet of any loose dirt before you begin.

4. Soak it down: Beginning at the front of the boat, use a garden hose (spray nozzle removed) to saturate the carpet thoroughly in the area to be cleaned.

Use a soft scrub brush to loosen any dirt, then re-saturate with water.

5. Brush it out: Use a soft scrub brush to loosen any dirt, then re-saturate with water. It is best to perform this and the following steps on one section of carpet at a time, beginning at the front and working your way back.

6. Apply vinegar/water mix or soap: Use the garden sprayer to apply the mixture, thoroughly saturating a small section. Allow the solution to soak in for several minutes. If using soap, apply with a brush or sponge.

7. Scrub: Scrub the section again to loosen up any remaining dirt or stains.

8. Rinse: Rinse the area thoroughly while continuing to scrub. Repeat the process on the remainder of the front deck, cockpit and rear deck carpeting.

9. Suck it up: Once you are done cleaning, use a heavy-duty vacuum to move all excess moisture, and let the boat sit in the sun for a few hours to dry.

10. Fluff it up: When the carpet dries, use a clean, medium bristle brush and brush the carpet against the grain. This will make the fibers stand erect and look fluffy and new again.


Spot treatment

Deep, ground-in stains caused by grease, clay, tar or oil might require a little more time and elbow grease to remove using specialty products made for the task. Here are a few stain-removing products you might try. It would be wise to test any stain-removing product on a small, inconspicuous area before attacking a spot in the middle of the casting deck, just to make sure discoloration won’t occur.

Sprayon Heavy-Duty Citrus Degreaser (CD 757): Grede says it works great on really heavy stains, but you should never apply it directly to the carpet. “Always apply it to a rag and dab it on,” he says. (

Tuff Stuff Stain Remover and Multi-Purpose Cleaner: Jason Hawthorne at Marine Clean in Nacogdoches, Texas, says he is a big fan of this product. It comes with a bristled cap to work in the foaming formula to lift stubborn stains. ( Elite Series Eraser: I’ve used this product to remove soiled spots and coffee spill stains on my boat carpet. It’s advertised to remove all sorts of other stains as well. (