Mastering Mold: How to Remove Mildew Stains From Your Boat Seats

Boats give us numerous opportunities to enjoy the waters, but that comes with constant exposure to moisture that we need to handle. For our vessels to look their best and stay in good shape, regular cleaning and maintenance are necessary. Even with our best efforts, though, mold and mildew can start to form.

While we want to keep all areas of our boats clean from mildew, our seats are particularly susceptible to this risk. By staying aware of the dangers and wiping down damp areas before putting our boats away, we can help prevent the buildup of mildew and mold. But what do we do once our seats start to become dirty?

Thankfully, as long as you have the right tools and supplies, you can get your boat seats free of mildew. Our guide is here to get you through the process.

What You Need

Most manufacturers use vinyl for their seats across their types of boats since this material can stand up to the wet conditions of regular exposure to water and the other strains of being on the water. Even so, vinyl is susceptible to mildew, and you need to gather the right materials to get started. We recommend:

  • Bleach-free mold and mildew stain remover
  • A soft brush
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Marine and UV protectant spray
  • Magic Eraser sponges

None of these supplies are particularly expensive so that you can handle this cleaning job without much else than your time and effort.

A Note on Bleach and Vinyl

Bleach can be a helpful tool in cleaning up all sorts of messes, including mold and mildew. However, you want to keep it (and any cleaners that use it) away from the messes on your power boat seats. Why? Because of vinyl.

Using bleach on vinyl take out the oils in the material which are essential for its longevity and resistance to water. This process can also impact the stitching that holds your seats together, causing them to degrade and ultimately come apart. Yes, your vinyl won't last forever, but you can increase its lifetime by not using bleach in this cleaning process.

You should stay alert when picking out your mold and mildew stain remover, as many of these products can include bleach as one of the ingredients. For a safe pick, we recommend CLR mold remover.

With that out of the way, let's get into the cleaning process!

How to Remove Mildew Stains from Boat Seats

Follows these steps to effectively remove mildew from your boat seats.

Spray Mold Remover onto the Seats

With all your cleaning materials assembled, start with spraying your mold remover onto your seats. To get as much coverage as possible, you want to spray into any gaps and seams, since mold likes to form in those areas as well.

From there, let the cleaner sit for some time. Usually, about five minutes will be all you need, but you can allow it to soak for longer if you think you have particularly stubborn stains. You can also follow your mold remover's recommended instructions to get the best results. This time will allow the cleaner to break down the mold and mildew in a way that will make it easier to clean.

Start Scrubbing

Once you've waited for your mold remover to work its magic, it's time to get to scrubbing. It's in your best interest to use a soft brush so that you don't risk scratching your vinyl seats and causing unnecessary damage. With that in mind, you'll also want to not scrub with too much force, as that can cause damage.

Thankfully, if you've picked up a capable mold and mildew cleaner, you won't have to put too much elbow grease into the job to get things nice and clean. However, the brush helps with getting the mold away from your vinyl, but you can still expect to see some debris leftover. Don't forget the nooks and crannies. Focus on scrubbing the significant areas, then move onto our next step.

Wipe Away Debris

With the significant problem areas scrubbed away, you want to wipe off any mold debris that is hanging around. If you wish, you can use almost any type of cloth, but we recommend microfiber ones, as the material is gentler and less likely to tear up your vinyl in the process. Wiping in a circular motion is most effective with this type of fabric as well. Once again, you'll want to get into as many narrow spots as possible.

Depending on how much vinyl area you have to cover and how much mildew has built up on your seats, you'll likely go through several cloths, so come prepared!

Repeat as Necessary

Heavy mildew build up probably won't come off the first time, so you'll want to repeat spraying cleaner, letting it settle, scrubbing, and wiping away the remains several times, focusing on any areas that aren't clean. If you're lucky, you can get everything up in one go, but it's always best to recheck everything, so you don't have any mess left behind.

Some stains are stubborn, though, and the above steps may not be enough. If you've tried multiple times to get rid of a patch of mildew and it just won't go away, it's time to whip out the last line of defense.

Use Magic Erasers on Stubborn Stains

Magic eraser sponges come with special cleaners inside that are ready to tackle messes that stick. What's also helpful about them is that you don't have to scrub too hard to see results, so they make for an excellent relief if you've been having trouble with a problem area. All you need to do is get them wet and get to wiping.

Because of their size, too, magic erasers are more likely to be able to fit into any gaps and seams your brush can't manage to get into because of the size. You may need to take a couple of passes with the eraser to get up all the stains, but you will start to see results.

Like with your brush, you don't want to scrub too hard with magic erasers since they can potentially cause damage to your vinyl. Take your process easy, and you'll be in good shape to clean up your remaining mildew mess.

You could start with magic erasers if you like, but you don't need all that power for all stains. Save them for things you can't get rid of with the above steps.

Use Vinyl Protectant

Technically, you've already done enough to clean away mold and mildew from your vinyl seats, but it doesn't hurt to do a little bit of preventative maintenance. Vinyl protectants pull the double duty of making your seats look great while also protecting them from UV damage. These types of products will also help prevent mold and mildew from forming in the future.

How to Prevent Mold from Forming on Boat Seats

Aside from using vinyl protectant, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent the need to clean up mold and mildew on your boat seats. Here are a few:

  • Wipe down your seats after use. Mold and mildew form from moisture, so wipe down those seats after you've had a day on the water! Even if it doesn't seem like there's any wetness, it pays to run a towel through cracks and seams.
  • Maintain your boat while it's in storage. Mildew can spring up when you least expect it—especially if your vessel's in storage. Checking in on your boat, even when it's not in use, can help you catch a mess before it becomes a problem.
  • Purchase mildew-resistant seat material. If you are in the market for a new boat or you're replacing a seat that's too far gone, look into mold-resistant materials. While not one-hundred percent foolproof, they will reduce your chances of getting a moldy mess in the first place.

Keeping your seats clean will pay off when selling your boat, as mold and mildew can decrease your ship's value.

Are you shopping for an outboard motor? Use our boat payment calculator to determine what's best for your budget.