Many of us have admired rows of immaculately clean charter yachts that are gleaming in the sun, while wondering why it can often seem so difficult to keep our own boats to a similar standard. So what are the best hull cleaners on the market?
It’s no secret, of course, that maintaining a beautifully clean hull is the result of both regular work and use of the right tools.
Yet it’s all too easy to skimp on spending on the relatively small number of items need to keep a boat looking its best.
Predictably, the result is that cleaning becomes frustratingly time consuming, without achieving a professional level of finish.
This selection of the best hull cleaners will enable you to whizz through the most important tasks, both above and below the waterline, without unnecessary effort or wasted time.
Best hull cleaners: above the waterline
Starbrite Sea Safe Boat Wash
This is the perfect hull cleaner for regular use. It’s suitable for surfaces including fibreglass, vinyl, plastic, rubber and painted areas and won’t remove wax and polish, or leave filmy streaks behind.
Three capfuls in a bucket is enough to clean a 21ft (6.5m) boat, so it’s economical to use and the low-sudsing formula minimises water use.
A further benefit is the biodegradable formula which contains no phosphates, so it’s not harmful to the environment.
Verdict: An ideal hull cleaner for everyday use.
With each product is a ‘Buy it now’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Starbrite telescopic handle and brush
I’m sure I’m not alone in having made the mistake of buying cheap cleaning brushes only to find the handle is made of painted mild steel and rusts out after a couple of years on board.
Starbrite’s range of boat cleaning brushes is more expensive, but the telescopic marine grade handle will last for years.
Equally the brush head is big enough to make short work of large areas. These are also interchangeable, with options for soft or medium bristles.
The Combo Kit (pictured), available in the USA, contains a sponge, Boat Scuff Eraser and a boat hook end, so the handle is used for several purposes, which saves on stowage space. It’s also compatible with a wide range of other accessories.
Verdict: A worthwhile investment.
Y10 hull cleaner for waterline staining
Some boats seem to be really prone to unsightly staining just above the waterline.
Usually the only way to get remove it is with a product containing oxalic acid and Y10 has long been the go-to product for this purpose.
It may seem unnecessarily expensive, but the formulation saves a huge amount of time: quickly paint it on, wait for a while, then wash off with fresh water.
Usually a single application is all that’s needed, even for heavy stains, and in my experience one tub is more than enough for a 40ft boat.
Verdict: This hull cleaner turns a job that might appear daunting into one that’s quick and easy.
Starbrite Ultimate Fiberglass Stain Remover
Occasionally you’ll encounter a stubborn problem that needs a heavy-duty solution. As well as dealing with yellowing and other waterline stains this hull cleaning product is formulated to remove rust stains, dried fish blood and leaf stains.
These types of product are not for regular use thanks to a combination of their price, the use of more noxious ingredients than conventional cleaners and the damage they can do to the environment.
In this case the instructions say users should “take precautions to prevent contact with boat trailers, bottom paint, decals or any other surfaces that are not intended to be cleaned”.
The formula includes glycolic acid for its descaling properties, as well as oxalic acid and surface surfactants.
It’s supplied in a spray bottle for easy application and is thickened with xanthan gum, allowing it to be left to soak in, even on vertical surfaces, before rinsing off with water.
Verdict: Very useful to keep on board for stains that are otherwise impossible to remove.
Best hull cleaners: below the waterline
Below the waterline it’s easy to assume that a bit of slime and light growth is only of concern to out and out racing yachts.
However, the presence of slime enables other marine organisms to gain a hold more quickly and growth will quickly accelerate.
If you have a hard type of antifouling it’s possible to scrub the hull while the boat’s afloat to keep it clean and delay the point at which the next expensive haul out is needed.
3M Doodlebug scrubbing pads
These 10-inch heavy duty outsize scrubbing pads have numerous uses on a boat.
For instance, when paired with 3M’s Doodlebug Pad Holder they make easy work of removing the unsightly growth that can form just above the waterline.
For most purposes the medium duty Blue pad works well, but severe fouling may require the heavy duty Scrub ’n’ Strip Brown version.
Verdict: Not sexy, but very useful, easy to stow and lasts for years.
Scrubbis Hull Cleaner
This hull cleaning tool can be used from a pontoon to clean marine growth on the hull below the waterline.
The long telescopic handle enables most underwater surfaces to be reached, even on larger boats, while the head incorporates 2kg of positive buoyancy, which presses it firmly against the hull when scrubbing.
Different heads are available for different purposes and amounts of growth. For instance the ‘Groovy’ head is best for stubborn growth that has developed over a period of time, whereas the standard head is best for slime and light growth.
Best results come from regular use, scrubbing off the early signs of slime when it first appears.
This is generally sooner than most boat owners realise and can be as little as 4-5 weeks after a boat is first launched.
As the antifoul gets older the boat will need scrubbing more frequently to maintain a perfectly clean bottom.
Even if the boat already has some fouling the Scrubbis can make a big improvement, especially if the ‘Groovy’ head is used. It can therefore push back the date at which the boat needs to be lifted out for re-antifouling.
Verdict: Effective and a sure way of saving money in the longer term.
Looking to polish as well as clean? Check out our guide to the best boat wax.