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Boat Detailing 101

Article from Interlux website

 Boats are subjected to harsh conditions that, over time, dull fiberglass, dim the shine of metals and fade paint. Winter storage is particularly unkind to boats sitting cleaning sadly neglected for several months. Boats in southern climates endure tropical exposures that age their appearance faster so, either north or south springtime clean up demands some powerful cleaning aids. Factor the multitude of products on store shelves and as many theories on their application and you have the makings of a job gone awry. As with any task, choosing the right tools and materials can save you time and money.
Before heading to the boatyard, collect your tools (refer to the clean-up kit on this page). Once there, follow these steps to quickly and easily clean and protect your boat all season long.

Rinse First

Checklist Cleaning rule number one: Thoroughly rinse the boat with plenty of water to remove any loose grime and grit that may be clinging to the surface. Begin rinsing at the highest point on the flying bridge or cabin top and work down, moving from the bow to the stern so the water drains out naturally.
Add some boat soap to your bucket and using a sponge, wash mitt or brush wash surfaces, working again from the top down. Rinse the sponge or cleaning mitt in the bucket often. Don't let any soap dry on the surface. Keep a hose nearby to rinse frequently with plenty of water. For the final rinse, remove the nozzle from the hose and allow the water to sheet off the surface. Less water hastens the drying time.
Cleaning is simple. If, when using a wash mitt or brush you're sweating and applying a lot of elbow grease, you're working too hard. Harsh scrubbing forces contaminants into the surface, which can scratch the finish. Let the cleaning products do the work for you.

Soap Sense

soft brush

Cleaning rule number two: Always use a boat soap. Leave the Cascade, Fantastic, Palmolive, Simple Green et al at home. Household products may work great but they can damage gelcoat if allowed to dry on the surface. Most of these products are highly alkaline with a pH of around 12 to 14 (Figure 1). They can completely strip wax layers and even etch the gelcoat (known as alkaline streaking), if allowed to dry. Neither acidic nor alkaline, most soaps formulated for marine use have a neutral pH of 7 and are safe to use on gelcoat surfaces.
Soaps come in liquid and granular form and some liquids are concentrated. Concentrates are nice because you use as much as you need to get the job done. The first spring cleaning demands full strength soap; for routine cleaning dilute the soap. Some soaps remove wax so take care to select the right one if you want to remove wax.
If it's not stated on the label don't assume it's safe; household soaps definitely remove wax. As for cleaning power, boat soaps work equally well. A high-sudsy soap doesn't clean better and, with suds, less is best. We associate suds with cleaning power but covering the surfaces to be cleaned with suds obscures the dirt that needs your attention.
One-step wash and wax products apply an additional barrier that, depending on the amount of rainfall and sunlight your boat withstands, gives up to two weeks of protection. These waxed soaps make surfaces easier to clean and slightly enhance surface gloss. For the final rinse, remove the nozzle and turn the hose pressure down to about 50% so water gently wets the surface. Spraying surfaces with a blast of water won't remove the wax affect but you're adding more water to the surface than necessary and this extends the drying time.
To remove wax you'll need a heavy duty acidic cleaner. Use full strength or dilute following the manufacturer's instructions. Some products will damage painted surfaces so, again, check the label and look for "paint safe." Always follow with a thorough scrubbing with soap and water and rinse well to remove all residue, which contaminates surfaces and leaves a hazy finish after waxing. If the gelcoat is in good condition, follow with a wax or polish or apply a rubbing compound on faded surfaces. [Step-by-step instructions on refinishing dull and faded gelcoat and the proper application of rubbing compounds, glazes and waxes appears in DIY 2002-No.1 issue.

More than Bristles
Cleaning rule number three: Invest in quality brushes and you'll need more than one. Brushes are useful to clean those hard to reach areas and to apply more cleaning power on deck non-skid. W've owned a variety of inexpensive brushes sold for home and auto use and none cut the mustard. Wood brushes rot where the handle shaft screws into the brush and, with wear, the bristles flatten and fall out, leaving a blue trail on the deck and exposing the screw that secures the handle. Better brushes are made of plastic or poly with a molded-in handle. Premium brushes have a rubber bumper around the edge that protect surfaces in contact with the brush head.
Brushes are rated by firmness and for most cleaning jobs you'll need two: a soft brush for cleaning gelcoat and painted topsides and a stiff brush for cleaning non-skid decks, teak, canvas and cushions and scrubbing waterline stains. Flying bridge cruisers with a large enclosure will want a third, very soft brush to gently clean windows. This supersoft brush is gentle on graphics, too. A brush that curls and pushes out or flattens usually means you've been scrubbing too hard.

 Spot-free Finishes
spot freeCleaning rule number four: Always dry surfaces. Professional boat detailers always dry a boat yet most boaters opt for air drying. Drying does a couple of things. The freshwater used for rinsing contains a concoction of chlorine, lime and maybe iron from well water. These sediments create a residue on surfaces that is only removed by wiping down.
A secondary benefit is that drying gets you up close with your boat so you can check for damage or defects and inspect fittings. After rinsing, wipe down all surfaces using a PVA cloth (Absorber) or use a squeegee for a spot and streak-free finish. Surfaces will look cleaner and glossier if dried.

Why Wax?

 Cleaning rule number five: Protect smooth gelcoat surfaces (everything but non-skid) with an application of wax or polish. The porous, colored resin finish on your boat is only 20 mils thick, that's about 5 sheets of office copy paper. UV rays, salt, atmospheric pollution, acid rain, insect fluids and bird droppings wage a never-ending war on your boat's finish. Waxing puts a protective layer between the gelcoat and the environment. It also makes your new or old boat look better. In choosing a protective product, here are some points to consider.
Synthetic polishes and waxes have been available for many years now and offer ease of application and maximum durability. Paste waxes put a slightly heavier film thickness on the surface than polishes but they take more energy to apply and remove. Also, because they go on thicker, they deliver slightly longer protection. Liquid polishes apply and come off with much less effort. Paste products are traditionally applied and removed by machine, liquid by machine or hand.
When manually working with either of these products, use an application pad, preferably a micro fiber one. You'll find less expensive micro fiber rags and towels sold at Costco, Sams and Target stores.
I've always been a big fan of paste waxes applied with a buffer. Last season, for the first time, I applied a polish using the same technique I would to buff a wax but my large, swooping circles left dull and shiny patches. Proper application of liquids takes a golf ball size amount squirted on the applicator pad and working just within arms length, wipe in a small circular motion. As soon as resistance is felt on the pad, add more liquid. Use lots of polish. Wait a few minutes for it to haze and then remove it with a clean and dry micro fiber cloth, turning it frequently to expose a clean surface. Move along the surface, working in small areas, applying and removing.

Seal It!
Cleaning rule number six: Regardless of the wax or polish used, follow with Interlux Teflon Wax Sealer. Just as a glaze (3M Marine Finesse-it II) is the essential second step when compounding, a sealer follows waxing. The extra effort is worth the results. When applied over wax, this product completely fills the gelcoat pores and within 24 hours dries to a mirror smooth and hard, non-stick finish that repels dirty water, salt spray, dirt, oil, UV rays, engine exhaust, rust and waterline stains. Apply a second coat and you'll triple the life of your wax. On new boats, apply sealer directly onto the surface without wax for season-long protection. A very thin liquid, Teflon Sealer goes on using the same technique as a polish.

Sustain Finishes
Cleaning rule number seven: It's not necessary to clean with soap every time you wash your boat. Before and after every outing just rinse the boat with freshwater to remove surface dirt and towel (or squeegee) dry. The natural abrasiveness of soap, regardless of the "safe" product claims, does break down wax. Under normal circumstances a wax lasts 2 to 4 months. Scrub it with soap every week and its life is much shorter. When you do need to use soap, use a diluted solution.
On mornings with heavy dew, dry surfaces using an Absorber or mop and you're good to go. On clean, dry surfaces, liberally apply a spray-on wax. This restores the gloss and renews the UV inhibitors so the sun doesn't begin to break down the protective layer of polish. Salt is hard on metals and will, over time, oxidize aluminum and rust stainless steel. Routinely rinse off salt from railings, anchor chain, the windlass and other metal hardware.
Proper cleaning helps to protect your boat from elements that spoil its appearance and otherwise might damage finishes and fittings. With the right techniques this is achievable so you spend more time on the water and less time cleaning.

Cleaning Do's Cleaning Don'ts
Cover your boat for long-term storage, preferably with shrinkwrap, which offers better protection, lessens chafe and keeps the boat appreciably cleaner. Use alkaline cleaning products that can damage surfaces and the marine environ-ment.
Before using any product, read the application and first aid instructions on the back label and then follow them. Use a metal hose nozzle as it will chip or crack the gelcoat when (not if) dropped.
When washing a boat in a slip or a mooring, use a biodegradable, environmentally friendly soap. Dry wipe bird droppings with a towel or you'll scratch the surface area with the excreted seeds and nuts that birds eat.
Start rinsing and cleaning at the highest point and work your way down. Use a towel or rag as contaminants might scratch the surface. Use micro fiber towels, which gently lift and remove dirt and grime without smearing or streaking. When dirty, toss them into a washing machine and machine dry.
When cleaning a very dirty boat, have a second large bucket filled with clean water to rinse the brush or wash mitt often to remove dirt and grime. Use a fabric softener, dryer softener sheets or a detergent with fabric softener when washing any rag.
Minimize soapsuds so you can see what you're cleaning. Scrub hard or you'll scratch surfaces. Let the cleaning products do all the work.
For the final rinse, remove the hose nozzle and reduce the water pressure so water sheets rather than beads on the surface. Use any products that contain silicone oil.
Dry surfaces after washing, rain or heavy dew. Let any soap dry on surfaces. Keep a rinse hose handy.
Vigorously shake product bottles for a few seconds prior to opening. Apply rubbing compounds, polishes or waxes on hot surfaces and never apply in sunlight.
Apply rubbing compounds in a back-and-forth motion. Apply polish (or wax) in a circular motion. Apply polish on a wet surface as water droplets can cause streaking or make the polish difficult to remove.
Apply polish to everything onboard, including painted (except Awlgrip) and var-nished finishes, metals and plastics, for a glossy, easy-to-clean protective layer. Apply a polish or wax to non-skid surfaces. Woody Wax, when applied according to label directions, offers good non-slip protection to non-skid surfaces.
On painted boats, use products that are not approved for use on painted surfaces.
Original link from the Interlux website

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