Keep Your Fenders Looking New

Posted: November 1, 2013

By: Story and Photos by Deane Hislop

One sure-fire way to spoil a boat’s appearance is to have dirty, stained fenders hanging from the rails or lined up on the deck. Dirty fenders leave ugly streaks on the hull that can be difficult to remove. While scrubbing a dirty fender with boat soap or detergent will help, it won’t accomplish much if the fenders are very soiled and/or badly stained from rubbing against creosote-coated pilings, docks or bulkheads.

Using a strong solvent such as acetone or lacquer thinner will easily remove stains, but such solvents can attack the plastic and leave a sticky, tacky surface that is even harder to clean next time. In addition, those sorts of products considerably shorten the life of the fender.

One way to clean fenders is by scrubbing them with either a mildly abrasive household cleaner such as Softscrub (sold in supermarkets) or with a stiff brush dipped in mineral spirits (a paint thinner). A kitchen abrasive pad or a very fine steel-wool pad dipped in the mineral spirits also works well.

The safest, least harmful and most effective way to clean fenders without using an abrasive or a flammable solvent is to choose one of the many different brands of special fender-cleaning products that are available from marine stores and mail-order companies. They include such brands as West Marine Heavy Duty Fender Cleaner or Inflatable Boat and Fender Cleaner from Starbrite and Seapower. They are formulated to clean fenders without a lot of hard rubbing. In addition to these, most of the cleaners sold for inflatable boats and electric shore cables work well as fender cleaners, even though the word “fenders” may not appear on the label.

After you have cleaned your fenders, it’s a good idea to apply a coat of one of the many vinyl “restorers” or protective coatings, such as 303Aerospace Protectant, that are available in marine stores. Doing so will help keep fenders clean and make them less likely to absorb dirt and get stained, and it shields against damaging UV light rays, making them easier to clean next time.

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