Guide to Maintaining Your Boat’s Stainless Steel and Aluminum
Preventing Corrosion, Abrasion and Pitting
Properly caring for, cleaning and maintaining your boat’s stainless steel and anodized aluminum will keep it in tip-top shape for many years to come. This information was developed in order to give you a better understanding of the various factors that can affect their appearance. By following the guidelines below, we aim to help you enhance the value that our products provide to your boat.
Choose High Quality Materials
The stainless steel and anodized aluminum that we have selected for building your T-Top, Half Tower, T-Tower or other custom marine fabrication, has been designed to for the very best performance in a marine specific setting.
Protection Against Corrosion
Even though we utilize the highest quality of materials for your project, the marine environment is one of the harshest on Earth. Along with environmental factors, atmospheric impurities and normal wear and tear can all add to the onset of “pitting” on the surface of the metal. Preventive maintenance and proper cleaning are the best and most cost effective ways to keep your aluminum and stainless steel in “like new” condition.
Anodized Aluminum Protects
The aluminum on your boat tops, towers or other fabrication has been anodized. Anodization builds a very hard, protective seal on the surface of the aluminum which helps to protects it from pitting. If that protective film is broken, exposing the raw aluminum, it will corrode. Abrasive items, cleaners or impacts from things such as knives, gaffs or other hard items can easily damage the anodized coating.
Cosmetic Corrosion and Pitting.. What Causes It?
According to Wikipedia, “Corrosion is a natural process, which converts refined metal to their more stable oxide. It is the gradual destruction of materials (usually metals) by chemical reaction with their environment.” The speed at which corrosion to aluminum takes place depends on the conditions of the environment and the amount of preventive care that is taken. Our objective is to stop or at very least, slow down this natural phenomenon that we call pitting or corrosion.
Chemicals Erode Anodization
High concentrations of acids or alkalies found in many corrosive chemicals will destroy the anodized seal. Chemicals containing ammonia, chlorine or salts are very damaging to the anodized aluminum on your boat. Many commonly used household cleaners even contain these chemicals and will erode the anodizing and cause pitting on your boat.
- Acidic solutions found in many strong cleaners, degreasing products, paint removers, etc.
- Concentrated soaps or alkaline based chemicals.
- Chlorine, sulfurs, solvents and ammonia based products
- Salt water
- Air pollution and toxic airborne particles from sources such as motor vehicles, chemical or power plants, incinerators, paper mills, etc.
- Harsh chemicals from work performed at nearby shipyards or dry docks
- Always be alert to local sources that expose your boat to damaging chemicals
Clean Often and Properly
How often should you wash your boat? That depends on how often you use it as well as the local environment. Obviously, each time your use your boat, you should clean it thoroughly. If storing your boat near the water or at a marina, you will likely need to clean it more often. If your boat is stored in a place where it is regularly expose to harsh chemicals, washing it on a regular basis is highly recommended.
Keep It Simple!
To safely clean your boat, use plenty of fresh water and a mild, non-abrasive soap. Using a sponge or a soft towel, thoroughly clean all of the aluminum on your boat. By using a lot of soap and water, you will remove any salt crystals or other contaminates that have dried to it. Lastly, thoroughly rinse with direct water pressure until the suds subside.
Stainless Steel Is Corrosion-Resistant
Stainless steel has natural corrosion-resistant qualities within the metal itself. These inherent qualities form an iron chromium oxide seal, which protects the metal from rusting.
What To Do If There Are Signs of Rusting
- Wash with a high-quality detergent and plenty of fresh water
- Use a car chrome polish to clean it
- Finish with a car or fiberglass wax product
- For brushed aluminum finishes (or finishes that show “grit lines”), use an abrasive cleaner or sand paper to remove rust. Note: First, test a small area and always go in the same direction as the grain.
- DO NOT use with chlorine cleaners, bleach or scouring powders
- DO NOT use abrasive cleaners or sand paper on buffed or mirror finished metals
- DO NOT clean with muriatic or hydrochloric acids
Water, Water, Water
- Keep contaminates from building up or forming by washing regularly.
- Do not use bleach or chlorides to clean the aluminum, stainless steel or nearby components. Even when using nearby, chlorides can seep into the metal.
- Avoid abrasive cleaners. NEVER use steel or brass wool, wire brushes, polishing wheels, rubbing or polishing compounds on any anodized aluminum product. They will destroy the anodizing and lead to corrosion and pitting.
- When cleaning, pay close attention to the pipe and tubing directly underneath the top or canvas. Since these areas do not receive the natural rinsing action of rainwater and are shielded from drying of the sun, they are often overlooked and become the first place that staining or pitting typically occur.
Specialty Cleaning Products
In the boating industry, there are many cleaners available to care for and maintain your boat. Many of these cleaners are safe and work well for use on your boat’s aluminum and stainless steel, while others can be damaging. Keep in mind that not all cleaning products are equal and not all are intended for multi-purpose uses. Select a cleaning product that is specifically designed for aluminum and stainless materials.
What To Use.. What NOT to Use!
Mild Dishwashing liquid (Ivory Liquid)
Specialty Marine Cleaners:
Sea Safe Boat Wash Star Brite
Boatwash Concentrate Aquatech
Super Suds Marykate
- Bleach (Clorox or generic, etc.)
- Abrasive Cleaners (Soft Scrub, Comet, Ajax, Rubbing Compounds, etc.)
- Strong Chemicals (409, Engine Degreasers, Bilge Cleaners, Teak Cleaners, Bottom Cleaners, etc.)
- Muriatic or hydrochloric acids
A wide variety of products are available that will help to protect your boat’s aluminum and stainless steel. Some of these products are designed to seal and protect prior to any problems occurring and others products are for use after pitting has started to occur.
Using these products can be helpful and effective but they are not one time solutions. Metal protection products must be applied on a regular basis in order to really protect your boat. Various factors influence how often they should be applied, including the type and quantity of toxins that your boat is exposed to, as well as how often you take your boat on the water and wash it. Be sure to carefully follow the guidelines provided with the product that you choose.
Recommended metal protection products:
Woody Wax CPR Woody Wax
Boeshield T-9 PMS Products, Inc.
Premier Polish Aquatech
Corrosion Block Lear Chemical
Aluma Guard from Rupp Marine