Basic Teak Deck Cleaning and Care

Basic Teak Deck Cleaning and Care

I am often asked; “Aren’t teak decks a lot of work?”  (Bill Full here)  The simple truth is and the right answer is NO!  The tendency is for people to “over maintain” teak decks, scrubbing them frequently, using 2 part teak brighteners etc. that cause notable wear to the wood.  Two part cleaners are also hard on the Thiokol (that’s the black stuff in the seams) causing it to lose its flexibility, crack, and pull away from the teak earlier in its life span than it normally would.

I have seen properly maintained teak decks on 40-year-old boats that still had several years of life left in them.  I have also seen teak decks on boats that were ten to twelve years old that needed to be replaced because of extensive scrubbing and the use of harsh cleaning agents.

So how to make sure that yours is one of the boats that have the decks that last 40+ years?

  • Accept the natural light wood gray patina that raw teak will attain vs. the fresh cut teak look that heavy scrubbing and teak brighteners will give you.
  • Buy the best cotton mop you can find, (buy 2 or 3 when you find them, the really good ones are hard to come by) and make that your primary tool for the wash down of all your wood and fiberglass surfaces.
  • Use only single part teak cleaners/soaps on your teak.  The best alternatives to these are dishwasher detergents e.g. Calgon and Bon Ami (the powdered soap you can get at the grocery store)  Bon Ami has fewer and far finer abrasives in it than other powdered soaps.  If using dishwasher detergents dilute them thoroughly as they do have some chemicals in them, just a ¼-1/3 cup in a ½ bucket of water.
  • On localized stains a bit of dish detergent full strength on a piece of terry cloth and rubbing in with your finger tips and then rinsing will remove most small stains.  (My preference is JOY, seems to work the best)
  • On a New England boat 3-4 times per year it may be reasonable to do deeper cleaning with a SOFT  nylon bristle scrub brush or a Scotchbrite pad.  When using them only scrub across the grain of the teak.  NEVER EVER use one of the hard white bristle poly brushes.

From time to time you may start to see some mildew in the grain of the teak, again tempting you to scrub with 2 part cleaners which will work wonders in removing the mildew but a better approach to preserving the teak would be to use a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water.  If you feel you must use bleach (I urge you not to) at most use a cup in a ½ bucket of water and rinse very thoroughly before the decks dry.

There are no doubt numerous other tricks/products for easily maintaining teak decks (by the way please e-mail us with them if you have one) but by following the above list you’ll spend a lot more time enjoying your boat than cleaning her and your decks will last a lot longer too!

Smooth sailing, &/or happy motoring