Keeping Your Fenders Looking New

27th March 2023

Nothing spoils a boat’s appearance as much as 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. So, it’s important to keep your fenders looking new. Although scrubbing a dirty fender with boat soap or detergent will help, it won’t help 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, this also shortens the life of the fender considerably.

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


The safest, least harmful and most effective way to clean fenders without using an abrasive or flammable solvent is to choose one of the many different brands of special fender-cleaning products that are widely available from all 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. All 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 also 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 303 Aerospace Protectant that are also available in marine stores. This will help keep them clean and make them less likely to absorb dirt, stains, and shields against damaging UV light rays, thus making them easier to clean next time.

Here’s a tip for “whipping” the ends of the fender lines to avoid fraying or unraveling: Instead of tape or twine, use a 3/4″ length of heat-shrink tubing, and then shrink it over the line end. It makes a very tight, neat, long-lasting binder, only costs a few cents per line end, and you can shrink it with a hot hair dryer if no heat gun is available.

Following these easy recommendations will help keep your fenders looking like new!