Product Review: Phosphate Free Boat Soaps

starbrite-seasafeLast month, I wrote about the Clean Marina organization that is starting to control what member marinas can and can’t use in and around their properties. The goal of this organization is to help marinas and boat yards reduce and manage their hazardous waste and implement improvements to restore our waterways and protect the environment.

One of the rules we need to start following at marinas that belong to this organization is that we can only use approved boat soaps. This means that no matter who is washing your boat, whether it’s you or your boat detailer, only certain boat soaps can be used. Biodegradable means nothing anymore. They must also be phosphate-free AND leave no suds in the water. I mentioned some boat soaps in my article about the Clean Marina organization last month. In this article, I’ll go into more detail about three soaps you can use if your marina belongs to this organization.

Green Doesn’t Necessarily = Clean

What we’ve found with the “green” soaps that have less chemicals in them and are phosphate-free is that although they are more environmentally safe to use around waterways and don’t irritate the skin or nose as much as other stronger cleaners might, they sometimes aren’t strong enough for the extra dirty boats. Ideally, a boat should never be left uncared for that it gets so dirty that it requires strong chemical-laden cleaners or soaps in the first place, but unfortunately that happens all too often.

The more often a boat is washed, the cleaner it will be and therefore the mild soaps and cleaning products will work just fine and because your boat is cleaned often allowing you to use milder cleaning products, those mild cleaning products will strip less wax so your boat is protected better and longer not allowing water streaks and bird droppings to set into the gel coat but instead wash right off. I agree, it’s a vicious cycle!

Let’s recap…

Boat is cleaned often > able to use milder cleaning products > strips less wax > boat stays cleaner.


Boat is not cleaned often > must use stronger cleaners to clean away dirt and mildew > strips wax in the process > boat gets dirtier faster because it doesn’t have a layer of wax protecting it > stains soak into gel coat easier.

Now let’s review some of those more environmentally-friendly boat soaps that will help you keep your boat clean if done on a regular basis. I recommend washing your boat at least every three weeks, buffing and waxing the whole boat once per year and buffing and waxing the topside again about six months later if it’s starting to fade a bit.

Starbrite Sea Safe Boat Soap

This is one of the more common (easier to find) boat soaps we’ve been using that is both phosphate-free and doesn’t leave suds in the water. It will suds up a bit in the bucket but it rinses off almost suds-free. I’ve found it to do a good job at helping wash away dirt and it seems to get the boat nice and clean.

Captain John’s Yacht Shine

This was the only boat soap we could find at this time that actually had an “approved by Clean Marina” sticker on it. However, this soap did leave suds in the water, so I’m not sure if they actually tested it or if we just got a stronger mixture this time. It did an alright job of getting the boat clean, but we had to use a bit of extra elbow grease to get some tougher stains out. It’s a soap we often use at the more strict marinas so we can show the harbor master the seal of approval if asked about our supplies, but it’s not typically our first choice for washing.

Zaal Sea Solve

sea-solveThis is a boat soap that was introduced to me a few weeks ago and we’ve been using it ever since. It’s was first designed as a boat soap that was very good at removing salt spray and crystals but it became so much more. It’s phosphate-free and is made of mostly natural ingredients and smells great. Your boat will literally smell like fresh fruit. It’s really good at cleaning tough stains and works well to get dirt out of teak decks. It has a de-foamer in it, so you won’t see suds in the bucket or the water. At first, you feel like you’re just using a bucket of water to wash your boat with since you can’t see any suds, but after a while you get used to it and realize that it’s doing a good job cleaning. However, this soap is almost three times as expensive as the other soaps. We save it for our large yachts and boats with special finishes.

Tips On Green Cleaning

You can try to wash your boat with baking ingredients, such as vinegar and baking soda, but let’s face it, in some cases when there’s more dirt than you bargained for, those ingredients are better for zucchini bread than boat washing. Unless you wash your boat on a weekly basis, completely pure ingredients may not be able to cut through strong stains, heavier dirt or green and black mildew as quickly or as easily as something with a specific cleaning agent in it that is meant for the job.

I’ve always said that cleaner wax is one of the best cleaners you can use because it stays on your boat. You can use cleaner wax to remove scuff marks made by the shore power cord, fenders or lines. Cleaner wax can also brighten up stainless, remove marks in non-skid, remove stains left from bird and spider droppings and leaves, clean and polish plastic windows and remove stubborn water streaks in between your big wax jobs.

One thing I’d like to point out is that some of the spray cleaners that are meant to remove specific stains or that are considered “green” such as Simple Green can remove wax over time. You’re main goal is not to use a cleaning product that removes wax. That’s not doing your gel coat any good. Better to use cleaner wax as a cleaning product before you reach for the spray cleaners.

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