Dingy dinghy – how to clean PVC (vinyl)

In my never ending quest to keep boating affordable, I am keeping my old dinghy limping along. It is dirty and wearing out (topsides of the tubes are down to the threads), but holds air so I can’t complain. I figure I better show it some love but don’t want to make things worse by using corrosive chemicals or abrasives. Looks like the ArmourAll I put on it three years ago might have expatiated it’s demise!

Below are some cleaning tips posted in a forum, they are from the 303 Areospace Protectant Co. the original page has been removed. The most interesting part is I never considered that there was a “top coat” to vinyl. I assumed it was just fabric embedded in plastic, like spaghetti in sauce. I think this refers to upholstery vinyl, which is a different construction from dinghy material, that is, not top coat, but the cautions against damaging the material would apply.

Overview on vinyl/mildew

The key to minimizing mildew/mold is keeping the material as dry and as clean as you can. One of our products helps do this…while keeping the vinyl looking good and protecting from UV. More on that later. First, cleaning off mildew/mildew stains.

Cleaning vinyl isn’t difficult, but cleaning it withOUT damaging the vinyl “topcoat” is the real concern. The largest supplier of marine vinyl to US boat builders over the last couple of decades is G&T Industries. We have reproduced their cleaning info on 303’s website. Here’s that text (Notice it advises how to mix certain household cleaning agents to clean and also kill the mildew spores).

“Protecting the topcoat, then, is the most crucial aspect of properly maintaining vinyl and the subject with which vinyl manufacturers are most concerned. Vinyl manufacturers agree on and recommend the following.

General Cleaning: Never use household cleaners, powdered or other abrasives, steelwool or industrial cleaners, dry cleaning fluids, solvents (petroleum distillates), bleach or detergents. Use a medium-soft brush, warm soapy water, (such as Ivory soap), rinse with cool water and then dry.

Mildew Stains: To kill the bacteria creating the mildew, use a medium-soft brush and vigorously brush the stained area with a 4 to 1 mixture of water and ammonia; rinse with cool water. Tough Mildew Stains: Apply a mixture of one (1) teaspoon ammonia, one-fourth (1/4) cup of hydrogen peroxide and three-fourths (3/4) cup of distilled water; rinse with cool water. Note: All cleaning methods must be followed by a thorough rinse with water.

Obviously abrasives should never be used on vinyl. Petroleum distillates are a universal “no no” for both vinyl and rubber. Waxes should never be used on vinyl because (a) Most waxes contain petroleum distillates; (b) Wax is a build-up product, holding in the heat absorbed from the sun and accelerating heat damage. Virtually all vinyl manufacturers agree that no type of oil should be used on vinyl. Silicone oil vinyl treatments should not be used for several reasons: 1) Silicone oil formulations typically attack the vinyl topcoat. 2) Silicone oil formulations usually contain no effective UV screening ingredients. 3) Silicone oil formulations are build-up products which accelerate heat damage. 4) Silicone oil formulations are greasy and oily, attract dust, and soil more quickly. READ THE LABEL! Product directions suggesting more than one coat for better cosmetic enhancement are build-up products and are recommended against by vinyl manufacturers.”

This is from a professional carpet cleaner:

“Mix up some oxy blaster with real hot water water spray it on and give it a good scrub. Rinse it. If the stain is still there get a spray bottle add 50% non sudsing ammonia buy it at the cleaning section at Wal-Mart. In the same bottle fill the rest of the bottle up with 30 Volume peroxide buy it from Sallys Beauty Supply. Have the boat in direct sunlight spray the spots with this mixture. Let it sit for awhile. Then rinse”.

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