What's the best way to clean teak? And what's the best way to polish a fiberglass sailing boat? I'm a little new to all of this.
Mark Matthews responds:
Thanks for the question. There are probably as many ways to clean teak as there are types of boats floating, it's all a matter of who you ask. Still, you're right to ask because properly maintained teak can add the finishing touch to a vessel, often making the difference between boat and yacht, and it certainly prolongs the life of the wood. There are some things to think about before you get started, namely whether you plan on oiling or varnishing your teak, or whether you'll be applying something like Cetol to the wood.
Scrubbing teak with teak brushes and chemical cleaners is one way to get the first part of the job done. Don Casey, the author of This Old Boat, recommends using one-part cleaners or a solution of TSP along with a synthetic scrubber. He advises allowing the solution to sit for several minutes, and then hose off and repeat the process. Once you clean the teak, the best thing to do is to keep it clean, which also means keeping it oiled or varnished. If you go the oil route, it's easier if you are diligent about reapplying the oil—otherwise the wood will collect some of the dirt and residue that finds its way aboard every boat, and you'll have to start all over again. But keep in mind that repeatedly scrubbing teak will ultimately cause the wood to break down and flow out of your scuppers over a long period of time.
My own experience with cleaning teak usually involves teak that has little or no oil or varnish left on it. I like to start with sandpaper and ample amounts of time. Of course sanding also removes the wood, but if you can get a coat of varnish or oil on after you've finished sanding, and apply several more coats throughout the season, you should get a long life span out of the teak.
As far as varnishing goes, one technique to consider is to coat the wood with penetrating epoxy. Try it in an inconspicious place first, as some penetrating epoxies result in a different finish color than others. Once this turns tacky, begin applying varnish. The two form a durable chemical bond, although more varnish should be applied on top of this. Thin the varnish less and less with each coat. Varnishing teak will lock you into a long-term commitment that requires attention to keep it looking good. For inspiration, check out the article that Don Casey wrote on this topic here at SailNet, Putting the Bright in Brightwork.
For the best way to polish fiberglass, I'll again defer to the master, Mr. Casey, and his informative article entitled Recovering the Shine
If your plans call for messing about boats much in the foreseeable future, I highly recommend you consider buying a copy of Casey's This Old Boat. It's available in the SailNet Store. Good luck to you.
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