How to Polish and Clean Your Pontoon

It’s natural that, after spending a good couple of thousands on your pontoon boat, you want it to look as beautiful and shiny after a few months or years in the water as it looked when you first launched it. As such, besides the furniture and accessories upgrades that are essential in order to preserve both beauty and functionality, it’s expected of you to do some polishing work every now and then.

This guide will show you the materials and techniques you need in order to polish your boat efficiently and apply coating properly. You could, of course, call for the help of a specialist, but any pontoon boat dealer will charge you around $400 for a mirror polish and application of Shark Hide aluminum cleaner. Honestly, unless you charge $200 an hour yourself, it’s not worth the money. For only a couple of dollars, you can get all the materials you want, and the entire work can be done in 3-4 hours (depending on the size of the boat, as well as your own experience and willingness).

All this being said, let’s get down to business:

Table of Contents

1. Preliminary cleaning

Before cleaning your boat, you have to first clean your boat. Yes, it’s exactly how it sounds. Boats are known to accumulate a lot of dirt from the water, including algae and such, mineral buildup, and whatever dirt you see. While a pontoon boat that is towed back home after every use may have little to no dirt deposit, one that’s usually docked will definitely have plenty of things to clean. In particular, saltwater pontoons tend to have large amounts of salt and other minerals, as well as algae, in a thick layer on the below-water hull.

For a normal level of dirt, you’ll just have to use a power washer to remove everything in one go. If you don’t own a power washer, you can borrow one or use a wet rag (the latter option takes more time). If you haven’t cleaned your ‘toon since Reagan was still in office, you will need a gentle plastic scraper and a brush in addition to the power washer.

When it comes to power washers, there’s plenty of them to choose from on the market. For instance, you can check out the Sun Joe SPX3001 Electric Pressure Washer. You might be able to find cheaper alternatives on the market as well, but nothing will leave you quite as satisfied as this one. It comes with five different spray tips that ensure different angles for a thorough cleaning. The motor is also pretty powerful – it generates more than 2000 PSI water pressure while not consuming more than 1.67 gallons per minute. It also comes with a pretty long hose (20ft) so that you can clean any spot on your pontoon without carrying the whole unit around with you. Find out more about it here:


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2. Applying cleaner

Time to clean better! While cleaning solution plays no part in the actual polishing, it’s this very step that ensures a long-lasting polish. Otherwise, you’ll see your hull just as dirty as it was before polishing, within the span of a single trip.

Our recommendation, if you’re not delighted at the thought of spending money on acidic baths or whatever pontoon-specific product, is to use some plain old toilet cleaner. It’s a strong enough substance to remove dirt from every nook and cranny and it works exactly the same as any high-end product.

However, if you want to take it a step further and level up your cleaning game, we suggest you try the Meguiar’s M4916 Marine/RV Heavy Duty Oxidation Remover. Don’t be too scared of the “marine” label on it – it does a perfect job for any type of surface on your boat, pontoons included. It’s also fairly cheap and retails in convenient 16 oz. bottles. Although it will cut through any kind of dirt and/or grime, this product is non-toxic and easy to apply, either by hand or using a machine. To grab your own bottle, click the button below:

As applying the solution can really get pretty time-consuming, we recommend getting a plastic sprayer, kind of like the one you’re using to wash your windows or water your pansies. Dilute the solution to a 30% concentration (2 parts water, 1 part cleaner) and you’re good to go!

The best way to go is to apply the cleaner to a section, leave it to work for a bit, and then remove it before it dries. The reason for this is that if the solution gets dry, it will leave deposits that are super hard to clean. Hence, it’s better to take your time and work on one small area at a time. Use a wet rag to make sure every bit of cleaning solution has been removed.

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3. Buff

Finally, the actual polish. It’s not really necessary if you just want to clean your boat and applying Shark Hide can be done at this point as well. However, if you want that nice, glossy mirror finish, you better be sure your polisher is in good condition.

Speaking of which, if you don’t have a polisher, you should get one. It’s a really useful tool and it works for your boat, car, and bike, all the same, as well as for any other similar surface. You simply can’t do this kind of job manually and expect the same results. If you’re not sure what to buy, the Porter-Cable 7424XP is a very good choice, as it offers you ambidextrous handling and speed adjustment (2500-6800 RPM). You can, of course, buy anything you want, just make sure the speed isn’t too high or you may end up leaving marks that are simply impossible to erase.

Time to polish! For best results, use a 6-inch woolen pad. Also, in order to not leave polishing marks, it’s recommended that you use a circular or swirly pattern. Do you know how the kid from Karate Kid polished Miyagi-san’s car collection? Well, that’s the spirit.

This is the most time-consuming part of the operation, about 2 hours for a medium boat.

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4. Clean again

Yes, we know, this is repetitive and annoying, but you absolutely have to make sure that no polishing compound remains on the hull before applying the Shark Hide. Otherwise, the residue will interfere with the Shark Hide and remain sealed there, resulting in a foggy and unappealing look.

At any rate, all you have to do is repeat the step nr.2 described above and remember to be as thorough as possible.

5. Apply Shark Hide

It’s the job of every pontooner to make sure their boat looks good and nearly all of them use Shark Hide for that. It’s nothing complicated: an aluminum cleaning solution that you apply pretty much like a normal cleaning solution. Unlike the toilet cleaner, however, Shark Hide will take care of any oxidized surface as well, leaving everything nice and shiny.

Applying Shark Hide is similar to applying the cleaner on steps 2 and 4. A 2:1 or 3:1 mixture of water and Shark Hide should do for the average use, but more or less concentrated solution can be used according to your particular situation. Use a plastic spray bottle to pulverize the hull from the bottom up. Light foam will appear. Make sure there is no aluminum exposed (i.e. the foam must get everywhere) in order to not leave vertical streaks.

Rinse the foam with plenty of water after 4-5 minutes, as it absolutely must not dry. In order to not leave any marks whatsoever, work thoroughly on small sections.

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That’s it! Well, polish is not known for being particularly resistant, and you may very well need to redo all that work after a couple of trips. However, Karate Kid became so not as a result of long years of training, but thanks to a couple of days spent polishing cars! As such, putting a bit of elbow grease and a couple of hours every other month can’t be that hard and, who knows, it may actually help you discover your inner karate fighter.

Jerry Brookes

Hi I'm Jerry, founder of I've been pontooning for over 30 years believe it or not and have learned a thing or two about pontoons. As my passion project Pontoon Helper is aimed at educating any reader on all the different things you need to know before pontooning. I consider myself somewhat of an expert in this industry as it has become my life since retirement. Feel free to submit a comment or question on the website and I'll try to get back to you.

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Rick Johnson

Great article, thanks for the tips! Never cleaned a boat myself before but will try and follow your guide and maybe save a couple hundred bucks haha


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