Take care of your vinyl boat windows and they will take care of you. Properly maintained vinyl will last longer, stay clearer, and be less likely to tear during high winds and rain. Knowing how to maintain these windows — and avoiding common cleaning practices that actually break down vinyl faster — will save you time and money in the long run.
What can boat owners do to keep vinyl windows in good shape? Follow these steps and you can prevent water stains, scratches, and more:
Keep them clean after every trip
The first step toward protecting vinyl is to regularly clean and dry your windows. Ideally, windows should be cleaned shortly after you arrive back at the dock.
A few hours out on the open water may not seem like it’s enough to justify cleaning your windows. However, mineral accumulation is a process that starts every time you leave the dock. Taking twenty minutes to wash windows and dry them thoroughly can save you hours trying to remove baked on salt deposits.
Freshwater boat captains, be warned: you might think you’re exempt from this regular cleaning, but that’s not the case. Mineral deposits in freshwater rivers and lakes can accumulate on windows as well.
Wash-downs can be done in a matter of minutes. Combine warm water and dish soap, then apply the solution using a cotton cloth or foam applicator pad. Once every few washes, use professional grade cleaner, such as Imar Strataglass 301 Protective Cleaner, to clean up tougher deposits. Keeping protective cleaner on hand is generally a good idea anyway, in case some harsh chemicals, creams, or sprays come in contact with your vinyl windows.
After you wash your windows, rinse with clean water and gently buff them dry with a fresh, clean cloth. Don’t use a cloth that may have sand, grime, or salt build-up on it. Not only will you un-do the cleaning you just completed, but you may end up scratching your material. Even scratches that are barely visible can lead to the kind of material degradation that shortens the life of your windows.
Polish every other month
Over time, the sun works with salt and mineral deposits to break down the plasticizers in vinyl boat windows. Look around the marina to see this in action — vinyl windows that are brittle, cloudy, or yellow have already been degraded.
Strataglass is one of only two brands of clear marine vinyl windows that incorporate a hard surface coating for scratch resistance. These coatings come with the added advantage of sealing the material, helping prevent plasticizer loss.
Polishing your windows helps reseal protective coatings and add fresh sunscreen to the material. This limits the sun damage to plasticizers, which helps the vinyl stay flexible and clear. Polishes and protective finishes should be applied once every month or two when the boat enclosure is exposed to sunlight. Be sure to apply polish to both the exterior and interior of the window.
Choosing the right polish is essential to getting good long-term results. Strataglass recommends using Imar Strataglass 301 Protective Cleaner and 302 Protective Polish. Under no circumstances should you use Windex, Rain-X, Pledge, Plexus, Simple Green, Orpine, or any other harsh cleaner to clean Strataglass products — this can damage your windows, and will void the warranty on your product. Similarly, don’t use car wax or polishes, scratch removers, or cleaners designed for industrial vinyl. Your windows will thank you.
Before you polish or treat your windows, wash them with a mild dish soap and water, then dry them completely. Apply the treatment and/or polish as directed on the bottle.
Off-Season: Rolling up and storing windows
Protecting your vinyl boat windows doesn’t stop in winter. Storage is one benefit of using clear vinyl window materials instead of glass. Vinyl window material can be rolled up and stored somewhere dry and safe until the following year.
Before you store your enclosure and windows, wash and dry them one more time. Apply protective coatings and buff them dry. Never fold up enclosures that are still damp, as they will develop mold and mildew. That mold can lead to damage on both the canvas and the vinyl.
A lot of people will keep sailing well into the winter months. While the human body can be acclimated to the cold, your vinyl doesn’t fare as well. Old vinyl shouldn’t be rolled in cold weather conditions. Depending on your gauge, anything below 60 degrees creates a risk of cracking.
Get the right windows for the job
Some vinyl materials will stand up to the tests of time better than others. Maintaining a boat often leads to hard decisions when it comes to costly repairs. Your windows should never be something you try to cheap out on. Choose a product like Strataglass, and add valuable protection to your boat enclosure that will make it last longer and perform better.