Clean Boater Program

Teak Maintenance

Teak has been used in shipbuilding for thousands of years because it doesn’t rot, it’s more dimensionally stable than most woods, and it requires minimal care. However, traditional methods for cleaning teak use caustic chemicals which may be harmful to you and the environment.

Treating Teak

The best thing you can do for your teak decks is to treat them gently. All you need to do is rinse them occasionally with fresh water to remove dirt and avoid wear and tear from particles under foot. Scrub teak decks gently, prior to spring commissioning, with oil based soap and water, using a non-bristle plastic scrubber. Soaps don’t give teak that "freshly-sanded" look you get with stronger cleaners. They do clean the teak, but will leave it gray. However, soaps are much less damaging to the wood and seam compound. Some soaps work well in saltwater and others don’t, so purchase a small quantity and try it out first.

Replenish the Natural Oils in the Teak

The natural oils in teak do dry out and require occasional replenishing. Most teak oils won’t harm the wood but solvents in them can, over time, damage seam compounds. Therefore, don’t use teak oil on decks unnecessarily.

Avoid Abrasive Materials

Use caution with abrasive treatments as they may considerably shorten the life of the teak.

Don’t Use Caustic/Acid Cleaners

Well-meaning owners have traditionally washed teak decks with powerful chemicals, and then slathered them with teak oils at frequent intervals. This can destroy your deck! Many cleaners or cleaner/brightener systems can be damaging to teak, particularly if you scrub with the grain of the wood, using a stiff bristle brush. These chemicals are harmful to humans and the environment. If you do use the two-part caustic/acid cleaners and bleaches, reduce the "burning away" of your teak by diluting the chemicals with water. Test small sections with various dilutions, choosing the weakest solution that achieves the look you want. These products should only be used on land. Always remember to wear gloves, even if you dilute the chemicals. There is no teak cleaner that will both effortlessly and harmlessly return badly weathered teak to the pristine look of just sanded wood. Getting that look will take a lot of elbow grease, and cause wear and tear on the wood. If you try to maintain the "just sanded" look by using chemical cleaners, or even a milder detergent and a bristle brush, the softer portions of the teak grain will gradually erode. This will leave a ridged surface that attracts dirt and is more susceptible to mildew.

Preserving Teak Trim

Exterior teak trim requires different kinds of maintenance than do teak decks, but the cautions already mentioned still apply. Particularly relevant is the warning about eroding the wood with chemical cleaners. If you want the exterior teak trim to look as though it’s just been cleaned and sanded, you’re going to have to clean and sand it — there is no miracle teak finish. Exterior teak trim may be varnished to protect it. A varnished finish actually holds up better and offers more protection than an oiled finish. Some boaters like the convenience of using a polyurethane finish as a substitute to varnish. Occasional sanding and a new coat of either varnish or polyurethane will be necessary, as needed.

Tips for Maintaining Teak
  • To give your teak deck a light and slightly bleached look, scrub with saltwater and let the sun bleach it. With this easy, natural method you won’t worry so much about the inescapable graying process of oxidation. Or you can use mild powder soap and scrub with bronze wool. You’ll also find it’s less costly, less time consuming, non-marring, better for the environment, and better for the teak.
Content Last Updated on December 2019.