cleaning old canoes

I was given two canoes that have seen better days, but are generally in good condition. One is an old Mad River whitewater and one is a big Lincoln. I’m not sure of the models or the age of either of them. The Mad River looks to be some sort of plastic with reinforced front and rear, wood gunwales and a kneeling seat in the middle. The Lincoln is green and looks like fiberglass. I plan on using both of them for fishing, and I want to scrub them clean and make them look as best I can.

I have googled and searched this site and haven’t found a lot of useful information on cleaning and polishing them.

Can someone please help and recommend some products and techniques?


The Mad River is probably Royalex
and the top skin is a layer of vinyl. Vinyl cleaners should be safe. However, if you see any areas on the bottom where the vinyl is worn through and a pale aqua plastic is exposed, that’s the ABS, and it is likely to soften badly if exposed to any but mild cleaners. ABS also degrades if exposed to UV. Don’t use acetone to clean, but isopropyl alcohol is OK.

The “fiberglass” Lincoln can be cleaned with all sorts of surface cleaners, plus elbow grease. Boat shops selling supplies for fiberglass powerboats will have lots of cleaner options for the Lincoln.

If the Mad River is a whitewater boat, you may find it somewhat uncooperative for fishing. You could sell it and use the money on stuff for the Lincoln, or on a fishing kayak.

What do you mean by uncooperative? The hull does have a pronounced arc to it and I’m thinking that might cause some difficulty when it comes to fishing and mounting seats. I like it because it’s very light in weight and can be easily carried just by myself to access lakes in the woods.

The bottom is a little banged up, but there are no deep gouges exposing anything under the outer layer.

Thanks for the cleaning tips!

Probably the gel coat on the Lincoln
is oxidized. I have used rubbing compound and lots of elbow grease to remove that oxidization. After thats done fiberglass cleaner to keep er shipshape.

Lincoln Canoe and Kayak is near my house…If you want to contact them regarding what you have and cleaning tips

The Lincoln is dark green and doesn’t look oxidized anywhere. It looks grimy and just plain ol dirty (some mold perhaps?).

soft scrub w/bleach
for plstc. an glass , then any wax or compound ya want , been using it on my yaks for yrs. w/no bad results .


use a shop vac to get ALL the water out

I have a couple of whitewater opens,
and when paddled on flatwater, they are kind of slow, don’t track without skill or correction, and are a bit tender for fishing, although it certainly can be done when kneeling in a stable position.

But if the boat is actually light enough that you like carrying it around, is it Royalex, or is it composite? With the usual outfitting, a Royalex 13 foot whitewater boat will weigh in the 55 pound range, and won’t have a portage yoke.

acetone can be used safly on royalex

– Last Updated: Mar-28-09 11:40 AM EST –

..... if you are careful not to allow it to puddle , and stay in a puddle .

You can soak a rag with it , and use that rag in wiping or circular motion just as you would use a rag to clean anything .

The acetone that contacts the roylex will evaporate long before it has "any" chance of softening the vinyl skin .

I purchased a used (1984) model roylex canoe late last year that was in very nice condition , "EXCEPT" for the dirt and stains that were in/on the skin .

I tried various milder cleaners , starting with soaps and water , finally alcohol ... I wiped , rubbed and rinsed like a crazy man , over and over in the same areas ... each time these areas I was testing would only show minimal improvement (lighten a shade or so) , but definately not doing the job .

I was considering trying "acetone" but was concerned some , because I knew "acetone" had the ability to soften and disolve vinyl .

I have never owned a roylex canoe before but understood how the layers were laminated . I also learned that when royalex is made , there are special oils added to the materials , and these oils weep out over time accumulating at the vinyl skin surfaces . These oils collect grim (dirt and pollutions) , and as the roylex hardens up (natural time curing) , so do the grim saturated oils at the skin surface.

I'm telling you , they made this canoe look like one gigantic series of connected blotches that I just couldn't get to come out anywere near clean looking .

I decided to ask the board here for some advice/suggestions before I expermented with the acetone on the roylex .

One person (Eric_Nyre) , offered that I might try the acetone if I were to start out being very careful with it ... that was all it took , I went for it !!

The first little wipe cleaned it away right before my eyes , to the original factory cream color (interior) and made the ol fashion green (exterior) as bright as new also ... That was the ticket !!

As I got into this miraculously easy cleaning , I got braver and braver , using more saturation in the cloth ... not one ill effect or sign of "any" softening of the skin .

When used as a wiping method , acetone won't harm the roylex's vinyl skin , it evaporates toooooo quickly !! ... but sure does do a fantastic cleaning job !!

Thanks again Eric , this ol canoe is a beauty now .

I have some in the process pics. of how well the acetone cleand the skins of that hardend ol grimmy oil dirt grunge , if anyone wants to have a look ... drop a mail and I'll send them to you ... the evidence !!

ed., ... thought I might add , that when using a rag saturated with acetone to clean a canoe , you are holding that rag for an extended period of time ... The acetone evaporates rapidly and this will cause your hand/fingers to get "very" cold quickly !!

You should always use appropriate rubber gloves of sorts when handling volatiles , but I find it helps a great deal to use extra large (oversize) gloves that will allow you to wear an underglove like jerseys or simular . This will help alot in keeping your fingers at a managable comfort level .

Don't be afraid to "test" try the acetone if you want to see an extraordinary cleaning event take place on an older un-maintained royalex boat !!

It works like magic , and saves eons of time and elbow grease !! ... I figure you have already tried the ordinary cleaning soaps ect. , or you wouldn't have asked what does work ??

Mr Clean eraser sponges
I have found these sponges to remove an amazing number of materials, (paint, glue, sharpie markers, dirt, graphite etc.) from a variety of surfaces. They are not known to have toxic or harmful chemicals in them according to Snopes. For a small investment in a package of them, you might find this is all you need.