We get scrubbing to find out what effect a variety of teak cleaners have on the woodwork of a Sigma 38 moored on the River Itchen
Teak decks have many advantages: they feel nice underfoot, have good non-slip properties and enhance the look of a boat. But keeping them clean, mould-, mildew- and slime-free can be a major job.
There are many touted remedies. Some people use a stiff brush and seawater to scrub them down – but this isn’t recommended, according to experts. They say that this raises the grain and wears away the teak, which can expose screw heads and lead to early failure and replacement of the teak. Others recommend pressure-washing the teak – but again, this can cause major damage to the wood and should be avoided.
You can read more on how to preserve your decks in ‘The Truth About Teak Decks‘
Chandlers’ shelves groan under the weight of products claiming to be the best teak cleaners, brighteners and treatments. To see how they perform, we collected together a range of products, from one-stage cleaners to two-stage cleaners and brighteners and biocidal treatments, and had a go at the teak infill panels in the cockpit of a Sigma 38 moored on the River Itchen.
After a winter’s exposure and near a scrap metal yard, this teak was green and slippery, with slimy mould and lots of dirt turning it a green-grey – all in all, a good test for the products.
We used each teak cleaner on two planks, applying it according to the instructions, before rinsing off with fresh water. Once dry, we could examine the results…
10 of the best teak cleaners on test
BoatLife Teak Cleaner Powder
This, unlike any others that we tested, is a powder which is sprinkled onto a wet deck, scrubbed in with a brush and left to work. It can then be rinsed off. The manufacturer states that it will remove less soft wood than two-stage cleaners and thus leaves the wood in a better state.
The results were impressive – the powder formed a thick paste when mixed with water that really got into the grain of the wood and brought it up sparkling – although scrubbing isn’t recommended for prolonging the life of your teak.
RRP: £17.32 (737g)
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Owatrol Net-Trol Wood Cleaner and Colour Restorer
This product forms a thick gel which is brushed onto wet teak where required, left to work for 10-20 minutes, depending on results, and then washed off.
The wood left behind was a good colour, leaving it in the top tier of products, having most of the grey removed.
RRP: £21.50 (1lt)
Starbrite Teak Brightener 16oz
This two-stage product, each stage bought separately, cleans and brightens the teak. The first is applied to wet teak with a sponge or brush – it’s quite thin – left for two minutes and then rinsed off.
The brightener is then added to bring back the colour. We applied cleaner to one plank, and cleaner followed by brightener to another – and you could see the difference, in that the brightened wood looked much better.
RRP: £9.95 (500ml)
Wessex Teak Cleaner & Renovator
Another two-stage product, the red cleaner is diluted at 5:1 for badly weathered teak and 10:1 for cleaner teak, and applied to wet wood with a sponge. It’s left for two minutes and then rinsed off before the second, green stage is applied.
This brightens the wood and is left until the desired colour is achieved. This cleaner and brightener left the best colour of all the cleaners tested, restoring the red-brown ‘just-sanded’ look better than any of the others.
RRP: Cleaner £17.95 (1lt), Renovator £17.95 (1lt)
StarBrite Sea Safe Teak Cleaner and Brightener
Applied neat with a sponge to dry teak, this one-stage product is left for two minutes before it’s agitated across the grain with a sponge and rinsed off.
It foamed up when agitating, and removed the dirt and grime. It didn’t restore the colour as well as the two-stage StarBrite Teak Cleaner and StarBrite Teak Brightener, but there was an improvement in colour.
RRP: £26.95 (946ml)
StarBrite Sea Safe Teak Brightener
This product, which is environmentally friendly, is called simply a ‘brightener’ but did a good job of cleaning as well. It’s applied to wet decks with a sponge, left and rinsed off.
It left the wood a little greyer than the other products, including its Sea Safe stablemate, but made a difference nonetheless. It might be best used after the teak is cleaned separately.
RRP: £21.16 (946ml)
International Teak Restorer
This cleaner is a thin liquid that can be squirted from the bottle, which makes it go further. It’s applied to wet teak, left for a few minutes and then agitated with a sponge before being washed off.
It removed the dirt, grime and growth well, leaving the teak a nice light silvery-grey colour. It wasn’t as effective as the two-stage products, but was on a par with the other one-stage products.
RRP: £16.99 (500ml)
Cuprinol Garden Furniture Restorer
Found in B&Q as a restorer for garden furniture, Cuprinol’s wood cleaner comes as a thick gel. Painted on to dry teak, it’s left for five minutes before being agitated with a brush, then left for another 10 before being rinsed off.
It performed reasonably well. The gel is a useful thickness that avoids runoff and wastage.
RRP: £15.70 (1lt)
30% bleach solution
Recommended by some is a diluted bleach solution to kill the algae living in the wood and to clean and brighten the teak. We diluted some household bleach and painted it on to damp wood, agitating it with a brush, leaving it for 15 minutes and then rinsing off.
The results weren’t as good as the other cleaners: the growth and dirt were removed, but the colour was not restored to the same extent. However, it is a very cheap solution for your decks!
RRP: £1 (1lt)
Recommended by Hallberg-Rassy among others, Boracol differs from the other products in that it’s a biocide and wood preserver rather than a teak cleaner. It works by killing off the mould and algae that lives in the wood, allowing the teak to maintain its own protective silver-grey layer once the organisms in the wood have died off.
You paint a coat onto damp teak, wait until it’s nearly dry and paint on another coat. This is then left for some days, ideally with a little rain, whereupon the wood will turn a uniform silver-grey.
We applied it as directed and left it. After 10 days the wood had already started to look better, having lost the growth that had previously made it slippery and dirty.
RRP: £30 (5lt)
These products are all (with the exception of Boracol) a first step in cleaning the teak – they will make it look better, but it will soon weather if not treated.
All of the teak cleaners (even the bleach solution) improved the wood, removing stains and dirt. Some were better than others when it came to bringing out the colour of the wood, however. The best teak cleaner in terms of colour restoration was the two-part Wessex teak treatment which was easy to apply, required no scrubbing and left the teak looking ‘just sanded’.
Easiest by far to apply was Boracol, which was simply brushed on and left – and should stop any further slime and growth throughout the season. It leaves a silvery-grey finish behind, but was a worthwhile ‘no effort’ solution and should protect the wood as well. If you have whole teak decks to do and don’t want the bright, freshly-sanded look, this is a useful solution.
Net-trol Wood Cleaner and Colour Restorer was another good performer, with the gel an effective way to apply the product. The BoatLife powder, while perhaps a little impractical (especially in a breeze, when it could be hazardous), really got into the wood’s grain and left it much improved – but this isn’t recommended if you want your teak to last as long as it can.
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