Best Vacuum For Boat – Boats Get Real NASTY!

A little interesting fact about me is that I use to clean boats – for a living. I wasn’t a detail shop but worked at a boat dealership where I was stuck cleaning many boats.

Over the years I have found that there is nothing that cleans a boat better than using a Shop Vacuum! I’ve clean my fair share of nasty boats that had leaves, sludge, water, and who knows what stuck inside of them and the carpet. The only vacuum that held up to it was my trusty shop vacuum.

Not just any shop vacuum cleaner will do, this is what we want to talk about. I want to show you what worked well for me and also give you some boat cleaning tips too!

A Shop Vacuum Is The Best For Boats

I have used and will always use a Shop Vaccum like this here* for cleaning any boat. The trick with many shop vacuums is that you must remove the filter if you want to suck up water.

When it comes to boats, there is always water that needs to be sucked up, so I always kept the filter out. The filter is only required when vacuuming in area’s that are closed off like a home or garage.

Can I use a Battery Powered Vacuum or 12-volt one? – Nope. Well, you can, but you’re just fooling yourself. You need to use a Shop Vacuum that plugs into the wall to get the full amount of power. A 12-volt one doesn’t have enough suction, and a battery-powered one doesn’t have the suction or the runtime.

Why A Shop Vacuum?

The biggest reason to use a shop vacuum to clean a boat or pontoon is that you don’t know what you’ll run into. Vacuuming a home and its carpet is a straightforward thing to do. But vacuuming a boat can have leaves, bird poop, sludge, and who knows what in the carpet or crevices of the boat.

Sitting water can make a boat smell real quick and using a shop vacuum can quickly clean up the mess.

The best perks of the shop vacuum are how durable and how affordable they are. These things have plenty of power for sucking up water and odd things like the gum-drop spike things that tree’s drop.

Unless you’re cleaning a Yacht or a big Cruiser then using a Shop Vacuum along with a regular household vacuum cleaner will make sense as you have real carpets. But for small bowriders or pontoons, a Shop Vacuum is all you need.

What To Avoid

You want to avoid any standard vacuum cleaner that you use to clean your home with. These vacuum cleaners don’t hold up to the abuse that you’ll run into when cleaning a boat.

I don’t want to gross you out, but I’ve found dead mice before, and thank God I had a strong shop vacuum to suck it up and get rid of it. Cleaning boats have taught me that boats get dirtier than anything I have ever seen before. When it would rain the boats would collect dirty water that had all kinds of debris from leaves to ants, and the only thing that was strong enough to get them up was a shop vacuum.

What Shop Vacuum To Buy

When it comes to picking out the shop vacuum, you need to make sure to get one with 4HP or more and also has plenty of hose accessories.

The hose accessories are essential for getting into many of the cracks of the boat. I will say I’ve spent more time just using the bare end of the hose for most of my cleanings, but the floor and long nose attachments have been super helpful too.

The waste container size is really up to you, but I would recommend staying around 5-gallons for ease of use. The bigger the tank the harder it will become to move around inside the boat.


My number one cleaner for cleaning boats was half water and half simple green. You clean just about anything with it so long as it was not oxidized or aluminum. Those black streaks or the sludge that you get on boats from sitting didn’t stand a chance when it comes to simple green. Simple Green even has a little post about cleaning boats with their products here.

Many times the vacuum or the rag could never get to all the little spots of the boat. I would avoid using a pressure washer as it would just fling many of the debris everywhere. So to clean the small area’s I would get a long Flat Head Screw Driver like this one* and wrap my cotton rag around to clean in these tight spaces. I would scrape them where the shop vacuum could get to them and suck them up.

I’ve saved my best tip for last – use a steam cleaner! Using a Steam Cleaner like this here*┬ácan make cleaning a boat super easy. You don’t need any chemicals, and it can get into many of the tight spaces. It lifts the dirt right off and cleans the boat’s carpet like no other. The goal with a steam cleaner is to use it to lift the dirt up and then wipe it off or use the shop vacuum to suck up the dirt. Once you start using a steam cleaner to clean your boat, you’ll never go back as it’s so freaking easy and does a fantastic job.

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