Vinyl Enclosure Care

I can see clearly now – keeping your vinyl in top condition

By Frank Lanier

It’s almost impossible to walk the docks without seeing a boat that doesn’t have some type of cockpit or fly bridge enclosure.  These days dodgers and biminis are considered more necessity than luxury, providing both protection from the elements while comfortably extending the boating season earlier in spring and later into the fall if traveling north.

Boaters spend big bucks outfitting their vessels with semi or full enclosures of canvas and clear vinyl, however vinyl panels won’t stay clear and functional for long unless properly maintained – here’s some care and cleaning tips on maintaining your investment.

            Regardless the different names you’ll encounter (Eisenglass®, Strataglass®, Crystal Clear®, etc) they’re all some form of polyvinyl chloride (PVC for short).  As the bulk of clear enclosure curtains are of coated or uncoated vinyl, this article will concentrate on their care and maintenance.  Many of the tips mentioned can be applied to other clear enclosure materials (EZ2CY®, LEXAN®, etc.) however to ensure proper care of these products, follow the respective manufacturer’s guidelines.

            Untreated (i.e. uncoated) clear vinyl is the least expensive and remains the most commonly used of all clear vinyl material. ISINGLASS®, trade name for the first such product offered, was the premium material of choice until the early 90’s and remains extremely popular today.  A minimum of 40 mils is preferred for enclosures as it lasts longer and doesn’t wrinkle or distorted as much as thinner gauges in hot weather.  This thicker material is still susceptible to scratches however, and is more of a pain to roll up in colder weather than thinner vinyl.

            In 1993 STRATAGLASS® introduced the first coated clear vinyl product. This protective coating makes STRATAGLASS® more scratch resistant than regular vinyl, however unlike uncoated vinyl it also means once scratches occur, they can’t be buffed out or repaired without further damaging the coating.  Remember, this coating is scratch resistant, but not scratch proof.  In addition to the general vinyl care and cleaning tips discussed below, extra precautions are required to prevent damaging this coating – don’t use abrasives, waxes, polishes, or scratch removers, and limit extensive cleaning.


            The first step in cleaning vinyl is a thorough hosing down with fresh water to remove as much grime and contaminates as possible, preferably before they’ve had a chance to dry – removing salt spray residue upon returning to the dock after a day on the water is a good example of this.  Use a fine spray of water to loosen salt or dirt (you can lightly rub stubborn patches with your hands) then douse with water again.
Next wash each panel with mild soap and water using a clean, soft terry cloth or lambs wool type cleaning mitt (a 10-to-1 solution of vinegar and water works well too).  Never use harsh cleaners or detergents and be sure to rinse thoroughly before soapy water has a chance to dry – dried soap film not only affects visibility, but can also cause the vinyl to dry out and yellow over time.  After cleaning, do a gentle wipe down with a clean, slightly damp chamois cloth.

            After cleaning, application of a plastic conditioner / protectant (303 Aerospace Protectant, Plexus, Collinite 845 Insulator wax, Meguair’s Plastic Cleaner and Polish, etc,) will add years to the life or your vinyl.  Monthly treatment with such products not only increases your vinyl’s water shedding abilities (for better visibility), but also adds protection against UV rays – they also providing a slick coating that helps prevent grit and grim from gaining a foothold.  Before using any product however, be sure to consult with manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure compatibility with your vinyl.

Handle with care

            Keeping your vinyl clean is the first big step, but it doesn’t stop there – handling and storage plays a critical role as well.  The first rule is the less you handle vinyl, the better.  Avoid rolling up panels any more than you have to, particularly when wet (which promotes fogging) or while coated with salt or grime, which can cause scratches.

            Never leave enclosure curtains rolled up once back at the dock.  It’s always best to store or secure vinyl flat or in the open position, which helps retain their original shape and prevents distortion.  If you do roll panels up, place a clean piece of white flannel (cut to size) on the panel prior to rolling.  This helps remove moisture and prevent scratches from vinyl to vinyl contact.  If your panels do fog up, the best course of action is to secure them in the open position and use sunlight to dry them naturally, although this may take a while.  If you just can’t wait, sometimes you can hurry the process along by carefully playing a hair dryer 6 to 8 inches over the panel for a few seconds at a time until the fog clears – just be extremely careful not to cause heat damage by letting it linger too long in any one spot.

Finally, here’s a quick list of don’ts to keep in mind while caring and cleaning your vinyl enclosures:

  1. Don’t use abrasives or high alkaline cleaners.
  2. Don’t use solvents or petroleum based products (acetone, benzene, lacquer thinners, etc) as they can speed up deterioration of the vinyl.
  3.  Don’t use any type of “regular” glass cleaners – most all are too harsh and will leach out the plasticizers, again speeding up the aging process.
  4. Don’t apply cleaners in direct sunlight or let them remain on the vinyl too long (rinse them off immediately, before they have a chance to dry).
  5. Don’t let your curtains come in contact with tanning oil or sunscreen lotions, both of which can cause permanent clouding.
  6. Finally, don’t use window treatments such as RainX, as they can also cause damage.  In fact, newer bottles specifically state “for glass only.”

          Proper care and feeding is of your vinyl enclosures is time and effort well spent – do it right and you’ll always see the difference.