Spring commissioning – cleaning teak

This past winter AIR BORN wasn’t put under a boat cover.  As a result her teak ‘took it hard’ and is need of cleaning.

AIR BORN’s toe rail before cleaning.
The companionway teak before cleaning.
Cabin top teak before cleaning.

Back in December I outlined my preference in wood finishes – teak oil.  Oil is a simple and easy solution that works very well.  The #1 thing to do is keep up the oil treatments so the teak doesn’t begin to weather.  I didn’t do a great job of keeping AIR BORN’s teak oiled and as a result I needed to put some extra effort into getting it ‘ship shape‘. If AIR BORN’s teak had been treated with varnish, or ‘a varnish-like product, the job of getting the teak looking good would have taken over a week (best case) or more than two weeks.  Because I use oil the task was competed in just over three hours.

The cleaning kit (L to R): bucket for mixing TSP, 220grit and 80grit sandpaper, nylon bristle scrub brush, toothbrush, 3M green scrub pad, bottle with nozzle, TSP, disposable gloves.

First I will clean the teak.  I use TSP, trisodium phosphate, to get the dirt out of the wood’s grain.  TSP is powerful stuff so you want to read the safety warnings.  Be sure you keep the areas where you are cleaning wet and well flushed as TSP, if allowed to sit, can damage gel coat and metal fittings.  By metal I also mean the trailer, especially if it is galvanized.  Don’t allow any pets to drink the wash water! When using TSP wear safety gloves, glasses and foot protection (your rubber rain gear boats are good for this ) and clothes that you don’t care much about. I mix the TSP in  a bucket and then fill of bottle that has nozzle.  The nozzle is for directing the flow of TSP at one to two foot section of wood (remember to keep areas around where using TSP well flushed with water).  Allow TSP to sit for about 30 seconds.  Now scrub the teak AGAINST THE GRAIN with soft bristle brush.  An old toothbrush comes in handy to get into tight places.  AGAIN, go against the grain of the teak.  If you go with the grain you will scrub out the softer wood and quickly ruin your teak.  After using the brushes I scrub the area just cleaned with a green pad, such as those made by 3M.  The green pad is good because it doesn’t remove much soft wood so you can go with the grain.  Rinse the cleaned section WITH LOTS OF WATER, assuring you flush out your scuppers, cockpit drains and rise off all metals.  You can clean a really dirty section a second time if needed. After you have cleaned all the teak with TSP give give the entire boat, trailer, and surrounding area a good fresh water rinsing; and then allow the teak to dry.

Companionway after cleaning with TSP.
The toe rail after cleaning with TSP.
Cabin top after cleaning with TSP.

The teak may look even worse at this this point.  No worries. If you look closely you will see that where there is no more teak oil the wood has a ‘whitish’ surface.  This is a thin layer of sun-bleached and dirty teak.  Lightly sand all the teak with the grain, including those sections that still have oil, with 80 grit paper to remove this last bit of dirty wood.  As you sand don’t be tempted to remove the remaining teak oil.  Sand just enough to take off the ‘whitish’ surface and high spots on the teak’s surface.  Feel with your hand as the sanding smooths the surface.  You don’t want to sand the teak too much as you will, eventually, have a boat where the teak has been sanded away. Now sand the teak with the grain using 220 grit paper.  This will result in a very smooth surface.  Again, you are sanding off the high points, or raised grain, so don’t ‘over do it’. Now clean up the sanding dust with a shop vac.  DON’T wash the dust off with water … this will raise the grain and you will need to re-sand the teak.  After using the vacuum use a rag to remove any remaining dust (if you have an air compressor you can also, in addition to using a rag, blow off the sanding dust).

Toe rail after sanding.
Companionway after sanding.
Cabin top after sanding.

The teak may still look inconsistent because there are locations that still have ‘old’ oil and others are raw wood.  This is fine because now you are going to apply teak oil.  See my teak oil application recommendations in my Wood Finishes post.  After one or two coats of teak oil the wood will have a consistent finish.

Toe rail after teak oil has been applied.
Companionway after applying teak oil.
Cabin top after applying teak oil.

Now, if you keep up your teak oil treatments every three or so weeks you will not need to take such drastic methods as outlined above.  Using TSP and sanding shorten the life of your teak as you are removing material.  I don’t recommend using this method to clean your teak every year, and most defiantly not every few months.  The best practice is to oil the teak every three weeks and cover the boat, or keep indoors, when put away for the winter. 

– Dave

NOTE: I originally posted this March 2015 on Sage Marine’s BLOG. In a short time the BLOG will be closed – stupidly. I am reposting this information so it is not lost.

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