How To Clean Pontoon Tubes

How To Clean Pontoon Tubes | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

December 13, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Regular cleaning of pontoon tubes is essential to the lifespan of your boat.
  • Oxidation, minerals, and even zebra mussels can constantly threaten the tubes.
  • You should do a bi-yearly deep clean of your entire pontoon boat.

Your pontoon boat looked great when it was brand new, but after a summer of fun, the aluminum tubes are losing their shine. How do you clean pontoon tubes?

Cleaning pontoon tubes is relatively easy, but it takes some preplanning and preparation.

  • Find an appropriate place to work
  • Inspect the pontoon tubes.
  • Remove any unwanted guests.
  • Give your tubes a bath.
  • Apply an aluminum cleaner
  • Apply a polish

With countless families discovering the versatility of pontoon boats (sales are expected to rise above 4 billion dollars annually by 2029), maintaining and cleaning these craft is more essential than ever. While everyone loves to cruise around the lake, much more goes into caring for a pontoon than just gliding over the water. Like anything else you own, car, home, or yard, a pontoon boat needs regular maintenance and cleaning to look its best. But just how do you do that? Swabbing the deck seems straightforward enough, but what about those big aluminum tubes? What goes into cleaning them?


Table of contents

What is a Pontoon Boat?

A pontoon boat is a flat-decked boat that uses two or three aluminum tubes (pontoons) to displace the water enough to stay afloat.  Generally, the tubes run the length of the deck on either side (boats with three tubes have one in the middle - called Tri-toons). The aluminum tubes can provide the buoyancy needed for transporting more passengers at a time than a standard V-shaped boat.

Since the deck of a pontoon is flat, they are considered cruising vehicles and are not built for speed (although some manufacturers are making very quick pontoons). The flat deck of the pontoon allows for different seating configurations, with passengers facing each other rather than all looking toward the front.

Pontoon boats are becoming quite famous for their versatility. Many families find the pontoon an excellent craft for tubing, waterskiing, fishing, or entertaining guests for a social event. Whatever your activity, a pontoon boat can handle any task on the water.

Due to the configuration of the pontoon boat, the are some disadvantages to owning one. The pontoon is harder to navigate, less responsive than a standard v-shaped hull, and not built for open waters like venturing into the ocean. It is built for freshwater lakes, rivers, and short ocean excursions. The pontoon is at its best when kept inside its limitations.

How To Clean a Pontoon Tube?

When your boat arrived at the dealership, it probably looked all shiny and new. The aluminum tubes glistened in the sunshine and almost blinded you with their glow. But, over time, surface oxidations, exposure to minerals and chemicals in the water, and the constant beating of the sun has been no friend to your boat. If you ignore the issue, you will have to pay someone to restore them, which is an expense no owner wants.

Regular maintenance lets you keep your boat looking fresh and ready for use.  If you want to clean your boat’s tubes and make them look like the day your boat came off the factory line, then you need to remember a few things.

Find an Appropriate Place to Work

You will need to have the pontoon on the trailer and out of the water for the cleaning to be effective.  You will need to secure a spot with access to a water hose in a well-ventilated area, as many cleaners contain acids that can be harmful if exposure is too great.

Inspect the Pontoon Tubes

If your boat has been in the water for any length of time, then chances are the tubes have picked up some unwanted guests. Water scum, algae discolorations, and even zebra mussels can attach themselves to the tubes and underside of your boat and be rather tenacious to remove.

A power wash can help, but it might only remove some things. (Adult zebra mussels might need to be scraped or power washed off. Use hot water above 104 degrees). You want to remove as many of the mussels from your tubes as possible before the cleaning step.

In addition, remove any water scum that is apparent by applying a cleaner. Your marine store can recommend an algae remover that simply sprays on and wipes off.  If algae cleaner is not available, use a mixture of vinegar and distilled water, (if you can handle the smell).

Give Your Tubes A Bath

A simple wash with soap and water will likely do the trick for owners with no signs of oxidation on their tubes. You do not need a special soap to wash pontoon tubes, the soap you might use to wash your car is adequate for the boat for a basic wash. If there is evidence of oxidation, or stubborn slime and scum, or the aluminum doesn’t look shiny, you will likely need to apply a cleaner and polisher.

Apply An Aluminum Cleaner

There are many options for purchasing a cleaner, but most are wet on wet applications. In other words, apply the cleaner to the surface of the aluminum, scrub it into the surface in circular strokes, wait until it dries, and then rinse off.  Repeat the process if needed.

It is always a good idea to test any cleaning product on an unseen area of the alumimun tube. If you are unsure of how much to apply to get the desired result, start with the inside of a tube and work on a small section until you get the desired result.

For more information about which cleaner is best, consult the manufacturer or your local marine dealer for a recommendation.  (Of course, all instructions on the bottle should be followed, so make sure you read the directions before beginning the task).

Apply a Polish for the Shine

Once the pontoon tubes have been cleaned, they will need some polish to help protect them from the nasty stuff in the water. While the job can be time consuming, the nice thing is that it only has to be done about once a season. This part of the operation requires a polish, a polishing ball and cordless drill, and a few microfiber cloths.

The procedure is straightforward. Apply the polish to the polishing ball, and beginning with slow speeds, apply it to the surface, gradually increasing the speed of the drill as the compound is absorbed. Move the drill in a circular or S pattern to achieve the best results. After the polish is applied, buff it with a clean polishing ball or wipe it out with a clean towel.

How Long Does It Take to Clean Pontoon Tubes?

The job can take from a couple of hours to an all-day-long project depending on how much oxidation is present.  This is different from a project you want to race through because regular maintenance of pontoon tubes is crucial to the performance of your boat.

How Often Should You Clean Your Pontoons?

Regular removal of water scum and the rinsing of tubes should be done pretty frequently (once a month at a minimum), and a bi-yearly deep cleaning.  The nice thing about most polishes is that they provide a protective barrier to help maintain the luster of the aluminum, which is why you don’t have to polish them constantly. Just as you wouldn’t wax your car every time you run it through a car wash, you don’t need to be hyper-vigilant about cleaning the pontoon tubes.

What is the Cost to Get Aluminum Tubes Cleaned by a Dealer?

Many marine dealers offer cleaning and polishing services, if you take your boat to them. While prices differ depending on region, you can plan on spending 400 - 500 dollars for the dealer to make them shine like new.

How To Clean Pontoon Tubes
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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