sailboat teak restoration

The $tingy Sailor

Diy trailerable sailboat restoration and improvement without throwing your budget overboard.

sailboat teak restoration

Refinish Your Interior Teak to Better Than New

One of the things about older sailboats that I appreciate most is their abundance of teak woodwork. As a woodworker, I admire good craftsmanship, creative design, and a fine finish. It’s harder to find on today’s modern sailboats. Teak is in short supply so it’s more expensive than it once was and most modern sailors don’t want to spend time maintaining their brightwork. For the rest of us, beautiful teak appointments are an opportunity to set our sailboat apart from the rest and a sign of pride of ownership. Few improvements freshen up a sailboat’s interior like well maintained woodwork.

Before I continue, a bit of legal housekeeping. This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using those links. Those commissions help to pay the costs associated with running this site so that it stays free for everyone to enjoy. For a complete explanation of why I’m telling you this and how you can support this blog without paying more, please read my full disclosure .

What $40K for a Benneteau First 22 will get you, minus the trailer.

Catalina Yachts was generous with the teak woodwork in their first generation sailboats, less so in the “new design.” The forward bulkheads and removable panels except for the locker lids are marine grade teak veneer plywood. Solid wood was used where it made the most sense: handrails, trim, compression post, and moldings.

The down side of wood in a sailboat is, of course, water damage. Teak is very water resistant; it contains a lot of natural oil.  But it’s not invincible and if neglected for too long it will begin to look more like firewood. Ultraviolet light can bleach the color, persistent deck leaks can delaminate plywood, and sustained humidity can foster mildew and add to that old boat smell. The best defense is a durable finish.

An inch of teak is a terrible thing to waste

You have a lot of options to choose from for a finish. They run the spectrum of cost, ease of application, performance, and appearance. Some finishes are better choices for some locations on a sailboat than others. Protection from the elements is most important for topside brightwork; UV resistant and waterproof. Below deck, the finish should also be water resistant but ease of application is also very important so that the finish can be repaired or reapplied without having to remove all of the woodwork from the sailboat as I show here.

Most experienced skippers have a favorite finish that they recommend and there is little consensus among them. Before you begin refinishing your own woodwork, it’s worth spending some time looking at other sailboats and talking to their owners to help you decide on a finish for your own sailboat. If your teak already has an aftermarket product on it like Cetol or a spar varnish, it might be best to stick with that product rather than try to strip it all off so that you can apply something else.

For woodwork that gets a lot of use and abuse, like the companionway step lid on a C-22, consider applying a more durable finish like polyurethane, epoxy, or non-skid material like I describe in Turn Carpet Remnants into Custom Floor Mats .

Get started on that finish

Here are the basic steps that I follow to refinish interior teak:

1.  If the wood has never been refinished or if the existing finish is in poor condition, remove it all from the sailboat so that you can work on it easier and apply the finish to all the surfaces.

sailboat teak restoration

2.  Remove all attached hardware (screws, snaps, etc.) and other non-wood materials like vinyl welting.

3.  If there is any visible (black) mildew, apply a mild acid like white vinegar or diluted laundry bleach to remove it completely, especially in the grain and any recesses. Test first in an inconspicuous spot. You might have to bleach the entire part to get even coloring. For more about bleaching prior to applying a finish and using oxalic acid, see Restore Your Exterior Teak to Better Than New .

BEFORE - typical moisture damage and mildew

3.  Use a sanding block with 220 and 320 grit open face paper to sand all the exposed surfaces smooth. Since the wood is so hard and oily, it takes such fine sandpaper to remove all the sanding marks and bring out the beautiful grain and coloring of the teak.

4.  Wipe all the parts thoroughly with a tack rag to remove all sanding dust from the pores and grain.

5.  Wipe all the parts thoroughly with a clean cloth wetted with acetone. This will remove surface oils that can prevent the finish from soaking into the wood.

6.  Apply the first coat of finish. If you chose a spar varnish, thin it with the maximum amount of thinner recommended by the manufacturer. This will help the first coat to soak in more and provide an excellent base for the subsequent coats. With the first coat of teak oil, the color of the wood will really warm up and the grain will start to show some depth. It will get better with every coat.

Use scrap wood frames and deck screw points to hold panels so that you can apply finish to both sides at the same time

7.  When dry, if you chose a spar varnish, lightly sand with 220 or 320 grit open face sandpaper to remove any dust particles that may have settled on the surfaces.

8.  Apply additional unthinned coats to achieve the desired thickness and appearance. If you chose a spar varnish, sand after each coat except for the last coat. If you chose teak oil, lightly polish after each coat with a clean cloth while it is still damp, then allow it to dry completely before applying the next coat.

sailboat teak restoration

9.  If your sailboat has welting where the wood panels meet the fiberglass hull liner and they’re ugly or decaying, now is a good time to replace them. You can make new welting out of synthetic cord from a fabric store covered with vinyl or another material. For more on making welting, see  How to Sew Cabin Cushion Covers .

10.  Replace the parts in the sailboat but leave it open with good air circulation until all the fumes dissipate. If you chose teak oil, it is slow to harden and it can take a couple of weeks for the fumes to go away completely.

After you refinish your interior teak, it might make the exterior woodwork look worse. To read about my different process for refinishing topside brightwork, see Restore Your Exterior Teak to Better Than New .

I’ve worked with tropical woods before in various woodworking projects, but I’ve come to love teak for its golden, irregular coloring, interesting grain patterns, weather resistance, and durable hardness. After you work with it, you’ll understand why it’s been the go-to wood of boat builders for hundreds of years. I plan to use it in several future projects that I have in mind. For some easy and practical woodworking projects and how to use other hardwoods that look like teak but are more economical, see:

Make a Door to Storage Space Under the V Berth Make a Door for More Storage Under the Galley Make this Easy and Elegant Wine Glass Rack Add More Cockpit Seating With DIY Stern Perch Seats Make This Fold-Up Paper Towel Holder

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19 thoughts on “ refinish your interior teak to better than new ”.

Just this morning I removed all of the interior wood on my Precision 23 and plan to follow your good instructions. Just curious – did you treat the mildew the same as you explained for your outdoor teak restoration project?

My interior teak was in pretty good shape so I didn’t have to, but I would have done it the same.

Good luck with your project!

OK, the mildew in your “before” picture must have come off during sanding. I’ll hope for the same. By the way, the links to Daly’s Wood Finish in your exterior teak page are dead – you might want to update these especially if it helps pay for a few bills!

Exactly right, Tom. It was just on the surface and came right off with light sanding. The exterior mildew had penetrated deep into the wood so it had to be treated chemically.

Thanks for the heads-up about the links. They’re fixed now.

Love your site! I am a Navy Veteran in SoCal looking to buy a cheap Catalina 25 for my first boat. You have given me inspiration to not only go ahead searching but great ideas for getting a great discount for things that look like easy DIY.

Dear Stingy Sailor,

I bought a Catalina 22 ( 70-something) just a few weeks ago. I’m toatally in love with it.

The bed in the front is just to small for me, so I’m thinking about removing the ‘wall’ between the front and the bench on the stirn side. All catalina 22 but one that I’ve seen on the net have this metal bracket that seems to connect the mid stay to this wall.

Do you have a reccomendation: is it really neccesary the keep it there or not so much? . Hope I’ll here from you.

Kind regards, Robert Amsterdam, Holland

Yes, the forward wooden bulkheads between the V berth and the main cabin area are CRITICAL structural components. They transfer the force of the upper shrouds down to the hull. If you remove them, you could severely damage your sailboat.

Instead, I’d recommend you remove the galley from the starboard berth so you can stretch your feet out under the cockpit. It’s narrow, but it should be long enough for you. Another alternative is to lower the dinette table to make the port berth and use the portable toilet compartment cover boards and an ice chest to fill in the center aisle and make a large berth in the salon area. This is how my wife and I sleep when anchored out. It’s quite spacious. You can see how we do it toward the end of How to Sew Cabin Cushion Covers

Large salon berth

Thanks for your question.

Met Vriendelijke Groeten, $tingy

Am I understanding you correctly? You oil outside teak and then varnish it???

That’s right, Jim. Especially if you bleach it first. That takes almost all the color out of it. The oil brings it back.

$tingy, earlier this week I started the task of conditioning the teak on my Cat 22 with teak oil. I started with the crib boards and now am planning to move interior. I am a little apprehensive to pull the interior teak out. More so, just not sure how to go about it. Any tips?

Hello, Shanna

It all comes out pretty easily without many tricks. All of the fasteners are relatively easy to access except the four small machine screws along the bottom of each forward bulkhead. The nuts are inside the adjacent lockers so you have to be a bit of a contortionist to hold them yourself or have a helper hold them while you remove the screws.

Label each piece so that you know where it came from and keep the fasteners together for each piece. Sandwich bags work well for this. Taking pictures as you go can help too. There are several different sizes and types of fasteners used and it’s important that you replace the same sizes in the same locations.

The trickiest part of the job is reattaching the pieces. The screw holes can be randomly spaced and difficult to realign, especially for the long, thin strips along the hull/deck joint. But once you get a couple screws started, the rest should go easier.

It’s also important that the bulkheads are firmly anchored at the top by the chain plates and the bottom by those four machine screws. The bulkheads transfer the force from the upper shrouds to the hull so you don’t want them to be loose or your rig won’t stay in tune. For that reason, be sure the bottoms of the bulkheads aren’t rotted and soft.

Best of luck with your refinish. Let us know how it turns out! $tingy

Hello $tingy, I have my exterior teak sanded, bleached and ready for finish. Have you heard anything about using Starbrite teak sealer for a couple coats, then varnishing with the same varnish you used for another 5+ coats? Also did you use varnish on your interior or just the teak oil? If just teak oil, did it have a bit of gloss? Thanks for ALL the helpful tips!

Hi, Christian

I haven’t heard of anybody using sealer only under varnish but someone may well have tried it. I don’t see much purpose to it, though. Seal coats are typically just thinned varnish so that it penetrates, which is the same process that Epifanes recommends when applying their varnish.

I use only teak oil on my interior teak and yes, you can build it up to a nice gloss if you want to but it will take 3-5 coats to get there, whereas you could just apply one or two coats of varnish over one coat of teak oil and achieve much the same result.

Hope that helps!

Thank you for sharing this informative article! All the information provided by you is really very helpful for all. I agreed that by using tack cloth you can keep your project dust-free and it is useful for cleaning fine dust off a surface. Everyone should follow the tips provided by you, it will make their work easier. Keep Posting! Keep Sharing!

This couldn’t have come at a better time for me, just about to do some interior teak work before we fit a new teak and holly sole

I really appreciate your article. I am in the process of stripping all of the think varnish from the teak handrails and fittings on my grand banks trawler and was thinking about going with just teak oil instead of using a urethane finish. Does the oil leak on to the gelcoat over time? Was also considering maybe using awlwood which is water base but requires 8 or more coats.

No, it dries hard like the linseed oil in oil based paints.

Hello, We tried to take unbolt the starboard bulkhead where the chainplate is located due to some rot at the bottom the bulkhead after a leak started from the plate of the middle shroud the top of the chainplate on deck. It was very difficult to reach in and get a hold on the bolts! We also found that the bolts were not flush with the teak plywood wall. But were hanging out a few inches. Can the bulkhead be taken out by itself without removing other pieces? How do you get a grip on the bolts inside the interior area? We are fixing the deck leak with cleaning, polyurethane sealant, new slightly longer screws, backed up by Butyl tape. Also, I am considering using Git Rot for the bottom of the bulkhead rot for this season and taking out this bulkhead in the fall. Do you think that is a good solution? Thank you, Doris

Hi, Doris Yes, they’re hard to reach but critical that they provide a strong connection between the bulkhead and hull liner since they transfer all of the load of the upper shrouds to the hull structure. You might need to have a helper hold the nuts while you turn the screws. The original screws aren’t extra long so it sounds like a previous owner installed whatever they had on hand. You can remove the bulkhead for repair or replacement after slackening the shroud and disconnecting the chain plate. I recommend that over any quick fix that might not be strong enough.

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Restoring Teak


There's nothing prettier than teak on a boat, but it requires some upkeep. Here are some tips and products to help keep it looking great.

Natural teak finished boat deck

The natural, unfinished teak on the sailboat above is a beauty. But with brightwork varnished and the deck oiled (above), she sparkles! Here you can see the difference in a teak deck that's been sanded (top) and unsanded (bottom).

Teak maintenance is a love-hate affair for most boat owners. We love the warm, golden glow of a freshly cleaned deck, but not so much the elbow grease required to keep it so. Let's take a look at some cleaning tips that can help bring your tired teak back to life.

The Versatility Of Teak

Due to its resistance to deterioration, rot, and insects, teak is one of the few things onboard that allows a boater to decide the amount of effort they want to spend maintaining it. Many prefer the golden glow and accentuated grain highlighted by properly oiled or varnished teak deck or trim, viewing the additional work required to achieve it as time well spent. Others take the more laid-back approach of letting it attain a natural silver-gray color, safe in the knowledge that less than 1/100 of an inch below that weathered-gray look lies beautiful, oily wood (just be aware that thinner pieces of teak trim can become severely sun-dried and brittle or crack if neglected for too long).

Sanded vs unsanded deck

Regardless of your chosen maintenance philosophy, at some point a reason will arise to give your teak a thorough cleaning, be it spring commissioning, selling the boat, or readying the wood for oiling or varnishing. Ironically, cleaning is when teak is most likely to sustain damage due to the use of harsh chemicals and overaggressive or incorrect cleaning methods. Improper cleaning with pressure washers, stiff bristle brushes, or harsh chemicals can remove the soft, lighter-colored grain of the wood, creating a washboard effect. Once that occurs, these ridges (which more readily trap dirt) can only be removed by sanding, which again removes more wood in a vicious cycle of owners loving their teak to death.

Teak-Cleaning Tips

Most teak dies an early death, not from neglect, but from improper cleaning by well-meaning owners. Although you should always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for any cleaner or product being used, here are eight general tips on proper teak care that will serve you well in all situations.

  • Use the mildest cleaner possible to get the job done.
  • Always wear recommended protective equipment (e.g., rubber gloves, goggles) when handling teak cleaners.
  • Protect adjacent areas and finishes while cleaning. Gel teak cleaners have an advantage in this regard, providing you more control during application on horizontal or even vertical surfaces. Teak cleaners can damage anything from gelcoat and paint to anodized aluminum and even chrome fittings. Wet adjacent areas with water prior to cleaning and keep them wet, being sure to rinse all areas thoroughly (especially those being cleaned) as any residue will continue to eat away at whatever surface it remains on.
  • When cleaning teak, scrub across the grain of the wood with a 3M Scotch-Brite pad. A soft, polypropylene bristle brush will do in a pinch — just remember to scrub lightly and never with the grain.
  • Badly worn teak should be lightly sanded to smooth the wood's surface. While sanding also removes some of the wood, a smooth surface is easier to properly maintain and can increase the life of teak by exposing less wood to the elements and preventing the grain from trapping dirt and airborne contaminants.
  • Keep teak wet while cleaning. An overcast or even drizzly day is better than a blazing sunny day, as it helps prevent the area from drying out.
  • Use two-part cleaners as a last resort only, and then use sparingly.
  • Keep cleaned and/or treated teak covered if possible, to prevent UV light and weather damage.

The Teak Cleaning Enigma: Less Is More

A quick look at any well-stocked chandlery will show there's no shortage of teak cleaners. One-part, two-part, pastes, powders, gels — the list seems endless. But which one to use? Simplify selection by remembering your teak cleaning prime directive is to start with the mildest cleaning product that looks like it has a chance of success, then work your way up (as required) to stronger cleaners that can do the job with as little damage to the wood as possible.

One-part cleaners tend to be less harsh than two-part products, but may require longer dwell times (the time required to work after the product is applied), multiple applications, or simply lack the cleaning power of their two-part brethren, especially when faced with ultra-gnarly teak.

Two-part cleaners should be considered the "nuclear option" of teak cleaning due to the harsh chemicals and toxic nature of most. Sure, they can clean even the nastiest piece of teak, but they do so by removing some of it in the process. They should be used sparingly and only after milder one-part cleaners have been tried. The first part of a two-part cleaner contains the primary cleaning agent, while the second part (depending on the product) may provide additional cleaning power, contain a wood brightener (to lighten and impart a more uniform color), or simply act as a neutralizing agent for the first part.

Powering off dirt with brush

Powering off the grime on teak decks with a cleaner and brush. Remember: Less is more.

Other factors to consider when selecting a teak cleaner include ease of application, harshness, dwell time, and "greenness" or environmental concerns. For example, products that have to be mixed require more preparation and time than one that can be applied directly from the container. The same is true for a cleaner that requires a 20-minute dwell time verses one a user can start scrubbing on immediately. On the flip side, many users may be perfectly content to wait that extra 20 minutes if the cleaner is milder on both crew and boat (meaning they don't have to remove teak trim due to worries about damage to adjacent gelcoat or painted surfaces), cheaper, or more environmentally friendly.

While teak cleaners are typically used in preparation for varnishing or oiling, most commercially available teak cleaners are simply too harsh for regular daily or weekly cleaning. For routine cleaning you'll find that sudsy ammonia or a solution of water and mild detergent (such as Original Pine-Sol cleaner) will compare well to most teak cleaners while being a lot easier on the wood, surrounding surfaces, and the environment.

On The Shelf

Here's a sample market scan of both one- and two-part cleaners.

Amazon's One-Step Teak Cleaner

Amazon's One-Step Teak Cleaner

Claims to easily remove dirt, rust stains, fish blood, and other sorts of grease and grime from weathered teak. It's billed as an acid-free formula that won't harm fiberglass or damage the teak's soft grain, while enhancing the natural texture of the wood. Application instructions: Wet area to be cleaned with fresh- or saltwater (including adjacent areas that the cleaner may also contact), then scrub or agitate as needed with a soft scrubbing pad. Rinse with water, then repeat if necessary. Safety precautions include wearing protective gloves and washing hands thoroughly after use. The manufacturer recommends following with an application of Amazon's Teak Prep (a brightener) followed by a good oiling with Amazon's Teak Oil. 32 oz., $15.99 |

West Marine One-Step Teak Cleaner & Brightener

West Marine One-Step Teak Cleaner & Brightener

Advertised for cleaning lightly soiled teakwood surfaces. For badly stained or weathered teak, West Marine's Heavy Duty Teak Cleaner Kit is recommended. Product literature states that it won't harm wood and that it removes stains, oils, and so on, while restoring teak to its natural color. It also states its intended for use on teak wood only and that it may damage gelcoat, paint, and metal surfaces.

Application instructions: Spray teak with water, then apply cleaner, allowing it to penetrate for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrub the wood with a soft-bristled deck brush, keeping the surface wet while cleaning. Rinse the wood thoroughly with water. Keep all adjacent surfaces wet with water and immediately rinse thoroughly if accidental contact occurs. West Marine recommends following up with its Golden Teak Oil. 32 oz., $22.99 |

Iosso Teak Cleaner

Iosso Teak Cleaner

Comes as a powder (a 16-ounce jar makes 4 gallons of cleaner) that, per product labeling, safely removes dirt, black algae, and mildew stains in one easy step without harsh chemicals. Iosso states that its product emits no harmful vapors; is biodegradable and nontoxic; won't harm fabrics or colors, vinyls, canvas carpeting, metals, paints, fiberglass, or plastic surfaces; and is gentle to skin (although product labeling recommends avoiding prolonged contact). Application instructions: Mix up a batch of cleaner using the provided measuring scoop — one scoop makes a quart, four scoops a gallon, and so on, when combined with water. The instructions state to use a plastic container, mix only what you'll need for the job, and dispose of any unused solution afterward. Thoroughly mix until the powder is completely dissolved (warm water is recommended for best results), then apply the solution on any horizontal or vertical surface to be cleaned. Cool surfaces with water prior to application if hot. Let stand for 10 minutes or longer while keeping the area wet with solution (thoroughly brushing it into the wood) then rinse with water. Extremely weathered wood may require a second application. 16 oz., $15.25 |

Amazon's Quicki II 2-Part Teak Cleaner

Amazon's Quicki II 2-Part Teak Cleaner

Per the manufacturer, this cleaner is environmentally safe (contains no caustics or acids and is non-butyl) and won't harm fiberglass. Part 1 takes care of the deeper stains, grease and grime, while Part 2 follows through with surface cleaning and brightening agents. Each kit includes a teak scrubber for easier teak cleaning. Application instructions: Wet the area to be cleaned, then apply Part 1 full strength and agitate with provided scrubber; let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse. Apply Part 2, agitate for final dirt and grease removal, let set for 15 minutes and rinse thoroughly. Follow-up manufacturer's recommended product is Amazon's Golden Teak Oil. 2 x 32 oz., $33.30 for set |

West Marine Heavy Duty Teak Cleaner Kit

West Marine Heavy Duty Teak Cleaner Kit

Advertised for cleaning badly stained or weathered teak. Step 1 chemically attacks stained teak, while step 2 neutralizes step 1. Instructions state the product will not harm seam compounds, however, the label also says it may damage gelcoat, paint, and metal surfaces.

Application instructions: The manufacturer recommends wearing rubber gloves and eye protection when using this kit. First, wet the surface to be cleaned as well as the surrounding areas (including hull and deck), then apply Step 1 Teak Cleaner. Spread and agitate lightly with a synthetic deck brush. As the area darkens (in 3 to 5 minutes), scrub lightly. Rinse thoroughly with water, then apply Step 2 and spread evenly with a deck brush. Agitate lightly, then as the deck turns a light golden tone, hose off all surfaces thoroughly (including the hull). 2 quarts, $47.99 |

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Better Sailing

How to Restore Teak on a Boat

How to Restore Teak on a Boat

There is nothing that can make or break the look of a sailboat more than the look of the exterior teak. But teak isn’t a maintenance-free boat surface that can be ignored or neglected for a long time. Though teak doesn’t rot, it can crook, check or look dull if proper care is not provided. Keep in mind that this article is not about deck restoration, so, we will not going to get into applying new Sikaflex on your deck, etc. 

Teak is amazingly flexible and can be made new again even after a lot of rough use. Teak with grey weathering rarely extends far below the surface of the wood. Instead of tedious sanding and scrapping to restore the weathered surface, a standard chemical cleaning is enough to bring back the teak from its worst condition to nearly its original appearance. Chemical cleaners can clean almost the worst off weathered teak.

Though, chemical cleaning may be tough on wood. Many chemical cleaners depend upon an acid or a caustic to bleach and clean the wood’s surface. But sometimes these chemical cleaners wear away the surface gradually. To achieve the best results, you should never allow your teak to get to that condition where you have to take these drastic measures. However, if things happened and there is a need for extreme cleaning, make an effort to keep it clean moving forward. 

Keep in mind that this article we will not going to get into applying new Sikaflex on your deck, etc. The article is coming though and will link it here as soon as it’s available.

If the teak of your boat got dark brown because of age or got weathered grey due to negligence, then the first thing necessary is to clean it thoroughly. The severity of the discoloration of your teak will tell the restoration method required. Since cleaners contain caustic and acids that are tough on wood, you have to use a mild cleaner as less as possible to do the job. The value of a mild scrub using a soft cleaner is that it’s gentle for the teak. As it is more probable to have soft cleaners in your boat, always try this method before applying drastic measures. 

The mildest cleaner for teak could be a common purpose domestic powdered soap. A concentrated powdered cleaner with vigorous scrubbing using a soft brush will clean the teak, which is just dirty. Scrub it as lightly as you can and also keep in mind that you have to scrub across the grain. Every time the teak is scrubbed, softer wood is removed, which eventually causes a rough surface that elevates the grain. Using a scrubbing brush regularly to scrub the grain, makes it weak and rough.

First of all, try to wet down the teak with fresh water, then clean it with a detergent solution. After that rinse it with water, then leave it to get dry for some time. If the teak’s wood gets clean, even a light tan, then you are in luck. Otherwise, you will need to use a powerful cleaner. 

Pro-Tip:  You can also use the same washing machine power that you use to clean your clothes. I am talking about the powered detergents with the small grains in them. Those will actually help scrub the wood better because the granules will get into the teak. The best way is to sprinkle it directly on the teak instead of using a bucket and then doing it. However, you are looking for better results the following options could be better for you.

One-Part Cleaners

The next step is to use “one-part cleaners” made explicitly for teak. It can be liquid or powdered. Most cleaners consist of a mild and abrasive acid-like oxalic acid or phosphoric acid. These acids are more efficient in lightening the surface of the wood than a simple detergent. Most of the household cleaners have oxalic acid. You should take precautions while using these cleaners, which contain acids. 

Even a badly weathered wood of teak can be cleaned using “one-part cleaners”. After drying the wood, it should come out as light tan. After cleaning one time, if some areas remain grey, repeat cleaning will do the trick. Still, if the wood of the teak is discolored or mottled, then you have to use “Two-part cleaners”.

I recommend this teak wood cleaner from Star Bright , it is soft on the teak but gets the job done. Make sure to get a Scrub Pad and a Stainless Teak Scrub too so you can get the best result as easy as possible. Here is a video on how to do it properly:

Two-Part Cleaners

These cleaners are more powerful, but they are hard on the teak. They are potent acids and caustics that can do a fantastic job of brightening and cleaning the teak. But it should be handled with care to avoid harm to adjoining surfaces. Also, surrounding surfaces, whether varnish or paint, should not be tainted by these cleaners. Continuous flushing of surrounding surfaces with fresh water among cleaning is usually sufficient, but covering off freshly varnished or painted surfaces will be more efficient.

There are slight differences in the guidelines for different “Two-part cleaners”, but the common principles are described below:

  • Wet down the teak
  • Apply “one-part cleaner”, dispersing and gently scrubbing with a soft brush
  • When the surface of the teak is a muddy brown, uniform wet, apply “Two-part cleaner”, dispersing with clean stiffed brush
  • Apply and disperse the acid required to turn teak into a uniform tan
  • Wash it off thoroughly and then let it dry completely

Most commonly, the “two-part cleaner” is used twice as the first to obtain a uniform bright color. So it would be an excellent idea to buy an extra bottle of acid in case it’s needed. Also do not wash off the brown muddy surface of teak, unless the directives require it, after treating it with caustic. Furthermore, neutralizing the acid will reduce the problems.

This is the best 2-Part Cleaner made from TotalBoat and below is a video on how to use it. For large surface areas you might also want to get a get a large deck brash with a handle just to make the job easier.

Preparing for Finishing

A recently cleaned teak is a pleasure to witness, but the teak won’t remain fresh, light, and clean for a long time if proper finish is not applied. The teak’s surface will start to oxidize as soon as it dries. The earlier you complete the treatment after scrubbing, the better. 

Teak consists of grain that differs in stiffness, even in the same portion of the wood. Cleaning it with detergent may erode the softer parts of the teak’s grain, leaving ranges of firmer grain. The abnormality of such surface merely increases the speed at which the teak goes dull again.

If the surface of the teak that you have cleaned is plywood, there is a good chance that thorough polishing the teak, the surface may go right off from side to side, exposing the coating of the veneer, effectively ruining the piece. On the usual fiberglass boat, plywood or veneered components are the companionway hatch tops, drop boards, and occasionally cockpit soles and seats. Before polishing any part, inspect them cautiously to understand whether they are veneer or solid lumber. 

Polish the uneven grain of severely weathered teak once it is clean.

Decks are typically solid lumber, so they can create problems. If the flooring is less than half inch dense, and has beavered fastenings, polishing the grain edges will sand away sufficient solid to sand from side to side or release the bungs, revealing the fastenings. Even if the grain of teak is on fixed teak surfaces, you will be better off living with a clean uneven surface instead of opening the “Pandora’s Box” trying to make a perfectly flat surface.

On other hard teak objects such as toerails, dorade boxes, and handrails, thorough scraping of the washed surface, before applying it with sealer may produce an attractive surface. Don’t attempt to refurbish grey teak and badly weathered teak by scraping before cleaning it as I described above. There is a chance that you may quickly learn that discouraging quantity of scraping is necessary, and you will use chemical cleaners. Polishing both before and after the treatment is just a waste of effort, and may eradicate more wood. Teak with noticeable surface abnormalities would definitely take an eternity to scrap out to obtain an even surface. While cleaning with chemicals will swiftly lighten up even the inmost grain or gouges defects. Also, wait till the scrubbed teak is completely dry before polishing or applying teak covering.

Polishing scrubbed teak isn’t always needed. Mainly polishing is necessary if the teak’s surface needs to be preserved with oil covering instead of using a gloss polish like varnish. Granted, flawlessly smooth teak’s surface is more uniform in color. From a merely practical point of view, irregularities are insignificant except in the case of simplified scrubbing. Unless you plan to put the effort needed to preserve your teak’s surface between main cleanings, polishing the teak’s surface smooth is just a waste of your time. The chemical cleaning may recur the grain of the teak raising cycle, needing another rubbing.

If you are keen to keep your teak up, a good scraping will improve the wood’s form. The safest instrument for general smoothing is the high-speed sander like the “Makita XOB01Z” or any other small sander. I just like this one because it’s cordless, portable, and durable. It is also made by Makita, and I have great experiences with the brand. Inexpensive, slow-speed, and heavy sanders must be sidestepped. They leave revealing twirl marks on the teak’s surface that are emphasized by the finish. Also never use the sander on the surface of the teak to be scrapped bright.

The same is the case for a belt sander. A belt sander is maybe the most effective tool for leveling flat and large surfaces. But can also do some painful and permanent damage if the person using this tool is inexperienced. For hatches and decks of hard lumber, belt sander may be the solution, only if you’re comprehensively experienced with this equipment.

When doing power sanding, remember to cover surrounding areas of gelcoat. Just lightly touching the refined gelcoat surface with the sander will damage it. This same instruction applies to manual sanding. Remove the masking tape instantly after the completion of sanding. Even just leaving tape overnight on the exterior surface may make it difficult for you to remove. 

The adhesive residue could be removed with the mild solvent like alcohol and gentle rubbing with a rough cloth. Many teak coverings are easily put with polyfoam brush.

Remove dirt from the surface with a vacuum cleaner, after sanding. If electricity isn’t available, just sweep thoroughly with a large paintbrush or dusting brush. Obviously, you do not need to sacrifice your finest paintbrush. The cheapest stiffen brush will do just fine.

Applying Finish

The last step in restoring the surface of teak is the application of a sealer or coating to preserve for a long time the look of freshly installed wood. Your preference should be a covering that doesn’t blacken the wood. A good idea would be to look nearby boats whose teak looks good to you, then ask the owners about the products which they use.

No teak polish lasts for very long. To get the best results, monthly use of coating is needed, with good cleaning before putting on a fresh coat. You’re kidding yourself if you think a once-a-year treatment will keep your teak looking good. Don’t try to use domestic type equipment oils for teak. They may not stand against the weather.

Whatever teak covering you utilize, be wary of smearing it. Splattered teak covering will not look good when it’s put on fiberglass. However, it unavoidably blackens with time, leaving marks that look as ugly as varnish marks, and are hard to eradicate. Clean up these spills and overruns straightaway with any rag dunked in spirits like alcohol unless the manufacturer indicates an alternative solvent. Covering tape isn’t particularly efficient in defending surfaces from teak oil or varnish, as the thickness of most coverings is so thin that they just drain under the edge of the tape. The solution to this problem is careful use and thorough cleaning.

Depending on the look that you want to give to your boat’s teak you can get some standard teak oil from Star Bright for a matte look or if you want to go for a high-gloss varnish you can get this product made from TotalBoat .

Also, to avoid splatter and oil marks on the teak, the best way to apply the finish is with a foam brush . They are cheap and give the best result with lowest effort.


Your work is not done when the final coat of finish is applied. Teak requires constant attention to make it look good at all times. When a boat is used in saltwater, repeated wash downs with freshwater will definitely extend the lifespan of the covering. But, constant interaction with saltwater will likely decrease it. Highly traffic places like the teak cockpit will need the most care of all. Although they are easy to brush and retreat, sanding isn’t always desirable.

How to Restore Teak on a Boat – Conclusion

I know it seems like a lot of work. That clarifies why the exterior teak surface on many boats looks so dirty. It takes less effort than preserving a varnished teak surface. If you think you need varnished teak, first of all, try to maintain a freshly oiled surface just for a year and revisit the idea then.

Few things look better on a boat, mostly a white fiberglass sailboat than a well preserved exterior teak. A person who neglects teak wood may also be the same person who hardly replaces engine oil, and who hardly troubles himself to place the sail protections after a sail when he assumes he is going to sail again tomorrow. So, if you are looking for a sailboat to buy, remember that a clean and neat exterior probably means a well-maintained boat overall.  


Peter is the editor of Better Sailing. He has sailed for countless hours and has maintained his own boats and sailboats for years. After years of trial and error, he decided to start this website to share the knowledge.

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A Teak Restoration How-To...

A teak restoration how-to.

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There’s nothing more beautiful than a boat with well maintained teak decking. It not only looks amazing, but it helps hold up to the harsh marine environment if it has been properly treated. So, as beautiful as it is, it does require maintenance. If you are familiar with teak decking, you already know you will need to perform needed restoration work from time to time. In order to get great results from your teak wood maintenance and continue to enjoy its beauty in the future, consider these tips for teak restoration.


When Is It Time To Restore Your Teak?

Restoring teak is necessary, not just continue to make it look nice, but to also to protect your wood. You need to know when the time is right. Restoring teak does take quite a bit of time and effort, so you don’t want to go through all of that when it’s not needed. The first way to tell when it’s time is observing the color of the wood. If your teak has turned to a shade of grey or looks brittle, then it’s time to start restoring. Because it is a little more than just slapping some protectant on the wood, it’s important to have a plan before you jump into action.


Jumping in and being too aggressive is probably not the best idea. It’s also important to be careful with what products you choose. Harsh chemicals are not the way to start. You can actually damage your teak if you jump right to cleaners with a lot of abrasive chemicals, and those harsh chemicals are usually not even needed. We suggest you start with our Teak Brite Powder Cleaner. It can deliver amazing results without damaging the wood grain. After using the Teak Brite Powder Cleaner it is important to make sure you let the wood dry completely before continuing. If you find this is not a strong enough cleaner, you may need to move on to a harsher cleaner.

sailboat teak restoration

Scrub Scrub

Using the right tool while cleaning your teak is important. Our Life Scrub-All is a heavy-duty continuous filament marine stainless-steel scrubber which is perfect for teak and other hard wood. It has a lifetime guarantee not to corrode, wear out or disintegrate. Be sure to get a scrubber designed specifically for this job will avoid damaging the teak.

sailboat teak restoration

Protect Your Teak

Restoring your teak does require quite a bit of effort. Don’t waste all of that hard work by not sealing up the teak after you are done. The critical last step of your restoration should be applying a teak oil and sealer. If you skip this step, your great looking restored teak surface will return to its weathered look. Be sure your teak is completely dry before you apply the oil and sealer. We suggest using BoatLife’s Teak Oil & Sealer. Our oil is the most advanced teak oil and sealer available. It delivers long lasting protection even in tropical climates. You might have to wait an extra day to get back out on the water, but the oil coat will not soak in properly if the wood isn’t dry, so be patient!

sailboat teak restoration

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Replacing Teak Decks, the DIY-er’s Way

One couple's deck-refit story, a tale of trading hard labor for cutting costs..

sailboat teak restoration

PS contributor Joe Minick and his wife, Lee, are cruising the Mediterranean aboard their Mason 43, Southern Cross.

After 26 years, it was painful, but not surprising, to find our much-esteemed teak deck failing, irreparably. It had started life as half-inch teak planks, bedded, caulked, and fastened in the traditional manner with screws, but weather and wear had finally thinned the teak to the point where splits could often be found radiating from the bungholes.

We extended the life of the deck another season by injecting epoxy into the cracks, but a year later, many had opened again. It was time to make a decision before leaks began to play havoc with the core of the deck.

After years of cruising with a teak deck, we knew most of its pros and cons. Pros: aesthetically pleasing and a first-rate nonskid, kind to bare feet, and relatively easy to clean. Cons: hot in a warm climate, expensive, and potentially high maintenance. We began to think that maybe a change was in order.

As we explored the possibilities, we found it was almost impossible to get any kind of accurate estimate of the cost of converting to a painted deck without knowing more. Was there gelcoat with nonskid under the teak? Was there hidden water damage that would require extensive repairs before the deck could be painted after the teak was removed? A bit of work with a hammer and chisel revealed that there was only fiberglass laminate under the teak, no gelcoat or nonskid.

Damage assessment would have to wait until we removed all the teak, but other problems were apparent. The edge of the coachroof was molded to accept the edge of the teak plank, and scupper drains through the fiberglass cockpit coamings and toerail would be above the deck after the teak was removed.

Converting to a painted deck would require extensive fairing along with several layers of gelcoat and a new nonskid applied. Twice in the past, we had added nonskid coatings to an existing deck. One deck was rolled with a layer of tacky resin that was then painted; the other involved applying a course aggregate to the paint before spray-painting. There are effective paint-on nonskid options, but neither of the products or methods we used produced what I felt was a great offshore nonskid, and both were hard to clean.

The stick-on nonskid Treadmaster, while possibly not meeting everyone’s aesthetic expectations, would provide a truly nonskid surface. (See the November 2021 issue at for our long-term test of nonskid paints and adhesive-backed pads.)

The estimated cost of a painted deck was mounting rapidly, and I didn’t feel we were qualified to handle the job by ourselves, so we started reviewing options for a new teak deck. Although oily teak defies many kinds of glue, advanced adhesives for this task have been around long enough to establish a good track record. Bonding the teak to the deck means no more worrisome screws and their holes into the deck core. Teak was expensive, but we could handle a lot of the work ourselves, and the total cost was potentially lower than painting, if we could provide much of the labor.

The decision was made, and we arranged for a berth alongside the quay in a marina with a reputable marine carpentry shop. They recommended doing the work afloat to avoid the risk of falling and to avoid the heavy labor of hauling lengths of teak, tools, and weights up a 12-foot ladder. It was good advice.

Replacing Teak Decks, the DIY-er’s Way

Major Tasks

We faced several challenges that were easier said than done:

  • Removing the deck hardware; virtually everything was bolted through the deck.
  • Removing the old teak and preparing the deck for bonding new teak.
  • Cutting, bonding, and caulking the new teak.
  • Re-installing the deck hardware.

Removing the deck hardware took eight days with two people working 12 hour days. The stanchions and pulpits alone had over 120 bolts through the deck. The list went on and on, including cleats, anchor rollers, windlass, and more, but it was something we could handle. Although labor intensive, it was a good cost-cutter for us.

Removing the old deck was a long and arduous job with a chisel and hammer. We left the screws in place and drove a chisel along under a plank, breaking it off each time a screw was encountered. Unfortunately, the fiberglass laminate under the deck was occasionally nicked by the chisel.

Replacing Teak Decks, the DIY-er’s Way

After the teak and all associated rubble were bagged and carted away, the screws were removed with a screwdriver where possible and vise grips where not. We broke a few screws and left them in the deck to be sealed with epoxy during the next phase. A surface grinder cleaned the old caulk off before we filled the old screw holes with epoxy and applied a thin coat of epoxy to the entire deck to repair the chisel scrapes and seal the laminate. This was sanded before bonding, to provide “tooth” for the adhesive. We felt we could handle everything except preparing and bonding the new teak, so we sought the assistance of the carpenter to help with this task.

Teak decks are traditionally laid with an outer panel or frame inside the toe-rail and an inner frame around the coachroof and cockpit coamings. The outer frame may be omitted if the curvature of the rail is mild enough to allow a standard width plank to be sprung into place along the toerail, but an inner frame is almost always required to accept the end of individual planks where the curvature is more pronounced. A king plank is commonly used to join the end of the planks on the bow and at the stern.

The wood shop cut and milled the teak planks to half-inch thickness and three different widths to accommodate the frames, planks, and king plank. The planks were relieved along both edges to about half their thickness to provide a caulking groove, and we were ready to begin.

There is more than one way to spring planks into place for bonding, but a common trick is drill a small hole near the edge of the plank that holds a piece of scrap wood. Then a wedge is driven between it and the plank to spring it into place alongside its neighbor. Heavy weights are applied to hold it while the adhesive cures. The drilled holes should all be repaired with epoxy before installing the next plank, but some installers rely on the adhesive under the next plank to fill them and this may be equally satisfactory.

Caulking, while messy, was straight forward. As the entire deck needed a light sanding, we didn’t tape the seams and relied on sanding to remove the excess. It pays to remove, seal, or cover just about everything for this phase. The caulk dust seems to find its way into every possible opening.

It took a month to re-install the deck hardware. All the holes had disappeared under the new teak, and initially we relied heavily on our plan to re-drill them from below. This worked fairly well for the larger holes we made with hole saws and a drum sander. That changed when it came to drilling the bolt holes perpendicular to the deck and parallel to each other while standing on our heads in a locker. With backing plates on one side and hardware on the other, the holes had to be true.

Fortunately, we had taken the time to measure and mark the location of most holes, using the toerail or coachroof as our reference. In the end, drilling from the top down, where one could more accurately see the angle of the drill, proved to be the best choice, but it would have been difficult without the carefully measured and marked locations.

Considerations and Planning

I estimated the job would take two months, but it actually took us three months and a day to complete, working long hours every day in a climate where it never rained, but the summer heat was intense. Without awnings, we wouldn’t have been able to endure it, but we avoided any chance of rain with several hundred holes in the deck exposed. If rain is expected, you’ll need some means of temporarily closing all holes in the deck until the new teak is in place.

We reused almost all the hardware fasteners. Careful bagging and labeling makes this a lot easier, although a few bent screws must inevitably be replaced, arbitrarily replacing all the fasteners would add significantly to the expense of the project.

A large number of heavy weights will be needed. When planks are sprung into place, there is tendency for an edge to lift that can only be overcome with lots of downward pressure. Pieces of railroad track worked well for us but avoid using sand bags or similar approaches. The flexibility inherent with bags can allow an edge to lift, and it’s vital that the teak be pressed firmly into contact with the deck at all points.

Ends of planks can be readily cut and shaped with a fine-toothed blade in a saber saw and drum sander. If available, a carefully handled pistol grip or D-handle router works well for trimming up, but if in doubt, stick to the drum sander and a sanding block. I made good use of a Dremel tool with a smaller drum sander for shaping smaller openings cut into the new deck for fuel and water fills and the like.

Plan to prepare and lay a maximum of one plank per day per side, and even this will be a long day’s work. Reading up on patterns and layouts for traditional teak decks will help you understand the process of adding a new set of cutouts to the king plank as pairs of planks are laid up to the bow or stern. Actually bonding the king plank is done last, after everything else is in place. Photograph every inch of the deck before you start.

Replacing Teak Decks, the DIY-er’s Way

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