Pox on Boat Pox! Cleaning Stainless

Have you ever noticed that while you’re sitting at the dock, all your stainless stanchions and cleats seem to gleam and shine and resist the “boat pox” pretty well?  But the minute you leave to go cruising, the stainless pox takes over and it doesn’t seem to matter how much time you spend polishing, it just keeps coming back… and back… and back…

There are actually two types of stainless corrosion going on for a typical cruising boat.

  1.  Rust stains on stainless steel hardware caused by the seawater environment.  Stainless steel has a natural protective coating, sometimes  called the passive film created by the stainless and whatever metal has been combined with it to create the alloy.  Chlorides from the salt will attack the passive film more quickly than it can be repaired.   And voila, boat pox.
  2. Rust stains on stainless screw heads or other deck hardware typically caused from contamination from exposure to other metals in close contact.

Before you begin cleaning stainless, it’s a good idea to wash the deck and give it time to dry.  If you don’t have all the salt off the stainless before you begin cleaning/polishing, our experience is it will come back quicker.

The boat looks great -- from this distance you can't see the severe infestation of boat pox on stainless than only a few weeks out can aggrevate!

Coming This Fall!  Our Exclusive “Pox on Boat Pox” Competition!

Because we’ve tried so many products and none is a clear winner, this fall when we return to the boat (November 2012), we’re going to do a head to head test at least four stainless cleaner/polishers by using each at the same time dividing the boat into quarters.   We’re calling this our “Pox on Boat Pox Competition”!  Then we’ll have actual real world data on which works easiest, least time and lasts longest — after all, none of us want to spend our cruising time polishing stainless.  On the other hand all of us would like our stainless to be shiny and spotless.  It’s a nautical Catch 22!

Dozens of companies make products supposedly designed for cleaning and polishing stainless.  West Marine, Starbright and 3M come to mind.  All of these products will work to some degree or another, but here’s a review of the products we’ve tried and the pluses and minuses we find.

Nevr Dull Blue Can – The manufacturer claims Nevr Dull is an “extraordinary cleaning wonder that shines all metals with sparkling ease”.   From our experience, this may be a bit of an overstatement.  Nevr Dull is a “wadding cloth”, not a paste or liquid, which makes it safe and easy to use, it can’t spill plus it’s safe for all metals.  After using cleaning the “pox” off, there will be a white film which you simply polish off with a clean dry cotton rag.  The big downside for NevrDull – aside from questionable longevity – is that it’s impossible to get into tight nooks & crannies which makes it less than ideal for a boat.  But we use it inside to polish the brass fittings, cabinet hardware, hanging lamp, etc.  We also use it for touch up outside since it’s so convenient.  So yes, you will always find a can of Nevr Dull aboard our boat.

Whink Rust Stain Remover.  Our experience with Whink was mixed.  It works great, but harsh chemical cleaners make me uneasy and our experience is that it doesn’t last, plus it’s not a polish so you need to clean and then polish.  Since it’s a liquid, it’s very easy to get into the nooks and crannies.   According to the manufacturer, Whink is designed for quickly and easily removing rust stains from white sinks and white toilets, as well as colorfast fabric and carpets.   From experience, I can tell you, if you use this stuff, wear rubber gloves and do NOT let it accidentally splash onto any teak – especially a varnished or Cetoled teak cap rail.  It’s inexpensive and available in 3rd world countries where other products may not be available which is why we started using it in Panama.  We still have a bottle onboard for specialized applications, but it didn’t keep the boat pox off our stainless long enough to consider putting it high on our list.  Plus there’s still that harsh chemical thing that just bugs me.

Ospho We first discovered Ospho in the LaCeiba Shipyard, mainland Honduras.  They used the general product to clean anything and we use it to get the hard salt scum off our dark green hull.  We recently discovered that Ospho makes a metal cleaning product that’s actually used by painters prepping surfaces for painting.  The manufacturer claims “when applied to rusted surfaces, it resists/retards rust in chemical change on drying to a tough, hard surface ready for priming. A paint job will last longer after an application of OSPHO because subsequent paint coating securely attaches itself so that moisture and oxygen normally do not attack the metal. OSPHO is water-thin, can cover a larger area than paint, and goes on easily. It is equally effective for exterior and interior work alike.”   We’ll try it this fall and report back.  It’s clearly a cleaner and prep product, we are assuming we’d need to polish afterward, but it it got to some of the hard to clean areas and was less toxic than Whink, it might earn a spot aboard. 

Collinite Metal Wax.  We’ve used several of the Collinite products with good results.  They are among the top of the line for boat waxes and cleaners, but the metal wax for us was more difficult to use in the cracks and crannies than some of the other cleaner/waxes.   It’s earned a spot in our fall Stainless Boat Pox Head to Head Competition, so hang on for results!

Iosso Metal Polish   The name is a bit deceiving,  as the Iosso Metal Polish also cleans.  This is the product recommended by Keith at Riverside Covers, the company that redid our cockpit enclosure including all new stainless framing.  We’ve used it and it seems to deliver what it promises.  We’re unclear on whether Iosso or Flitz lasts the longest in the real world marine environment, which is why we’re doing our Boat Pox Competition this fall.  Manufacturer recommended for use on brass, copper, chrome, stainless steel, aluminum, magnesium, silver, gold, porcelain, fiberglass, plexiglass, hard plastics, and painted surfaces. Removes oxidation, tarnish, surface rust, and water spots. Leaves a brilliant, shiny protective coating.   You apply this as a paste, let it dry and then polish it off — like all pastes, it’s difficult to get the hard to reach areas clean, although a toothbrush will help.

Flitz Metal Polish.  Also mis-named a bit, Flitz removes tarnish, oxidation, rust, corrosion on metals and fiberglass.  The manufacturer claims it protects up to six months.  We first discovered Flitz when we initially bought our boat and the first detailers used Flitz.  We used it ourselves for the first few years we owned the boat, but when we left the US, it simply wasn’t available, which started our expansion into other stainless products.  When we returned to the US, we had another company detail the boat, and sure enough, they used Flitz.  AND, the stainless gleamed for several months afterward, so we’re convinced it lasts.  But we’re not necessarily convinced it lasts the LONGEST of any stainless product, which is why we’re conducting our “Pox on Boat Pox” test this fall!  🙂



Also, some boats swear by Sheila Shine, we haven’t tried it ourselves, but it gets raving reviews from some fellow commuter cruisers.  As such, it warrants inclusion into the fall “Pox on Boat Pox” competition.  It’s an aerosol from Australia (hence the name Sheila Shine) developed for stainless steel appliances.  The manufacturer claims it is “The Worlds Finest  Cleaner / Polish and Surface Preservative for Stainless  Steel — only the sun shines brighter than Sheila Shine”.  Once again the field of chemistry has produced a product so outstanding, so different as to revolutionize the cleaning and polishing of your stainless steel.  The Sheila Shine Process requires no rubbing or polishing. It is so easy, so simple that it actually makes cleaning a pleasure, with unbelievable results.  Sheila Shine is three steps in one:
● Cleans
● Polishes
● Protected Coating

BIG claims.  Hopefully the product delivers and I’d happily cut my stainless time in half and have it last twice as long, but we shall see!  🙂

Anyone have any favorite stainless product that we should include in our “Pox on Boat Pox” test when we return to Winterlude this fall?  Leave a comment and let us know!  Cheers!  Jan



  1. Candy Ann Williams via Facebook says:

    Jan, have you ever used ‘Spotless Stainless’. I have been reading about it and it ‘sounds’ good but I haven’t talk to anyone first hand that has used it. I have used both never dull and flitz ..and like them…..but am still looking for the ‘perfect’ stainless cleaner…lol. I look forward to your results (but wish I didn’t have to wait-it seems lately my stainless doesn’t stay very long at all…or maybe I am just getting old and tired of cleaning it! LOL)

    • I have seen Spotless Stainless at boat shows, but never tried it. I always thought it falls into the category of “too good to be true”. 🙂 BUT Summer Wind says they’ve tried it, so if I see it again — at the Annapolis Boat Show just before returning to the boat this fall, maybe I’ll get some & add it to my test! 🙂

  2. We have tried the Spotless Stainless and it does work. The trick is to have a misting bottle to keep the Spotless Stainless wet and work in small areas. You can usually find great deals around Sailboat shows and/or trawler shows directly from their website. We find the rust doesn’t come back as quickly. Our one problem is the screws under the stanchions. We find rust trails down the fiberglass after the first cleaning.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful write up on the Iosso Metal Polish. It does have a protective coating that will last several months. Also, please note you don’t let it dry. Use sparingly, rub it into the surface, turn your cloth over and buff it to a high shine. Happy Cleaning!!

  4. kerry gorman says:

    Looking for the results of your “pox on boat pox” test?

    • Hi Kerry! Sorry! We got sidetracked and did most of our pox on pox test – the results were inconclusive. Iosso Metal Polish, Collinite Metal Wax and Flitz all were equally effective, and difficult to get to some of the more difficult spots (behind stanchions comes to mind). None lasted forever, and not one seemed to last longer than another. We didn’t get around to trying the Ospho metal cleaner which is still on my list to try when we return to the boat this fall. I’m hoping it will be easier to clean the hard to reach areas and then I can use polish over the cleaned stainless. It’s definitely not a science, at least in our experience. The only one we refuse to use anymore is Whink just because it’s so corrosive. And although we have an old can of NevrDull aboard, we don’t use it either. It’s easier to use a rag and toothbrush with the other three. Good luck & sorry I didn’t finish the Pox on Pox testing! I wish there had been a conclusive winner – because I’d still be using it exclusively!!! Cheers! Jan

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