From the Archives: Cleaning Interior Teak

Does your boat have a teak interior? Follow these reader-suggested steps to keep it gleaming.

The teak inside my 1985 Passport 37 is staved teak—the real thing. It was originally finished in satin varnish, and I cannot even think about how much it would cost (or how much work and time it would take) to refinish. Therefore I have a BIG vested interest in keeping it pristine. Twice a year I clean it completely—including every slat of the 204 slats aboard—with Murphy's Oil Soap, let it dry, and then wipe down every inch with plain old lemon oil. The only caution is that "plain old lemon oil" in some other countries—Panama comes to mind—smells more like chemicals than lemons. Stay away!

I woke up this morning to a cloudy dreary day that looked like an ideal candidate for cleaning and lemon oiling Winterlude's interior teak. It's a project I try to tackle twice a year — once when we return to the boat and once just before we leave. Otherwise 30 year old teak will become tired and worn. Unfortunately this year I've been lazy and didn't do it in November when we returned and knew I had to get it done before we leave to cruise for three months — when there will be MUCH more fun things to do than play with teak.

We are so lucky — the interior of our boat is solid teak staving — i.e. individual teak 2″ slats with a groove to all fit together. Although we did not want ANY teak when we were boat shopping, the teak is homey, warm and inviting and we’ve grown to love it… well at least 363 days a year. :) So what’s up with the missing two days? That’s when I have to provide it the required TLC or it won’t stay looking pretty!

As I said I’ve been procrastinating this project for months. First I had get motivated to move everything that came into contact with the teak — books, hats, cameras, all the spices in the spice race – you’re starting to get the picture The boat is a wreck and I’m always astonished at how much CRAP we have “unstowed” everywhere! Every year I make a promise to myself to “clean up the mess” i.e. get rid of stuff just sitting around, not hidden, but every year when I do the teak I remember that I have not succeeded!

The second step is to wash all the walls and teak trim, drawers and louvered doors with Murphy Oil and water. I just squirt a bit of Murphy Oil cleaner in my little red bucket and fill it half full of water. Then I use a soft cotton rag to begin the process, starting in the front and working my way back to the companionway. I wipe down every bit of the teak – this portion of the project takes about 3 hours, without doing the quarterberth – that’s where I stuff all the stuff so that I can actually SEE the teak to clean it.

After letting it dry, I start back at the front of the boat with pure lemon oil. I use a Viva papertowel dipped in the lemon oil and proceed to wipe lemon oil over everything — generously. Despite the satin varnish, our teak will begin to soak up the lemon oil almost right away. After a half hour or hour, it begins to look quite splotchy, but I continue with getting a generous coat on all the teak and leave it alone. We’ll leave it alone for at least 24 hours. After 24 hours, I’ll take a rag and rub over to redistribute lemon oil, letting the splotchy areas that have already soaked it up have a bit more and getting rid of too much lemon oil on everything.

At this point, I start to put stuff away and regain my life. The entire project takes most of a day – by happy hour, I’m ready to celebrate it being done!

And the boat smells so good – if you like lemons!