How To Clean A Kayak Inside & Outside The Correct Way

by Jason | Last Updated:   June 27th, 2022
How To Clean A Kayak Inside & Outside The Correct Way
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Many people don’t realize that they have to wash their kayak(s) after each use. Furthermore, you’ll need to clean them before storing them away during the winter season.

Not caring for your kayak correctly means you’ll have to look for replacements sooner than you had hoped.

And this is not ideal if you’ve spent a lot of money on a new kayak.

So, in this article, I will explain everything you need to know about cleaning your kayak. When you get to the end, you’ll be well versed in everything to do with kayak maintenance.

If you’re looking to get your kayak clean, don’t go anywhere:

Cleaning Your Kayak: Everything You Need To Know

Cleaning your kayak properly might seem like a menial task, but it’s very important. Without the proper care, you’ll lower your kayak’s life expectancy.

And considering how much they cost, it will do you well to look after them.

But, if you’re new to kayaking, you might not know how to wash a kayak, what you should and shouldn’t use, and a lot more.

And this is why I’ve created a kayak cleaning guide so you know everything there is to know:

Can I Use Dish Soap To Wash My Kayak?

One question I hear a lot is whether you can use dish soap to clean your kayak. And depending on where you look, you might get mixed reports.

Some people seem to think if you use dish soap sparingly, you can use it without causing any damage to your kayak.

But, this isn’t necessarily the case:

When you’re cleaning a plastic kayak, dish soap isn’t much of an issue. It will take the polish off, but that’s about it.

When you’re cleaning composite kayaks, you need to avoid using dish soap. It will ruin your Gelcoat, and this isn’t good for your kayak. In this case, you’ll have to use a detergent formulated to clean boats.

How Do You Clean Your Kayak After Use?

Many people tend to neglect the fact that you need to clean your kayak after each use.

And how much you need to clean it will depend on where you’ve been kayaking and what state it comes back in.

If you’ve been kayaking in saltwater environments, you need to clean the salt water and sand off the kayak to prevent any damage to the material. You can do this relatively quickly with your garden hose.

If you’ve been to the river and have a kayak caked in mud, you will have to wash off the stubborn dirt. Again, you can usually do this with just a hose, but if it’s stuck in, you might need to scrub it.

You’ll need to do this after every trip to the river to ensure your kayak stays in top condition.

How To Clean A Plastic Kayak

How To Clean A Kayak

You need to give your kayak a quick clean every time you use it, but there will be times when you’ll have to give it a really good clean.

To clean your plastic, you’re going to need a few things:

  • A bucket
  • Soft sponge
  • Mild detergent
  • Running water
  • Microfiber cloth

The first step of the process is to fill your bucket with warm, soapy water; just make sure it’s not too hot. You can use dish soap, but only a few drops; you don’t need much.

If you’re not a fan of using dish soap, you can try using a detergent specially designed to handle kayaks, or you can even use some car shampoo.

Next, give your kayak a quick rinse with the hose to get any dust or debris off the surface of your ‘yak. Once that’s done, you can start washing your kayak with warm water and your sponge; when it gets to the stubborn areas, you might need to apply a little more pressure.

When the sponge down is complete, you must rinse the remaining soap with your hose with fresh, clean water. 

Once the soap is off, you can start drying the surface of your kayak with your microfiber cloth before putting the kayak in storage.

How To Polish A Polyethylene Kayak

Okay, you’ve finished cleaning your kayak, and now you want to polish it up and give it a beautiful shine. And it won’t just give your polyethylene kayak a better glow; it also offers excellent protection and speed in the water.

To polish your kayak, you’re going to need a few things:

  • Marine wax
  • Microfiber cloths x3
  • UV protection

Before I get into the process of polishing your polyethylene kayak, it’s probably worth mentioning that some people claim the wax won’t stick.

And this can make waxing your kayak a waste of time.

That being said, other people say you should absolutely wax your polyethylene kayak. So, I guess it’s up to you. It’s not going to hurt your kayak, and it will at the very least provide some extra protection.

I also always finish the polishing job with some UV protectant. Plastic kayaks are especially susceptible to UV damage, so it’s worth giving them an extra layer.

Before you polish your kayak, you must ensure it’s been cleaned thoroughly and completely dry before you start.

You need to start waxing by using one of the microfiber cloths to apply a layer of wax evenly to the hull of your kayak. Rub the wax into the hull using circular motions, leaving it to dry for around 10 minutes.

Return to the kayak and buff the waxed area with a clean cloth to remove any excess wax and leave behind a protective coating.

Once you’ve buffed the wax, you can add an extra level of protection by using the UV protectant. Spray the protectant on your kayak and use the remaining clean cloth to buff the vessel one last time.

How To Clean Your Fiberglass Kayak

How To Clean A Kayak

So, you know how to clean a plastic kayak, but how does it work if you have a fiberglass kayak?

If you’ve been looking for maintenance tips for composite kayaks, I will run you through the steps you need to take.

And before we get into the steps, let’s take a look at what you’re going to need:

Okay, once you have all that stuff, it’s time to get your kayak nice and clean. It works similarly to plastic kayaks, but there are a few extra steps you need to take:

Fill your bucket with a couple of caps of the soap solution and find a place to clean your kayak. 

Give your fiberglass kayak a quick wash down with your hose to remove any loose debris, pollen, sea salt, etc.

While the kayak is still wet, you need to start washing it down with your sponge and water solution. Make sure you always use the soft side of the sponge; you don’t want to leave scratches. 

Clean the entire kayak with the soapy water solution while concentrating on areas with a lot of dirt build-up.

Once the kayak is clean, rinse any leftover soap off with the garden hose and leave it to air dry, or use a towel to speed things up.

Next, we will focus on any deep surface stubborn stains that might be left behind on your kayak. These stains are typically from seaweed, pond scum, rust, and more.

Turn your kayak over and check that the hull is completely dry; it can’t have any wetness for this step.

Stick on your latex gloves and go and get your FSR; you need to shake it thoroughly to ensure the contents haven’t split.

Use a clean cloth or sponge to apply the FSR to the entire hull of your kayak. Make sure you spread it uniformly while leaving a thin layer over the Gelcoat. 

Once you’ve applied the FSR, you need to leave it to dry for around 10-15 minutes. As the FSR begins to dry, it will leave a hazy film on the surface of your kayak.

When the time has passed, you must give the kayak a rinse with a hose, which should get most of the excess off. I like giving it another run with the sponge to ensure everything is off the surface.

Next, you need to polish the kayak to provide extra protection. Begin by applying the polish in small circular motions and with slight pressure (you’re not buffing the kayak).

When you have applied the polish to the entire kayak, you need to leave it to settle and dry to get the best results. Once dry, you can start buffing the kayak with a clean microfiber cloth to bring out the shine.

The final step is to add some aerospace protectants. It provides an even better shine and protects your kayak from UV damage.

How To Clean Inside The Kayak

When you compare cleaning the inside of your kayak with the outside, you’ll find it a lot harder, mainly due to the small opening.

The small opening to the kayak makes it hard to reach the entire inside of your kayak. To make it worse:

The main areas that build up dirt are around the foot pedals, deep down in the kayak.

So, how do you clean the inside of your kayak?

Well, this depends on what your kayak is made with:

  • You can spray down plastic kayaks with a hose or a pressure washer.
  • With a composite, you need to be careful to keep the pressure low, so I’d stick to using a hose.

The most important thing to remember is to remove excess water from the kayak completely. Stagnant water inside your kayak can make it smell or cause mildew.

How To Clean Mildew From Kayaks

Any boat builder will know that mildew is terrible for their kayak’s surface and needs removing.

So…

If you’re unlucky enough to have mildew building up on your kayak, you will need to clean it as soon as possible to prevent it from spreading.

But how do you do this?

You are going to need to start by getting a few materials:

  • Bucket
  • Scrub brush
  • White vinegar
  • Large sponge

Once you have these items, you’re ready to move on to the following cleaning process to remove mildew from your kayak:

  1. Find a place to clean your kayak where you have access to water.
  2. Rinse the entire kayak to soak the mildew. This will help to soften the mold and make it easier to clean. You might want to leave it soaking for 20 minutes, depending on how bad the mildew is.
  3. Mix one part vinegar with one part water; this should be enough to eliminate most mildews or mold.
  4. Submerge your cleaning brush in the solution and start rubbing the kayak firmly to remove the mildew.
  5. Once the mildew has been removed, you need to dry your kayak to prevent the mildew from building back up.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Cleaning your kayak frequently is part of the maintenance process, and doing it correctly can increase your kayak’s life span.

It’s important to remember your kayak needs to be rinsed after each and every use to prevent damage. 

And when you’re storing your kayak away for the winter, you should give it a deep clean to ensure it’s ready to use when you return to it.

If you’re looking for the most relevant paddling information, be sure to check out our kayaking tips page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How To Protect The Bottom Of My Kayak?

Waxing the hull is the best way to protect the bottom of your kayak. Waxing the hull gives extra protection and can help prevent scratches.

Should I Wax The Bottom Of My Kayak?

Yes, you should wax the bottom of your kayak. Not only does it provide the hull with more protection. But it can also help keep it clean and make it faster in the water; you don’t use as much energy.

Can You Use A Pressure Wash To Clean Your Kayak?

If you have composite boats, I will avoid using a pressure washer; it might cause more harm than good. But, if you have a plastic kayak, there are no issues using a pressure washer to clean your kayak.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.