A kayaker holds up his kayak while out on expedition.

How To Clean A Kayak

Kayaks fabrication uses several different materials that react differently to the water. These materials also respond differently to the conditions of the kayak storage. Kayaks are, in most cases, only used seasonally, which means they spend a significant time stored out of sight and out of mind.

The biggest challenge to cleaning a kayak is when you take it out of storage at the beginning of your kayaking season. So what would be the best method to clean your kayak?

The simplest way to clean a kayak is with a bucket of warm soapy water and a sponge. Once washed, rinse the soap off the kayak and dry it with a microfiber cloth. You can treat mildew with a weak bleach/water solution to kill and remove the mold. Store the kayak in a dry environment.

The method used to clean your kayak will depend on the material used to make your kayak. The material will also determine how the kayak reacts to months of storage and the storage conditions.

The cleaning process can be relatively simple and straightforward, but it can become a little more challenging when a deep clean is required to remove particular problems.

How To Clean The Outside Of Your Kayak

Cleaning the outside of your kayak is straightforward and easy. The exterior of the boat is intended to get wet, which makes the process a little easier.

The best way to clean the outside of a kayak of any material is with a bucket, warm water mixed with a bit of soap, and a sponge to wash it down.

You can use a car shampoo or a kayak soap as the soap component in the water. This combination will be delicate enough not to damage the kayak’s surface but will eliminate most of the dirt. 

A fundamental wash that will eliminate most typical dirt that the kayak will accumulate requires only a few essential tools.

  • A bucket to hold some soapy water.
  • A sponge purchased from the auto care section of your local store will do the job.
  • Soap; try a car shampoo or a specialized kayak shampoo, or even a few drops of dishwashing liquid.
  • Running water is ideal; usually, there is a hose and water available.
  • A microfiber cloth is found in most local stores, especially in the auto care section and sometimes in dish cleaning supplies.

Add some soap to the bucket and fill the bucket with warm water from the hot tap in your kitchen. The soap may foam a bit, but this is normal.

Dip the sponge in the bucket and wash down the exterior of the kayak with soapy water. Some spots that have stubborn dirt areas may need a little more pressure with the sponge to lift the dirt.

Once complete with washing the kayak, rinse the soap out of the sponge with running water. Run fresh, clean water from the hose over the kayak to wash off the soapy water. Us the sponge to help wash the soap off, if necessary.

Use the microfiber cloth to dry the surface of the kayak before you put the kayak into storage.

Can You Pressure Wash Your Kayak?

It is possible to use a pressurized washer to clean some kayaks. It does a great job of cleaning stubborn dirt and mud from the surface of the boat. A pressure washer would be good to clean some kayaks, but on others, it would be best if you exercise care when using this method, and on other kayaks, you should not risk it.

  • Wood kayaks. It would help if you did not use pressure washers on kayaks made of wood. High-pressure jets of water can be damaging and could strip off the finish of the wood and damage the waterproof properties that protect the wood hull when it is in the water.
  • Composite kayaks. Kayaks made of composite materials can be pressure washed, but it would be best if you took care in areas of the boat where the composite material may be thin, and the force of the water jet could cause it to flex and possibly crack. Be careful when pressure washing over decals, take care as the water jet can strip the decals off the boat.
  • Plastic kayaks. Plastic kayaks use polyethylene, which is a type of molded plastic. These boats are durable, and you can use a pressure washer on the inside and outside, making cleaning these kayaks a breeze.

If you do decide to use a pressure washer, I recommend a gentle one that will do the job, but won’t be so strong that it strips your watercraft. Try one of these:

How To Clean The Inside Of Your Kayak

The inside of the kayak is often the most difficult to clean, especially in kayaks that only have a small opening for the paddler to climb in to enter the watercraft. These can be hard to reach inside to clean out the boat.

Wooden kayaks should usually face no more than a wipe down on the inside with a damp cloth. The cloth should not be so wet that it is dripping; you don’t want unnecessary moisture accumulating inside the boat. The places that would get the most dirt on the inside would be the footrests or the pedals used to steer the watercraft. These may become caked with mud when the paddler climbs in with muddy feet. 

Usually, you can wipe this mud away with a wet cloth. Often, the mud will dry and fall off, and the residual dirt will come off quickly with the cloth.

You can spray down composite kayaks on the inside with a hose or with a pressure sprayer; however, keep it low pressure and be careful with the soft areas of the boat.

You can also spray down plastic kayaks on the inside with a hose pipe or a pressure washer. After washing out the inside of the boat, the critical task is to get all the excess water out. It’s important because we do not want water sitting inside the kayak, stagnating, and beginning to smell and cause mildew to develop.

How To Clean Mildew From Your Kayak

Because the inside of the kayak is a damp, hot area, the ripe conditions for mildew development can arise and result in mold forming inside the kayak. It can occur in kayaks made from any material. 

Wooden kayaks stored in damp locations can develop mildew. However, it most commonly occurs in composite or plastic kayaks when water is not cleaned from the inside of the kayak properly.

One of the most common causes for mildew forming is when the kayak is stored long-term in a damp location or stored with water still inside the boat. Before you store your kayak for the offseason, make sure it is completely dry inside and don’t store it in a damp location.

To clean the mildew effectively from the inside of the kayak, you will need to kill the micro-organisms causing the mold.

A mild bleach/water solution will do the trick to kill the mildew and wash away the residual mildew from the kayak’s surface.

A capful of household bleach, which is about 10ml or 1/3 of an ounce in a bucket of water, will be enough to kill the mildew and wipe away the stain. You may want to wear some protective rubber gloves when working with the bleach since if you spill the bleach on your skin, it can burn.

Use a sponge with the bleach water and wipe over the mildew areas. Make sure you take care to thoroughly rinse out all the bleach from the kayak with clean water.

It can also help to set the kayak in the sun for an hour to make sure that the inside dries out completely before putting it away in storage.

Should You Wax Your Kayak?

Contrary to popular belief, waxing your kayak will not make it go faster in the water. It will put a protective coating on the kayak to protect it from UV damage and allow it to shed dirt easier.

It means that a waxed kayak will stay cleaner and require less frequent washing. The wax that you can use on the kayak can be a product specifically designed for kayaks, or you can use auto wax to do the job.


Cleaning a kayak is not a strenuous exercise, but you should do it at least every two weeks to ensure that the boat stays in good condition. 

If the kayaking trip has been a particularly muddy one, you should wash and clean your kayak thoroughly once you get home to make sure mud, dirt, or slime from the water does not stain the surface of the kayak.

It would help if you rinsed off kayaks used in saltwater environments with fresh water after every session out on the water.

Keeping your kayak clean will help extend its lifespan and keep it in good condition to serve you well when you are out on the water!


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