October 26, 2023 7 min read

Keep Your Kayak Shipshape and Paddle-Ready

Yellow and orange kayak stacked

Ah, the thrill of kayaking! There's nothing quite like the rush of gliding through the water, connecting with nature, and feeling the sun on your skin. Kayaks are a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. 

Whether you are a beginner or an intermediate paddler, one thing's for sure: your kayak is your trusty vessel on these watery adventures. And just like any companion, it deserves a little love and care. 

That's where we come in! Welcome to our comprehensive guide on how to clean your kayak. Let's dive in and make sure your kayak stays in tip-top shape for all your upcoming escapades.

Gather Your Supplies

Cleaning materials for cleaning kayak

Embarking on every adventure with a clean slate is a mantra every outdoor enthusiast should live by. The pre-cleaning preparations help you get there at record speed so you can spend more time out on the water.

Before we dive into the world of kayak cleanliness, let's make sure we're fully equipped for the task. Here's what you'll need:

  • Mild soap
  • Water
  • Soft sponge or cloth
  • Kayak cleaner (optional but recommended)
  • Microfiber towels
  • Hose
  • Bucket

Cleaning the Outside of the Kayak

Imagine your kayak as a canvas waiting to be painted with adventure. But before we start painting, we need a clean canvas. Use a hose to rinse off loose dirt, sand, and any debris that might have hitched a ride on your last outing. Remember, a clean start sets the tone for the rest of the cleaning process.

Now that you've rinsed off the obvious culprits, it's time to give your kayak a gentle bath. Mix mild soap with water in a bucket to create a soapy solution. Dip your soft sponge or cloth into the solution and start scrubbing your kayak's surface. Go ahead, and enjoy the process – think of it as giving your kayak a spa day.

Sometimes, your kayak might have some stubborn spots that just won't budge with a gentle scrub. That's where kayak-specific cleaners come to the rescue. Apply a small amount to the trouble areas and gently scrub in a circular motion.

Now that your kayak is looking squeaky clean, it's time to rinse off all that soap. Use your hose to thoroughly rinse your kayak until all the soap residue is gone. We want your kayak to be free of both dirt and soap, it's all about balance, you know?

Saltwater Problems 

Saltwater is not your kayak's best friend. While it's invigorating to paddle in ocean kayaks, salt water is corrosive and can lead to long-term damage if left unchecked. So yes, there is value in considering ocean vs lake paddling!

Rinsing saltwater off prevents corrosion of metal, plastic, and rubber components. This will ensure the kayak’s structural integrity over a longer period of time.

The best way to effectively hold off the saltwater problem is to rinse off your gear straight after you exit the water. If you are able to clean your kayak straight away as well then that will be the best course of action.

Cleaning the Interior of the Kayak

Red sit in kayak interior

Give your kayak's interior the same level of love and attention you'd give its exterior. After all, a clean and well-maintained interior is just as important for a smooth and enjoyable paddling experience. 

Taking necessary and essential steps for cleaning the interior of your kayak is just as important as exterior washing. From removing debris and sanitizing the cockpit to avoiding mold and ensuring a thorough dry-down, here is everything you need to know to keep your inflatable kayaks and sit on top kayaks performing.

Removing Debris and Sand

  • Shake it Off: Start by tipping your kayak upside down or on its side to allow loose debris, sand, and pebbles to fall out naturally.
  • Gentle Sweep: Use a soft brush or your hands to gently sweep away any remaining debris. Be cautious not to scratch or damage the kayak's interior.

Sanitizing the Cockpit

  • The Importance of Cleanliness: Your kayak's cockpit is your paddling haven, and it's essential to keep it clean and hygienic.
  • Soap and Water Solution: Create a solution of mild soap and water in a bucket. Dip a clean cloth or sponge into the solution and wipe down the cockpit's surfaces, including the seat, footrests, and any storage compartments.
  • Rinse and Wipe: Rinse off the soap residue with clean water and wipe down the area again with a fresh cloth to ensure no residue is left behind.

Avoiding Mold

  • Ventilation Matters: After each use, make sure your kayak is stored in a well-ventilated area to discourage mold growth. If possible, prop the kayak up slightly to allow air circulation.

Drying Off

Blue tandem kayak drying under the sun

Just like you wouldn't leave a friend out in the rain, you shouldn't let your kayak stay wet for too long. Grab those trusty microfiber towels and dry your kayak thoroughly. Don't forget to pay extra attention to the nooks and crannies – water can be sneaky and hide in unexpected places.

Here are a few kayak drying methods for you to use:

  • The Vital Dry-Down: Just like your clothes after a swim, your kayak needs thorough drying to prevent mold or mildew growth.
  • Tilt and Drain: After cleaning, tilt the kayak to drain any water that might have been collected in the cockpit.
  • Sun and Air: If weather permits, place your kayak in a sunny and breezy spot to air-dry. This combination of sun and airflow helps to eliminate moisture and prevent mold formation.
  • Microfiber Towels: Use microfiber towels to wipe down any remaining moisture on the kayak's interior. Focus on areas that are hard to access or tend to retain water.

Care for Kayak Accessories

Just as you would do for your kayak, cleaning down your accessories is just as important all for the same reasons. Cleaning your paddle, PFD, and kayak seat in the same way as outlined above will maintain optimal performance.

Top tip: Make sure you detach kayak seats and padding to dry thoroughly. This will reduce the risk of mold build-up!

Maintenance Tips and Storage

Once your kayak is thoroughly dried you can put it into safe storage. Whether you are suspending your kayak from the garage ceiling or using a wall mount, a clean and dry kayak always stores best! 

Store your kayak in a shaded area, away from direct sunlight. Alternatively, use a kayak cover to shield it from the elements. If you want to go the extra mile, elevate your kayak slightly to prevent any unwanted warping or deformation.

It is important to regularly check for any wear and tear that might require repair. Finding small damages and repairing them earlier on is much easier than fixing ignored problems. You can apply protective coatings to your kayak to provide UV protection to safeguard the kayak from sun damage. This is definitely worth considering for basic kayak maintenance.

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Practices

Woman cleaning the interior of her kayak

As outdoor lovers, we have a unique connection to the water, and with that connection comes a responsibility to protect the environment we cherish. Just as we navigate the waves with care, we should approach kayak maintenance with an eco-conscious mindset. 

So, how can you adopt eco-friendly cleaning practices to minimize your impact on the environment, ensuring that your kayaking adventures leave only ripples of joy and not ecological footprints?

Choosing Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products

When selecting cleaning products for your kayak, be mindful and opt for biodegradable and non-toxic options. These products break down naturally without leaving harmful residues in the water.

Consider using natural solutions like a mixture of white vinegar and water for cleaning. Vinegar is a gentle yet effective cleaner that doesn't harm aquatic life.

Responsible Disposal and Waste Management

After cleaning your kayak, avoid pouring dirty water with cleaning agents directly into storm drains or water bodies. Instead, dispose of it down the sink or toilet to ensure it goes through wastewater treatment.

When you're finished with your cleaning products, make sure to recycle their packaging properly. This reduces the amount of plastic waste that could find its way into our oceans.

GILI Sports Mission

Here at GILI, we are passionate about doing our part to protect the environment. Our Mission is to give back and we do that through every purchase of our paddle boards. 

A proportion of every sale is filtered into ocean conservation organizations to save our oceans and sea creatures.

Wrapping Up

Congratulations, you've just completed Kayak Cleaning 101! 

With your kayak sparkling clean and ready to hit the water, you're all set for more amazing paddling experiences. Remember, a clean kayak isn't just a beautiful sight; it also ensures your kayak's longevity and peak performance. 

So, go ahead – paddle forth, explore new horizons, and cherish every moment on the water. Happy kayaking!


🏆 Can I use regular household cleaners on my kayak?

It is best to use mild soap or kayak-specific cleaners to avoid damaging the kayak's finish. Using proper cleaning products is important for the environment and the longevity of your kayak gear.

👍 How often should I clean my kayak?

Regular cleaning after each use is recommended, especially if you've been in saltwater. A thorough cleaning every few months is also a good idea. We recommend getting into the practice of rinsing your kayak and equipment after each paddle.

🏝️ Can I pressure wash my kayak?

While pressure washing can be tempting, it's safer to use a regular hose with a gentle spray to prevent potential damage to the kayak. Pressure washers can be too harsh and do not give you control.

❓ Are there any eco-friendly cleaning options?

Absolutely! Look for biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products to minimize your impact on the environment. Learn more in our article on eco-friendly kayaking practices.

📦 Can I leave my kayak in direct sunlight?

While it's best to store your kayak in a shaded area or use a cover, applying UV protection can help mitigate sun damage. Leaving your kayak in direct sunlight for a short period to dry off is totally okay.

Abi Leach
Abi Leach

Surfer, paddle boarder, and ocean lover. She loves traveling and discovering new destinations all across the world. When she's not writing, she's exploring the outdoors and enjoying fresh air.

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