How To Clean and Dry Your Inflatable Kayak Properly

Did you know improper cleaning and storage can lead to mold, mildew and deterioration of your inflatable kayak? Safeguarding your boat's longevity and performance requires a meticulous post-paddle maintenance ritual. Learn a foolproof system for washing, drying and storing your inflatable kayak to keep it in prime condition for years to come. We reveal the best techniques and products to use, rookie mistakes to avoid, and tips to prevent damaging wear and tear between adventures!
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Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

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Nessa Hopkins

ACA-Certified Kayaking Instructor

Vanessa is a certified kayaking instructor, has taught over 500 people how to kayak, and is a senior member of the American Canoe Association. By combining her deep understanding of the sport and a background in journalism, she offers a wealth of experience and expertise to our growing water sports community, promising to educate and inspire paddlers of all levels.

Proper cleaning and drying of your inflatable kayak are essential for maintaining its performance, durability, and longevity. It also helps prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species, which can wreak havoc on ecosystems when transported from one water body to another.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of cleaning and drying your inflatable kayak, including:

  • Gathering the necessary supplies, such as mild soap, sponges, towels, and a UV protectant
  • Preparing your work area and inflating your kayak to the proper pressure
  • Removing dirt, debris, and salt deposits from the kayak’s surface and accessories
  • Washing the kayak with a mild soap solution and rinsing it thoroughly
  • Drying your inflatable kayak effectively to prevent mold and mildew growth
  • Applying a UV protectant to shield your kayak from sun damage during storage

We’ll also address common questions about cleaning and drying inflatable kayaks, such as:

  • Should you clean your kayak inflated or deflated?
  • How often should you clean your inflatable kayak?
  • What are the best practices for storing your kayak between uses?

By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to properly clean and dry your inflatable kayak, ensuring it remains in top condition for your next paddling adventure.

In a Rush? Here Are The Key Takeaways

  • Why should you clean and dry your inflatable kayak? Regular cleaning prevents mold, extends the kayak’s life, and ensures optimal performance. Plus, it minimizes your risk of spreading aquatic nuisance species.
  • How often should you clean it? A quick rinse is recommended after each outing, while a deep clean is more appropriate at the end of the season or before long periods of non-use..
  • Things you’ll need to clean an inflatable kayak: Microfiber cloths, a sponge, a bucket, a hose, mild soap, UV protectant, a vacuum cleaner, dry towels, and a tarp.
  • Cleaning and drying for transport: Rinse the kayak while in the water and drain any excess water. Remove seats and accessories, towel-dry, open valves, deflate, fold, roll, and pack the kayak inside of its travel bag. Make sure to leave the bag open slightly to allow any residual moisture to escape.
  • How to clean a kayak for storage: Fully inflate and inspect it for any signs of damage. If necessary, make any repairs. Vacuum the cockpit, then hose it down and thoroughly clean with mild soap. Next, rinse with fresh clean water, allow it to air dry, and then apply UV-protective spray. Finally, deflate and pack it up.

Supplies You Will Need

Supplies required to clean a kayak

Preparing to clean and dry your inflatable boat is like gearing up for an adventure – you’ll need the right tools.

For cleaning your inflatable ‘yak:

  • Microfiber cloths
  • Sponge
  • Bucket
  • A hose that’s connected to a freshwater supply
  • Mild soapy water ( both dish soap and boat wash will do the job)
  • UV protectant (303)
  • Vacuum cleaner

For properly drying it: 

  • Dry towels
  • Hair dryer (it’s optional but great for hidden corners and creases)

Oh, and one more thing – where you do this matters, too. You’ll need a spacious, relatively flat, and debris-free surface. 

Here’s a hot tip: 

Consider getting a pair of kayak stands – but if that’s not an option, try using two chairs or saw horses. If all else fails, a groundsheet or a big ol’ tarp will do the trick.

Quickly Cleaning And Drying An Inflatable Kayak For Transport

Man drying an Inflatable Kayak after an outing

I’ve seen way too many people hastily pack away their ‘yaks, still dripping wet and covered in grit and sand – and it makes me shudder every single time. The worst part is, you’ll see those same people act surprised when it ends up causing black mold or leaking valves. 

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was one of those people. All until, I learned a valuable, and expensive, lesson about the importance of proper cleaning when my top of the range inflatable only lasted for one session – all in an attempt to save a few minutes. I still cry about it today.

Honestly, it’s really not that hard to give your kayak a quick rinse, it just requires some discipline. 

A rough clean and a quick dry is all that is needed after every outing – it will take you a maximum of 10 minutes!

Step #1: Rinse Before Exiting The Water

You can give your ‘yak a quick rinse while you’re still in the water to remove any grit, sand, and debris you might’ve picked up during your outing.

Step #2: Drain Excess Water

Once you’ve rinsed your kayak, get rid of any lingering water. You can roll the kayak to drain it or lift one side and let the water flow out. If there’s still a bit of water trapped inside, use a bilge pump and sponge to help to remove it from any hard to reach crevices.

I’ll assume you keep these onboard; that’s kayaking safety 101.

Step #3: Remove The Kayak From The Water

Remove from the water and place the kayak on a clean, dry, and flat surface. But let’s be real – what are the chances of finding these perfect conditions at your take-out spot? 

That’s where a tarp comes in handy: 

It’ll prevent the wet hull from picking up mud or dirt as you dry the kayak. Plus, it makes the whole process way easier.

Step #4: Remove Seats & Accessories

Now is a good time to remove the kayak seat and other accessories – footrests, thigh straps, skegs, and all that stuff. They’ll just get in the way. Besides, every part of your kayak deserves attention – so give your gear a rinse, too.

Step #5: Towel-Dry The Kayak

Next, use a towel to dry the inside, wipe down your kayak to remove as much moisture as possible. Starting from one end, work your way around the kayak – and be sure to flip it over and dry the bottom of the hull, too. 

Step #6: Open The Valves & Deflate

Now, it’s time to open the kayak’s valves to deflate it. I suggest deflating the floor chamber first. There’s usually water trapped between the seams, so have your towel handy as it will give you a chance to dry these hard to reach places thoroughly. 

Step #7: Fold, Dry, And Roll 

My go-to trick for ensuring that you don’t miss any spots? Doing it in stages – or, as I like to call it, the fold-dry-roll approach

Starting from the non-valve end of your ‘yak to squeeze out any remaining air, fold it one section at a time, wiping the kayak between rolls. By the time you reach the valves, you’ll have a fully deflated and – hopefully – completely dry ‘yak. 

Step #8: Stow & Go

I’m sure you’re confident in your kayak-drying skills – but I’d still suggest leaving the bag open for the time being to ensure you’re not trapping any lingering excess moisture inside. 

It’s one of those “better safe than sorry” scenarios.

Oh, and don’t forget to hang your kayak seat outside to dry once you’re home. You don’t want to go through the trouble of drying your kayak only to leave the seat all wet, do you?  

I typically hang mine outside in the garden for a few hours, or in the garage if the weather isn’t great – but never, I repeat, never ever dry your accessories on a radiator.

Head shot of the editor, Sam O'Brien Editor’s Note

There’s no need to deep-clean your inflatable kayak after every outing if you stick to inland lakes and rivers.  I tend to only fully wash, with soap and clean water, my kayak once a month in peak session.

But what about after kayaking in a saltwater environment? 

Cleaning your kayak thoroughly after kayaking in saltwater is an absolute MUST.

Saltwater is enemy number one of any metal fittings and fastenings you may find on your ‘yak. I found this out the hard way, losing a seat or two to the sea – and you don’t want to repeat my mistakes, do you?

So, if you have been kayaking in the ocean, then at a minimum, its a good idea to rinse your kayak with fresh water after each use. I recommend that you, ideally, wash the saltwater off the boat with a mild soap and water solution before packing and storing your kayak.

– Sam O’Brien

How To Clean Your Inflatable Kayak For Storage

Man folding up deflated inflatable kayak.

It’s the end of the season, and you don’t plan on using your ‘yak for quite a while? In that case, I’ve got five words for you: 

Deep clean your inflatable kayak. 

Here’s how to do it: 

Step #1: Prepare The Work Area

Okay, first things first:

  • Gather all your cleaning supplies 
  • Spread out a tarp to protect your workspace (or set up a kayak stand) 
  • Inflate your kayak to around 75-80% of its recommended PSI 

Remember your paddling accessories and storage bag; you’ll be amazed at how much dirt these can pick up after a session of kayaking.

Step #2: Give The Kayak A Thorough Inspection 

I typically start each end-of-season, deep-cleaning session with a thorough inspection of my inflatable kayak – and I suggest you do, too. 

Begin at the bow and work your way down to the stern, focusing on the seams, valves, and other areas prone to wear and tear. 

See any signs of damage? Fix them before putting your ‘yak away. 

Step #3: Vacuum The Inside Of The Kayak

Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up any dirt or sand inside the kayak, focusing on the seams between the walls and floor. Oh, and don’t forget to pop open the valve covers; there might be some debris hiding around the valve body.

Step #4: Give It A Quick Rinse

Give your kayak a quick hose-down with fresh water. It’ll wash off any clinging grit and mud and help loosen up any dried-on dirt, making the cleaning process a lot easier. 

Don’t forget to rinse out the kayak’s storage bag. Otherwise, what’s the point? 

Step #5: Clean The Kayak Inside and Outside

Now, it’s showtime – giving your ‘yak a deep clean. 

Use a gentle water – dish soap or 303® Marine Multi-Purpose Cleaning solution, for example – and a soft microfiber cloth to give it a thorough wipe-down. A gentle, soft-bristle brush can be quite effective for any pesky marks or stains.

Remember to clean every nook and cranny – including sidewalls, deck, hull, and valve bodies. Give your accessories a good wipe-down, too; a scrubbing brush could come in handy here.

Step #6: Rinse With Clean Water

Next, you’ll need to thoroughly rinse your inflatable kayak and accessories with clean water and wash away any lingering soap. 

You don’t want chemicals clinging to your ‘yak, do you?

Make sure to use a low-pressure water source – a garden hose, a bucket or watering can for example. 

Step #7: Remove Excess Water

Before drying make sure to get rid of excess water. You can flip it over, tilt it to the side, and tip it from one end; let it drain on its own. If there’s still some stubborn water left, a sponge or microfiber towel should soak it right up. 

Step #8: Towel Dry

Time for some towel action! 

Drying your inflatable kayak is arguably the most important step – so take your time and be thorough.

Using a microfiber towel, work your way around the hull – inside and out, top and bottom. On that note, I suggest flipping the kayak over; it makes drying the bottom of the hull a lot easier. 

Step #9: Let It Air Dry

It is important to remove all the moisture before packaging away – even the smallest amount of water will be a potential breeding ground for mold and mildew growth. So once you’re done with the towel-drying, the waiting game begins. 

Yup, I’m talking about letting your kayak air dry.

Now, what’s a good spot for a kayak-drying session?

You’ll need a well-ventilated area – away from direct sunlight and any heat sources. The harmful UV rays from the sun are not friendly towards inflatables, so trust me on that.

Ideally, you’ll have the ‘yak set up on a stand, allowing the air to circulate around it. But if not, don’t worry; just give it a flip every now and then.

Here’s a tip:

If the weather isn’t on your side and it’s taking forever to dry, try speeding up the drying process with a hair dryer – using the “cool” setting, of course.

Step #10: Apply UV-Protective Spray

PVC can withstand many things – but UV rays are not one of them. So, consider giving it a coat of UV-protective spray, like 303 Protectant, before you put it away. It’ll prevent the materials from deteriorating and fading while your ‘yak is lounging in storage

Step #12: Pack Away And Store

Okay, your inflatable is clean, dry, and has a fresh, new coat of UV protection – which means it’s time to pack it away.

Now, you have two options when it comes to storing your inflatable kayak:

  • Store it deflated and packed away into its bag. Don’t squeeze too tight when you roll it up, though. Otherwise, you might cause permanent creasing and weaken the seams. 
  • Store it inflated and covered – but remember to let some air out and lower the PSI to around 75-80% of the max to account for the expansion of air. 

Find a cool, dry place for it, away from any heat sources and direct sunlight..

Why Is It Important To Properly Clean And Dry Your Kayak?

Letting your inflatable boat air dry in the sun

You’ll hear people – me included – talking about the importance of properly cleaning and drying an inflatable kayak, but you’re still unsure why? 

Well, I can give you a few reasons: 

  • Prevents Mold & Mildew – Ever unpacked your kayak and been hit with a funky, musty odor? That’s mold and mildew – trust me, it’s not a welcome passenger. Mold loves damp spots – and an ignored, poorly maintained ‘yak is like a five-star hotel for the stuff. 
  • Prolongs The Life Of Your Kayak – I’m sure you want your kayak to be your lifelong adventure buddy – and proper cleaning and drying techniques can add years to its lifespan. That means more years of water adventures – and lower repair costs.
  • Ensures Optimal Performance On The Water – Imagine yourself gliding through the water, your kayak responding effortlessly to every stroke. Well, a clean ‘yak can do that. But a dirty one? It’s like paddling through peanut butter. Yup, even small amounts of dirt, algae, and debris can create resistance, making it harder to paddle.
  • Prevents The Spread Of Aquatic Nuisance Species – Here’s a side of cleaning your ‘yak that often gets ignored – environmental responsibility. Dirty kayaks can unknowingly transport invasive species from one water body to another, wreaking havoc on aquatic ecosystems. 

Doesn’t that make you want to grab a sponge and get your ‘yak gleaming?

Frequently Asked Questions On How To Clean And Dry Your Inflatable Kayak

Should you clean your kayak inflated or deflated?

When cleaning an inflatable kayak, it is best to do so with the boat inflated. A fully inflated structure provides a solid surface, making scrubbing and rinsing easier. Plus, you can easily spot any dirt and debris trapped in the seams or between the air chambers – areas that could be easily overlooked if the kayak was deflated.

How do you get mold off an inflatable kayak?

To get mold and mildew off an inflatable kayak, use a mixture of equal parts of water and distilled white vinegar or a mild bleach-water solution.  The acidic nature of vinegar works well to break down mold without damaging the kayak’s material.  Be sure to rinse thoroughly and let the kayak dry afterward.  It’s important to remember: prevention is better than cure. By ensuring your kayak is properly dried after each use and stored in a well-ventilated area, you can significantly reduce the risk of mold growth.

How long does it take to dry an inflatable kayak?

The drying time for an inflatable kayak largely depends on the ambient conditions and the materials of the kayak itself. In optimal drying conditions – think a sunny day with a light breeze – an inflatable kayak can dry in as little as 30 minutes to a couple of hours. However, in more humid conditions or when there’s little air circulation, the process can take longer, sometimes several hours.

How dry does an inflatable kayak need to be?

An inflatable kayak must be bone-dry before long-term storage; lingering moisture could cause mold and mildew growth. This not only affects the kayak’s durability but can also introduce a musty odor which can be challenging to eliminate. However, towel drying is usually sufficient for quick transportation and short-term storage.

Can you pressure wash an inflatable kayak?

Using a pressure washer on an inflatable kayak is not recommended. While inflatable kayaks are designed to be durable and withstand the forces of moving water, the concentrated jet from a pressure washer can be too forceful.  This can lead to unnecessary wear, or worse, create small punctures or weaken the seams. If your inflatable kayak has substantial dirt or grime, it’s best to use a low power water source like a garden hose along with with a soft brush or sponge. For stubborn spots, a mild, non-abrasive cleaner can be used.

Can you use bleach to clean a kayak?

You may use diluted bleach to clean a kayak, but it’s generally safer to use a mild detergent, dish soap, or a specialized cleaner like 303® Marine Multi-Purpose Cleaner. It’ll clean things up without the harsh chemicals.

Inflatable Kayak Cleaning: Summary

Whether you’re prepping it for some downtime between outings or tucking it away for a while, here’s the low-down on how to clean inflatable kayak:

  • You’ll need some fresh water, mild soap, old towels, a sponge, UV protectant, and kayak stands or a big tarp 
  • Rinse with a low-pressure water source
  • Dry with a towel and leave out to air dry 
  • Deflate and pack the ‘yak into a bag 
  • Store it in a dry and cool area, away from direct sunlight 

I get it; it’s a boring and time-consuming task, but proper maintenance is a must if you want to take care of your inflatable, and keep it in good condition for years to come.

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Sam OBrien

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

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