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How to Clean and Dry an Inflatable Kayak (Simple Steps)

Inflatable kayaks are easy to transport and store, which makes them appealing for a lot of people. What does not make them appealing is the process of cleaning and drying before you pack them away. In this article, we share some tips on how to clean and dry an inflatable kayak.

It’s essential to make sure an inflatable kayak is appropriately cleaned and dried before you pack it away for long periods. This will help extend the life of the kayak and prevent things like mold and mildew from growing inside your boat.

Caring for an inflatable kayak can be a pain in the butt. It’s also necessary to keep your kayak performing for years to come. If you take the time to clean and dry your inflatable kayak, you will be happy you did.

How did my kayak get so dirty?

It’s kind of amazing how much grime, dirt, mud, etc., ends up in a kayak.  If you have a muddy, sandy, or dirty launch spot, you probably track this grime into the kayak when you launch the boat. Or, the waterway you are paddling might be murky and leave a film or residue on your inflatable kayak.

It’s essential to clean this stuff off before you fold your kayak up and put it away to keep your kayak in good shape going forward.

How to clean an inflatable kayak

You may not be able to thoroughly clean your inflatable kayak as soon as you get off the water. In many cases, you will need to pack up and clean the boat when you get home.

Sometimes, the spots you take out may be dirty, muddy, grimy, sandy, etc., with no access to running fresh water to rinse off your boat. You can wipe down your kayak with a towel before you toss it in your car for the ride home.  Then give it a comprehensive cleaning when you get home.

How to clean and dry an inflatable kayak infographicPin

Remove everything you can

Before you start hosing your kayak down, remove everything from the boat, so you clean it thoroughly.  Take out the seats, dry bags, and any other gear that can be removed.  It’s good to start with a clean slate so you can wash all the areas thoroughly.

Soap and water if needed

Depending on how dirty your inflatable kayak is, you may need to use mild soap and water when you clean it.  Some people like to inflate the boat when they get home, rinse it down, then suds it up. It’s kind of like washing a car.

Other folks find it easier to clean the kayak when it’s deflated. It depends on the kayak you own and what works best for you. After you clean the inflatable kayak a few times, you will figure out what works best for your situation.

Wash the inside and outside sides, and clean in between all the air chambers. You might be surprised at all the places dirt can find to hide. Then flip the inflatable over and clean the bottom as well. 

If you clean the kayak when it’s inflated and your kayak as a removable floor, remove the floor so you can clean the inside bottom of the boat.  You can clean the floor separately too.

If your kayak isn’t super dirty, you might skip this step altogether and move to the next step, rinsing.

Rinse with fresh water

After you have cleaned your inflatable kayak with soapy water, it’s time to thoroughly rinse the kayak. Depending on how dirty your kayak is, it’s usually a good idea to rinse it off with fresh water after using it, especially if you paddle on saltwater.

Make sure you get all the nooks and crannies when you rinse them off.  If you have sand, mud, or other grime inside the kayak, it’s essential to get this stuff out before storing the kayak for extended periods.

If you washed the kayak with soap, make sure you get all the soapy water out.  You might need to spray the inside of the kayak a few times to get soap or grim entirely out. You can drain the boat by flipping it over and then respray it until everything is rinsed off.  Repeat the process until you are satisfied.

Take this rinsing process with a bit of a grain of salt (see what I did there?).  You will not be able to get every grain of sand, salt, or pebble out of the kayak.  Rinse and repeat until you have most everything clean.

How to dry an inflatable kayak

Drying your inflatable kayak is a critical step in caring for your boat.  This can also be one of the most tedious and frustrating parts of maintaining an inflatable kayak. It’s just so darn hard to get all the water out.

Use towels

Whether you used soap and water to clean your boat or simply rinsed it off with fresh water, your inflatable kayak is now wet, inside and out. Using a towel is an excellent way to make some quick progress on drying.

It’s easy to dry off the outside and bottom of the boat. The hard part is getting all the water out from inside.  Some people dry the boat inflated, and others find it easier to do so deflated. It depends on your inflatable kayak and what works best for you.

Use a towel to dry the inside, along with the air chambers, gaps, seams, creases, everywhere you can reach.  You might be surprised where water can hide.  It’s often helpful to have another set of hands, someone who can separate different parts of the kayak while you towel it off.

If you have a sit-inside model, it can be difficult to reach under the bow and stern to get all the water.  To get those hard-to-reach places, you might try a stick or paint pole with a towel on the end.

Use gravity to your advantage. If your kayak is inflated, turn it upside down and hoist it overhead. You can pivot and tilt the kayak in different directions to get the water out.  You might be surprised how much water is hiding.

Inflated or deflated?

Some people inflate their kayak when drying them out, and others deflate them. Some people like a partially inflated (deflated) boat. It really depends on the boat and figuring out what method works best for you. 

Let it air dry

Once you have dried the kayak with a towel as much as you can, it’s time to let it air dry.  If you have space outdoors or in a garage, that’s a great place to let your boat air dry.  Ideally, you will want to keep the kayak undercover. 

Depending on the climate you live in, the sun can be a great helper to dry your kayak.  But over time, the sun can also damage inflatable kayaks.

One option is inflating the kayak, turning it upside down, and setting it on a ladder (or two).  The upside-down kayak floor will be in contact with the top of the ladder. This method helps to use the weight of the upside-down inflated kayak to open up the crevasses and allow water to dry.

You can also use saw horses, chairs, or whatever else you have available.  This same method works if the kayak is deflated. Drape it over something and allow it to dry.

Depending on the weather or climate you live in, it can take a long time to air dry.  If you don’t have an outdoor space, you will have to bring the kayak inside, hopefully in a basement or similar area.

Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, you can also try setting up a fan to help speed up the drying process.

How dry does an inflatable kayak need to be?

If you plan to store your kayak for a long time like during the offseason, the kayak needs to be bone dry.  If it’s during the season, and you are using the inflatable kayak every weekend or a couple of times per week, it doesn’t need to be completely dry.

For example, in the latter case, make sure you get the puddles out and let the kayak air-dry overnight.

If you are using the inflatable kayak frequently, you don’t need to go through the painstaking process to make sure it is 100% dry.

Storing your inflatable kayak

Now that your kayak is clean and ready for storage, here are some more tips.

Properly deflate your kayak

Basically, do not store your kayak while it is inflated. The kayak needs to be completely void of air before you store it.  Storing your kayak when it’s fully inflated can lead to punctures.  Temperature changes can cause the kayak to expand, which can be bad for seams and valves.

Folding your kayak

Try to fold or roll your kayak up a little bit differently each time. This will prevent weak points in the kayak material from being folded in the same spots all the time. Mix it up as much as you can if possible.

If there are plastic skeg attachment plates, be careful not to bend them, as they might break.  If there is a valve at one end of the kayak, keep the valve open and start rolling from the opposite end to help force any remaining air out of the kayak.

Storing

Once your boat is clean, dry, and folded, you can put the kayak back in the bag if it has one.  Store the kayak in a cool, dry place where rodents will not take up residence. 

It’s best to store your inflatable kayak indoors, but if it has to be outside, cover it with a tarp to keep it out of the sun and protected from rodents.

Watch the weather

Freezing cold temperatures can wreak havoc on your inflatable kayak.  If you store the kayak in a shed or outside, you need to make sure it is completely dry to avoid water freezing inside.  If possible, keep your kayak stored indoors to avoid weather issues.

Watch out for the sun

Although your kayak will be exposed to the sun when you are using it, it’s not a good idea to store the boat in direct sunlight.  The sun is one of your biggest enemies when it comes to storage.

It’s okay to let your kayak air dry in the sun for a while, but don’t overdo it.

Protectant

Deviating a little bit from cleaning and drying your inflatable kayak, it’s a good idea to use UV protectant on your boat a few times per year. A product like 303 Protectant is basically like sunscreen for your kayak. 

You can apply it before the kayaking season and then every 4-6 weeks after that, depending on how often you need it.  Check with your manufacturer’s recommendations for specifics.

Wrapping up

Caring for your inflatable kayak will help extend its life and keep it functioning for years to come. Yes, it can be a pain to get the kayak completely dry, but it’s worth it in the long run.

If you use your kayak frequently (weekly or more) during the season, you can get away with some moisture. Storing the boat long-term, it needs to be bone dry.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.  Keep on paddling!

Steve Morrow Founder of Paddle About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.

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