I have been washing kayaks for several years now. Every kind of kayak – from polyethylene sit-on-tops to Carbon-Kevlar composite sea kayaks. I have cleaned, washed, and polished enough kayaks to have developed a solid repertoire of what products and methods work, and those which simply do not work.
Washing and polishing your kayak periodically is one of the best ways to protect your investment from scratches, UV damage, acid rain damage, staining, and gel-coat cracks. Not only does it protect and maintain your gel coat’s appearance, but it keeps your boat looking new and glossy. Whether you are looking to bring an old, dull composite kayak back to life or you are looking for the best process in keeping your kayak clean and protected, this guide will provide you with the necessary supplies and steps necessary to get the job done.
- Running water/garden hose
- Terry cloths
- Micro-fiber cloths
- Latex gloves
- Car/boat wash soap solution
- Don’t get too picky with the soap. I would recommend any type of car wash or boat wash solution. Just make sure it’s clear-coat/gel coat safe, and you’re golden.
- FSR (Fiberglass Stain Remover)
- This product is designed to remove pond scum and large “set in” surface stains on fiberglass. Although it’s non-abrasive, this blue goop is pretty powerful stuff so I only use it about once a season. Only use on kayaks with a gel-coat finish.
- 3M Cleaner Wax
- A great product designed for car detailing but works miracles on composite kayaks. Polishes out surface scratches, removes surface stains/scuffs/markings, and provides a beautiful glossy coat while leaving a protective finish.
- You can also use a marine wax of your preference.
- 303 Aerospace Plastic Protectant
In preparation, fill your bucket with water and add a cap or two full of soap solution. The next thing you want to do is find a clean, flat area to wash your kayak. Utilize kayak cradles or stands if you have them, if not, a deck or grassy lawn works great.
First, wash down the kayak with your garden hose to remove any surface dirt, pollen, debris, sea salt, etc. While the kayak is still wet, take your sponge and soak it in the soap/water solution. Never use the abrasive side of the sponge. This can dull the gel coat surface and cause permanent swirl marks/scratches. Wash down the entire kayak with the soap/water solution. This will remove any stubborn dirt and debris, and some minor surface markings.
After you scrub down the surface with your soap/water solution, rinse down the kayak with your garden hose again to remove any excess suds. Let your kayak air dry, or towel dry the surface if you prefer.
The next step involves removing the stubborn deep surface stains on your hull. These stains are typically caused by pond scum, sea weed, bird droppings, or rust. Turn your kayak over and make sure the entire hull is dry to the touch – you don’t want any left over moisture for this next stage. Put on your latex gloves and grab a fresh jar of FSR.
Make sure you shake your FSR thoroughly as the contents tend to separate. Using a clean sponge, terry cloth, or brush apply the FSR to the entire surface of the hull. Spread it uniformly, and try to leave a thin film over the surface of the gel coat. After your apply your FSR, let it dry for ten to fifteen minutes. A filmy haze will form over the surface as it dries. Next, grab your hose and wash down the hull again. Most of the FSR should wash off with this step, but I would recommend running a soapy sponge over the surface once more. Note: FSR is a fairly strong product, and while non-abrasive, it can still cause skin irritation. Be cautious and wear latex gloves while applying FSR.
The next stage involves the polishing/waxing process. The 3M Cleaner Wax works best if it’s applied with a damp terry cloth. Depending on your preference, you can start with the hull or the deck first. Using a quarter sized amount, begin applying the product uniformly in small circular motions up and down the kayak. Moving from side to side in the circular motion has shown to be the most effective method. You don’t need to apply a lot or pressure, remember, you are not “hand buffing” the kayak. When applying the cleaner wax to the deck, remember to lift up deck lines and avoid deck fittings. While it won’t damage deck lines or fittings, it can leave behind white residue which can be stubborn to get out sometimes. (See the ‘pro tip’ section at the bottom regarding deck line removal). Just as you did with the FSR, let the product dry to a filmy haze. Most of the time, one end of the kayak will be already cured by the time you finish the other end.
Next, grab your micro-fiber cloth and begin polishing away. This is my favorite part of the entire process as it begins to reveal the final results of your hard work. This part is pretty straight forward – using circular motions polish the surface to remove all excess wax film.
After you have completed polishing the remainder of the kayak, look for any surface markings, scuffs, or stains that may still remain. These are the marks which will require a little extra muscle. After you have identified a mark that needs some extra care, grab your damp terry cloth and some more 3M cleaning wax. Using a small amount, apply extra pressure and small circular motions to buff the marks away. Because the cleaning wax is mildly abrasive, it may take a little extra time to work out these stubborn stains. After the stains/marks have been buffed out, grab your micro-fiber cloth and polish those areas to a shine.
As for the hatch covers and other rubber/plastic fittings, I would recommend that you can grab some 303 Aerospace Plastic Protectant and give them a quick spray. This will add a refreshing shine to your hatch covers and protect them from UV damage and other harsh environmental elements.
One way to maximize the washing and waxing process is to remove the deck lines prior to starting the process. While this creates a little work at the beginning of the process and may require some hand tools, it ultimately makes the process easier. By removing the deck lines, you create an unobstructed area to clean and wax without bumping into lines, fittings, and hardware. If you are using an orbital buffer, removing the deck lines is a must to prevent getting the lines tangled or snagged on the buffing pad.
Feel free to post any questions if you need any further clarification on the cleaning process…