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How to wash, clean, and polish a composite kayak

Posted by on June 2, 2012

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.

Recommended supplies:

    • Bucket
    • Running water/garden hose
    • Sponge
    • 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.

                                   

 

 **PRO TIP**

 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.    remove deck lines

Feel free to post any questions if you need any further clarification on the cleaning process…

-Alex

 

21 Responses to How to wash, clean, and polish a composite kayak

  1. Dwight Terrance

    I have made some repairs and have additional gel coat. Will this process be any different?

    • arrudad

      Hi Dwight:

      The cleaning process should not be any different than the one that Alex has prescribed despite the repairs and additional gel coat. I hope that your kayak comes out looking squeaky clean!

      -Kayak Dave

  2. Anna

    Hey, my carbon jkk kayak doesn’t have a gel coat. Can I still use your cleaning and waxing method?

    • arrudad

      Hi Anna:

      Typically, if a composite kayak does not have a gel coat then it has a clear coat instead (and I assume that this is the case for your kayak). The best way wash and wax a kayak with a clear coat is to use a mild detergent (car washing soap) to get the dirt and grime off and then apply a marine or automotive wax by hand. Stay away from the more caustic cleaners such as FSR as these have the potential to turn your clear coat cloudy. Also, stay away from any abrasives when you go to wax and buff as thus will scratch the clear coat.

      I hope this helps get your kayak sparking clean :)

      -Kayak Dave

      • Anna

        Hey Dave,
        Woops i got way to excited to wait for your reply and put on the FSR and 3M wax.
        And yes it is now all cloudy and chalky and horrible! even embarrassing.
        What can i do now to fix it?
        And yes it does have a clear coat sorry. But it is worn down mostly and the FSR is clinging to it making it look terrible :(
        Please help!
        Anna

      • arrudad

        Hey Anna!

        When I first saw your comment about the clouding my reaction was “Ouch, this is one of those cases that’s hard to come back from.” However, I made a few phone calls and thankfully the prognosis is a little better than I thought.

        The problem with FSR is that it’s a chemical cleaner and it cross-reacts with the clear coat which causes it to become cloudy (damaged). There is a chance that a professional could buff this cloudiness out assuming that it didn’t penetrate too deeply. The buffing removes a very thin layer of the clear coat thus exposing fresh clear coat below it. You really want a professional to do this because they’ll have a better sense of what buffing compounds to use and how far to take it without damaging or further damaging the clear coat. If you’re in Massachusetts then your best bet will be to call Roger Crawford at Crawford Boat Buildling in Marshfield. He said that there’s a good chance he can do something for it but would need to see the kayak and test a spot with a buffer. Otherwise your best bet will be to contact a boat builder or an experienced auto detailer in your local area and see if they can help.

        Sorry that this has turned out poorly but there’s a good chance that it can be fixed :)

        -Kayak Dave

      • Anna

        Hey Dave,
        Unfortunately I live in New Zealand.
        Ill have to contact a boat builder here to see if he can have a look at it.
        Thanks,
        Anna

  3. Bryan S.

    Hi,
    Thanks for the post. Does the 3M wax product contain silicone? I have some turtle wax product that I was going to use when I realized that it has silicone which can interfere with subsequent finishes (gel coat or epoxy repairs). Or, am I off base on this concern?
    Thanks in advance,
    Bryan

    • arrudad

      Hi Bryan:

      You should be ok using any marine or automotive wax on your kayak.

      -Kayak Dave

  4. Michelle Todd

    I live in Vero Beach Florida. Wht type of wash and wax shouyld I use because of the heat and salt air.
    Any help will be appreciated.
    Michelle Todd
    Vero Beach, Fl.

    • arrudad

      Hi Michelle!

      I assume that you are talking about a composite kayak (ie made of fiberglass, kevlar, or carbon). If so, consider using a mild car wash to clean your kayak then apply a coat or two of marine-specific wax by hand. These materials can be found at your local marine supply shop. Store your kayak in a shady spot or indoors to further protect it from the sun. Let me know if you have any more questions :)

      -Kayak Dave

  5. VICTOR ZURITA

    Have you worked on clear kayaks? Would this method be applicable?

    • arrudad

      Hi Victor!

      I’m a little bit confused about what you’re asking. Do you mean a kayak with a clear coat? or a see through kayak? The method presented in this post is good for composite kayaks with a non-clear gel coat. Clear-coats require a bit more case to prevent them from getting cloudy. If this is the case then consider using a more mild car wash soap to remove any dirt and grime and follow that up with a coat of marine wax. Do not use FRS on a clear coat as this will react with the surface and cause it to become cloudy and damaged. If you’re referring to a see-through kayak then what you are dealing with is some sort of plastic and the method in this post does not apply. You can always contact the kayak manufacturer directly to see products they might advise using.

      Happy Paddling!

      -Kayak Dave

  6. Cindy

    Great article! I am getting ready to polish up my composite gel-coated kayak and have one question:
    the article shows 3M Paste Cleaner Wax but I haven’t found this exact procut. I did find a spray-on product from 3M “Marine Cleaner & Wax” – is this as good or shall I go for the paste wax plus the “elbow grease” to get that good shine?

    Thanks so much!

    • Kayak Dave

      Hi Cindy!

      Most of my experience has been with the paste wax and I’ve always had great results. Can’t speak too much to the spray on products. All that I can say is that a good amount of elbow grease goes a long way toward achieving that nice, clean shine :)!

      -Happy Paddling!

      Kayak Dave

  7. Leslie

    Our carbon Kevlar kayaks have a lot of whitish discoloration. I assume this to be oxidation. Is there anything that will get this off?

    • Kayak Dave

      Hi Leslie!

      It sounds to me like you’re dealing with a clear-coat (just epoxy, no gel coat) on the hull of your carbon-kevlar kayak. If this is the case then please consult someone at a marine supply shop near you before applying any compounds to your hull. I have heard of a few instances were certain cleaners and buffing agents have made clear coats more cloudy. If, by chance, you do have a gel coat on your hull then I’d recommend using a 3M, high gloss buffing compound applied with an orbital buffer to remove the cloudiness (oxidation). Buffing will remove a thin layer of the gel coat to expose a layer that is not oxidized. I hope this information helps :)

      Happy Paddling (and waxing)!

      -Kayak Dave

      • Leslie

        I have heard that wet sanding with 600 grit sandpaper and following with a finer grade then polishing will work, What are your thoughts on this?

  8. Andy Darvill

    Hi any advice on repairing scratches on a Carbon Kevlar kayak? Thanks, Andy D

    • Alex Russo

      Hi Andy,

      Any scratches that cannot be removed with clear coat safe polishing compound and a terry cloth should be handled by a professional. Folks training in automotive body repair, marine fiberglass, or specialty composites i.e. snowboards, could provide you with the expertise needed to properly address the scratches. Often, a high speed orbital buffer is the best tool for composite scratch repair but if you are not trained in using this, you could cause more harm than good.

      Hope this helps! Thanks for reading,
      Alex

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