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The Ultimate DIY Inflatable Boat Cleaning Guide | Step-by-Step

how to clean inflatable boats
Written by Jeremy Stevens

Cleaning an inflatable boat is a simple job, but it also has its risks. For example, if you use the wrong cleaner, your boat may end up seriously damaged after the cleaning process. Some popular cleaning products are so corrosive and so abrasive that they can easily ruin the top coat of your boat in minutes. When this happens, air leaks may also appear.

So, if you have concerns about the well-being of your best inflatable boat, you should choose an appropriate cleaner. In addition, you need to learn the correct cleaning techniques to preserve the entire inflatable structure.

Today, we’ll give you some valuable tips to learn how to clean inflatable boats and prevent damage caused by external agents.

How to choose the right cleaning products?

In the actual market, there are a lot of multi-use cleaners that supposedly can be applied on inflatable boats. But the truth is that most of these products are completely useless and also can be harmful for your boat. If you don’t want to take unnecessary risks, better opt for mild soaps and detergents.

However, you should be careful with some kinds of soaps that may leave residues on the boat surface. These residues can attract dirt and stick it on the surface. Also, soap scum is food for mold and mildew. So, if you don’t want to see a lot of black spots all over the boat surface, you better stay away from too creamy soaps.

Harsh chemicals and abrasive products are by far the worst enemies of inflatable boats. Harsh chemicals may peel up the external coating and dissolve synthetic fabrics. On the other hand, abrasive products like sand paper and steel wire sponges may easily scratch the surface and generate air leaks.

Certainly, the best choices are specialized cleaning products for inflatable boats. They’re formulated to protect PVC, Hypalon, polyethylene and other materials. The best ones can also protect the boat surface from the degenerative effects of UV rays and salt water.

What products are better for cleaning inflatable boats?

how to clean inflatable boats: What products are better for cleaning inflatable boats

There are a lot of household cleaning products on the market that you can safely use on inflatable boats. Just make sure the pH level of the product isn’t higher than 11.5 to prevent serious damages. Here’s a list with the safest and most effective ones:

  • Mild soaps and detergents
  • Biodegradable cleaners
  • Citrus cleaners
  • UV protectants
  • White vinegar

Cleaning products you shouldn’t use

how to clean inflatable boats: Cleaning products you shouldn’t use

As said before, harsh chemicals and abrasive products shouldn’t be used on inflatable boats. They may dissolve, scratch and debilitate the surface. Below, you’ll find a list with some cleaning materials that you should avoid using:

  • Abrasive scrub pads
  • Too alkaline cleaners
  • Ammonia
  • Chlorine
  • Acetone
  • Toluene
  • Solvents
  • MEK

How to clean inflatable boats?

General Cleaning

how to clean inflatable boats: General Cleaning

In order to keep your boat in perfect conditions, it’s recommended that you perform a quick cleaning routine after each use. It won’t take more than 20 minutes and will prevent gunk buildup on the surface. Here’s a list of what you need:

  • Spray cleaner
  • Dry cloth
  • Plastic bucket

First of all, fill your bucket with tap water. Then, apply spray cleaner all over the boat surface and leave the product to take effect for about 5 minutes. The active ingredients of the cleaner will soften all debris so you can easily remove it.

Finally, submerge the dry cloth in the water, then squeeze it and rub the surface with it. Repeat this procedure every time the cloth gets too dirty. Replace the water if necessary.

Removing mold and mildew

how to clean inflatable boats: Removing mold and mildew

Mold and mildew spots aren’t as easy to remove as other common stains. In fact, mold and mildew are living organisms, and they strongly hold on to the surface while they’re still alive. So basically, you just need to kill the fungi to get rid of the stains.

This is what you need:

  • Mold and mildew remover
  • Dry cloth

Mold and mildew removers are especially formulated to dissolve organic matter. They usually contain harsh chemicals like chlorine and sodium hydroxide. So, you should be careful when applying these kinds of products on inflatable boats.

To remove mold and mildew, spray the remover all over the surface. Then wait until the black and green spots disappear. Finally, use a dry cloth to clean the surface and remove the remaining product.

If you can’t find mold and mildew remover in your local supermarket, you can also use white vinegar and get good results.

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Removing stubborn stains

how to clean inflatable boats: Removing stubborn stains

If it’s been a long time since the last occasion you cleaned your inflatable boat, probably those ugly stains on the surface will be too difficult to remove. In this case, you’ll need more concentrated cleaning products and some additional tools to get the job done. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • Inflatable boat cleaning solution
  • Sponge
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Latex gloves
  • UV protectant
  • Dry cloth

To clean your boat, focus on small areas. First of all, wet the surface using a hose. Then, spray cleaning solution on the area. Wait a minute for the product to take effect. Use a wet sponge and a soft bristle brush to remove the stains. Then move to other area.

Finally, when the whole boat is clean and dry, spray UV protectant all over the surface and remove the excess with a dry cloth.

Additional cleaning tips

  • Storage

After using your boat, it’s convenient to store it partially inflated. A fully deflated boat is more prone to damage. However, if the available storage space isn’t enough, there’s no other choice than deflating the whole boat. Before doing it, make sure the surface is clean and dry to prevent bad odors and mold and mildew proliferation.

Mold and mildew can also proliferate on humid spaces. So, the storage space must be dry all the time. If there are mold stains on the wall, mold spores will fly trough the air and land up on your boat. So, make sure to fix the main cause of mold and mildew proliferation, like broken pipes inside the walls or rainwater leaks.

Use moisture absorbers if your boat will remain folded for a long time. Just pour silica gel crystals between the folds to guarantee maximum protection against moisture.

Don’t fold your deflated boat to store it in a small place. The folds and wrinkles may ruin the aesthetics of your boat.

  • Cleaning

Before trying out a new cleaning product, take a sample to perform a pH test. You can find a pH test kit on any local drugstore. It’s cheap and easy to use. Compare the sample to the color chart to determine the approximate pH level. If the color shows a pH level above 11.5, don’t use the product.

  • Inflating

Don’t exceed the recommended air pressure to inflate your boat. If you over-inflate your boat, the excessive air pressure could blow up the chamber. Air tends to expand with high temperatures. So, if you inflate your boat on a cold morning, leave some free space inside the chamber for the air to expand without risks.

To fully inflate a boat, apply a small amount of air inside each chamber following a clockwise trajectory. Repeat the process until you get the desired results.

  • Stay away from sharp objects

Sharp objects are the kryptonite of inflatable boats. Just a little puncture or scratch and you say goodbye to your beloved boat. So, keep all kinds of pointy objects away from the boat chamber. Contact with knives, fishing hooks, rocks, shells, barnacles, coral and jutting wood is the most common cause of air leaks on inflatable boats.

Conclusion

As you can see, keeping your inflatable boat in an optimal condition goes beyond the regular maintenance routine. This also depends on choosing the right cleaning products, applying the right cleaning techniques, and preventing over-inflating and exposure to sharp objects, UV rays, mold and mildew.

If you have stubborn stains on your boat surface, don’t use harsh chemicals and abrasive products to save time. Better use mild products and invest the necessary time on your cleaning routine to disappear all the stains. Finally, don’t forget to check the pH level if it’s the first time you use a certain cleaning product.

FAQ

  • Is it possible to use cleaning solvents on PVC and Hypalon boats?

No. Cleaning solvents like hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide tend to debilitate PVC, Hypalon and other synthetic materials.

  • Is it necessary to clean a new boat before use?

Yes. It’s recommended to clean the surface of your brand-new boat with mild soap or detergent, dry with a cloth and finally apply UV protectant. By doing this, the boat will be better prepared to resist the action of external agents.

Usually, manufacturers leave lubricant residue over the boat surface. When exposed to UV rays and salt water, lubricant tends to discolor the fabric and generate mold and mildew stains.

About the author

Jeremy Stevens

Jeremy has been obsessed with bodyboarding and surfboarding ever since he was a kid. He always wanted to be part of this sport for his love of this sports. Having received his degrees in Economics, he had to change his track and eventually got himself into the watercraft manufacturing industry. As an insider he’s had the opportunity to monitor and keep track of the latest trends and designs.

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