How To Clean Mold Off An Inflatable Boat

Written By: Jen

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There’s nothing worse than unpacking your inflatable boat after the winter and, before you’ve even had chance to inflate it, smelling that distinct aroma of mold and mildew. Vinyl boats are a nightmare for growing mold if you don’t take proper care of them, which can cause all kinds of problems.

Infalatable boat

Whether you didn’t get the chance to properly clean and dry your boat before packing it away, or you’ve bought a boat secondhand and found mold on it, you need to act quickly to try to clean it.

In most cases if the mold hasn’t taken hold for too long, you will be able to clean it. But how? Read on to find out.

How to remove mold from your inflatable boat

The best way to clean mold from an inflatable boat is to use a mix of bleach and water. There are mold killer sprays that you can buy, but these will either use sodium hypochlorite as their active ingredient – which is just bleach – or sodium carbonate, which isn’t effective at deep-cleaning mold.

Here’s how to clean mold from your inflatable boat:

1. Inflate the boat

One of the easiest mistakes to make when cleaning a boat is to see a small patch of mold and assume that’s all you need to clean. In reality, if any inflatable has mold growing on it, there’ll be all kinds of nooks and crannies that need to be investigated.

So step one is to fully inflate the boat. This will make sure any creases are completely expanded, and you can do a full inspection to find all patches of mold.

It also means that you’ll remove all the embedded spores when you’re cleaning – otherwise you might only remove those on the surface, above the stretched area.

Keep it inflated during the cleaning process – you don’t want any of the chemicals you’re using to seep into crevices again, as that can also lead to long-term damage.

Inflatable boats

2. Prepare the affected area

Before you do the full clean, you’ll want to scrub the mold with hot water and a sponge. This may remove some of the mold, but don’t be fooled if it looks like it has all disappeared. The spores will be embedded in the material and still need to be killed.

However, an initial scrub with hot water will at least remove the surface layer of mold, so that you penetrate deeper in the next steps.

3. Prepare your cleaning solution

To effectively kill mold, you’re going to need bleach. This is the only time you should be using bleach to clean your inflatable – used too often, or without the proper dilution, it will cause colors to fade and can weaken the material

In fact, there’s a good chance that even used correctly this will cause the color of your boat to fade. That’s an unfortunate side effect of removing the mold that you’ll have to accept.

The cleaning solution should be simple to prepare – 50% bleach and 50% warm water. Just mix them in a bucket and make sure you have a soft scourer to hand. You shouldn’t use anything too abrasive as that could tear the fabric, but a soft sponge also won’t clean the mold properly.

You’ll want to use gloves when cleaning with a bleach solution, and make sure the rest of your skin is covered.

Hand in red gloves holding container of bleach

4. Clean the affected area

With the surface prepped, clean the mold. If it’s on a flat piece of material, this should be easy – use gentle circular motions using your bleach/water mix, intensifying a little if the mold isn’t initially coming off.

Boat seams are a bit tricker. These tend to be a little thicker but also harder to get into, but you need to do the job thoroughly to make sure you get into every gap. Try to scrub against the stitching, rather than running along it, as that is more likely to pull the thread and potentially remove it.

After cleaning the area with bleach, wash it again with clean warm water, making sure you’ve given it a thorough rinse to remove any bleach solution.

5. Dry the boat

Once you’ve finished cleaning the boat, the next step is crucial – you have to allow the boat to thoroughly dry, ideally air drying it for a number of hours. Towel dry it first, to get rid of the excess moisture and speed up the air drying time.

It’s likely that the mold has already grown because the boat wasn’t dried properly the last time it was used, so this step really can’t be understated. Mold grows in damp conditions, so ensure the area (and the rest of the boat) are fully dry before you deflate and store the boat.

Drying inflatable boat

What to do if mold can’t be removed from an inflatable boat by chemicals?

Unfortunately, if you can’t clean mold from your inflatable boat using a bleach/water solution, you likely won’t be able to kill it and remove it at all. Specialist mold killer chemicals likely won’t be any more effective than bleach.

If the affected area is small, you could cut it out with a sharp knife and then patch your inflatable boat. But if it’s a larger area, that may mean sending it off for a professional repair – and by that point, it might be easier or more cost effective to look at replacing it instead.

Can you use chlorine to clean mold off an inflatable boat?

Chlorine is bleach, and so yes you can use chlorine to clean mold from an inflatable boat. If you’re using pool chlorine, check the recommended dilution on the bottle so that you don’t use too harsh a mix and potentially damage your boat.

Can you use vinegar to clean mold off an inflatable boat?

Vinegar can kill small amounts of mold, so if the mold on your inflatable boat is contained to a small area, you could try using it before you use bleach. Bleach is more effective but more likely to fade the colors of your boat.

In most cases, vinegar won’t be enough to kill the mold on an inflatable boat as it’s not strong enough. That’s why bleach tends to be recommended.

Can you use baking soda to clean mold off an inflatable boat?

Baking soda can be used to remove light mold from some surfaces but it isn’t strong enough to clean established mold from an inflatable boat. Baking soda does have deodorizing properties and so can be used to remove the smell of mold or mildew.

You’ll likely still need to use bleach to properly kill the mold on your inflatable boat. But if there’s then a smell of bleach you struggle to remove, try cleaning the area again with a paste made using baking soda. It may remove the scent.

baking soda on wooden table

Can you power wash an inflatable boat to remove mold?

Power washing is not effective at removing mold from an inflatable boat. Power washing doesn’t kill the fungal bacteria causing mold, and while it can make the job of rinsing easier, it can cause complacency if you don’t make sure the spores are killed.

Using a power washer isn’t recommended for an inflatable boat anyway as, if you accidentally set it to the incorrect setting, it could be too powerful and puncture a hole into it. 

How to prevent mold from growing on an inflatable boat?

The best way to stop mold from being a problem on your inflatable boat is to prevent it from growing in the first place.

To do this, you just need to make sure you wipe down your boat after every use to remove any slime or dirt build-ups, and then properly dry it.

Drying it is the key step here, as it is moisture that gets trapped in the folds which will cause the mold or mildew to take hold.

Always start with a towel dry, making sure to get into every fold in the boat, to help speed along the air drying process.

Then, store the boat in a sealed container if possible. If not, make sure it’s stored somewhere where there isn’t another damp problem, otherwise, the moisture in the air could get into the folds of the deflated boat.

Read more: How To Dry Out Inflatables

Final thoughts

If you want to keep sailing on your inflatable boat for years to come, you need to take care of it – and mold is one of the worst things for damaging boats if left untreated. It isn’t just the odor, as the spores will damage the material and weaken it, plus it isn’t healthy to breathe it in.

So if you do spot any mold, make sure you follow all the steps in this guide to remove it quickly. If you need to patch it then make sure you do, but if the damage is too extensive it may be time to shop for a new one – don’t let it get to that stage!

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Jen is your go-to expert on all things inflatable, from pools to tents and beyond. A former hot tub rental company owner, she's experienced the ups and downs of inflatables firsthand. Nowadays, she writes practical guides on maintaining and enjoying inflatables. A mom of young enthusiasts, her family's favorite outing is the inflatable fun park!

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