What are safe products for cleaning composite kayaks?

I’m looking for something to clean out my discolored bulkheads and I have some old adhesive or something that was used to glue down foam in my cockpit. I’ve tried a cloth with acetone and a plastic scraper and was unable to get it off. Wasn’t sure what to try next.

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I’d try Goo Gone. Lay a thin cloth over the area and soak with GG. Let it sit a day or two and use a mildly abrasive pad.

For that amount of “stuff”, you need to buy a gallon can of acetone from the hardware store. Open the windows,wear gas mask and gloves. That stuff will kill you.

PS. I believe Goo Gone is largely acetone.


I take it back about Goo Gone. It’s Goof Off that has acetone. Looks like Goo Gone is relative “safe” compared to Goof Off and acetone.


There are two goo gone’s , read the label. One is safe for fiberglass, the other isn’t.

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I had the same residual on a glass kayak. I used the acetone first .It softened the glue and the GG finished the job.

I avoid using acetone for jobs like this, as it’s too volatile and doesn’t stay on the surface long enough before evaporating. Lacquer thinner is a better alternative in my experience. In either case, wear a respirator and gloves, and make sure you have good ventilation. Also, make sure you’re not near any open flames. Doing it outside is definitely best.

All that said, cleaning the inside of a kayak strikes me as largely a waste of time (like trying to fix every scratch in a hull). Other than making sure I remove any sand, seaweed and whatever after paddling, I don’t bother. It’s going to get dirty again in short order and nobody ever sees it. Unless you’re planning to glue something else to the surfaces in question, I don’t see the point.


Acetone is a very good semi-polar organic solvent but it does not remove contact cement. The adhesive is pretty much a contact cement that can be dissolved with very non-polar organic solvents like toluene, xylene, etc. I don’t think you can buy these easily. Glue Gone if I remember correctly is mostly petroleum distilates, commonly called naptha. You can find paint/ finish/ stain solvents and cleaners in large volumes that are mostly naptha. They are flammable and the fumes are harmful. I don’t think I would stick my head inside an enclosed area to use these solvents. No one sees the old goo, just go paddling.


I have always tried to start with the least aggressive product on an unknown problem say maybe dishwashing soap and then I work my way up until I find something that works

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That’s my strategy, too:

  • water
  • water and soap (typically dishwashing liquid)
  • denatured alcohol
  • odorless mineral spirits (a.k.a. 'paint thinner")
  • lacquer thinner
  • acetone
  • white gasoline (a.k.a. “Coleman fuel”)
  • ?

What I use will depend on what I’m trying to dissolve. If I know that a particular solvent works for given application, I’ll go straight to it. If I’m not sure, I’ll work through the progression.

There are other chemicals that are useful for removing some materials. For example, vinegar will remove uncured epoxy. Citrus solvents will remove a variety of materials, but are particularly adept at removing grease and oil. Simple Green works for a broad range of materials, as well.


Try vegetable oil?

Don’t forget the elbow grease.

I’ve always gotten good results with a stiff brush and non-abrasive cleanser like Bon Ami or Bar Tenders Helper.

I also remember reading a thread where someone recommended vinegar+Dawn dishwashing liquid.

I think you mean “Bar Keepers Friend”.

I’ve never used it on a kayak, but it’s the best thing ever for cleaning stainless steel.

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Thanks. I can never remember the name of that stuff so I looked it up again right before I posted and still screwed it up.

Bar Keepers Friend contains oxalic acid which we use to remove rust stains from various items… Very good on sails and also comes as a soft scrub.

In between “water and soap (typically dishwashing liquid)” and denatured alcohol you might try stronger detergents that are not intended for contact with skin such as laundry detergent or dishwasher detergent. You will want good gloves and eye protection for that. Another detergent option is Alconox, available from some laboratory and industrial suppliers.

For all of the organic solvents listed in this thread make sure you have very strong ventilation or a mask rated for organic vapor when working in an enclosed space.

Sometimes Coca Cola works, too.

As it can’t be seen from the outside as a cosmetic issue, I’m not sure what the motivation is to remove whatever it is, possibly risking damaging the inside of the hull and bulkheads, not to mention your health, with stronger solvents. It’s just something else that will have to wear off before you begin to wear on the hull.

Remember, it’s a boat, not a fine piece of furniture.