Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RIB) Cleaning Guide

Rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RIBs) combine tube-based and traditional-structure vessels for a lightweight, high-performance, high-capacity boat. RIB hulls are made of composite materials like fiberglass or aluminum, while the inflatable materials are either PVC or Hypalon. 

RIBs are stable, fast and seaworthy. They're responsive and able to take on varying water conditions, making them perfect for law enforcement and emergency service applications. RIBs are also great for recreational activities such as snorkeling, diving and cruising the coastline.

Like any other boat, RIBs need regular cleaning to stay in prime condition.

Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RIB) Cleaning Guide

When to Clean Your RIB

You should clean your RIB regularly — especially if you use it often — and before and after storage.

It's also a good idea to clean a RIB after you purchase it. If you bought the boat used, you can't be too sure of where it's been or what kind of hidden dirt or damage it may have. Even if you've just purchased a brand-new inflatable boat, it's wise to give it a good cleaning. The manufacturing process may have left behind lubricants or other chemicals you should remove before you take your RIB into the water.

What You Need to Clean a RIB Boat

Cleaning a RIB differs from cleaning a traditional boat due to the inflatable siding material. You'll want to use cleaning products made specifically for RIBs — these are free from chemicals that could potentially damage your boat.

While you can clean your inflatable boat with regular soap or detergent, those products can leave behind a sticky residue that attracts and retains dirt. It can also lead to the growth of mold and mildew.

To clean your RIB properly, we recommend using an inflatable boat cleaner. These cleaners are specifically formulated to clean inflatable boats, effectively washing away dirt, stains and grime without damaging the boat's surface. Many inflatable boat cleaning products also shield the boat from the elements, keeping it in top condition.

You'll need the following supplies to clean your RIB:

  • An inflatable boat cleaner
  • A water hose or other access to fresh, clean water
  • A cloth or brush for scrubbing
  • An inflatable boat finishing product
  • A cloth to apply the finishing product
  • An inflatable boat polishing product
  • A clean, dry cloth to apply the polishing product
  • Another dry cloth to buff the polish off
  • Latex or nitrile gloves to protect your hands from the cleaning products

What to Avoid When Cleaning an Inflatable Boat

Knowing which products you should avoid when looking for RIB cleaning supplies is crucial. Using the right products on your RIB is essential for avoiding damage during cleaning. You'll want to steer clear of a few products and ingredients, especially when cleaning the fabric of the inflatable siding. 

You shouldn't use the following products to clean your RIB, as they can damage and discolor the fabric and break down the boat's adhesives:

  • Bleach
  • Acetone
  • Ammonia cleaner
  • Toluene
  • MEK
  • High-alkaline cleaner
  • Abrasives like steel wool

How to Clean a RIB Boat

How to Clean a RIB Boat

While RIBs are quite durable and seaworthy, they require a particular cleaning approach. There are three steps to cleaning a RIB — cleaning, finishing and polishing. Read on to learn the specifics of each step of the RIB cleaning process.

1. Clean the RIB

Follow the steps below to remove dirt, oxidation, grease, oil and fuel residue from your inflatable boat: 

  1. Wet the section you're going to clean. 
  2. Spray on the RIB cleaning product. 
  3. Allow the product one minute to activate.
  4. Scrub the area with a cloth or brush. 
  5. Rinse the area with clean water. 

Work your way through the boat one manageable section at a time — it may be helpful to start with the boat floor and work outward. Remember to flip the boat over and clean the underside. 

2. Finish the RIB

Why should you continue past the cleaning step? Finishing and polishing help brighten and shine your RIB, but are they really necessary? These next two steps will help protect your boat from the elements, making them an essential part of the process. 

RIB boat finishing products can brighten the boat's color and help prevent fading. Once you've cleaned your boat, follow the steps below to finish it: 

  1. Apply the finishing product to a clean, dry cloth. 
  2. Rub the boat down with the cloth, waiting a few minutes for the product to dry. 
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 to apply a second coat. 

Once your second coat dries, the finishing process is done! Just make sure not to apply the finishing product to hot surfaces, as they can cause it to dry too quickly. 

3. Polish the RIB

Polishing your RIB will make it shine. Follow the steps below to complete the cleaning process:

  1. Apply the polishing product to a damp, soft cloth. 
  2. Buff the surface in a circular pattern, working in one small area at a time. 
  3. Allow the polish to dry. 
  4. Buff the polish off with a clean, dry soft cloth. 

A little polishing product goes a long way, so be careful not to overapply. 

How to Clean Mold Off an Inflatable Boat

Inflatable boats can be prone to mold if you don't dry them properly before storing them away. Bleach is necessary to kill mold completely, though this is the only scenario in which we recommend it. 

You'll need careful dilution to prevent the bleach from fading your boat's colors and weakening the fabric. While those can be unfortunate side effects of using bleach, they're better than dealing with the damage the mold could cause if you don't clean it. 

If you notice mold on your RIB, take the following steps to remove it:

  1. Perform a thorough inspection of the boat: Even if you only saw a small mold growth initially, there's a chance it could be hiding in other places. Look your boat over carefully to determine which areas you need to clean. 
  2. Do a preliminary scrub: Scrub the moldy area with a sponge and hot water. Scrubbing will remove the surface layer so you can target the embedded spores in the next step. 
  3. Prepare your cleaning solution: Create a solution of equal parts bleach and warm water in a bucket. 
  4. Clean the affected area: Put on protective gloves and dip a soft scouring sponge in the bleach mixture. Use circular motions to scrub the mold away. 
  5. Do a final scrub: Wash the area again with a sponge and hot water. 
  6. Rinse the area: Make sure you rinse the area well to remove the bleach solution. 
  7. Dry the area thoroughly: Use a towel to soak up excess moisture, then allow the boat to air-dry for several hours. 

Find RIB Boat Cleaning Products at Fawcett Boat Supplies

Find RIB Boat Cleaning Products at Fawcett Boat Supplies

Fawcett Boat Supplies has everything you need to enjoy endless fun on the water. Keep your RIB clean and well-maintained with our large selection of cleaning supplies. We're also happy to assist you with any boat project you can dream up. 

Contact Fawcett Boat Supplies today to learn more about our products and services!

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