clean sailboat sails

The $tingy Sailor

Diy trailerable sailboat restoration and improvement without throwing your budget overboard.

clean sailboat sails

How to Clean Sails at Home

Just like a white shirt is a magnet for spaghetti stains, your sails are magnets for stains, dirt, and mildew. Unlike a white shirt, you shouldn’t bleach or machine wash your sails, it will ruin them. That means don’t clean them in a chlorinated pool, either.

For hundreds of dollars, you can send your sails to a professional cleaning service like . They’ll come back looking great but if they also need ANY repairs (loose stitches, etc.), you’ll be put on the spot to have them repaired and your cost can quickly mount. And if your sails are old, they’ll still be old when they come back. Their cleaning process includes re-impregnating the fabric with resins but that just stabilizes the current shape of the sails for a while, it doesn’t restore them to a like-new shape. But if you’re going to have your sails repaired anyway, this can be a good option to clean them at the same time.

Another options is for you to clean your sails at home. You can restore some of their brightness without causing permanent damage and without it costing you a lot. You only need a large, flat, clean workspace, some basic cleaning supplies that you probably already have, a little elbow grease, and some time.

Tastes great on salads too

The process that I’ll describe below will clean your sail fabric but it won’t do much to remove the corrosion from hardware. If you also want to clean the hardware, do it first and then clean the sailcloth. The second, main cleaning will remove any temporary stains caused by the hardware cleaning process.

You can spend hours hand cleaning each grommet, eyelet, and hank snap but there’s a much easier way using regular household white vinegar.

To clean corroded brass and bronze sail hardware:

  • Pour some undiluted, household white vinegar into a shallow bowl and submerge a group of one to three pieces of hardware (and the surrounding sail cloth) for an hour or so at a time for each group. The corrosion will completely dissolve away and the hank snaps will work smoother and easier. Look ma, no brushing!
  • While each group of pieces is soaking in vinegar, place the previously soaked pieces in a bucket of clean water to dilute and rinse out the vinegar and remove the blue-green high water mark that can be left on the sailcloth.
  • Every hour or so, rotate dirty hardware into the vinegar, clean hardware into the rinse water, and do something else in between rotations.
  • When you’re finished cleaning the hardware, then clean the sailcloth like described below.

AFTER - only soaked in white vinegar

Sail cleaning 101

Here’s what I do for general sailcloth cleaning:

  • Place a clean, plastic, black or dark-colored 40 gallon garbage can where it will receive full sunlight to keep the water warm.
  • Fill the garbage can with water (soft water and warm but not hot, if possible).
  • Add 2 cups of Oxyclean liquid stain remover and mix well. Do not add bleach or other harsh cleaners, which can damage some sail fabrics, bolt ropes, and thread.
  • Completely submerge one sail at a time in the water and let it soak for 24 hours. You don’t need to agitate it. If some of the sail floats up out of the water, just turn the sail in the water from time to time to be sure everything gets plenty of time to soak.
  • After 24 hours, remove the sail and spread it out flat on a clean, smooth surface. A deck made with composite planks works great if you have access to one. If your sail is bigger than your work surface, work on a small section at a time.
  • While it’s still wet with the soapy water, lightly scrub the sail all over with a soft brush, paying extra attention to the seams, batten pockets, and stains.
  • Thoroughly rinse with clean water (soft water if possible).
  • Hang the sail to dry. If you don’t have a huge barn like in the first picture, you can drape it over outdoor furniture, hang it from a flagpole, or whatever you may have so long as it keeps the sail off the ground and lets air circulate around the fabric until it dries. If you don’t have someplace at home to do this, take the sail to your sailboat on a light wind or windless day and hoist it to dry while you do other things. Just be sure you don’t store the sail while it’s still damp or mildew can set in. Store it loosely in a well ventilated space for at least several days to be sure all the moisture trapped between the layers of material in the corner patches has evaporated.

It’s common for old sails to have small rust stains on them from coming into contact with a rusty anchor or chain laying on the deck. They will be there forever, unfortunately. There is no sure way to remove them after they get set into the cloth.

Not quite clewless

After you are done cleaning your sails and their hardware is a good time to do any necessary repairs. If you’re not comfortable making the repairs yourself, look for a reputable sail loft in your area. Most will give you a quick evaluation and cost estimate.

AFTER - probably stronger than the rest of the sail!

If you discover that your sails are so old or damaged that they aren’t worth investing in repairs, consider buying new replacements from a quality online sail loft. For more information, read Product Review: Rolly Tasker Sails .

After a thorough cleaning, your sails should look fairly clean. An annual light cleaning can keep them that way for the rest of their useful life and delay or avoid costly replacement.

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14 thoughts on “ how to clean sails at home ”.

Another great idea, $tingy! It’s going to be my second task this winter after fitting that in-mast radio aerial cable after three years!

Fantastic post, love the pragmatic and easy to understand steps.

Stingy, Have you ever dyed colors into a sail or can it be done? I purchased new sail this year and my old ones are decent enough to keep a hold of, but i was wondering if I could dye some colors in my old head sail. Thanks for your time.

I haven’t done it myself, but I’ve read about others doing it like here: Dyeing Sails .

Good luck and if you decide to try it, let us know how it turns out. $tingy

Very careful use of Oxalic acid will remove rust stains.

Any thoughts on how much Oxyclean you would use if you were using the powder to clean the sail instead of the liquid?

I’d probably try 1 cup first and see how well it works, then increase the amount if necessary.

Wondering if anyone on this blog has an AMF Windflite or how I can find an owners manual. Thanks!

Frustrated by no sail loft or cleaning service answering the phone the day after Memorial Day, i think I’ll try your system. Thank you for the advice!

As we are always away from home in a marina or anchorage, I have used my inflatable dinghy filled with water in place of the plastic garbage can —just used a mild detergent and obviously no bleach -let sit overnight and then next morning drained, filled, rinsed, repeated and then ran the sail up the mast to dry and put away dry late that afternoon …advantage of the dinghy is that i can stomp around like mashing grapes and thus can get more of an agitation action–also if i see a particularly soiled area then I can scrub it on the side of the dinghy and put it back in the water….seemed to work OK …any thoughts?

Sounds like a great routine to me!

Thankyou great advice loved your mast raising video am going to look at spinnaker post next

Great tips about Oxyclean & vinegar. Thanks! Please sign me up to receive your posts. (No link at bottom of web page.)

Grace, I just fixed the link so you should be able to subscribe now. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Everything you need to know about sail washing by our team of certified service professionals.

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Cleaner sail, life extension.

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How to Clean Sails on a Sailboat

Posted by Boat Lover's Towel on February 22, 2022

how to clean sails on a sailboat

Every sailboat owner knows that sails are susceptible to dirt, mildew, and other hard-to-remove stains. It’s the risk you run every time you take your boat out on the water for a day of fun. Thankfully, cleaning the sails of a sailboat is an easy, one-person job that’s relatively inexpensive. Once you know how to clean sailboat sails, you’ll be ready to take on your next weekend's DIY project with confidence. 

If you want to know how to clean sailboat sails, here’s a step-by-step guide we made that will walk you through the process of how you can wash sails.

Boat Sail Cleaning 101

The first thing to keep in mind before cleaning sails is, you really only need to clean the sails when they start to look dirty. You can follow a set cleaning schedule if you want, but you don’t have to. Keep reading to learn about what to avoid, what materials to use, and what steps to take when cleaning your sailboat’s sails. 

Things to Avoid

Harsh sail cleaners, such as bleach and chlorine, are the top products you should avoid when cleaning your boat’s sails. These types of cleaners contain chemicals that strip the sails of their protective resin coating. This stripping weakens the sails over time, meaning you’ll have to pay more money to either repair or replace them down the road. 

Additionally, you should never clean your sailboat’s sails in a washing machine. Doing so will also strip the protective resin coating and likely create tears in the fabric that can’t be fixed. 

Materials to Use

Cleaning boat sails is a relatively inexpensive process because it only requires a few key ingredients: 

Mild detergent 

Soft-thistle brush  , warm, fresh water , plastic bucket, 5-step method to clean sailboat sails like a pro, find a large, open space that has a clean, flat surface where you can stretch out the sails. , apply mild detergent to the sails., use a soft-thistle brush to rub in the detergent. , rinse the sails thoroughly with warm, fresh water until no detergent remains. , to prevent mildew growth, let the sails dry completely before reattaching them to the sailboat. .

Sometimes you’ll need a second line of defense against dirt, mildew, and other stains. Vinegar is a powerful sail cleaning solution that removes pesky stains that get left behind after cleaning with detergent. Simply soak any stain spots in vinegar, then rinse off the vinegar with warm water. Some sailboat owners have found that a combination of detergent and vinegar is most effective among sail cleaning products.

Feel Confident With a Clean Sail on Your Sail Boat

Now that you know how to clean sails on a sailboat, it’s time to invest in the best sail washing products to start washing sails. As the boat cleaning experts, CleanTools manufactures superior boat cleaning supplies—like our Round Boat Brush. This soft-thistle brush is safe for all sail finishes and removes set-in stains without damaging the sail’s material. When you shop this product, you’ll get to enjoy clean sailing from here on out.   Shop Our  Round Boat Brush  and make cleaning Sails on your sail boat easier than ever before.

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Sail Away Blog

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Clean a Sail for Optimal Performance

Alex Morgan

clean sailboat sails

Cleaning a sail is an essential maintenance task that helps ensure the longevity and performance of your sailboat. Regular cleaning removes dirt, salt, and other debris that can accumulate on the sail, preventing damage and preserving its quality. By following a few simple steps and using the right tools and materials, you can effectively clean your sail. In this article, we will guide you through the process of cleaning a sail, from the tools and materials you’ll need to the step-by-step procedure. We will also provide additional tips to help you maintain a clean sail and conclude with the importance of keeping your sail in excellent condition. So, let’s dive in and learn how to clean a sail properly.

Key takeaway:

  • Cleaning a sail is crucial for maintaining its condition: Regular cleaning helps extend the lifespan of a sail and ensures optimal performance.
  • Essential tools and materials: To clean a sail, you will need a sailbrush, mild detergent, bucket, soft cloth or sponge, and a hose or freshwater source.
  • Proper preparation is key: Before cleaning, inspect the sail, remove any debris, and identify stains or problem areas.
  • Step-by-step cleaning guide: Rinse the sail, prepare the cleaning solution, scrub the sail, rinse thoroughly, and dry the sail.
  • Maintaining a clean sail: Additional tips include regular maintenance, storing the sail properly, and addressing any issues promptly.
  • Conclusion: By keeping your sail clean and well-maintained, you can ensure its longevity and optimize your sailing experience.

Tools and Materials Needed

To properly clean a sail, you’ll need a few essential tools and materials. These include a sailbrush , mild detergent , bucket , soft cloth or sponge, and a hose or freshwater source. Each of these items plays a unique role in ensuring your sail is sparkling clean and ready for your next adventure on the water. So let’s dive into the world of sail cleaning and discover how these tools and materials can help you achieve a spotless sail. Let’s get started!

1. Sailbrush

When cleaning a sail, a sailbrush is a essential tool. It is designed to remove dirt , stains , and debris from the sail without causing damage. By using a sailbrush, you can ensure a thorough cleaning process and maintain the sail’s optimal performance.

Here is a table that illustrates the tools and materials needed for cleaning a sail, including the sailbrush :

1. Sailbrush
2. Mild Detergent
3. Bucket
4. Soft Cloth or Sponge
5. Hose or Freshwater Source

Using a sailbrush in the cleaning process helps remove stubborn stains and dirt particles that may be deeply embedded in the sail’s fabric. The bristles of the brush are firm yet gentle enough to effectively scrub away dirt without causing damage to the sail’s fibers.

To clean the sail, start by rinsing it with water to remove loose debris. Then, make a cleaning solution using mild detergent and water. Dip the sailbrush into the solution and gently scrub the sail in a circular motion, paying extra attention to stained or problem areas . Rinse thoroughly with water to remove any soap residue and pat the sail dry with a soft cloth or sponge.

Using a sailbrush as part of your sail cleaning routine will help keep your sail in excellent condition and maximize its lifespan. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations when cleaning your sail to ensure proper care and maintenance.

2. Mild Detergent

When cleaning a sail, it is important to use mild detergent for effective and safe cleaning. Follow these steps to properly utilize mild detergent :

  • Dilute the mild detergent : Begin by mixing a small amount of mild detergent with water in a bucket. The exact amount needed will depend on the size of the sail and the concentration of the detergent.
  • Test on a small area : Before applying the mild detergent to the entire sail, test it on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure that it does not cause any damage or discoloration.
  • Apply the mild detergent : Gently apply the diluted mild detergent to the sail using a soft cloth or sponge. It is important to work in small sections and avoid excessive scrubbing to prevent any potential fabric damage.
  • Clean stains : If there are specific stains or problem areas on the sail, give them extra attention while gently scrubbing with the mild detergent solution.
  • Rinse thoroughly : After cleaning, rinse the sail with clean water to remove any residual detergent. This step is crucial in order to prevent any residue from remaining on the sail.

By following these steps and using mild detergent, you can effectively clean your sail without causing any damage or compromising its performance.

When cleaning a sail, a bucket is crucial for storing and mixing the cleaning solution.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Mild Detergent
  • Soft Cloth or Sponge
  • Hose or Freshwater Source

The bucket is used to mix mild detergent with water to create the cleaning solution. It should be large enough to fully submerge and rinse the sail. A bucket with a handle makes it easier to carry and control the pouring of the solution.

Pro-tip: Use a dedicated bucket for sail cleaning to prevent cross-contamination and maximize cleanliness and longevity. Avoid using the bucket for other tasks to ensure no residue or chemicals from previous uses come into contact with the sail.

4. Soft Cloth or Sponge

When cleaning a sail, it is important to use a soft cloth or sponge . These soft materials are perfect for effectively removing dirt, grime, and stains from the surface of the sail. It is recommended to select a cloth or sponge that is specifically designed for delicate materials to prevent any potential damage. Carefully scrub the sail using the soft cloth or sponge to lift and eliminate any dirt or stains. Ensure that all areas of the sail, including corners and edges , are reached for a thorough cleaning. To tackle stubborn stains, you can apply a mild detergent to the soft cloth or sponge, which will help enhance the cleaning process. Once you have completed the cleaning, make sure to rinse the sail thoroughly with freshwater in order to eliminate any remaining detergent or dirt. It is essential to follow the care and maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer, as different sail materials may require specific cleaning methods. By using a soft cloth or sponge, you can effectively preserve the sail’s condition for future use.

5. Hose or Freshwater Source

When cleaning a sail, having a hose or access to a freshwater source nearby is crucial. Here are some reasons why:

1. Water source: It is important to have a hose or access to a freshwater source nearby in order to easily rinse off dirt, debris, and cleaning solution from the sail.

2. Efficient cleaning: A hose with good water pressure can effectively remove stubborn stains or grime, making the cleaning process easier and faster.

3. Thorough rinsing: Having a sufficient water source allows for the complete removal of all cleaning solution and residue from the sail.

4. Preventing damage: Using a hose or freshwater source with the appropriate pressure helps avoid abrasion or damage to the sail fabric during cleaning.

5. Convenience: Having a nearby hose or freshwater source makes cleaning the sail more convenient, eliminating the need to carry buckets of water.

Fact: Incorporating hot water into your cleaning solution can aid in the dissolution of dirt and stains more effectively.

Preparation Before Cleaning

Get your sail ready for a deep clean with this crucial step: preparation before cleaning . We’ll guide you through the important tasks that will ensure optimal results . First, we’ll tackle inspecting the sail to identify any potential issues. Then, we’ll focus on removing debris that could hinder the cleaning process. We’ll help you pinpoint stains and problem areas , so you can give them the attention they need. It’s all about setting the stage for a sparkling sail !

1. Inspect the Sail

To ensure the sail’s condition, it is important to follow these steps when inspecting it:

1. Visually examine the sail for damage like holes , tears , or fraying . Also, check the seams and stitching for loose threads or weak spots .

2. Take a look at the hardware and fittings attached to the sail, such as the grommets or hanks , and ensure that they are secure and in good condition.

3. Inspect the sailcloth for any stains , mildew , or discoloration . These indicators may require attention during the cleaning process.

4. Use your hands to feel the sail and detect any areas with a different texture or stiffness. This could indicate the presence of salt crystals or debris that need to be removed.

5. Evaluate the sail’s overall shape and tension by observing how it hangs or folds. Be on the lookout for any areas that appear distorted or have excessive sagging.

By promptly addressing any identified issues, you can maintain the sail’s performance and prolong its lifespan. Regular inspections, proper cleaning, and maintenance are crucial in keeping your sail in optimal condition for smooth sailing.

Remember, the quality of the sail’s fabric and the care it receives significantly impact its performance and durability.

2. Remove Any Debris

To remove any debris from a sail, follow these steps:

1. Inspect the sail for visible debris such as leaves, dirt, or twigs.

2. Gently brush the sail with a sailbrush to dislodge any loose debris.

3. If the debris is stubborn, lightly dampen a soft cloth or sponge with fresh water and wipe the affected areas.

4. Be careful not to scrub too hard, as it may damage the fabric.

5. Repeat the process until all debris is removed.

By following these steps, you can effectively clean your sail and ensure it is free from any debris that may affect its performance or longevity. Regular maintenance and cleaning are important to keep your sail in optimal condition for your sailing adventures.

3. Identify Stains and Problem Areas

‘Identifying stains and problem areas on a sail is of utmost importance before initiating the cleaning process. Follow the subsequent steps meticulously:

1. Thoroughly examine the sail to spot any visible stains or discoloration.

2. Pay close attention to areas that tend to accumulate dirt, such as edges, corners, and seams.

3. Look out for signs of mildew or mold, which typically manifest as dark spots or patches.

4. Carefully inspect for tears, rips, or frayed edges, as these may necessitate special attention during the cleaning procedure.

5. Take note of specific stains, such as oil or rust , and document their precise locations for future reference.

6. Identify any other problem areas such as loose stitching or hardware that may require repair or replacement.

By diligently following these steps, you will be able to effectively identify and address any stains or problem areas during the cleaning process. This approach guarantees a thorough and efficient cleaning, allowing you to maintain your sail in excellent condition.

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Clean a Sail

Keep your sails in top-notch condition with this step-by-step guide on how to clean a sail. From rinsing to drying, we’ll walk you through each essential task in restoring your sail’s pristine appearance and functionality. Discover the expert tips and tricks to ensure a thorough cleaning process, providing you with a sail that’s ready to catch the wind and take you on your next sailing adventure.

1. Rinse the Sail

When cleaning a sail, it is important to begin by rinsing it . To achieve a thorough rinse, follow these steps:

  • Fill a bucket with freshwater or connect a hose to a freshwater source .
  • Gently spray the entire sail with water to eliminate any loose dirt or debris.
  • Ensure that every section is rinsed, starting from the top and paying close attention to the seams and edges .
  • To remove any remaining dirt or grime, use a soft cloth or sponge and apply gentle pressure while wiping.
  • Continue rinsing until the water runs clear and there are no visible traces of dirt or detergent.

Rinsing the sail is a crucial step in the cleaning process as it removes surface dirt and prepares the sail for further cleaning. Thorough rinsing guarantees that the sail is free from debris and ready for the subsequent cleaning steps.

2. Prepare the Cleaning Solution

To prepare the cleaning solution for cleaning a sail, follow these steps:

Some suggestions for preparing the cleaning solution for your sail are:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the detergent to ensure correct and effective use.
  • Use warm water instead of hot water to prevent fabric damage.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or bleach as they can weaken the fabric and cause discoloration.
  • Adjust the amount of detergent based on the size and condition of the sail. Use more detergent for heavily soiled sails and less for lightly soiled ones.
  • Avoid oversaturating the sail with the cleaning solution to prevent mold and mildew growth.

By following these steps and suggestions, you can effectively prepare the cleaning solution for your sail and ensure a thorough and safe cleaning process.

3. Scrub the Sail

To effectively clean and maintain the longevity of the sail, follow these steps to scrub the sail :

1. Begin by wetting the sail with water to soften any dirt or grime that may be present.

2. You can either apply mild detergent directly to the sail or dilute it in water to create a cleaning solution.

3. Take a soft cloth or sponge and gently scrub the sail in a circular motion , paying close attention to any stains or problem areas that may need extra care.

4. Rinse the sail thoroughly using a hose or freshwater source to remove any detergent and loosened dirt.

5. Make sure to allow the sail to completely dry before folding or storing it away.

Scrubbing the sail is an essential step in removing dirt , stains , and debris, which is crucial for maintaining its good condition and optimizing its performance. Remember to always use a mild detergent and be gentle while scrubbing to avoid damaging the fabric. By regularly cleaning and maintaining your sail, you can ensure that it remains in excellent condition for all your future sailing adventures.

4. Rinse Thoroughly

When cleaning a sail, it is crucial to rinse thoroughly in order to ensure its cleanliness. Follow these steps to properly rinse your sail:

1. Prepare a hose or have access to a freshwater source.

2. Gently spray or pour water over the sail, starting from the top and working your way down.

3. Reach all areas of the sail, including the corners and edges.

4. Pay extra attention to any remaining soap residue or debris and rinse it off completely using the “rinse thoroughly” technique.

5. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear and there are no visible signs of dirt or cleaning solution.

By rinsing thoroughly, you will effectively remove any remaining cleaning solution or dirt particles that may have been loosened during the cleaning process. This important step prevents damage to the sail and ensures it is clean and ready for future use.

Let’s consider the experience of David , an avid sailor. He always understood the significance of rinsing thoroughly after each cleaning. On the other hand, his friend neglected this step, assuming a quick rinse would be sufficient. Over time, David’s friend encountered various issues with his sails, including mildew growth and decreased performance. However, David had no such issues because he recognized the importance of rinsing thoroughly. This experience taught both of them the significance of this step and how it can greatly prolong the lifespan of sails.

5. Dry the Sail

To properly dry the sail after it has been cleaned, it is important to follow these steps:

1. Begin by shaking off any excess water from the sail.

2. Next, hang the sail in a well-ventilated area, taking care to avoid direct sunlight.

3. Ensure that the sail is spread out flat in order to promote even drying.

4. It is crucial to make sure that the sail is not bunched up or folded, as doing so can potentially lead to the development of mildew or damage.

5. Allow the sail to air dry thoroughly before either storing it or using it again.

Additional Tips for Maintaining a Clean Sail

To maintain a clean sail, remember these

1. Inspect the sail regularly for dirt or stains. Promptly address these issues to prevent them from becoming harder to remove.

2. Use a mild detergent designed for sail cleaning. Harsh cleaners can damage the fabric and shorten the sail’s lifespan .

3. Avoid using abrasive brushes or scrubbing vigorously. Instead, gently scrub the sail with a soft brush or sponge to remove dirt or grime.

4. Thoroughly rinse the sail after cleaning to remove all soap residue. Leaving soap on the sail can make it sticky and attract more dirt.

5. Properly store the sail when not in use. Ensure it is completely dry before folding and storing it to prevent mildew and mold growth.

One sailor followed all the necessary steps to maintain a clean sail. During a windy race, seagulls left droppings that stained their sail. Despite their best efforts, the stains were difficult to remove. Seeking advice from experienced sailors, the sailor learned about a specialized sail cleaner that effectively removed bird droppings without damaging the fabric. With these Additional Tips for Maintaining a Clean Sail, the sailor restored their sail to its pristine condition and continued enjoying their time on the water.

Some Facts About How To Clean A Sail:

  • ✅ Regular sail cleaning is important for maintaining the longevity and appearance of your sails. (Source:
  • ✅ Different sail cloths have different cleaning requirements. (Source:
  • ✅ Thoroughly rinse your sails with fresh water to remove dirt, salt, pollution, and pollen. (Source:
  • ✅ Soaking the affected areas in warm water with a few drops of mild detergent can help remove embedded dirt and stains. (Source:
  • ✅ Scrub gently using a sponge or soft brush with mild detergent or a specialized sail cleaner to gently remove dirt. (Source:

Frequently Asked Questions

How do i clean a sail at home.

To clean a sail at home, you will need a large, flat, clean workspace, basic cleaning supplies, and some time. Fill a garbage can with warm water and add Oxyclean liquid stain remover. Submerge one sail at a time and let it soak for 24 hours, then scrub the sail with a soft brush and rinse with clean water. Hang the sail to dry in a well-ventilated space, ensuring it is completely dry before storing to avoid mildew.

Can I use bleach to clean my sails?

Bleach is not recommended for cleaning sails as it can ruin the fabric. Some sailcloth materials, such as Kevlar and nylon, are sensitive to substances like chlorine bleach. Instead, use mild soap and water or a specialized sail cleaner that is safe for your sail material.

How can I remove mildew stains from my Dacron sail?

To remove mildew stains from a Dacron sail, you can try soaking the affected area in a solution of ¼ cup Clorox Disinfecting Bleach per gallon of cool water for 5 to 10 minutes. After soaking, thoroughly wash and scrub the area, then rinse with fresh water. This process can be repeated if needed. It is important to wear rubber gloves if prolonged contact with the cleaning solution is required.

What should I do if my sail has rust stains?

If your sail has rust stains, you can try spot cleaning them with a 20:1 solution of Multi-use CLR or a similar formula. Apply the solution to the affected area and scrub gently. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water after cleaning. It’s important to note that rust stains on old sails may be permanent and cannot be completely removed.

Should I consider professional sail cleaning services?

If you want to ensure the best results and minimize the risk of damage to your sails, sending them to a professional cleaning service is an option. It can be expensive and may not restore the sails to a like-new shape. It’s important to choose a reputable service with experience in sail cleaning.

What are some tips for maintaining the cleanliness of my sails?

To maintain the cleanliness of your sails, it is recommended to regularly rinse them with fresh water to remove dirt, salt, pollution, and pollen. Thoroughly dry the sails afterward and store them in a well-ventilated area. Regular light cleaning can also help prolong their useful life. Inspect your sails regularly for mildew and rust stains and address them promptly to prevent further damage.

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The history of sailing – from ancient times to modern adventures

The history of sailing – from ancient times to modern adventures

History of Sailing Sailing is a time-honored tradition that has evolved over millennia, from its humble beginnings as a means of transportation to a beloved modern-day recreational activity. The history of sailing is a fascinating journey that spans cultures and centuries, rich in innovation and adventure. In this article, we’ll explore the remarkable evolution of…

Sailing Solo: Adventures and Challenges of Single-Handed Sailing

Sailing Solo: Adventures and Challenges of Single-Handed Sailing

Solo Sailing Sailing has always been a pursuit of freedom, adventure, and self-discovery. While sailing with a crew is a fantastic experience, there’s a unique allure to sailing solo – just you, the wind, and the open sea. Single-handed sailing, as it’s often called, is a journey of self-reliance, resilience, and the ultimate test of…

Sustainable Sailing: Eco-Friendly Practices on the boat

Sustainable Sailing: Eco-Friendly Practices on the boat

Eco Friendly Sailing Sailing is an exhilarating and timeless way to explore the beauty of the open water, but it’s important to remember that our oceans and environment need our protection. Sustainable sailing, which involves eco-friendly practices and mindful decision-making, allows sailors to enjoy their adventures while minimizing their impact on the environment. In this…

How to Clean Sails on a Sailboat

clean sailboat sails

Sailboat sails are magnets for mildew, dirt, and other stains. Learn how to wash and clean sails on a sailboat including dacron without ruining the fabric.

clean sailboat sails

My sailboat sails are made of Dacron, white in color. I have seen small black specks in certain areas, which I believe to be mildew stains. Could you please tell me how best to remove the black specks and also let me know is Dacron is susceptible to fabric damage from the use of mildew cleaners? Thank you.

Short answer here is that Dacron™ is a trademark name for polyester. This material is widely used in such things as tires, fire hoses and curtains as well as clothing. It is also widely used in boating for sails, ropes and even combined with fiberglass for the hulls.

One of the reasons this material is used is it can be easily cleaned with bleach and water solutions.

For the mildew stains I would try:

  • Brush the area with a stiff brush to remove as much as possible.
  • If the sail has been removed, you can place affected area in a solution of ¼ cup Clorox ® Disinfecting Bleach per gallon of cool water to soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Wash/scrub the area thoroughly and rinse with fresh water. Repeat if necessary. I probably would wear some rubber gloves if prolong contact with the cleaning solution is required.
  • Another approach if the sails are not removed, would be to wash/scrub the stains with hot, sudsy water made with ¼ cup Clorox ® Disinfecting Bleach added to 1 gallon of water and a teaspoon of laundry detergent; then rinse and dry. Repeat if necessary. Again, I probably would wear some rubber gloves if prolong contact with the cleaning solution is required.

Home > Resources > Removing Mildew, Rust and Dirt from your Sails!

Removing Mildew, Rust and Dirt from your Sails!

22 May 2019

Ask Precision Sails , Downwind , Headsail , Mainsail , Maintenance , Sails , Spinnakers , Technical Tags: clean sails , cleaning , cleaning sails , Headsail , how to clean dirt , how to clean mildew , how to clean rust , Mainsail , Sails , spinnaker

Why Do Sails Get Dirty?

Often, sails will be taken out of storage or unfurled, and the dreaded black blotches of mildew will rear their ugly head. There are two truths to this. First, mildew is a common occurrence on sails. And second, it is important to recognize that while unsightly and reducing the visual appeal of your sails there is no other effect as far as performance is concerned. Mildew is apparent on woven and laminate sails alike with a black blotchy appearance.

Mildew forms on sails when water is trapped between layers of material with little to no air flow. If you are sailing in tropical conditions are have stored your sail directly after wet weather has set in there is an increased risk of mildew forming. Similarly, the smooth surface of laminate sails makes an ideal home for mildew to form easier. Mildew can also form on the inside of laminate sails; this requires a more thorough cleaning procedure and is better left to professionals.

While chemical treatments are available and have been applied to many sails during production to reduce the forming of mildew, they are not very strong or often have worn away with time.

Rust stains can form on your sail from many different metal attachments or wires that are not stainless steel or properly protected to prevent rusting.

Cleaning your Sails

Regardless if you have noticed your sails becoming dirtier after pulling them out of storage or unfurling them this guide is aimed at helping reduce and remove mildew, rust and other markings on your sail.

Note: Rust and mildew stains may not be totally removed from your sail, but their appearance can be reduced by following these cleaning methods.

Cleaning Dirt

The best way to clean your sails is by hand with a clean sponge, a bucket of water and liquid soap. First, lay your sail out on a clean flat area. Once laid out fill your bucket with water and dilute some soap in it. Locate the areas that are the dirtiest (when spot-cleaning) and begin to lightly scrub with the wet sponge. If your sails are in good condition you may simply only need to spot clean rather than wash the entire sail. Once you have finished scrubbing the effected area rinse with clean water and let dry. Make sure the sail is completely dry before flaking and storing it.

Ideally wash you sail right before going cruising as it will dry thoroughly when fully exposed to the sun and wind. This will prevent mildew from growing on the sail when furled or inside its sail bag. Cleaning your sails is a good maintenance task to do annually or seasonally depending on your climate conditions.

Cleaning Mildew and Rust

For cleaning rust stains and marks try using acetone or rubbing alcohol. These chemicals are excellent at releasing deep dirt and stains from most cloth. They also both dry quickly which make them ideal for spot cleaning your sail before storing. While these cleaning agents will help to remove the rust there is often no way to fully reduce the red stain left behind. By washing the area with soap after using the chemicals you can reduce the red stain from red to a faded red. (This is why it is important to keep up on your sail maintenance and store them properly.)

For cleaning Mildew use a diluted bleach and water mixture. This will kill the mildew and release it from the fabric. Bleach can damage your sail over time so be sure to rinse thoroughly with clean water after cleaning. Similarly, mildew stains cloth and depending on the severity of the growth you may be left with a light grey stain. Chlorine free bleach is recommended as it is less acidic.

Mix one cup of non-chlorinated bleach with a small amount of soap per gallon of water. Spray your sail and let it soak in before scrubbing and finally rinsing off your sail.

Monitor the area and make sure to treat it any time it begins to grow darker. Mildew tends to regrow in the same location over time. Remove mildew from your sail as early as possible to avoid stains. You can also use Lysol wipes and spray to clean fresh mildew growth.

Oxyclean or white vinegar is another method to remove the mildew. Rinse well and dry after cleaning. Vinegar is a common household item used to battle mildew. However, on many accounts repeated cleaning with vinegar will be required to battle the growing mildew.

Avoid using BLEACH on Kevlar and Nylon. This means no spinnakers!   For your safety Bleach and Ammonia should not be combined as this makes a poisonous gas. 

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How to Clean Your Sailboat… and Your Sails

Bluewater sailboats

Sailing is nice… but when we get back to port it’s time to take care of our boat. Remember to always keep your sailboat clean, it’s the only way to always have it in perfect shape! To clean your sailboat, you’ll need to gather some supplies and follow these steps:

  • Rinse off any saltwater or dirt from the exterior of the boat using a hose or pressure washer.
  • Scrub the hull and deck with a soft-bristled brush and a mild detergent. Pay special attention to any stains or dirt that may be harder to remove.
  • Rinse off the soap and scrubbed-off dirt with the hose or pressure washer.
  • Dry the boat thoroughly using a soft cloth or chamois.
  • Clean and dry the boat’s interior, including any cushions, curtains, and other fabric surfaces. Use a mild detergent and a soft cloth or brush to remove any dirt or stains .
  • Clean and dry any metal surfaces, such as the hardware and fittings, using a metal cleaner and a soft cloth.
  • Inspect the boat for any damage or maintenance issues, and make necessary repairs.

By following these steps, you can keep your sailboat clean and in good condition, ensuring that it is ready for your next adventure on the water.


How to clean the sails of your sailboat

To clean the sails of your sailboat , you’ll need to gather a few supplies, including:

  • A soft brush or sponge
  • Mild detergent or soap
  • A bucket of water
  • A hose or pressure washer (optional)

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Start by brushing off any dirt or debris from the sails using a soft brush or sponge.
  • Mix a small amount of mild detergent or soap in a bucket of water.
  • Dip the brush or sponge into the soapy water and scrub the sails, paying particular attention to any stains or dirt that may be harder to remove.
  • Rinse the sails off with the hose or pressure washer, making sure to remove all the soap and scrubbed-off dirt.
  • Dry the sails thoroughly using a soft cloth or chamois.

By following these steps, you can keep your sailboat’s sails clean and in good condition, ensuring that they are ready for your next adventure on the water.


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Getting Rid of Mold and Mildew Onboard

Practical sailor tests 14 mildew stain removers, offers tips for preventing onboard mildew, and gives some advice on the proper care and cleaning of sails-dacron, kevlar, and nylon-to keep them mildew-free..

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Among the marine maintenance products Practical Sailor evaluated recently were 14 pump-spray mildew cleaners to find out which one was the most effective at removing severe mildew stains. We tested chlorine bleach cleaners, chlorine-free cleaners, hydrogen peroxide cleaners, and ammonium chloride cleaners on a variety of materials, ranging from mildewed shower curtains to moldy vinyl seat cushions and moldy life jackets. We also used them to clean a mildewed sail and mildewed Sunbrella. All products were effective at removing the mold mildew from the shower curtain, but the cushions, life jacket, Dacron sail, and Sunbrella were more of a challenge. One product stood out as a more effective mildew cleaner: Klean-Strip Mildew Stain Remover. Klean-Strip is a highly concentrated product with 19 times more sodium hypochlorite than common bleach, and we do not recommend it for cleaning sails or fabrics. Other products tested include 3M mildew stain remover, Boatlife mildew remover, MaryKate mildew stain remover, MDR Amazons Amazing Mildew Stain Away, MDR Moldaway, Naturally Clean Mildew, Nautical Ease Mildew Stain Remover, household Spray Nine, Star brite Mildew Stain Remover, Sudbury Mildew Cleaner and Stain Remover, Thetford Mildew Stain Remover, and West Marine Mold and Mildew Cleaner.

Every boatowner struggles with mildew. Not only is it ugly, but it stinks. Mildew, which is actually mold growing on fabric, plagues sails, lockers, cushions, cabin liners, life jackets, foul-weather gear, biminis-pretty much anything it can latch on to.

All mildew needs to grow is a moist environment with little ventilation, minimal light, and a food source-just about any organic matter. Before it grows, mold spores germinate on the food source. And boats offer an ample food supply: wood, paper, carpet, Sunbrella, vinyl, Dacron. When these materials become moist, it’s party time for the mold spores.

How fast mold grows depends on conditions like ventilation and humidity. Spores can germinate after only 12 hours in some conditions, and some grow in 24 to 48 hours. The secret is to prevent it or catch it as early as possible.

There are numerous products that claim to prevent or remove mildew. Sodium hypochlorite, or bleach, can kill fungus and mold spores if used correctly. Less-toxic chemicals like ammonium chloride are less effective at eliminating resistant molds but are less harsh on fabric and humans.

Once mildew appears, Practical Sailor recommends first trying a mix of mild soap and water to remove the mildew. The second line of defense is a chlorine-free mildew cleaner. Because some materials-like vinyl and stitching-can be damaged by repeated exposure to chlorine/bleach, its always a good idea to try removing the stains with less aggressive cleaners first (no chlorine or low chlorine). If that doesn’t work-and the material being cleaned isn’t affected by chlorine-try a more potent chlorine-based cleaner or a solution of 10 percent household bleach and 90 percent water to spot clean the stain; rinse thoroughly with fresh water and dry the area.

Some chemicals that eliminate mildew are considered pesticides, and may contain chemicals that can be harmful to people, animals, or the environment. For this reason, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs regulates pesticides in the United States to protect public health and the environment. Typical pesticides found in mold and mildew removers are chlorine and alkyl ammonium chlorides. These are known as fungicides and can be very caustic, ruining some fabrics or stitching, and harmful humans.

Best Choice Klean-Strip Mildew Stain Remover

Reading the safety precautions on a product label before using a cleaner is a must. Many will recommend wearing gloves and eye protection.

The Mildew Removers We Tested

Practical Sailor tested 14 pump-spray mildew stain removers to find out which was the most effective at cleaning severe mildew stains. We do not recommend most of these be used for everyday cleaning, but the top performers are effective mildew stain removers.

Of the 14 cleaners tested, a half-dozen of them use sodium hypochlorite (bleach) as an active ingredient: Marykate Mildew Stain Remover , 3M Marine Mildew Stain Remover , Star brite Mildew Stain Remover , Klean-Strip Mildew Stain Remover , and Sudbury Mildew Cleaner & Stain Remover . The amount of bleach used varies from product to product. For instance, Klean-Strip is 96 percent sodium hypochlorite, and Boat Armor (no longer available) has 4.9 percent of the active ingredient, compared to the 5 percent found in household bleach.

Bleach-based products should never be used on nylon fabric or stitching. They will weaken the material. (See “Mildew Offense and Defense,” right.)

Budget Buy Spray Nine

Eight test products- West Marine Mold & Mildew Cleaner , Marine Development and Research (MDR) Mold Away , MDR Amazons Amazing Mildew Stain Away , Nautical Ease Mildew Stain Remover , and BoatLIFE Mildew Remover , Spray Nine household cleaner , Thetford Mildew Stain Remover , and Naturally It’s Clean Mildew -are chlorine-free. Naturally It’s Clean uses “pure vegetable-based enzymes” and coconut oil as its active ingredients, while Thetford contains hydrogen peroxide, and Spray Nine uses ammonium chloride.

While several test products claim to be environmentally friendly (see comments on Value Guide, top right), only the Thetford cleaner has met EPA standards to carry the agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) logo.

The Best Mildew Cleaners

We tested the cleaners on a variety of materials, ranging from shower curtains to vinyl seat cushions, life jackets, and sails (see “How We Tested,” above). All were effective at removing the mildew from the shower curtain. The life jacket and seat cushions proved to be more worthy opponents for our test group.

As we often do when testing large groups of boat maintenance products, we narrowed the field after the first round of testing, and let the top products duke it out in a clean-off.

In this test, the group of finalists was a large one: Eight cleaners did well at cleaning the vinyl cushions and moved on to face the life jacket, which was covered with dark black mildew stains. They were Spray Nine, Klean-Strip, Marykate, MDR Amazons Amazing cleaner, 3M, Star brite, and Sudbury.

Only one cleaner was effective at cleaning the life jacket: the high-chlorine-content Klean-Strip Mildew Stain Remover, a product manufactured by W.M. Barr & Co. in Memphis, Tenn. The website describes the product as a “professional strength cleaner.” The Klean-Strip line includes paint strippers, thinners and solvents, rust remover, and gum and adhesive removers.

best mildew removers for boats

None of the products caused any apparent damage to the life-jacket material.

Practical Sailor prefers products without harsh chemicals-even if they require a bit more elbow grease. But none of those tested were so caustic that they were hard to work with, although the chlorine-based products did have a discernible bleachy smell.


Your best defense against mildew is prevention, but once those black stains appear, act fast. To avoid the possible damage that repeated exposure to harsh cleaners can cause, try to clean the stains first with soap and water, then a non-chlorine product.

Testers favorite bleach-free cleaner in this test was the Spray Nine. A top performer with the best price, Spray Nine also notched Budget Buy honors. Another top chlorine-free cleaner was Nautical Ease.

If the mildew problem is too tough for mild measures, advance to a diluted bleach-and-cold water solution-usually the cheapest approach-or a chlorine-based cleaner.

The hands-down top performer in this test was the bleach-based Klean-Strip . It stood out from the rest of the pack, easily cleaning the vinyl cushion and making a significant impact on the life jacket. It’s the Practical Sailor Best Choice for cleaning extreme mildew stains, but with caveats. This is a highly concentrated product-it has 19 times more sodium hypochlorite than common bleach-so be sure to read its label carefully and be selective about what surfaces and materials you use it on. We do not recommend using it undiluted for cleaning sails or fabrics.

Among the other bleach products that performed well, Marykate and Star brite are reasonably priced.

For the greenies out there, your best choice is the Thetford. While others claim to be eco-friendly, only Thetford has met the established DfE standard.

Getting Rid of Mold and Mildew Onboard

Practical Sailor tested 14 mildew cleaners on a mildew-plagued shower curtain, a moldy foam life jacket, and vinyl boat cushions. Not all of the test products are suggested for use on fabrics like life jackets. However, we wanted to test each cleaner to the same protocol to draw baseline conclusions. (For life jackets, most manufacturers recommend soaking them in a warm salt-and-water solution, then scrubbing affected areas, rinsing with fresh water, and allowing to dry in a well-ventilated spot. Once they’re dry, handwash with antibacterial soap, rinse, and hang them to dry.)

Testers closely followed the instructions on the product labels, noting effectiveness and ease of use. With most products, the user sprays it on and wipes with a cloth, sponge, or brush. Some require a wait after applying the cleaner before trying to remove the stains. The Nautical Ease and Amazon cleaners call for a wait as long as 10 to 15 minutes, while the Klean-Strip and 3M products require 5- to 10- minute wait times. Other products direct the user to spray them on, work them into the material with a brush, and then let the product sit for a while. Always be sure to thoroughly rinse the cleaned area with fresh water and allow it to dry.

Getting Rid of Mold and Mildew Onboard

The best way to fight mildew onboard is to keep it from ever starting in the first place. Prevention is your best defense. When storing your boat or leaving it closed up for an extended time, a few simple steps will help prevent mildew.

Clean and dry everything. Use a diluted water-bleach mixture on surfaces not likely to be damaged by the bleach. Wipe down and dry the head, shower, sinks, and the galley counters. Do the same for the overhead and walls/bulkheads.

Leave open all drawers, doors, and lockers to promote circulation. If covering the boat with a tarp, create ventilation between the tarp and the hull by hanging a few fenders between them. Prop up mattresses and cushions, or just remove them along with life jackets and foul-weather gear—even fenders and lines. Anything paper—charts, books, paper towels, etc.—should be stowed in air-tight bags or removed.

Good air circulation and moisture control go a long way toward keeping mildew at bay. Keeping the relative humidity below 55 percent throughout the boat gives you a good chance of preventing mold growth. Relative humidity can be measured by a hygrometer, available at many marine and air-conditioner stores, as well as some mega-retailers or hardware stores.

At the dock, a home dehumidifier, a dehumidifying stick (like the Golden Rod [], effectively a small heater), or even a light bulb positioned under a vent can help promote air circulation and moisture removal. Moisture-absorption packets like silica gel can also help. These porous granules absorb up to half their weight in moisture from the atmosphere and can be purchased inexpensively in bulk at hardware stores.

The AbsorBag by Buffers USA ( uses calcium chloride to absorb moisture. The company also sells a non-toxic desiccan’t bag, E-Sorb, that uses montmorillonite clay for absorption. Star brite makes similar products, the No Damp dehumidifier and MDG Mildew Odor Control Bags. PS plans to test these and other moisture absorbers.

Ventilation Products

Mildew thrives in humid, damp spaces, so keeping your cabin and lockers well ventilated is key. PS has tested numerous ventilation products and published a handful of articles on the subject.

We’re big fans of cowl vents coupled with Dorade boxes (PS May 15, 1997) to let air in but keep water out. A Dorade box is simply a water trap that employs a down-draft pipe offset laterally from the throat of the cowl vent. Vetus ( supplies a wide range of well-made cowl ventilators.

Twelve-volt fans (PS Nov. 1, 2000 and April 2008) and solarpowered vents (PS May 1, 1993) also keep fresh air flowing in the cabin. The Hella Turbo fan ( outlasted three other popular models in PS’s 2000 cabin fan longevity test. It also was among the recommended fans in our 2008 test.

Nicro Day and Night solar-powered vents (www.marinco. com) are another option. During the day, the solar panel charges a small Nicad battery to power the fan at night. In effect, you get 24-hour operation and continuous circulation.

Proper sail care and maintenance go a long way toward keeping those unsightly black blotches off your canvas. We culled the following tips from sail care experts and authors Dan Neri (“Sail Care and Repair”), William Burr (“Boat Maintenance”), and Roger McAfee (“The Warm Dry Boat,“ the Seattle sailors’ bible).

  • Never stow sails when they are damp or salty as salt attracts moisture. (Fresh-water rinse salty sails.) Air them out regularly, especially after a rain.
  • Keep mildew-infected sails away from clean ones, and try to clean infected sails as quickly as possible. Stains are easier to treat when they are new.
  • Never use bleach on Kevlar or nylon as it will destroy the fibers. Washing these or Dacron sails in a chlorine-treated swimming pool will turn them brittle and yellow. To clean Dacron sails, first try lemon juice and water to spot clean and let them dry in the sun. For stubborn stains, try diluted Tilex, but be sure to rinse it off thoroughly to avoid longterm damage from the residue. To clean Kevlar, use only water. Lysol can be used as an effective fungicide.
  • Laminates grow fungus more readily than woven polyester because the film is impermeable and moisture cannot escape.

VALUE GUIDE: Severe Mildew Stain Removers

3M MARINE MILDEW STAIN REMOVER16.9 oz.$10 / 60¢boatmartusa.comYes (Can use on vinyl, covers, and cushionsGood
BOAT ARMOR MILDEW STAIN REMOVER32 oz.$14.42 / 45¢soderbloom.comYes (4.9%)Can use on vinyl, carpet, and upholsteryGood
BOATLIFE MILDEW REMOVER16 oz.$12.09 / 76¢jamestowndistributors.comNo chlorineSafe for fabric; acid freeFair
KLEAN-STRIP MILDEW STAIN REMOVER32 oz.$6.79 / 21¢acehardwareoutlet.comYes (96%)Heavy duty; can use on hard surfaces and vinyl; may need to dilute for some jobsExcellent
MARYKATE MILDEW STAIN REMOVER32 oz.$10.95 / 34¢discountmarinesupplies.comYes (Viscous formula; cannot use on fabricsGood
MDR AMAZON'S AMAZING MILDEW STAIN AWAY16 oz.$10.05 / 63¢shootnhunt.comNo chlorineCan use on sails, vinyl, canvas, and other fabrics; claims to be safe on all stitchingGood
MDR MOLDAWAY16 oz.$6.99 / 44¢boatersland.comContents not availableCan use on fiberglass and plastic or other hard surfaceFair
NATURALLY CLEAN MILDEW16 oz.$6.69 / 42¢Local health food storeNo chlorineSafe on all surfaces and fabrics, including sailsFair
NAUTICAL EASE MILDEW STAIN REMOVER16 oz.$10 / 63¢nauticalease.comNo chlorineCan use on vinyl and canvasGood
SPRAY NINE32 oz.$4.65 / 15¢idealtruevalue.comNo chlorineHousehold formulaGood
STAR BRITE MILDEW CLEANER & STAIN REMOVER22 oz.$8.95 / 41¢boatbandit.comYes (Can use on vinyl, showers, and awningsGood
SUDBURY MILDEW CLEANER & STAIN REMOVER32 oz.$18.25 / 58¢outdoorsuperstore.comYes*Claims to be 100% biodegradable, earth friendlyGood
THEFORM MILDEW STAIN REMOVER32 oz.$14.99 / 94¢overtons.comNo chlorineCan use in awnings, canvas, vinyl, and is color safe on most fabrics and materialsFair
WEST MARINE MOLD & MILDEW CLEANER16 oz.$14 / 88¢westmarine.comNo chlorineCan use on fiberglass, canvas, seams, vinyl, carpet; earth-friendly; biodegradableFair
* The sodium hypochlorite content not available.

Boat Armour

Chemfree Solutions

Klean-Strip (W.M. Barr)

Nautical Ease

West Marine



I think your writing so great. You had divided into some type of line product. I had tried one of eight cleaners did well at cleaning the vinyl cushions and moved on to face the life jacket, which was covered with dark black mildew stains as you told. Star Brite Mold and Mildew Stain Remover made me very surprised about its use. It required no scrubbing or effort. I simply sprayed it on and waited for about 3 minutes, then hosed it off. Done. Mildew 100% visually gone. I’ll follow your writing page to know more some line product of the other field

A few thoughts on mildew. Been a sailor on Lake Michigan for over 50 years and tried most of the liquid remedies with limited success. What I found very effective is an air cleaner that generates ozone. This is the device that hotels use to freshen up smoked in rooms, Put this in a closed boat for 1 day and all smells plus mildew on all surfaces gone for years. Cannot be in cabin while doing this however as ozone can be harmful. Another proven remedy for visable mildew on interior wood is pure lemon oil…the type available from gun shops for wood stocks. The oil has acedic acid that kills the spores, enriches the wood, and smells great. Most effective on non varnished interior wood like teak. Nothing new here just refreshing old ideas..

I’ve found that a solar vent is very effective at preventing mold. The principle is replacing humid daytime air that will deposit its moisture everywhere as it cools overnight, with cooler outside air that has already done so. The vent can be particularly helpful with people sleeping in the cabin–we generate a lot of humidity! The solar vent can be installed anywhere without wiring, and draws nothing from the boat’s batteries. The further it is located from where air enters, the better, but location isn’t that important–the exchange is. If you’re reluctant to cut a 3-4″ hole in the deck, mount it in a hatch that can be replaced if you decide this was a mistake.

I’m in sunny FL with a 40 footer and have a little Eva-Dry dehumidifier onboard. I run it off the batteries charged by the solar panels and it drains into the sink. No mildew inside. My problem is mold in the 40 year old teak on deck. It is in too deep for any cleaner to kill it. The teak is painted, but the mold shines through. Does anyone know if epoxying the teak before painting will keep it from shining through?

Please check your comment about Klean-Strip being 96% sodium hypochlorite. I believe the maximum chemically possible is less than 50%. Maybe you ready that the “active ingredient” was 96% sodium hypochlorite. The SDS I saw on Barr’s website showed <5%. Pool Bleach is 10% and it will aggressively attack fabric.

I have an antique floor lamp covered in marlinspike work, but the apparently cotton sash cord has turned grey. Any ideas to brighten it? Thanks.

Too bad that Klean-Strip Mildew Stain Remover has been discontinued according to the manufacturer.

Thank You for updating this information. I have had good success with a line of products from Mold Armor. You might consider it in the future.

I have found the best results from Hydrogen Peroxide (first aid drug store type) in a spray bottle applied liberally to cloth, teak, leather or vinyl works very well and does not damage the surface being cleaned. I have used this to clean aboard my boat with great success.

I spray the boat interior with Walmart’s Equate brand similar to Lysol. The overhead, bulkheads, fabric, everything when I close up after a weekend. I have numerous solar exhaust fans mounted in my deck hatches and have plug in electric fans running in the cabins.

I recommend 3M Marine Mildew Stain Remover because it works great and versatile in cleaning different types of surfaces.

Was not expecting much but I have boat that was sitting for 8 years outside and had rust spots black mold and just about every stain you could think of. A few squirts of Better Boat Mildew Remover Stain Remover Cleaner stuff let it sit and honestly the boat looks new.

besides that, the Star Brite mold and mildew stain remover is great too. What I like about this product is the convenience it provides with its easy-usage features.

Marine 31 mildew remover is amazing. I had tried 5 other products that I had researched online and had good reviews to clean the mildew off of my boat seats and had almost given up on them until I found this. I bought it assuming I would get the same results as before, just a lot of scrubbing and money wasted on something that was useless, but I gave it a try anyway. I am so glad I did. When the bottle arrived I immediately went out and sprayed all of my seats, grabbed the brush to scrub them and the seat I sprayed first was totally clean. Yes you read that right. I would definitely recommend this product to anyone with a boat or who had outside furniture that gets any mold/mildew. It is safe on most materials and is water safe so you can use it on boats that stay docked all the time and not feel bad about it getting rinsed off and killing fish.

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Cleaning Yacht Sails: What To Use + What NOT To Use

cleaning yacht sails

When you’ve got a yacht, the sails are almost always the first things that people will notice. Those things are pretty big and make up more than 50% of the yacht visual. So yes, people are going to notice when they’re dirty. But there are more reasons to cleaning yacht sails than just that initial impression.

Dirty sails become home to all sorts of bacteria growth, and mold and mildew. And although you might not come in direct contact with your sail, just having that stuff overhead can prove to be a health hazard. But how exactly can you clean those humongous sheets of marine-grade fabric? Here’s how to do it.

What are Your Sails Made Of?

We know why yacht sails are black , but what about the materials. Knowing first what kind of material your sails are made of can help you determine the kind of cleaners you can and can’t use. In general though, you’re going to want to look out for two specific kinds of material - polyester and nylon.

Polyester is the most common of the two. They’re durable and resistant to the typical culprits for marine gear damage like UV exposure. But even then, they can get stained by mold and mildew which would require unique care and cleaning.

Nylon on the other hand is much less durable, providing a stretchy texture that expands the material when faced with strong winds . That’s also why they’re typically used for spinnakers.

What You’ll Need

Lots of sailors might feel like they can just grab anything from their home cleaning closet and get started on the job. But there are a number of products you use for cleaning your home that aren’t suitable for cleaning yacht sails. So before you run amok and clean your yacht sails the way you know how, make sure you’ve got the right cleaning products in your arsenal:

You’re going to be making a bunch of cleaning solutions with the products you have on hand. Better make it two or three buckets so you don’t have to keep tossing left over cleaning solution and rinsing the buckets after each use.

Soft Bristle Brush

soft bristle brush to clean yacht sails

Just like any other part of your yacht, your sails require delicate care. Avoid hard bristle brushes or rough rags that could scuff the material and damage the plasticizers that coat the surface.

We use the trusty Scrub Brush from JIESHKE .

Mild Liquid Laundry Detergent

liquid laundry detergent

Sails, especially nylon ones, don’t respond well to harsh, abrasive cleaning agents. Choose a mild liquid laundry detergent that doesn’t have any solvents in its formulation.

Try using the ECOS Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent .

Canvas Cleaner

sail and canvas cleaner

If you’re willing to spend the extra green, canvas cleaner can help you get rid of dirt and stains with greater ease. Just remember that most of them come in a concentrated form, so they might not be ideal for use directly out of the bottle.

We recommend the Star Brite Sail & Canvas Cleaner .

Mold and Mildew Stain Remover

mold and mildew stain remover

Mold and mildew stains won’t come off with traditional cleaning products, and require their own unique formulation. Some choices are intended for use on different parts of your boat, making them a great cleaning investment.

Check out the Better Boat Mildew Stain Remover .

Vinegar and Baking Soda

While they’re definitely not essential, they do provide distinct cleaning properties that can make them a better choice for getting rid of certain types of stains. Keep them at the ready in case your other products don’t work. Just see our guides on cleaning pontoons with vinegar and boat seat seats with vinegar to see how the effectiveness.

Oxalic Acid

oxalic acid

Your sails are likely to have rust stains from where they come into contact with metal hardware. Since you might not be able to remove rust with any of the mentioned cleaners, it’s ideal that you keep a bottle of oxalic acid at the ready.

We like using the FDC Pure Oxalic Acid Powder .

Fabric Guard

marine fabric guard

Once you’re done with the cleaning job, it’s important you make sure that your sails are protected from future stains. Sure, fabric guard isn’t going to prevent stains 100%, but it can slow down their development and strengthen your sails.

We highly recommend the 303 Marine Fabric Guard for your sails.

How to Clean Yacht Sails

Proper sail cleaning requires that you follow the right steps to make sure your removing the right stains with the appropriate products. So before you get started on the job, familiarize yourself with these steps:

1. Find a Proper Space

You can’t wash your sails just anywhere. Find a wide open space where you can lay that sail out flat so that it doesn’t fold on itself. This should help you perform a more thorough cleaning.

If there isn’t a concrete area big enough for the job, you can lay out a tarp over some grass and then place the sails over it. This should protect the material from any potential damage from the spiky, abrasive texture of grass.

2. Perform a Preliminary Cleaning

There’s probably going to be some accumulated gunk on your sails that you can get out with just a basic wash and rinse. Getting it out before you go to the actual cleaning can help improve the results of the products you’re going to use later on.

Take your mild liquid laundry detergent and dilute 1/4 cup in a gallon of water using your bucket. Splash it on the sails and gently scrub darkened, discolored, and stained areas with your soft brush, then rinse when you’re done.

3. Target any Specific Stains

Once you see the state of your sails after a wash, you should be able to target localized stains. For rust stains, take out your oxalic acid. Remember though that you will have to add hydrochloric acid to the oxalic to get it to work.

Work on each rust stain individually, and don’t move on to the next one until you’re done getting out the first. Apply oxalic acid, then hydrochloric, and then rinse. You might not have to do any brushing, but in case you do, see to it that you avoid applying too much pressure.

For stubborn mold and mildew stains, you can use your specialized remover. Some of these products can be concentrated, so it’s important to dilute the formulation before you use it. Typically, you’re going to want to mix together one part stain remover with four parts of water.

It’s important that you don’t let the solution dry up before you can get to it with a brush. Work in areas and finish up cleaning your target stain first before moving on to the next one. Then when you’re all finished, rinse with clean water.

Then, finally, if there are still stains that just aren’t coming out with either of the solutions mentioned prior, you can try vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar works undiluted, but if you don’t like the smell, you can try one part vinegar with four parts water.

Splash it over your target areas, let soak, and then rinse. Of course, you could also brush the stains away while the solution is in effect. For oil-based stains, you can try baking soda. Just dust on a generous amount of the stuff and wait 5 to 10 minutes before washing it out with water.

4. One Last Wash

When you’re done getting rid of all of those stains, it might help to pass over the sails with one last cycle of general cleaning. This time, you can use your canvas cleaner. Depending on the product, you may have to dilute the solution in water first. Make sure you read the instructions to find out how to properly use it.

When you’re done cleaning your sails, find a place where you can hang it to dry. See to it that the sail is spread out as wide as possible and that it doesn’t fold on itself. Any creases or folds that don’t dry up properly could be susceptible to mold and mildew in the future. Also make sure that the sails are completely dry before you proceed to the next step.

5. Apply Protectant

After every cleaning, your yacht sails can lose some of its ability to repel water. That’s why you should make it a must to apply protectant when you’re done. Apply two coatings to maximize protection and see to it that you get into all of those little hard-to-reach areas so your sails don’t have any weak points.

When applying, don’t oversaturate your sails. Instead of applying thick coats, see to it that you apply a modest amount or a thin coat of protectant spray. Allow it to completely air dry before you apply the next. It also helps to find a well-ventilated space to do the job since the fumes can get irritating.

How Often Should You Wash Your Sails?

how often should you wash your sails

Overwashing your sails could degrade the plasticizers and make it more prone to stains and discoloration over time. That said, experts recommend that you wash your sails a maximum of twice a year to keep them clean without compromising the integrity of the material.

Another thing to remember is that if there aren’t any rust, mold or mildew, or grease and oil stains, then it’s not necessary to perform the steps to remove them. A simple wash down with liquid laundry detergent can be more than enough for routine cleaning, especially if that’s all you need. Just don’t forget to protect when you’re done.

What Not to Use

It might be tempting to pull out those cleaning products you have at home especially if you’re all out of supplies and you really want to get a stubborn stain out. But try to avoid these cleaning tools and products at all costs:

  • Pressure washers
  • Hard bristle brushes
  • Strong solvents
  • Abrasive powder detergents

Anything that could abrade the surface of your sails spells trouble for its lifespan. Avoid harsh cleaning products and tools to maintain its integrity.

Time to Set Sail

Cleaning yacht sails should be a regular part of your yacht maintenance routine. Make sure you follow these steps to get the job done as efficiently and safely as possible to maintain the look of your sails while extending their lifespan for many more sailing trips to come.

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clean sailboat sails


How to Clean Sails

To clean sails, rinse with fresh water and use a soft brush with mild soap for stains. Avoid harsh chemicals that can degrade sail fabric.

Maintaining the condition of your sails is crucial for performance and longevity. Sail care involves regular inspections and gentle cleaning to prevent the accumulation of salt, dirt, and organic material which can weaken the sailcloth over time. Sailing enthusiasts and professionals alike know that a clean sail not only performs better but also retains its shape longer.

Eventually, even with the best care, sails will show signs of wear and will need more than just a rinse. This is when knowing the proper cleaning techniques becomes essential. By using the right tools and methods, you can ensure your sails remain in top condition, helping you stay ahead on the water whether you’re racing or cruising.

How To Clean Sails


Table of Contents

Introduction To Sail Maintenance

Caring for sails is crucial. Think of them as the engine of your sailing vessel. Regular maintenance not only extends their life but also improves performance . A clean sail is a happy sail, contributing to better sea adventures . Dive into the world of sail care with this essential guide.

Understanding The Importance Of Sail Cleanliness

Sail cleanliness is vital. It leads to longevity and optimal function . Neglected sails degrade from dirt, salt, and sun. They can lose shape and efficiency . A well-kept sail ensures peak performance and safe sailing experiences .

Types Of Sails And Their Specific Cleaning Needs

Sails come in various materials and styles. Each has unique care requirements . Dacron, laminate, and nylon all respond differently to cleaning. Recognizing your sail type is the first step to the right maintenance approach .

Sail Type Cleaning Need
Gentle wash, air dry
Specialized cleaner, avoid crinkling
Soft brush, mild detergent

Preparing For The Cleaning Process

Before cleaning, gather materials and outline your steps. Check the weather forecast — a sunny day is best. You’ll need mild soap , fresh water , a soft brush , and space to dry sails. Always consult the manufacturer’s guidelines beforehand.

  • Inspect the sail for damage.
  • Lay the sail flat on a clean surface.
  • Mix a solution of water and mild soap.
  • Rinse thoroughly after washing.

Step-by-step Cleaning Methods

Clean sails not only perform better but also last longer , making the effort to maintain them well worth it. Follow these step-by-step cleaning methods to keep your sails in top condition.

Rinsing Techniques: Freshwater Vs. Saltwater

Rinsing sails regularly extends their life and preserves their performance. Use these techniques:

  • Freshwater: Ideal for removing salt crystals and dirt.
  • Saltwater: Not recommended, but if necessary, follow with a freshwater rinse.

Stain Removal: Identifying And Treating Different Types

Various stains require specific treatments. Here’s a quick guide:

Add more rows as needed
Type of Stain Treatment
Bird Droppings Warm soapy water
Oil or Grease Specialized sail cleaner or degreaser

Mold And Mildew: Prevention And Treatment

Keep sails dry to prevent mold and mildew . Treat affected areas with:

  • A mildew remover suitable for sails.
  • Vinegar and water solution for minor cases.

Detergents And Solutions: Choosing The Right One For Your Sail

Select a detergent that’s:

  • Designed for sails and marine environments.
  • Mild and free from harsh chemicals.
  • Biodegradable for an eco-friendly option.

Hand Washing Vs Machine Washing: When To Use Each Method

Hand washing is safer for sails , while machine washing can be risky. Use this rule of thumb:

  • Hand wash: Always the safest option.
  • Machine wash: Only small sail components, if necessary.

Drying Sails Properly To Avoid Damage

Proper drying is critical. Remember these tips:

  • Dry sails completely before storage.
  • Spread out on a clean surface away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid high heat that can shrink or damage the fabric.

Aftercare And Maintenance Tips

Aftercare and Maintenance Tips ensure the longevity and performance of your sails. Regular inspections, timely repairs, correct storage, and understanding the influence of seasons are crucial. Sometimes, entrusting sails to professionals for a thorough clean is the best option. Follow these guidelines to keep your sails in top-notch condition.

Routine Inspection And Maintenance Schedules

Maintaining a routine check-up schedule is vital. Inspect sails for wear and tear after each use . Look for loose stitches, worn areas, and stretches. Schedule more in-depth inspections semi-annually . This can catch issues before they worsen.

Repairing Minor Damages To Extend Sail Life

  • Address small rips and tears immediately to prevent further damage.
  • Use sail repair tape for quick fixes.
  • Take sails to a sailmaker for significant repairs .

Proper Storage Techniques To Keep Sails Clean And Safe

Correct storage is essential. Always dry sails completely to prevent mildew. Fold or roll sails loosely to avoid creases. Store in a cool, dry place away from UV light .

Seasonal Considerations For Sail Care

Season changes affect sail care. In spring, prepare sails with a light clean and inspection . Summer demands regular rinsing with fresh water after sailing to remove salt and debris. In fall, do a thorough clean before storage. Winter storage requires a dry, rodent-free space .

Professional Cleaning Services: When To Consider Them

Consider a professional clean once a year or when:

  • Sails have persistent stains or mildew.
  • You notice a decline in performance .
  • Before long-term storage or after a heavy sailing season.

How To Clean Sails


How To Clean Sails


Are the Cleaning Techniques for Sails and Macbook Exterior Similar?

Yes, cleaning techniques for sails and your Macbook exterior are similar. Both require gentle handling and the use of appropriate cleaning solutions. For sails, a mild detergent and water is commonly used, while for cleaning your macbook exterior , a soft cloth and electronics-safe cleaner is recommended to avoid damage.

Frequently Asked Questions On How To Clean Sails

How do i get my sails white again.

Mix a solution of warm water and mild detergent. Gently scrub the sails with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse thoroughly with clean water. Avoid harsh chemicals and bleach to prevent damage. Dry sails completely before storage.

Is Oxiclean Safe For Sails?

Yes, OxiClean is generally safe for cleaning sails, as it is a gentle, bleach-free stain remover. Always dilute properly and spot test before full application.

Should I Wash My Sails?

Yes, you should wash your sails periodically to remove salt, dirt, and prevent mildew. Use gentle soap and water, avoiding high-pressure washers. Ensure they are completely dry before storage.

Can You Power Wash Sails?

Power washing sails is not recommended as the high pressure can damage the fabric. Instead, use a low-pressure rinse and appropriate sail-cleaning products for safe maintenance.

Maintaining clean sails is crucial for both performance and longevity. With the right approach and regular care, your sails will retain strength and efficiency. Remember, gentle cleaning preserves sail integrity and enhances your sailing experience. Set sail confidently, knowing your vessel sports pristine, well-kept sails.

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Sailboat Bottom Cleaning - Complete DIY Guide

Sailboat Bottom Cleaning: Complete DIY Guide | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Sailboat bottom cleaning is an essential part of regular hull maintenance, but it doesn't have to be a serious hassle.

Sailboat bottom cleaning can be done in or out of the water. The most important tools include marine gloves, various scrapers, and brushes. A coat of high-quality bottom paint can reduce cleaning intervals and marine buildup.

In this article, we'll go over how to clean a sailboat bottom in or out of the water. We'll cover the best methods and give you a rundown of all the tools you'll need to do the job. Additionally, we'll go over the importance of bottom paint and the best methods to reduce the headache of hull maintenance.

We sourced the information used in this article from sailors with bottom cleaning experience. Additionally, we gathered facts about hull cleaning from reliable sailboat maintenance guides.

Table of contents

‍ What Happens to a Sailboat Hull in the Water?

A clean sailboat hull doesn't stay clean for long, but any skipper can tell the difference between a freshly scraped hull and a neglected bottom. As soon as you drop the boat in the water, marine gunk starts to slowly accumulate on all submerged surfaces.

First, bacteria and microorganisms start to accumulate and build up a slime. Anti-growth paints slow this buildup, but it eventually overpowers the paint. At this stage, a simple hosing down could do the trick. But over time, the slime forms a protective layer onto which larger and more sensitive organisms can begin to thrive.

Within a month or two, even the most well-maintained sailboat bottom will start to accumulate your local species of barnacles, mussels, and sharp sea trash. The bottom is now its own micro-ecosystem.

Soon, all of that annoying and injurious sea garbage will begin clogging intakes, exhaust ports, drains, and jamming up rudder components.

How Often Should You Clean a Sailboat Bottom?

Bottom cleaning should be done regularly, regardless of how you use your boat. That said, it's a more urgent task for some sailors who get underway often.

People who cruise regularly or over long distances should clean the bottom once every month or two, whereas the twice-per-year sailor can get away with a biannual cleaning.

The Importance of Sailboat Bottom Paint

Bottom paint is specially formulated to slow or stop the growth of marine life. Traditionally, 'red lead' paint was used to inhibit barnacles and other gunk from taking refuge on the hull. Red lead is just that—red paint with high lead content. Lead is poisonous to marine life, and it's extremely effective at preserving the bottom.

Red lead comes with hazards, and it's difficult to obtain in some areas. Today, its use is limited to wooden boats and historical restorations.

In the 21st century, numerous less toxic paint alternatives exist. They're costly, but modern bottom paints can last for years without significant repairs.

It's essential to keep your hull covered in a strong layer of bottom paint, regardless of the age or condition of the vessel. High-quality bottom paint can drastically reduce hull growth and cleaning intervals, which is why it's a key priority for long-range cruising skippers.

Why is Bottom Cleaning Necessary?

Bottom cleaning is absolutely necessary if you want your boat to work well and last a long time. Marine life grows rapidly on sailboat hulls, and it can add weight to your hull and cause damage.

The biggest issue with marine growth is drag, as it adds a rough texture to an otherwise smooth sailboat hull and slows it down. Additionally, marine life can seize rudders and clog seacocks.

What Happens if You Don't Clean the Hull?

Here's a typical scenario to consider. Let's say that your sailboat has been sitting in a slip at a marina for about a year, and you decide to take it out sailing on the water. You can see an unseemly buildup of marine gunk on the bottom of the hull, but you decide to go sailing anyway.

You start the engine to pilot the boat out of the slip, and before long, your diesel inboard is overheated, and you're left dead in the water and drifting. It's not a good situation and a potentially expensive mistake too.

The reason the engine overheated is that barnacles and sea plants clogged the cooling water intakes on the bottom of the hull. This is why powerboats are pulled out of the water after use and why frequent bottom cleaning is necessary.

Can You Clean a Sailboat Bottom in the Water?

Absolutely, many people clean the hull of their sailboat while it's still in the water. In fact, you may not even have to get in the water to do it. There are special brushes available that allow sailboat owners to clean the bottom from the dock.

These brushes have a long angled handle that allows you to reach under the boat from above. This method works great for round-bottom boats, though special care must be taken to clean the keel and the rudder.

If you're willing to get in the water, you can also clean the bottom using scuba gear or a snorkel. If you do, be sure to choose a safe location that doesn't have any marine traffic.

How to Clean a Sailboat Bottom

Cleaning a sailboat bottom is pretty self-explanatory, and anyone can do it in a reasonable amount of time. That said, you'll need the proper tools and techniques to do it safely and effectively.

Here is a list of the best tools to grab before cleaning the bottom. You don't necessarily need them all, but it's best to have a full set of implements at your disposal.

It's also a good idea to buy purpose-made marine tools, as you need the right scraper thickness to avoid damaging the hull. If you have a friend with marine tools, borrow them or bring them along to a hardware store to find comparable scrapers.

Gloves are an important and often overlooked tool for bottom cleaning. Ever try to walk along a rocky shoal barefoot? You probably didn't get far. Barnacles and shells are hard and extremely sharp, and a slip of the hand can result in a trip to the urgent care clinic and a few stitches.

Specially-made marine gloves allow good mobility and excellent protection from sharp marine growth.

2. Scrapers

You'll need scrapers of various kinds to remove the harder gunk such as barnacles and mussels. These come in multiple shapes and sizes. You should have more than one size available to help clean odd spaces, such as around your propeller shaft and rudder assembly.

3. Scrubbers

Scrubbers are useful tools for using outside the water. They're usually large, round brushes that attach to a motor or a power drill. While scrubbers usually aren't useful for removing severe growth, they're excellent for finishing the hull after scraping the stone-like barnacles off.

4. Pressure Washer

A pressure washer with a specialized marine nozzle is an excellent choice for getting work done quickly. Larger boats benefit most from a pressure washer, as it can blast off all kinds of marine growth. Just be careful, as the jet is extremely powerful and concentrated.

Brushes are an essential tool for cleaning a sailboat bottom. There are literally hundreds of marine brushes to choose from, and they're available in all shapes and sizes. Some brushes are handheld and small, while others have long handles for dockside cleaning.

Bottom Cleaning in the Water

Bottom cleaning in the water is the least costly way to do it, as you don't have to pay for a boat crane or a place to park your trailer. Plus, with no jack stands in the way, you can clean the entire hull.

First, make sure you're a good swimmer. Even if you don't get in the water, it's essential to be prepared if you fall in. The most common way to clean the bottom in the water is to grab some goggles and a snorkel and go for a swim.

Start by scraping the larger marine growth with a scraper. If there isn't any hard growth, such as mussels or barnacles, you can begin with a heavy brush and start removing the gunk.

Use extra care around intake ports and moving parts, as it's especially important that these items be clean.

Check Anodes

Most sailboats have bolt-on sacrificial zinc anodes around certain metal parts. These anodes 're-route' corrosion. They corrode instead of your metallic boat parts, but once they get badly pitted, they stop functioning. Check the anodes and make sure they're in good condition. If not, replace them promptly.

Out-Of-Water Sailboat Bottom Cleaning

It's easy to clean the bottom of a sailboat out of water and generally less physically taxing. Here, you can use power tools (such as a power drill scrubber) and pressure washers to expedite the process.

Use the same care to avoid scraping off paint and damaging the hull. Once out of the water, you can inspect the condition of the bottom paint and repair hull damage.

General Rules of Sailboat Bottom Cleaning

Bottom cleaning is a regular and relatively unpleasant task, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Here are a handful of helpful tips to make sailboat bottom cleaning as safe and easy as possible.

1. Pull the boat out of the water if you can.

Pulling the boat out of the water makes life a whole lot easier when you need to clean the bottom. It allows you to work on land and get a full, well-lit 360-degree view of the hull.

2. Avoid harsh chemicals (if possible).

There are lots of quick-fix chemicals available to make hull cleaning easier, but it's best to consider the potential consequences of using them. Many of these chemicals contain harsh compounds and solvents, which are harmful to your health and damaging to the environment.

It doesn't take much to cause problems. Just a pint of petrochemicals can contaminate an acre of water or more, and a gallon of chemicals can contaminate over a million gallons of water. When possible, use biodegradable chemicals and safe paints.

3. Use secure boat jack stands.

If you pull the boat out of the water, be sure to use high-quality boat jack stands that are rated for the weight of your vessel. Take into account the extra weight of tanks and additional items aboard. Also, ensure that the jack stands are in good condition and not corroded.

4. Buy better brushes.

Buying high-quality hull brushes can make a world of difference when cleaning the bottom. High-quality brushes are built better and less likely to damage the bottom of your boat or scrape off your paint. Also, avoid using brushes that aren't designed for hull cleaning.

5. Clean the hull in a safe location.

If you must dive under the boat while it's in the water, be sure to do so in a safe area without marine traffic. Use a flag and markers to alert other boats that you're in the water, as they may not be able to see you when motoring around.

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I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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How to Clean your Sails and Remove Surface Mold and Mildew?

Susan E. Smith asked:

My Main sail has developed mold and mildew and I’m guessing my cover is shot. What product is safe to clean and kill mold/mildew?

For your convenience, I’ve highlighted the hyperlinks. Click on the hyperlink to get more information about the selected product.

You’ll need: 1 or 2 bottles of Boat Clean Plus (1 bottle for small to medium sails, 2 bottles for medium to large sails). A medium bristled brush. A paint brush. A fresh water hose. A large container to hold your sail submerged in water, i.e. a bathtub, a 55 gallon plastic drum, a large waterproof plastic bag.

  • Spread the sail out on a clean flat surface and spray with a jet stream of water to remove any loose dirt.
  • While still wet, spray concentrated Boat Clean Plus on all mold and ground in dirt and soil and scrub those areas with the medium bristled brush to loosen the dirt, but not so aggressively as to damage the sail.
  • Spray the rest of the sail with Boat Clean Plus.
  • Flip the sail over and repeat.
  • Flake the Sail loosely, put it into the container, fill the container ½ full with warm water and leave for 12 hours. Move the sail around and push the air out of the sail so that water is in contact with all surfaces.
  • Spread the sail out on a flat surface or attach it to the mast. Starting at the head and working down to the tack and foot Rinse with a jet stream of water while agitating the surface with the paint brush to remove all residue. Do this on both sides.
  • Hoist the sail and allow it to dry completely.
  • Fabric sails can be re-waterproofed and protected from mold penetration with Canvas Shield.

This method of sail cleaning is recommended for annual sail cleaning as well cleaning mold.

Mold grows on dirt or decaying matter and can be black, brown, green, pink or yellow in color. Mildew is white in color and only grows on living matter, such as plants. Mold requires soil, moisture, warmth and darkness to grow and flourish. The best way to prevent mold is to keep the surface clean, dry and ventilated. Mold does not grow on synthetic fabrics, but on dirt that may be on the surface. Once growing on the surface, mold can penetrate microscopic cracks, pores and fissures and spread under the surface, where it becomes indelible. Keeping sails and sail covers clean and dry is the best way to prevent mold.

Boat Clean Plus is a safe, deep penetrating, free rinsing, and environment friendly cleaner and is a proven sail cleaner. Highly alkali cleaners and oxidizing agents, such as bleach can damage synthetic fabrics such as polyester or Dacron® and others that most sails are made from. Soap and detergents do not penetrate deeply enough and leave a residue which will hold dirt and is food for mold.

If sail cleaning or rinsing is done on the boat, the Boat Clean Plus residue can be rinsed from the fiberglass or painted boat surfaces and will not damage any waxed or polished surfaces on the deck or hull and is biodegradable and will not harm the waterway or soil surrounding the boat.

Wash all accessible areas of mast, boom, battens, etc. that come into contact with the sail with Boat Clean Plus and water to remove dirt and residual mold to prevent reoccurrence of mold. Sail covers need to be washed on a regular basis with Fabri-Klean and water and kept dry. Waterproof the sail cover with Canvas Shield . You can also re-waterproofPolyester or Dacron sails by spraying with Canvas Shield .

If all of the mold stains do not come out by washing and soaking with Boat Clean Plus , letting the sun get at the sail for 5 or 6 days can lighten the stains. Attempting to bleach out the stains will make the threads brittle and compromise the sail so you may have to live with some of the stains. Better a stained sail than a torn or blown sail.

If your sail cover is worn out or damaged then it may be shot. If it is dirty, covered in mold and leaking water, you may be able to restore it. Most sail covers are made from acrylic canvas, such as Sunbrella®. You may be able to clean, remove the mold and re-waterproof the sail cover using Fabri-Klean ,  bleach and Canvas Shield as follows:

How to clean, remove mold and re-waterproof Sunbrella® sail covers?

You will need 1 bottle Fabri-Klean , 1 cup chlorine bleach and one bottle of Canvas Shield plus a soft bristled paint brush, 4’ to 5’ wide. Select a time when the weather will be warm and dry for at least 2 days.

  • Lay the sail cover out on a flat clean surface, wet the Sunbrella with fresh water, spray Fabri-Klean onto the surface, and scrub with a scrub brush then rinse clean.
  • Turn over and repeat on the other side. This will remove surface mold and dirt.
  • If mold stains remain, mix a solution of 1 cup of 5% chlorine bleach and 1 cup of Fabri-Klean into 1 gallon of warm water and stir.
  • Use the paint brush to apply the mixture to the sail cover until completely wet and agitate to get it into the threads. Do this on both sides. Allow to stand 15 to 20 minute and agitate with a paint brush again. Rinse well and inspect for remaining mold spots.
  • If there are mold spots, repeat step 4.
  • When the cover is clean allow to air dry, until completely dry.
  • Spray Canvas Shield onto the exterior of the cover and allow to dry; 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on temperature and humidity.
  • When dry to the touch, spray a 2 nd coat of Canvas Shield onto the exterior and allow to air dry in the sun for at least 48 hours. Canvas Shield will not affect the breathability of the Sunbrella fabric.

Your sail cover will now be clean, mold free and waterproofed for at least 1 year. You can wait until the cover loses its waterproofing and deal with it then, but we recommend annual cleaning and re-waterproofing as preventative maintenance.  It’s a lot cheaper protecting your sails than replacing them. A clean, waterproof, mold free sail cover will protect your sail from mold and stains as well and extend its useful life and of course look great on your boat.

Thanks for your question,

Captain Aurora Richard Kittar

The Skipper Recommends:

Boat clean plus.

More Info


Fabri-klean, canvas shield kit, related posts:.

  • Why am I getting Mold on my Canvas Top and How Can I Keep it Off?
  • Cleaning Sails – How Do I Remove Mold and Stains?
  • How often should I apply Canvas Shield to keep my top dry?
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  • Can Canvas Shield be used on cotton as well as acrylic canvas?
  • Can Canvas Shield be used on Patio Furniture Cushions?
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Cleaning the Sails on Your Sailboat

  • Written by Connor Doe on Nov 24, 2009 To ensure our content is always up-to-date with current information, best practices, and professional advice, articles are routinely reviewed by industry experts with years of hands-on experience. Reviewed by H.R. Helm on Apr 01, 2020

Sail boat sails in the wind

  • 2-8 hours •
  • Beginner •

Responsible sailboat maintenance includes keeping its parts clean and in good working order. The components work in combination with one another, from the mast to the keel. The sails, when working properly, catch the wind that propels the boat and for this reason should be constantly checked for tears and other damage. Cleaning the sails, too, is a necessary chore. If the sails are allowed to get excessively dirty, not only does it reflect poorly on the quality of the sailboat and the attitude of the skipper, but an unclean sail can cause mildew to thrive, especially when stowed. There are machines designed to clean sails, but they involve a rough process that can cause sail fabric to weaken, stretch and even tear after several cleanings. For this reason, it is advisable to clean your sails by hand with water and a light detergent.

Step 1 - Locate an Appropriate Cleaning Area

In order to properly clean the boat’s sails, you need a large, flat clean area to lay them out on. If there is space on the dock where your boat is moored, that will work provided the sail is kept out of the way. A well-groomed grassy area will work too.

Step 2 - Unfold the Sail

If the sail is being stowed, remove it from its bag. If it is attached to the mast or the stay, take it down. Bring the sail to the cleaning area and unfold it completely.

Step 3 - Use Cleaning Products

Because machines are not recommended for cleaning sails, it is best to do it by hand. It may take a little longer, but it will save the life of the sail. Have a bucket filled with clean, warm water, a bottle of mild liquid detergent and a large sponge.

Step 4 - Dilute the Detergent

Dilute the liquid detergent in the bucket of water. Much like washing a car, the water should have soap suds, although you do not have to use very much soap concentrate to do the job.

Step 5 - Lightly Scrub the Sail

With the sponge, lightly scrub the entire sail. There is no need to clean it vigorously, for cleaning should be a somewhat frequent routine, so it should never get too dirty. Its purpose is to keep it in good shape and looking nice. After it has been cleaned, rinse it thoroughly with fresh water, turn it over and repeat the process for the other side.

Step 6 - Let the Sail Dry

The sail should be completely dry on both sides before you refold it and stow it. This step is not necessary if you are planning to re-hoist the sail immediately, for it will dry in the wind. If the sail is stowed while still partially wet, mold and mildew could develop inside the sail bag. Cleaning the sails is a routine part of sailboat maintenance. A responsible sailor stays on top of their vessel, and no job is considered unimportant. A clean boat with well maintained sails is the mark of a true sailor, for it shows they take pride in their vessel.

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Don’t damage your sails when you wash them

  • Ben Meakins
  • March 24, 2010

Follow these tips to extend the life of your sails

It’s getting to that time of year again when you think about cleaning sails. Remove dirt and grease from your sails with a mild solution of washing-up liquid. Be gentle with your brushing, and only use a power-washer if it’s gentle. Most important, dry the sail thoroughly before you put it away for the winter. This will stop mould, which loves feasting on the glue used in the seams between panels – especially since some fungicides have been banned from glues.

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Cleaning Sails

  • Thread starter Paul
  • Start date Apr 12, 2004
  • Forums for All Owners
  • Ask All Sailors

I am buying a used boat and the sails are structurally good, but dirty and a few rust spots and the seams are cruddy. Any suggestions for the best way to clean them? I was wondering about the new "oxy" cleaners. They work wonders on home carpet stains and they don't have bleach.  

Sail Cleaning I sent my 10 year old sails to Sailcare this winter and they did a wonderful job. The sails weren't just cleaned but Sailcare restored the body to the cloth. I bought a new sail for my last boat but I wish I had tried Sailcare first. I would have saved quite a bit of $$$. By the way, I don't work for them.  

Soak em The best way to clean sails is in your bathtub with luke warm water and a mild soap and let it soak. We like Dove dishwashing detergent. You can even walk on the sail with your feet to work it. For stubborn stains use the mild detergent with a small soft brush ( like a nail brush ) and brush lightly. For tough stains or mildew use about 1 cup of non chlorine bleach (colorsafe) to each 5 gallons of water. Mix together well in the warm water bath and let it soak for 20 minutes. Thoroughly rinse several times with cold water. We have not tried the oxy cleaners. Probably a good idea. For rust,I read in the " Modern Boat Maintenannce" book to use Oxalic Acid ( 1 oz per pint of water) in a plastic busket and to soak only the rust area in the bucket and wash and rinse thoroughly after. Also said to hang by the luff and not the leech when drying. Or you can lay the sail out on a clean tarp.  

Fred Ficarra

Fred Ficarra

Use bleach- pure- don't dilute First off, you don't say how big the sails are. On our H34 we scrub 'em on the driveway. (paved) Cleaning the driveway first is the hard part. Then lay out the sail and get it wet. I used Simple Green last time mixed in a 5 gallon bucket. Also sprayed it on straight over the bad spots. Added bleach, straight, over the spots that were the worst. Then for rust, are you ready? Pure muriatic ACID! Right on the rust stain. Don't do anything else while the acid is on the cloth. Just work it with a nylon brush and hose it off when the stains float away. My sails came out looking new. And they are just fine. No damage. I have only used this method on cruising sails, made of Dacron. It is a sister fabric to nylon, the stuff that the acid bottle is made of. Sails are not silk.  

I agree with Bill Lowe......Sailcare worked wonders on mine  

where ? Ready to try , so now the question Is Where do you find muriatic acid ?  

sail care thanks for the unsolicited comment on sail care, I've read they not only clean the sails but also put body back into them. I'll try them after the season.  

ditto sailcare-did suprising job on my sails sail care rocks  

Stephen Ord

Sail Care is Great I sent my mail sail to them after seeing tham at the Sail Show in Annapolis. They look brand new. They repaired some small imperfections, cleaned them and but the 'body' back. Can't say enough ... and I don't work for them.  

Bleach? Fred, I see that you used pure bleach. How long ago, and have you seen any problems from using it? I'm not only worried about the sail material itself, but the stitching - bleach is a pretty caustic substance....  

John Shullo

Pure Bleach I am amazed that you can use straight bleach without ruining the sail. The technique is have used for years is simple and effective. I stop up the cockpit scuppers with a paper towel, fill with cockpit with lake water( very clean on my lake), add liquid detergent, preferably Dawn because it doesn't react with the Bleach (Clorox) and about a cup of Clorox. Soak the sail, Ok to walk on them barefooted, until white. When clean, I partially raise the sail and hose it of on both sides and continue until fully raised and rinsed. Leave it up until dry. As and added bonus, all foot fungus is cured and you have a very clean cockpit!  

robert taylor

swimming pool if you or a friend has a swimming pool, it works great....gentle bleach for a couple of days...splash around with a brush just for fun.  

Steve, been using it since the '70s Never had a problem. Just rinse it off after the cleaning. Dacron has a half life just short of plutonium. It doesn't like a lot of UV for many years, but even that, takes a long time. Ever notice the old halyards around the marina? P.S. Can't speak about color, but bleach on a spinnaker is even safer. What kind of bottle is the bleach sold in?  

Bleach is OK, Detergent is not Dacron sails are made of polyester which is not harmed by bleach. Chlorox to your hearts content. Polyester can be harmed by alkalis which include the detergents found in many household cleansers. Natural soaps (such as a bar of ivory) and surfactant cleaners (such as Simple Green) are better choices for greasy stains or other discoloration left by the bleach. The effect of using a detergent on your sails (or ropes for that matter) will not be to destroy them. You will merely shorten their lives a little. Nylon, on the other hand, can be cleaned with detergents but is harmed by bleach. Watch out using bleach on nylon spinnakers and anchor rodes!  

Past Research Paul: This is from some research that I did several years ago. This information was from several sources that I had put together. This is advice from people that SHOULD be experts on the subject.  

...additional research. Here is some additonal research that I have done. I would suggest that you DO NOT use straight bleach. Some of these sources recommend NO BLEACH at all. From Neil Pride Sails Washing sails It is important to wash sails very carefully. Warm water and detergent will get off the majority of dirt marks (apart from rust and blood) and a good final rinse down with cold, fresh water is vital. Never use any strong chemicals or bleach. From Sailnet Article Mildew Prevention is the best tactic, but if mildew has attacked the sail, treat it immediately and isolate the area from the rest of the sail to prevent spreading. Do not use bleach on Kevlar or nylon. All other laminates and coatings can take a weak chlorine bleach solution of one percent or less. Most bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solutions off the shelf, like Clorox, are a 5.25 percent solution and will need to be diluted. Some commercial brands of mildew cleaners like Tilex have three percent or less solution of bleach and can be used with dilution and a litte extra care. Lysol is a fungicide that when sprayed on the sail will kill existing spores and inhibit any additional growth. After the organism is killed, most of the stain can be removed by soaking (not scrubbing) in a fungicide for 12 or more hours. Always rinse thoroughly to ensure there is no bleach residue left on the sail. It is possible to soak and clean a sail in a swimming pool, but this should only be done to polyester sails when you are sure that the chlorine or other chemical level of the water is within the tolerance level of the coating. Never place a Kevlar or nylon sail in the pool. From Banks Sails-NC What about your sails? How do you keep them clean? The single biggest thing you can do to keep your sails clean is to dry them. If you have to furl your sails wet, make it a point to shake them out when the rain stops and let them dry. Unfurl you genoa at the dock if there’s little breeze, pull the main part way up, and let them air. Don’t strangle the main when you put the stops on. Tight stops cause unnecessary chafe on the sail as well as trapping moisture. Make sure your mainsail cover fits loosely so there is air movement under it. It’s also important to wash out salt and gritty dirt that can cause abrasion to the fibers. You can do this on a nice light air day with the sails on the boat. Just unfurl/hoist the sails in your slip and take the hose to them. Drop the genoa on the fordeck, scrub the head with your deck brush and a mild soap solution, rinse, hoist that section to get it off the deck, and move down to the next section. Scrub, rinse and hoist until it’s all the way up, then let it dry. Do the same thing with the mainsail on the cabintop. It’s a good excuse to play with the hose on a hot day. Of course, you can pay professionals to wash sails for you too. To get grease out of your sail try GREASE RELIEF or K2-R SPOT REMOVER, both found in the grocery store cleaning products aisle. Mildew is as tough a problem on sails as on canvas. Sails don’t like harsh cleaners like bleach or phosphates any more than canvas does. The fibers start to break down after prolonged contact, especially when exposed to the sun. If you feel you must bleach an area of your sail, be very conservative on solution strength and flood the area with water to drive out the remaining bleach. Let it dry before stowing. You should be monitoring the stitching for chafe as a matter of course, but bleach will accelerate thread deterioration, so be especially watchful in bleached areas. Again, mildew prevention by drying your sails is the way to go. From Direct Marine Cleaning: Clean every year before winter storage. Remove dirt and salt using mild detergent and brush. Avoid excessive agitation. Rinse and dry thoroughly before folding for storage. Remove mildew immediately. Spray small sail areas with a disinfectant (e.g., Lysol®). On sails of Dacron® polyester, wash larger areas by soaking in a mixture of 25% chlorine bleach (e.g., Clorox®) and 75% water for 15 minutes. (Warning: Never use chlorine bleaches on sails of nylon or Kevlar® aramid - use only mild detergent and brush.) Rinse sail thoroughly with fresh water. Exposure to sunlight should fade any stain residues over time after the mildew is stopped. From North Sail If mildew occurs...Treat mildew at the earliest possible moment. If you do not, it can spread quickly. There is an excellent chance of getting mildew stains off when they are new, relatively small, and close to the surface. There is little chance once they have spread and set into the fibres. · Isolate mildew-infected sails, anchor lines, covers, and so forth, from clean sails. The quickest and surest way to spread mildew is to rub an existing growth against a receptive surface. · The single most popular mildew killer and remover is simple household bleach. This is also known as sodium hypochlorite, sold in the U.S. in 5.25% solution with water. This is potentially nasty stuff and manufacturers recommend diluting it quite a bit further before using. Tilex® and other "mildew removers" are mainly sodium hypochlorite in solutions of about 3%, which is still a pretty healthy dosage. · DO NOT use BLEACH (Sodium Hypochlorite) on KEVLAR® or NYLON, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!!! This is one of the few known, proven solvents for these fibres. We have seen people poke their fingers easily through spinnakers rinsed in chlorine-treated (same as bleach) swimming pools. Of course, this means you should not clean KEVLAR®® and nylon with Tilex® or other commercial mildew cleaners that contain sodium hypochlorite. · DO NOT EVER MIX BLEACH AND AMMONIA and stand around breathing the air. The result is phosgene gas which killed and disabled thousands in the First World War. This little home science experiment continues to kill and cripple people to this day. · For particularly stubborn, deep set stains, surface cleaning will not work. It is necessary to immerse the stain in a fungicide for 12 hours or more, to allow it to get in to where the stain is. It is not necessary to use a particularly high concentration, only to get the fungicide where the stain is. No amount of vigorous surface scrubbing will do what a good soak will do. · After washing with bleach, always rinse thoroughly with plenty of fresh water. Bleach that is not removed can cause long-term structural damage that is more harmful than the cosmetic damage caused by the mildew. · If the mildew stain does not come out after one good wash with the proper equipment and chemicals, give up. Experience shows that further washings/scourings/ treatments remove very little additional stain and cause a lot of other damage. · Scotchguard® and related water repellents do not have any properties that either kill or prevent the recurrence of mildew. They may be marginally effective at repelling some of the moisture and nutrients on which mildew feeds, and might make cleaning easier by holding the stains away from the fibres. There is not much evidence either way on this. · Dettol®, a commonly available household disinfectant, is the most powerful and effective fungicide and inhibitor you can use to prevent recurrence and spread of mildew. Various health and environmental agencies prohibit the use of stronger fungicides since the same thing that kills fungus has similar effects on higher life forms, as most of us would like to picture ourselves. · Anything you use on a sail to kill or remove mildew and stains, will wash or wear away in a relatively short time. This is directly analogous to anti-fouling bottom paints. North NorLam fabrics are treated with the most powerful commercial fungicide we can use without jeopardizing the health of employees and customers. It is 100% effective in preventing mildew in laboratory conditions, and demonstrably less effective in the real world. North is continuing to test alternative cleaners and inhibitors to see if they actually work, and what effect they might have on the integrity of sails. Finally, for people who prefer all-natural and biodegradable solutions, here are some more traditional anti-fungal measures copied from a Royal Navy handbook. We have not tested either of these recipes, so you might want to try them on a remote corner before doing the whole sail. One thing for sure, if you do this to your sail, mildew will probably be the farthest thing from your mind..."The sails of fishing-vessels are generally tanned : lightermen, etc., use the following composition to colour and preserve their sails, viz., horse grease and tar, mixed to a proper consistence, and coloured with red or yellow ochre, with which, when heated, the sails are payed over."The following method is also much approved, viz., the sail, being spread on the grass, is made thoroughly wet with sea-water, and then payed over, on both sides, with brown or red ochre mixed with sea-water to the consistence of cream, it is then well rubbed over, on both sides, with linseed oil. The sail may be used within 24 hours after being oiled.'  

OK I'll follow that,,,,,, Sounds like every thing you ever wanted to know about cleaning sails,,,,NEXT.  

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clean sailboat sails

How to Clean Sailcloth & Marine Canvas

There are a number of ways to clean sails and marine canvas. Some are more effective than others. Unfortunately, the most thorough methods also cause the most serious cloth breakdown, which leads to greater stretch and, thus, a poorly setting sail or sagging canvas. We can help you prevent damage while getting your marine fabrics clean.

Cleaning Dacron Sails Canvas Sunbrella Instructions 4

All mechanical cleaning methods have the potential to cause cloth breakdown. Even large agitating tubs designed just for sails with carefully regulated water temperature will have the same effect on the sail as several weeks of hard use. And we definitely do not recommend using the machines at local laundromats to wash sails — they are never large enough and the water temperature is not carefully controlled. And of course, marine canvas isn't designed to be machine washed.

So, what's the best way to clean your sails and marine canvas items? Read on for proven, hands-on strategies to keep these fabrics clean and performing their best. We'll also recommend Sailrite® products and household cleaners that effectively clean these fabrics.

Cleaning & Storing Sailcloth

Most sailmakers recommend frequent rinsing with fresh water. If that is not sufficient, spread the sail on a smooth, clean surface and brush it lightly with a mild detergent solution or with a specially prepared cleaner. But what if your sail is stained and rinsing doesn't do the trick? Never fear — many stains and spots can be removed from sailcloth. With just a little bit of time and a few materials, you can rid your sails of the following common stains.

Soak the affected area in a 5% solution of oxalic acid dissolved in hot water. Follow this with a 2% solution of hydrochloric acid in warm water. Finally, rinse the spot well with clear water.

Number Adhesive

Sailrite® stocks 3M™ Specialty Adhesive Remover that works great. Or you could use Goo Gone®, found in most hardware stores. Paint thinner and gasoline also work, although they will leave an oil stain in some cases. Do realize that two or three applications and some serious rubbing and scraping will be necessary no matter what you use.

Cleaning Dacron Sails Canvas Sunbrella Instructions 2

Iosso® Mold & Mildew Stain Remover is made specifically to remove mold and mildew stains without damaging your sailcloth. You can also use 303® Mold & Mildew Cleaner + Blocker. Soaking the affected area in a 1% solution of chlorine (household bleach will do) and cold water is another method. Finally, vinegar also serves to control mildew if used rather frequently, but it has limited use in correcting a problem that has gotten out of hand.

Oil, Tar & Varnish

The Iosso product mentioned above can get rid of oil and grease stains. You could also use trichloroethylene, either by itself or in solution with a liquid detergent.

Whenever confronted with a serious stain, do not expect complete removal. Usually the best you can expect is to lessen the discoloration. After cleaning the sail, dry it completely. Mildew will not grow on modern synthetic sailcloth, but it can grow on accumulated dirt if moisture is present. Although mildew will not harm the fabric, it will discolor or spot it.

Once the sail is dry, fold and store it in a cool, dry place. The method of folding that you select is not very important, but try to keep folds to a minimum. There are several schools of thought regarding how this can best be done — choose whichever seems most convincing to you.

Cleaning Marine Canvas

Next, we'll cover how to clean boat canvas. The acrylic canvas that is so often used for cover work is quite easy to clean. Here's a simple method for cleaning your canvas items.

Remove dirt, leaves and other large contaminants from the canvas. Spot-clean the canvas with a mild, natural soap in lukewarm water and a soft brush. Rub the solution into the stain from the outside in to avoid spreading the stain further. Rinse the canvas thoroughly with clean water to remove all soap. Air dry completely.

For stubborn stains or suntan lotion, use a fabric stain remover. Follow the directions on the container. Rinse the canvas thoroughly with clean water and air dry. And remember to never wash marine canvas in a washing machine.

Cleaning Dacron Sails Canvas Sunbrella Instructions 3

Solution-dyed acrylic does not promote mildew growth. However, mildew may grow on dirt and other foreign substances that are not removed from the fabric. To prevent this, remove all foreign substances from the canvas regularly. To clean mildew stains, use 303® Mold & Mildew Cleaner + Blocker.

You could also prepare a mild solution of one cup bleach (non-chlorine bleach is recommended) plus two capfuls of a natural soap per gallon of water. Spray this mixture on the entire affected area and allow it to soak in. If necessary, scrub vigorously with a sponge or clean rag. Sponge thoroughly with clean water, then air dry.

When boat canvas begins to leak, it can be coated with a silicone liquid. 303® Fabric Guard will lengthen the original characteristics of the fabric if used right away. And, if used only when needed, it will restore the original fabric finish.

With regular maintenance, your sailcloth and marine canvas can stand the test of time and look great doing it. Please keep in mind that these are general cleaning and care guidelines. Marine canvas and sailcloth should always be cleaned in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions to best maintain their performance and characteristics. So, make sure to check the manufacturer's recommendations before you clean your sails and canvas items. Always read and follow the instructions and safety warnings on cleaning products as well.

We hope this blog answered all of your questions about manual sail care and boat canvas cleaning. Got a question we didn't cover? Reach out to our highly trained customer service staff via phone, email or the chat function on our website. We're ready to help you with all of your marine maintenance needs!

Footnote: This blog is adapted from an excerpt from Jim Grant's Sail Repair Manual (#36302). It was revised and expanded in September 2023 to update the recommended cleaning products available at Sailrite.

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How to Clean a Sailboat...

How to clean a sailboat.

clean sailboat sails

A sailboat might not need an engine like most boats, but like any boat, it needs a good cleaning every so often if it’s going to look its best. Too many boat owners put off cleaning their sailboat because they think it will be a long, labor-intensive process. But if you gather the right materials and follow the right steps, cleaning your sailboat shouldn’t be more complicated than cleaning anything else. To help you get started, here’s a simple guide on how to clean a sailboat.

Clear Out the Interior First

clean sailboat sails

Boat Cleaner is great here: you can mix it with some water for cleaning wood and fiberglass surfaces. As a general cleaner, it will give you plenty of versatility in handling the boat interior first, helping you to make quick work of the first step.

Mopping (or “Swabbing”) the Sailboat Deck

Sailboats generally have prominent decks—and their prominence means they need to get cleaned as well. You’ll want to know the type of material you’re working with here, as it will help determine your cleaning strategy. As a rule, it’s good to have a mop with some soapy water, using Boat Cleaner once again.

You should use this mop as much as possible while you’re cleaning—that way, you won’t have to return to it later. That’s where a powerful general boat cleaner comes in handy, helping clean multiple surfaces from wood to metal.

Cleaning the Hull of Your Sailboat

The real trick to cleaning a sailboat? Cleaning the hull. There are expensive ways to do this, such as having a professional handle it for you. Other sailboat owners take it on themselves, using a process called “free diving” to scrape off any growths and clean out the hull while it’s still in the water.

If you’re going to do this, you need to take several safety precautions. The first is to ensure that the boat is securely tied to a dock and that the engine, if any, is locked. Most sailboat owners will recommend that you use a plastic scraper for cleaning off the boat, as it’s less likely to damage the paint and the hull itself. A stiff brush for cleaning out debris on the hull is also vital, since it works equally well under water.

If the process of using a snorkel to dive and clean your hull is too much, you might consider hiring a diver to handle it for you. This is more expensive, but they’ll make quicker work of the boat and will have experience in dealing with sailboats like yours.

Stock Up On Quality Boat Cleaning Products

When learning how to clean a sailboat, one of the best ways to get started is to ensure you have the products that will make your life easy. To make efficient work of all of your boat cleaning chores, browse our site and find the boat cleaning products that are right for you. The sooner your sailboat is fresh and clean, the sooner you can get back on the water to enjoy it.

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