The life of all canvas products is enhanced by proper storage. Most boat owners would never take the time to add up all the money they have invested in canvas, but even a small boat often has a sail cover, awning, and a set of winch covers. On larger boats, this list often grows to include hatch, outboard motor, and barbecue covers, not to mention expensive dodgers, biminis, and full cockpit enclosures. Getting the longest life possible from this gear just makes sense.
Whether the boat is up north for winter storage, or being laid up in the tropics, the canvas ought to be removed from the boat during the off-season. Even when stored inside a building, biminis, and dodgers are often damaged by boatyard workers with greasy hands or by dirt and dust in the air. Frames for winter covers, and the cover itself, should never be placed on top of dodgers or biminis since this practice allows chafe and discoloration. If the area is subject to heavy accumulations of snow or ice, the frames should not be used as part of the cover structure because they might be damaged by excess weight.
After removing all the canvas from the boat, inspect each piece for damage. Look for areas that are frayed, chafed, or have the stitching unraveling. Test the fabric around the seams by gently pulling on them—if the fabric is a victim of UV degradation, or the stitching is on its last legs, the seam may well give away.
Now is the time to send any damaged canvas off to the shop for repair or replacement. Canvas shops are generally overwhelmed with work in the spring, but some are so slow during the winter months that they offer special incentives. Replacing broken snaps or zippers, adding chafe patches, or re-stitching seams are small jobs that many shops will be glad to have over the winter. And if the piece has come to the end of its useful life, you'll have time to redesign its replacement and get it built during the off-season.
However before you rush off to the shop with all the canvas in the trunk of the car, it's best to clean it thoroughly unless you intend to throw it away. Molds and mildew trapped in the fibers of the fabric will multiply over the winter, and stains will only become harder to remove with time. Grit from dirt abrades the fabric and salt left on the canvas will keep it moist, promoting even more mildew growth when the canvas is stored with little or no ventilation.
Choose an area with a smooth, nonabrasive surface to conduct your inspection and cleaning. Never pull your canvas across concrete—not only is your driveway dirty, but cement and asphalt are very abrasive. A grassy area can be acceptable if there are no sticks, stones, nor kid's toys to snag the canvas, but you may have to rinse some bits of grass off when you are done. Best is to lay a plastic tarp or vinyl sheet down to provide a clean, smooth surface.
Start by removing any vinyl windows, if they are removable. They can be cleaned with a mild soap solution, or with a very light glass cleaner like Windex, but never with harsh detergent or any cleaner with solvents, silicones, alcohol, or bleach. After a complete rinse, dry them with a soft cotton or terrycloth rag, but make sure your washing and drying cloths do not have buttons, zippers, or any other sharp threads that will scratch the window's surface. Do not dry with newspaper since, unlike glass, vinyl windows will be scratched by newsprint, and the wet inks may stain adjacent fabric.
|"Make sure that vinyl windows and their surrounding frames are completely dry before storage."|
Make sure that vinyl windows and their surrounding frames are completely dry before storage. Once dry, apply a plastic cleaner such as 210 Plastic Cleanser & Polish available from SailNet. After coating, store them lying flat—rolling them in a large, loose coil is a second-best method, but never fold windows because this will put permanent creases or wrinkles in them. When storing windows place a cloth, such as a bed sheet, between each panel. Never use anything with an embossed design since this will transfer to the window during storage.
Canvas products that are made of an acrylic fabric such as Sunbrella or of vinyl materials should be also be cleaned using a mild natural soap in lukewarm water (no more than 100 degrees F.) Do not use detergent or chlorine bleach. Areas with stubborn stains may take a little work with a soft-bristle brush, but take care how hard and how much you abrade the fabric because it will reduce its life. After cleaning, rinse thoroughly under running water to remove all traces of the soap, along with the dirt and salt. Dry completely.
Pay special attention to snaps and zippers, especially if they are metal. Clean all dirt and corrosion from their surfaces—an old toothbrush is a useful tool. When clean, apply a dry silicone lubricant such as Mariner's Choice Dry Teflon Spray which does not leave a residue.
Canvas can be folded and stored flat or loosely rolled, but don't put a lot of pressure on folded parts and never store anything heavy on top of them. This will avoid breaking the fibers during storage. If you live in a damp climate, you may wish to store them inside the house for the off season. If they must be left in an attic, garage, or basement, slip each canvas item into a plastic bag to keep dirt, insects, and rodents at bay.
Don't neglect stainless steel dodger or bimini frames. Now is the time to clean any spots of corrosion and remove salt and dirt. A good automotive cleaner will remove most stains after washing with soap and water, but don't go after deep rust with a cleanser like Ajax or Comet, or an abrasive pad, such as steel wool. Use Magica for tough rust. Never use chlorine bleach products on stainless because they attack the metal. Coating stainless with wax or a product like Boeshield after it is dry will keep it shiny for a long time.
Taking care of canvas may take an afternoon during the layup season, but it will reward you with a clean, bright-looking boat when the next season rolls around. And extending its life by a season or two will add extra dollars to your cruising kitty.