I have purchased a small sailboat, and the sails need a good wash. Can they be washed in a washing machine,or should they be washed by hand. Can you bleach them to return the brightwhite color?
Sue and Larry respond:
Most standard sails are made of a woven cloth using nylon or polyester (Dacron is a trade name for polyester) that is coated and then sewn together. Using a conventional washing machine to clean this type of sail would certainly be convenient, but it would definitely lessen the life of your sail and could possibly destroy the sail completely on the first attempt. Many small boat sailors clean their sails by laying the sails out flat and using a softbristle brush and plenty of freshwater.
If you're cleaning general dirt from a Dacron sail, try using mild dishwashing soap or Davis's Foaming Sail Cleaner. For more stubborn stains you can employ a regular bathroom mildew remover or a diluted solution of 20 percent bleach and 80 percent water. Spray these onto your troublespots and let it sit for several minutes. But be sure to rinse thoroughly, particularly if you're using bleach because it can be harmful to Dacron if left to stand too long.
Another option for treating stains is to apply Clorox 2, which contains hydrogen peroxide along with some surfactants. This second option will be more gentle on your sailcloth. For cleaning Mylar or Kevlar sails, and for more complete information on how to clean specific stains, mildew, rust, grease, and oil, take a look at the article entitled "Sail Care and Cleaning" by Kathy Barron, published here at SailNet.
Of course you can also turn your sails over to your local sailmaker (or send them to AirForce Sails) and have the folks who work there do the job for you.