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If the sails are woven (white) dacron, they are very easy to clean.
This is a 2 step method that requires thorough rinsing with water between the two steps and a thorough rinsing after the final step.
1. Sodium Silicate based detergent sprayed on, misted with water to totally wet out the sail, brushed out with a long handled 'soft' bristle brush, then covered with a plastic tarp to allow sufficient soak time and to prevent the detergent/water mix from drying out. Then followed by scrubbing (both sides) and covered with plastic tarp, etc. TriSodiumPhosphate TSP can be used as a substitute for the Sodium Silicate based detergent. WM can special order the Sodium Silicate det. (expensive) - it will also 'emulsify' oils, greases, etc. SOAK TIME is important for detergents, soaps, etc to emulsify the dirt ... dont rush the soak time and keep it covered with plastic to prevent 'drying'.
2. Thoroughly RINSE until ALL detergent and dirt, emulsified oils, etc. are extracted.
3. Bleaching Step .... removes iron and tannin staining ('yellows')
Go to hardware or paint store and get a pint 'tub' of oxalic acid crystals - sold as 'wood bleach'. Put 3/4 of a pint of oxalic crystals in bucket and add 'just enough' HOT water to dissolve 'almost all' crystals. Use rinsed long handled scrubbing brush to apply the oxalic mixture to the sail material. This will usually instantly bleach out all the remaining iron and tannin stains. Note- wear protection when using oxalic acid as it rapidly absorbs through the skin and reforms as sharp crystal in the nephrons of your kidneys. Rinse thoroughly with water to extract oxalic acid.
Note: if you live in an eco-whacko state you will not find oxalic acid and will have to 'import/smuggle' it ... oxalic acid is a naturally occurring chemical found in fruits/vegetables (rhubarb, etc.) but the eco-whackos are terrified of anything that can be possibly considered a 'chemical'.
4. Hang or raise sail to thoroughly dry.
Woven Dacron Polyester is chemically resistant/compatible with the above Sod.Silicates, TSP, and oxalic acid. DO NOT use 'organic or petroleum based' solvents (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) on polyester.
Woven Dacron Polyester is a 'dirt magnet' ... so be careful not to drag it over dirty, muddy, etc. surfaces when cleaning as if you do you may not be able to extract such 'soil', especially dirt that contains 'carbon'.
Its usually 'best' to clean sails ON the boat: On a cloudy, windless, high humidity day ....Clean the deck first, then slowly raise and lower the sail in 3-4ft. increments as you clean,rinse,bleach, rinse, rinse, dry out. Dont do this ON the boat if you have unprotected teak as the process will extract the tannins from the teak or other bare wood.
DO NOT mix caustic detergents with oxalic acid ... MUST be rinsed thoroughly between the two steps.
Storage - best is to ROLL the sail ... leaves no creases as what happens when 'accordian folding'. Folding will crease the material and over time will weaken any added 'plasticizer -filler' used to 'fill-in' the sails 'porosity'.
hope this helps.
Last edited by RichH; 02-24-2012 at 10:40 AM.