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jrd22 12-04-2012 09:02 PM

Sail Cleaning
Sails should be white, our main wasn't. Time to send to the professional sail cleaners I thought, until they quoted me $350 plus freight both ways and wouldn't answer a direct question about whether they use bleach or not. So what to do; researched the subject here on SN, checked out local sail lofts recommendations, etc. I decided to go with a recommendation from a very highly regarded loft in Pt. Townsend, WA to use a solution of Woolite and vinegar and scrub the entire sail with a soft brush. I layed the sail out (most of it, had to work in sections) on the deck on top of a couple of clean tarps and started scrubbing, and scrubbing... several hours later I turned the sail over and started on the other side. By this time I was pretty sure that the sail wasn't going to look much different than when I started, I didn't see the stains, algae or anything disappearing :confused:. I finished and rinsed both sides thoroughly, by then it was dark so I waited till the next day to pass judgement. Woolite and vinegar might be good for something but cleaning sails isn't it. More research turned up an idea to use Oxiclean washing detergent and let it soak for 8 hours or so. Our bathtub wouldn't hold the sail so more research came up with a brilliant idea of using our inflatable tender as a tub so I put a tarp over it and filled it with water and added five laundry scoops (unscientific estimate - looked like about five washing machines worth of water) of detergent and used an oar to dissolve the stuff (hot, or even warm water would have been nice). I stuffed the sail in, it was sorta flaked, but a bunch kept coming up out of the water so I folded the sides of the tarp over it and set a garden wagon upside down on top of the whole thing. After an hour or so the wagon had settled everything down into the water so I took it off. After eight hours or so I drug the now really heavy sail out of the dinghy and back to the deck for rinsing. It still took blasting the dirty areas with full pressure from a hose nozzle but it looks a LOT better, I would even say it's white and not a dingy shade of gray like when I started, and most of the stains are gone. Overall I'm pretty happy with it. Probably won't put it on the boat until Feb. because we aren't going to use the boat until then so no pics, but I think it's going to look pretty good.

Ritchard 12-05-2012 02:51 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
My main is pretty dingy too. I was going to scrub it with a laundry detergent and a soft brush on the service dock of our club. Your idea of upgrading to the oxy detergent seems a smart one. Perhaps I will go you one further, soak the sail as you did, overnight, then follow up with a scrub with the sail laid out on the dock. Finally I can blast it with the hose and leave it to dry for a bit.

harmonysimone 12-05-2012 03:53 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
I was told by someone, or read somewhere, that Oxiclean speeds up UV degradation??? This may be fallacious, but something to consider. They say the same thing about bleach. Woolite and vinegar is good for dirty sails, but not stained ones. That's a great idea to use your dinghy as a tub!

jrd22 12-05-2012 06:02 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
harmony- hope you're wrong about the Oxiclean, I wanted to avoid bleach for that reason and thought the Oxi was a recommended alternative for Dacron.

Squidd 12-05-2012 06:13 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
Soak in Oxyclean stir with paddle and rinse well for main cleaning...

Oxalic Acid (totally different product) will remove rust and green corrosion stains...

As with any product, rinse well after use...

harmonysimone 12-05-2012 06:48 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning

Originally Posted by jrd22 (Post 957477)
harmony- hope you're wrong about the Oxiclean, I wanted to avoid bleach for that reason and thought the Oxi was a recommended alternative for Dacron.

I just did some online sleuthing and it looks like the majority of people say it's a-okay o use on sails (probably should have done some more homework before I posted). We recently washed our sails with the Woolite and vinegar solution, but I'll probably give Oxiclean a try next time (our sails are looking pretty shabby...but at least they're functional!)

RichH 12-05-2012 09:27 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
Ive been lofting and making my own sails for well over 35 years. I also spent my initial engineering years in textile processing equipment.

If the sail is made from woven dacron polyester - NOT for colored woven dacron, NOT for sails made of 'laminates', etc. :

First extract the 'dirt', do this ON the boat (if and only if the boat doesnt have
BARE teak decks or trim)
On a cloudy windless day .....
Slowly raise the sail as you 'spritz on' detergent (and water) made from either sodium silicate (eg. Tuff e-muff ... mfg. by Wallace and Sons, Ft. Lauderdale Fl .. expensive) or mild trisodiumphosphate (TSP) solution
Use a SOFT scrubbing brush mounted onto a long 'telescoping' painters pole; raise the sail as you go to 'spread' the detergent equally.
When the sail is fully 'up' and full 'spread' with detergent ... drop the sail onto a plastic tarp and then cover with a plastic tarp and wait for at least one hour to 'soak'.
After soaking, slowly raise the sail, scrubbing as you go, and re-spritzing areas that became dry.
Drop the sail and cover and let soak for approx. another hour.
If the sail is 'really' dirty you may need to raise and scrub then soak several times ... usually not needed.
Slowly raise the sail as you rinse both sides (with a garden hose) ... raise and lower several times while rinsing.
The sail will now have most of fungus (usually artillery fungus - the 'black specs'), air pollution, general 'dirt', etc. removed. The next step is bleaching.

Bleaching - removal of tannins and rust:
Thoroughly rinse ALL the sail material, deck, scrubbing brush and YOU of any 'detergent'.
Take the contents of crystals of oxalic acid (paint store stuff) and put into the bottom of CLEAN bucket, then add 'just enough' warm to hot water to cause ALL the crystals to dissolve.
Don rain gear, goggles, gloves (Oxalic acid readily absorbs through the skin and is 'concentrated in your kidneys' ... forming sharp crystals .... kidney stones are accumulations of principally oxalic compounds)
Apply oxalic acid mixture to the whole sail to remove tannin stains, rust stains, etc. ... usually the oxalic acid application will 'instantly' remove the staining.
Raise and lower while rinsing the sail ... you must remove all the oxalic.

When fully rinsed, raise the sail to fully dry before lowering.

Dacron polyester and dacron polyester stitching is a VERY stable and chemical resistant material .... old clothes made of dacron polyester will be in landfills 600 years from now and will probably look the same then as now because of the 'stability' and chemical resistance of the material.

BTW - now re-wax the entire boat as the 'detergent' you just used 'stripped' most of the wax you previously applied to the gelcoat, etc.

DO NOT "IRON" the sails.
DO NOT put the sails into a kiddy pool and stir them with an oar, you'll only break down the heat-calendered 'filler' between the weave, etc.
Do Not attempt to clean sails on any surface that cant be totally cleaned beforehand, certainly keep a new/cleaned sail away from 'ground/dirt'/tree leaves, etc. ... dacron is a 'dirt magnet', and thats why you just cleaned it.

floridajaxsailor 12-05-2012 10:00 PM

fantastic post
Literally 4 days ago I was washing my main and thinking of making this exact post
Your research and step by step analysis was really helpful
I had seen several comments about the Woolite, yet I like your idea about the oxy clean~ doubt it causes any major UV damage, especially if well rinsed, but then again I'm not an expert

I'm going to use Oxyclean detergent on my main because it has some stains from being furled but the Genoa is in mint condition so I'll probably just use Woolite
take care

jrd22 12-05-2012 10:16 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
florida- I think the key was soaking for several hours. Maybe the Woolite and vinegar would have loosened the green stuff and some of the dark stains if it had soaked, but just scrubbing did literally nothing. The sail isn't as "bright white" like the pics on the sail cleaners' websites, but it's pretty good.

Mjfossler 12-07-2012 10:44 PM

Re: Sail Cleaning
RichH - I can not imagine ever having the time to follow this procedure. Guess I'm stuck with dirty sails...

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