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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

For a quick getaway in the spring, take care of your sails in the fall.
When the sails come off for the season, we're all tempted to save some time by stuffing them in their bag and shoving them down below or in a cockpit locker. Don't do it! Take the time now to inspect your sails carefully , make any repairs required, then clean and stow them properly. This will not only use the winter months productively and save you time recommissioning in the spring, but it will make your sails look better and last longer.

Storing sails with mildew or other stains will allow the stains to eat into the laminate or coating during the winter, causing them to set permanently. Mildews and molds are the biggest offenders, and a little spot will multiply during the course of the winter. Moisture and lack of ventilation are exactly the environment mold and mildew love.

There are several different materials and construction techniques used in sails. Laminates use adhesives and should be cared for differently than sails sewn of fabrics with coatings. Another factor for sail care and cleaning is the specific material used in either a laminate or coating. Generally, laminates are Kevlar, Mylar, Spectra, and Vectran. Coatings used for nylon or polyester woven fabrics are urethane and melamine resins. Dacron is DuPont's registered trademark name for polyester.

Laminated sails are particularly sensitive to solvents and petroleum-based oils. Acetone and other strong solvents will soften the adhesives, and leaving a laminated sail lying around in an oily bilge will certainly reduce its life expectancy.

Most sail laminates and coatings can be cleaned with a mild dish detergent, like Joy Dish Soap, Ivory, or a commercial brand like Davis's Foaming Sail Cleaner, and a soft-bristled brush. Place the sail on a nonabrasive surface, never on concrete, for washing. This general cleaning will remove salt water, dirt, and grit. After this bath, rinse well with freshwater and air dry. Never place sails in a commercial washing machine or dryer since the creasing and folding necessary to get them in the machine and the abrasion during the washing and spin cycles will significantly reduce the life of the sail. Heat from a dryer will delaminate and break coatings down .

Major repairs should be sent to a professional sailmaker for attention.
If there is a specific stain to be removed, you need to know what the sail's construction and materials are prior to cleaning. The adhesives used in laminated sails will break down with the use of solvents. Coatings on woven fabric materials are usually applied by heat and will hold up better under "spot" cleaning with solvents. Davis's Foaming Sail Cleaner works well on all synthetics for spot cleaning.

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.

"Rust can be removed with a thin paste of baking soda or toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush."
Rust Rust can be removed with a thin paste of baking soda or toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Wash the area well with mild detergent and rinse thoroughly. This will not remove any stain embedded in the coating, but it will remove most of the surface stain. Remember, that using any abrasive on a sail reduces its life. For removing small areas of rust stain, a mild gel product named Magica is recommended.

Grease, oil, and tar Petroleum-based stains are best removed by using orange-based cleaning solvents that are now found in grocery stores and in automotive parts stores. This cleaning solvent is also good for removing sail tape adhesive residue. Use any solvent sparingly. After "dabbing" the stain with the solvent, scrub the area with a mixture of solvent, mild detergent, and water before rinsing thoroughly. As with abrasives, solvents will reduce the sail's life so use them sparingly.

Some stains are very difficult to remove totally, and they are not worth running the risk of decreasing the sail's life expectancy by using excessive solvents or abrasion. Some stains, like mildew, will fade with use as the sail is flown in the sun. Sails can also be professionally cleaned if a tough or unusual stain cannot be removed with a mild cleaning, and a sail with a good amount of remaining life may be a candidate for a total fabric rebuilding process.

Prior to storing sails make sure they're dry. Salt that is not completely rinsed off will continue to draw moisture from the air, and will abrade the fabric and threads. Such a moist environment encourages mildew growth. After cleaning and drying, spray the sail with Lysol to inhibit mildew growth.

Proper cleaning and storage will prolong the life of any sail.

The sail is now ready to be flaked, rolled, and bagged. Don't ever "stuff" sails into a sail bag because the additional creases break down the material and stitching. After all this work, a clean, dry place for off-season storage is in order. Take the sails off the boat for storage if at all possible. Avoid stowing sails in a moist environment, one that might have extreme heat, or in places where rodents and bugs can get to them.

Preventative maintenance should always be your first line of defense-a stain that never gets on your sail is one you won't have to remove. After that, cleaning the sails, making any needed repairs, and properly stowing them at the end of the season will ensure that they'll be ready for use next spring, and hopefully for many springs after.
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