Cleaning Canvas and Sails

Boating season is upon us, and sailors should have their boat prepped and ready to take that that long awaited trip to the San Juans or the Gulf Islands. You might be ready for the high seas, but are your sails ready? While making sure that everything on the boat is polished and cleaned, checking your sails will probably be one of the most important things that you’ll need to do.

Many types of sails are used on all sorts of boats, even dinghies. Modern sails are typically classified into three categories: the mainsail, headsail or jib sail, and the spinnaker or downward sail. The mainsail, as implied by its name, is the main “motor” of any sailboat. It is usually triangular and crosscut. The headsail is what drives the boat when it is sailing towards the wind.

The most commonly used headsails are genoa or jib. The spinnaker is used for downwind sailing. Exposure to water is inevitable to sailing, and so is exposure to mildew, algae, and plain old dirt. If mildew has found its way to tarnish your bright sails, take care of it right away to prevent it from further damage.

To clean boat sails, start off with an inspection. Check the general condition of the sail. Are there any signs of wear and chafing? Make sure to check battens and batten pockets as well. Also, inspect any and all sail attachments including the boltrope. A simple combination of soap and water will go far when cleaning your sails. Simply scrub the soapy solution onto your sail with a soft-bristled brush, but make sure to do it on a clean and smooth surface to prevent any damage to your sails. You can also use a little bit of highly-diluted bleach to scrub away any mildew that’s formed on your sails, but make sure to rinse it off with fresh water afterwards. Air-dry the sails before folding or rolling them up. A little bit of sunshine will not hurt either and can even make drying faster. Keeping your sail covers clean is important as well, they are known to be susceptible to green algae.

There are different kinds of cleaning products on the market for caring for your sails.  Using PH-neutral and non-corrosive products will help in keeping the integrity of the covers. Also, soaking the covers in bio detergent before washing aids in getting rid of algae or any other stains that might have formed. A frequent gentle scrubbing will prevent your sail covers from accumulating anything that can damage it.

According to Don Yager of Yager Sail & Canvas, “Furling sails are protected by either Sunbrella acrylic or UV Dacron.  We now have other options with a new cloth called Weathermax.  If you leave a sail rolled up all winter, even the winter sun can go after the threads.  Many folks leave their sails rolled up on the furler and only have a few wraps to keep them safe from the wind. My experience tells me that it pays to take your sail off in the fall if you are not using the boat.  It is very expensive to replace large headsails or repair them after heavy wind.  Most of us that still build sails are normally too busy to replace a big headsail in the Spring.  So, it pays to take the time to take them off.”


Rolling is great as it prevents your sails from getting creases from folding. Folding, on the other hand, saves a lot of space. Stuffing the sails in a bag will allow you to hang them up and protect the sails from light. Whichever route you choose, just make sure that the sails are properly taken care of before they are put away. All the effort you do will only make prepping for the next sailing season easier and faster. And there is nothing better than getting to the water without having to worry if you’re ready or not. As long as your boat is ready, surely you will be.


Sail Boats: Cleaning Canvas and Covers — No Comments

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