Preventing Mildew in Marine Fabrics

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:36AM - Comments: (3)

Some yellow fabrics seemed to attract algae and mildew more than other colors.

We tested the most effective cleaners for mildewed fabrics in 2009 and published a follow-up on long-term treatments in 2015. In the 2015 test, we were delighted to discover that some DIY formulas and common pool treatments like Clorox Algae Eliminator can do as well as pricey store bought miracle-cures. We also concluded that controlling ventilation and humidity (often with the help of dehumidifiers, which we also tested) plays vital role in preventing mildew. Finally, for those in search of long-term protection against mold and mildew we learned that an effective water repellant coating is one of the best preventatives.

Canvas dodgers and biminis are the hallmark of a cruising yacht, keeping the sun at bay and allowing the crew to “dodge” the worst of the weather. Canvas also protects sails, windows, and machinery. The cost of these fabric covers adds up quickly, so and we wanted to find the best way to protect the investment and extend lifespan of the fabric.

Glen Raven, the manufacturer of Sunbrella, recommends that routine maintenance include frequent freshwater rinsing plus spot cleaning the fabric. After a more thorough cleaning, Sunbrella advises owners to apply a treatment (specifically Gold Eagle 303 High Tech Fabric Guard) to restore the fabric’s repellency. In our February 2014 report on canvas maintenance, we took a look at 303 High Tech Fabric Guard and other treatments designed to keep on-board canvas water repellent and looking its best.

PS tester Drew Frye checks fabric samples in his onboard "lab."

Waterproofing canvas is based on making the surface hydrophobic enough that water cannot wet the surface. Most marine canvas is protected by some pretty effective treatments at the factory, but after two to three years in the sun, these treatements tend to wear off. Any protective coatings containing waxes, PTFE (Teflon), and silicone can help renew the repellency, but usually the protection lasts for about 30 days.

When we refer to “canvas” here, we mean acrylic marine fabrics like Sunbrella, not cotton duck, which some traditionalists still use. The chemistry of cotton and acrylic are quite different—cotton accepts treatments more readily, but acrylic is more naturally repellent. We’ve previously tested water repellents for cotton duck (PSJune 2004).

Clorox Pool and Spa Algae Eliminator proved to be an inexpensive cleaner/protectant.

For maximum water repellency, boat owners could use impervious waterproof fabric instead of canvas, but that typically isn’t a good idea. Waterproof sail covers hold moisture, mildewing sails more quickly. Waterproof dodgers sweat and hold condensation, drying slowly and mildewing. Waterproof machinery covers would trap salt and humidity, accelerating corrosion. For most on-deck equipment-protection tasks, water-repellent, breathable, durable acrylic fabrics are best. These include Top Gun, Weathermax, and Sunbrella, which we tested and reported on in the December 2011 and November 2012 issues.

As for anti-mildew treatments, we found that 303 High Tech Fabric Guard—made by the same company that brings us STA-BIL fuel treatments, a dependable performer in our fuel treatment tests—is doing very well in both panel and on-boat testing. Generally, 303 High Tech Fabric Guard is considered to be the gold standard for Sunbrella waterproofing treatment, and we agree.

If cleaning mildewed sails is among your biggest cleaning chores, check out my previous blog post Dealing with Dirty Sails.

Comments (3)

I am interested in trying the green algae eliminator and have purchased it but I am not sure if I would use it full strength or diluted?

Posted by: tbacon | August 18, 2017 6:08 PM    Report this comment

GPB- Where would one buy silver base compound?

Posted by: WOOT17 | May 21, 2017 3:48 AM    Report this comment

I've been a boater for over 40 years. Clorox has never been my choice for dealing with mold and mildew. As a chemist who owns his own laboratory I have chosen to use a solution which we produce to purify, sanitize, drinking water.
A six to one solution of our silver base compound begins to kill mold and mildew within 15 seconds of contact has no anesthetic smell and can be applied with a simple spray bottle. Once the surface has dried I clean the remaining residue if any with soap and water let dry again. And spray a light coat of the solution to help eliminate mold and mildew from reoccurring. The six the one solution is also what are used to purify the water tanks on any sailboat in the Caribbean or in Europe

Posted by: GPB | May 18, 2017 1:49 PM    Report this comment

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