PS Advisor April 15, 2002 Issue

PS Advisor: 04/15/02

Sail Maintenance
I don't remember seeing any items on sail cleaning, care, or I missed it.My local sailmaker does not offer a cleaning service or even recommend one. Any ideas on a service or do-it- yourself? Thanks for any help

-John Iannacone
Tulsa, OK

And similarly:

Practical Sailor has been an invaluable source of good information to me for several years, and I have found the staff very willing to answer questions whenever they could.

My boat partner and I have a couple of questions that we can't seem to find answers to: 1. What is a realistic maintenance schedule for sails? Our sailmaker contends that having the sails professionally washed each season will lengthen their life. It sounds like an expensive proposition, but having just paid a few thousand dollars for a new jib we wonder if it is good insurance or, like extended warranties, a way for sailmakers to make easy money. Thank you for your assistance. Keep up the good work!

-David Fisichella
Cape Cod, MA

As you point out, sails aren't cheap, and it makes sense to maintain them just as you would maintain a diesel engine or a set of winches. We agree with your sailmaker that your new sail should be competently inspected, mended, and washed every year, whether by him or you—that depends on price, expertise, and the amount of room you have for the project.

North Sails maintains good advice on sail cleaning and maintenance (especially mildew problems) on their website. Most was written by Bill Bergantz of North Cloth. The following is excerpted, with North's permission, from the material on their website:

Cleaning and Storage Tips
With a few notable exceptions, modern sailcloth is impervious to all normally encountered chemicals. (This means they will not lose strength. They can still stain.) The exceptions:

1) Kevlar and Nylon, which are both extremely sensitive to chlorine (bleach). Kevlar and nylon sails should never be washed with any cleaner containing any amount of chlorine, or rinsed in a swimming pool. The material will look very nice but it will have lost up to 90% of its original strength.

2) Laminated sails. The adhesive can be softened by acetone, M.E.K., and similar powerful solvents, as well as protracted immersion in petroleum-based chemicals like gasoline and diesel fuel. Avoid letting your sails soak in an oily bilge.

3) There should be no direct harm to polyester/Dacron, Spectra/Dyneema, or Mylar from chemicals including gasoline, diesel fuel, tar, and other petroleum derivatives.

Sail washing...
1) Use mild soap such as a dish detergent, in which you wouldn’t mind soaking your own hands. Do not use anything containing abrasives.

2) Use a very soft brush to help loosen surface dirt. Never use a stiff brush that can abrade the material.

3) To remove deeper dirt and stains, you have to soak the sail for 12 hours or more, allowing the detergent time to get into the yarns and crevices where the dirt is lodged.

4) Water temperature should not be warmer than what you would use in a bath.

5) Use plenty of fresh water. Very thoroughly rinse and dry after washing.

6) For mildew removal, unless you are washing Kevlar or nylon, use a diluted bleach mixture and allow to soak. Rinse very well. Never mix chlorine and ammonia!!

This will kill the fungus and remove some of the stain, depending on how deeply imbedded it has become. Over time and use, more or all of the stain will go away.

7) If you must hang sails to dry at the dock, pick a very still day and stay very attentive. Drop the sails at the first sign of a breeze.

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