PS Advisor: 12/05
I've been a reader of PS for years and I never start a job on my 1983 Hunter 27 without consulting your magazine. However, I didn't see any articles about cleaning and refurbishing sails. Is it possible to do this yourself, and if so, how?
We published a "PS Advisor" on this topic in the April 15, 2002 issue. Essentially, the answer is yes. You can clean most sails yourself, but it's a chore that can be cumbersome and time-consuming. You also need to understand that some sailcloth materials (Kevlar and nylon in particular) are sensitive to certain substances—chlorine bleach and acetone, to name those most damaging. If you expose Kevlar or nylon to chlorine bleach—say you decide to rinse the sails in a swimming pool—they can lose up to 90% of their original strength.
For washing your sails, most sailmakers recommend using mild soap and water (like a dish detergent), and avoiding anything abrasive. Use a soft brush, if necessary, to loosen dirt. For dirt or stains that are more deeply embedded, you may need to soak the sail, so you'll have to locate some kind of large container, depending upon the size of the soiled area.
When you've finished cleaning, always rinse the sail liberally with fresh water. And, if you hang your sails to dry, do so at a time when it's not windy. Many sailors fail to understand the damage that wind alone can and does inflict on sails. Remember, sails in general are composed of fibers and the more back and forth bending those fibers have to endure, the more quickly they'll lose their strength.
You'll find additional information about the care and cleaning of sails on the North Sails website (www.northsails.com). In the New England area, you can contact the sailmakers at Hathaway, Reiser, & Raymond in Stamford, CT, because that sail loft specializes in the cleaning and reconditioning of sails: (www.hathaways.com). Readers elsewhere (Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Gulf Coast, West Coast, and Pacific Northwest) can contact almost any large sail loft with a service department as most have arrangements with specialty cleaning services.