|How to maintain
and repair sails.
This page updated: May 2003
Things that damage sails:
- Chafe (causes damage very rapidly).
- Ultraviolet radiation.
- Salt and dirt in the weave.
- Over-stressing (usually just the last straw on top of other damage).
- Exposure to solvents/acid (rare).
Inspecting sails for damage:
North Sails "Sail Care Tips"
SailNet - Dan Dickison's "Racers' Sail Care Tips"
- Batten pockets.
- Stitching on all edges of sail (especially leech of headsail).
- Stitching of all seams.
- Grommets and rings, including reef-points.
- Slides on mainsail.
- Leech-line (and its cleat).
- Tears, punctures and chafe damage of material.
- Headboard of mainsail.
- UV cover on roller-furling head-sail.
- Chafe guards.
- Use fresh water, mild liquid dishwashing detergent, and sponge (no brush).
- Rinse and dry.
- Never stow sail wet. If you have to, don't bag it
and don't fold or roll it tightly.
From Rich Hampel on alt.sailing newsgroup:
I do the cleaning while the sails are on the boat. I clean the deck, and spray on the detergent as
I have someone slowly raise the sail. I use a long handled brush and scrub the offending spots as
the sail goes up, then lower and place a plastic tarp over the soggy mess. The plastic tarp makes
sure the detergent doesn't dry out. After about 30 minutes (you have to let enough time to let the
detergent work) I re-scrub, lower, then raise the sail several times as I rinse with a hose. Make
sure that you get ALL the detergent out of the sail. Several rinsings will be necessary. Then go
sailing to dry the sail.
Removing stains from sails
Mostly from "Sailing Tips" by William M. Burr Jr.
(on Amazon - paid link
and from sail-repair class at
SailNet - Kathy Barron's "Sail Care and Cleaning"
- Rust: Keep the area wet. Use lemon juice (let soak for an hour).
If it fails, use detergent. If it fails,
use acetone or alcohol or M.E.K. If it fails,
use a weak solution of oxalic acid.
- Blood: Keep the area wet. Use soap and cold water.
Or: Rub gently with fresh or salt water
for a long time. If it fails, use detergent. If it fails,
use bleach 1-10 in water and rinse thoroughly.
- Mud or grass: Use detergent.
- Mildew: Use lemon juice. If it fails, use detergent
and bleach (carefully: bleach damages sails)
and rinse very well.
- Oil/grease/tar: Hard to remove.
Use hand-cleaning jelly used by car mechanics: rub in,
leave for an hour, rub more in, scrub with soap and warm water.
Or: Use rubbing alcohol, trichloroethylene,
or mineral spirits, then soap and water. Rinse thoroughly.
- Paint/varnish: Use acetone or alcohol or M.E.K.
- Fresh glue: Use mineral spirits (soak).
Sail reconditioning: SailCare (people who have
done this have mixed feelings: may be good money into a worn-out sail,
may damage stitching. Best on a relatively new but dirty sail.)
- In a good rain, wash the salt out of all of the sails (the spinnaker
especially will be lighter and more efficient).
- In spots vulnerable to chafe, brush
"sailmaker's liquid plastic" onto the stitching.
SailNet - Brian Hancock's "Considering a New Mainsail"
SailNet - Don Casey's "Sail Repair 101"
SailNet - Don Casey's "Sail Repair At Night, Sailor's Delight, Part Two"
Some items learned at sail-repair class at
- Inspect sails often and fix damage right away. "A stitch
in time saves nine" really is true.
- Sail-repair tape by itself can be used to patch very long
tears on a spinnaker, but not on heavier sails.
- Use Dacron/polyester thread: it is UV-resistant and you can melt
the end (making a small blob) instead of knotting it.
- On a sail, white thread lasts longer than dark thread.
- Patch material should match sail material in terms of weight,
stiffness, stretchiness. Orient the weaves of the sail and the patch
in the same direction.
- When patching a tear in the middle of the sail, people usually
make too small a patch. The material around the tear probably
has been stretched and weakened.
- Seal all cut edges of sail material with hot knife.
- Can use round-point needles for canvas, but not for sails.
See my Boat Sewing Machine page
- Cleaning the mast track: use a soapy cloth tied to a spare sail
slide, with a halyard and a downhaul. Lubricant: silicone makes a mess;
liquid soap is cleaner but doesn't last as long.
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