Proper cleaning and maintenance extend the life of fabric covers and tops. Boat owners will realize a better value for their custom marine canvas when complete cleaning and maintenance information is delivered along with their new product. Recommendations from the marine textile manufacturers are available on their websites, through distributors and at trade shows. Some manufacturers recommend specific treatment and cleaning products, such as Stamoid and IMAR; Sunbrella and 303; and MarChem CFI and Aqua-Tite Green.
The purpose of cleaning is to remove anything laying on the surface of the fabric and to protect the fabric’s finish. “The finish does two things, it protects the fabric and the compounds, like an umbrella, and it locks compounds in to the finish or film,” says Tom Koster, marine products manager for Tri Vantage. “When the finish is gone, the elements in the fabric migrate out, much like sweating, and when these are gone, they are not present in the fabric to do their job of protecting protect or softening the goods. The sun and other environmental elements go to work, and the result is UV degradation and brittleness.”
Follow these steps to get the best performance from marine fabrics:
Rinse: Rinse regularly with clear water. If the boat is in salt water, rinse off the salt. Salt crystals act as magnifiers for sun’s rays. If the boat is near an airport, industrial site or power plant, rinse off the pollution. Pollutants can damage the fabric by etching the surface. If the boat is under trees, rinse off animal droppings, which can stain fabric. Rinse off fruit, berries or nuts, and anything that might cause birds or other animals to peck at the top.
Clean: Most manufacturers recommend cleaning at last once a year, more frequently if necessary. Be sure to use approved cleaning products and manufacturer recommended methods. Do not use typical household cleaners as they can remove protective coatings and treatments. Craig Zola, business manager, awning and marine fabrics, Herculite Products Inc., says, “A solvent can remove top coatings that help protect the fabric over time.” Be gentle, but thorough. Avoid scrubbing and use a soft brush to dislodge dirt. Dirt provides a breeding ground for mold and mildew, even on mildew-resistant fabrics. Mildew doesn’t grow directly on the fabric, it grows on the dirt on the fabric. If there’s a stain, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for stain removal.
It is especially important to remove all of cleaning product residue. Dirt can stick to the residue. Remove and rinse off any overspray, which can damage window material. Bleach, for example, can damage threads and adjacent fabrics.
Dry: Let the fabric air dry. Heat can damage fabrics, especially acrylics. Make certain everything is dry before storing since any moisture on the fabric encourages mold and mildew growth.
Restoring treatments: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to retreat the fabric, if necessary, and restore its original characteristics, such as water repellency.
Mary Jo Morris previously owned and operated Berkeley Marine Canvas in Berkeley, Calif. She and her husband, Jim, live in Point Richmond, Calif., and sail on San Francisco Bay.