Last fall, when you put your boat to bed for the winter, you were diligent, planned ahead and you cleaned your canvas getting rid of all the bugs, dirt and mildew/mold. You also checked for any tears and holes in the canvas and vinyl and made an appointment with your canvas shop to do the necessary repairs over their less busy fall and winter months; so that your canvas would be ready to put back on you boat in the spring.
Oh, but that only happens in a perfect world and we all know that during the hectic time in the fall, things get missed. Quite often, it is the dirty and sometimes damaged canvas.
Canvas has many uses on different sizes and styles of boats including; bimini tops, convertible tops, cockpit covers, tonneau covers, dodgers and biminis and full camper enclosures.
If you are facing canvas cleaning and/or repair this spring, it may not be too late. Your canvas shop may not be too busy to fit you in. But, be sure to call first before you drag all your canvas to the shop only to find out they are book for months. If they are too busy for a big job, they may still have enough time in the schedule to squeeze in a few rips, tears, broken zippers, missing snaps or other smaller job for you.
Canvas takes a beating throughout the boating season with
- salt spray
- sea gulls
- dampness causing mold and mildew
- spiders and other insects leaving droppings
- just plain dust and dirt from the air.
- local airborne dirt and/or dust, depending on where you boat
Cleaning would have been much easier in the fall before the weather turned cold.
To clean canvas in the spring, wait for a few warm days when you can work outside with the garden hose. You don’t want to do it indoors if you have mold because the spores may cause allergic reactions for your family members. Be sure to use a good quality face mask.
The top of a picnic table is a good size to work on, because you can spread the canvas out flat over the top of it. Use a firm dry scrub brush to remove most of the bugs, dirt, mold and mildew. This will release spores into the air so a calm day is best. You don’t want the spores blowing into faces or buildings.
We have found that for the second stage of the cleaning, vacuuming up what is left using the hard brush tool works really well and contains the spores, dirt and dust. Just clean the vacuum thoroughly afterwards.
Washing the Canvas
Once you have removed as much of the dirt and mold as you can, the next step is to wash all the canvas pieces separately in a big tub outside. You could use the laundry tub inside but it isn’t as easy.
There are many cleaners on the market to choose from. We recommend you consult with your canvas shop and follow their recommendations for the cleaner and follow the instructions carefully. They are the experts. The one they recommend will be suitable for your job, kill the mold and be friendly to the environment.
Be sure to warm up all your vinyl/isinglass window panels before unrolling to prevent cracking. Then wash one piece at a time. What worked best for us was to fill the tub with hot water and cleaner (follow instructions carefully). Then, roll the piece of canvas/vinyl so it will fit into the tub. Lower it into the tub and gently knead it in the tub to force the water through the fabric taking the dirt with it. You will see the water getting dirtier and dirtier. When you think you have it clean, rinse thoroughly with the garden hose and repeat as necessary. You want to make sure all the cleaner is washed out.
Hang the canvas over a deck rail, patio railing or something wide enough (not a clothes line) so the canvas/vinyl doesn’t fold. Repeat with each piece and leave hanging until completely dry.
Because the cleaner will remove the waterproofing as well as dirt, you will need to re-waterproof when you put the canvas back on your boat.
Again, we recommend you consult with your canvas shop and have them recommend the product to use. Follow the instructions carefully.
For boaters who will need to completely replace your canvas, you have a great opportunity. You don’t have to have your new canvas the same as your old canvas. Consider some improvements. Take the spring and summer to do some research to design your dream canvas. Take ideas from all the boats you see on your travels. Harbors are full of boats with canvas on. Wander the docks, talk to the boat owners about the great ideas they have in their canvas as well as what they don’t like and would do differently if they had the opportunity. Ask permission to take pictures and take notes.
You will find ideas like:
- Where canvas is joined on the horizontal top with zippers, consider adding Velcro. It doubles the joint, improves the strength and reduces the chance of leaks.
- In the cleat openings for dock lines, consider flaps over the openings to keep out weather and bugs.
- Where side zippers meet top zippers, add a flap of extra material to keep the spray from entering your enclosure. A little Velcro will hold the flap down.
Dealers have outdoor display yards and Outdoor Boat Shows have boats with canvas on. Check them out early in the mornings before the canvas is removed by the sales staff for display purposes. Learn as much as you can.
You will find many ideas that you could incorporate into your new canvas. Take your ideas and pictures to your canvas shop. They will tell you if they can add these features and will no doubt have some ideas and suggestions as well. This way, you won’t end up with a standard new canvas, you will end up with a fantastic new canvas with features and benefits to enjoy every day on the water.
Enjoy your Summer
With clean, repaired canvas, you can start your boating season with your boat looking great again and a smile on your face knowing that you won’t have to deal with repairs and leaks. Instead, you’ll be free to enjoy your summer!