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Canvas Care Essentials

Don’t let folks judge your boat by its covers. Here’s how to bring old vinyl back to spec.
web canvas kadey krogen

Clear vinyl enclosures, Bimini tops, seat cushions, and covers for the dinghy, windshield and cockpit live a miserable life. This is true no matter what size or brand of yacht you tool around in. On the job 24/7, these durable goods endure unmitigated sunlight, abrasive saltwater spray, acid rain, fallout grit from air pollution, and bird droppings—all while protecting you, your boat and its equipment. Talk about taking one for the team.

While these items typically get some attention when you soap and rinse the boat after a day on the water, they will survive years longer if you devote specific cleaning and maintenance sessions to them periodically. If you think it’s OK to skip these tasks, then call a canvas outfitter and ask for a replacement cost quote. You will quickly have a change of heart.

Clear vinyl enclosures provide outstanding protection on the bridge, not only when you are out at sea, but also when the boat is fast to the dock. Similarly, aft deck enclosures offer a dry, all-weather protected area that enhances onboard real estate. Keeping these enclosures clean also adds value and makes your boat look well cared for. Regular attention is time well spent, but clear panels are easy to scratch, so take a conservative approach.

Start with a generous flush of fresh water. Rinsing both sides of the clear panels with a soft shower is preferable to hitting it with a hard water stream, which can drive in the salt or dirt, and scratch the surface. (You will not see the results until it is too late.) A neutral-pH boat soap with a soft mitt used only for this task will float away the daily grime and leave behind a cleaned panel that can then be lightly rinsed and wiped dry with a water blade or a chamois. I also recommend that the chamois be used solely for this part of the enclosure. Avoid allowing the rinse water to dry on the clear vinyl, to prevent hard-water spotting.

The clear vinyl used for roll-up panels is known as isinglass. It’s available in various thicknesses, and the heavier the grade, the harder it is to roll up. (But visibility improves with weight.) Another type of roll-up enclosure is Strataglass, which has a plasticizer to increase the flexibility, and an ultraviolet coating to make the clarity glasslike. Both types of clear vinyl have protective polish that you can buy to repel dirt and water, but Strataglass recommends using IMAR products.

web canvas kadey krogen P1030092

Another type of clear panel, such as Costa Clear, is manufactured from a solid acrylic. It also offers sparkling-clear visibility, and rather than rolling up, each panel can be designed to lift as a single piece and then attach to the underside of the hardtop. These panels are harder than a roll-up, are more durable and, if scratched, can be repaired and buffed with Novus products and then protected with Collinite 845 Insulator wax.

Always check with your canvas person before applying any plastic cleaner or polish to clear panels, and do not substitute with just anything in your dock box. Rain-X, for example, works fine on glass, but it can and will damage some clear plastics, vinyls and acrylics.

Bimini tops, as well as covers for small boats, outboard motors, windshields, windows and helm consoles, are generally made from colorful products such as Weblon, Stamoid and Sunbrella, each with its own characteristics and attention needs.

Generous freshwater rinsing is always your best friend when doing this type of cleaning. General household cleaners such as 409 work, but specific products are available at marine stores. 303 Fabric and Vinyl Cleaner works great on vinyls, fabric tops like Sunbrella, and cockpit or flybridge upholstery.

I like to gently swipe the material with a soft bristle brush or sponge to be sure I have also removed any hidden dirt in the threads and seams, followed by a plentiful rinse. After a thorough air dry, a fabric-guard spray can strengthen and restore water repellency, and vinyl conditioners can be used to refresh cushions and other vinyl surfaces.

Always read the instructions on the containers of the products you select before applying them, to avoid potential headaches.

15 Canvas Cleaning Tips

1. Always apply clear enclosure polish and wax in the shade—never in direct sunlight.

2. Use a clean applicator, sponge or pad. When it becomes soiled or dirty, replace it. Toss it immediately if it falls on the ground.

3. Buff clear panels with a clean microfiber cloth, and have plenty of them standing by.

4. Never use paper towels on clear enclosure panels. Paper comes from trees, and even the softest paper towels will scratch the surface.

5. Always rinse the enclosure zippers from both sides to remove salt.

6. Exercise the zippers regularly to keep the tracks clean.

7. Occasionally apply zipper wax or Vaseline to lubricate the teeth.

8. At the dock, you can increase the airflow in enclosed areas by partially unzipping the panels. Be sure to keep the fasteners secure.

9. Enclosure panels do shrink over time. You may have better luck when the air temperature heats up and the materials have a chance to expand. In a pinch, a heat gun may help, too.

web canvas kadey krogen P1030091

10. Be gentle when forcing a zipper, or risk breaking the teeth and ripping the binder that holds it together.

11. Avoid leaving a clear enclosure rolled up, to prevent sunlight and heat from damaging or distorting the vinyl panel.

12. Polish male snap fasteners to keep the surface clean. A dab of Vaseline will prevent corrosion from fusing the two parts.

13. Replace missing snaps and studs promptly to prevent covers from snapping in the wind.

14. If the spring in the socket and cinch plate is stuck and refuses to accept the stud, then insert a small screwdriver into the plate, and work the spring loose.

15. Carpet runners or step covers can be machine-washed in a gentle cycle. Do not overdry with high heat, but do reinstall while still damp to prevent shrinkage.