Top Tips for Cleaning Ropes
Easy Rope Cleaning Tips
If you didn’t store your running rigging last winter in a nice dry place then there is a good chance you will be finding sheets and halyards coated in dirt, mold, and mildew. Time for cleaning ropes.
Here are some top tips provided by practical-sailor.com we think will prove useful:
- Wash only with very mild detergent. For new ropes using a half-dose of a modern laundry detergent. For the first few years, ropes still contain thread coatings and lubricants from the factory that provide easier handling as well as offer some protection from UV radiation, abrasion and water absorption. Washing a new rope in a “degreaser” will harm this protective coating. When these lubricants have been washed away by rain and worn off by normal use it is OK to use ordinary laundry detergents at ordinary doses. Avoid cleaners that have a pH value below 7 or above 9, exaggerated soaking periods, or exaggerated doses. Most common laundry detergents are within this pH range when used as directed.
- Wash on the gentlest cycle. Tightly coil the rope or tie it in a daisy-chain then place inside a pillowcase. Front-loading washing machines are recommended; a cyclic motion is preferable to the rotary motion of top-loaders. Without coiling or daisy-chaining a rope can be turned into a frustrating tangle. The pillowcase further restricts the motion of the rope and reduces tangling. For a video of daisy chaining, search “chain sinnet” (also called a monkey braid), on www.animatedknots.com.
- Avoid contact with acids, bases, and solvents. Both polyester and nylon (polyamide) are vulnerable to certain chemicals, so manufacturers broadly warn against using them for cleaning ropes. Extended exposure to certain alcohols can weaken polyester. Both nylon and polyester have some vulnerability to alkalis such as those found in strong cleaners.
Note on Nylon
Nylon is particularly vulnerable to acid. Strong acids such as battery acid or muriatic acid can literally melt right through a nylon rope in a matter of minutes. Soaking for an hour in weak acid cleaners (typically based on phosphoric acid, oxalic acid, citric acid, or acetic acid) can weaken the rope by as much as 50 percent without any worthwhile cleaning benefits. Avoid all acid cleaners, including vinegar, and diluted acids.
More DOs and DONTS for cleaning ropes
- It is OK to use Fabric softener at recommended doses to assist in cleaning ropes. However, high doses of fabric softener can weaken ropes, primarily because they prevent complete drying.
- Do not use Power washing for cleaning ropes. While it can be an effective method for cleaning marine growth from mooring pendants and dock lines, a power washer in the hands of an inexperienced operator can do significant damage. High-pressure water can easily cut through a line and do significant hidden damage.
- Do not use bleach when cleaning ropes. Rope manufacturers do not recommend the use of bleach in any quantity. Many manufacturers has faced claims of rope failure or splice failure caused by a bleach overdose.
- Hot water is not a problem for cleaning ropes. Normal water-heater temperatures (120 to 135 degrees) do not affect Nylon and polyester.
- Don’t dry with heat. Flake the rope loosely on the floor and leave to dry. Nylon and polyester ropes are not typically heat-set, and there is great risk that the sheath and core will shrink differently, causing distortion and structural damage to the rope.
Professional advice for cleaning ropes
The following additional experience volunteered by professional riggers:
- Washing won’t make splicing easier. Old double-braid is difficult to splice, and washing doesn’t change that. Polyester remains too stiff even if treated with fabric softener.
- Washing machines don’t like nylon double-braid. Nylon double-braid is subject to herniation and destruction during the machine-washing process. Never machine wash a new or nearly new nylon dock line!
- Bleach is very bad (again). This one is worth repeating.