Cleaning Neglected Outdoor Fabric

March 06, 2017

Posted by D. A. Burns

Cleaning Neglected Outdoor Fabric

We had the opportunity to clean an outdoor marine fabric that had been neglected for some time.  Although this was a good quality synthetic boat cover, the soil that had accumulated allowed mold, moss and lichen to take root.  Often the discoloration of soil and moss can disguise damage that will become apparent after cleaning.

In this case we informed our client that mold and lichen can leave permanent marks and damage to the fabric, resulting in leaks.  We also noticed the boat cover had been sewn with cotton thread which was beginning to deteriorate.

Moss growing on fabric

The black areas are soil, mold and algae, the green areas are algae and moss and the light spots are lichen.  Our job is to get all of this to release from the fabric so we can remove it without harm to the fragile cotton-sewn seams.

Soaking fabric to remove dirt and moss

The photo above depicts the first step of our cleaning process.  We gently immerse the outdoor fabric to remove severely impacted soils.  The cleaning solution circulates to release and suspend the soil from the fabric while immersed in the basin.  This pre-treatment may take as long as 24-hours.

Fabric after first stage of cleaning

The photo above is following the first stage of cleaning.  

Organisms are no longer active and we can begin cleaning and the removal of discoloration.

Fabric drying after first stage of cleaning

After cleaning, the boat cover is prepared for drying.  Overall discoloration has been removed, but the spots from lichen growth have become part of the fabric.

Fabric after cleaning

The photo above is a close-up of an area damaged by microbial growth.  If growth is invasive enough, the dark areas may be a source of future leaks.  In some cases we can restore the water repellency of the fabric with a coating of polymer waterproofing.  However it’s always best to avoid damage by keeping the fabric clean.

In this case the owner reported that his boat cover looks better than he thought possible, is performing well and has experienced “more friendly” moorage neighbors!

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