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Date: 6 August 2019. Clean and Soften Old Ropes.


One of my neighbors on the canal recently bought a trawler. The ropes were older, stiff and some had mildewed. Basically they were hard to use because of the stiffness.  The proper "money is no object" solution would be to buy brand new ropes. Here is the $3 version utilized to revitalize the old boat lines.

For the record, this two-step
method does damage ropes.

This is not a panacea. It is a stop-gap measure to extend the life of the lines.

First, we took a large plastic garbage container and dumped all the dock lines inside of it:

The cleaner ropes were added on top.

Salt can be a Real Issue with lines used on a cruising boat underway in salt or brackish water. So too is mildew. Salt crystals get between the strands of the rope and cause damage. Mildew weakens lines too. Neither are a good thing.

One solution is to clean the ropes that come with your new boat.  The previous owner of the trawler my neighbor bought is a good guy. That said, the boat sat in a brokerage for many months. No good comes of line left in the sun. Some of the ropes may have been salty when stored.

Given these circumstances, the new owner opted to try rope cleaning ala Seaweed.

Into the barrel I dumped a gallon of no-name unscented bleach and a cup of Dawn dish soap.

Next I added water until all the lines were soaking in the solution.

The water to fill the barrel was from a hose. I deliberately used a hose that had been exposed to sun for many hours. The water coming out of the nozzle was quite hot.

The lid was put atop the trash can filled with lines. 

Then we waited.

The following day the bleach water was drained out and a thorough rinsing took place. That involved a few complete water changes. Basically we waited until the water ran clear.

One way to facilitate the whole clear water thing was that I sorted out each line into its own pile:

Then I blasted each line from end to end with the spray nozzle of a hose. That was a tedious chore.

There are some that try using regular washing machines to clean ropes. This can be a Very Bad idea. Wet, the lines are extremely heavy. Damage can occur to the machinery. Belts break when washers are overloaded.

Side Note: Many commercial laundries have specific rules against adding lines to their machines. Do NOT do it!

After rinsing the lines thoroughly they were dumped back into the trash barrel.

A couple bottles of inexpensive fabric softener were added to the barrel of ropes.

Soaking took another couple days. The outside temperatures were soaring so the impetus to dump out the water, sort the ropes, and hang them for drying wasn't really there. That is why I waited to finish the project.

After emptying the barrel the lines were separated. All were hung over a chair.

The last step involved thoroughly rinsing the lines one last
time to remove the fabric softener. I used a hose for that process.


The procedure to clean and soften old boat lines:

  1. Find a watertight container large enough to hold the ropes you wish to clean.

  2. Add the lines to your barrel. I put the dirtiest at the bottom.

  3. Pour a gallon of bleach into the barrel.

    IF your lines could be contaminated with oil or diesel, add a cup of Dawn detergent too.

  4. Fill with water until the lines are underwater. You might want to add something heavy to hold the ropes down.

    Wait until the following day.

  5. Thoroughly rinse off the bleach water. I dumped the lines out on the ground and blasted the ropes end to end with a hose.

  6. Place the lines back into the watertight container.

  7. Add full a container of fabric softener. Fill the barrel with enough water to cover the lines.

  8. Drain, rinse thoroughly, then hang to dry.


During normal use rinsing ropes with fresh water is not considered a necessity. I believe it does extend the useful life of my lines. That is why I do so aboard Seaweed.

Final Report: One ratty line did not survive the bleach treatment. It was thrown away. A second line was the worst of the batch. Even after treatment, it remained stiff, hard and frankly is junk. The rest of the ropes are a-okay and in usable condition.

If your lines are in shabby condition try cleaning and conditioning them. Even if you're unsuccessful, you are in no worse shape than before the attempt. And that ladies and gents is the story of my life aboard Seaweed. I try. When things work I celebrate.

I truly am blessed to be able to enjoy this life. Celebrate with me.

Happy boating to you and yours.

Do you have a method to revitalize old ropes?
And, how do you do it?

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2019, 2023

Categories: Gear, In the Bilges, Money,

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