How to Wash or Clean Sailing Ropes: The Complete Guide

You probably don’t put a lot of thought into your sailing ropes. They’re just kind of there on your boat. It’s only when you need them most that the ropes seem to fray or snap, probably because of lack of care. One important aspect of that care is cleaning your sailing ropes from time to time. So, how do you wash or clean sailing ropes? 

To clean your sailing ropes, you can do so by hand or in a washing machine. When using a washer, put the ropes in a washing bag like a string bag. Don’t wash them on their own or they’ll get all tangled up in the washer. You can then use a dryer (run it on a low heat setting) or let the ropes sit and dry on a line. 

In this detailed guide, we will explain everything you’d ever want to know about your sailing ropes. This includes rope materials, how to clean ropes by hand, how to wash and dry them, why you should clean them, how often, and when to throw your ropes away. Keep reading! 

What Are Sailing Ropes Made From?

Not all sailing ropes are the same. There are many materials your ropes can be made from. You can hand-wash most of these or toss them in a washing machine, although some ropes can degrade if washed improperly.  

Let’s talk about the types of sailing rope materials now.


As one of the most flexible rope types, nylon comes in handy when sailing. It’s often used to tow in the line and to hold anchors. Nylon rope can contain a lot of energy, so if yours ever snaps, be sure to get out of the way! It’s possible to end up seriously injured from a broken nylon rope as it releases all that energy. 


Hemp is a type of natural fiber that’s a little on the pricier side. The rope has some stretch, but not as much as nylon. If you must use hemp rope, try to get Spunflex or Leoflex varieties, as these have a hard finish that adds to their durability. Hemp’s cousins—including manila, coir, and sisal—are more for decorative use than anything else.

Monofilament or Multifilament Polypropylene 

Moving on to the polypropylene family, the first type of polypropylene line we want to discuss is monofilament or multifilament rope. As the names tell you, monofilament polypropylene has a single filament while multifilament has more. Make sure you use this line carefully, as it has the potential to melt in hot conditions. 

Staple Spun Polypropylene 

Another polypropylene rope you can get is staple spun. This line has a lot of hair. You typically see it around building sites, marinas, and fisheries. It comes in a variety of hues, among them white, orange, and blue. It’s not expensive at all. 

Braided Rope

Braided rope is made of polyester, not polypropylene. Polyester rope also goes by names like Dacron or Terylene. The braided variety especially is a common sight for boat sheets. The slimmest braided rope is five millimeters, and it can get decently thicker from there. 

Plaited Pre-Stretched 

The plaited pre-stretched variety of polyester rope starts at one millimeter, so it’s even skinnier than braided rope. The thickest plaited rope gets up to eight millimeters. It’s ideal for messengers, in lacing, and even some halyards. 

Three-Strand Pre-Stretched

Last but not least, you can get three-strand pre-stretched polyester rope. Perfect for bell ropes and halyards, the three-strand variety may sometimes kink up, which is its downside. 

How to Clean Sailing Ropes Step by Step

Do you only have a few sailing ropes that are dirty and need a wash? In that case, then it makes the most sense to do it by hand. Once you get past two or three ropes, using a washing machine is within your best interest. We’ll talk about the steps for that in the next section. For now, let’s discuss how to wash your sailing ropes by hand.

Step 1: Get your ingredients for cleaning

You can use a cleaning product, but check the label to ensure it’s safe for your type of rope. A cleaning brush formulated for marine use is also recommended so you don’t damage the fibers of your rope. Shurhold’s flexible rope and cord brush is one such option. You also need water and a bucket.

Step 2: Fill in your bucket with water

Take your bucket and pour in fresh water, but not to the top. Once you add in the ropes, the water will rise. Too much water will overflow out of the bucket, making a mess.

Step 3: Apply the cleaner

Apply your cleaner to the water and mix it in. You don’t want to stir overzealously here, as too many suds are not desirable.

Step 4: Follow the instructions

on your cleaner, but generally, let the ropes sit in the water for roughly 10 minutes. During this time, the grime, dirt, and other messes that cling to the rope’s fibers loosen up and come off. 

Step 5: Take the rope out

Take the rope out, but not all at once. Instead, go section by section, using your brush on each clean section that comes out of the bucket. You may have to clean your rope more than once depending on how dirty it is.

Step 6: Refill with fresh water

Dump your bucket, cleaning it if necessary. Then, refill it with fresh water. 

Step 7: Soak you ropes

Let your rope sit in the water for a few minutes to cleanse any remaining residue. 

Step 8: How to dry your rope

Line-dry your clean sailing ropes. Store them somewhere they can stay clean. 

How to Wash Your Ropes Step by Step

As we said before, once you have to clean three or more ropes, the bucket method is out of the question. It would just take way too long. Instead, what you want to do is take your sailing ropes home and run them through your washing machine.

Well, it’s not quite as easy as that. You want to retain your ropes’ quality so they’re in the best possible shape, and that means being careful about everything from which detergents you use to the washing cycle you choose. 

Before we get into the steps to follow, here are some best practices to keep in mind when cleaning your sailing ropes in the washing machine.

Don’t use bleach

If you have major stains or discoloration on your clothes, the first idea that may spring to mind is to dump some bleach in the washer. Well, that doesn’t really work with sailing ropes. Bleach is a very harsh chemical, and it can destroy the splicing in your ropes, degrading the whippings and stitching. Using your rope in this state makes it much more likely to fall apart. You’d then have to buy another one. Avoid bleach in all instances, then.

No double-braided nylon in the washer

If you have double-braided nylon sailing rope, you’ll have to clean it the good, old-fashioned way, in the bucket with some cleaner and water. That’s because the double-braided nylon can become herniated in the washer, rendering it useless.

Water up to 135 degrees Fahrenheit is okay for most ropes

You might fear setting the water temperature in your washer too high, and that’s fair. Depending on the type of sailing rope you’re cleaning, some can handle higher temps than others. For instance, when working with polyester or nylon (just regular nylon, not double-braided), these ropes can withstand temperatures between 120 and 135 degrees.

No high wash settings

We’re sure you could probably figure this out on your own, but running your washing machine on a very high setting is not the best idea. You could end up damaging and even ruining your sailing ropes.

You can use fabric softener, but not too much

Like with clothes, some fabric softener in the washing machine can produce softer ropes. Just make sure you follow the usage instructions to the letter. Overdoing it on the fabric softener might leave your ropes extremely soft, but they’re also weaker for it. That’s because the fabric softener leaves the ropes in a perpetual state of semi-wetness. 

Keep solvents, bases, and acids away from the ropes

Polyamide ropes like nylon and polyester don’t get along with a lot of chemicals, although solvents don’t cause a reaction. Still, most acids, bases, and even alcohols can degrade the structure and strength of sailing ropes, so don’t risk it.

Don’t use the heavy-duty detergent

You might want to cut down on your detergent usage to about half of what you’d usually add to your washer when cleaning your sailing ropes. You should also choose the mildest detergent you can find. This maintains the rope’s lubrication, thread coatings, and UV protection. Well, at least if the rope is relatively new, that is. If you’ve had your ropes for more than a few years, then you can use a full dose of normal detergent. Once you get into the detergents with a pH value of 7.0 to 9.0 and higher, stay away. That’s too much for the ropes. 

Okay, now that we’ve gone through all that, you’re ready to clean your sailing ropes in the washer. Here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Tie your ropes into a daisy chain or coil

A daisy chain attaches two long ropes together. To do it, you want to grab Rope 1 and Rope 2. In the center of Rope 1, pull a knot into its middle so you can easily find it again. Then, tie a knot on both ends of Rope 1 and Rope 2. 

Grab Rope 1 again and make a loop across Rope 2. Pull Rope 1 into the hole, tightening the gap after you do. Keep repeating this until you run out of rope. 

Step 2: Put the tied ropes in a laundry bag or a string bag

Make sure you pull the drawstring as tight as possible so the ropes can’t come out. If your ropes won’t fit in a standard laundry bag, then try a pillowcase, but do make sure you secure the ends with a wire tie. 

Step 3: Set your washer on cold washing cycle

Set your washer so the ropes will be cleaned with cool water and an extra rinse cycle. 

Step 4: Use only mild detergent

Pour in half the mild detergent. 

Step 5: The actual washing process

Let your ropes go through the washing cycle.

Step 6: Are you done?

When your ropes are done, you can take them out. You now have two options for drying: line-drying or using your dryer.

Step 7: Drying of you ropes

If you decide to let the ropes line-dry, remove them from the bag and untie them if you can. Make sure they’re completely dry before you take them off the line and use them for anything else. 

Step 8: Using a dryer to dry you ropes

If you are using your dryer, then make sure you set it to dry with low heat only. Check on the ropes after the drying cycle and repeat if necessary if they’re not fully dry after the first go-around. 

Reasons to Keep Your Ropes Clean

Washing your sailing ropes sounds like a lot of effort. If your line gets dirty, can’t you just throw it away and buy some new ropes instead?

Sure, that seems like a viable solution…until you see the price of new ropes. Quality rope is not cheap at all, hence why you want to do all you can to hold onto yours for as long as possible. That means cleaning the ropes when they get dirty.

Ropes will inevitably get coated in salt and dirt, and while you can’t avoid that, you can control if you clean your ropes. Failing to care for the ropes will cause them to snap or break when you need them most. There’s because the abrasiveness of the salt and dirt can break down the fibers. What’s worse is the rope feels stiff to the touch, so you won’t even want to use it. 

How Often Should You Clean Your Ropes?

Okay, you’re now convinced that you need to start washing your sailing ropes. Do you need to do it each time you use them and they get a little grimy?

Not at all. You don’t want to overdo it on the washing. Cleaning your ropes once a season, either by hand or in the washer, ought to suffice. 

There are a couple of tricks you can do to make your ropes stick around for even longer. When air drying them, check that the ropes are completely dry, like 100 percent. If you stash them somewhere when they’re still damp, they can become moldy and mildewy messes. 

You also want to look for sharp edges with your winches, sheaves, and blocks. If you spot these sharp points, then keep your ropes away from them. Otherwise, they can get caught and cut. On a similar note, if you see anything your line could get accidentally snagged around, move it or remove it. 

When Should You Throw Away Your Ropes? 

Even with all your care, your sailing ropes won’t last forever. How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye to your ropes and get some new ones? You want to loosen any knots or loops and then give each rope a good inspection. 

A bit of wear and tear is inevitable and not necessarily indicative of you needing a new rope. Some chafing is natural, too. If you notice things like splicing, frayed ends, herniation, and other serious destruction, that’s when it’s time to think about getting a new sailing rope or several. In most instances, you cannot fix the above issues. Washing and drying the rope won’t help either.  


When your sailing ropes get dirty, you can clean them by hand or in the washing machine at home. If you’re dealing with more than two or three filthy ropes, then it’s best to use the washer. That said, some rope types should avoid a spin cycle through the washer, as they won’t come out in good shape. 

Also, when cleaning sailing ropes in the washer, never use bleach. Instead, wash with mild detergent with less than you’d usually use when cleaning clothes or linens. Higher water temperatures are okay for most types of rope, but higher wash settings are not. Your dryer shouldn’t hurt your sailing rope, either, at least not if you run it on low heat.

With the tips and steps offered in this complete guide, you’re now ready to begin washing your own sailing ropes. 


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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